And I think cycling is good for the planet. Cars are dangerous and polluting the planet. We’d all be better off if people rode and walked more and drove less.
But one of these things is not like the other…
Fewer cars won’t make people lose weight. In fact, what we need to get more people on bikes is a more inclusionary cycling culture. It’s not all thin men in lycra. Sometimes it’s chubby middle aged women in lycra. And sometimes there’s no lycra at all.
Here’s our posts about the lack of a connection between bike riding and weight loss:
In the space of a few days, I had both the worst and the best campsites.
I was in Thessalon on September 14th, when I had an utterly nightmarish campsite. Hopefully this gives you a laugh without giving my mom nightmares! It began with an electric storm that kept me up terrified I’d be struck and with no idea what to do to protect myself… something I didn’t research before leaving home! I tried googling this info, but my internet connection was the speed of dial up… so while I waited, I continued freaking out about the possibility of being struck by lightning. Eventually I managed to read a few articles that were only marginally helpful and then climbed out of my hammock to begin looking for a safer space to wait out the storm. Since I found nothing within close proximity, I figured curling up in my hammock on a thermarest was probably safer than being a tall thing seeking shelter in a fairly open area.
As I returned to my hammock, I noticed a small plant in the middle of my “campsite.” Not knowing how to identify poison ivy, I freaked out… another thing I didn’t research before leaving home! After yet another extensive and painstakingly slow Google search, I concluded that it was in fact poison ivy. If I’d stepped in it while setting up camp, I’d long since spread it all over my clothes. In the morning I would need to figure out a place to wash my clothes and shower carefully just in case I’d stepped in it… something fraught with other risks since I don’t do well with many types of laundry detergents and artificial fragrances… both of which laundromats are full of.
Finally the lightning ceased and I fell into an exhausted but fitful sleep. I woke up to my 7am alarm, but I desperately needed more sleep so decided it was worth the risk of someone finding me there. By this time I’d been discovered stealth camping a few times and it had always ended in a great convo and laughter, so I wasn’t concerned. I figured the worst that would happen is they would tell me to leave… and I would leave… no big deal.
Around 8am, I awoke to trucks sawing down trees on the next lot and approaching my “campsite” …which was also a construction site.* I have never scrambled out of my hammock and packed up camp as quickly as I did that day! Don’t worry though, I paused to snap a photo before tearing down and did a quick vlog before racing out of there. I did not look back. Really wish I’d left behind a note for the unsuspecting construction workers: “Thanks for the campsite… and not felling a tree on me! My day would have been soooo much worse if you weren’t skillful at guiding the trees as they fell!” (Note to those absolutely horrified by this story: I would not have stopped to video or even packed up if I didn’t think it was safe to do so.)
Even with anxiety a trip like this can be fun… and vlogging my mishaps has been a great way to gain perspective and find humour in the challenging aspects of my adventure. Don’t worry… most sites are nowhere near as dramatic as this one!
Down the street, I paused to pick up my bear bag from the portapotty at the nearby park and to rearrange my load which was very higgilty piggilty. For some time I stood in the wind beside the playground alternating between feeling amused at the absurdity of the story and anxious about poison ivy. I was grateful that the rain held off until I could assemble myself and plan my next steps.
It took a few hours, but eventually my day began to turn around, thanks in large part to another visitor to Thessalon who asked if I was biking across Canada, was empathetic when I immediately burst into tears, looked at the “poison ivy” photos I had taken and confidently told me it was not poison ivy. Thank you environmental guide turned musician visiting from the states for the first time in two years! We ran into each other a few times during the next few days and both appreciated the company of a new friend in the midst of our solo travels.
Delightfully, a few days later I was gifted with the best campsite imaginable… a much needed reprieve! More on that another time!
*Yes, it was a bold stealth spot that likely only felt like a reasonable risk because of my social location as a white thin female. I can get away with things many others could not.
“A short term for the “multisexual spectrum” aka the spectrum of people who’re attracted to multiple genders. It’s an umbrella term that can include bisexual people, pansexual people, omnisexual people, etc. or even people who don’t use a label at all. It simply means someone who can experience attraction to multiple genders, even if they’re attracted to one particular gender more than any other (for instance, liking only girls most of the time but having the occasional crush on a nonbinary person). It also fits for people who experience split attraction such as a bisexual homoromantic person. Similar to aspec but for multisexuality. It’s primarily an umbrella term.”
By the time I reached Whitefish Falls on September 7th, I was tired. More tired than I realized at the time.
I called my cousins who recently moved to Iron Bridge to let them know that I was heading their way. They asked if it would be cheating for them to pick me up. I was *relieved* at the offer. My body needed a break. I told them I wanted to bike one direction, but didn’t need to bike both ways. Miles are fun to celebrate, but for me it’s about the adventure far more than kilometres ridden.
The next day I biked to Espanola, had a delightful visit with Ben & Hector (en route to Victoria), bought a few necessities for the cooler weather, and then loaded my bike into my cousin’s car. In the next couple days, I was surprised at how frequently I conked out on the couch in the middle of an admin task, too tired to even bother moving to my hammock.
People who have chronic health conditions marked by fatigue often call ourselves “spoonies” or make comments like “I’m low on spoons today.” I’m a spoonie, so in contrast to the average person with a full set of spoons it’s easier to overdo it (even when I’m *not* on a bike tour!) and more challenging to return to my baseline after overdoing it. On the Patients Rising blog, Johnprovides a great overview of what Christine Miserandino‘s Spoon Theory means to so many of us with invisible chronic health conditions.
I’d always planned to prioritize pacing and sufficient rest, but this is easier said than done. Sometimes it feels like I’m playing tug of war with myself… trying to find the ever elusive line between challenging myself *just enough*, but not so much that I push into a crash.
Ableism makes this more challenging as well. People who have never done bike camping generally think that 30-60km in a day (my original goal) is an astonishing amount to aim for, while many (most?) people who have done bike camping think it’s a really slow pace. These opposing perspectives on what constitutes a great accomplishment mean I must pay close attention to my own goals and not allow my sense of success to be swayed by how others view me or my abilities. As far as spoonie life goes, paying attention to my physical and mental health needs are key, which subsequently means that flexibility is key… so focusing on numeric based goals feels like asking for disappointment.
After four days of rest, on Sunday evening I rolled onward with strategies for a slower pace including:scheduling rest days, scouring Google Maps in advance for mid-ride rest spots (which could double as an early overnight spot), and ordering freeze dried meals so that running out of food doesn’t force me to ride further than I have energy for. Sunday evening I employed many of these tactics after leaving later than I’d planned. I rode 10km before enjoying a freeze dried chicken stir-fry while watching a beautiful sunset at Roe Park (aka Sunset Beach). It was perfect.
For those of you who are wondering, I’m writing this from the cute city of Thessalon after a very eventful night… but that’s a story for another time!
On September 5th, my trip tracking odometer rolled over to 501km as I reached the boarding dock for the Chi Cheemaun. Such a great feeling… and a very cool spot to reach that milestone too!
Throughout this trip there has been no shortage of challenging situations where the kindness of strangers made my day far easier. Here are a few of those highlights:
Emergency phone charge at Seaforth Mini Storage when I made a wrong turn on my way from Exeter to Bayfield. I now have two robust charging blocks!
Frozen water bottles from beach goers at Port Albert when I asked about a place to buy water.
Help lifting my fully loaded bike up when it fell over. This has happened a few times, but was especially notable when I arrived in Kincardine feeling exhausted, ravenous after running out of protein bars, and maybe a bit dehydrated too… it was a hot day with temperatures in the 30s. I missed my aim when I went to prop my bike against something and it went down. All I wanted was food and *cold* water. I sighed, then sat down to drink water before unloading my bike, lifting it up, and reloading it. But before I’d even moved it to the sidewalk it fell over again! I was sooo tired! So I went to the road and flagged down a driver to help me pick my bike up without needing to unload again. The driver also topped up my water bottle and pointed me toward an excellent restaurant.
Free produce from Earth Bound Gardens in the midst of a food desert near Red Bay. Surprisingly this was my first roadside produce stop in all my travels! There haven’t been a lot along my path. Their gardens were also a hidden gem and I felt like I’d stumbled into gardens from a fairytale. More on that another time though.
A tampon. Everyone who menstruates can relate to needing feminine hygiene products when out and about!!
Help getting my stove lit when all I had was a cigarette lighter. Maybe ten minutes earlier I had watched a group of Muslim women figuring out how to set up a privacy shelter for the first time. They worked together and seeing their collaboration made me smile. I struggled for a few minutes on my own, before asking the group if they had a BBQ lighter or matches. It was easier to ask them for help since I’d seen them struggling earlier. They didn’t have an alternative, but came over to help when they realized I had a cigarette lighter. One of them suggested we try lighting paper first, a couple of us blocked the wind, and together we managed to light the stove. That night I cooked my first (very basic) camp stove meal. A couple days later I bought a pack of 3 BBQ lighters, so I’ll be set for a while yet! This is key, because stores are further apart now, so I have to be able to cook my own food.
Creative problem solving regarding where to put my food bag when it was tricky to find a decent tree to hang the bear bag in. We ended up putting it in a locked outhouse with rocks blocking it. Yes… I know it probably wouldn’t have worked if a bear came along and wasn’t satisfied with the nearby garbage, but it was a good team effort. Don’t worry, I camped waaaay down the beach from it so I was safe either way!
Directions plus loads of useful local info when I had no cell service to check my map. Yay friendly and resourceful librarians who are eager to help even when they aren’t at work!
Just before I caught the Chi Cheemaun to Manitoulin there was a power outage and everything shut down. I had intended to restock food and water supplies before catching the ferry and since I hadn’t had access to the internet for a few days I wasn’t sure what would be available on Manitoulin. As I made inquiries about where to get supplies one person offered me a bottle of water, another a granola bar, and another 4 bottles of water! This helped me realize that even if there wasn’t a grocery store, I could likely knock on a few people’s doors and ask to buy a few eggs from their fridge to get me through.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the way perceptions and stereotypes impact interactions between strangers. How much more readily have strangers helped me because I’m white, thin, and female in a society that views those attributes as safe, non-threatening, worthy of care, and even of needing protection? What role do my academic background and social skills have? What about the fact that I can often present as middle class, even though in reality I live under the poverty line?
Today I am absolutely loving this journey, but how might I feel if strangers weren’t as kind to me? What if I were experiencing microaggressions rather than support and kindness? It’s difficult to imagine what some days would have looked like without kind strangers. Even more so if I was experiencing microaggressions.
I began my bike tour just over a week ago on August 21st. So much has happened that I hardly know where to begin. Each day has lots of challenges to troubleshoot, but there is plenty of joy too.
In Exeter my biggest challenge was being kicked out of the free campsite because I was in a tent, rather than an RV. When the by law officer stopped by I had just laid down for a much needed nap, prior to a much needed massage appointment – the timing could not have been worse. As a result, I didn’t get a nap and was 20 minutes late for my massage… even though I packed things up so hastily that I needed to completely unpack and repack later. It threw off my whole day and gave me greater empathy for folx who are displaced from tent cities.
As I was repacking more effectively my cooler fell and a full jar of pasta sauce spilled all over the place. All day it had been one thing after another, so I looked at it and wryly commented to myself “that seems about right!”
Fortunately, there’s a delicious and low cost Thai restaurant that took the edge off. That night I stealth camped for the first time and left early in the morning. Earlier in the week friends had suggested an a great stealth camping spot in Exeter, so I had an instant back up for the night.
My greatest joy in Exeter was getting to know a couple folx living in poverty. They reminded me of some of my friends from Sanctuary London… the place where I feel most at home… most at ease… most like I can just be myself no matter what. Josh* and I had a couple convos that were rich with a sense of common humanity as we shared our struggles and dreams. Then about an hour before I rolled out of town, an older gentleman who I’d previously asked for directions, came over to ask about my trip plans. He wandered off after a short chat, but about ten minutes later he returned with the most thoughtful care package imaginable… even more so given the poverty he was experiencing himself. Each item had been carefully chosen… an extra tie strap, an instant soup pack, juice crystals, protein bars, and a fruit cup. It made my day.
A major challenge and time suck along the way has been organizing my bags effectively so that I can easily access what’s needed for the day… preferably without unpacking anything not needed. This is a huge pain… but after unpacking and repacking countless times, I think I’m getting better at it… I *really* hope I am!
A few of my greatest joys so far:
Washing my hair in an actual shower (rather than a sink) or on the beach (with biodegradable soap of course!)
Monarch butterflies *everywhere*
Sleeping under the stars
Breakfast on a nearly empty beach the night after a big storm
Countless convos with curious folx
Car Free Sunday (with live street music) in Kincardine
And randomly meeting Mike Darmon – a fellow active transportation advocate!
One of the things I love about our Facebook page is when people share things with us. Often it’s links for us to pass along on the page but sometimes it’s readers sharing their own experiences and observations. One reader, Sara Wabi Gould, was shopping for a wetsuit and was amused/horrified at this size chart and the accompanying text, “all people vary in size.”
She sent an image of the tag to us with the comment, “Wetsuit sizing strikes again. “Over 155”???”
According to this chart that variation tops out at 155 lbs. There’s also, according to this chart a strict correlation between weight and height.
Our bloggers had some reactions too:
Cate: “I remember reading once, in the 80s or 90s, some sort of “advice” in a women’s magazine that women who were 5.0 should weigh 100lbs, and for every inch after that you could add 5lbs. At the time, my not-quite-5.2 self weighed about 118lbs, the tiniest I’ve ever been — I think I was a size 4. I now weigh about 140 – 145 (haven’t weighed myself for a while) and I don’t THINK I’ve grown. I’m incredibly fit and strong and happy with my body. But I think I’ve carried that bullshit algorithm in the back of my mind for three and a half decades, with a flicker of shame every time I get on the scale that I am so much heavier than I “should” be. When I let it, that flicker of shame can outstrip the accomplishment of riding my bike 150 km in a day, running 8km comfortably on a hot day, deadlifting 200 lbs or being a super functional, fit, healthy 56 year old. These charts are dangerous bullshit.”
Tracy: “I feel oppressed by diet culture just looking at the chart and the way they assume height and weight correlate in just that way.”
Kim: “I’m 5’8 and just after I did the London to Paris challenge I was at my lightest at 155lb. This was me as endurance cyclist not lifting at the time. So does that mean I need to ride 450km in 24 hours and 14 minutes if I want to deserve a wetsuit? Bahahahaha!!!”
Sam: “Oh, FFS. I’m 5’7 and 155 lbs is a weight I haven’t seen on a scale since my early twenties. So I guess I’m an XL in a suit that’s too long for me. This brings me to one of my pet peeves about XL sizes. Sometimes they’re just a bit larger than L and other times they’re four times the size of L since they’re meant to fit everyone larger than that. It’s like the “one size fits everyone bigger than L.”
Diane: “By this sizing, my daughter (who is petite by almost any standard but very muscular) might need to get a medium as she is on the cusp for weight. What happens if you weigh 117 lb? Or 140? The answer if you weigh over 155 is generally that you learn to swim without a wetsuit. There are some slightly larger models out there, but most larger swimmers I have talked to simply gave up on trying to find one.”
See also The Olympics Don’t Want Black Women To Win. Taryn Finley writes, “Sha’Carri Richardson, Christine Mboma, Beatrice Masilingi and others have been disqualified in the 2021 Olympics because of policies that are racist and unjust. There is no grace for for Black women at the 2021 Olympics.”
And then there’s this tweet which also lists the issues.
I know that some people want to say that these issues have nothing in common, that it’s not about race, it’s about rules that don’t mention race, but one thing all the cases have in common is that they target Black women Olympic athletes.
Ditto the swim cap story. There’s a lot of commentary that says competitive athletes would never wear such a swim cap since it would slow them down. Maybe that’s true. But if it puts someone at a competitive disadvantage, it’s hard to see why they’d be banned at the Olympics. It’s hard not to reach the conclusion that race is a factor and that the normative ideal of the Olympic athlete is white, in addition to being conventionally gendered.
The cyclists on the blog have long been fans of Black Girls Do Bike. Founded in 2013, with more than 100 chapters across the US, BGDB has been “growing and supporting a community of women/girls of color who share a passion for cycling” and “proving that black girls bike for fun, function, fitness & freedom.” I reached out to the founder of Black Girls Do Bike Monica Garrison, pictured below, and was thrilled when she agreed to a blog interview.
Our bloggers are in awe of the work you’ve done with Black Girls Do Bike. Great numbers, great advocacy and joy! Also cool kit. What’s been the key, do you think to your success?
Well, thank you very much! It has been a tireless and rewarding adventure. I think the secret sauce has been consistently providing inspiration with the perfect combination joyful imagery and compelling storytelling. In addition, I feel that there was a void in the cycling community that we’ve filled. Our leaders have a self-sacrificing spirit and our rides are welcoming to all, but especially, inexperienced riders.
We were curious if the mission has evolved or grown since you started?
At the core, our mission and methods have remained the same. We want to grow and support a community of women of color who share a passion for cycling by creating safe spaces where ladies can ride together, skill share, and fellowship. As we have established ourself and gained strategic partners what has grown is our ambition to effect change. We’ve recently transitioned to a fiscally sponsored non-profit, as this will open funding doors that were previously closed to us. We now have more than 180 ladies around the world in our leadership ranks. Our network is far reaching and our leaders have seats at many decision making tables.
What’s the single best event you’ve held?
Our first national meetup in Atlanta 2016 holds a special place in my heart. I stepped out of my comfort zone to plan an event in a city some 700 miles away from me. I wasn’t sure if anyone would actually make the trip and show up. Our local chapter stepped up to lend support and lead a ride for attendees. We received overwhelming support from a number of vendors which allowed us to giveaway some amazing prizes. We raised thousands of dollars for a great cause. We all managed to survive the Atlanta heat and create some great memories.
Cycling can be a pretty divided sport with lots of different kinds of communities—roadies, commuters, mtb enthusiasts, gravel riders. How do you bridge that?
We realize that we cannot be all things to all people. It’s true, our audience skews toward road and trail cycling which is a great place to start. We realize, though, we cannot be all things to all people. Our intention is to be an entry point into the larger cycling community. We are giving women skills that can translate into any type of cycling they chose to pursue. When ladies get going with us they often figure out what type of cycling they enjoy and go from there. They can also meet other women who have similar cycling aspirations. We have cyclists within our membership that cover just about all niches. For instance, about a year ago, our Denver Colorado Chapter was invited to attend a Mountain Bike 101 clinic. Our ladies took on the challenge and really enjoyed it. We also partnered recently with LittleBellas.com a mentoring mountain bike camp for young girls to help expand the vision of what women and girls on bikes look like.
Have you encountered any resistance?
Not as much as you’d think. I mean we still get the occasional internet troll who comments one one of our uplifting posts spouting nonsense and calling us segregationists. And I get reports from your Sheroes (that’s what we call our lady leaders) that at some events they’ve dealt with some micro-aggressions from other cyclists. What I’ve found is that you either get it or you don’t. Objections usually come from people who don’t take the time to learn what it is we are all about or who are generally uncomfortable around topics of race. We’re not in the business of changing minds. I you think the cycling world thrives when it is more diverse, then we are here to be a part of that vision.
What’s a big long term dream/goal/stretch ambition? What next? Any talk of a Canadian chapter?
And our next goal is to create a non-traditional BGDB team of athletes around the country who we can help move through the ranks of competitive cycling. We also certainly want to continue to expand our reach. Our first international chapter was established in London in 2020 during the pandemic and we hope to add many more. We’ve had inquiries over the years to start Canadian chapters but none have materialized. That would be amazing!
What should the world know that the world seems to overlook about Black women and bikes?
Know that there are thousands of women of color riding bikes. There are some challenges, however, that are unique to women of color who want to incorporate cycling into their lives. Most of us did not have an example of a female cyclist in our lives to model cycling. We sometimes struggle with caring for our natural hair in it’s many sizes and shapes while trying to fit a helmet correctly for safety. Some scenarios that would be intimidating for a women can become even more intimidating when you enter them as a women of color. For instance, the first time you enter a male dominated bike shop, showing up solo for a new group ride, or even riding on the road as a person of color can unnerving.
I confess I love your t-shirts that say “I ride bikes. You ride bikes. We should hang out!” but I wasn’t sure, as a white woman cyclist, if I should buy one! Would that be supportive or appropriating?
That would be a a totally appropriate way to show your support. That shirt is an example of something we designed to be welcoming and with universal appeal in mind. It’s just a cool bike t-shirt for bike people that happens to be made by blackgirlsdobike.org. Honestly, though, women and men of all races wear our gear. It’s a great way to show your support.
I’ve done some research on early feminism and cycling and the stories of Black women on bikes are hard to find but they are there. Do you have a favourite?
My favorite would have to be the story of the five women who biked from NYC to DC in 1928. In the context of the times, I just can’t even imagine the bravery it must have taken to set out on such a long journey full of unknown dangers. And considering the bike tech of the times, those miles had to be hard off their bodies, but they did it anyway and most certainly had many stories to tell from their journey. They also took the train back to NYC after completing the ride. I am a big fan of bike travel by train so I thought that was pretty cool. https://myrootsmyblog.wordpress.com/2020/08/05/five-black-women-cycle-250-miles-in-1928/
Also, what’s your favourite place and route to ride? Do you have a dream ride in your sights?
Close to home my favorite place to ride is the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. It’s a beautiful quiet trail that shows off Pittsburgh’s riverfront and has access to business districts and some local attractions. Beyond that, I’ve got a dream to one day ride from Miami to the southernmost point of Key West by bike. I think that would be a breezy ride with spectacular views and a big payoff the end.
I’ve written before about becoming a slow walker, becoming sensitive to all the boasts from friends about their walking speeds whenever ‘fast-walking=longevity’ makes the news, and feeling sorry that I was ever among their ranks, boasting of my fast walking ways and complaining about getting trapped behind slow walkers.
I’ve even stopped judging the ‘texting while walking crowd’. I always assumed that phone attention was making people slow, that if only they put away their g-damn phones they’d speed up, and now I know it isn’t so. Sometimes I check my messages while walking b/c I can at the speed I have to walk at.
Talk of step counts and walking speeds now sounds boastful to me. I know that people who talk this way aren’t boasting really. I know people don’t think they’re better than me because they walk more or walk faster.
I talk about cycling distances and speeds. I don’t think I’m morally superior for my cycling accomplishments. I don’t think people who don’t ride bikes are lazy. And yet, I’m getting a sense about why others might hear it in that way.
I think walking feels difference because almost everyone walks and it’s touted as the exercise for everyone. (And no, it’s not, not really.)
I do know I get more sympathy and understanding when I’m either wearing my knee brace or using a cane. I suspect without them people just think I’m lazy.
Yes, walking is wonderful. I miss it. But not everyone can walk for fitness. Not everyone can walk far or fast. We’re not worse people for walking slowly.