camping · cycling · fitness · Guest Post · traveling

Riding Solo, Part 2: Baggage (Guest Post)

by Julia Creet

I wrote in my first post that every material aspect of touring by bike seems to have a metaphorical one as well. How you pack your bags might be the most obvious.

Baggage. It’s a loaded word that translates directly to a loaded bike.

The multiple decisions of what to take and leave tell you so much about your need for comfort, the things you think you can’t live without, the fear that you might need something and not have it, or suffer for not having it, or feel foolish for not having it, or feel equally foolish for having pushed it and hauled it and never used it.

The novice bike adventurer, that is me, has to rely on other peoples’ lists, what experience has taught them is necessary—or extraneous. The first decision, and one with the biggest consequences for your route and weight is whether or not to camp.

Cruising from bed to bed is delightful—and much lighter—but a tent and sleeping bag and a little mattress and a tiny stove and pot and an areopress gives you ultimate freedom and coffee in bed in the most delicious places. It’s a paradoxical combination of baggage and freedom. Camping will easily add ten lbs to the bike but will allow you to pull off the road wherever you can. Everything else is a question of comfort and fear.

Like most riders, I performed the ritual of unloading, sending home a package of heavy and accumulated light things—each light thing feels like nothing on its own—after riding for just a few days. Some of my protection and comfort and cleanliness went with those things, but hauling them around just wasn’t worth the weight. You see the obvious psychic metaphor here.

And, a week later, as I contemplate the mountains of Cape Breton, I’ve deemed another bag of stuff not worth the drag. The bike is still very heavy. I haven’t weighed it; I don’t want to know. I’ve climbed a few steep hills now and know that I can crawl up just about anything, but no question, I feel every ounce.

Have I missed anything I’ve let go? Can’t even remember what I packed off, except that most of it I bought last minute and because I was checking off other peoples’ lists. What’s the heaviest thing you cannot do without? Water. Unlike everything else, you need more of it than you think you do.

I think about weight and baggage with almost every pedal stroke. If even the minimum I have now feels too much, what about all the things I have left behind? The one object I keep excising and adding back in—and here my attachments as a recovering English Prof are most obvious—is a book.

Julia Creet is a recovering academic who just wants to ride her bike.

covid19 · fitness · traveling

Traveling while COVID: tips from the FIFI team

My post last Thursday was all about traveling properly for the first time since the pandemic began, and figuring out how to move with joy and purpose, and not get too caught up in the anxiety. I asked my fellow FIFI pals for their thoughts on the topic, and today we’ve got some reflections and tips from Cate, Elan, Sam, and Mina.

MINA

I just traveled to Montreal last week! And I enjoyed my first run up Mont Royal, which grounds me here. Before I left jillions of hour early to get to the airport, because of how travel is in The Time of Covid, I was extra vigilant about getting in a good (aka fierce) pre-departure workout. I knew I’d spend hours breathing hot masked air, thus feeling even more trapped than usual in an airport and airplane. And I’ll sacrifice all variety in my wardrobe to bring my running kit, so I can get outside at my destination.

A wide-angle shot of downtown Montreal (busy with buildings) under a blue, clouded sky, the greenery of Mount Royal in the foreground. Seen from the top of Mount Royal; photo by Matthias Mullie on Unsplash.

The travel I’ve done during the pandemic has been about moving outside: hiking in Iceland and Italy; doing things where there are no crowds once I’m out of the airport. Travel has become a bigger commitment, given the regulations, so I notice my partner and I are going back to places we’ve been, instead of taking the chance on new destinations. Too much other uncertainty to want to gamble on a half-good outdoor experience.

ELAN

I’m travelling over holidays to a condo in Mexico – not a resort for fear of too many folks in a concentrated place. I’m looking forward to swimming in the ocean after 2 years of shut down gyms and beaches. But, I am also wrestling with the urge to be outside and move around with others, with the dilemma of having my partner forced to be around others by proxy because I will then be around him when I get back.

CATE

I’ve traveled more than most people during the time of COVID, mostly within Canada. Since the onset of the pandemic my workout routine hasn’t been much different than it was before, and when I am traveling my goal is always just to move at least once a day, with no expectations about weights or formal movement. My primary activity when I’m traveling, if I’m not on a bike trip, is just moving outside, walking or running, even when I’m not running much at home. When space is tight, I always pack my favourite trail running shoes, which are both excellent light hikers and decent runners for shorter distances.

In strange cities, I find myself doing different walk/run workouts than I would at home, maybe with a few fence-assisted pushups, an occasional stair or hill repeat, etc, thrown in. (In Vancouver recently, I did the 12 km Stanley Park seawall traverse a few times, twice with a 5k run embedded in the middle.) When I can, like Sam, I bring my folding bike, or take advantage of city-bike type rentals. I have also invested in a super-light yoga mat (too thin to use on concrete but fine on a hotel rug), which I wrap a stretchy band around, and throw in a few YWAs (Yogas with Adrienne) or my own little mobility routine.

A close-up of concrete steps, with a pair of legs in orange and grey Nike runners climbing. Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash.

I’ve been grateful recently that hotels I’ve been to have opened up gyms with a sign up sheet, capacity limits, and vax requirements. I enjoyed the crap out of hurling around a medicine ball in a hotel gym in Ottawa recently, for the first time in a couple of years. I’m heading to Uganda for three weeks in a couple of weeks, and I’ll bring the yoga mat and the trail runners, and just make sure I keep my body moving a bit. It’s not about Being an Athlete for me, it’s about tending to my body and keeping it flexible and limber during the stress of travel on top of the Stress of These Times.

SAM

COVID travel: I haven’t done it. But if I were travelling, a challenge for me these days, is that I can’t walk very much. I look in awe now at my huge step count days in Europe pre-COVID. So getting enough movement in when traveling is a challenge. I used to always do in-hotel room exercise routines, yoga, etc. And I love hotel gyms, and I love it when I can I fly with my Brompton and bike around a new city.

But all that feels like a blurry, distant memory. I both really miss travel, and yet I’m not sure we should be flying around the world given the worsening climate disaster.

Check in with me in a few years!

A pink Brompton, not unlike Sam’s beloved folding bike, rests against a stone wall. Somebody is bound to come along and hop on any minute now!

Readers, how is the return to travel sitting with you? Are you flying about again, and if so how’s it going? Are your climate concerns affecting your travel choices? What about lingering COVID concerns? Share thoughts, tips, and movement tricks with us in the comments.

covid19 · fitness · traveling

Traveling While COVID, or, same body, new movement reality

Last month, I got on an airplane. For the first time since December 2019.

For me, this is a big deal: usually, in The Before Times, I’d travel (for work and for me) several times a year, doing at least two round trip long haul journeys (family overseas; work all over the place). Since COVID, like so many of us, I’ve grown home-bound and weary, and wary of being adjacent to humans I don’t know. But we cannot live inside the pandemic’s trauma-inducing reality forever. And I had a voucher for British Airways to use before March 2022.

So I got on a plane one cool October evening, and flew overnight from Toronto to London.

A seductively blurry shot of a rank of British Airways tail fins at Heathrow terminal 5, taken from the inside of an airplane cabin through the little porthole window. It feels very 1969 to me, even though my plane was a 787 Dreamliner.

Normally (aka “Before Times” normally), going to London for me is going to my second home. I bring my bike; London and southeastern England is where I fell in love with road cycling, so I do lots of rides. I keep a swimsuit, cap and goggles in my travel bag, and I like to hit at least a couple of my favourite London-area pools with UK swim friends (London Fields Lido!!!). I walk a fair bit too, because London is a fabulous walking city, and sometimes I head to the Surrey Hills for organized hikes with family or other pals.

This time around, I knew this movement landscape would be radically curtailed. Though it’s still riding weather in the UK right now, bringing the bike, on top of all the other COVID-related travel admin and anxiety, was just too much to think about. Swimming is still by-booking-only at many pools, so I had to think well ahead about when I’d swim and how I’d get to where I was going. Those pools that accepted walk-ins made me nervous (no UK vaccine mandates in place at pools or gyms), so I knew I wouldn’t want to do that. Hiking would have been grand, of course, but everyone is 120% busier with getting back to life now that COVID is “over” but not, well, over – and many folks are still reticent about getting involved in day-long excursions with people outside their households.

What did I do instead? How did I navigate the moving-while-traveling-under-COVID reality? How did I cope with residual COVID anxiety?

A shot of half my face and neck, wearing sunglasses and a smile, standing in front of a bright blue sky and roiling sea. In the background you can see Brighton pier. I’d been for a sunshine walk on the sand while waiting for my friend and colleague Ben.

First, I doubled down on walking. I did an average of 5-8km a day, some days much more, some days less. I brought my comfortable, light-as-air walking shoes (I like Solomon Speedcross, though your mileage may vary!), and I made sure my orthotics were always in. Instead of taking the tube (more below!!) I strutted across Mayfair into the West End and across to the South Bank; on other days, after journeys to the south coast for work, I strutted along the beach in Brighton.

My foot injury still flared up, though, so I tried as much as possible to stretch; I bought an inexpensive yoga mat and blocks to keep at home with my UK family, and I also tuned into my regular Iyengar class on Zoom. I had a plan, as well, to keep up with Alex Class as much as possible, but the time zone difference got in the way more than I would have liked. I had my bands with me, though no weights, so when I did tune in for Alex I managed a light, largely body-weight, workout. That was, as it turns out, perfect given the accelerated walking regimen.

So much, so self-propelled movement; in (public) transit things were harder for me. In the UK, there are no mask or vaccine mandates in place, and cases are still pretty high. I experienced culture shock over my first couple of days – Canadians, as Cate reminded me, are perhaps among the most COVID-compliant people on earth, and pretty anxious about it! – but I found I adjusted surprisingly quickly. To keep myself safe, I wore N95 masks whenever I was in close proximity to more than a couple of dozen people (on the subway; at the theatre), and if I woke up with a sniffle or scratchy throat I took a rapid test. (In the UK these are free and widely accessible, which is brilliant, though I would have preferred a mask mandate much more.)

My big take-away for moving safely and happily while in COVID transit? Trust your body, and know that whatever movement you manage is good movement. Trust your (high quality) mask, and if you are vaccinated know you are very safe. This is not forever; you’ll get back to running/riding/swimming hard, lifting heavy, standing on your forearms while traveling soon enough. You’ll also get back to a feeling of relative safety in transit soon enough! Movement during travel is about keeping joints limber, moving with joy, keeping things loose and free, and combining movement with pleasure as much as possible. It keeps our brain cells healthy and our cortisol levels under control, too.

We know this is American thanksgiving, and lots of folks are traveling at the minute. So, tune in over the weekend for more ideas and thoughts from some of our regular Fit Feminist travellers. We hope we can offer a few options to help make the most of moving your body and staying safe and well while also moving about this holiday season.

And if you are celebrating this weekend – enjoy!

A peacock struts the grass at Holland Park, west London, where I walked a couple of times with my friend Erin. Please do not cook this bird at home this weekend!

Readers, what are you doing to stay safe and move well in transit? Let us know!

hiking · traveling · yoga

Perfect Yoga in Reykjavik

We landed in Reykjavik at 6:30 a.m., jet-lagged from a too-short overnight flight. After a no-nap day, I went to yoga with my friend, Hope, at 5 p.m. Because we didn’t have to pay in advance, we’d both been touch and go about the class all day, but at the last minute we decided to make the effort.

The day was chill and drizzly, which served the purpose of waking me up some on our 15-minute walk through an adorable neighbourhood of plain, flat-fronted houses painted in bright eye-catching colours. When we got to where the studio was supposed to be, there was a bakery. Puzzling. Until we looked up and noticed what seemed to be (and, indeed, turned out to be) a big spacious room on the second and top floor of the building.

We found the entrance tucked around the side in an alley of sorts, left our shoes on the stairs and climbed up into a big, cozy space—cement walls with what seemed to be graffiti relics from another time, half-painted over with more yogic designs; a high vaulted ceiling stuffed with insulation, covered by plastic sheeting taped to the fresh wood beams. One corner was piled with blankets, props and yoga mats, free for anyone to use. In fact, the whole payment system was quite loose. I didn’t have Icelandic currency, and I couldn’t get into my PayPal account on my phone. Then, when I tried to pay after class on my computer, I had another problem paying in Icelandic currency via PayPal. None of which phased the instructor in the least, even when we showed up the next morning for another class and once again forgot cash. I did ultimately pay via PayPal.

The class was in English. A relief. I was tired enough that following along without any verbal cues would have challenged my capacities. Yet all of the other yogis seemed local—I deduce this from the class cards they showed by way of payment. The instructor was a welcoming combination of wry, laissez-faire and yes-this-is-hard-but-give-it-a-try. Plus, she looked to be only a week or two away from giving birth, which added to the earthy, rooted, yet nourishing, ambience. Quick aside here: As a woman without children, I have a sometimes-complicated relationship with my feelings around pregnant women. So, I was surprised by the unequivocal radiance of the positive energy I felt.

The class started with a seated meditation, during which I nodded toward sleep and jerked into consciousness again a couple of times, with that slight feeling of nausea that coats me like Vaseline the day following a red-eye flight. But once we started moving, my body got happy. The class was strong and focused, a Goldilocks balance between challenge and ease (for me). By the end of the 75 minutes, I felt like I had been put back together.

How perfect.

We decided to go again at 9 a.m. the next morning. I barely woke up in time, but we made it to the class. Same great instructor. Shorter class, at 60 minutes. A stimulating morning flow. I was tired. Unsurprisingly. The class cleared cobwebs, reinvigorated and set me up for a day of exploring. Perfect again. Two for two at Reykjavik Yoga.

Plus, breakfast from the bakery below. 

I love going to yoga in a new town; helps me align with the place. Other days, I ran and hiked. The Icelandic landscape cuts me to the quick. It’s an easy place for me to satiate my abiding craving for movement. We did have a slight hiking mishap involving sleet, high winds, an unmarked trail and frayed hiker nerves, but that’s a story for another post.

Landscape on an hike in the Hengill region of Iceland

Traveling is by its nature an adventure. It’s a gift when I can find points of familiarity, which help me locate, while at the same time, immersing me in the newness. Yoga is one of those locators for me.

Do you have locator activities when you’re away?   

blog · camping · canoe · cycling · family · fashion · fitness · illness · nature · season transitions · Seasonal sadness · traveling

Blogging in September: My birthday, the blog’s birthday, back to school, and other themes

There are lots of things I could write about today. I’ve spent a fair bit of time pondering my choice of topics.

I was going to write about my annual thyroid cancer check up. It’s today. And if all goes well it’s my last annual check up. (Fingers crossed.) After today they’re every five years. My birthday last week was also mammogram day. It’s as if September weren’t a busy enough month for an academic. It’s also cancer screening season for me.

I thought about writing whether Tracy and I want to write a turning 60 book, to follow up our turning 50 project, Fit at Midlife: A Feminist Fitness Journey. We’re having dinner together tonight and no doubt the subject will come up

Let’s see. It’s also blog birthday season. As Tracy posted, happy 9th birthday blog! We’re nearly at 5000 posts too. That’s hard to believe. This post is 4990!

And the blog’s birthday and my birthday, not surprisingly given how the blog got started, are pretty close together. Another possible topic, what does 57 mean anyway?

Here’s a photo from my birthday bike ride!

Jeff, Dhurin, me, Kim, Ellen and Sarah on the birthday bike ride

At this time of year I often write about back to school and trying to stay physically active as work gets busier and busier. This year, unlike last, I’m back in my office. I’m not yet back at the gym.

I’m having big busy days filled with work and people. So many people! I gave a lecture to O-Week students (photo on the right) and hung out with incoming College of Arts students at our Food Truck lunch meet and greet (photo on the left.)

I also biked around meeting parents and students on move-in day. (Round photo at the bottom.)

Sam’s pink Bromption outside Zavitz Hall at the University of Guelph

I’m back in the office now, wearing (mostly) real clothes. I looked at my clothes the other day and wondered why there were so many pairs of yoga pants. Who needs five pairs of yoga pants? Oh right, work from home and the pandemic. I could write about wearing clothes again. I’m working my way back to real shoes but I am not there yet.

In recent years I’ve been suffering a bit from seasonal sadness and trying to tell myself new stories about fall and winter, leaning into the time of cold and dark. I’ve been trying to extend outdoor activities into the fall. We’re going canoe camping again one more time this fall. And we are also looking at more fall gravel riding plans. So there’s that.

I’m a bit nervous that the no travel thing is continuing and it looks like this will be another year in which I don’t get to go somewhere warm with my bike for the winter. I miss the southern US! I miss Florida and Arizona for winter cycling.

In the end, I just want to let you know how much we’ve been enjoying our time in Prince Edward County and likely will continue that into the autumn too.

How’s your September starting out as we move into the fall?

Here’s a farm frog and a some pumpkins.

Frog and pumpkins
cycling · holiday fitness · holidays · motivation · traveling · winter

Finishing my #31DaysOfWinterBiking (in Florida)

It feels like it’s cheating. But I did count Zwifting inside as winter biking. Anyway, for me, the main point of these social media challenges is to just increase the number of days I ride. I’m a pretty decent tough weather cyclist–I’ve got the gear and it still makes me smile–but even I can find January with its ice and cold and very dark days just a bit much. Enter the #31DaysOfWinterBiking. But also, for me, enter a week long vacation at the end of January riding my bike in Florida.

The plan: We loaded up the Prius and Jeff, Sarah, and I drove Saturday and Sunday from Guelph to Central Florida. It was about 20 hours, door to door. We stopped for the night on Saturday in a roadside motel in West Virginia. Sunday night we checked into our very cute cottage. Five days of Florida bike riding and then Saturday, tomorrow, we check out and do the same drive in reverse.

It’s a repeat of last year in some ways. Last year we went riding in Clermont though then Jeff was already on his boat in Florida and Sarah and I flew down. I liked where we stayed in Clermont but it wasn’t free for these dates this year. Instead, we’re in nearby Mount Dora, home of the Mount Dora Bike Festival.

The bike festival is in its 45th year and it brings hundreds of riders to this old cute Florida town. Their route maps are here. Our plan was to hang out and ride bikes in a leisurely, vacation style way, making use of the Mount Dora route maps and also driving back to Clermont to ride some of our favorites again.

Our tropical Mount Dora cabin

Day 1: Tangerine Ride

When we arrived in Florida Sarah was sick–cough, cold, sneezing, sore throat. On holidays! So not fair. So for our first day we noodled down to downtown Mount Dora, an old central Florida town full of coffee shops and gift stores, sat outside and drank lattes. Properly fortified we did the Mount Dora Bike Festival’s family friendly Tangerine Ride. I recommend it!

“With 10.8 miles and + 394 feet of climbing this is a nice, mostly flat, casual and un-guided ride out to one of our beautiful lakefront parks, Trimble Park.  Enjoy the park and then ride back through the historic town of Tangerine.”

Trimble Park

We’ve been amused, as Canadians, with all the bear warning signs. Do they come south for winter? Turns out, upon googling, that Florida black bears are a sub species of the North American black bear. You can read up here.

“The park is in a known bear habitat and you may also see alligators, squirrels, raccoons, gopher tortoises, slider turtles, snakes, lizards and many bird species including eagles, osprey, pelicans and hawks.” From a guide to Trimble Park.

Total distance ridden: 28 km

Day 2: Shortened version of the Three Bob’s Ride, including thrill hill

“With 41.6 miles and +1112 feet of Climbing this route was named after three cycling friends all named Bob.  This route was created from their friendly challenge to see which Bob could create the ride where you could spot the most lakes in Lake County in 40 miles.  This was the winning ride and the route brags about having a water feature for every mile it is long! Rolling hills and great forested land are also highlights of this ride.”

Highlights: So many lakes! Also “thrill hill.” It wasn’t really that big of a hill but this is flat Florida. Still, it was a fun descent. Lowlight: lunch stop ended up being MacDonald’s since the local diners closed at 2 pm, after lunch.

Total distance ridden: 55 km

Day 3: Shortened version of the Metric Swamp Century

“Very scenic ride through northern Lake County, it is named for the Emeralda Marsh Conservation Area that this ride will wind through.”

Highlights: Praline pecans with sweet Georgia heat spice for snacks, also an alpaca farm with alpaca boarding, you know in case you own an alpaca and need to take a vacation. Lowlight: Keep America Great signs. Sigh.

Total distance ridden: 70 km

Day 4: West Orange Trail

The West Orange Trail is 21 miles long and so out and back makes a pretty good ride. It’s a multiuse pathway, yes, but nicely paved and plenty wide. You can actually ride at speed through sections of it. We loved it last time and so we were determined to do it again.

From Wikipedia: “The West Orange Trail is a 22-mile (35 km) long multi-use rail trail owned by Orange County Parks and Recreation in Orange County, Florida, in the United States. The paved trail passes through downtown OaklandWinter Garden, and Apopka with most of its length built on old railroad alignments. To the west of the West Orange Trail is the South Lake-Lake Minneola Scenic Trail in Lake County which was connected to the trail in 2007.”

Highlights: Love the wide paved pathway and the town of Wintergarden. We stopped there for coffee and lunch and I bought an Orange Trail bike jersey. Lowlight: Trying to navigate four way stops when the path crosses roads with riders with different tolerances for looking and riding through. I’m the nervous nellie in this crowd. Also we encountered our first rain on the way back.

Total distance ridden: 45 km

Wintergarden

Day 5: Sugarloaf

It was supposed to be the “Assault on Sugarloaf” but by Friday I’d caught Sarah’s cold. With a sore throat and cough I agreed to ride up the local big hill but I wasn’t about to be mounting an assault on anything.

Here’s a description of Sugarloaf by Climbbybike.com:

“The sugarloaf mountain is situated in Florida (US). This climb belongs to the Florida hills. The sugarloaf mountain via clermont, fl is ranked number 1 of the Florida hills. The climb is ranked number 427 in United States and number 11779 in the world. Starting from clermont, fl, the sugarloaf mountain ascent is 1 km long. Over this distance, you climb 67 heightmeters. The average percentage thus is 6.7 %. The maximum slope is 16%.”

In the end it started to rain and got dark and once we got off the lovely bike paths the cars were passing too close for my comfort. Sarah made it up Sugarloaf but I called for Jeff’s rescue wagon. Here’s the lovely bike trail.

Somehow when I imagined bike riding in Florida I never imagined such lovely paved bike trails.

Total distance ridden, for me: 15 km
For Sarah: 38 km
For Jeff: 0 km (he was also getting sick and was driving the support vehicle)

I made it through January! Yay! It’s been a long month. And a very gloomy one.

From here on in it’s a quick countdown to spring. Right?

cycling · fitness · traveling · winter · yoga

Goat Yoga in Florida?

A beginner’s guide to goat yoga

Look what I got for Christmas, a beginner’s guide to goat yoga. Hey, I’m not a beginner. I think I’ve been three times. I’m a fan. But still, it’s a fun book. Thanks Mallory!

We’re currently heading to Florida to ride our bikes for a week. But it won’t be all bike riding. We’re thinking of going here on our rest day, Dancing Moon Goat Yoga. We’ve packed our yoga mats for Yoga with Adriene. After 20 hours driving, with one overnight stop, we’ll definitely need it.

The last time I went to goat yoga I didn’t want to give the baby goat back!

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I'm keeping this goat! #goatyoga

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I went to a studio/farm just outside London with my son Gavin and they actually let us stick around after and bottle feed the baby goats and tuck them into bed.

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#goatyoga

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Here’s to bike riding in the sunshine and to goat yoga too.

rest · sleep · traveling · yoga

Sam has a bad flight and is fighting jet lag

I often claim that sleep is my superpower! 

I am one of those people who can sleep almost anywhere, anytime. I sleep on planes and I rarely experience jet lag. My trick is simple: arrive well-rested, spend time outside, make it through the day, and then bang, I’m good to go after a night’s sleep in my new location. It’s a good trick and I benefit lots from it. I’ve flown to New Zealand for four days and returned to work not much the worse for wear.

But right now I’m in Munich, speaking at a conference on Neglected Relationships.

” Personal Relationships have been a topic of philosophical research for quite some time. And rightfully so: they can contribute more to our well-being, give meaning to our lives, and generate salient moral duties and responsibilities. However, the debate has been focused on just a few types of relationships: friendships, the nuclear family, romantic partnership and co-citizenship. In this conference, we aim to explore the focus and explore what we call neglected relationships. These are kinds of relationships that play important part in our personal and moral lives, but that have gone largely underexplored by moral philosophers so far. ” My talk was on chosen family.

My flight turned out to be the Lufthansa equivalent of Air Canada Rouge. (It’s Rouge on the way home, I think.) I’m flying Basic Economy. I flew here on the “overnight” flight–scare quotes because it was just a 5 hour flight. The seats were super small, hard, and uncomfortable. I couldn’t sleep but I also couldn’t work because the person in front of me reclined into my lap. So I arrived sore and scrunched up and very, very tired. Thanks to my compression socks I didn’t have swollen ankles. But my knee hurt a lot from sitting squished into a small space with my knee brace on.

I walked to my hotel and that helped a bit. I napped too before settling down to work on my talk. But I was still really sore. Luckily Yoga with Adrienne came to my rescue! I discovered YWA through the 219 in 2019 fitness challenge group. I knew if I was going to make it to 300 workouts in 2019, I’d need an at home/travel plan. This series of moves really helped with the unscrunching. Indeed, after a day of sitting in talks I might just do it again!

My talk went well. I got some really good comments and I’m looking forward to working on it some more.

Here’s another good thing. Yummy vegetarian/vegan conference food. Also, no single use plastics. These are salads and dressing in glass bowls.

Glass bowls of salad and dressing. Yum!
hiking · holidays · nature · traveling

Trekking in the Pyrenees, and not trekking in the Pyrenees

Last week I finally got my summer holiday. I really had to wait for it this year, but September did finally come! My partner and I went to northern Spain, where he’s from. We spent some days with family and friends, but we also spent three days hiking in the Pyrenees. In total, it was a five-day adventure because we needed to factor in two extra days to get there and back by public transport. As the owner of a hostel we stayed at put it, “people think there’s a motorway out here connecting everything, but that’s not quite the case”. I would say it’s definitely not the case. There’s one bus a day from the nearest larger city in each direction, if you’re lucky, and it meanders along curvy mountain roads, stopping at every village along the way. It was exactly what we wanted: to have some “us time”, just the two of us, in nature.

a horizontal white bar above a red one, painted on a tree.
GR11 signage: a horizontal white bar above a red one, painted on a tree.
a pole with arrow-shaped wooden signs pointing in different directions saying "GR11" and the names of different villages.
More GR 11 signage: a pole with arrow-shaped wooden signs pointing in different directions saying “GR11” and the names of different villages. There are three arrows, the middle one pointing towards the right and our destination on day one: Hiriberri.

For a bit of background, we decided to do a trek of three stages on the GR11 Transpyrenees trail. “GR” stands for Grande Randonée in French, or Gran Recorrido in Spanish (“long hike”), and is used to designate a network of long-distance hiking trails across Europe. The GR11, or “Transpirenáica“, runs from Cabo Higuer on the Basque coast all the way across to Catalunya and finishes at Cap de Creus. We chose three stages in Navarre (stages 5, 6, and 7), because the area is beautiful and was accessible by public transport from Bilbao (via Pamplona). The stages in this area are around 20 kilometres each and somewhat demanding mostly because there’s a lot of up and down, but no alpine mountaineering skills are needed.

Purple wild crocuses surrounding a silver thistle. This flower is a symbol of good fortune in the Basque region.
Pretty local flora: purple wild crocuses surrounding a larger yellow flower (a silver thistle, Wikipedia tells me). This flower is a symbol of good fortune in the Basque region.

The trail did not disappoint. On the first day, it rained in the morning, but cleared up by the afternoon. The next two days were beautiful weather: bright blue skies and sunshine! On day two, we had a lot of wind while hiking along an exposed ridge, but it was all safe and, have I mentioned, beautiful?

A wide path meandering along a soft slope, high mountains in the far distance.
A wide path meandering along a soft slope, high mountains in the far distance. The path wasn’t always this wide and flat though!

Also, cute villages! And nice country hostels and hotels!

a small hamlet nestled into a valley beneath a mountain
Cute village, exhibit (a): a small hamlet nestled into a valley beneath a mountain (that we hiked down and then back up on the other side!)

Unfortunately, we did what we usually do when we go on holiday and both got a cold. I don’t know how, but every time we’re on leave, at least one of us gets sick. I don’t know if it’s the germs on the plane, the change in weather, or the sudden lack of stress, or a combination of all three. This time, it hit my partner first, so by the time we were on the trail he was already recovering. But he kindly shared it with me, so on day three we actually had to call it quits. I was so congested I could hardly breathe, let alone hike 20 kilometres with a backpack.

I was so disappointed. But we did the sensible thing and took a taxi from the village we’d spent the night in to the next place, our final destination (Isaba). It was actually a fun taxi ride. The driver is also the local school bus driver and chauffeurs anyone who needs to go somewhere in the area, from school kids to drunk local youth during the village festival and hikers with head colds. We then spent the rest of the day wandering about and resting in the sun in Isaba, which also happened to be the nicest of the villages we stayed in. It’s surrounded by pine forests on steep slopes and consists of lovingly restored traditional houses. I would happily have spent another few days there.

A narrow cobbled street lined with traditional houses with wooden balconies on the left. A square stone church tower in the background and forest-lined mountains in the background.
Cute village, exhibit (b): Isaba. A narrow cobbled street lined with traditional houses with wooden balconies on the left. A square stone church tower in the background and forest-lined mountains in the background.

I’ll be honest, I’m still angry with that stupid cold that made us miss the last day of our trek. But what can you do? I suppose I should be happy I didn’t get really sick, so by the afternoon of that day I was well enough to take a short stroll around the area. But despite the dreaded lurgy throwing a spanner in the works of our trekking plans, it felt so good to be out there, largely on our own. In two days of hiking, we met exactly five people on the trail. It was a much needed respite from the current busyness of both our jobs and lives.

But still, I need to know: do any of you have any tips to avoid the dreaded holiday cold?

aging · cycling · fitness · traveling

Cycling into one’s retirement years

As you likely know three of the regular bloggers here–Cate, Susan, and me– plus occasional visitor Sarah and friend David, spent the last ten days on a Newfoundland cycling adventure. I’d done it before. See here.

But I loved it so much I wanted to do it again and share it with friends. This time I loved that it rained different days of the trip and so I got to endure and enjoy different sections of the journey. Labrador looks different when it’s not foggy and rainy!

There’s lots to write about: the lovely people we rode with and met along the way, the rugged beauty of Newfoundland, the hills, the wind, the rain. It was hard and challenging and rewarding.

Me, David, and Sarah holding our bikes above our heads in front of the Newfoundland and Labrador sign

One of the things that always hits home on these bike trips where the majority of the participants are in their retirement years is the scope of what’s possible in the second half of life.

There’s Pixy who at 63 isn’t just biking the Nfld trip. She’s riding all the way home to Connecticut, solo, carrying all of her own stuff. Keith and John were both 72 and looked like they belonged on their bikes. Now they might be older than me but they have one big advantage, time to train. They expressed admiration for those of us working full-time, getting out on our bikes in the evenings, early mornings, and weekends. But still, thinking of the trip’s retirees, there’s something lovely about having that fitness, that drive to train, later in life when there’s time to enjoy it.

One way to tell this story would be to focus on the bus that accompanied us every step of the way. Not our sag wagon and gear truck. The seniors’ bus tour that was visiting all the same places. Writing this post a few years ago I might have contrasted the seniors on the bus tour with the seniors on our bike trip.

I’m less sure what to make of that contrast these days.

What 70 looks like isn’t just a matter of choice. Things happen. My knee has made me painfully aware of that. I also started thinking about the 30 somethings on our bike trip. Most people their age couldn’t do this trip either. It’s a matter of choice, of luck, of training, and of interest. I’m not sure that that’s different for seniors than it is for 50 somethings and 30 somethings.

You’ve got to want to travel this way. You have to think the rewards outnumber the hardships. And you’ve got to train and get ready and make cycling fitness part of your life. That’s true for all of us.

The whole bike trip crew boarding the ferry to Labrador