fitness · traveling

Catherine becomes a tourist and boy are her feet tired

This weekend I’m in San Francisco with my sister, touristing around, seeing sights, and eating very yummy food. Our plans Saturday included taking public transportation, traditional cable cars included, to see much of the city before renting a car and heading out to nature.

We ended up on foot for much of the day; the cable car service was interrupted and crowds made accessing public transport less efficient than walking.

So we walked. And walked. Up hills. And down hills. And walked some more.

What I really wanted to do after all that up and down walking was this.

However, given that we are lucky humans staying at a hotel, we are doing the next best thing: swimming in this lovely hotel pool.

A lovely hotel pool. We are checking it out Sunday.

We are planning other forms of transport for the rest of our trip: ferries, bikes, buses, and yes, that so-far elusive cable car. And yes, more walking.

It’s been a while since I’ve pounded the pavement in a city I was visiting. My feet and temper aren’t used to it. Luckily, my sister has lots of experience dealing with whiny family members (she has three children), and we end up joking and laughing about something or nothing.

I’m looking forward to lots more exploration with my sister, and plan to do a lot of mileage under the power of my own two feet. However, scheduling in some lolling seems like a good plan too. I’ll report back on both next week.

fitness · gadgets · habits · self care · trackers · traveling

More movement = a less cranky traveller

Unless I’m in a car, I’m not a good traveller.

I’m not afraid of flying or anything like that. I just feel disconcerted by the whole ‘hurry up and wait’ nature of flying anywhere.

I feel like I’m stuck in the in-between the whole time I am travelling, and the fact that I usually have to head to the airport around 3am never helps. (Such are the travel woes of living on this island – fewer flights and limited departure times.)

So, really, it’s the perfect recipe for a cranky Christine – disturbed sleep, a lack of control over my schedule, feeling crowded, disrupted meal times, limited bathroom access, and an even looser sense of time than usual.

A view of a plane’s wing as taken from a passenger window.
Image description: a photo of the plane’s wing as taken from my window. The sky is various shades of blue and there are clouds quite a distance below the wing.

I do my best to minimize how disruptive these things are for me and I do what I can to remember that travelling makes me cranky so I need to be patient with myself and with everyone else.

I think (I hope!) I’ve gotten pretty good at being patient with other people but I sometimes forget about being patient with myself so I often arrive at my destination feeling rumpled, frustrated, and fed up.

But, on a recent trip to Sudbury for a conference, I discovered that I had an unexpected ally in my desire to arrive at my destination a little less frazzled…

My wrist spy! (Content warning: the post at that link is about grief.)

Yep. My Apple watch made a HUGE difference for me in this trip.

The fact that it changed time on its own helped me to *be* in whatever time zone I was in, which helped me feel a little less in-between.

My reminder to take my meds was obviously helpful.

But really, the most useful thing was being able to see that I wasn’t getting my usual movement in – I was sitting too long, my exercise minutes weren’t increasing, and I wasn’t working toward my move goal.

When I was on the plane, those flat numbers inspired me to stretch a little instead of just sitting still. (Yes, I was careful not to disturb my seat mates.)

In airports, I did a little chair yoga, stood up to wait, and did a little extra walking around, just to keep those numbers moving. (Like I’ve said before, I love how my Apple watch helps me to remember that little bits of movement all count…and they add up!)

A photo of a person’s right foot resting on their left knee.
Three important things to notice in this photo – 1) my sneakers! With gold stars! 2) my water bottle – which was another ally in the battle against crankiness 3) the strangely mesmerizing airport carpet. Image description: In this photo, I’m sitting on a chair and I’ve taken the photo looking down at my right foot and ankle resting on my left knee and I am about to lean forward to stretch my right hip. I’m wearing black leggings and white canvas sneakers with gold stars on them. My light green water bottle is standing on the floor to my left.

By the way, if you ever find yourself in need of a way to baffle some burly young men in an airport, I highly recommend chair yoga. They were perfectly nice burly young men and I’m sure the fact that they moved slightly further away from me was merely a coincidence. 😉

As a bonus, my watch also helped me during every day of the conference, reminding me that I needed to stand, reminding me to work toward my move goal, and showing me that I hadn’t gotten my exercise minutes yet.

Continuing to track (and work toward) those things was a wonderfully familiar thing amid the chaos of travel and the fun but out-of-my-usual-routine days of the conference.

Keep up with those three things not only helped anchor me while I was away from home but the fact that I kept moving helped me to feel less tense, less stiff, and more relaxed the whole time.

I didn’t transform into the poster girl for contented travel but I was definitely less cranky.

I’m calling that a victory.

fitness · hiking · motivation · traveling

Sometimes downhill all the way is okay

I am in Alvarenga, Portugal, a small town of just over 1000 people, about an hour and a half outside of Porto. It’s in the hilly countryside, filled with vineyards and orange and almond trees. I am with 5 other women, traveling on holidays.

Map if Arouca, Portugal
Arouca, Portugal

There’s a big, award-winning tourist attraction nearby in the town of Arouca, which was developed in 2020. After traversing the world’s largest pedestrian suspension bridge (516 metres), there’s a hikeout out on the Paiva Walkways. It’s about 8 kilometres, almost entirely downhill, on a series of wooden staircases and boardwalks that follow rocky faults on the left bank of a rushing river.

We are 6 relatively healthy middle-age women, wearing multiple merino layers and carrying full water bottles. We are traveling with 40 litre backpacks rather than suitcases. The day we went to Arouca, it was overcast but warm for an average February day in Portugal—perfect for a vigorous hike.

The suspension bridge and part of the wooden staircase and hikeout below
The suspension bridge and part of the wooden staircase and downhill hikeout below

We crossed the bridge just after 11:00am and started out on the downward hike, enjoying the green and rocky scenery. Used to day hikes of greater distance, many of us expected to refresh briefly at the end, then walk back up. As long as we arrived in time the final bridge tours that day, at 2:00 or 3:30pm, once back at the top we were free to recross the bridge at no extra charge. What a fun challenge!

Some of the staircase portion of the hike
Some of the staircase portion of the hike

We took our time on the way down, stopping to take photos and to watch rafters and kayakers navigate the white waters below. We nodded at the hikers who passed us going back up the walkway: that would soon be us! Then, suddenly, we were within a kilometre of the hike out exit, and noticed it was nearly 1:45pm.

Would we reverse course and start back up the hilly hike, returning to our start point? Would we shift gears from our leisurely pace and “hoof it” to make sure we would arrive on time to re-cross during the last bridge tour?

Some of the boardwalk portion of the hike​
Some of the boardwalk portion of the hike

We did not, because we knew that we have nothing to prove—to the trail or to each other. Instead of turning around to ascend, we continued downhill at our enjoyable pace, then had a celebratory beverage at the end. Rather than hiking back up, which we probably *could* have done, we took a cab back to our residence to celebrate our achievement—a beautiful day out walking in the Portuguese countryside.

Some days, you can hike downhill all the way and still have a great day.

fitness · traveling

Fitness bands and Arthur Less

Did you buy resistance bands during the pandemic? I did.

I’m not using them much at home any more, except for physio. Mostly I’m happily back at the gym. But I do travel with them.

When I pack them in my suitcase, I’m always reminded of Arthur Less, the protagonist of the novel Less by Andrew Sean Greer. It’s one of my fave books in recent years, the story of a gay writer turning 50 who travels around the world after a break up. BTW: The audiobook is also very good.

Here’s the relevant bit from the book:

“Less has, for years, travelled with a set of rubber bands that he thinks of as his portable gym—multicolored, with a set of interchangeable handles. He always imagines, when he coils them into his luggage, how toned and fit he will be when he returns. The ambitious routine begins in earnest the first night of any journey, with dozens of special techniques recommended in the manual (which he lost long ago in Los Angeles, but remembers in part); they involve wrapping the bands around the legs of beds, columns, and rafters, and performing what the manual called “lumberjacks,” “trophies,” and “action heroes.” He ends his workout lacquered in sweat, feeling that he has beat back another day from time’s assault. The second night, he advises himself to let his muscles repair. The third, he begins the routine with half a heart as the thin walls of the room tremble with a neighbor’s television. Less promises himself a better workout in a day or two. In return for this promise: a doll-house whiskey from the room’s doll-house bar. And then the bands are forgotten, abandoned on the side table: a slain dragon.”

Are you wondering what to do with your resistance bands?

This looks like a pretty good list that focusses on glutes: 13 Resistance Bands Moves for Workouts You Can Do Anywhere.

And here’s a list of resistance band moves for arms and abs.

What your favourite resistance band workout? Pls share it in the comments for those of us travelling with resistance bands in our suitcases.

Red yellow green and blue round plastic toy
fitness · traveling

Ontario, by bike and by foot

This week I drove to London, Ontario from my home in Boston. I’m visiting Tracy, Samantha and other friends and giving a talk this coming week in Guelph. I’m also doing a little exploring, both local and regional.

First, the local: I took my bike out on the Thames Valley Parkway in London. It’s a fun multi-use and well-used (as far as I can tell) path for biking and walking.

It was easy riding– a lot of flat, and a some short ups and downs to make it interesting. I took a few detours to take pictures and enjoy the day.

My new Lemond e-bike on a bridge, enjoying the sun.
My new Lemond e-bike on a bridge, enjoying the sun.

On to the region: on Saturday, Tracy and I went to Bayfield, ON, a lovely little town on Lake Huron. We browsed in shops, had lunch, and walked to a pretty park on the lake.

It was a perfect day for strolling, chatting, taking pictures, and enjoying what nature and culture had to offer.

Today I head to Guelph for a BBQ at Sam’s and more exploring. So I’ll sign off now. More updates to come!

fitness · traveling

Guaranteed fun: Irish dance class in Galway

Image description: a group of women and men posing for a photo outside with water in behind them. Siobhan the dance teacher is in the middle front. The others are my photography tour group and I (the subset who did the Irish dance class).

I just got back from a long-awaited photography tour of Ireland for a couple of weeks and there were so many memorable moments with new friends and beautiful places.

But one stand-out experience that delivered an unexpected blast of sheer joy for all concerned was an Irish dance class in Galway, taught by Siobhan, who used to tour in the US with Riverdance. Her company is called Irish Dance Experience and one member of our small tour group booked it in advance. I signed up on a lark, not having met any of my tour group in person yet and not having a particular interest in Irish dance and not being an especially skilled dancer (though I enjoy dancing nonetheless).

By the time we got to Galway we had been on the photography tour for more than a week, so everyone knew and was comfortable with everyone else. That made a difference because despite Siobhan being an incredibly good teacher and despite us becoming better in just over an hour than we ever thought possible, we were all really going out on a ridiculous limb! We looked hilarious. But we rocked the dance with brooms and did a badass Riverdance finale. (you’ll have to take my word for it)

Anyway, we had an absolute blast and here is Siobhan’s Instagram post about our group:

That’s me in the blue t-shirt swinging with Joey from Texas. The entire group was smiling and laughing almost the whole time. The only other facial expression was perhaps intense concentration (Irish dancing requires counting and coordination). Siobhan said we did great.

There is more video, and watching it makes me laugh every time. But we made a pact that it would never be distributed for public consumption. I’m keeping up my end of the pact.

If you’re ever in Galway I recommend her class. So much fun.

P.s. Galway restaurant recommendation for anyone who appreciates the combination of Michelin stars and lack of pretension. Incredible food including outstanding vegan options. Ard Bia at Nimos:

cycling · traveling

Sam has that look in her eyes, she’s thinking about bikes

Because of course she is.

You need something positive to think about while doing lots and lots of painful physio.

Even Duolingo knows something is up.

Ella tiene dos bicicletas

In the interests of honesty and putting all my cards on the table, let’s recap the bike situation as it stands. My current fleet contains:

1. A folding bike, a bright pink Brompton

Its origin story is that I bought it new three years ago so that I could have a bike to travel with when I went to conferences. This was the summer I was referred for knee replacement surgery and I needed ways of getting around that weren’t walks even for short distances. It’s great for folding up for travel and I use it a lot in Guelph too. Love wearing regular clothes and riding around campus with it.

Pink Brompton at an Airbnb in Halifax

2. A fat bike

This bike was one I got in a swap for my cyclocross bike. The cyclo-cross bike was my bonus thyroid cancer bicycle. I used it some but not enough to justify keeping it. At the same time I was renting fat bikes and loving it. So I decided to sell the cyclo-cross bike and buy a fat bike but instead found someone who wanted to trade. Perfect! Sarah now has a fat bike too and I love bombing around in them on local trails and taking them on weekend adventures.

Sam’s fat bike

3. A very nice road bike

I think this is bike 5 in the series of very nice Cannondale road bikes that I’ve owned. I broke the frame of the last one in Newfoundland. This is its replacement. It has fancy electronic shifting. It feels fast. I like sprinting on it. And it climbs pretty well too. It’s also comfortable for long rides. Jeff found the seller in Montreal and Sarah and I went to purchase and bring it home. It’s the bike I do almost all of my big outdoor rides on, the bike rally, pedal for Parkinson’s etc.

Sam’s Cannondale

4. An older road bike that I lend to friends and let hang out on the trainer

I bought this bike used because I was wanting something more aero, good for solo riding. It’s a fun bike. It’s not particularly comfortable but it’s great for distances under 50 km. These days though it’s pretty much a dedicated Zwift machine.

That’s the Cervello on a wahoo trainer, wheel on, but I have since I acquired a wheel off, direct drive trainer, a tacx neo 2..

5. Adventure road bike

This was a birthday bike from 7 years ago. Bike thieves cleared out our porch bicycle cage in London, Ontario stealing my commuting bike and Sarah’s good road bike. Jeff bought me this bike from Two Wheels in London, Ontario for my birthday as a replacement. It’s a great bike. I love trail riding on it and commuting with loaded panniers. It’s a very sensible bike.

Adventure road bike for trail riding and commuting

All of these bikes are loved, well maintained, and used often. They play important roles in my life. I also have an old track bike but I’m not counting that. It hasn’t been ridden in years and I would sell it except Sarah thinks occasionally that she might like to give track cycling a try.

So what’s missing?

Well actually, if I were racing time trials a time trial bike is missing. Ditto cyclocross. But I’m not doing those things. I’m also not mountain biking. I’m not aiming to create a bicycle zoo or a Noah’s ark of bikes around here. We don’t need one of each kind. That’s not the point.

What’s missing that I actually do is gravel riding. My adventure road bike is fine on gravel but it’s not a gravel bike. It’s stable but it’s not particularly fast. On its own that might not be enough to push me into new bike think. Fast is overrated. I’m slower than Sarah anyway these days. Also, I’m not that brave on gravel.

But I’ve also been thinking lately about travel and about a bike to travel with. Yes, my road bike, that’s my usual choice. But lately I’ve been wanting to do gravel rides too when I travel. When I next go to Australia or New Zealand on sabbatical, I know I won’t be happy with just a road bike.

That’s the line of thinking that gets me into new bike land. So what I’d like is a bike that can do double duty, both road and gravel. I’d travel with one bike and either two sets of wheels or more minimally two sets of tires. Essentially I’m in the market for a road bike that can take 35 mm gravel tires.

Here are some examples:

Trek Domane

Specialized Crux

BMC Road Machine One Three

Norco Section

Giant Contend AR

Cervelo Caledonia

Surly Midnight Special

Allied All-Road

There’s lots more. This would allow me to upgrade my gravel bike and have a bike I can travel with that will do both road and gravel. I think I’d keep the adventure road bike for bike packing and for commuting.

Depending on how/when my knee heals and the timing of the next surgery, I’d also like to go riding in Cuba and I know I’d want wider tires there.

I know that it won’t be a perfect gravel bike. There are other differences and it will still be a compromise bike. But I’m thinking I don’t need to be a gravel bike purist. I’ll always be primarily a road cyclist. So this compromise for the sake of travel seems okay.

If that’s Plan A, Plan B is just to buy a gravel bike and deal later with the travel issue since Australia and NZ travel are still a few years off.

Apologies for all the bike geek talk and the privilege that comes with travel and owning multiple bikes. But I’ve needed something fun to focus on while I recover from knee replacement surgery.

Any recommendations?

health · planning · schedule · self care · traveling

Go Team! May 31: Your future self will thank you.

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those posts about how your hard work now will pay off later.

In fact, this is a post about trying to schedule LESS work for yourself.

I just got back from my first work conference in many, many years. The event was held in British Columbia and I live all the way on the other side of the country in Newfoundland and Labrador.

I have a lot of stress around travelling under normal circumstances (I’m not afraid of flying, I find being at the whims of the airline schedules nerve-wracking) and that stress was intensified by concerns about Covid.

And, of course, flying across the country, across multiple time zones (there is a 4.5 hour difference between home and BC), added another layer of trickiness to the whole process. My flights to BC found me getting up at 2am to be at the airport form my 5am flight, and after complications, delays, and waiting for flights, I had been up for 26 hours by the time I got to bed that night. My flights home were less complex but I took off in Nanaimo at 3pm Sunday and got home at 11am on Monday – a schedule that included a 5 hour wait in Toronto airport in the middle of the night.

I’m home as I sleepily write this on Monday night and I am finding myself grateful for something my past self did for me.

When I booked those flights, I thought about how I would probably be extra tired right now from traveling, time zones, and from several days of peopling, and I put a note in my calendar to protect myself this week.

Part of a paper calendar page with notes in blue pen about returning from a conference and keeping schedule light.
My calendar entries for May 30 and 31. The dates are in grey text on the left side of the page and the days are under one another rather than next to each other going across the page. The note on Monday reads ‘Back from SCCC’ and the note on Tuesday reads ‘Keep schedule light’

It might not seem like much but that note to ‘keep schedule light’ made me mindful of taking good care of myself. Every time I turned to add something to this week in my calendar, I had a reminder that my capacity was going to be reduced right now and that it would be a good idea to schedule accordingly.

Obviously I have certain commitments and obligations this week, and I have to keep preparing for my black belt test on the 19th, but I managed to avoid adding very much extra to my schedule and I feel very relieved about that.

So, Team, I would like to invite you to help your future selves a little.

If you have busy or stressful times ahead, how can you give yourself some extra space in your schedule?

Can you avoid taking on extra things at that point?

Is there anything you can drop or reschedule?

If you don’t have a lot of control over your schedule, can you give yourself permission to take some things a bit slower or do them in a easier or more straightforward way? (i.e. Even if you can’t take a break, can you cut yourself some slack?)

Sometimes, giving yourself a little extra space can be as straightforward as reminding yourself after a long weekend that you can’t get as much done in a 4 day workweek as you can in a 5 day week and to consider that fact when you make that week’s schedule.

This may take some practice. We’re all very used to pretending that we work at the same capacity all of the time and then just gritting our teeth and struggling through our low-capacity weeks.

In fact, if it hadn’t been for the fact that my flights home were on two separate dates, I probably wouldn’t have thought to cut myself some slack this week. But I am so very glad that I did.

And no matter whether you manage to cut yourself a few moments’ slack, to go easy with your self-talk in a busy time, or if you can organize your schedule to accommodate your lower-capacity times, I think you deserve a gold star for your efforts.

Taking good care of ourselves in this cult-of-productivity world is a challenging thing and your efforts count.

PS – Your future self will thank you for anything you do to make their life easier.

A drawing of a gold star with rounded points.
A photo of a drawing of a cartoonish gold star with rounded ‘points.’ The colour is darker, almost orange toward the edges of the star and the entire star is outlined in black. The background is made of thin black diagonal lines. And the drawing is resting against lined paper.
challenge · cycling · fitness · traveling

Five Decisions that Shaped a First Cycling Trip

Early in the year, my friend invited me to cycle a 132-km rail trail in western Ontario known as the “G2G Trail” (Guelph to Goderich, which Sam has blogged about before) over the May long weekend. I said yes, though I hadn’t cycled seriously since summer bike tag with the neighbourhood kids over 30 years ago.

Thus began a series of decisions during a challenging but adventure-filled two-day cycling trip.

Decision 1: Get advice and follow it

Elan’s bike, Zoë, with much cycling gear gifted and borrowed.

From reading online articles about cycle touring I discovered water camelbaks. Where I got my bike tuned up I learned about comfortable saddle heights. I followed advice from fellow FIFI blogger FieldPoppy to spin at the gym in advance. Thanks to suggestions from friends, I purchased my first pair of shammy shorts and found myself unpacking and re-packing my gear 3 days ahead.

Result: Much gear and preparation that reduced my uncertainty somewhat.

Decision 2: Buy into shared optimism

Cheery friends, and our mascot, Hammy.

We all knew it was going to rain. The weather report had not shifted all week long. But the sun was shining hopefully when we set out from Guelph. Wearing all my gear, I looked like I knew what I was doing. At every kilometre sign, one friend did a fist pump and whooped with excitement. “Will she do that the whole way?” I asked another in our group. “Yeah, probably,” was the reply.

Result: Sponging up the eager optimism of my more experienced cycling companions, I gained confidence that all would go well on the trip.

Decision 3: Weather the storms

Very Wet Elan.

That’s not just a metaphor–there was a real storm. On our first break, while happily dangling our feet over a stream flowing under a bridge, we started getting texts and calls from friends, warning us about the bad storm that had already struck town. Trees down, power out. Yet, high on optimism and snacks, we headed back out on the trail towards the quickly darkening sky.

Water flowing on the trail.

Half an hour later, the storm hit us fully. The rain and hail that pelted our skin felt like glass. We were thrown off our bikes by the wind, and rushing water drowned the shale path. We had no time to find shelter as we were crossing a long, wide pasture area, so we took as much cover as we could behind a tiny tree. Since we were already soaked, we sat in the grass and had a beverage.

Result: When you can’t change something, go as far as you can go and then stop.

Decision 4: Get past the counting mindset

Do not ask when the buttertarts will come, yet be assured that they will sometime arrive.

Trail signs tell you how far you have gone, apps describe how fast you are going, watches share how long you’ve been going for, and digital maps show how far you still have to go. For me, counting minutes and miles was making the journey feel much, much longer, so I stopped. And when it no longer mattered the time or kms it took to get to where we were going (such as the Mennonite grocery store for fresh butter tarts), our destinations came a lot sooner.

Result: When my brain emptied of countdowns, it filled with good ideas, meditations on my work and my life, and thoughts of gratitude for the trip.

Decision 5: Feeling every moment, with friends

Kind trail stewards make available pay-to-take provisions for trail users.

There were some great-feeling moments: seeing two fuzzy fox kits, discovering coolers of drinks placed by trail stewards, finally catching sight of our Milbank B&B after a long day of riding in the rain. I cheered when a sore pulse in my right quad muscle suddenly went away. On a downward grade I stopped pedalling and, looking up, was thrilled by the trees tops rushing above me.

A relatively dry part of the trail. Not pictured: much wind.

There were also not-great-feeling moments: being cold, wet, and tired; annoyed at the ever-blowing headwind; frustrated by the muddy trail that slowed us down to a crawl. But by being fully present during those moments, and feeling supported by my friends, I stayed aware of what was going for me and those who helped me to get to where I was.

Result I: My group’s present-mindedness led us to appreciate all we had achieved together over two days of hard cycling. And our achievement let us be satisfied with ending our trip a little sooner than planned so that we could celebrate with warm pizza and cold drinks at a local craft brewery.

Result II: Me thinking about when my next cycle tour will happen.

Friends celebrating the end of a great cycling trip.
cycling · fitness · Guest Post · traveling

Riding Solo, Part 3: On Hills and Mountains (Or, Learning to Crawl, for Rob West)

by Julia Creet

I’m not built for climbing. I have the muscle and bone mass of a hockey player. I would have made a brilliant rugby player if girls had been allowed to play when I was coming up. (Knocking down girls is still one of my favourite things.)

So climbing has always been a struggle for me. I would attack the bottom of a hill, drive up it until my heart rate soared and my legs and lungs gave out half way, gear down and wobble to the top, arriving spent and anxious and far behind everyone else. I never understood the concept of spinning up a hill or riding at my own pace.

It took Rob West, my excellent cycling coach, two years to convince me that I should learn to crawl hills. Once again, the idea seemed completely counter-intuitive to me. Weren’t hills meant to be conquered? Wasn’t I meant to exhaust myself on them? I bought carbon wheels just to make hills easier, and they helped, but I still arrived at the top panting and worried. Nothing like carrying 60 pounds or so on a bike to make you learn to crawl. Sometimes baggage is necessary to understand weightlessness.

Here’s how to crawl a hill: Start in your lowest gear at the bottom. Forget about carrying momentum into a hill unless you are riding rollers…which are a blast…but at the bottom of a mountain, momentum is a losing proposition. The first little bit your legs might spin too fast and then too slow. The inclination is to throw your weight into your feet, pushing hard on the pedals, quads firing. And then, slowly, once the crawl begins, so does the magic. On a hill with a long, slow incline things begin to shift. Your shoulders relax, core tightens, feet lighten, and the pedal strokes start from somewhere deep in the abdomen, pulling your knees up, until miraculously it seems, you are spinning up a hill, slowly gathering speed. Don’t look up, that’s deflating, unless you are near the top. Look sideways, where the shoulder looks level to the road, and then let your mind both focus and wander.

Focus on breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth, focus on keeping your feet light; wander into writing. There’s no better place to write than on a hill. Everything I’m writing here I have written many times over already. Hills have taught me patience. My impatience to get to the top was the source of my anxiety, and pain. It’s a pure lesson of Buddhism. The hill doesn’t create the pain, our relationship to climbing it is the source of suffering. Crawling will get you up anything, up most hills without getting out of breath or feeling like your heart and legs are pistons. But it means falling back perhaps and putting pride elsewhere.

I rode for a few days with my friend Andrea, which was so lovely. Her legs are thirty years younger than mine and she used to teach spin. Watching her climb, because, of course, I was generally behind, was a thing of beauty. Legs spinning at 90 rpm, back straight, forward on the saddle, and up she sailed. I just want to get it over with she said, out of breath. And I couldn’t help but smile. And then I gave her the tent to carry.

I’ve learned to love the hills. Everything slows down. My thoughts have become tender instead of anxious, and I know of few things more joyful than when your legs have found a rhythm, the pitch lessens a bit and you find yourself a accelerating upwards, as if suddenly lifted by an inverse gravity. Sometimes cyclists call it a “false flat,” when an incline feels like a decline. It makes no sense but tells you everything about flow.

Cape Breton is hilly, I was warned. If someone had said the island is mountainous, perhaps I would have paid attention. While I can wax on about hills, mountains are something else. There are four mountains on the Cabot trail. The French and Mackenzie are long and steep but not punishing if you ride clockwise (which I would recommend). The North is nasty. It’s a four-and-a-half kilometre climb at a pitch somewhere between 12 and 15%, the kind of pitch up which cars must gear down. I never found a happy place on that climb. It was the one time I wondered who thought this was a good idea as I fought for every pedal stroke and to keep the bike from swaying into traffic.

Before I came to the island I stopped at a bike store in Wolfville. Had a nice chat with guy there, one of so many conversations I’ve had here (there will be a blog on conversations), but he looked at me, my bike, my stuff, my gear ratio, and he said, you won’t get up that mountain. I hate it when people underestimate me because I am, no doubt, a woman over 60. He has no idea how much he helped me up that climb.

The guy at the outdoor shop down the street said exactly the opposite. No problem, he said, you can do it. Just stop at every lookout. And he has no idea how much he helped me up that climb. I stopped, a lot. But I never walked, and I never flagged down a passing truck, and I was very patient, and when I got to the top, where the trees were small and patches of snow still lurked in the woods, I put on my vest over my sweat-soaked shirt and my warm ear-band and steamed and wobbled on for another 60k knowing that I could crawl up a steep mountain and not panic. That was a transformative cycling experience, a life lesson… and a metaphor.

The author in a blue cycling cap, holding a beer, smiling.

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

See also Riding Solo, Part 1 (Guest Post) and Riding Solo, Part 2: Baggage (Guest Post).