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: http://www.ardbia.com/

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).

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?