traveling

Tracy’s India Travel Plan: Start with a good jacket

I’m in India for a couple of weeks, this time for six days in Delhi first (including a day trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal) and then four days at a feminist and gender studies conference in Puducherry in South India before heading back home. I left Toronto in an icestorm turned snowstorm that closed many things in the region on Tuesday, including my campus (and thankfully not Toronto Pearson Airport).

There are loads of exciting things about going to India, but one of the things I was looking forward to enroute was testing out my new Baubax bomber style travel jacket. My friend Dawn and I responded to a Kickstarter and ordered a jacket each. I ordered the bomber (in black) and she ordered the windbreaker (in red). I’m not promoting the company and have no stake in either it or the jacket. In fact, Dawn has had a heck of a time exchanging her jacket for the same one in a size that fits her better. And the earlier version of the jacket (ours is take 2) did have some negative reviews, like this one here.

Having said that, one of my objectives on this trip was to get enough sleep on the trip over, or at least something approximating enough. I also wanted to have my stuff close by but not have to fuss with bags and such. That made the many pockets and the hood/eye cover/neck pillows features super attractive. Also, did I mention that I left in the middle of Canadian winter? And I was going to India? That meant I wanted a jacket that could do the job for the parts of the trip in Canada, but that wouldn’t be a big pain in the butt taking up too much precious luggage space (because: shopping!) while in India.

The jacket came through big time on all those fronts. The many pockets allowed me to keep my phone, passport and boarding pass, charger cable, and even my kindle on my person. The hood with a built in eye cover that comes down and a stored inflatable neck pillow enabled me to get two good hours of sleep while we were still on the tarmac for de-icing and waiting for the runway to be cleared of snow. It also made an additional hour or so possible on the leg from Abu Dhabi to Delhi. You just pull the hood up and the eye cover down, inflate the pillow, close your eyes, and zzzzzzz.

Image description: Black Baubax bomber style jacket, upper portion, showing hood up, eye cover down, and everything snapped in to place. Wood cabinet in background, retractable pen hanging from zipper.

It kept me warm enough for the Canadian outside parts, and was light enough to remove and carry when I got to India. I forgot a bottle of water at home, but the collapsible water bottle that comes with the jacket meant I could get my own from any water fountain at the airport. Which I did. And it felt great to do that instead of adding to landfill.

It’s also quite stylish, in my opinion, and super practical. I really appreciated not having to rummage around excessively in my carry-on because I could keep things in my pockets. On the last leg of the flight, even the pen came in handy (which sort of surprised me because originally I thought, “I always have a pen.” But in fact my pen was in the overhead bin, which was not all that accessible because of the guy beside me, so it was convenient beyond description to be able to pull one out of the zipper handle).

Image description: full body shot of Tracy, short cropped hair, wearing travel jacked, slim fit khakis, ankle boots, and a patterned shirt, standing in a hotel room on a carpeted floor, bed, desk, and curtains in background.

So far, I’m to plan on hydration, warmth, sleeping, neck support, having stuff easily at hand, and a pen. I managed a good 7 hours of sleep on the 12.5 hour flight, plus the two hours I got before we took off from Toronto. Once we took off, I removed the jacket and got cozy after a cup of green tea. For various reasons that are not always at play in my travels, I was able to purchase a business class ticket for this trip, so I made my seat flat, pulled the comforter up around me, and had a full night of light, though reasonably satisfying sleep.

That was just the first leg of the trip, though, and there was another ten or eleven hours to go — a five hour layover in Abu Dhabi, a further four hours in the air to get to Delhi, the frustrating wait time in the line at immigration once we were in the airport, and then the long slow drive from the airport to my hotel. By the time all that was over, I was ready for another nap.

Like I said, I’m prioritizing sleep. I touched base with Nandi, who was already at the hotel and is one of the friends I’m meeting in India for our combination work-play adventure, who kindly made me a cup of tea. We made plans to go for a walk after I’d had a chance to unwind. Air travel is an odd thing. Even with plenty of sleep and with the comforts of business class, all that sitting and lying around turns out to be exhausting. So I went for another three hours of sleep and then we ventured out into the streets of Delhi for a lovely walk through Lodhi Garden and then the Khan Market.

We passed over offers from auto-rickshaw drivers to take us to the Garden as we walked, and I’m glad we did because it turned out to be no more than about one km away. A very pleasant afternoon walk with a cool breeze and completely tolerable temperatures in the mid to high teens on the Celsius scale.

My plan for the morning is to take advantage of the hotel gym’s treadmill (fingers crossed because I’ve not actually seen the facilities yet) and put in some Around the Bay training. That’s another part of my India strategy this year. Last year, I didn’t even try. This year, I packed the gear — which usually means I will use it.

So: so far so good on the India plan. A good jacket, pretty good sleep, a nice walk, and a probable run, and I’ve only left home about 48 hours ago.

Image description: First light of day peeking up over grey clouds, shot from above the clouds, approaching New Delhi, India.

When you travel long distances for short-ish periods of time, what is your strategy (or strategies) for managing the challenges?

Happy New Year! · race report · racing · running · traveling · winter

Race Report – Bettina’s New Year’s Eve 8k

In 2017, I started dabbling in running one or the other race, and discovered a wonderful one: the Bilbao – Rekalde San Silvestre 8k, which takes place on New Year’s Eve. My husband is from the Basque Country, so we spend New Year’s there every year. I had so much fun in 2017 that I decided to run it again on the last day of 2018. This time, I roped in two friends to run it with me. Overall, just under 2,500 other runners had the same idea. And it was even better than the year before!

I’ll get into this in a moment, but first, there are a couple of other things I’d like to talk about. The first is the reason I love this race: while there are of course some people who are there for the competition, the vast majority are there for the fun. People run alone, in groups, with their families, or dressed up in all kinds of costumes. My favourite this year were the two guys who came dressed as a trainera (a Basque type of rowing boat). In the head picture of this official blog post you can see them! There’s also a summary video of the race that gives you a good idea of the vibe (you really only need to watch the first half, the second half is more boring, unless you want to see how the winners did):

The second thing I wanted to talk about is slightly less fun: it’s the gender split of the race. There are only two categories, male and female, which is a problem unto itself, but the race this year was no less than three-quarters male. That doesn’t seem like a particularly healthy split to me. In fact, even in comparison to marathons in the US (a statistic I could find quite quickly), it’s quite poor. I’m not totally sure what is going on here. It’s a fairly short race (below 10k), not a very serious one, and cheap (10 euros) so it sends all the right accessibility signals, or so one would think… and yet. I was intrigued, so I looked into the data for Spain (from a few years ago) a bit. Generally, women are quite a bit more sedentary than men. For example, in the 25-44 age bracket, 55% of women never (!) exercise, compared to 41% of men. On the European scale*, Spain sits in a middling position overall regarding physical activity, but the difference by sex (again, the data is binary) is comparatively large. Possible explanations would be entirely speculative at this point – but our work, fit feminist friends, is not done.

For now, let’s focus on why I loved the San Silvestre even more this time than the year before. In 2017, it poured with rain throughout the entire race. This time around, we got spectacular blue skies (see picture below) and a perfect running temperature of just over 10°C. It felt amazing!

Runners gathering for the San Silvestre run in front of the Guggenheim Bilbao museum, with a spectacularly blue sky and curious onlookers.

Also in 2017, I was still getting into running and quite slow, and I suffered due to the hills along the route. But over the past year, I’ve been working on my hills quite a lot, and my overall running speed has increased. We’d decided to run the race in our pack of three, so the (supposedly) slowest in the group was our pacer – and he wasn’t slow at all! We ran pretty much at the speed I currently train at, so we did very well. It gets even better: the reason we did the time we did was that our first kilometre was really slow due to the masses of people at the start. Meaning that overall, I was actually faster than ever, aside from that first bit! And the really amazing thing is that I could have run even faster – but the way we did it was perfect because we stuck together as a team and had a fabulous time. Mission accomplished!

*There is so much interesting data in that Eurostat graph, I’m going to make it its own separate post, promise!

aging · fitness · injury · running · traveling

Not Running in Paris

I was in Paris for the month of December. Two weeks in my back started hurting for no discernible reason and I couldn’t run for the second half of my stay. In addition to the intense frustration at missing the pleasures of a run along the Seine (the light, the architecture, the people watching, the little exercise yard on the Left Bank), I felt old and creaky as I limped to the boulangeriein the morning for our breakfast baguette. (Side note—divine Paris breakfast—fresh baguette slathered with raspberry jam and sheep’s milk yogurt from an adorable little glass jar and crunchy salad of little gems, endive, snow peas, cherry tomatoes and carrots.) 

Top of Eiffel Tower through tree branches

Getting out of bed as slowly as my back demanded meant that age was much on my mind. So when I lost my scan card for the shared bike system (called Velib) and had to memorize an eight-digit access code, this mnemonic popped into my head as soon as I saw the numbers. I’ve rearranged into ascending order: 25—the age at which the media sets a woman’s prime; 32—the age at which I started to reclaim my power from societal norms of feminine delicacy; 49—the age I wouldn’t have minded sticking with for the rest of my life (the way my grandmother always said she was 29); 96—an age I hope to see, but only if I’m still enjoying life!

The access code is engraved in my memory. 

And fortunately cycling and yoga were still possible, so I rode the Velib bikes to the aerial yoga studio (Fly Yoga) and the spin studio (dynamo) I love in Paris. 

My back healed and this past Thursday (January 3) I went for one of the best runs I’ve had in I-don’t-know-how-long, a grand gift for the beginning of 2019. I felt light and strong. I don’t wear a watch, so I have no idea if I was actually faster than usual in my loop of Central Park. Does the time matter if I felt great? 

This aging business has made it clear to me that every time I heal from an injury and am granted the grace of strength and ease in my body again, a hallelujah and thank you is in order.

I’m starting 2019 with gratitude!

What are you grateful for as the year begins? 

fitness · traveling

The World Nomad Games: headless goat polo for the win

These bright, quilt-like images are from cloth decorating the outside of yurts in Kyrgyzstan

Now I’ve seen everything.

I mean, I really have.

I have been privileged enough to travel a lot — closing in on 60 countries, with some truly amazing and magical and rare experiences.  I’ve seen wild jaguars and polar bears and the Sahara and the himalayas.  I’ve kissed a wild grey whale on the head.  But one place I’d never been was Central Asia. And when two of my good friends moved to Kyrgyzstan for a year, I thought it was a great chance to see it.  And then Bo said “come for the world nomad games!”

“Okay!” I said.  Then:  “what the heck are the world nomad games?”

Basically, the world nomad games were started about six years ago (the one this September was the third event) to revive some of the traditional sports of nomadic peoples, especially in Central Asia.  The NYT did a great piece with some fantastic photos on its history last month:

The sports are the sort of things that whisper around the edges of your dreams — familiar events like wrestling and arm wrestling and archery, but then veering into the mythic, like hunting with eagles and dogs, on horseback and on feet, a sort of bocce-like game involving tossing bones and — most spectacularly — kok boru.  Kok boru can be looked at as the “hockey” of the world nomad games — but this is hockey that includes these rules:

The teams will play semi-final and final games. If there is a draw during the regular time, the teams will play an extra period. During the extra period there is a golden carcass rule. If the teams play with an even score, they have a shoot-out.

According to the results of Kok Boru, the Great Kok Boru Player and the Great Kok Boru Horse will be determined. The Great Kok Boru Player will be determined based on the largest number of carcasses. 

Yes, that says carcasses.  Kok boru is basically polo on horseback, where the “ball” is a headless sheep or goat carcass.  The field is big, and there is a lot of tugging and wrestling and yanking the carcass by the legs, culminating — for the skilled — in hurling an obviously heavy, unwieldy carcass into a “well” that looks like a huge dog dish.

It’s riveting.

There’s a reason the World Nomad Games immediately became a hit six years ago:  this is primal, numinous competition — written on the souls of centuries of life where people are entwined with the land, with horses, with other creatures.

The games were on the banks of Lake Issyk Kul in northern Kyrgyzstan, a pilgrimage from Bishkek in itself — we stayed in a yurt camp on the way, and I slept better than I ever have.

The opening ceremonies were in Kyrgyz without translation, but the narrative was clear:  first there was the land, and then there were people, and then there were horses, and then people forged metal and they became one with the horses, and the world as we know it began.

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Even without words, the opening ceremonies were incredibly moving.  And I didn’t expect that the parade of nations would include more than 80 countries — including a Hungarian team in full medieval battle armour, a kok-boru team from Wyoming, and a small contingent from Canada.

 

The Canadians walked under the Canadian flag in the opening ceremonies, but when they showed up on the archery field, they waved a Mohawk flag.  Which made sense to me.  But when I talked to them, they seemed to be perhaps one indigenous person from Canada and a collection of Hungarian-Canadians, supported by private funds from another European country).  Somehow all of this seemed very… Canadian.

The people in the hotel room next to us — a French couple now running a hotel in Uzbekistan — told me later that during the opening ceremonies, they were moved by the adjacency of the Iranians and Israelis, the Syrians and the Russians, the possibilities of human connection that surpasses the idiocies of politics that always seem to open up on a sports field.  I had my own moment of that watching an Iranian woman and an American woman arm wrestling.

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My photos aren’t great — I only had my phone — but that one illustrates the best part about these games — the intimacy.  Apart from the opening ceremonies, there were no tickets for the games — you just show up and if there is room, you have a seat.  With the arm wrestling, I was able to worm my way right to the front of stage.  (And, by the way — arm wrestling is shockingly compelling — the women try to psych each other out and defeats are quick, within 20 seconds usually; the men can get locked in mutual battle for long, intense minutes, the victor often falling to the ground with the effort).

Half of the events were at the hippodrome on the shores of the lake, and the rest were in a valley about an hour away.   It was transporting — half broad open plain, archery and hunting with dogs and eagles, and on the other side, a cultural village filled with people demonstrating the crafts and food and dance and openness of centuries.

That intimacy showed up again — we were able to scootch right in between the people throwing bones and the hunters, close enough to touch eagles, catch the breath of the hunting dogs as they ran off from their handlers, meet the only female eagle hunter, who put down her big heavy purse for five minutes to compete, then picked it up again.  She’s not the same one as the subject of the documentary people have told me about — that woman is younger — and I don’t know this woman’s story, but I do know her face, and I know her confidence in this field of men.

 

My friend J loved the cultural village most of all, incredibly drawn to the women.  It was in this village that I danced the dance of the land I was in that I wrote about a few weeks ago, and where we got to see people truly, deeply revelling in cultural practices that could have been blotted out by centuries of occupation.

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We only had three days at the actual games — I had to come back to Canada and my friend I was traveling with went on to India and other adventures.  But we all wanted to spend days watching kokboru, wandering among the women in the cultural pavilion, watching the archers dozing between their sets.  Everything felt timeless, like time was stretched, like the earth had opened up to offer us a time when everything seemed possible.

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Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who blogs here two or three times a month. Here she is after breakfast in a yurt camp in northern Kyrgyzstan.

fit at mid-life · fitness · Martha's Musings · traveling · walking

Stepping on it …

By MarthaFitat55

 

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Image shows a chart of steps achieved in a week.

 

 

Last month after almost eight months without a fitness tracker, I bought a new one just a day before I went on holiday. I had been missing my fitbit, which readers may remember that I used to track sleep, and with a return to swimming, I thought it would be good to get one that was waterproof too.

As with anything I undertake, I made sure I had a couple of “regular” days to see how I was doing stepwise, and then I was off. My average step count — if I do not think about moving in an active way– is about 5000 steps. When I travel, the count goes up since I tend to rely on public transportation or my own two feet.

I was happy to find that the counts steadily increased with each day, and about three days in, I was easily making the recommended 10K step count. In case you are unfamiliar with this concept, getting 10,000 steps a day helps you feel better, have lower blood pressure, and more stable blood sugar levels. These days though, the thinking is that we should aim for 15K because:

More recently, some researchers have suggested 15,000 steps might be even better. A snapshot study of Scottish postal workers found that individuals who walked an average of 15,000 steps per day had normal waistlines, healthy cholesterol levels, and a lower risk of heart disease.

Well, on my travels, I saw those Scottish postal workers and I raised them to 20K levels. In Fitbit language, when you make 5000 steps, you get a boat shoe award. Hit 10K, and you get a sneaker award, and 15K will net you the urban boot award. I collected those and in my last week and half, I was regularly collecting between 20K and 25K steps a day.

I did a rough calculation at the end of my trip and learned I had walked more than 300,000 steps in my three weeks, a record for me. But that wasn’t the only thing I learned. The first couple of days I experienced a wee bit of soreness in my feet as I ramped up the number of steps, but as time and I rolled on, that eased.

Since I have been back, my step count hasn’t been quite so stellar. And I have more stiffness and less flexibility. Part of that might be attributed to my return to more formal footwear, but I am inclined to think it is because I am moving less.

I also have a fairly sedentary job. As a writer, I don’t move around a lot, and that means I have to think about making sure some fitness activity is a priority for me every day. Enter the Fitbit again: I can set reminders to take a wallk or go up and down a flight of stairs.

The reality behind hitting your step quota is that more movement is better, and increasing the challenge or intensity of that activity is wonderful. Since I have been back from my break, I have been looking for ways to keep moving, whether that means bypassing the front door parking spot when I visit clients, taking the stairs both up and down, or taking a brisk walk of ten to 15 minutes.

The weekend after I returned, Fitbit sent me a message that I had achieved the Great Barrier Reef distance badge, or a total distance of 1600 miles. Totally I chuffed, I looked up the next badge, which is Japan, equal to another 289 miles. I may not get on a plane any time soon for my next hoiday, but walking to Japan virtually will be the next best thing.

— MarthaFitat55 lives in St. John’s. She, in fact, owns several pairs of sneakers, one pair of hiking boots, and a lovely pair of cherry red rain boots, but not a single pair of boat shoes.

fitness · holidays · traveling

Give me a break already

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(A sandwich board reads: “high tides and salty vibes.” This post is about how I spent my summer vacation.)

Last month, I posted from the UK, where I was traveling for work. In that post I talked about how a spontaneous two-day cycling break in Sussex raised my spirit and helped me get through an emotionally tough patch.

That was a terrific little holiday, to be sure, but it wasn’t enough: it was only two days, out of a three-week trip that was full of work-work, alongside the emotional labour associated with seeing friends and family and visiting a life I used to live. Cycling through the Sussex countryside was fab, but when I returned to Canada I still felt drained, exhausted, and unsure where I was going to find the energy to finish the rest of my summer work roster before heading back into the classroom this fall.

While I was away, I was also planning another holiday: a trip to Newfoundland with my boyfriend, D. Neither of us had been, and we both wanted to go. But D’s a fairly new immigrant to Canada and wasn’t sure where to look for the best accommodation, or what the most effective way for us to get there would be (we had the dog along for part of our trip). So the bulk of the planning fell to me. More work, more drainage.

Between my return to Canada from the UK and the trip to Newfoundland I was at sixes and sevens getting all kinds of deadline-heavy work done, and because I returned from abroad tired I never really got my bearings back. Near to our departure for Newfoundland I broke down while in the car with D; he’s a loving and patient man and wanted me to try to explain what was going on. I told him I was overwhelmed and exhausted and had no idea how all the things were going to get finished. My therapist always says, there is no such thing as an academic emergency, Kim!, but at that moment all the undone work seemed like an emergency to me.

D listened with genuine kindness, and then asked me: do you want to cancel the holiday?

I realized in that moment that I absolutely did not want to cancel. I realized I needed that holiday! Even though my brain had no idea how I was going to get through the handful of work days left before we departed, my body was adamant.

And I have learned it’s always a good idea to listen to my body.

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(A blue-washed photo of an Atlantic headland with rocky cliffs, water and sky, wildflowers in the foreground. Taken on the Bonavista peninula, at Trinity Bay. This is one of the many gorgeous places my brain did not yet know it needed, but was going to get. Oh ya baby.)

I needed the trip, but I also needed to cope with the state of catastrophe I had let myself fold into, so that I could enjoy the trip and also get the most out of it. So here’s what I did.

First, I worked out what needed doing before we left and what could wait. I made a priority plan for the stuff that would be waiting so I knew what I’d work on after we got back, in what order, and for what amount of time. I was pretty sure everything would get done by 4 September and I’d be ok, ultimately, if I more or less stuck to that plan. Then I put the plan away.

Second, I decided I would leave my computer behind.

Right now, I realize that some of you are probably going, DUH! Why would you take your computer on holiday?? I know. But academics tend to live their work; our passions intertwine with our labours. For a while I thought, I’ll bring it and write for an hour each morning, write for pleasure, free-write, see what emerges. D said, bring it for watching movies; I’ll make sure you don’t check your email. But then I realized the free-write promise was not worth the risk I’d check the email – it’s only a tantalizing click away and I am so freaking type-A I knew I would succumb to the click. Decision made.

Third, I decided that it would be ok for me to eat and drink whatever I wanted while on holiday. Usually I’m careful about not eating much junk food and I have been working on drinking modestly, especially because I have a tendency to use alcohol as a quick route to relaxation after a long work day. My holiday plan, instead, was this: enjoy any and all food that looks enticing. Enjoy days filled with a good amount of relaxing so that a drink at the end of those days is for the pleasure of the lovely drink, not for relaxing itself.

To my surprise, this worked. I enjoyed loads of terrific fresh fish and yummy chips (French fries served with fried fish), among lots of other things, stopped eating when full, and experienced no hangovers or headaches of any kind during our two weeks away. I felt great each morning and went to bed feeling happy and sated each evening.

(These photos were taken at the Port Rexton Brewing Company taproom in Trinity, Newfoundland. A photo of a sandwich board that says “No wifi; drink beer and talk to each other” alongside a close-up of two sample-size glasses of beer. There were gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and more delicious chips to go with the beer; this was a mid-hike break, and SO SO worth it!)

Part of that feeling great also came from choice number four: to move in enjoyable ways each day, not worrying too much about being away from my regular fitness routine and my bike, and not connecting energy expended to calories ingested, even in my imagination.

Believe it or not this is a big problem for me: I’m super type A and a bit of an endorphin junky, so usually when I take a trip I look for ways to exercise, and I mean REALLY exercise, every other day at least. If I can’t do that I begin to get anxious about the foods I’m eating. Part of this is a learned fear of gaining weight, I think, but it’s also connected to the fact that exercise makes me pleasurably hungry, while I also feel I’ve “earned” the treat. I know this is not the healthiest attitude in the world, but it’s also my lived reality; the point I’m making here is that I worked actively against this attitude while on holiday and discovered real value in abandoning it, at least for a while.

Newfoundland is a terrific place for hiking, and D and I enjoyed parts of the East Coast Trail, the famous Skerwink Trail on the Bonavista peninsula, as well as a fairly steep but oh-so-beautiful climb up Signal Hill in the middle of St John’s. I also got the chance to bounce around in the ocean a couple of times, and to have a proper, delicious swim in a fantastic and almost-empty swimming pool one Saturday morning. Otherwise, exercise was limited to walking out to headlands to look at puffins, and holding on for dear life in a Zodiac while getting farted on by whales. Which is not something I get on a regular road ride, and was pretty special TBH.

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(A photo of me, wearing sunglasses and a blue shirt with white pineapples on it, arms out as though flying. I’m standing in front of the puffin colony at Elliston, Newfoundland, a rocky headland jutting into the sea, making like a funny little orange-beaked bird. And feeling great.)

Reading this post over, I realize it sounds like I Took A Holiday And It Was Good. News at 11! But what is striking for me is that I don’t do this often, or really ever; it actually IS newsworthy for me. And I bet I’m not alone.

How many of us don’t really take a break when we take a break? How many of us work over our holidays as a matter of course, even if it’s “just” checking the email? We’re living the 24/7 life, the one that says if you’re not working you’re slacking, and I am as guilty a party to this pervasive neoliberal reality as the next middle class professional.

But when I got home from Newfoundland I realized something urgent: I felt 100% better. Like, SO MUCH BETTER it was literally unreal to me. NONE of the work waiting for me seemed like the emergency it had appeared in my pre-holiday imagination. On my first morning back I settled into the job of catching up and calmly got shit done. I ate some salads and some delicious soups from my freezer, drank some home-made iced tea, and it all tasted the sweeter and more delicious for having been preceded by fourteen days of utterly guilt-free indulgence, pure relaxing pleasure.

Best of all, I had way fewer emails waiting for me than I expected. And the cherry tomatoes had all ripened on the vine.

Bring on the fall!

Kim

accessibility · climbing · fitness · hiking · holidays · inclusiveness · nature · running · traveling · yoga

Women, mountain sports, and privilege – thoughts on an all-female sports festival in Austria

Two weeks ago, I attended the Women’s Summer Festival in Ischgl, Austria. It’s basically a three-day summer camp for female adults. You can sign up for lots of different sports workshops, including yoga, mountain biking, climbing, hiking, the full works. All of it women-only, set very scenically in the Austrian Alps. I’d read about last year’s edition and it sounded like a ton of fun: a chance to try out new things, meet people and spend a few days frolicking in the mountains? Sign me up.

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View over a lush green alpine valley, from the beginning of our via ferrata.

I agonised for a while about my choice of workshops – there’s no way you can do them all – and finally put myself down for a via ferrata (complete novices), trail running (beginners), morning yoga (all levels), and an all-day hike (experts). Aside from yoga and hiking, I decided to do things I hadn’t done before, so for instance bouldering fell by the wayside in favour of the via ferrata. And I was too much of a chicken for mountain biking. Somehow, the thought of hurtling down a mountain on two wheels terrifies me a lot more than the thought of being suspended above a precipice secured by nothing but a fixed steel cable and two carabiners attached to my harness through a via ferrata set.

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Bettina in full gear, taking a well-deserved sip of water after completing her first ever via ferrata.

The classification of levels, I later learned from fellow participants, stumped not only me. How do you know you’re an “expert” hiker, rather than an “advanced” one? As I’ve mentioned before, I have my share of athletic impostor syndrome, so I was mildly terrified of both the trail running (should I have signed up for the “complete novices” one?) and the hiking tour (what on earth had made me think I was an expert? The hubris!). If anyone still needed proof that women tend to underestimate themselves, they only had to attend this festival. Nearly everyone rocked up with the same self-doubts.

But these shared concerns actually ended up making for an incredibly supportive environment. Everyone cheered each other on and kept encouraging others. It had been a long time since I’d seen two people as happy as two women with vertigo after crossing an incredibly scary suspension bridge on our trail run, fuelled by gentle coaxing from our guide and the supportive cheers of the other participants. It was wonderful to watch.

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The really quite scary suspension bridge we had to cross during our trail run, complete with some runners from our group approaching in the distance.

The other thing I’d been a bit wary of is going by myself. I wasn’t organised enough to enlist anyone else to come with me, and I’m not exactly a social butterfly – my small talk is limited and I tend to get incredibly intimidated by people I think are cooler than me, which is pretty much everyone. I ended up really, really enjoying myself, both in terms of the activities and the company. I met some very nice people, and the activities were great. In fact, both the via ferrata and trail running (who would have thought, considering how badly I do running uphill!) left me hungry for more.

The morning yoga was beautiful, and the hike was out of this world stunning – three three thousand-metre summits in one day! With bright sunshine! And incredible views! If I were to do this again, and I’m definitely keeping this option open, there are plenty of things I didn’t get around to doing: a more challenging via ferrata, bouldering, more hiking, and maybe, just maybe, even some mountain biking?

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Bettina in a red t-shirt and hiking gear, beaming widely with one of the summits she climbed during her all-day hike in the background.

There was a framework programme too, to keep yourself occupied while not attending a workshop, with ad-hoc activities such as TRX training, massages, pilates, etc., and you could even get your nails and your hair done if you wanted (I opted for the nails, which I usually never do or get done, and also because there’s not much you can do with my hair). In the evenings, one night there was dinner at a local hut, which ordinarily is a hip après-ski joint, and another night there was a concert with a local band in the festival tent. And as these things are wont to go, there were exhibitors peddling the latest trail running shoes, hiking poles, outdoor and yoga clothing, etc. You could also try all these things in action, which was fun, though it didn’t motivate any purchases for me.

The whole thing was a very enjoyable affair, but I wouldn’t be a good feminist killjoy if I didn’t have some issues with it. This was obviously not a free event. The all-in festival pass set me back just under 280 Euros, and I treated myself to a nice hotel in addition. There was the option of booking just individual workshops, but they also weren’t super cheap. There was a goodie bag for those who’d booked the festival package that contained some ecologically very dubious plasticky giveaways (although in fairness, there were some great quality ones too that I’ll definitely be using). And diversity at the event was limited to cis-gendered almost exclusively white, almost exclusively able-bodied, relatively fit women who could afford to be there, and a bunch of invited press, bloggers and social media influencers who were there for free (disclaimer: I wasn’t one of them).

In other words, we spent three days oozing privilege from all pores. Is this inherently a bad thing? Probably not. We had a lot of fun and it was great to completely disconnect from the news and the heat wave gripping the rest of Europe for a few days, being active among a bunch of very nice, like-minded women and pushing our comfort zones in a highly supportive environment. The event is absolutely fantastic in that it lets you test the waters with new activities that might otherwise be quite intimidating, which I think is very important in getting women to be more active. But it’s important to be aware of that privilege – and of the fact that if you were insecure about doing any sort of exercise, you probably wouldn’t sign up for a three-day mountain sports festival in the first place, so a substantial threshold is still there.

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Enjoying these views was part of our privilege: panorama of the Alps with some flecks of snow in the sunshine.

And things could be done to make the event more inclusive. One could think of travel stipends, marketing the event a bit differently to attract a more diverse crowd, and so on. Again, the organisers are a for-profit company that makes money with this, so it’s not surprising that it’s all a bit commercial, and all things considered, the commercialness is very low key – you’re not forced to buy anything or partake in any activities that aren’t your jam. And yet. A bit more of an effort in making the event more diverse and accessible would be very welcome.

Will I go back? Maybe. I had too much fun not to contemplate a return next year. I’ll keep you posted – and if I do, perhaps it will be in some fit feminist company? Would be fun.