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.

fitness · race report · racing · running · training · traveling

A beautiful day for the Guelph Lake 10K (group report)

Image description: Left to right Violetta (black cap, red t-shirt, fine chain with pendant), Ellen (blond hair tied back, bangs, white tank), and Tracy (blue cap and sunglasses, purple and pink tank), all smiling.
Image description: Left to right Violetta (black cap, red t-shirt, fine chain with pendant), Ellen (blond hair tied back, bangs, white tank), and Tracy (blue cap and sunglasses, purple and pink tank), all smiling.

As I reported last week, I’ve been prepping for the Guelph Lake 10K and I recruited Violetta and Ellen to do it with me. It was a gorgeous day for a Sunday run, not too hot, sunny with a bit of cloud cover, a light breeze that felt just right at least some of the time.

As I like to do when there’s a group of us doing an event, I asked Ellen and Violetta to write a bit about their experience. We were all in different places with the 10K. I had been prepping. Just a few weeks before, Ellen had never run that distance before. And Violetta has been sporadic in her training and didn’t feel she had time to prep as she would have liked.

Ellen

So today I did my first 10 k in my life! At 54! Actually, it was my first running race of any sort! No 3Ks, or 5Ks to start out with ….But then again, I have always been the kind of person to “go big or go home” in all areas of life. This has got me into some troubles in the past, such as excessive smoking and imbibing for many years, but I digress.  For the past 6 and a half years or so, I have tried to confine this mentality to more healthy pursuits ☺.

I really didn’t know if I could do it.  I have been running for a little while and not tracking any distances, but then one day about a month ago, I actually tracked myself doing 8.5K, and my friend Tracy, said no problem, you can do it!

My high school memories are filled with shame of being the last pick for teams, and being next to the end when it came to any sort of running.  But, I am a grown up now, and I have met many other personal challenges, so I summed up my courage and tried it out today.

What a feeling of accomplishment! And what fun to share the love of this sport with other like-minded folks!  I am grateful to Tracy for encouraging me to overcome the fear and just go out and do my best.

Who knows… maybe a half marathon is now in sight. I never thought I would say that! So, to all the readers out there, I am at my fittest ever at 54…And sky is the limit! I challenge you all to go after your fitness dreams and be your best ever, at any age.

Violetta

I’ve really let my running slide over the cold, cold winter.  So when Tracy let me know about the Guelph Lake 10k, I thought it would be the perfect thing to get me back into running regularly.  It didn’t quite work out that way because I wasn’t feeling very well the last couple of weeks.  Since I couldn’t prepare physically, I spent a lot of time trying to work on the psychological aspect, telling myself that I can do this and re-reading Tracy’s blog posts about running without prep and quickly regaining confidence.

I’m not going to lie.  I was certainly questioning myself.  Could I do this?  Was I risking injury given my lack of training?  Well, I did it! I now know, for myself, that it is possible to complete a 10k without much prep, not much at all.  I haven’t run more than 5k in many, many months.  I’m not saying it’s advisable or even preferable.  And it certainly wasn’t easy. But I was very lucky—the weather was perfect, the atmosphere was casual and laid back and I was running with a friend I don’t get a chance to spend much time with.

I will say I didn’t love the repeated rolling hills (well, I didn’t mind going down them) or the repeated loop.  In the end, the race served the function I needed it to, to get back into running, to remind me how much I love it.  It’s too easy to lose your rhythm and get out of good habits.  This was my first step back.

Thanks Tracy for inviting me to come along and for encouraging me when things got difficult.  And what a treat it was to have Sam cheering us on!  I’ve taken my first step and now I’m planning my next ones.  Maybe another 10k … maybe another half?  I’ll let you know.

Tracy

The race has that local event feel that you get in the smaller cities and towns. I enjoy traveling for events because you get a change of scenery and a slightly different vibe wherever you go.  This one was at Guelph Lake Conservation Area, with the course taking us along the lake for awhile, then through the camp ground, and park. It’s not a bad course but any race that involves two loops is always a bit psychologically tough (in my view). There could also have been more water.

I ran with Violetta, and we had committed to keep each other moving forward. She was worried she wouldn’t make it the full distance (I knew she could) and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make it without a walk break (I wasn’t so sure). Ellen didn’t want to run with us because, according to her, she’s really slow. She of course came in 26 seconds earlier than we did.

My main goal for this one was to do a continuous 10K, no walk breaks. I did it! Other than a very brief walk through an aid station where I was so thirsty I had to drink a cup of water properly, not letting it fly out of the cup while running, I kept a steady pace throughout the race, averaging 7:00/K for a 1:10:01 finish. That’s slower than my 10K without prep! But I think part of the reason for that is that Violetta and I spent quite a bit of the first 8K chatting, and I can’t push quite as hard when I’m chatting. (not that it wasn’t nice to catch up!)

I would have liked to come in under 1:10. But one second over is alright with me. Linda told me recently that I am not aware of my athletic potential. This may be true — I still feel a rush of skepticism when I think about getting measurably faster. Like I’ll always hover around the same speed no matter what I do. But that is a topic for another post. I mention it now because the doubt sets in most acutely on race days.

Image description: Tracy and Violetta running side by side, smiling, trees in the background.
Image description: Tracy and Violetta running side by side, smiling, trees in the background.

But the day had many bonuses: Besides getting to do something with Violetta and Ellen, Sarah and Sam rode their bikes to the park to cheer us on and take great action shots!  And then, when all was said and done, we went out for a fancy brunch at a lovely shaded patio in Guelph.

It was a great time with friends and it’s got me now thinking of my next goal — 10K continuous AND shave some minutes off of my time. I’m working with Linda again and I’m feeling revved up and ready to go.

 

Here are the three of us at the finish line, after re-hydrating:

Image description: Full body shot of Tracy (tank top, shorts, cap and sunglasses, bib 219), Violetta (t-shirt, capris, cap, bib 216), and Ellen (tank and shorts, bib 189), standing on grass, trees and people in background.
Image description: Full body shot of Tracy (tank top, shorts, cap and sunglasses, bib 219), Violetta (t-shirt, capris, cap, bib 216), and Ellen (tank and shorts, bib 189), standing on grass, trees and people in background.
cycling · feminism · Guest Post · traveling

Guest Post: Feminist Biking in Italy (or, Feminism 101 in Lecce)

When I found myself on a bicycle trip through Italy with my mom (about which I wrote last week, the last thing I thought I’d be doing was discussing the basics of feminism over dinner with an eclectic bunch of strangers. But there I was, at a little pizzeria just off the main square of the fascinating Baroque town of Lecce, debating, discussing, and explaining the social construction of gender norms, structural injustice, affirmative action, #MeToo, and consent, with a rather unlikely audience.

As I wrote last week, I’m new to biking and to biking culture. I’ve never been on an organized trip of this sort, I’ve never biked long distances (alone or with others), so I’m not sure what it does to people and how (and whether) it can transform them. When a bunch of random people who haven’t chosen to be together are thrown together, does this make them more open to ideas that they’ve never encountered? Are people less closed and closed minded when they’re biking with strangers of different stripes?

Probably not, but the following events have at least compelled me to ask such questions.

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(Image description: Baroque cathedral in Lecce)

On every night of the trip but one, there was an organized dinner where all fourteen participants ate together. On the one night where we were on our own, I found myself at dinner with my mother, a 71-year-old spitfire feminist lawyer, a retired successful businessman, his son (who’s my age), and our southern Italian bike guide.

Typically, I don’t socialize with businessmen (or women, for that matter). We just don’t run in the same circles. But during this trip, on several short rides, I found myself biking alongside the businessman. Attempting to make conversation, I asked him why very wealthy, successful business people keep doing business and making more money, even when they probably already have more money than they could ever spend.

He tried to explain it to me. I didn’t really get it. He joked with me about being a philosophy professor who teaches ethics. We implicitly agreed that we just aren’t interested in the same things.

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(Image description: ancient ruins found underneath main square in Lecce)

But at dinner that night, he asked me what I do. And he was interested in hearing more than the 30-second stock answer. So I told him. I talked a bit about a book I’m writing (on microaggressions and medicine) and about some of the classes I teach (feminist philosophy, medical ethics).

Surprisingly, the feminism part piqued his interest.

His questions kept coming; they were genuine. “Why focus on women?” “Can’t we just have ‘humanism’”? “Why affirmative action? “Is it wrong to just hire the ‘best candidate’?” And many other standard objections that arise when people are first exposed to such ideas.

I’ve been having conversations of this sort long enough to be able to distinguish between two different types of interlocutors: those who’ve made up their minds about what they think before the conversation begins, who push on only to have more ways to disagree with you, and who who just get a kick out of getting you riled up; and those who ask questions because they really want to learn about ideas that are different from their own. Though up until that point I would have pegged him for the former, during our conversation, it became very clear to me that he was the latter.

Had he been the former, I would have quickly and politely ended the conversation. It’s too easy to make yourself vulnerable and to get too invested in an argument, only to continually run up against a cement wall. But as the conversation drew on, it became clear that he really wanted to understand how gender is socially constructed, what the implications of that are, and why the claim “but I just worry that my 6 year-old-grandson, because he’s male, will have it so much more difficult than his twin sister” is problematic and misguided.

Everyone at the table was chiming in. The scope of our discussion expended. We talked about cultural differences regarding conversational norms and touching (in Italy, in Germany, in the United States), and why it’s dangerous to just assume that everyone wants to be hugged and that hugging is always a benign gesture.

After several hours, the pizza got cold, the wine (for those of us drinking it) had dried up, our muscles were tired from the day’s biking, and we realized that we needed to get up early to peddle away for another day. The dinner was lovely; the conversation was heated, but not aggressive. We all agreed that we’d enjoyed the evening and we walked back to the hotel together.

Over the next two days I thought a bit about how unexpected it was to have such an animated, extensive, genuine, and lovely conversation with such an unlikely interlocutor. He’s a thoughtful guy and we sure had plenty of hours left on our trip to do some good thinking on our bikes. I assumed he was thinking about some of what we’d said, I hoped so, but I didn’t really know.

During some of the subsequent social interactions with those who were out for dinner that night, we joked around about touching, hugging, and consent, but not in a way that ridiculed these issues. On the contrary, the jokes were sincere and well-intended attempts to go over some of the conceptual terrain that we covered that night. It felt to me that I’d gotten some ideas across and people were working them out for themselves.

Then we biked some more.

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(Image description: author and her mother in the close by town of Alberobello)

But it wasn’t until our dinner on the last night that I realized what a difference our conversation had had. The entire group plus our two guides were seated at two long tables. I was sitting next to the businessman, now friend, who was positioned at the head of the table. We were chatting and he mentioned that we should thank our guides for a wonderful week. I agreed. I assumed he would take the lead on this. He’s a good public speaker and would have done a great job.

But he pulled me aside and said, “But you know, I’m a man, and most of the people on this trip are women. And you know, I wouldn’t want to just speak for them. I don’t really feel right speaking on behalf of everyone. You should do it.”

I looked at him, astonished. Proud.

I thought to myself, “Wow, I came here to bike. Not really to make friends. Not to convert wealthy businessmen to feminists.” What he said was on the one hand, a tiny gesture; but on the other hand, indicative of careful self-reflection and mindfulness of the impact of our small actions, like speaking for others.

Do I think people really change their minds and beliefs on the basis of one conversation in a small Italian town over delicious pizza? Definitely not. Will I ever see this person again, let alone become friends them? Probably not.

But this experience made ponder how intense biking, when are aren’t immersed in the habits of our daily routines, might make us reconsider our long-held beliefs, and maybe even change our minds.

Not only can a biking trip change one’s attitude or expose one to foreign ideas, but I’m coming to see that it can also reestablish faith in the openness and receptivity of other.

traveling

Paro, Bhutan

“I want to walk to the monastery and the dzong.”

It’s my first full day in Bhutan, and I’m alone with my guide Chador for a few days. We are visiting sites around Paro and hiking in the Haa Valley; then the other four people from our group join us for a 7 day cycling trip.

Paro is a tiny town in narrow valley. Before we began our descent, the pilot warned us about sharp turns and flying very close to the mountains — this is normal, he said.

The wing of a plane seems to brush against a small mountain as it lands

Nothing is “normal” about Bhutan, though — it’s completely unlike any place else. Tucked into the Himalayas between Tibet and India, it’s a landlocked kingdom that became a constitutional monarchy at the hands of the same king who invented the notion of the national happiness index. Then he retired and handed the kingdom over to his son.

It’s a Buddhist country of just over 700,000 people that closely guards its quiet culture — you cannot visit without being part of a tour organization, and you have to pay a visa fee for every day you’re here. The money goes into universal education and healthcare. Unlike other places I’ve been where government sanctioned guides are to guard against tourists finding out too much, Bhutan requires guides to protect the country from the commercialization of the backpacker culture that sprawls over Asia.

Being a mountain kingdom, even the valleys have significant altitude for someone who lives at sea level. I’ve been training all winter to be comfortable riding and walking here, but I’m still fretting about the mountain passes. So I ask Chador if we can walk up to the museum that — being a former watchtower and dungeon — is perched high above the town.

Chador takes me up the “shortcut” from the Dzong (Fort) to the museum. As I find myself brushing scratchy bushes out of my face, the road above us fenced off, I realize we took a wrong turn. We both laugh, slipping around in a suddenly muddy track, a light rain falling.

At some point, I have to use my hands to keep from falling, and we arrive at the museum entrance covered in sticky brown mud. I wipe my hands on the wet wipes I have in my daypack and then surrender my phone and camera to go into the museum.

We watch a video of ceremonial dances and tour the dozens of masks, tapestries, statues, wildlife exhibit. The national animal is a takin, a creature with “the body of a cow and the head of a goat.” The national flower is the wild blue poppy.

This is clearly my place.

This is what all of those hours in a dark spinning studio, the 115 workouts since January 1, have been about. Being free and powerful in my body, to find energy that gets closed up in my tight work life.

We will be riding for several days, but for the first time, I haven’t brought anything to record my distance. I want to just be on the bike, in the mountains, on the muddy trail.

In my own body, finding every step. In a magical land, cultivating patience and openness.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who blogs here the first Friday and second Saturday of the month. She lives in Toronto when she’s not exploring the world.

accessibility · disability · inclusiveness · injury · traveling · walking

Bremen, so many steps, happy tears, and academic travel

It’s summer. I’m in Europe. It’s part of the rhythm and flow of academic life. What’s new? This visit I’m here in my Dean’s role rather than as researcher/writer/philosopher. We have an exchange program with the University of Bremen, involving faculty, grad students, and undergraduates. I’m here with the former Dean to meet the people and learn all about Bremen and the Bremen Guelph connection.

It’s also the 10th anniversary of their Institute for Quebec Canadian Studies.

Just as academic life has a pattern and rhythm so too does the blog. It’s time for the annual post about how much more I’m walking in Europe. Here’s my day on Tuesday.

15,000 steps is a lot of steps given that it included a full working day.

On the one hand, I love living even temporarily in a less car reliant culture. I love being part of a community in which exercise is part of everyday life. But I also worry about access and inclusion and where this leaves people who aren’t so mobile.

I raised the worry in this blog post about walking lots while at a conference in Berne Switzerland four years ago. I blogged about it again from Sweden two years ago (see here) also Scotland and Innsbruck, Austria also two years ago.

It’s a thing I note and wonder about and enjoy all the while worrying about disability. That said, European friends tell my worries about disability are unfounded. What’s your experience? Do you use a wheelchair? Have you traveled around European cities? How did you find it, recognizing that Europe isn’t one place?

The worry, well founded or not, got personal this year traveling to Germany with my injured knee. I noted that the agenda for my campus visit to the University of Bremen included a two hour walking tour of campus. I was frightened I’d have to decline. It’s a big change in self perception and identity.

And the big day of walking was fine. Thank you knee brace. I got all teary wth relief.

(The emotional moment was likely also due to the movers who’d been signed up to do our move phoning me to say they couldn’t do it after all. It’s the busiest weekend of the year for movers, they say, and my agreement made back in April didn’t count for anything. Sigh. Luckily the company who came in second for the bid was willing to take it on.)

But I have wondered how I would have coped had my knee not been in good shape. I’m going to have to learn to advocate for my mobility needs. Lots to learn. I also had an experience in the airport with airport security as my knee brace sets off alarms. I told them it would hurt to take it off and send it through security and they didn’t insist.

The one thing that did hurt was my feet. I haven’t been walking so much in sandals and the weather was warm.I ended up with blisters. The next day I swapped for running shoes and ended up looking very much like a North American tourist. The German women faculty members would have appreciated my Fluevogs. They wear great shoes but I’m not sure how they manage to combine the funky footwear with walking so much.

What do you wear when walking lots, when you’re in urban environments (not hiking) and want to look both stylish and comfortable?