Whose natural beauty is it anyway? (Part 1)

I’ve been drafting this post almost since we started the blog, waiting for conclusions to form. In the way that people like me do I’ve been trying out arguments in my head and then responding to them, hoping to settle on an answer. I’m not there yet. So this is part one of a three part meandering blog post. Please chime in and help!

So I began this series of thoughts with my very first trip to Algonquin, more than 10 years ago now.

On our way out Laura and I remarked on how few women there were out there, especially once you got past the first couple of portages. It was October (not warm) and by the time we got to “our lake” the only other people we saw were young men, clad in Gortex, draped in bear bells, running the portages. They seemed like another kind of being entirely!

Laura and I laughed about it and then we talked about carrying canoes and strength and how lucky we felt being able to do this trip. The back country of Algonquin is so beautiful, so rugged, and I wanted to share. But most people can’t do trips of this sort. You need skills (thanks Laura, and Susan, and Mallory, and Sarah for teaching me) but you also need a certain level of physical ability. In addition, you need to be comfortable sleeping in a tent, on the ground, and in some cases bad weather.

It felt like a reward for our fitness, something our physical fitness allowed us to do. But there’s also a lot of luck involved.

Laura learned canoe tripping from her father but on his last trip into the park, it was Laura’s turn to lead. Her dad has MS and I was moved by Laura’s story of paying her father back for the gift he’d given her by taking him in the canoe and doing all the work.

It’s a sign of something being special that those of who love a place and an activity really want to share it. Susan took me on a canoe trip the very first time we spent any amount of time together. Susan’s blogged here too about her trip with her teenagers and her mum. Recently Sarah and I took Jeff on his first canoe camping trip.

So we want to spread the word and share this beauty. It calls to you that way. But you can only share it with some people. So part of me wants the back country to be more accessible. My last trip had steep portages and ankle deep mud. You needed a certain kind of strength and balance to pull it off.

But if it were easier, more accessible. it wouldn’t be the same. We wouldn’t be there alone, on our lake.

A friend’s wife said she’d love to come with, if there were a four star hotel in the middle of the lake, that you could helicopter in to. We laughed. But she was serious. Why isn’t that a thing, she asked. I wasn’t sympathetic.

So on the one hand, why is this a treat reserved for the fit and the non-disabled and the rugged? Should there be some easy ways in and out for those who can’t canoe and portage in? Why couldn’t it be something we all get to experience? On the other hand, there’s the quiet and the solitude, and the care and concern for the environment that’s part of back country canoe camping. How to strike a balance between those values and the value of accessibility?

Mini cupcakes? Really, Google Maps? (Guest Post)

by Megan Dean

No, Google Maps, I do not want to know that my walk to the post office will burn off a “mini cupcake” worth of calories. This is not useful or motivational or even innocuous information. In fact, it kinda ruined my afternoon.

I have put a lot of effort into keeping “calories” out of my life. I don’t read fitness magazines, I actively ignore the screen on the elliptical machine, I avert my eyes from nutrient breakdowns on prepared foods and recipes, and avoid diet conversations like the plague.

I never expected Google Maps to invade my carefully cultivated calorie-free mental space with unsolicited information about my afternoon stroll, accompanied by a stupid little emoji.

In any case, I KNOW how many calories a 20 minute walk burns. It is etched into my mind and taking up space there permanently, as is the number of calories in an apple, a slice of angel food cake, an egg, a cup of vegetable soup.

I know this because I have spent hours of my life calculating how many calories I ate in a day and how many I burnt off. It has take me years of work, thousands of dollars of therapy, and a good number of self-help books (shout out to Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy!) to stop quantifying all my daily activities in calorie form.

Reducing everything to calories might be helpful for some people but for me it’s soul-crushing, pleasure-destroying, time-wasting bs. It flattens out my life, and makes me feel I need to earn the right to eat.

No thank you. Cupcakes can be delicious, walks can be pleasant, these things shouldn’t be interchangeable, exchangeable, or commensurable.

So, shove it Google Maps. I’d rather ask for directions, and I’m an introvert.

Megan Dean is a PhD candidate in Philosophy at Georgetown University, and a pre-doctoral fellow with the Mellon Sawyer seminar “Approaching the Anthropocene: Global Culture and Planetary Change.” She really likes eating and considers that an achievement.

Helmets, usually, but not always, and that’s okay

This photo of the new leader of the New Democratic Party was making its way through my social media newsfeed. I love it.

I 🚴🏾 Halifax . I 🚴🏾 Dartmouth . #CycleLife

A post shared by Jagmeet Singh (@jagmeetsingh) on

But some friends worried about the lack of helmet. Not me. I don’t always wear a helmet. I’ve rented bikes in Amsterdam and not fussed about a helmet, for example. Here’s proof:

And I’ve written about helmets too even though it’s a debate I hate getting into. Mostly I wear them. On my road bike, always. But on a coaster bike, going slowly, I sometimes go without. Bottom line, it’s about choice.

Also, insofar as helmets mark cycling as a special scary activity they result in fewer people on the road. Yet the single biggest variable that affects bike safety isn’t helmets. It’s the number of people on the road. It might be safer overall if everyone put on a helmet for riding but that’s true of walking too. See Women, cycling, and safety in numbers.

Glowing with critical mass (Guest post)

by Joy Cameron

Critical Mass Glow Ride

Remarkable

Exhilarating

Spectacular

Electricity sizzled through our fleet

As 100 plus rode through the street

Glow sticks

Monkey lights

Spokey dokes and more

Bicycles – art in their own right –

Became canvases in the dark night

Community ignited

Fear abated

Excitement swelled

Cyclists as far as you could peer

Our Critical Mass extinguished fear

Last weekend, I joined London’s 3rd Annual Glow Ride! The timing was significant for me – happening just a few days after the anniversary of a collision that continues to impact my life. Four years ago a driver hit me while when I was cycling at night. It took a long time to start feeling secure riding on the road during the day, and even longer to feel safe riding at night. This Glow Ride felt like the perfect way to confidently have fun biking at night, celebrate how far I’ve come in my recovery, and just to have a great time after what is sometimes a painful anniversary week for me.

The Glow Ride was all that and so much more! Pulling into our meeting spot, I was eager to see how many people had come. Blinged out bikes and cyclists were everywhere! With at least 120 cyclists, this was undoubtedly the biggest gathering I had ridden alongside. As we pulled out onto the street, my amazement continued, “There are so many cyclists!” Being part of a critical mass ride was incredible. All ages and skill levels were out having fun on their bikes!

I felt exhilarated the entire time and adrenaline pumped through me until after midnight. The last London ride of this size was the 2015 Tweed Ride. London, let’s not wait two years before we come together like this again!

Huge thanks to the volunteers from London Cycle Link who organized this great event, and to the London Bicycle Café for providing a secure spot for our bikes afterward during Nuit Blanche!

Joy Cameron enjoys cycling, painting, and tai chi. She deeply values community, and treasures time spent with loved ones. In 2014, she founded Bikes n’ Brains as a response to a collision she was in. Since then, she has enjoyed getting to know many individuals from London’s cycling community. She is excited to be pursuing a social work degree at King’s University College.

Photos by Steve MacDouell.

Yawn: Catching zzzz’s and the politics of sleep

This week’s news. We can’t get by on 6 hours sleep a night. If you say that, you’re just kidding yourself. Also, lack of sleep is causing heart disease and cancer and Alzheimers.

Grim news, right? I have a good weeks where I get 7+ hours of sleep each night but lately I’ve been struggling. Thanks menopause and hot flashes.

Often these stories in the news talk as if the problem with getting adequate amounts of sleep were universal and it’s true we all need sleep. However, it’s also true that who gets enough sleep and why is partly about about sexism, racism, the divisions of work in the home, and the gap in income between the rich and the poor. Sleep tracks privilege.

I’ve ranted before about rich, white people whining about lack of sleep when really the sleep gap is all about race and income.

It’s not just a little bit less sleep either. Black Americans get a lot less sleep than white Americans. In fact, the difference in sleep quantity between the two groups may be enough to explain the difference in life expectancy between the two groups.

“The racial inequalities in the US are stark, but none are more damaging than the health gap between blacks and whites. On average, blacks die at a significantly younger age than whites.”

Here is a recent report on sleep differences between black and white Americans, Nobody Sleeps Better Than White People, Says Study

Thursday we learned something truly astonishing: White people, unburdened by racism, sleep pretty damn well.

According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 65 percent of Americans polled said they usually get at least seven hours of sleep per night, the benchmark recommendation. It’s self-reported data, not confirmed with any kind of tracking, but it’s fairly consistent with other estimates, the CDC says.

When the responses were broken down by race, they found that non-Hispanic whites had the highest rate of healthy sleep duration, at 66.8 percent. Close to 66 percent of Hispanics got seven-plus hours, as did 62.5 percent of Asians and 59.6 percent of Native Americans. Black people were at 54.2 percent, and multiracial people were at the bottom, with 53.6 percent. Overall, people who were employed and college-educated slept better, too.

Sleep and our lack of it is both anxiety producing and deeply connected to other kinds of oppression and injustice.

At the same time, we’re also in the midst of unbelievable sleep marketing aimed at the wealthy and the health conscious. I don’t mean to mock individuals but the imperative to sleep is commercialized in ways that target and discipline there anxious and the well off.

Do soul cycle spin classes, visit the yoga studio, see your personal trainer, and now be sure to schedule restful classes as well.

Tired after a long day the office and all that yoga? Try cocooning classes. Really.

Here’s one person’s description:

If I were to describe my ideal workout class, it would be one during which you get to just chill the f*ck out. In this dream class, people would be far more concerned with de-stressing than getting their heart rates up—it would be all about clearing your mind and reaching a meditative state of peace. In fact, you could almost take out the pesky workout part entirely. The AntiGravity Cocooning class at Crunch is pretty much that dream, realized.

Image result for cocooning classes

If cocooning still seems like too much work and not enough rest, you can even just skip the cocoon and go straight to napping class. Again, really. Napping classes.

That’s right, now you can pay for 15-minute stretching exercise followed by a 45-minute nap in an “ideal temperature” room full of strangers, and still call it “going to the gym.”The organizers call it “Nap-Ercise” and they say the class will: “reinvigorate the mind, improve moods, and even burn the odd calorie,” which is just abstract enough for it not to be false.

The sleep industry is big bucks these days.

So while some people are working two or three jobs or living in unstable arrangements and not getting enough sleep, other people are anxiously taking napping classes. Me, I’m still a fan of napping in hammocks while camping. Or on trains, planes, but not automobiles.

It’s a very weird world we’re living in.

The philosopher Cressida Heyes is thinking and writing about sleep these days. You can view her slide show of sleep images here. She writes, “My next project will be a series of essays on sleep. Stay tuned.” I’m looking forward to hearing what she has to say.

Riding in the Mountains of Laos

As this posts, I’m flying home from a month in Asia — a few days in Bangkok, then cycling trips in Sri Lanka and Laos.  I blogged a little bit about the Sri Lanka trip [here] and [here].  I loved the Sri Lanka trip but it was a bit intense — difficult riding, we got lost a lot, and there was a group of 10, and that’s a lot of time for introverted me to spend in company. I ride when I travel to be alone with myself, and to be present in the place I find myself, and it’s harder with a big group.

I landed in Luang Prabang in Northern Laos on New Year’s day, and was instantly wrapped in a soft calm.  I wandered around the old town, had a massage, and ate excellent food.  One night, as I ate a sublime vegetarian curry, I watched my server dreamily catch and release raindrops on his fingertip off the yellow awning over the terrace.

The four day bike trip in the mountains of Laos was wrapped in the same kind of mindful softness.  Northern Laos is remote — there’s only one road from Luang Prabang in the centre to Vientiane, the capital a few hundred kilometres south.  We rode that one main road about 250 kilometres, through twisting, curving climbs and downhills, and flats through tiny villages, subsistence farms, small rice paddies.  My group was small — just me and a female couple from Australia a little older than me.  They were easy-going and riding-seasoned, and the flow was simple.  We mutually agreed on van transfers on rain-slick mountain roads, shared awe and long photo pauses.

Half of the ride was in the mountains, often in mist, surrounded by waves of dark green sharp hills, clouds settled down around us.  Climbs were long, but affable and gentle, occasional trucks and motorbikes, but mostly just us, the road, the mist, the mountains.


The softness of this kind of riding makes me more porous, and the world around me flows in. In every village, children come running from the side of the road to shout “SABAIDEE!” (Hello!) and high five us — sometimes a little too hard.  Pigs escape from their pens by the side of the road.  People bathe at the cold village taps, men in their underwear, women wrapped in sarongs, children naked.  I stop to watch the sad drama of a group of people attempting to lasso a cow with a makeshift vine-rope after it’s been injured by a car.  Notice that babies are wrapped to men’s bodies as often as they are to women’s.  Pedalling into a land and soundscape that isn’t accessible any other way.

In Phousavan, we spend the morning at the market then at a little exhibit learning about the devastating impact of the US bombing of northern Laos during the American/Vietnam war.  It’s horrifying history — many bombs were dropped on Laos because they couldn’t reach the Vietnamese targets and couldn’t return with full loads; there were rules of engagement in Vietnam about civilian targets, but because Laos wasn’t technically at war, they didn’t apply.  There are unexploded bombs everywhere still in Laos, and the napalmed hills won’t grow anything for 200 years. [Good piece on this  here].

The three of us are quiet after the morning, and when we start riding, we soon end up in mountain cloud and fog.  It’s hard to see, but my body needs to move, to be fully present in this place to make a little bit of human connection with the stories we’ve heard.  The other two women get in the van, but I ride, carefully up and into the mist, feeling the cold.  The guide tries to have the van follow me closely but I ask him to move on.  I want to be alone with the road, responsible for my own safety.

In the mountains, the villages are mostly raised thatched huts with woven roofs; as we get further south, houses become more prosperous, made of cement or brick and with electricity, satellite dishes. Roadside stands shift from selling firewood and occasional bananas to selling oranges. In the mountains, people walk between villages carrying bundles of sticks, firewood, in bags braced by their foreheads. In the valley, there are more motorbikes and bicycles leaned up near the road as people tend their crops.  The people in the mountains have almost nothing, barefoot children hopping because the road is so cold on their feet.  I wasn’t properly prepared for this level of chill and I’m often shivering;  they are huddled around tiny bucket fires.

The final day of riding — the 15th day of riding of my trip — is nearly 100k. We start out in Phoukoun in the mountains climbing for an hour, then descend through the hills to the valley. I have a couple of skids on curves that remind me to pedal cautiously (I crashed the first day on gravel in a curve, unfamiliar with the brakes on this bike), then I’m on my own for most of the ride.  I’m so grateful for a body that lets me do this, feel this place through my pores, my own effort and openness rather than through the window of a van.

I notice one little girl walking her bike up a hill and I call out Sabaidee!  She sees me and hops on her bike, starts to race me up the hill.  At the top, she extends her hand for a high five and we hold hands for a brief moment.

 

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Just before we get to Vang Vieng, we stop at a bridge over the Nam Xong river. There’s a little monastery high on one edge, and the mountains that have wrapped around me all afternoon crowd close.  My feet and hands are sore, but I stop, feel gratitude, know why I do this.

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Friends for Life Bike Rally, Day 3! Oh no, that smell is me. #F4LBR

It’s Wear Red Day (previously known as Red Dress Day) and everyone is all gussied up!

Team Switchin’ Gears in the morning. 

Oh and let’s not forget our new best friends, the Bike Rally mechanics who’ve been such a huge help. 

It was a morning with earlier packing times and departure but also no rush to do the 50 km in to Kingston as lunch and rooms would not be available until noon.  The sun was out, a welcome change from the Day 2 Deluge. 

We rode together as best we could until the break at 25 km. With a lot of riders it can get tricky on busy roads. After 3 days of cycling without hot showers I realized I smelled very strongly. No matter how carefully you pack the used gear the smell permeates all of the clothes in the bin. Mix that fermented body odor with gastrointestinal upset and a dab of diaper rash creme and you’ve got a mighty pungent perfume. 

Traditional team photo in Kingston

So tonight we do laundry, shower, eat with metal utensils with ceramic plates while sitting indoors. 

Thankful for a morning with less logistics.

We continue to gather pledges to fund PWA’s mission. You can donate here