camping · covid19 · cycling · fitness · snow · winter

Is this the year to try snow biking?

Sam riding her fat bike on a trail on a sunny winter day

I saw a tweet the other day that made me smile.

I loved all the snow and the sun and the smiling faces.

We’re going into this winter knowing it’s going to be hard. And I find regular falls challenging. See here and here and here. Oh, and here! It’s a bit of a theme on the blog and in my life. Lol

The reporting about winter in the time of COVID-19 is gloomy and hard to read.

See A Canadian coronavirus winter is looming — and it could ‘amplify loneliness’: “But winter is coming and, according to experts, so too is the accompanying seasonal woes. And this time, it will be “amplified” by the confines of the coronavirus, according to Roger McIntyre, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of Toronto. An epidemic of loneliness long preceded this pandemic. And just by the nature of winter, people are less likely to come in contact with others. It’s a realistic concern.”

Since March, Canadians have been told to stay apart to stop the spread of the virus. The ability to be outdoors has provided safer alternatives to exercise, recreation, commuting and dining, among other things. In the winter, those options will dwindle. Experts have warned the risk of transmission also increases indoors.”

So what’s my plan? Because it’s clear that I am going to need a plan. I’m trying to remind myself of all the things I like about winter. I’m fending off anticipatory sadness with thoughts of snow biking and winter camping.

So far my plan has four parts but the fourth is still a bit sketchy and needs the details filling in. There’s time.

First, more time outside, including winter riding.

Second, I’m bringing home my SAD lamp from my university office and I’m going to use it in my home office.

Third, I’m following Catherine’s advice and getting a small warming fireplace for my deck so I can visit with friends outside even during Canadian winter.

Fourth, I used to joke about Canadians who went south in the winter. The truth is though between riding in Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina for the past number of years (I’m not even going to check to see how many!) I’ve become one of those people. It’s only ever been for a week at a time but this year that won’t happen at all. I’ve already booked some time in a yurt for winter outdoor sports. And I’m still scheming about what else I might do.

Suggestions welcome!

How about you? Are you in a northern climate heading into what looks like a long, lonely winter? How do you plan to keep body and spirit moving?

fitness · walking · winter · yoga

One weekend, seven women, some activity, much downtime, no bad news

This weekend I write to y’all from Ogunquit Maine, where my book club getaway is in progress. We’re a group of friends who enjoy books, each others’ company, cooking and eating yummy food, and movement.

I feel deeply connected to these women. We play multiple roles in each others’ lives: work colleagues, co-authors, confidants, cycling buddies, yoga friends, and of course fellow literary critics…

Yes, we are discussing a book this weekend (Good Morning, Midnight, by Lily Brooks-Dalton; IMHO definitely worth a read), but the main business of this retreat is to take time off from the world (no, we’re not talking about the world AT ALL in this post) and eat, sleep, talk, move, laugh, and talk some more.

What have we been up to? Friday it was a brief ride for some and clamber on rocks for most of us near the Nubble lighthouse. It was windy and cold– I mean, it’s March in Maine. Duh. But it was fun, even with a few very cold sprinkles of rain (worse than snow in my view). Then food prep, fireplace attention, puzzle-solving, lazy chat, and eventually, tottering off to bed.

Rachel and me, on rocks at the Nubble lighthouse which was (unfortunately out of the shot).
Rachel and me, on rocks at the Nubble lighthouse which was (unfortunately out of the shot).

Saturday was much more active. A couple of friends had their bikes and trainers in their cars, so did intervals outside in the cold on the deck (perfect), accompanied by rock music (my favorite tune was Rock You Like a Hurricane).

Michele and Rachel, smiling and pedaling on their trainers on the cold but sunny deck.
Michele and Rachel, smiling and pedaling on their trainers on the cold but sunny deck.

I didn’t bring my bike setup, instead opting for the ease of a yoga mat. I had a good view of the cyclists from inside (except when in down dog). Norah joined me for a nice morning stretchy workout.

Me in downward facing dog on my mat inside the house.
Me in downward facing dog on my mat inside the house.

Others decided to do walking meditation in the woods, appropriately bundled up for the weather.

Kathy, coming back from her walking in the woods meditation.
Kathy, coming back from her walking in the woods meditation.

Mid-afternoon we headed to the beach. The wind had died down, and the almost-full-moon was rising.

Almost-full-moon, rising over the ocean in Maine.
Almost-full-moon, rising over the ocean in Maine.

There was some cavorting.

Me, holding a pose by the ocean.
Me, posing by the ocean.

As I finish up this post, I’m wondering if there’s any message here other than “hey, my very nice friends and I are having a very nice weekend in a very nice place.” Hmmm. I think I have one:

Life is tough. Bad things happen all the time, and a big bad thing is happening now. We are hearing a lot about how to deal with this and other big bad things. Let me add one more way: if you have the time and the space and it feels safe to do so, spend some easygoing time with people you care about.

Kathy, me, Michele, Lisa and Rachel in front of the Nubble lighthouse (before Kim and Norah arrived).
Kathy, me, Michele, Lisa and Rachel in front of the Nubble lighthouse (before Kim and Norah arrived).

Readers, what are you doing to deal with big bad news these days other than reading and listening and talking constantly about it and washing your hands? I’d love to hear from you.

cycling · winter

Fat Biking: A Photo Essay (February 2020)

February hasn’t been an easy month. Check out this morning’s post for details. So when the weekend was sunny, warm, and snowy our thoughts turned to fat biking on local trails. Thanks Sarah for the nudge! It’s a thing lots of people are curious about. People love to ask questions about our bikes. And it’s not often a thing you get to do in warm-ish weather. I think it was -2 when we set out.

We started out on the trails that run along the river by the golf course near our house. We ran into a guy on a mountain bike who was just coming home from a 50 km ride in the snow. We chatted bikes for a bit and he took our photo. Thanks cyclist stranger!

The trails where there was a lot of traffic were wide and flat and the snow was pretty packed. We could ride along and easily get out of the way for the occasional dog walker we ran into.

But our first obstacle wasn’t far away. The bridge was out at our usual storm drain crossing.

Where’s our bridge?

We considered crossing by carrying the bikes–despite their size they’re pretty light–but we were both worried about the ice on the rocks. It looked slippy, also cold and wet if you fell. So instead we went up and over above the drain. That was an adventure. We both fell but no one got hurt. Just then two cyclists arrived from the other direction. One of them went across–he had a mountain bike–and the other fat biker rider like us went up and over.

That’s part of the fun of riding these bikes, figuring out what you can and can’t do. Also, ducking for tree branches.

Me riding away!

Here’s a skinny bridge we could have ridden over I suspect. But we both got off and walked our bikes across.

Here’s another bridge we didn’t ride over!

It’s after this stretch that things got interesting. Off the well trodden path, we were riding in some pretty narrow single track. And these bikes have pretty wide tires. More problematically if you stop at all it’s hard to get started again.

The snow off to the sides was soft and very deep. I think we each fell a couple of times into the deep stuff and then settled into walking our bikes for a bit. Eventually the path widened and there was more hard packed snow to ride on.

After a couple of hours of snowy trail riding, we exited the path and rode home on the roads. Last night we were both feeling a little worse for wear. The bikes are fun to ride but it’s very much a full body workout. We agreed that we need to work on not stopping! Also, less falling! And we need to practice starting again when we do stop. Also, less tire pressure would have been good for the softer sections.

It’s a ton of fun. If you want to give it a try and you’re near us they rent them in Horseshoe Valley. That’s where Sarah and I rented them for the first time. We blogged about it here. Later we went with Susan as a social outing for our bike rally team. Susan blogged about that trip. We’ve rented them at Tremblant and blogged it here. I’ve also rented a fat bike at Wildwood Conservation area and blogged about that too.

Got any questions? Send them out way!

motivation · winter

In a slump

In autumn 2018, I was all abuzz with advice on how to keep up fitness momentum during the shorter days. It also wasn’t a problem for me last autumn, although a small operation on my hyperactive parathyroid kept me off the streets for some time. But now, reader, with what feels like interminable darkness, greyness and rain, I am in a slump.

I have always struggled more towards the end of winter than at the beginning. For a lot of people, November is a really hard month. Or January (so long!). For me, it’s February. It’s short, but for me it’s the four weeks by which winter is too long. Come March, I can tell myself that things are looking up, the days are longer, and if you’re lucky you can get some decent spring weather already. But not in February. Oh no. February is blech.

Low-hanging clouds in a grey sky over a forest. This is more or less what our winter has looked like, except the trees also had no leaves, so it has been even more grim.
Photo by Julian Ebert on Unsplash

The weather has been especially unhelpful this year: in this part of the world, the winter has been unseasonably warm, i.e. somewhere around 10 C most of the time, and rather wet. Actually, this is quite normal February weather around here, but we’ve had it since December now. Meteorologically speaking, it has been my least favourite month of the year for two and a half months. It’s cold enough to be unpleasant but not cold enough to get any snow or these really cold, crisp, sunny winter days I love. There have been a few, but not enough. As a result, the temptation to stay on the couch with a blanket rather than get moving has been too strong on too many occasions.

So I need to know: what are your motivation strategies for the end of winter?

commute · cycling · fitness · winter

Happy Winter Bike to Work Day! #WinterBikeToWorkDay

Winter Bike Love Strike

I had a pretty good January of winter riding thanks to #31DaysofWinterRiding but it ended with a week of riding in warm, sunny Florida and it was hard to get back on the bike in the snow after that.

But I’m starting up again tomorrow prompted by #WinterBikeToWorkDay.

Upsala, Sweden is currently top on the leaderboard with the most committed winter cyclists but it’s nice to see some Canadian cities up in the top ten. Hi Calgary! Hi Montreal!

If you’re looking for how to tips, here’s my advice on winter cycling complete with fashion tips.

See you out there!

(Update: It’s snowing really hard out there. My plan is to ride my fat bike. It’s also going to be cold. Here’s the forecast: Sunny. Wind up to 15 km/h. High minus 8. Wind chill minus 26 in the morning and minus 13 in the afternoon. Brrr! Wish me luck!)

cycling · holiday fitness · holidays · motivation · traveling · winter

Finishing my #31DaysOfWinterBiking (in Florida)

It feels like it’s cheating. But I did count Zwifting inside as winter biking. Anyway, for me, the main point of these social media challenges is to just increase the number of days I ride. I’m a pretty decent tough weather cyclist–I’ve got the gear and it still makes me smile–but even I can find January with its ice and cold and very dark days just a bit much. Enter the #31DaysOfWinterBiking. But also, for me, enter a week long vacation at the end of January riding my bike in Florida.

The plan: We loaded up the Prius and Jeff, Sarah, and I drove Saturday and Sunday from Guelph to Central Florida. It was about 20 hours, door to door. We stopped for the night on Saturday in a roadside motel in West Virginia. Sunday night we checked into our very cute cottage. Five days of Florida bike riding and then Saturday, tomorrow, we check out and do the same drive in reverse.

It’s a repeat of last year in some ways. Last year we went riding in Clermont though then Jeff was already on his boat in Florida and Sarah and I flew down. I liked where we stayed in Clermont but it wasn’t free for these dates this year. Instead, we’re in nearby Mount Dora, home of the Mount Dora Bike Festival.

The bike festival is in its 45th year and it brings hundreds of riders to this old cute Florida town. Their route maps are here. Our plan was to hang out and ride bikes in a leisurely, vacation style way, making use of the Mount Dora route maps and also driving back to Clermont to ride some of our favorites again.

Our tropical Mount Dora cabin

Day 1: Tangerine Ride

When we arrived in Florida Sarah was sick–cough, cold, sneezing, sore throat. On holidays! So not fair. So for our first day we noodled down to downtown Mount Dora, an old central Florida town full of coffee shops and gift stores, sat outside and drank lattes. Properly fortified we did the Mount Dora Bike Festival’s family friendly Tangerine Ride. I recommend it!

“With 10.8 miles and + 394 feet of climbing this is a nice, mostly flat, casual and un-guided ride out to one of our beautiful lakefront parks, Trimble Park.  Enjoy the park and then ride back through the historic town of Tangerine.”

Trimble Park

We’ve been amused, as Canadians, with all the bear warning signs. Do they come south for winter? Turns out, upon googling, that Florida black bears are a sub species of the North American black bear. You can read up here.

“The park is in a known bear habitat and you may also see alligators, squirrels, raccoons, gopher tortoises, slider turtles, snakes, lizards and many bird species including eagles, osprey, pelicans and hawks.” From a guide to Trimble Park.

Total distance ridden: 28 km

Day 2: Shortened version of the Three Bob’s Ride, including thrill hill

“With 41.6 miles and +1112 feet of Climbing this route was named after three cycling friends all named Bob.  This route was created from their friendly challenge to see which Bob could create the ride where you could spot the most lakes in Lake County in 40 miles.  This was the winning ride and the route brags about having a water feature for every mile it is long! Rolling hills and great forested land are also highlights of this ride.”

Highlights: So many lakes! Also “thrill hill.” It wasn’t really that big of a hill but this is flat Florida. Still, it was a fun descent. Lowlight: lunch stop ended up being MacDonald’s since the local diners closed at 2 pm, after lunch.

Total distance ridden: 55 km

Day 3: Shortened version of the Metric Swamp Century

“Very scenic ride through northern Lake County, it is named for the Emeralda Marsh Conservation Area that this ride will wind through.”

Highlights: Praline pecans with sweet Georgia heat spice for snacks, also an alpaca farm with alpaca boarding, you know in case you own an alpaca and need to take a vacation. Lowlight: Keep America Great signs. Sigh.

Total distance ridden: 70 km

Day 4: West Orange Trail

The West Orange Trail is 21 miles long and so out and back makes a pretty good ride. It’s a multiuse pathway, yes, but nicely paved and plenty wide. You can actually ride at speed through sections of it. We loved it last time and so we were determined to do it again.

From Wikipedia: “The West Orange Trail is a 22-mile (35 km) long multi-use rail trail owned by Orange County Parks and Recreation in Orange County, Florida, in the United States. The paved trail passes through downtown OaklandWinter Garden, and Apopka with most of its length built on old railroad alignments. To the west of the West Orange Trail is the South Lake-Lake Minneola Scenic Trail in Lake County which was connected to the trail in 2007.”

Highlights: Love the wide paved pathway and the town of Wintergarden. We stopped there for coffee and lunch and I bought an Orange Trail bike jersey. Lowlight: Trying to navigate four way stops when the path crosses roads with riders with different tolerances for looking and riding through. I’m the nervous nellie in this crowd. Also we encountered our first rain on the way back.

Total distance ridden: 45 km


Day 5: Sugarloaf

It was supposed to be the “Assault on Sugarloaf” but by Friday I’d caught Sarah’s cold. With a sore throat and cough I agreed to ride up the local big hill but I wasn’t about to be mounting an assault on anything.

Here’s a description of Sugarloaf by

“The sugarloaf mountain is situated in Florida (US). This climb belongs to the Florida hills. The sugarloaf mountain via clermont, fl is ranked number 1 of the Florida hills. The climb is ranked number 427 in United States and number 11779 in the world. Starting from clermont, fl, the sugarloaf mountain ascent is 1 km long. Over this distance, you climb 67 heightmeters. The average percentage thus is 6.7 %. The maximum slope is 16%.”

In the end it started to rain and got dark and once we got off the lovely bike paths the cars were passing too close for my comfort. Sarah made it up Sugarloaf but I called for Jeff’s rescue wagon. Here’s the lovely bike trail.

Somehow when I imagined bike riding in Florida I never imagined such lovely paved bike trails.

Total distance ridden, for me: 15 km
For Sarah: 38 km
For Jeff: 0 km (he was also getting sick and was driving the support vehicle)

I made it through January! Yay! It’s been a long month. And a very gloomy one.

From here on in it’s a quick countdown to spring. Right?

cycling · fitness · traveling · winter · yoga

Goat Yoga in Florida?

A beginner’s guide to goat yoga

Look what I got for Christmas, a beginner’s guide to goat yoga. Hey, I’m not a beginner. I think I’ve been three times. I’m a fan. But still, it’s a fun book. Thanks Mallory!

We’re currently heading to Florida to ride our bikes for a week. But it won’t be all bike riding. We’re thinking of going here on our rest day, Dancing Moon Goat Yoga. We’ve packed our yoga mats for Yoga with Adriene. After 20 hours driving, with one overnight stop, we’ll definitely need it.

The last time I went to goat yoga I didn’t want to give the baby goat back!

View this post on Instagram

I'm keeping this goat! #goatyoga

A post shared by Samantha Brennan (@samjanebrennan) on

I went to a studio/farm just outside London with my son Gavin and they actually let us stick around after and bottle feed the baby goats and tuck them into bed.

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A post shared by Samantha Brennan (@samjanebrennan) on

Here’s to bike riding in the sunshine and to goat yoga too.

commute · cycling · fitness · snow · winter

Sam’s January challenge

When I saw this in my Twitter feed, I smiled: “Anyone else interested in the #31daysofwinterbiking challenge, starting 1/1/2020? It’s a judgment-free, no-shame way to be active in January, inside or out.”

Here’s how it all got started.

I figure I can do it. Certainly I bike commute to work. If I’m stuck I may count riding in Zwift.


And it will help that we’ve got a week of riding in Florida planned at the end of January.

#biking #winterbike #biketowork #BikeEveryDay #winterbiketowork

Sarah and Sam on a fat bike lesson

Joining in? Use the #31daysofwinterbiking

See you out there!

cycling · fitness · Guest Post · winter

The wonders of non-hardcore winter cycling (Guest post)

Bike frozen in ice. This would be a non-cycling day.

by Andrea Zanin

As a cyclist and non-driver, I have developed a winter strategy. I keep an ongoing list of errands and grocery needs. I check weather and road conditions regularly. As soon as a day comes up that’s clear with dry roads, I cycle around doing all the things I can squeeze in. That includes stocking up on groceries and household stuff even if I don’t expect to run out imminently, because I don’t want to be stuck without toilet paper when a week-long snowstorm hits. In summer, errands can be run daily. In winter, it’s more like binge/bust. I also vary my transportation more generally between cycling, public transit and cabs depending on the weather.

I’m not hardcore. I’m very aware of how fragile the human body is and I have nothing to prove. No heroic ice-biking for me. I don’t want to break my neck. I stick to safe road conditions and I plan my routes to avoid heavy traffic, high speeds, major hazards and so on.

I’ve figured out over time that I can breathe comfortably down to about -5°C, though I hope to test out a face mask and see if that opens up colder days. I have mild asthma and carry an inhaler, but rarely use it. I wear layers, but nothing high-tech. I wear multiple bright lights at night, carry a bungee cord for loads (I have a rear basket), use my bell lots and have absolutely no problem yelling at drivers who put my life in danger, which they often do—but I don’t play chicken. I’m the only loser if it’s me against a car. I think a lot of accidents can be avoided by selectively breaking rules when they go against safety, going slowly when the roads are snarled, and expecting that nobody can see you and acting accordingly. Right of way is less important than survival.

These basics have served me well.

I’m saying all this because I think a lot of people put their bikes away at this time of year—and legit, I did too until a year ago. But at least here in Toronto, you don’t have to. You can still get all the benefits of cycling if you switch up your strategy for the season. The freedom of movement, the exercise, the connection to the urban landscape, the convenience, the low environmental footprint—so much good stuff. Cycling may be weather-dependent to a point, but it’s not season-dependent. You just have to adapt a bit.

I’m thinking more and more these days about sustainability, about our impact on the world around us—and cycling is a key part of that for me. So I figure a little mythbusting, a little reassurance, a little encouragement might help get more of you to two-wheel it year-round.

And I also have to say: there’s joy in it. It’s not just a “you should.” It feels amazing to get your blood moving on the chilly days. Makes the body less sluggish and stiff. Warms you up from the inside and makes you glow. At least that’s my experience!

Anyway, there’s my little winter cycling manifesto. Maybe you’re already there (high five!). Maybe, like me until a year ago, you’re not—but you could be, you’ve just got to decide to give it a shot. Hope this helps a bit!

Andrea Zanin has written for the Globe and Mail, The Tyee, Bitch, Ms., Xtra, IN Magazine, Outlooks Magazine and the Montreal Mirror. Her scholarly work, fiction and essays appear in a variety of collections. She blogs at and tweets at @sexgeekAZ.

sleep · winter

Waking to light instead of noise

Maybe it’s the Aikido influence but I think beginnings and endings really matter. This post focuses on beginnings. I am a fan of start as you mean to continue. I enjoy my mornings. I do some of my best writing in the morning. I love it when I have time to exercise in the morning. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I love my bike ride to work. But as we move into darker days getting going can be a challenge.

I recently bought a lamp that’s meant to be useful in combatting seasonal affective disorder. I like it. But now the company is also marketing other things my way, like an alarm clock that works by simulating the morning light. I confess. I bought one. Also, I love it.

It’s much better than the Rock alarm clock. It’s much better than repeatedly hitting the snooze button on your phone alarm.

I love the gradual lightning of the room. I like the bright light at 6 am. If I’m well rested the light alone is enough to wake me. I wasn’t sure how it would work if I was not getting enough sleep. Answer: it didn’t really. Instead, I was woken up by the back up sound alarm. That was much less enjoyable but I’m glad it’s there.