Stop “looking for results from working out” and kick guilt to the curb

Content warning: post includes talk about dieting and weight loss

I’ve been working out regularly for close to 20 years. That still amazes me when I think about it, because for the first 30 years of my life, I was not an active or fit person. I hated gym class, smoked on and off, hated my body, punished it with diets, binging and wished it would be different.

When I started working out regularly, it didn’t change my perspective about my body overnight. But I didn’t focus on my body’s shape as the primary reason I was working out on a regular basis. And, over time, it has become the least important reason for why I get my sweat on. I focused on:

  1. Amazement at what my body was capable of doing (you can spin your ass off for 3 hours and still feel like you can keep going! You can run a WHOLE MARATHON! Aren’t you lucky you’ve been given a body that can do these things!).
  2. This may be a bit controversial, but at first I was a little surprised at how well I could keep up to the people in some of my classes who were smaller. My brain, conditioned to think smaller was always fitter, learned many times over, that this was not the case. Not for me and not for those with larger bodies, who would often whip my butt in class. Learning this, added to my understanding of how little someone’s appearance relates to their level of fitness.
  3. How much stronger my body felt.
  4. I did enjoy how my body felt firmer. But that is not something that always happens. And bodies of all shapes and sizes can be firmer.
  5. How much my mind benefitted from exercise. It’s still my number one factor. I always say that if I don’t exercise for a couple days “I don’t feel right”. It’s just a fact. I can get too much in my head. I can get too anxious. I can get tense for no particular reason. I don’t think I’ve ever exercised, and not felt noticeably clearer afterwards. Lighter. My chest unclenches. My outlook on my day improves. It’s often stated but not overstated. Exercise is completely beneficial for my mental health (this is not to say that if someone needs other medical interventions, such as medication, that exercise is a substitute for medication).
  6. Helped me quit smoking for good. Knowing I was going to run in the morning, stopped me from going for that cigarette one last time. As I got older, and found that alcohol made me more tired the next day, it also stopped me from going for that 3rd or 4th drink.
  7. Community. Exercising, regularly, allowed me to meet like-minded people. It’s a reason to smile and say Hi to familiar faces. It enables you to see that fitness comes in all shapes and ages and demographics. The pandemic has made the importance of this connection even more evident.
Nicole doing a push-up on dumbbells, in the park. Enjoying what her body is capable of, the weather, the scenery, the camaraderie and so much more.

My experience of body hate and disordered eating is not unusual, unfortunately. Aspects of these experiences can be attributed to diet culture and, particularly, North American views that part of being a successful woman is taking up as little physical space as possible. I am not going to go into the evils of diet culture and why we shouldn’t succumb to these pressures. We’ve talked about this many times on this blog. It’s not news.

black script on a light acqua background with the words “Just say no to diet culture”

But, I’m still surprised at how often, women I know, from all walks of life, all shapes, ages, levels of education, etc., say things like:

  1. I have been eating “better”. I feel less guilty. Or, the opposite.
  2. I enjoyed girls’ night last night, but I need to be extra careful today.
  3. There’s no point in me working out until I get my diet together, because I don’t see results until I eat better.

Variations on all of the above. It’s not surprising that these thoughts are so common, when all around us is “advice” about “Why you might not be seeing fitness results”.

An ad for a fitness coach, showing a young, white woman running in grey shorts and light aqua tshirt, with the words “why you might not be seeing fitness results.

I’ll tell you why some people “may not be seeing fitness results”. They are only looking for one factor. Weight loss. When there are so many other results from fitness, that are much more important.

I can tell you from my own experience:

  1. No amount of guilt is going to steer you in the direction you seek (whether you should be seeking that goal or not).
  2. When you stop looking for visual results from working out, you will notice a whole host of other results from exercise.
  3. If you focus on the visual results of exercise, it may hinder you. It may prevent you from exercising. The “what’s the point” mentality. I don’t want this way of thinking to stop you from enjoying all the amazing benefits that come from regular, intentional movement.

Some of my friends or family who know me might say, “That’s easy for you to say. I’ve noticed you’ve lost weight recently”. This I would address by saying, (1) Losing weight isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes it means you’ve lost muscle tone. Sometimes, losing weight means a person has been unusually stressed or unwell. In my case, I currently feel neutral about losing weight. It’s neither good nor bad. Nor was it my goal. (2) My exercise schedule hasn’t changed much over the years. Sometimes, I’ve been bigger. Sometimes, I’ve been smaller. (3) I eat how I enjoy eating. I happen to have lost weight recently. Because of the pandemic, I have also been doing less heavy weight on the rig. That may be part of it. The way I eat, and my weight, may fluctuate. But one thing is for sure, the way I eat does not involve guilt, body hate, praise or other virtues about my food intake. I am not punishing myself. I make sure I am satiated. I try not to overthink things. How others may enjoy eating, without assigning virtues to the food, may look completely different. And their bodies may look completely different and be equally as fit. You can’t tell how fit someone is by looking at them and you can’t tell how kind someone is to their body by looking at them.

Occasionally, I mention my thoughts about food and exercise, around people who indicate they are upset with themselves because of how they have been eating. I try to gently remind them that beating themselves up isn’t going to help. My thoughts are clearly not that influential. But, I feel the need to try, because it is my sincere wish, that people understand two things about food and exercise:

1. Only do things out of love. You will only be content with how you eat, if you love yourself. If you choose what you want to do because you love yourself. It sounds corny, but it’s true. Nothing good comes out of hating yourself. Ever.
2. Exercise benefits you with mental clarity, strength, joint health, managing things like blood pressure and blood sugar (sometimes, that doesn’t mean you still won’t need medical intervention, it’s not one or the other, in all cases), and so many other things, REGARDLESS OF HOW YOU SEE YOURSELF IN THE MIRROR. Don’t lose all those other benefits, or let that one thing prevent you exercising. PLEASE. Is that too much to ask?

I long for the day when work meetings, backyard bbqs, and social media threads, refrain from feelings of guilt about food, and espouse the virtues of exercise beyond how people see themselves in a mirror.

This is what will happen if you stop “looking for results from working out” and kick guilt to the curb:

You will appreciate exercise for more important things that add up to overall wellbeing. And, it’s more likely to become a regular habit (not just an occasional reminder to “fix” yourself.

You will be kinder to yourself. If there is one thing this pandemic should have taught us, is that it is important to be kinder to ourselves and others. It should not have taught you to deride yourself or to be ungrateful to your wonderous living being because of outdated, unhelpful, time-wasting, life-wasting, brain-wasting societal norms.

Nicole P. is determined to make choices for her body out of love.
fitness · habits · rest · season transitions · self care

Working Outside: An Internal Debate

I’m writing this while sitting on my patio and wondering if I want to take my laptop outside for the rest of the afternoon.

I mean, if you were sitting here, would you want to make yourself go work inside?

A view of a backyard patio, plants, lawn and trees
The view from my seat under my patio umbrella. Image description: a photo of one side of a backyard deck with a view of a red shed with white trim, a patio chair with a red cushion, a variety of potted plants, some grass and trees, and my dog, Khalee.

Yet, as someone with ADHD who does freelance work from home, I already have to put a lot of effort into reminding myself that there is a time for work and a time to relax/be at home. I generally try to limit where I work so I have environmental reminders to keep me on track.

So, if I start working in my relaxation space, am I going to blur that line I have worked hard to draw?

On the other hand, I have done lots of work outside in the past. I don’t really remember if it made it more challenging to keep that boundary or not.

And while I have enjoyed my deck in previous years, I hadn’t put as much effort into creating a restful backyard before. My new deck and an increase in my planning capacity (thanks to an increased dose of ADHD meds last fall) has helped me plan and create a much more enjoyable space this summer.

I don’t know if I should draw stronger boundaries around this restful space or if my environment would help me work with more ease. If I could work with more ease, maybe it would be easier to draw a line under my tasks for the day and move on to my hobbies and relaxation.

In the past, while writing or doing other office work outdoors, I have managed to create a good rhythm for my day – working in short sessions and then breaking for yoga, other exercises, drawing or reading. That’s probably a healthier way to work than trying to force myself to focus for long periods. There would be less sitting and more movement, which is always good for me.

But, maybe I could make my workday shorter if I told myself to stay inside for X amount of time and then go outside to exercise and/or relax?

Am I overthinking this? Almost definitely.

Does it have to be all one or all the other? Probably not.

I still think it is worth asking myself all of these questions though.

I am trying to be more conscious of the choices I am making and of the patterns I am following. I want those choices and patterns to contribute to my overall fitness, my health, my happiness, and my peace of mind.

I’ll probably try working outside in small amounts and see how it affects my sense of relaxation the rest of the time.

In the worst case scenario, it won’t work out and I’ll have to redraw my boundaries. I can always use more practice at that.

Image description: a GIF of a person’s hand drawing a line on white paper with a black sharpie marker and then the sharpie rolls away.
Image description: a GIF of a person’s hand drawing a line on white paper with a black sharpie marker and then the sharpie rolls away.

PS – Yes, I am aware of the irony of being outside while composing a post wondering about whether I should work outside but writing for this blog is in a grey area between work-work and recreation so really it’s kind of fitting that I am writing it on my phone while outside.

camping · canoe · fitness · holiday fitness · holidays

How long is the ideal vacation? Or, Sam heads into the woods again

I shared this to my Facebook page the other day, mostly because I noticed that my upcoming canoe camping trip is the exact length of the ideal vacation!

I was amused at the heated debate that ensued among friends. You never know what’s going to bring out competing views and strong opinions!

There were the stereotypical American friends who claimed never to have taken a vacation that long. There were the Europeans who spoke up in favour of their two months off.

To be clear, I do take a month’s vacation each year. Eight days isn’t my only vacation. But I like to take time off throughout the year rather than in one big chunk.

For me, the ideal length of any one chunk of vacation really varies. If I am flying somewhere, especially somewhere with a time difference, I like to allow some time as part of the trip to recover when I get there and when I get home so it’s usually two weeks all told but not all of that is the vacation itself. I schedule time to decompress, do laundry, and get caught up on sleep when I get back. Getting sensible in my middle age!

My biking trips south are usually a week off work but bookended by weekends for travel.

My best bang for buck vacation time wise are my canoe camping trips. Even my four day back country canoe camping trips feel like real vacation. There are no phones, no email , lots of natural beauty, and lots of movement. I sleep very well! I come back rested and sometimes feel like I’ve been off for weeks.

This is my longest back country canoe camping trip yet. Sarah is carefully planning all the things so that we have food but not too much food and we’re being very weight conscious because of portages. A couple of years ago we invested in ultralight weight camping gear so we could keep doing this even with my knees in the state they’re in.

I’ll report back on how eight days feels.

Here’s our report on the 2020 six day trip.

Sam paddling on a blue lake with clouds reflecting on the water

What your ideal length vacation? Also have you ever done a long back country trip? What did you eat? What are your favourite dehydrated meals?


Things that make me feel good in my body, circa 2021

Hi everyone– it’s mid-summer in a year marked by hope, tentativeness, anticipation, a little experimenting, and scurrying back to familiar ground when things get too scary. Or is it just me? Probably not.

In past years, I’ve posted about things that felt good in my body. Here’s the list I generated in 2017:

  • yoga
  • reading Natalie’s posts
  • sex with myself
  • doing some prettifying activity– for me this meant hair color and treatments
  • walking
  • cycling

In 2019, here’s where I stood on bodily feel-good activities:

  • yoga, especially yin
  • the gym
  • cycling

Then came 2020. Feeling good in body or mind was in short supply. Here’s what I went for:

  • sleep
  • yoga
  • nature
  • walking
  • cycling
  • water (in theory– didn’t actually do much watery activity)

Well, here we are, mid-2021, and I’m a little betwixt and between. I’m betwixt the before-times and after-times, and I’m between fear and courage, paralysis and momentum, pessimism and curiosity. And yet.

There’s a feeling in me of increased awareness, increased clarity. Maybe partly it’s from sitting still for so long in one place. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing in some ways. At any rate, here’s this year’s list of things that make me feeling good in my body, 2021:

  • meditation– sitting in stillness and awareness helps me appreciate and tend to my body (from the neck up and from the neck down) more immediately, accurately, and tenderly.
  • swimming– I am swimming more this year, and every time I go, I love it. Being in water reminds me that my body is built for strength and endurance and grace.
  • walking with dogs–I’ve been on dog walks with friends/family and their dogs, and also just with the dogs themselves. I love the slow pace, the friendly conversation (with other people and all the dogs), and the feeling of having taken care of another being.
  • eating with people–I’m loving sharing food at the same table with others! Boy did I miss that during the past 17 months or so. My body feels good eating with others, sharing and enjoying food in the context of humor and pleasure and taste and love.

Right now, it’s all about the sensation and emotion around bodily activity that I’m reveling in. What about you, dear readers? What’s feeling really good to you in your body these days? Are you back at the gym weight lifting? Are you gardening? Doing group rides? What is making your body sing? I’d love to hear from you.

Sat with Nat · sleep

Nat confused fatigue with caffeine addiction aka CPAP year 2

Recommended soundtrack: Breathing Underwater by Metric

Folks I recently had the great joy and privilege to come home to New Brunswick after not seeing family & friends for 2 years due to travel restrictions to mitigate COVID 19.

Some Canadians, especially those of us born on the East Coast and who live somewhere else, love a good road trip. I certainly do, having made the trek from Ontario to New Brunswick regularly since 1993. Ya. That’s a lot of kilometers friends, roughly 1,600 km each way!

I was nervous about being on major highways after an 18 month hiatus. I hadn’t left London since Christmas 2019. I was worried about how achy I would be, but especially how tired I would get.

But then something unexpected happened, I didn’t get bone tired. I didn’t reach for coffee the first leg of the drive. It was after 6pm and we drove from London, Ontario to Brockville. It’s roughly 5 hours and a third of the way. It makes the second day much more reasonable.

We arrived later than expected because traffic and life. But. I wasn’t dead tired.

The next morning I got up, packed and was on the road for an hour before we grabbed coffees and breakfast. So. Weird.

The thing is, for almost 30 years, I was the walking dead in the morning. Frighteningly tired. Every. Morning.

So I drank coffee, a lot of it. I blamed a weak will, a hedonistic personality, and a myriad of other character flaws because “everyone knows” caffeine addiction makes for terrible mornings.

But. Uh. Folks. There’s something that changed since my last road trip, regular use of a CPAP machine.

It wasn’t an easy transition. I’m now thinking I’m almost to neutral about wearing it, which is tremendous progress. I definitely don’t love it but now I am appreciative of its slow but steady support of my sleep and rest.

I still love coffee but I can wait a few hours in the morning. I have become a bit of a morning person. No one is more surprised than I!

So when we drove into my parents’ dooryard I arrived tired but not a mess. It was such a huge change. I don’t know I would have noticed if it hadn’t been so long since I had a road trip and enough CPAP time to recover from a lifetime of sleep deficits.

So I am grateful for the insight and the impact of my daily sleep routine.

As you emerged from restrictions this year did you notice something new?

Natalie smiles, slightly surprised or bemused at not being tired all the time. She is in a super cute turquoise paisley dress she got for five dollars at a thrift shop. She is leaning against a pine plank wall and sees that she definitely needs a haircut but that’s ok.

Structural racism in sport: the 2021 edition

There’s a meme going around social media that’s quite telling:

The pattern is quite obvious; these decisions are consistently singling out and penalizing Black women athletes for their excellence. I have written about Caster Semenya’s trials in the last two years. In this post, I noted the decisions against Semenya amount to “a fear of successful women, and the way these sports bodies manage that fear is to other-ise and marginalize those who do not fit an outdated image of women in sport through legal challenges and unfounded medical policies.”

In another post, I wrote, “we should all be angry, for the women athletes in the past whose physical embodiment was questioned and for the women athletes of today and in the future. The policing of women’s bodies, from what they wear to how they are portrayed, is widespread in all aspects of society, not just sport. However, women who excel in sport and wish to compete at the highest levels are subject to scrutiny that goes above and beyond the sort leveled at all athletes when it concerns drug enhancements.”

In the past couple of months, decisions against Black women athletes have ramped up as outlined in the image above. The disqualification of Sha’Carri Richardson for cannabis use astonished followers of the Olympics, given that it has no performance-enhancing attributes at all. We have also seen other decisions, now reversed, prohibiting athletes from bringing their infants to the Games and disqualifying others who had recently given birth.

Female athletes who don’t fit the mold get short shrift, unlike male athletes who get praised for their natural genetic advantages (can I bring up Michael Phelps again?). In figure skating, Tonya Harding was too working class, while Suraya Bonali was too athletic. Go back to the late 80s, and you’ll find Florence Joyner Griffiths, the world’s fastest woman at the ’88 Olympics having her achievements questioned by male athletes including Ben Johnson who was himself disqualified for using banned substances.

Despite the deeply frustrating and outright discriminatory incidents of the last months, I have been uplifted by the growing protests and successful challenges to decisions that discriminate against athletes who identify as female and those who resist being categorized as non-female based on shoddy science. The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport came out hard and fast this week:

The rules of sport are meant to create a level playing field. In this respect, the rules are failing. They fail to create sport environments that recognize the dignity and even humanity of some of its most spectacular participants. Sport is beginning to creak and crack under the weight of the decisions made by sport organizations, and so the decision-makers are reaching a crisis point: do we begin to make different decisions, or do we continue making the same ill-advised and exclusive choices that brought us here, and allow sport to collapse under the weight of them?

The CCES concludes the structural racism and sexism embedded in these recent decisions and applied against Black women athletes needs to end. Not doing so is a choice, and the result is exclusion, a significant lack of visibility, and a dilution of excellence in sport arising from artificial limits.

Morgan Campbell, Senior Contributor with CBC Sports, pointed out the contradiction in the guidelines and how decisions designed to deal with the problem sports bodies have with Caster Semenya end up being applied against individuals who have elevated hormone levels that are still less than the lowest levels found in men :

After several false starts, the testosterone guidelines were codified in 2018. And while World Athletics leadership never specified that the rule targets Semenya, they apply only to the races in which Semenya excels, even though the group’s own research found the strongest correlation between natural testosterone and performance in women’s pole vault and hammer throw. That neither of those two events has a testosterone cap tells you World Athletics rule-makers understand that correlation doesn’t always equal causation.

These days I’m questioning if we should be allowing sports bodies to decide who is female based on a list of permissible ranges of body chemicals. The human body is a marvel of moving parts; as individual humans, we bring different levels of strength, skill, talent, and ability to the playing field. If the Olympics seeks those who are faster, higher, and stronger, then we need to set a new bar for excellence that isn’t based on stereotypes and biases.

MarthaFitat55 lives, works, and sports in St. John’s.

fitness · Guest Post

Buy the damn wetsuit! (Guest post)

by Alisa Joy McClain

The other day, I was in Value Village and I spotted a pair of neoprene pants in the “leggings” section.  You wouldn’t think neoprene pants would bring on a bunch of anxiety, but they did. 

Here is the conversation in my head:

Voice of reason:  Oh, hey, have you thought about the fact that your wetsuit might not fit anymore because of pandemic coping?


Voice of reason:  You should buy these pants, just in case.  They look like they’ll fit.

Anxious Alisa:  My old wetsuit HAS to fit, so I don’t need these pants.

Voice of reason:  Um, actually, laws of physics, the wetsuit does not have to fit.  These pants are 15 dollars.

Anxious Alisa:  But, that was the biggest wetsuit they had way back when, and if they don’t fit, I can basically never do scuba again and that would break my heart.  I can’t buy those pants because it will be an acknowledgement that the wetsuit might not fit.  Then, my life will be over.

Voice of reason:  That is ridiculous.  Buy these pants.  Your wetsuit jacket will still fit; it’s always been loose.  You might have a less than ideal suit, but you’ll make it work because you LOVE scuba diving. 

Anxious Alisa:  LA LA LA LA LA LA LA.  I don’t hear anything.

Voice of reason:  We’re buying the fucking pants.

I’ve always been so afraid of not fitting in my wet suit? Like why? You know what, Alisa, you can buy a new wet suit.  Problem solved.  Surely, there is a company out there that has figured out that women of larger sizes also like watersports and don’t want to freeze to death?  I have clothes that fit best at different body sizes.  It doesn’t bother me at all to change which clothes in my wardrobe I wear based on different body sizes.  Why do I not deserve the same in wet suits?

Self love is buying a new wet suit that isn’t going to cut off my circulation.

So, my old wetsuit does not fit, at least not if I want to be able to continue circulating blood through my body.  Yesterday, I was underwater for the first time in 2 years.  I was awkwardly dressed in those gift from heaven neoprene pants, a shirt meant for the ski hill, and my neoprene jacket, but who is judging my fashion underwater?  The fish?  Also, yesterday, I called the company Truli (Truli Wetsuits – Women’s wetsuits for all water sports.), which carries sizes called “defiant” and “fierce” in 21 sizes.  They show pictures of women with round tummies and powerful thunder thighs on their website.  I am currently waiting for them to call me back to help me figure out what size I am.  We’re talking a Canadian-based, woman-operated wetsuit making company that knows that my generous hips do not make me ineligible for staying warm while in the water.  They can take ALL my money.  I promise to report back about buying with the, once I’m in my ADORABLE polka dotted wetsuit from them.  I cannot wait. 

Wetsuit ordering form

Alisa Joy McClain spent the first half of her life thinking she couldn’t do cool exercise-y things because she was fat and is now spending the second half of her life enjoying the body she has and all the cool things she can do with it like rock climbing, cycling, and scuba diving. When not trying to be a fat athlete, she can be found reading books, playing pinball, hanging out with her family and children, and ranting about various social injustices.


Fear of Open Water Swimming

Not the fear that open water swimmers might feel about sharks, jellyfish, tides, weeds, or snapping turtles. This is the fear that open water swimmers might have too much fun. Or start a lawsuit. Or something. It is rapidly becoming a trend and I am not happy.

First up, Walden Pond, the idyllic home of philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Last week, state legislators in Massachusetts banned open water swimming there, as part of an effort to address water safety following a spate of drownings across the state. Of note, I could not find reports of any drownings at Walden Pond itself. Thankfully, as of July 9, open water swimmers will be allowed back in, only at times when there are no lifeguards on duty, and only if using a swim float (which most already do).

Then we have the Cam, where people have been swimming at least since the time of the poet Byron in the early 1800s. Technically, Grantchester Meadows, the access area, is owned by King’s College Cambridge, but they are managed by the local council as public space. King’s College abruptly put up no swimming signs last week, as they said their legal advice was that “use at own risk” was insufficient. Again, no evidence of actual drownings. Following another outcry and 18,000 signature petition (known as the peasants’ revolt) the decision was reviewed but the ban will stay.

A spokesperson for the university stated “We have every wish to temper the language of ‘no swimming’ to a less prohibitive form of words, but feel unable to do so without the express support of the [district and parish] councils and their health and safety officers. We hope they will be willing to co-operate on this and bring the ‘ban’ to end.” But it will not officially reinstate swimming unless its insurers agree the college is not liable should anyone be injured while swimming. Meanwhile, there are no plans for lifeguards, patrols, or any of the normal provisions to increase water safety.

The Hampstead Ponds near London are former water reservoirs, originally dug in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are three separate swimming ponds: for women, men and mixed. Access to ponds has been cost-free since at least the 1920s; though a fee had been charged since 2005, payment was not enforced. Last year, a mandatory payment system was put in place, and prices more than doubled (and were subsequently raised again).

Some free swims were still available, but times did not align with when low cost public transit was available, which meant those with mobility issues or low incomes could not benefit. According to the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association (KLPA), the ladies’ pond had historically provided a sanctuary for women and girls, including those with disabilities, victims of violence and abuse, and those from faith groups that demand modesty, but the new charging system was proving exclusionary for many people. Even before the most recent price rise this year, the KLPA conducted a survey of 600 swimmers and that found the charges had affected affordability for 58% of them. As a result, more than half now swim less often and 25% can no longer afford to swim at all.

Closer to home, several lakes managed by the National Capital Commission (NCC) and used by open water swimmers for many years are now under new rules that limit the ability of open water swimmers to train. At Meech Lake, the most popular spot, parking hours have been shortened, and swimmers must either swim along lanes marked by buoys, or within 30 metres of the shore. This seems to be counterproductive, since one of the main issues noise complaints – until now, most swimmers have preferred to stay nearer the centre of the lake). Swimmers must wear a colourful cap and a float, which most already do.

The conflict arose because of complaints by homeowners about noise and traffic on the main lake late at night. I can’t speak for all swimmers, but all those I know prefer to swim early in the day, so I suspect swimmers are getting the blame for other partiers. But really, it seems to be boiling down to the NCC’s unwillingness to uphold its mandate of protecting the ecology of the area. Why are all these new monster homes and powerboats being allowed? What will it take to stop power boats from traveling at speed through the designated swim lanes? So far, complaints to the NCC, supported by photos and videos, have not been effective. But there is an active alliance of open water swimmers on Facebook that is working hard to make the best of the situation.

And just down the street from my house, we have the Pond. It has always been an elitist spot. When I first started swimming there, I was questioned about how long I had lived in the area. It was nice to be able to say “25 years”, but it would have been nicer to have known about this closely guarded secret much earlier. I found out about it because my son hung out with the rich kids and mentioned it. It only became popular after a local blogger spilled the beans.

The swimming hours are from 7am to 2pm, supposedly because it is a conservation area. But really, turtles and herons can’t tell time. It is more about keeping out potentially rowdy teenagers who don’t wake up before noon.

Now, thanks to complaints about overcrowding, one or two Bylaw officers are at the beach every single day, to keep the numbers down to 10 in the changing area and 10 on the beach. I just love seeing my tax dollars at work (insert sarcasm emoji here).

The Pond, with a few swimmers and waders

As one of my friends said, “In every one of these cases, the increased access to information has in many ways just underscored how actively shitty so many people are.” Keep on shining a light on inequity and fight on for access to public swimming spaces, my friends!


Black Hair and the Olympics

Last week, FINA (the world governing body for swimming) rejected an application by Soul Cap to have their caps authorized for the Olympics. The reason given was that they do not conform to the natural form of the head and no athletes “need caps of such size”. Really? The application was brought forward because Alice Dearing, a UK swimmer and co-founder of the Black Swimming Association, had just qualified for the Olympics. She has natural hair and swims using a Soul Cap to accommodate her hair.

Alice Dearing and her thick curly hair. Creator:Luke Hutson-Flynn
Alice wearing a Soul Cap. Creator:Luke Hutson-Flynn

Soul Caps were developed after the two founders decided to take swimming lessons as adults and discovered there was a big demand for caps that accommodate Black hair. Black hair tends to be more easily damaged by chlorine, it is more voluminous because it is curly, and many wear styles associated with their heritage, such as braids and dreadlocks.

Historically, there has been a lot of systemic discrimination against Black swimmers, and larger caps such as Soul Caps are just one small piece of getting kids (and adults) into the water and learning a sport that can literally save their lives. But they aren’t just for recreational and learn-to-swim programs; they are worn by competitive swimmers around the world. Let me repeat that FINA: they are worn by competitive swimmers around the world. Claiming that there is no demand is simply nonsense.

FINA’s ruling has sparked a huge backlash in the swimming community and the media. There have been petitions, many critical articles, and much commentary on social media. The good news is that FINA seems to be backing down. It has promised to review the ruling, but there are only three weeks left until the competitions begin. I’ll be watching closely.

Fear · femalestrength · hiking

When a Long Hike Becomes an Ultra Hike: How Fear and Strength Make Friends

This past Saturday, my partner and I set out for an 18-mile (30 km) hike from the Castle Peak parking lot at Boreal (near Truckee, CA) to the Mt Lola parking area (near Sierraville). As the hike is a point-to-point, we prepped by parking a car at the finish on Friday. We set out at 7:45 a.m., looking very much forward to 6 or 7 hours of hiking and a dip in the lake just past the halfway point and another in Independence Lake after we finished.

We’d done the route once before, three years ago, and had happy memories of the effortful day. So, we had only the most rudimentary of paper maps with us. No apps or maps downloaded on our phones. After all, we weren’t novices to the trail and it wasn’t as if the mountains or lake could have changed locations. And the route was simple, follow the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to the Mt Lola junction. Take a right. Follow the only trail past White Rock Lake up and over the top of Lola, then down the other side. We’ve hiked the “other side” of Lola many times as up and down. Familiar turf.  

We found our groove quickly. My partner and I have hiked together a lot and we both enjoy a brisk pace, with a minimum of stops. We passed through familiar spots of the hike, noting with pleased surprise at how much sooner we seemed to be getting to them than we’d expected. As we passed through Paradise Valley, my partner commented that it should only be another mile or so to the Lola junction. He also said that if we got to a traveled road, then we’d gone too far. We hiked on. And on. And on. We crossed a few dirt roads, most of which were clearly logging roads (i.e. untraveled). One had a sign that said “Entering Zone X.9”. We didn’t remember the road, but dismissed it as untraveled. After all, we didn’t see any cars on it as we passed by. We climbed up and over an exposed ridge. We looked back at Mt Lola and kept hiking. We expressed doubt. My partner, who likes to quantify things, said he was 10% uneasy. I was I-don’t-know-what-percent uneasy. We rationalized. We downgraded our assumed pace. We immersed ourselves in denial.

Also, I was annoyed at myself for still not buying a full brim sun hat for hiking. We passed people wearing peaked caps and hoodies as protection against the sun (not just the sun, California Sierra Mountains sun). Every time I felt its hot glow beating against the side of my face, a surge of resentment about my inadequate sun protection coursed through me. Also, I was hiking with a camelback, which had a new 1L bladder, 500 ml less than my previous 1.5L bladder. I was mad at myself for not bringing enough water. Also, I was wearing trail runners that I’d only worn one other time and I wasn’t liking them as much as my standard faves. I had a little hot spot on one of my heels.

Finally, when it seemed incredible that the junction was still ahead of us, we asked the next person we saw. A young woman, a solo northbound PCT through-hiker we caught up to (impressive!). She had an app.

After some consultation, expanding and tweezing the map on her phone, she said, “The junction is 5 miles back.”

IMPOSSIBLE. My mind screamed. I didn’t even feel capable of talking to the young woman anymore. My partner said thank you and good bye to her with great cheer. I was fuming. Why hadn’t I brought the good map we have at home? Yes, it unfolds and is huge. But still. Why hadn’t I thought to download an app? Or even look for one? What kind of self-reliant feminist was I (especially compared to the daring, app-savvy woman we’d just met)? This, in addition to my sunhat and water self-criticism.

As we passed them, we asked two more groups of backpackers if they’d seen the Lola cut-off. No one had. Sidenote: We actually didn’t see any other day hikers. Everyone we asked had apps and assured us the junction was 4.2 miles, then 3.2 miles back. One woman even showed us a picture of the bridge 2/10ths of a mile from the turn off. We knew exactly where it was. Each time, my partner was cheery and friendly with the backpackers. And each time people said things like, “Oh that happened to us yesterday.” Or, “Think of it as more time outdoors.”

I was way too frustrated to be as friendly as I could-have-should-have been. I wanted to say things like, “I don’t f@#*&ing need more time outdoors. Don’t you dare presume to know what’s good for me. I’m not just a jock. I want to read my book, too.” And other such unhelpful thoughts. At one point I sat down on a rock and declared myself done and unable to go on and that my partner should just continue without me. My partner assured me that we would make it. I refused to be cheered. Even though another part of me knew he was right, that resilient voice was getting way outshouted by the catastrophizer. Let’s call her, Apocalyptica.

We filled up on water at a high mountain spring. My partner gave me the rest of his water, which restocked my supply. And then refilled his own from the stream. We had no tablets or filter. He reasoned that it was better if only one of us got sick from the water, if that was going to happen. Thankfully, I can report at this distance of days from our hike that he’s fine! I’m grateful for his taking the risk. And for his calm throughout.

At a certain point on our way back, the resilient voice started to get some airtime. Let’s call her, I-Got-This. Apocalyptica had had her fun and was willing to let someone else take the microphone. I-Got-This reasoned that my partner and I were both strong enough. We had enough water and food and there was no still no pressure to finish. Even with 10 miles extra, we would be home well before dark. Sure, the hiking might get uncomfortable. But hey, wasn’t that what being strong was for? Plus, just think of how rock star we would feel when we finished. Soon, I-Got-This was the only voice I heard. She reminded me of the ultra-marathons I’d run. Yes, they were in 2011. Even better, I-Got-This assured me, this was a golden opportunity to renew the feeling of accomplishment I’d had when I did those runs.

When we hit the crucial bridge, we slowed way down. Our eyes combing the ground. And there it was. A weather worn grey wood sign lying on the grey dusty ground at a bend in the trail. So easy to miss. We changed its location to make sure the next hikers wouldn’t be misled. The path we wanted was nothing more than a thin filament threading through the long grass. Not many people take the cut off. We didn’t see another hiker for the next 7 miles.

What a relief! Just finding the right trail was shot of adrenaline. I-Got-This was dancing. Even Apocalyptica was grooving. She gets her thrills from the possibility of a catastrophe, not from its actual occurrence. I would have busted a move, too, but I was conserving energy. We still had 8.5 miles to go. A mile later, we found the rock we’d eaten lunch on the last time and ate lunch. Took a dip in White Rock Lake. Heavenly. Putting our shoes and socks back on after a dose of cold water was the balm we needed to recoup our spirits for the climb up Lola; an extended effort, which saves the steepest part for the top.

White Rock Lake–from the shore, halfway up Lola and the top of Lola.

Oh, wondrous summit! We lay down on a flattish rock for 10 minutes to replenish. Ate a salty chocolate granola bar. Then set out for the last 5 miles. All downhill. Every twist and turn and change of terrain comforted us with its familiarity. At the sight of our little red pickup truck at trail’s end, we yelped with relief. We. Were. Exhausted.  

The day wasn’t over. We had an hour drive to pick up our car at the starting trailhead. Then we mustered a final drop of energy for ice cream by Donner Lake: Mountain Mint Chip for me; Truckee Trails flavour for my partner (that’s a vanilla with peanut brittle and chocolate flakes). This is ice cream’s calling. To nourish body and soul.

Yes, we agreed that we felt pretty darn proud of ourselves for our 28-mile (46km) hike. And, we agreed that we would have been very happy (equally happy?) with the hike-as-planned; plus, we would have avoided a decent amount of agita.

Still, in these early days of reflecting on the hike, I’m glad for the experience. With each of these conversations between Apocalyptica and I-Got-This, IGT grows stronger and surer of herself; Apocalyptica more willing to step aside. Apocalyptica will never quiet completely. If she did, I’d miss her dramatic flourish in my life. But I sure do appreciate her growing accord with IGT. Together they prepare me for our ever-uncertain future.