I just got back from a long-awaited photography tour of Ireland for a couple of weeks and there were so many memorable moments with new friends and beautiful places.
But one stand-out experience that delivered an unexpected blast of sheer joy for all concerned was an Irish dance class in Galway, taught by Siobhan, who used to tour in the US with Riverdance. Her company is called Irish Dance Experience and one member of our small tour group booked it in advance. I signed up on a lark, not having met any of my tour group in person yet and not having a particular interest in Irish dance and not being an especially skilled dancer (though I enjoy dancing nonetheless).
By the time we got to Galway we had been on the photography tour for more than a week, so everyone knew and was comfortable with everyone else. That made a difference because despite Siobhan being an incredibly good teacher and despite us becoming better in just over an hour than we ever thought possible, we were all really going out on a ridiculous limb! We looked hilarious. But we rocked the dance with brooms and did a badass Riverdance finale. (you’ll have to take my word for it)
Anyway, we had an absolute blast and here is Siobhan’s Instagram post about our group:
That’s me in the blue t-shirt swinging with Joey from Texas. The entire group was smiling and laughing almost the whole time. The only other facial expression was perhaps intense concentration (Irish dancing requires counting and coordination). Siobhan said we did great.
There is more video, and watching it makes me laugh every time. But we made a pact that it would never be distributed for public consumption. I’m keeping up my end of the pact.
If you’re ever in Galway I recommend her class. So much fun.
P.s. Galway restaurant recommendation for anyone who appreciates the combination of Michelin stars and lack of pretension. Incredible food including outstanding vegan options. Ard Bia at Nimos: http://www.ardbia.com/
If you substitute “biking” for “walking” (which given the state of my left knee, I have to do) I think our long weekend worked out pretty well. We rode bikes, raced sailboats, and connected with friends. It’s the weekend before the university opens to students and classes and so it wasn’t all leisure. But I feel like the work/rest blend was pretty balanced.
On Friday after work we biked in Prince Edward County with our friend Alex. The trip included three of my favourite things–connection and conversation, observing alpacas, and eating ice cream. The Millennium Trail is pretty wonderful. This time we rode from Wellington to Bloomfield and back, just over 20 km all told.
And then on Saturday Sarah and I raced our Snipe in the Guelph Community Boating Club flat water race. Usually it’s out to the damn and back but the wind died and the course was cut short. We’re getting better and working lots on our boat speed. We finished in the middle of the pack, 5th out of 10 boats.
And then we snuck in a short 15 km ride on the riverside bike trails in Guelph with our friend Rob who stopped by for a bike ride and pizza.
Sunday was a fun day on campus for me. I was part of the team greeting parents and first year students moving into residence. I rode my pink Brompton. My sparkly bike helmet got a lot of positive attention. The bike allowed me to move between residences saying hi to a lot of the new University of Guelph students.
I know the next few weeks will be much less balanced. More work and more stress as we navigate our way back onto campus for the fall semester. It’s a time of vaccine mandates and hybrid meetings and long work days. But it sure felt good to get outside and have some fun this long weekend.
How did your weekend work out on the balance front?
Finishing up some last business on my next Run Like A Girlbook for the publisher, I got to the task of writing acknowledgements. Figuring they would be somewhat similar to those I wrote for the first RLAG book, I had a look back. Surprise. There was a lovely list of friends I ran and cycled and cross-country skied and went to yoga with. Not one of them is a regular workout partner anymore. In fact, in the 8 years since that book came out, my life has apparently changed so radically, that my only frequent workout partner anymore is my life partner (and when he’s not with me, I bring podcasts for company).
Absorbing the full scope of the changes in my life, didn’t feel good. I wasn’t feeling lonely when I started the task, but that outdated list landed on my heart with a thud. Did I do something wrong? Did everyone stop liking me?
Yes, I could go through the list and find reasonable explanations for each of the losses—children, moving, long-term injuries, marriage break ups and new travel schedules. Also, after a rough patch in my own relationship, I re-evaluated my own tendency to jump out of bed super-early and have been reveling these last years in the pleasures of sleeping a bit more and waking up together. Sometimes we really geek out and I read poetry aloud before we get out of bed.
I haven’t “broken up” with any of the friends on that old list; most remain close. I even get to run with them here and there, which is always a ginormous treat. But mostly, when I see them now it’s purely social and sweat-free.
It’s not the same. There’s something different and, yes, extra-special about a friend on the road. Especially now, when so much of life is interrupted and mediated by our devices, the time together during a workout feels intimate and unguarded. Running and jubilating. Running and crying. Running and raging. Running and analyzing. Running and solving. Running and chatting. I have had the great good fortune to run in all these ways. These are the treasures of running (or cycling or cross-country skiing or any workout that allows time to talk on the go) with a friend.
While struggling to write my new acknowledgments, I’ve begun the uncomfortable task of pulling together marketing, which involves positioning not just my book, but me. Hello, irony. The marketing people I’m working with (who are great) have come up with the idea of pitching me (as manifest in the book) as “your running buddy.” Once I get past the strange sensation of viewing myself from the outside, I know it’s a fine idea, even as it also strikes a melancholy chord.
I miss my buddies. I feel so lucky to have had many precious companions over the years. If there’s anything to be gleaned from this moment of fresh understanding, it’s that life is going to change. Again. And again. I’m enjoying the current pattern of my workout life and the time with my partner. I look forward to new configurations, too.
With this post, I send out my love to all my workout buddies over the years! I invite all of you reading this to send out some of your own love to past and present mates in the comments section.
This weekend some of the regular Fit is a Feminist Issue bloggers met up for some bike riding. It happened sort of by chance. Cate and Susan were about to go off on a canoe trip. They dragged Kim along and met up with Sarah and me. We were spending the weekend at Sarah’s family farm in Prince Edward County.
We all rode different distances. Cate, the completist, went for an even 100. Sarah and I ducked out early at 62 and hit the swimming pool and made plans for dinner. The middle group did 70 something. There was fresh corn and fish cooked on the BBQ, with strawberries, whipped cream and shortcake for dessert.
Beautiful country roads
We got in a visit to my favorite bike shop in that neck of the woods, Bloomfield Bicycle Company. See the t-shirt below.
Oh and no weekend riding would be complete without being yelled at by a driver. She screamed, Share the road! I was puzzled. We were riding single file. Whatever. I decided to take it as a supportive call.
Oh and I had one spill. It wasn’t knee related except that I felt relieved that I could fall on that knee and not die. I was riding my skinny tired road bike over some grass and tried to continue onto a section of pavement. Sadly the grass dipped down before the pavement began and so did me and my bike. Slow speed but inevitable.
Lots of fun. We should definitely do this more often.
Or why we decided to ride 80 km in a heat advisory!
Yesterday was Susan’s birthday and we celebrated on Sunday with a bike ride. Not just any bike ride. Nope. We celebrated with a plan for a 90 km bike ride up and down the escarpment on heat alert day. Why? We have our reasons.
Me, I’m just back from almost two weeks without my bike attending academic conferences in Sweden and Scotland. Great for walking, not so good for cycling. (Or running. But that’s another matter.) So I was anxious to get back on my bike and ride. I also like riding with these wonderful people: David, Natalie, Susan, Sarah, and Cate. And it’s a birthday bike ride. My favourite. So hot or not, hills or not, I was in.
How was it? Well, hard. Really hard. Our Sunday ride actually reminded me of the bike rally last year which didn’t have those hills but did have the heat alert days. (Read about that here.) But we did the worst of the hills in the morning, then we had a lovely lunch break (with french fries and a strawberry milkshake!) and noodled around on the flats for awhile. By the end, we were all pretty beat. We ran out of water a few times and it began to feel like it didn’t matter how much you drank, you were still hot and thirsty. I had dried salt on my face–despite a shower and washing my face–into the evening. Ending at Susan’s house we were treated like royalty by Susan’s partner Tim. There was an optional hose down with cold water, pitchers of gatorade, cold beer, and lots of snacks. Also, a hot tub with the temperature turned down and an ice cream cake.
Happy Birthday Susan! That was a very hard thing with an amazing group of people.
I rode first and foremost to celebrate the birthday of the awesome Susan. Also, after following Sam around Europe for two weeks of conferences, I definitely needed a long ride to get back in the groove before losing the next couple of weekends of Pride festivities.
But even more importantly, Susan’s birthday slog, I mean ride, I ended up learning some things!
First, I put a big fear to rest : I don’t do well in the hot weather. Heat alerts for me usually involve getting heat stroke while sitting in the shade. But riding in the heat is surprisingly okay. As long as you don’t stop (what red lights?) you make your own breeze. Reassuring for me as I was worried about surviving the six days of the rally at the end of July!
This was also a first ride for me to try wearing both sleeves and leggings for sun protection and cooling. I’m thrilled to report that they feel cooler than bare skin with sunscreen. Definitely a wise addition to my cycling wardrobe and best of all – no funny tan lines!
Because I have often ridden with Susan, Sunday’s ride was on familiar, tough terrain, so it was a pretty good yardstick for my progress on the bike. Even in the heat, I was able to just ride (in “granny gear” mind you, but still!) up hills that last year left me with burning thighs and gasping for breath. I was really happy to be able to ride with Nat and share every strategy I had learned to make those hellish hills less horrible (Answer? There is nothing you can do to make the second trip up the escarpment suck less.).
And because I’d completed the back-to-back 90km ride requirement at the end of May (fighting wind instead of heat!), I was perfectly happy to take a shortcut back to the garden hose, Gatorade, and beer waiting for us back on Susan and Tim’s lawn. Heavenly! Happy birthday, Susan!
Here’s some words from the birthday girl herself:
Last August, Sam introduced me to the idea of the birthday bike ride. I don’t know what is so much fun about doing REALLY HARD THINGS with good friends but I love it and I decided to copy her. . .again. My birthday bike ride was supposed to be a fun casual ride but given our training requirements and the heat, it was not very casual. It was a hard core experience with a bunch of invested people. From this vantage point, I romanticize it but when I wanted to throw up at Tremaine and Main Street, it was not romantic in the least. Hell is 6 lanes of fresh pavement, suburbia on one side and a corn field on the other, no trees at 33C. Luckily there was a man with a hose waiting for me at home. Think what you will of that. . .it was a great birthday.
Here’s Cate’s reasons for riding in a heat wave:
I was riding for a lot of reasons on Sunday. The “required” Bike Rally back-to-back 90km training rides, which Susan and I had planned weeks ago — I’m stubborn about that kind of goal. Celebrating Susan’s birthday. Celebrating life. And because the simplest way I know how to see the world is from the saddle of my bike. There was a terrible death in my family on Friday, and there was nothing I could do to be helpful until Monday. So I joined my gang and rode, feeling the hills in my every cell. The otherworldly light-headedness of riding in that kind of heat matched what was happening in my soul. I rode strong and hard. The heat cauterized some of the grief, the sadness that I wasn’t ready to let in. And being with alive, struggling, joyful people reminded me to be right where I was, be in my life.
Next, Nat chimes in:
I was going into Sunday mindful I was the slowest rider and least experienced. The day before I had done 120 km (my longest ride ever) with David & my partner Michel. I needed to get my back to back rides. I would get to ride with awesome humans. I needed some hills training. Sarah designated herself my sweeps pal and coached me along, preparing me for a coming hill or sharing gearing strategies. It was a very challenging ride for me. Being round I heat up quickly and because I’m not as skilled a rider it takes a lot for me to sustain even a modest 20 km/HR pace. I hit my first wall just before we stopped for lunch. My tired right calf started cramping as we passed Milton towards Campbellville. I started crying from the heat and fatigue. Sarah dosed me with some awesome maple syrup gel that calmed the cramps down. We ate lunch and I wondered if I had over committed. The wind was so hot it burned inside my nostrils. I took odd comfort when everyone admitted they were surprised how hard the ride was. After lunch we flew down the escarpment for what seemed days. It was glorious.
I hit the second wall around 70 km. I was feeling like I was crawling along and my glutes were on fire. The tears started again and I couldn’t stop. Everything hurt and I was just sick of the heat. I said I might need to end the ride and get picked up. After some chatting Sarah offered to take me a shorter route back to Susan’s and Sam came with us. We tootled back hitting about 80 km in total.
Afterwards we debriefed in the hot tub. I was pretty embarrassed about my snot bubble sobbing. I also knew that these were exactly the kind of humans I trusted not to mock or shame me. I felt safe to push past my limits and I’m glad I did. I got help all along the way. David updated me on my pace regularly, stressing how great I was doing for a back to back ride. Susan made sure the group waited for me to catch up at regular intervals. Cate has this amazing lightness about her when she’s on her bike as she calmly asserted it was ok for me to stop riding if I needed to. Sarah topped up my water, nodded emphatically when I muttered my self-soothing stuff out loud and affirmed that yes, these were cuss worthy hills. I’m so thankful to Sam for introducing me to this lovely group of people who are really into their physicality. It was an uphill ride through hellfire and it was awesome. I can’t wait to do it again.
Our lunch break!
We survived! After the ride, we relax
David said (on Facebook) “I realized in the middle of the night that we should have taken a photo of all of our bikes scattered across Susan‘s front lawn like we were 14 and hanging out.”
No bikes on the lawn photos but these capture the feeling