fitness · Guest Post · injury · mindfulness · racing · triathalon

Pause and Ponder (guest post)

This is a reblog of a newsletter post from the Rockvale Writers’ Colony by Sandy Coomer, its founder and director. Note: I’ll be there for a two-week writing residency in mid-October! She has things to say about what happened when she had to take a pause from life as usual. I’ll let her take it from here. -catherine

Anyone who knows me well knows I’m very active and busy. That’s my natural tendency. When I rest, I’m often thinking of and planning for the next burst of energy required for the next new project or idea. It’s hard for me to slow down. In fact, I rarely stop for long . . . unless I’m forced to. Funny how that works. When it’s necessary to pause, when I’m required to stop my busy enterprises, I’m pleasantly surprised at how refreshing it is to simply “Be.”

I had a triathlon race in Wisconsin this past weekend. I had a good swim and was at mile 15 of the bike when a pedestrian/spectator ran onto the bike course and we collided. The collision made me crash head-first into a parked pickup truck. The moments that followed were interesting. I was unable to say where I was or what my name was. I didn’t feel panic – just a sort of confused wonder at what I was doing on the road. I knew I was in a race, but I had no idea where. When someone told me I was in Wisconsin, I remember thinking, “How in the world did I get to Wisconsin?” Within a few more minutes, I remembered everything, and then I was whisked away to the emergency room.

I’m not badly hurt, but I will need a few weeks to heal from my injuries. It’s a forced pause, a slow-down to allow my body to heal and my concussion-addled brain to steady. Living in the still air of patience and acceptance is a lesson in a different sort of fortitude than the one I’m used to. It wasn’t in my plans to get hurt, but the hurt came anyway, and it’s my responsibility now to see what I can learn from it. Otherwise, the experience is wasted.

Here’s what I’m discovering from my forced “Pause.”

  1. People matter more than anything else. So many people have taken the time to check on me and see if I need anything. Am I attentive to others’ needs when I’m in “Busy” mode? Can I take a moment every day to tune into another person’s heart and say “I see you, you matter?” 
  2. Being still teaches a certain kind of balance which can lead to delight. I sat on my back porch yesterday and watched the afternoon fade into dusk. Two chipmunks were chasing each other from the porch to the grass and into the burrow under the shed. I felt like I was a crucial part of this scene. I belonged in an intricate way to the wonders of nature. I didn’t move or direct anything. I simply was there.
  3. Letting go of perfectionism is the key to being satisfied. I was sorely disappointed I didn’t finish the race. I kept replaying the details of the wreck in my head over and over. What did I do wrong? What should I have done differently? Sometimes, stuff happens that we can’t control. Sometimes, we simply have to accept the drama of the day and move on with gratitude.
  4. Beauty exists in every situation if you stay open to it. As I was being driven from the ER back to my hotel, I noticed the light glinting off the water of the lake, little cups of sparkle and glee. I thought, “how beautiful.” Back at home, I settled into my own comfortable bed with its floral comforter and sage green pillows and I thought, “how lovely.” Do I even notice this when I’m focused on all I need to get done?

When I think about my writing, I realize that if I get too focused on the achievement aspect and forget the beauty of each moment, I can miss the whole point of writing entirely. I write because I have something valuable to say. My writing comes from my soul, not my ambition. Remembering that is what will keep me at the page. 

A “Pause,” forced or chosen, can be a time of pondering and eventually, great insight. If we believe every situation has a purpose and a lesson, we’re more apt to let experiences teach us and take the lessons to heart. Yes, we learn a lot from work, but we learn equally from not working, from pausing our “Go” button, and simply allowing the universe to share its infinite wisdom. I would not have chosen to wreck in the race, but I AM choosing to ponder the Pause, the Moment, the Wonder of Being Here Right Now. 

It’s something I’m glad I didn’t miss.


221 in 2021 · fitness · swimming

Morning swim in the real world (guest post)

I love the 221 workouts in 2021 group. They are active, honest, fun, and very good online companions to have along my way to 221. I’m at 145 or so now, and I think I’ll make 221 by the end of December.

Lydia– one of the 221ers– is already at 202, so she’s practically staring 221 in the face. Go, Lydia, go!

But you know, workouts aren’t all endorphins and triumphant Youtube coverage. She wrote an account of what her actual swim was like on Monday morning. I edited it lightly to fit the blog format. Read, enjoy and relate.


Heeeere’s Lydia:

Great–I’ve been able to book swimming at 7.30 am, on Thursday. Tony (my patient husband), says “Good”.

The night before: Check I’ve got goggles, ear plugs, hat, underwear, towels, shampoo etc, car keys and 20p [pence, for those of us not in the UK] for the locker.

Next morning 6.30 a.m. : check the above, dress ready to swim, lose car keys, find them, drink tea. Oh no– its 6.50! Get in car, check purse and phone. Okay, I have them. Drive to baths.

7.10am: arrive, lock car, check car is locked.

7.15am: select locker, undress. But first lay out ear plugs, hat goggles, glasses case & 20p Put 20p in lock, put ear plugs in, put glasses in case, find hat. Close locker.

Can’t see the number, can’t see to do up the wrist band. Oh where are the goggles? “Hi”, says the guy about my age next to me. “Can you see my glasses?” “No”, I reply. “My glasses are in the locker.” “Nor can I”, says another gent.

We find the glasses. “What number is my locker?” I ask. We all peer at the door. “Number 23!” they say in triumph.

We join the queue waiting to swim. We swim, and then our 45 minutes is up. Now, which is my locker I think. I go to the showers and peer at the bottles of hair stuff. Now which is shampoo and which is the other stuff? Can’t see, so take pot luck. I need a rest by the time I’m dressed. But I wouldn’t miss my morning swim for the world.

Readers, does this approximate any of your workouts? What do you lose, need, get help with as you do what you do? Let us know.

p.s. The cover photo is Canadian Olympic swimmer Maggie MacNeil, who won a gold medal but had trouble seeing the results without her glasses. This makes me love her even more.

fitness · injury

Appreciating All the Moments (guest post)

Guest post by Michele A.

I use the kitchen counter to balance myself for 15 reps of mini-squats as I stare forlornly out the window at a cyclist pedaling by on my street on a gorgeous sunny day and wonder “when will I get to do that again”? I fell while riding recently, breaking and dislocating my femur. I’ve been told 6-12 months until full recovery. I’m fully weight bearing because of the long Cephalomedullary nail that is now a permanent part of my anatomy, so at least I can balance myself here long enough to do my PT exercises, but six or more months feels like an awfully long time.

As I was approaching my 50th birthday a couple of years ago, I became very conscious of time and how much of it I had left to do the things I enjoy. I made a focused effort to not wish away any of it. No longer would I say things like, “I can’t wait until this is over” to a crazed period of work, or “I can’t wait until -fill in the blank- event/ day/ activity is finally here.” As if anything between now and that time didn’t matter.  Be in the moment, even when those moments are difficult and try to figure out how to make the best of it. Appreciate the mundane as well as the more exciting days.  So when the pandemic hit, this approach was challenged. How do I make the best of things in this isolated new world?

I pondered how I could reflect back on this time and not think of it as a horrible year. Perhaps I could even consider it with some fondness. If I do say so myself, I think I did a pretty good job of adjusting. I grew to not hate working from home by finding pleasure in the little activities I could do during the day that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. I befriended a herd of goats, which I blogged about. I cooked up a storm and returned to my recipe blog with renewed vigor. I took virtual group guitar lessons that turned out to be much less intimidating than in-person ones. And, of course I rode my bike and ran on trails because moving outside is typically a cure for all that ails me.

I settled into a new groove and was fairly content even though I missed a lot of activities from the Beforetimes. There was light at the end of the tunnel:  more people I knew getting vaccinated, warmer weather was descending upon us, and I was making actual plans to partake in weekends away with friends this summer.

Bam! There I was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

Me and my "fall risk" bracelet.
Me and my “fall risk” bracelet.

In the last many weeks I’ve been trying to come up with yet another new groove and a way to get through this period of time without wishing it to be over as fast as possible. I depend on movement and specifically movement amongst the trees to socialize, keep fit and stay in good spirits. With that gone, this mindset of not wishing away time has become much more difficult, but I am trying hard to stay the course.

As anyone who has been injured knows, the recovery process is just as much about tending to the emotional challenges as it is to the physical ones. I’ve been given a lot of advice during my recovery, all of it well intended, yet not all of it helpful. However, I’ve found on several occasions, someone has come along and said just the thing I needed to hear in that moment. At a particularly low point, a friend said to me in a texting conversation, “think of all the firsts you have to look forward to!” I stared at that text for a few moments and realized this was the thinking I needed to adopt. (Thank you, Rachel!)

Rather than expending my mental energy focusing on all the things I can’t do right now, I will recognize and celebrate each of the firsts I encounter. The first time walking with a crutch instead of a walker. The first time changing my bed sheets. The first time going into my basement to do my own laundry. The first time making something in my kitchen that was more complex than boiling water or heating prepared food in the microwave. The first time visiting my goat friends. The first pedal strokes on my indoor bike. (I’m hoping this last one will be soon.) This provides me with many milestones to reach and allows me to feel a sense of accomplishment regularly.

I’m curious to hear from the readers out there about how they made a recovery period not only tolerable, but perhaps even, dare I say, enjoyable.

fitness · shoes

These shoes were made for walking (no, really!)

Guest post by Pamela Hayes-Bohanan

My exercise regimen is pretty low key: walk the dog every day and on nice days ride my bike a bit too. New England winters keep me off my bike for about five months of the year, but it takes some incredibly severe weather to keep me from my daily walks.

These constitutionals on the sidewalks and streets of my neighborhood have been taking their toll on my almost 57-year-old-feet. The soles of my feet, especially the heels, just really hurt – a lot – which in turn occasionally causes pain in my knees and hips.

I determined that I needed some really good shoes, with good support and shock absorbtion – and I wasn’t afraid to pay for them. The pandemic and ensuing lockdown have meant that I’ve hardly had to buy anything new for the past year. Neither have I eaten out (or even gotten take-out) more than half a dozen times. I was flush with discretionary spending money.

A FB Messenger exchange with Catherine W. (who I refer to as the “guru of all things athletic for the non-athlete”) convinced me to check out REI for possibilities. She also recommended a couple of specific brands. I went to the REI website, where I was overwhelmed by all the choices. I noticed an option to set up an appointment via Teams with an REI rep who would help me to select some shoes. I filled out the request form and picked a time and date a few days in the future.

At the appointed time I left a Zoom work meeting with some campus muckety-mucks in order to meet the REI rep online in the hopes that I would soon have happy feet. I felt totally justified in leaving the work meeting because

 a) the meeting with the REI rep had been scheduled first;

 b) the work meeting was scheduled at the last minute and for a time when my workday was normally over; and

c) I simply did not want to be in a meeting with muckety-mucks any longer.

After exchanging the usual pleasantries with the REI rep (Adam) I was given instruction on how to measure my feet using a set up involving a tape measure, masking tape, a big book, and a chair.

As I said: a tape measure, masking tape, a big book, and a chair (nice green patterned rug optional).
As I said: a tape measure, masking tape, a big book, and a chair (nice green patterned rug optional).

I measured both feet standing and sitting, length and width. I also put on my current pair of inferior walking shoes and determined that I could indeed put my index finger into the heel of the shoe when it was on my foot. Once my shoe size was determined Adam asked me some questions about where and how my feet hurt, how much I walked, and if I ever walked on surfaces other than pavement. Once all pertinent questions were asked and answered we started to explore the options online together.

We immediately dismissed the shoes in the “Casual” category. I suggested they would be good if I just needed something to slip on to run outside for an errand, but were clearly not going to be the heavy duty performers that I sought for my daily excursions, so we moved on to the shoes in the “Hiking” category. Adam explained about differences in shoe weight, as well as other features that I should consider for cushioning my feet and providing support.

After looking at three different types of shoes I settled on the Salomon X Ultra 3 Low Aero Hiking Shoes.

This is so not like me. I really dislike shopping, online or IRL. If I want or need to buy something I generally find something that’s “good enough” at a decent price and am done with it. In this case, though, I realized that “good enough” really meant superb. I’m glad I spent the time and now am as well shod as I’ve ever been.

An impatient dog, some snazzy pants, and good shoes.
An impatient dog, some snazzy pants, and good shoes.

Readers: have you had recent experiences with online shoe fittings or other fittings? Have you been satisfied? Is it not working? We’d love to hear from you.

Pam’s bio: In addition to being a librarian Pam is a book-loving, dog-walking, Spanish-speaking feminist. She is unapologetic about the fact that she rides her second-hand, three-speed bike only on horizontal surfaces.

fitness · Guest Post · menopause

Hit Play, not Pause (Guest Post)

by Michele A.

Two years ago, when I was 49, I broke my ankle while I was out riding on local trails. I wasn’t being a daredevil and the fall was unremarkable; I just fell in exactly the wrong way. When sharing my story with various people, I was taken aback by the reaction I got from several women who all told me that I was too old to be doing such things and I should stop.

One of these women (I’ll refer to her as Nancy) was a colleague I respect and admire who I have known for over 20 years. She has mentored many women in our organization to successfully navigate their careers and has provided solid advice to countless mothers on how to effectively balance a career and a family. Nancy has both daughters and granddaughters All these factors made me especially surprised and hurt to hear this comment from her.

Shortly after I had my fall there were three other women close to my age in my office who sustained injuries. One acquired a tear her shoulder after slipping in a neighbor’s driveway after having had several drinks at a party. The second missed a bottom step while carrying a laundry basket and fractured her foot. The third broke her ankle from losing her balance and lurching forward while she was a passenger on a speedboat outing on a lake in Italy.

It made me wonder, did anyone tell them they were too old to be drinking at parties or doing laundry or boating in a foreign country? I doubt it. Would Nancy or the other women who told me I was too old to be riding a bike have said the same thing to a man my age? Perhaps, but I doubt that too.

After stewing about this for some time and then reflecting upon it further, I concluded that Nancy and the other women weren’t intentionally being sexist or ageist, but they just didn’t get it. They had never taken part in this kind of adventure sport and didn’t know other women their age that did. Because, let’s face it, there aren’t that many of us. By “us” I mean women over 45 who are fitness-focused, competitive and/or performance minded.

We are women who are out adventuring and using their bodies to do things like get themselves across many miles of various kinds of terrain, over hills and through bodies of water. Many of us are there, or have been there, or are looking to be there again, following injury or disability or other life adjustment (or, perhaps ,a global pandemic…)

Recently I discovered the podcast “Hit Play Not Pause” and am so glad I did. It’s for “active, performance-minded women who aren’t willing to put their best years behind them.” I’m certainly not willing to give up doing the things I love now that I’m over 50, and I hope to continue doing them for many years to come.

This podcast is a godsend because I’ve been experiencing unpleasant and frustrating things with my body in the past few years that I don’t understand. Short of comparing notes with friends, information about being active in menopausal years is hard to come by. Not much research has been done on active women in this age group.

I’ve gotten lots of practical advice listening to the podcast: herbal remedies that can reduce hot flashes; ways to keep my lady parts from getting dry; eating and exercising approaches that can help with weight gain brought on by changing hormones. Specifically, I’ve learned that while we may tend to gravitate towards long, slow endurance workouts, we also need to include some high intensity work, like Plyometrics, to replace in our muscles what we’ve lost from reduced estrogen. (Listen to episode 1 for the science behind this.)  

I also found out that we’re never too old to be doing Kegel exercises! It can help with incontinence.  (Tune into episode 4 to find out more.) These were all useful tips, but the most important things I’ve gotten out of listening to the podcast are a mindset and a community.

If you don’t have much time to listen to podcasts, there’s one particular episode I’d highly recommend – “Joy Goals with Kristen Dieffenbach”. There’s so much good coaching in it about how to manage your own self-image and how to think about your goals amidst a body that is inevitably going to change whether you like it or not.

I walked away from this episode inspired and also with a powerful realization. We – the over-45 women need to be the role models for the generation behind us. Our own role models for being active over 45 are few and far between. Instead of worrying aloud about the weight gain or critically eyeing the crepe-like skin below the leg of your bike shorts, appreciate all that your body has done for you. Show younger women what is possible because of strength and determination. And show them that you can keep doing it for many, many years. Let’s pave the path for them and show them how it’s done, shall we?

cycling · fitness

Missing my pack (guest post)

(Michele A is a fitness and nature enthusiast. She likes dirt, most things with fur and feathers, and tasty plant-based food. In her free time, you’d most likely find her playing outside or in her kitchen. This is her debut blog post for Fit is a Feminist Issue. Let her know what you think about her love story about a cyclist and some goats.)

It’s never lost on me how fortunate I am to have my own pack. They consist of a group of women ranging from their early 30s to mid-60s who are almost always willing to partake in local adventures. I can send a group text or email asking if anyone wants to join me for a particular activity that following weekend and am almost always met with a positive response. 50-mile road ride followed by mocha lattes? “Sure!” 65-mile gravel ride in the hills of northern New England? “I’m there!” Nighttime trails on a chilly autumn evening under a full moon with post-ride ice-cream? “Absolutely!” Snowshoe trek on a single digit day in February? “Wouldn’t miss it!” Some version of this happens at least a couple of times during an average week, and I’m always in great company. These women have as much appreciation as I do for getting outdoors on bikes, and occasionally by foot. It may mean something a bit different for each of our minds, bodies and spirits, but I don’t think there’s one of us who could go long without being out there.

Being out there often affords us with other, sometimes unexpected, soul-lifting experiences. One example is meeting a local herd of Nigerian Dwarf Goats. I first interacted with them a few years ago while riding trails in a nearby town. Over time, I learned more about my ruminant friends. They live in the backyard of a house in the center of town, but get out for walks most days year round, so they too, can get some exercise, and also have access to a variety of grass, moss, bark and other vegetation to supplement their basic diet.

Each time I see them, I feel a twinge of excitement, and stop to say “hello”. As it turns out, I found another reason to be grateful for my riding partners because they are just as happy to stop for a visit with the ladies. The herd is also made up of all women, now spanning five generations with their most recent births.

In these last few months, the goats have taken on larger significance. These days, I’m doing only solo rides until it’s safe to ride in groups again, which may be a while. I’m sticking close to home and staying on terrain I’m familiar with. When I happen upon the goats, I linger for longer than usual. I live alone and have had very little in-person interaction with other humans. The goats used to be a fun sighting during a ride, an adorable pit stop in the midst of a multi-hour social excursion. Now, they are a meaningful source of comfort and joy. They are the main event, not just the popcorn while watching the feature film. They don’t know it, but they made quarantining and social distancing more tolerable for me.

When I see them, I stop and have various kinds of interactions:

Sit and pet:  Sometimes I find a cozy spot to sit in the tall grass or along a rock wall. The goats do things on their terms. If one wants some attention, she will come over and plant herself sturdily next to me, and then I will rub her ears and stroke her head and sides. This is most often Mei Mei. She is the most equanimous of the bunch. Usually once she has gotten my full attention for several minutes, either Eia or Luna will follow and try to intervene. I often end up petting two goats at once, which is like brushing your hair and your teeth at the same time. It takes coordination, and I am getting better at it!

Discreet goat petting.
Discreet goat petting.

Foraging:  Other times, I search for things they like to eat. I have learned what they deem as the perfect acorn and how to prepare it for them, by cracking off their shells and removing the meat. I find a large flat rock to spread out the acorns, and another hand-sized rock to crack them. Sometimes I have an audience while I do this. I often feed these to Lycian. She is the great-great-grandmother and is now in her 80s in people years. Getting the acorns out of the shell on her own has become difficult for her.

Cuddling:  In the last month, my heart has been completely taken by Lydia. She is one of the two kids born to Lyra. When she is in the mood, I can pick her up or she’ll come sit in my lap. She will settle in and enjoy the attention. Sometimes she nibbles my shoulder, shirt, pants or wrist with her tiny mouth, mimicking the eating of the adult goats while she is still mostly drinking her mother’s milk. From her tiny mouth also comes the littlest bleats when she is chasing after the herd, reminding them of her presence. When she plays, she hops erratically about and returns head butts to her sister, Lyla.

These are all-absorbing and satisfying activities which allow me to forget life beyond the pasture. For the time that I am with them, I am immersed in their world and focused on their needs and behaviors. There is nothing but the goats.

Whether or not you have your own pack or flock or covey of companions that you’re missing terribly, it’s likely that your activities and routines today are different than they used to be, and you’re feeling unsettled or yearning for aspects of your former life at times.  Comfort and joy can come in many forms. It doesn’t have to be goats. Finding your own special Red Beech tree to sit under its canopy, leaning on its enormous, smooth trunk can be grounding. Perching on a bridge overlooking a creek where you can toss in sticks and watch them float downstream can feel serene. Walking the same path regularly to watch it change throughout the weeks can remind you that life is going on all around you. Identifying the birds outside your window and watching them go about their eating and gathering can be calming. I’d love to hear examples of how the outdoor world has brought you peace.

Idyllic still life with goat and bike.
Idyllic still life with goat and bike.
fitness · swimming

Missing my DAM workouts and my DAM teammates (guest post)

(Today’s guest post is by friend of the blog, reader of the blog, and sometime swimming blogger Roberta Millstein. Full bio at the end of the article…)

I started swimming with Davis Aquatic Masters, better known as DAM, shortly after I moved to Davis in 2007.  I was thrilled to have coach-led sets and a group of people to train with – so much more fun, and ultimately much more productive, than trying to swim on one’s own. 

I quickly fell into a routine and decided that, rather than constantly reciting to myself all the many physical and psychological benefits of swimming, I would just understand that swimming three times a week was A Thing That I Would Do.  Period.  Only the most serious of reasons would cause me to miss a workout.  And I stuck with that.  Travel, serious illness, a grad student’s exam that couldn’t be scheduled at any other time – those were about the only things that would cause me to miss a workout.

Until, of course, we finally started to realize the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic.  On March 16, DAM strongly recommended that seniors stop going to workouts.  I watched several people leave sadly.  It was an eerie, surreal practice.  I remember I went home and said to my partner sadly, “I think that might have been my last DAM workout for a while.”[1]  And indeed, by the end of the day, DAM had sent out an email cancelling workouts for everyone.  Even though the County and State official stay-at-home orders wouldn’t come for a few more days, that was really the beginning for me. 

I quickly made a new vow – on the days and times that I would have swum, I would now use the stair stepper.  It’s a workhorse of a thing that my partner bought used for me many years ago, and over time we’ve both used it on and off.  Most recently, I’d stopped using it because of a knee injury, but I thought maybe my knee felt well enough to start again.  I have rather a strange routine with the stair stepper – I listen to the same four playlists over and over, playlists that morphed from mixed tapes that I had made decades ago.  Probably most people would have long ago tired of listening to the same music, but I find that it focuses me: these are the songs that I stair step to.

A perfectly serviceable, if not beloved, stair stepping machine.
A perfectly serviceable, if not beloved, stair stepping machine.

I also decided to try something I’d always been meaning to try: yoga.  DAM sent around an email with a link to “Swimming Specific Yoga.”  I figured I’d do that on most days when I wasn’t using the stair stepper.  I added in a few dumbbell exercises afterward to keep my arms strong.  I’m sure that’s some sort of yoga violation, but I’m not really aiming for authenticity here.

In retrospect, keeping my time schedule was exactly the right choice.  It has kept me grounded, along with the usual morning and evening dog walks, weekly class and lab meetings, and local political meetings.  I’ve not experienced the “I don’t know what day it is” or “I slept in until 11 AM” that others have reported.  If anything, I’ve found myself too busy because I find it hard to be productive with so much looming uncertainty, so my to-do list has lengthened.  But getting exercise is all the more important for that, not less important.

I tell myself that, much as I might like to think I am a water mammal, it is actually good for me to be getting a bit more land exercise, and that is no doubt true.  I tell myself that this is an opportunity to work on some other muscles and skills, and that is also true.  I’ve definitely enjoyed the yoga and find it relaxing and energizing, even as there are some things I can’t do.  I try to be careful because I don’t want to get injured.  My knee still isn’t quite right so I am taking it easy with the stair stepper too.

But it’s not the same as the cool, clear feeling of entering the water and feeling it glide over you.  It’s not the same as the satisfaction of a hard workout that you only did because your teammates were there suffering through it with you.  And no one is there asking where you’ve been if you missed a few workouts, or telling you about a trip they took or are about to take, or commiserating about coming back from an injury.  Swimming, despite appearances, is actually quite a social sport.  I miss my lanemates and hope that they are well.  (The DAM coaches, for their part, are working very hard to make sure that we still feel connected).

The latest word is that DAM is going to try to re-start in some fashion on June 14, County regulations permitting.  I imagine social distancing swimmer-style: fewer people in the pool at once, maybe with signups, maybe fewer hours per week? We shall see.  I look forward to it no matter what form it takes. 

Roberta Millstein is a professor in the Philosophy Department at UC Davis, specializing in philosophy of biology and environmental ethics. In ordinary times, she enjoys walking and hiking with her poodles, swimming with Davis Aquatic Masters, and her 10-minute bicycle commute to campus.

[1] We should all be so lucky to have this be the worst of our problems.

fitness · Guest Post · hiking

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Volcano (Guest Post)

Image description: A landscape shot of a section of the track. The earth is mostly rocky and is a light brown colour. Steam is coming from geothermal vents on the mountain. In the bottom right corner of the photo is a shadow of the photographer and the ridge she is standing on.

I recently had the opportunity to tramp (that’s what New Zealanders call hiking) the Tongariro Northern Circuit in the Central North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. The TNC is a four-day, three-night 43.1 km loop that partially overlaps with the world-famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The TNC takes place in the shadows and volcanic fields of the mighty active volcanoes Ngāuruhoe (which you may recognise as Mount Doom in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies) and Tongariro. While I had done plenty of day hikes and a handful of overnight trips before, this was my first multi-day trip, and I decided to do it solo. Aotearoa New Zealand has several tramping tracks that are billed as Great Walks, which means they are well-maintained, monitored by rangers, and usually well-equipped as far as huts and campsites go. The TNC is one of those walks, and as such, is well-populated with trampers and rangers alike. That made me feel fine about going solo. I had previously spent a long time wishing I could do something like this, but it wasn’t until I saw these wise words of a kid from the hilarious blog Live From Snack Time that I decided it was time to go do it: “You can make a wish, but then you have to do the wish. It doesn’t just happen.” I decided it was time to do the wish.

Image description: A 360-degree panorama of a section of the track. It is the very early morning and the sky is still dark. Large rocky formations stretch along the length of the photo and they are backlit by a small patch of sunlight peeking up on the left side of the photo.

Here’s the thing about tramping in Aotearoa New Zealand compared to other places: pretty much nothing here will kill you except the weather. There are no large predators like bears or mountain lions, there are no snakes, there are no particularly venomous spiders. The water is usually clean and plenty of trampers just go ahead and drink it without treatment and are usually fine. (Note: that’s risky. Don’t do it. Or do. But also, don’t.) What puts people at risk in the New Zealand backcountry is when weather closes in quickly—particularly common in alpine environments—and natural disasters like avalanches, earthquakes, or volcanic eruptions. (There are also risks like falling and breaking your leg and being unable to get to shelter.) Those are serious risks, and I don’t mean to be flippant about them. You must prepare for them as much as you are able. Now, admittedly, there’s not a whole lot you can do if a pyroclastic flow is headed your way, but I’m of the mind that life is inherently risky, and if the only thing that ever figured into your decisions was how risky an activity was, you’d never get off the couch. That’s not the life I want, so I’m prepared to accept some calculated risks. I went to an outdoor equipment shop and asked for advice from them and from experienced friends, rented and borrowed the gear that I could, bought what I couldn’t borrow, and set out.

A closeup of small, white flowers growing between stones. Mount Ngāuruhoe, a symmetrical cone-shaped volcano, is visible in the background.

The track was absolutely incredible and the trip was well worth it. I can’t believe I waited as long as I did to make it happen. The photos don’t capture the scale and vastness of the landscape. They don’t capture that mixed-up feeling of achievement, relief, and “Well, that wasn’t so bad!” that rises up when you arrive at the hut. It’s hard to explain the introspection that goes on when it’s just you, your boots, your pack, and a volcano to keep you company. It was transformative. Really.

Image description: a landscape shot of a part of the track. On the left of the photo is a 29-year-old white woman with short blonde hair. She is wearing grey shorts and a white shirt. In the distance is a cliff and a thin waterfall coming off it.

But a peculiar thing kept happening while I was tramping, and kept happening after I returned and told people about having gone. People seemed very concerned that I, a woman, was doing this tramp solo. At first, I thought it was a bit funny. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it reflected some weird assumptions people have about women’s ability to manage risk. When I told others about the experience and wondered whether people would have said the same thing about a male soloist, a male friend was quick to tell me that “it wasn’t about gender” (a bold assessment from someone who wasn’t there) and that going solo was “potentially foolhardy.” He’s right, in some sense: the risks of tramping—things like avalanches and volcanic eruptions—aren’t about gender. The volcano does not care about the genders of the trampers walking on it when it erupts. Dehydration and hypothermia don’t care about your gender. Venomous snakes don’t care about your gender. Flash floods don’t care about your gender. I’m totally with him on this one: the risk is not about gender. But if that’s the case, then why were the comments? Why were so many of the comments of the scandalized “A woman, alone?” variety? What is it about being a woman that leads people to assume you can’t look after yourself? (If I sound annoyed, it’s because I am.)

Image description: A photograph of two of the famous Emerald Lakes, one behind the other. The earth in the foreground is golden brown and rocky. The lakes have vivid green water. A slope rises up behind them. The sky is blue with wispy white clouds.

I want to be clear about something: I certainly don’t think I know everything about tramping. I’m still very much a novice and will be for a long time. But I’m a sensible novice: I consulted experts while planning my trip, followed their advice, and did every single thing I possibly could do to mitigate my risk. I left detailed trip and route plans with a trusted contact, and I carried a personal locator beacon, a first aid kit, emergency shelter, all-weather clothing, an extra day’s food, and so on. I also respect the power of nature and know that ultimately, sometimes things go wrong and no amount of preparation can save you from that. Nevertheless, I did what was, by any reasonable metric, a good job of making sure I was going to be okay, barring a volcanic eruption. (And let’s be real, having a buddy isn’t really going to help you much in that situation.) It struck me as odd that my friend immediately concluded that what I was doing was foolhardy, when he knew nothing about the precautions I’d taken, and made no effort to ask.

Image description: A panorama of a volcanic landscape. The earth is reddish-grey. There are two lakes with green water on the left of the photo, and an uphill scree slope to the right. Three distant people are standing at the top of the slope. The sky is blue with a few long white clouds.

A couple of women tramper friends of mine say they’ve had similar experiences. One says she, too, finds that people are either amazed or concerned when they find out she’s tramping alone, and that something about it rubs her the wrong way. How about you, fellow women soloists? Have you had this kind of experience? How does it make you feel?

I’ll finish off with this photo of sunrise on the ascent to the Red Crater of Ngāuruhoe. I left my hut dark and early to catch this special sight, all by myself. It was glorious.

Image description: A panorama of sunrise on the Tongariro Northern Circuit. The sun is peeking up on the left side of the photo. The lower section of the photograph is dark rocky earth, not yet lit by the morning sun. In the distance are two peaks (one is Ngāuruhoe) that are a deep rusty red in the sunlight.


Turquoise and berry and lime, oh my! (Guest Post)

A friend of mine and I like to joke that if you’re buying women’s athletic gear (that is, workout or sporting gear targeted toward women), your only colour options are turquoise and berry, a certain shade of sort-of-pink-and-sort-of-purple. On a good day, you might be able to find something in lime, too, but that’s it! Those are your options! Whenever we see any gear in these colours, we send photos of it to each other.

A screenshot of a Facebook message. One participant says, "I actually don't understand why EVERY brand seems to think women should only have these colours as options" with a crying-laughing emoji. The other participant says "Right???"
A screenshot of a Facebook message. One participant says, “I actually don’t understand why EVERY brand seems to think women should only have these colours as options” with a crying-laughing emoji. The other participant says “Right???”

Here are some ski helmets she showed me:

A photograph of an online shopping page. Two ski helmets are displayed in profile side-by-side. One is berry coloured with grey straps, and the other is turquoise with grey straps.
A photograph of an online shopping page. Two ski helmets are displayed in profile side-by-side. One is berry coloured with grey straps, and the other is turquoise with grey straps.

And some socks I got for free with a recent hiking boot purchase:

A pair of hiking socks still in the package. The socks have thick black, purple, dark pink, and turquoise stripes. The brand name "Bridgedale" is partially visible on the cuff of the socks. The tag is grey and reads "Bridgedale Special Edition Striped Hiker."
A pair of hiking socks still in the package. The socks have thick black, purple, dark pink, and turquoise stripes. The brand name “Bridgedale” is partially visible on the cuff of the socks. The tag is grey and reads “Bridgedale Special Edition Striped Hiker.”

And look at the huge range of options on these Vasque hiking boots. I would go for the turquoise, but there’s always berry if turquoise isn’t your thing. (Admittedly, the berry option here is more purple, but the colour is actually called “Blackberry,” so I think it technically counts.)

Two hiking boots displayed in profile. One is black, grey, and turquoise and the other is black, grey, and purple. The turquoise boot has three semicircular turquoise accents along the side of the sole. The brand name "Vasque" is visible next to the laces on each boot.
Two hiking boots displayed in profile. One is black, grey, and turquoise and the other is black, grey, and purple. The turquoise boot has three semicircular turquoise accents along the side of the sole. The brand name “Vasque” is visible next to the laces on each boot.

And some maximally lady-suitable Dachstein hiking boots, if you don’t want to decide between turquoise and berry:

A single hiking boot with black and berry-coloured uppers with black and turquoise laces. The sole of the boot is black with a turquoise stripe. The brand name "Dachstein" is displayed next to the laces.
A single hiking boot displayed in profile. It has black and berry-coloured uppers with black and turquoise laces. The sole of the boot is black with a turquoise stripe. The brand name “Dachstein” is displayed next to the laces.

And some ski jackets, available in both lady colours! (“Silver/teal” is highlighted in this photo, but the other option is called “Berry/coral”.)

A photograph of an online shopping page. Two ski jackets are displayed. One is light pink on the top half and one sleeve and dark pink on the bottom and on the other sleeve. The other jacket is turquoise on the top half and one sleeve and light grey on  the bottom and on the other sleeve. The turquoise and grey jacket is selected and above the images is text reading "Colour: Silver/Teal." A mouse pointer is displayed below the jackets.
A photograph of an online shopping page. Two ski jackets are displayed. One is light pink on the top half and one sleeve and dark pink on the bottom and on the other sleeve. The other jacket is turquoise on the top half and one sleeve and light grey on the bottom and on the other sleeve. The turquoise and grey jacket is selected and above the images is text reading “Colour: Silver/Teal.” A mouse pointer is displayed below the jackets.

As with most gendered things, the problem isn’t the options themselves. It’s the restrictions. With women’s athletic gear, the problem isn’t the colours themselves. If you like turquoise (which I do), great. If you like berry (which I do), great. If you like lime (which I do), great. The problem is in the limited range of options, as though all women (and only women, as it’s hard to find men’s gear in these colours) will only like these colours. Where is the burnt orange? Olive green? Smoky grey? Dark red? Of course, sizing and fit and assumptions about women’s bodies when it comes to clothing are another issue altogether!

Here I am in my most turquoise/berry workout outfit, complete with berry backpack and turquoise shoes, with socks that are berry and turquoise and lime. (I’ve also got a turquoise iPod for working out. But I did that to myself.)

A 29-year-old white woman taking a selfie in a mirror. She is wearing a pink tank top, blue knee-length leggings, a black knee brace, and turquoise, berry, and lime socks. She is holding a berry-coloured backpack and a pair of grey and turquoise runners.
A 29-year-old white woman taking a selfie in a mirror. She is wearing a pink tank top, blue knee-length leggings, a black knee brace, and turquoise, berry, and lime socks. She is holding a berry-coloured backpack and a pair of grey and turquoise runners.

And another of me on my turquoise mountain bike with berry shorts, with a grey helmet with turquoise and berry stripes, and a grey shirt with turquoise accents.

The same subject as above riding a turquoise mountain bike. The rider is wearing a black knee brace, berry-coloured shorts, and a grey shirt and helmet. She is rounding a bend on a gravel and dirt trail, and is surrounded by ferns.
The same subject as above riding a turquoise mountain bike. The rider is wearing a black knee brace, berry-coloured shorts, and a grey shirt and helmet. She is rounding a bend on a gravel and dirt trail, and is surrounded by ferns.

How about you, readers? What do you make of the colour options available for women’s gear?


fitness · research

Getting Fit at the Library (guest post)

This post is by Pamela Hayes-Bohanan: friend, colleague, and librarian extraordinaire. Read and enjoy, and don’t forget to check out the reference (properly formatted, of course). -catherine w

So, what does a librarian know about fitness anyway? Just as she doesn’t need to be an expert in chemistry to find the boiling point of iron (2750.0 °C; 3023.15 K; 4982.0 °F btw) she likewise doesn’t need to be an expert in exercise and nutrition to assist someone with locating the best information to help them help themselves.

As a reference and instruction librarian for the past 25 years, I have helped people do research on more topics than I can possibly remember. Sometimes I’m helping with a course assignment, but often the information is for personal use. It is hard to balance between helping someone simply find what they’ve asked for (a trendy new diet book perhaps) and wanting to do some real education with them about where they can find better or more evidence-based information on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss. Ultimately, however, it is my job not to judge, so if someone wants a recipe for a Paleo Shamrock Shake I will do my dangdest to find it, and I won’t roll my eyes or smirk, either. (And if I piqued your interest, here’s the recipe. Do trust me, though, that no caveman ever drank one of these.)

What I can do via this blog post though is provide some guidance on how to navigate the proliferation of information that one will find on just about anything, whether they ask for it or not. How can you tell if the advice you’re receiving is something to heed? There are several things you can look for to help determine its worthiness.

The first thing to do is to check your own bias. Are you only looking for information that supports what you already believe, or want to be true? If you want good information start with an open mind and be prepared to broaden your horizons.

Once you find some information consider the source. Remember that just because you trust the person who shared the link, tweet, or blog post, it does not necessarily follow that the information is trustworthy.

Look for an author name and organization attached to the site. Then LEAVE the site and start sleuthing. See what else you can find out about the person and/or organization. Once you start your investigation look for things like: What are the authors’ credentials? Do they have other publications? Do they have a medical degree? Or is there something (anything) else that leads you to believe they know what they’re talking about? Are there news stories, or reviews of the people or organizations you are researching?

Don’t take shortcuts. Often people are taught simple rules regarding domains. (e.g. It’s okay use .org, .gov, or .edu sites; don’t use .com). Organizations each have their own biases and need to be researched. For instance the National Rifle Association and Moms Demand Action both have .org domains, and each provides a very different view on gun control from the other. Government information is influenced by lobbyists (many of whom represent commercial interests), and government sites are vulnerable to the whims of the head of state as well. Not all educational institutions are created equal, and even scholarly research published on university websites may be influenced by religious, or political motivations. Commercial sites shouldn’t not necessarily be dismissed. Aggregated subscription databases found at your library are commercial websites. So, my rule of thumb is: eschew facile rules of thumb.

Another question to consider is whether the website is collecting information about you. Are you required to provide personal data in order to access the site? If so, the site may be more interested in gathering information than providing it. Also be aware that sites that appear to require you to enter more information may give you a choice to not provide it, but may make the opt-out button hard to find. Keep looking, it may be below the scroll line, or placed on the left side of the screen rather than the right side where more people look for it, or it may be timed to appear only after a few seconds have elapsed.

Finding information is as easy as typing some words into Google. Taking some time to determine its veracity is a not only worthwhile endeavor, it is, as Daniel Levitin says in his book A Field Guide to Lies, part of a deal we need to make with ourselves:

We’ve saved incalculable numbers of hours of trips to libraries and far-flung archives, of hunting through thick books for the one passage that will answer our questions. The implicit bargain we all need to make explicit is that we will use just some [emphasis in original] of that time we saved in information acquisition to perform proper information verification (p. 253).

If you want to give your brain a real workout, visit a library and ask a librarian for more information on evaluating information, and using it wisely.

Levitin, Daniel. A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age. Dutton, 2016.

A person doing a handstand in a library.