Winter Swimming and Risk in COVID Times

It is winter swimming time again, and I’m thinking about the rules. Sometimes they seem silly and arbitrary.

Sometimes they actually might be wise, depending on distance to populated areas or water conditions.

Back when the pandemic first started, my friends and I did a lot of debating about whether we should continue to swim outdoors. Pools were closed, of course, but it was too early in the season for lifeguarded beaches (not that we swim there anyway).

How far did we need to stand or swim apart to prevent transmission? Would we put an unreasonable burden on the health care system if someone got into trouble? Were we setting a bad example for inexperienced swimmers who might try to copy what we were doing? Most importantly, were we being really honest about our biases, and assessing the risks to ourselves and others accurately?

Eventually, we found solutions we were comfortable with, and continued to swim through 2020 and 2021. Open water swimming and cold water dipping experienced a huge surge in interest during that period.

This surge did push some communities to block off access to local water holes. The fenced-off area above was blocked this week, shortly after we dipped in water that wasn’t even waist deep. The ice was several inches thick and someone had needed considerable force to break it.

Diane wearing a silly hat and bathing suit, with an ice-covered pond in the background.

With the resurgence of COVID, I am once again rethinking whether and how I can swim or dip safely. Although my friends and I model safe behaviour, provide advice and some have even offered video seminars, I keep reading about people wanting to dip or swim by walking over ice to get in the water. This is dangerous.

The ice can cut you and you won’t even feel it; you could fall through a thin spot; you could have difficulties getting back out of the water; you could slip under the ice if the water is deep enough and there is a current.

Breaking holes in the ice can be dangerous for others, too. Dogs, skiers, walkers and snowmobilers also go on the ice. They could easily go through an unmarked, partly frozen swimming hole. If there is no open water you can reach easily and safely, consider joining the folks who enjoy winter sports.

The Memphramagog Winter Swimming Society’s event is still scheduled to go ahead in late February, and several of my friends are planning to attend, if the borders are open. That means they need to practice. So for now, I will keep going into the water, even though if feels really really cold since we can’t go as often as we would like. Last week, it was all we could do to swim ten strokes.

Diane in her silly shark hat and a big smile because she isn’t in the water yet. Aimee, in the background, is standing in the water and is looking very cold.

But maybe not. With COVID numbers rising, I am increasingly uncomfortable sharing a car. We are all vaccinated and boosted and we can wear masks or drive separately, but the open water is an hour’s drive away. That’s a lot for five or ten minutes in the water.

What about you? How are the latest COVID numbers affecting your risk tolerance for fitness activities?

Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa. She is looking forward to strapping on her skates or skis over the next few weeks.

blog · climbing · equipment · fun · Guest Post · nature

Don’t Fall Out of the Trees (Guest Post)

by Elan Paulson

I have blogged previously about group exercise adventures–winter hikes, fun runs, wall climbs, etc.–so it was only a matter of time until we ended up at an aerial adventure park. Set at a western Ontario ski hill forest, this treetop adventure has courses of increasing height and challenge in which participants climb ladders, cross wood and net bridges, and zip line from tree platform to platform.

Through some Wikipedia surfing I learned that aerial adventure courses were borne from military training-style ropes courses and alternative adventure education. However, most of today’s adventure parks are touristy fun that Wikipedia describes as requiring “neither climbing techniques nor special/specific physical fitness experience.”

Judging by our next-day muscle soreness and little bruises, there is at least some physical fitness required. But more than exercise, it was thrilling to hop across wobbly bridges, and stand high in the trees without falling out of them. The course didn’t require teamwork to complete obstacles, but we encouraged and cheered each other a lot.

Among my GoPro pictures, I found one of my handheld carabiners that the trainer had described as “our hands” while we were out on the course. This meant that we were to latch one or both carabiners onto within-reach “lifeline” cables throughout the entire course.

Self-belay system with carabiners and zipline attachment
Self-belay system with carabiners and zipline attachment.

Using a self-belay system in a tree top adventure was a little scary because we were responsible for our own safety. We received some initial supervised practice on a training course, but in the park it was up to us to keep ourselves attached to the steel cables.

Looking at the photo afterwards, I realized that being responsible for my own safety had given my mind something to pay attention to in the trees and on the ladders. Each step was a reminder–in order to move forward I literally had to put one latch in front of the other. The carabiners kept my brain focused on a safety system that wouldn’t allow me to fall, and the constant latching also distracted me from thinking too much about falling.

The above photo also made me realize that I have not always put “safety first” and foremost in my brain when I go to exercise. This is especially true with activities that I perceive as less risky, or when I feel I am more familiar with the risks. But, on the treetop adventure, it was precisely because I was forced to put my safety first in a potentially dangerous situation that I confidently enjoyed the activity all the more (or, I suppose, experienced paralyzing fear all the less).

There is always risk in exercise, which is not an inherently bad thing. But, no matter how strange or familiar the activity may be, we are our own self-safety systems. Safety can create fun. In the future, I think that reminding myself of that fact when I go to exercise will be a good thing.

Elan with helmet, harness, and belay
Elan with helmet, harness, belay, and smile.


Helmets, yes, usually. Helmet laws, no.

Here’s me on the left, no helmet! I’m riding a coaster bike. I think it’s likely my top speed was 15 km/hr. it’s a beachside rental on a small island in French Polynesia. It was the kind of cycling environment where a helmet would have seemed out of place. There were parents and kids sharing a single bike. Not a helmet in sight. It was also very hot. Susan and I biked to the beach and I loved it.

I’ve also ridden bikes without helmets in Amersterdam, Bremen, and Montreal. What these cities have in common is well developed cycling infrastructure and lots of everyday people on bikes. Love riding in their protected bike lanes.

In the other photo, there’s helmeted me on bike commute to work through traffic in my usual hometown. Definitely wearing a helmet. I also wear helmets on longer, faster rides through the countryside.

My preference is for no laws requiting helmet use for adults. Why not? Well, helmets make cycling seem special and scary and put people off riding. I am concerned about cycling safety. When it comes to bike safety, numbers matter more than helmets. If fewer people ride if they’re required to ride a helmet, that’s less safe overall.

It’s one of those situations where your goal, increased safety for cyclists, is undermined by the means you choose to achieve it. You aim for all cyclists to wear helmets, increased safety, but the effect is fewer people riding. Numbers of people riding matters more to cycling safety than helmets.

For prudential reasons, I usually wear one. But there’s no need to force me.

Here’s my thoughts:

Here’s the Guardian on why helmet laws don’t save lives.


A new meaning to “suns out, guns out”?

I know it can be tough out on the road for cyclists. I blogged last week about Toronto suburban drivers who pass way too close, too fast, while honking. At times during the ride that prompted that post I was angry. I even swore.  I can do that now. (See Sam starts to swear: “That’s bulls**t” ) But at no time did it occur to me to wish I were armed. You know, like with a gun.

I gather not all cyclists feel the same way.  See Danny Summerhill Charged With Firing Gun on a Ride.

Pro road cyclist Danny Summerhill has left the UnitedHealthcare team after being arraigned on Tuesday for disorderly conduct, discharging a weapon, and reckless endangerment.

Summerhill was riding in a rural area outside Denver, Colorado, in February when he was spotted firing a handgun several times into a hillside by local residents Joe and Shawn Porter, who reportedly confronted the 28-year-old American pro and filed a police report.

I wanted to write about guns and cycling before, when this bike jersey made the news: Concealed Carrie women’s cycling top packs a deadly secret — a handgun pocket.

At first glance this multi-purpose women’s jersey looks ideal for summer cycling with its rear pockets, high collar to keep the sun off and drawstring waist tie to flatter the female figure. But look a bit closer and there’s capacity for an, erm, unusual accessory: a concealed pocket for a handgun.

“Only in America” you’re probably thinking, and you’re right. Manufacturer Concealed Carrie specialises in fashionable handbags designed to make it easy to tote a handgun. This is their answer to the problem of packing heat while cycling, walking or running.

See also This Jersey Is Made for Your Gun.

I don’t want to get into a big argument about guns and gun control laws. This isn’t a subject I’m interested in talking about as part of this blog. Personally, even if it were allowed where I live I wouldn’t think of it as a good answer to my cycling safety issues. There’s a reddit thread about the wisdom of riding with a gun for reasons of safety even if it’s legally okay to do so where you live. For the case in favour, read Why I Carry a Loaded Gun on My Bike Commute. 

One danger is the gun going off while riding. See Florida Cyclist.

However, what intrigued me as I looked around is that the connection between cycling, safety, and guns isn’t new. There were guns designed especially for cyclists from the early days of bike riding.

Check out these ads!


The ads are from Guns & Bicycles by Kurt Bauer. [CW: Random racism ahead.] Bauer writes: “These weapons were recommended for the cycling enthusiast’s protection against dogs, the homeless, gypsies – really, any undesirable situation in which a loaded firearm represented an expeditious solution.”


Weekends with Womack

First thoughts on cycling down under, over there on the left side of the road

Some of you blog readers may know that I’m spending a few months in Australia while on sabbatical from my academic job in the Boston area. And of course I brought my road bike with me. But I just started riding this weekend, about 2 weeks after I arrived. Part of the delay was that I was recovering from jet lag and then getting oriented at work (I’m visiting at the University of Sydney, and gave a talk on Thursday).

But really, the reason why I hadn’t started cycling was fear. I was terrified at switching to riding on the left side of the road. Okay, I feel a little better now that’s out there.

In my partial defense, just about everyone I talked to in Sydney thought that cycling in the city was dangerous. Of course people in Boston think the same thing, and they’re not completely wrong. And I don’t let that stop me from riding all over the place at home.

More defense claims: I haven’t seen many bike commuters around in my part of Sydney (inner west for you Aussies). Nor have I seen many in the downtown area, either—not on the main roads anyhow. So I was thinking, hmmm— maybe they know something I don’t.

But then there was my bike, sitting in my landlord’s garage, all alone in a new country, not getting any attention from me. That’s just wrong. I owe it to myself and the bike to get out there and develop some new skills and have some new adventures. Right? Uh, ok.

So I did just that this weekend.

Part of my motivation was a combination of necessity and laziness. I had brought a hand pump with me (a floor pump was too heavy to transport), but forgot the connector hose (oops). So I needed to get a new pump and some CO2 for keeping my tires in shape. The nearest bike shop was only a 12-minute ride (according to google), but a 40-minute bus trip. Clearly I’m getting on the bike.

So I made my way to the shop, going up and down (Sydney is hillier than I had expected), making right and left turns, which are reversed in order of difficulty. And I didn’t even end up on the wrong side of the road while turning. Yay! Whew…

Having obtained my new pump and some cartridges for my inflator (and basking in the glow of praise for my bike from the shop guys—love when that happens!), I headed back out there to explore a little. I found some lovely mixed-use paths by the water and rode around. There were a bunch of cyclists, including road cyclists—finally I found some of my people! Sydney is so beautiful, with water everywhere you look, and I enjoying winding my way around, taking some quiet side streets and paths.  Here’s a shot from near the water. IMG_5322

Here’s another one.

IMG_5318Who wouldn’t want to see that all the time?

My next step is to do some proper road rides. Samantha has been very nice and given me some contacts, and I’ll be talking with them and others about getting out on the road at speed. But one revolution at a time….

In the meantime, here are a few parting observations I made based on this weekend’s experience:

  1. Traffic is traffic, and many commuter cycling traffic skills translate nicely.

Riding on a busy city street, I encountered buses, cars passing me (on the right), pedestrians popping out everywhere—business as usual on a bike. I found that paying attention worked the same way. Of course this is unsurprising, but I was really gratified, and it helped build confidence.

  1. Old instincts die hard when encountering other cyclists.

Riding on a mixed-use path around Sydney, I saw a guy on a lovely vintage Bianchi coming toward me around a narrow corner. I immediately swerved a bit to right. Of course, so did he. Oops! Actually, this was what I said out loud, followed by “sorry about that”.   We were going slowly, so all was well, but it reminded me to be more aware, as my instincts were not always going to lead me in the correct direction (quite literally).

  1. Cycling totally rocks, no matter where you are.

Getting back on the bike really made Sydney feel more like home. I’ve got my mode of transportation, I’ve got another way to meet people and make new friends, and I’ve got a passport to new adventures. Yes, that’s a little cheesy, but when it comes to me and my bike, I’m a sentimental soul. And I’m really glad it’s here with me.



My week of walking on the wild side

For the past two weeks I’ve been home from work recovering from surgery (everything is fine and I’m now back on my bike) and for exercise that means I’ve been walking, a lot.

One of the cool things about recovering from surgery as an active person is that you can scale back considerably and still have lots that you can do. No biking or running, fine, but I walked lots. Some of it was with the new puppy so it wasn’t all speedy. To the surprise of the staff at the clinic I attended one week out I walked there and back, about 8 km. But parking would have cost $10, I’m frugal, and it’s not like I was getting any other exercise.

But all that walking made me think about pedestrian safety and risk. When Tracy blogged about giving up road cycling and her fear of being hit by a car one of my first thoughts was about walking and cars. Why? Because I’ve had two people in my life in the past few years killed by cars while out walking. One was a friend from church out walking her dog at night and the other was an older woman I knew from the velodrome. She was out walking in the evening. I kept imagining how many people would judge that activity safe and her velodrome riding risky. I blogged about cycling and risk here.

During my week of walking lots I heard of more pedestrian deaths in the news. Another pedestrian was killed in our city this week. A 70 year old, crossing the road, at an intersection. We don’t yet whether charges will be laid but I couldn’t help but note that there’s been no outcry about pedestrian safety.

Should he have been wearing reflective clothing, flashing lights? A helmet? Maybe it’s not safe to walk and we should all just stop. Maybe we should drive everywhere and then walk in our houses on treadmills.


See also Toronto driver crashed into four pedestrians leaving one dead.

Pedestrian deaths are common. They don’t make news except on slow days. In big cities hundreds of people are killed each year while out walking from place A to place B.

Freakonomics even speculates that running someone over is the best way to get away with murder.

From Mike’s traffic blog, talking about New York, “There were 1,300 fatal pedestrian crashes there from 2008 to 2013 and only 66 drivers were arrested. That’s the entry point for Freakonomics to analyze pedestrian crashes. In New York City, 52% of all traffic fatalities are pedestrians. That percent drops to 14% for the rest of the United States. Obviously there’s an exposure risk in New York. There are more people walking around there than anywhere else.”

You don’t hear much of that and as a cyclist I find the comparison with cycling deaths a bit hard to understand. There are ghost bikes but no ghost sneakers. That’s part of why I worry about ghost bikes. They single out cycling as particularly dangerous rather than cars as our shared enemy.

Cycling advocacy groups do occasionally promote helmets for pedestrians, on the grounds that what’s good for the goose is also good for the gander. See here
and here.

I don’t think of myself as much of a walker. I say it’s too slow. I say that I’m saving walking as a fitness activity for my old age, along with cruises for vacations, long driving trips, and television for entertainment.

Now the not walking thing isn’t quite true. For years, I pushed strollers. I will always walk dogs. I love hiking. But I tend not to walk as transportation. I usually drive the car or ride my bike for distances over 2 km.

Maybe it’s an identity thing. I am a cyclist, but I’d never describe myself as an avid walker.

And in terms of safety, I’m not suggesting we stop walking. But we should think differently about risk, maybe that means worrying a bit more about walking and a bit less about cycling. Certainly we should pay lots attention when walking (stop looking at our phones! ) and maybe even wear reflective clothing and lights when walking at night. I’m also looking forward to the era of driverless cars. I think smart cars are likely to be much safer for their passengers and for cyclists and pedestrians alike.


martial arts

Study shows self defense makes a difference but the issues are still complicated

This post discusses personal experiences of sexual assault.

We’ve had lots to say on this blog about self defense as a feminist issue. See Audrey’s guest post Self Defense and Sexual Assault and my post Self defense is a feminist issue. We both think it’s a complicated issue.

Audrey writes, “I’m conflicted as someone who’s taught self-defense workshops (women only as well as co-ed), and who has a lot of martial arts experience. This is something I’m pretty good at. I’ve done over 25 years of taekwondo, several years each of wushu and capoeira, and about 4 years of high school wrestling, not to mention bits and pieces of other cross-training here and there. I’m not particularly big, but I’m definitely not delicate and I can use my weight pretty well. I can take a solid hit and keep fighting. These are all things I know about myself. If I’m out late at night, I walk with good posture and confidence, and stay aware of my surroundings. I know I can defend myself in a lot of situations.

I’ve still been raped. More than once.”

I write, “I can say that for me, I didn’t feel invincible after the taking (self defense) classes. I was more alert and aware of my surroundings and I probably took fewer risks not more. Even now, after 6 years of martial arts training, I don’t feel invincible. I do know that i can yell loudly. In Aikido there is even a name for the yell you make when striking. It’s called a “kiai” and is a self-defense technique in its own right.

I know I can engage physically with another person without freezing in panic. And I think I walk wi
th confidence, eyes up and alert. I do believe that my martial arts training makes me much less likely to be attacked in the first place. I’m going to post later about some of the things Aikido has taught me.

When I say that I’m not saying I won’t ever be attacked again, nor am I blaming women who are attacked.”

Both of us agree that the focus shouldn’t just be on teaching women self defense. We also need to educate young men not to commit sexual assault and to be active bystanders.

But today the case for teaching women self defense as way to reduce sexual violence on university campuses made the news in Canada. See Teaching women self-defence still the best way to reduce sexual assaults: study and it even reached Boing Boing, Study: women trained to resist assault less likely to be victimized.

In the debate over how to reduce sexual assault on university campuses, proposing self-defence classes for women is controversial. Women aren’t the problem, the reasoning goes, so why is changing their behaviour the solution? Putting the onus on women to drop-kick rapists, map out safe walks home, or geo-track their drinks at parties, writes the rules in the wrong direction. And it swerves too easily into victim-blaming.

But, according to new landmark Canadian research, it works. The study, published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that the Canadian-designed intervention, which focuses on teaching women how to detect risk in situations that could lead to sexual assault and defend themselves when necessary, reduced the rate of rape among participants by nearly 50 per cent. At a time when universities are facing harsh criticism for mishandling sexual assault, when the White House has called for action to reduce sexual violence on campus, when it’s estimated that as many as one in four female university students may be assaulted before they finish their degree, is it responsible to deny young women access to a tried-and-tested program?

The four-year study tracked nearly 900 women at three Canadian universities, randomly selecting half to take the 12-hour “resistance” program, and compared them to a second group who received only brochures, similar to those available at a health clinic. One year later, the incidence of reported rape among women who took the program was 5.2 per cent, compared to 9.8 per cent in the control group; the gap in incidents of attempted rape was even wider.

While it’s terrific to see evidence that such classes make a difference, Marina Adshade asks why we focus on university students. They’re not the most at risk group of women. She also asks why the focus on women at all.

See Teenage boys not young women need sexual assault programs.

If women can be taught to recognize situations in which they are exposed to the risk of sexual assault, then men can be taught to recognize when they are about to become sexual offenders.

If women can be taught not to lead men on by letting them buy drinks, then men can be taught that women who let them buy drinks have not relinquished their right to refuse sex.

If women can be taught to stay together to provide protection, then men can be taught to challenge other men they see exposing women to risk of sexual violence.

Canadians don’t need to teach women to resist rape while we await cultural change that brings an end to violence against women. We need programs that bring about that cultural change starting with the men who are most likely to be sexual offenders – boys under the age of 18


body image · cycling

Anti-cyclist abuse with a side order of body shaming to go

Ragen Chastain recently blogged about her experience of good intentioned abuse from a minister, while out training for her marathon.

Who’s Ragen Chastain? She’s an amazing blogger. Her self description is, “Dancer, Choreographer, Writer, Speaker, Fat Person” and she’s training for her second marathon.

On her latest training walk/run, the minister whose church is on her usual long run route laid his hands on her, without permission, and asked God to heal her of her obesity.

That’s the good intentioned version of abuse that fat people get exercising in public.

She’s also blogged about the not so nice abuse larger women get when we dare exercise in public view.

I got the nasty version, “Stop at the stop sign fat cow” yelled from a car that pulled up beside me while riding home from a training ride last night.

It happened at a four way stop. I actually did stop. I just didn’t unclip. There was no other traffic at the intersection. I suppose it wasn’t complete and total stop but by cyclist standards, I stopped. Indeed. by my usual car driving standards I stopped.

I got the abuse above, plus an added “fat bitch.”

Now it wasn’t clear at all whether the nastiness was anti fat woman, or anti cyclist, or both. I got the sense that both fat women and cyclists annoy these guys and the combination was just too much to bear. But I don’t know. I pedaled away quickly, turned left when they went right, and didn’t see them again.

Now to be clear–it just annoyed me. My self esteem is independent of judgements about my size from twenty something year old men who feel free to bellow out car windows. I’m the mother of teenagers. It would take a lot more than that to upset me.  (See Fat or big: What’s in a name? or Fit, Fat, and What’s Wrong with BMI, if you haven’t already to get a sense of that.)

But it did make me worry about  larger women who want to exercise without a side order of verbal abuse. After all it’s not like the options for larger women who want an abuse free workout are that great. Gyms aren’t easy either. See Working Out While Fat and Traveling, new gyms, and thin privilege.

Lots of larger people exercise at night so that no one can judge. And I confess there was a time when I did that too. See an old post, I like it in the dark.

When I first started running on my own I confess I liked the dark because no one could see me! I didn’t look like a runner and I felt stealthy about it all. In the dark it didn’t matter that I was a much larger than average runner, that I wasn’t going that fast, and that I didn’t have all the right clothes and gear. It gave me the protective nudge I needed to get started though now I’ve left that cocoon behind.

But on the bike I just don’t think that’s that safe.

The world isn’t a very nice place in lots of ways and I’m not asking for sympathy. But if physical activity is good for one’s health and that good is more difficult for some people to attain than others, we have reasons, as feminists, to be concerned.

Image: bright red stop sign against a blue sky with white puffy clouds




Guest Post

A Woman Hiking Alone (Guest Post)

Image: trail warning sign

(Trigger warning: sexual violence)

I emerged from the woods, intending to follow a secluded laneway to the next trail, when I noticed a white van parked about 100m behind me on the laneway. There was a man in the driver’s seat. I paused imperceptibly, then walked in the opposite direction. As I trudged through the deep snow beside the lane, I could hear the van’s motor running behind me. The van was slowing driving closer. The hairs raised on the back of my neck. Without moving my head, I eyed my surroundings. There were no other hikers nearby, this time of day. After all, I liked to hike in solitude. There was plenty of open space if I needed to run, and I was about 800m away from some buildings that should have people in them. My heart started beating rapidly, and I stiffened as the van passed me. It drove on down the lane, around a bend to a parking lot out of sight. As soon as it disappeared, I ducked back into the woods, striding quickly in the opposite direction, down a steep incline towards the pond. I made sure I couldn’t be easily tracked if I were followed, and I only stopped when I was certain any danger was past.

As much as I enjoy hiking in the woods alone, there’s one aspect that makes me incredibly nervous: the fear of being assaulted. If I dwell on it too much, I start to get righteously pissed off that I’m a woman who has to worry about such things. But I do worry. The scenario above? It actually happened, just a few weeks ago. The man in the van was probably harmless, but when I’m alone in a semi-secluded area, every man is a possible threat.

I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse from a distant male relative, and I suffer from mild PTSD related to my experiences. In the past I’ve also had a couple of close calls that have kept me from walking alone for months. The first happened when I was a young teenager. I’d decided to walk in my suburban neighbourhood early one summer morning before dawn. An older man in his 50s passed me on a bicycle, then circled back, quietly catcalling to me. I immediately ran to the nearest house and pounded on the front door, waking the inhabitants and scaring the man off. Then, in my late 20s, I was walking alone by the university on a weekend morning, and a man exposed himself to me near the river.

A quick online search on the subject of running safety (the closest thing to hiking safety that I could find) turned up repeated admonitions never to run alone. This frustrates me to no end, because I don’t want to have to depend on someone else’s schedule to get my exercise. Besides which, I enjoy exploring the natural world at my own pace, stopping often to take photographs. In my experience, this doesn’t make me a great hiking partner. More importantly, I feel less free when I have to curtail my activities because of the implied vulnerability of my gender. This is not cool.

So I compromise. I may go alone, but I try to be as conscious as I can of any possible threats to my safety. I try not to be predictable. I vary my locations, as well as times and days of the week. I “check in” my location on Facebook when I arrive. (My mom once asked why I always identified my location on Facebook when I went for a hike. “Um, so you know where to start looking if I disappear, Mom.”) I watch for other hikers – or other people, period. I plan escape routes. I don’t listen to music while I hike. I stay aware of my surroundings – I’m alert to every twig cracking, every leaf rustling. And if I get a bad feeling about a secluded area before I enter it, I immediately turn around and go somewhere else.

I still make poor judgements, though. Like the time I went hiking alone at the Sifton Bog early one morning. I had never been there before, and didn’t know what to expect. There were signs posted in the parking lot, warning of a local thief who was repeatedly breaking into parked cars. That should have given me pause. The trail map showed long trails circling the bog, and a single trail going right in to its centre. I chose the latter, because I wanted to see the bog itself. The landscape was amazing; the boardwalk made me claustrophobic. At the end of the trail I quickly snapped a few pictures and then turned around to leave. I was startled by another woman walking towards me with a large dog.

“I didn’t know if this was a good idea,” she said. “I’ve never walked here alone here, this time of day.” I admitted that I’d felt uneasy, too. Our hushed, embarrassed laughter revealed our unspoken fears. I made a decision: I wouldn’t be taking that particular trail alone again. And maybe I should finally look into those Aikido classes that Sam is always recommending. This article suggests that learning even a basic martial arts fighting stance could deter a potential attacker:

“A woman’s immediate reaction is going to determine her fate…If I’m an attacker and I run towards a woman and she steps back and gets into a martial arts fighting stance I’m going to say ‘This woman is crazy or knows what she is doing and I’m going to find someone else to mess with.'”

I so want to be someone who an attacker wouldn’t dare mess with.

[Author update, July 2016: I started studying the martial art of aikido in early 2014, and am currently about half-way to achieving my black belt. I was also diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 2015, and both aikido and cancer have shifted my perspective on fear. Aikido taught me to “enter” when I’m being attacked, and cancer proved to me that I could fight. Martial arts may not be the answer for every survivor of abuse or trauma, but I would highly recommend aikido to anyone. MLG]


Michelle Lynne Goodfellow works in nonprofit and small business communications by day, and also enjoys writing, taking photographs, making art and doing aikido. You can find more of her work at Michelle has also written about her breast cancer journey on her blog, Kitchen Sink Wisdom.

cycling · fashion

Too Vain (or Cool) for a Bike Helmet? Go Invisible!

hvdingairbagcollarA disclaimer: I’m probably not the best one to write this post because I really couldn’t care less what my bike helmet looks like or what it might do to my low-maintenance hair.

But, I am a big believer in bike helmets (and hats in the winter, for that matter!) because I have only one brain, I depend on it for my livelihood, and I’d rather have a few people think I look dorky (I guess that’s a thing with some people) than risk a head injury.

Sweden has come up with an alternative to the traditional helmet, called the Hovding. It’s an invisible helmet, more like a collar. The company calls it an “airbag for bicyclists.”

Many Swedes ride bikes as primary transportation but only 20% of the adults don helmets. If vanity is the reason for staying away from helmets (which I can understand because, based on my experience, Sweden has a high proportion of beautiful people), then this alternative might solve it. No more helmet head!

This article explains how it works:

It’s an air bag — one that’s tucked away in a collar that cyclists fastened around their neck. When the collar’s internal sensors detect a specific combination of jerks and jags signifying “ACCIDENT HAPPENING,” the air bag deploys, sending out a head-hugging, air-cushion hood in a tenth of a second.

The video that accompanies the story is really worth watching to see what happens when the airbag deploys. At that point, vanity will go out the window for sure.  But the helmet doesn’t just appeal to vanity:

In tests by a Swedish insurance company, Hovding was shown to be at least three times better at absorbing shock than conventional helmets (at 15 mph — this is a product aimed at urban cyclists). Hovding’s weakest point may be that it can’t protect riders from “direct hits” like overhanging branches and street signs, an issue that hasn’t prevented the company from winning Europe’s.

The article cites a couple of other downsides besides the lack of “direct hit” protection.  In warmer climates, people aren’t going to want an extra collar around their necks.  The company is working on a cooling mechanism to address that.  An added cooling mechanism will drive the price up from its current $535.  Oo la la!

I’m impressed by the safety testing.  But I would be wary of accidental deployment. I wonder what the cost of getting it “re-set” is? And the initial outlay of over $500 seems a tad excessive. I’ll take my helmet, thanks.

And also, re. the vanity issue. The Hovding may be invisible as a helmet, but to me it looks a lot like a neck brace.  Neck braces while necessary at times, aren’t much of a fashion statement either.

I’ll reserve making a definitive judgment on which is more hip–bike helmets or neck braces–but me, I’m leaning towards the bike helmets because at least they’re sporty.

To read more about the Hovding and see the video of the crash test, go here.