Gravel Is My Friend; It Brings Strength

Another observation along our journey cycling across Canada:

Gravel is my friend; it brings strength. We ride road bikes. They don’t have big thick tires. Our bikes handle really well on pavement and not so well on gravel. Loose gravel or sand can put you into a slide. We stay to paved trails and roads and when entering a gravel driveway or parking lot we are extra careful. We took the Trans Canada Hwy and had heard it has been greatly improved in the last ten years. We did run into some narrow shoulders in Saskatchewan that were half gravel but were able to stay on the pavement. We had to take a couple of side access roads (to get to a restaurant/rest stop), but not for a great distance and in Manitoba when the access road was going to be long, we walked the bikes through the ditch back to the highway.  We really like to avoid gravel.

Imagine our surprise when after doing 110 km and coming into Portage la Prairie, we hit an all gravel shoulder for about 5 kilometres.  Because they were rebuilding the roads in that area, it was fresh loose gravel too, and we had to ride in it. Gripping my handlebars, I was feeling like a mountain bike rider navigating bumpy trails, trying to keep the front wheel on task and both wheels from slipping out from under me all the while the death grip on my handlebars making permanent imprints in the padding. We saw a side access road and opted for that for a couple of kilometres. Who knew the type of road we had avoided a few days earlier would be our road of preference at some point.  The side road at least had the tracks in the middle of the road where traffic had pushed aside the gravel a bit, and we were able to ride down one of those less gravelly trails. We ended up back on the shoulder of the highway when that road ended, and we fought the gravel some more, sweating worse than we had all day in the 30˚C heat. At the end of it, we were on some rough pavement, which was then considered a huge blessing in comparison.  We got new pavement as we got closer to the city and continued on the portion of highway that was built to go around the city.  We found a place to stay along the highway there and the girls had been in town and met us there.

As an aside, we have our support vehicle and the crew goes ahead and stop at scenic places along the way.  I will do a post on the support vehicle sometimes soon.  We found it was nice to ride to a motel and have them meet us there so the next morning we could get up and go and the girls could take their time to get up and get ready before starting their day, instead of having to all get ready so they could drive us to where we stopped the day before.

The next day, we had a short day to Winnipeg and the roads were good, but we had some stops on gravelled drives. I had confidence going over the gravel; it seemed easy. It was really easy compared to what we had done the day before.  Not only that, the few metres we had to travel on the gravel seemed like a cake walk in comparison to what we had done.  The work done the day before and other days had given me the strength to hold my balance and I felt so much stronger for having fought the kilometres of gravel before.

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This was a side road in a small town in Saskatchewan. The gravel wasn’t too bad here and we could stay closer to the pavement.

We often run into gravel in life; those things that can make our life more difficult or even a bit miserable, and we feel like they are such a pain to endure. We get through, and the next time we realize it isn’t so bad. When we learn a new sport or try a new activity, it can be difficult. We don’t feel comfortable and it feels like it could take forever to get comfortable and have some semblance of control. It may be that first time you try to jog after years of not putting that action into motion, and it feeling totally foreign. Or getting on a bike or skates or skis after a bunch of years and fearing the lack of control before you even start, then navigating through those first shaky moments until you find that long-lost balance and muscle memory.

It could be the gravel we face is a task becoming more difficult; facing obstacles along our journey, dealing with setbacks in our progress or just feeling discouraged. Perhaps the gravel is an uphill battle in our mind; those times when we think we can’t do something, when everything seems sooo… difficult.  That is when we need to remember: this will only make me stronger; carry on!

Wind Is Your Friend, Or Enemy

Continuing with excerpts from an article I wrote a few years ago on clarity.  I am adding more information and here and there will also add an aside in italics just so you don’t get lost with my jumping around.

Wind is your friend or enemy; it’s perspective. We have had some challenging days on our cycling trips when it comes to wind. Those were the days we faced the wind. Since we are traveling across Canada from the west coast to the east coast we are basically going the same direction most of the time. That means as the wind changes from day to day, so does our perspective.  As we are riding, it always feels like there is a bit of a breeze from the front, blowing in your face. You can tell the direction of the wind, by how much effort you put in compared to the speed you attain.

We watched the weather forecast to see which way and how strong the wind would be blowing for the day. On the days the wind was against us we grimaced; still we went for our ride, and we reached for our goal. On our journey through the prairies we had two particularly bad days, on the same day a week apart. The first bad day, we only went 92 km, rather than the usual 100.  The second bad day, we made 100 but our unmet goal had been a loftier 120 km. I was thoroughly exhausted when we got to Moosomin, Saskatchewan, I was close to tears and the idea of completing the other 20 kilometres was out of the question.  It had been a south-east wind.  Usually I am in front and set the pace for the ride, but that day my dear husband took the lead so I could draft behind him.  That is when the front cyclist cuts through the wind making it easier for the following cyclists, in this case only me.  I worked hard at staying in his draft but still struggled with the wind and pushing through.  That day our average speed was only 20.4 km/hr and we were on the bike for 4 hours and 53 minutes.

The day after that tough 100 km ride, we woke up to the winds of change, or rather the change of winds.  A north-west wind was perfect for us as we were generally traveling in a south-east direction.  We made it from Moosomin to Brandon, Manitoba, 143.5 km.  We were on our bikes for 4 hours and 47 minutes and our average speed was 30.0 km/hr.  That was great considering we slow down looking for places in towns, slow when we stop for whatever reason and there was the big valley with a fast down, and slow up, just before reaching our destination.  That extra 20 km we didn’t do the day before was made simple that day and we reached the goal of the day despite the setback of the day before.

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The roads look really long when riding through the prairies.  They weren’t all flat as rumour would have it, but this little stretch of road in Manitob seemed to go forever.

So many times in our lives, we have the wind blowing the wrong way and we give up on our efforts and don’t make headway. We wait for that wind at our back and we don’t get to where we are going as quickly as we want and we can feel discouraged. On our journey across Canada, we ride despite the conditions, although we allow some flexibility because it is supposed to be fun. At home, I tend to be a fair weather cyclist, runner snowboarder, and sometimes even my indoor workouts are put aside due to unpleasant conditions. Conditions are not always ideal, so I need to find ways to do what I need to do when I don’t feel like doing it.  When I am cycling around our area, I usually do a there and back or a circuit.  I like to front-load the ‘against the wind’ part of the ride and have the wind at my back on the return. I sign up and commit to things and make appointments with people just to keep myself going no matter which way the wind blows.

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We also dealt with heat on our trip through Saskatchewan so took a day off when we reached Regina (one of those contigency plans) and toured the legislature, the RCMP Training Centre and driving to the filming site of Corner Gas.  Our trip is not just about the cycling but also the fun in the journey.

Each of the days we struggled against the wind, we put a big dent in our ultimate goal and at the end of each day we felt we had accomplished something even if it wasn’t as much as we had hoped.  We did more than we would have had we let the wind deter our efforts.  The bonus of riding against the wind was, at the end of those days we were stronger than the day before, both physically and mentally.

The wind is our enemy, or at least it feels that way when we are fighting it all day long, when we don’t seem to be making the headway we had hoped to, when every effort to move forward feels like a fight.  The wind is our friend which is no more apparent than when it is strongly pushing us toward our goal from behind.  The wind is our friend even when it isn’t apparent because we are fighting it all day long, when we don’t seem to be making the headway we had hoped to, went every effort to move forward feels like a fight, because that is when we are strengthened, that is when at the end of the day we feel like we did it anyway, because we had the strength to do it.  It really is perspective.

Some Will Call You Crazy

As I mentioned in my blog post Cycling Canada, I have been writing articles for a magazine and will be taking some of them and reworking into some blog posts.  This article had a bunch of things that became clear along our cycling journey.  I will do each as a separate blog post, with edits and additions and maybe some photos. So we begin:

One can gain a lot of clarity riding a bike for a few hours a day. When we plan our distance bike trips, we aim for 100 km a day and hope to go about 25 km/hr.  That is quite a few hours in the saddle especially if we are bucking the wind or climbing a mountain. I will share with you some of the things I learned along the way, and how it applies to our fitness journey and other areas of life.

Some will call you crazy; some will be inspired. We stopped at a small place in Saskatchewan where there were only a couple of food trucks. They said they were half way between everywhere. The ice cream guy asked us, ‘’Are you riding for a cause, or riding ‘cause you’re crazy?” We weren’t riding for a cause, so that left the second option. People express their amazement and admiration by asking if you are crazy. Other people simply  ask (or make the statement), because that is what they think.

As an aside, when we were traveling through the prairies and northern Ontario, there wasn’t always a large town, or even a small one along the highway in which to get food.  We did plan our days and relied on people letting us know if there was something on the way.  We ate at some pretty interesting places along the way and decided against the bar in that one tiny town that had a bunch of Harleys parked out front.  Somehow walking in with our bike shorts didn’t seem like a good idea, so we got on our bikes and headed to the next town.

Along the way we met other cyclists cycling across Canada only faster or farther in a year. We met people along the way who met many cyclists going through their area. It wasn’t weird to those people, nor uncommon. It isn’t strange or crazy to us.  We know people who have done it and are doing it. We have been to events where cyclists are way faster than I am, where they are going further distances and they look a lot fresher afterwards.  We have met and also know other cyclists who would be considered much better (more skilled) cyclists. The circles you hang in become your normal and are not as crazy as some may think.

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This was in British Columbia and it was cold and foggy while we climbed to the summit over 2 days.  A couple of kilometres later we had sunshine and warmer weather and it became much more fun, in part as well, because we were going down a bit more.

This past week I was talking to a friend’s mom who has been following some of my activities on Facebook and really enjoyed my updates last year as we did our trip.  This week I was talking about the Spartan Race and she expressed that she “Just can’t get into my head”. My mom kind of had the same response in asking me why I would do it. Neither understands why I would do such a thing because it isn’t something either would do or even think about doing. But that’s okay.

As you venture into a new, perhaps uncommon activity, you will have similar questions and comments. Do it anyway. Be inspired by someone who has learned a new sport, someone who started running after years of not, someone who is becoming fit and healthy. Find a sport, or activity you want to try, and just do it. Injuries and disabilities aside, your body is amazing and can do more than you think it can. Call me crazy, but I can do it!

I Am Sparta

I ran my first Spartan Race (Sprint) last weekend.  I was invited by my friend to join their team. My friend has been working out hard for the last couple years, after making the decision to improve her health and have more energy and strength.  She was supposed to go in it last year with her son but due to circumstances they were not able to do it, so this was the year.  She signed up a team with her–her son, her daughter, her niece, and invited me.  I wasn’t particularly interested in doing the event but I am competitive enough to realize I didn’t want my friend to do a Spartan before I did. So in a moment of weakness late one Saturday night a few weeks ago, I signed up…and the next morning the panic set in.

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My friend Holly and I before the race, hiding our fear, still naive to what we were getting into.

I have not been training for a Spartan.  I have a weak upper body.  I have extra weight to carry and to lift.  I have a weak upper body.  I haven’t run in a couple of months and certainly not 5 km…and I have a weak upper body.  Thankfully after announcing it in one of my classes that I had signed up (and clarified I hadn’t even been drinking at the time), our trainer gave me some pointers and upped the ante in some of the arm exercises.  Or perhaps I was just more focused on getting some upper body strength. I only had 2 boot camp classes and 4 kickboxing classes between sign up and race day.  I also did some yard work in which I incorporated some lifting, pulling, pushing and anything else I thought might help.  Then the day arrived.

The Spartan race was both easier and more difficult than I imagined. Let’s get the explanation of easier out of the way.  I thought I would die.  Okay, maybe not die, but I really wasn’t sure I could do it and if I did, I would surely die…or something a little less drastic but really bad.  I also thought I would be running a lot more between obstacles so my heart rate would be more elevated.  That didn’t happen.

I didn’t sleep really well the night before.  I went to bed at a decent time for an early wake up but I was awakened by the rain on the skylight.  It rained a good portion of the night and was still raining in the morning.  It was raining when we left (my husband came to cheer and take photos) and I was cold because that’s how a non-morning person feels when she has to get up early to do something, in the rain no less, she is not looking forward to doing. It continued to rain.  We arrived and it was raining and we got our packages and body marking.  I was planning to wear my thin jacket because I was cold.  We stayed indoors for the hour we had to wait for our time to start.  When we went out to start, it felt warmer and I ditched the jacket, a decision I was very happy with.

There were 5 or 6 groups that went out before us.  When our time group went out, there was a well-worn mud path and the rain was coming down pretty good.  By the time we got past the first obstacle we were going slowly because it was quite slick.  By the time we reached the 3rd or 4th obstacle, we were in mud all the way.  I slipped sometime around then and the front of my thigh hit a cut down little tree stick in the path.  It was sticking up a couple of inches and I happened to land on it. It brought back memories of the similar (but bamboo) one I had stepped on hiking in Hawaii.  Speaking of hiking in Hawaii, I was glad to have had that little bit of practice in January with scrambling and slippery slopes.

There was a lot of scrambling up and down and the slopes were very slippery and many of the paths were on the side of a hill and it seems we were usually walking on a slope with the left foot up.  My feet were sliding in my shoes and I had to tighten them a second time due to the mud.  The mud…the MUD, the slick mud, the sticky mud; I was prepared for the mud portion of the obstacles, I wasn’t prepared for the mud between all the obstacles.    Sometimes we had to walk in the dryer mud to not slip and other times we could walk through juicier mud which was easier to walk in but was deeper and risked a slip or stepping on something. The drier mud stuck to our shoes in thick layers on the bottoms, the sides and some on top. And then there were the actual obstacles.

There were quite a few walls.  We could help each other over the walls which is the only reason I got over most of them. Then there were the dreaded upper body things like monkey bars which I could not do at all.  I did burpees.  We had to do 30 burpees for every obstacle we were unable to complete.  I did burpees a few other times too.  I also avoided burpees with some help from friends. Another person helped me out and I helped her out on the parallel bars, because we could do piggybacking.  Some of the obstacles were so coated in mud and slick that it was impossible to do them without help even if a person could do it normally.  Burpees became more and more difficult.  Really, everything did as we went along; exhaustion has that effect.  I was getting hungry too because it had been so many hours since breakfast.  But success is built on carrying on.

There were things that weren’t so bad, things similar to what I do working on the acreage, like carrying the sandbag down the hill and back up, carrying the bucket with mud up and down the hill, and dragging the cement block. I was stoked about the spear throw (not that I do that on regularly, but I was pretty good at javelin back in the day), then the rope caught on my foot just as it was about to go in.  The high climbs were scary but doable.  The water hazard wasn’t too bad; I just didn’t want to fall under.  The mud crawl was pretty easy for me and being near the end made me more motivated.

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Crawling through the mud pit near the end, a smile on my face because I was actually finding it rather easy compared to other obstacles.

It felt good after the event to use a hose to wash off some of the mud.  I changed into some other clothes and was happy to shower when I got home.  The mud in the clothes took quite a bit of work to remove.  I was pretty exhausted through the day.  It was a similar feeling to our long bike rides.  Except for the bruises that slowly started appearing over the next 24 hours.  Most of them were from the edges of the two by fours that the walls were made of, one was from the fall, nothing major but they look pretty bad.

During and after the course, I was quite absolute in my thoughts that I would never do another Spartan or similar event.  It looks like fun on TV but it isn’t as much fun in real life.  Having recovered my sore muscles and my bruises phasing out, I am a little more objective and may consider the torture again.  Training for it specifically would be helpful.  At this point I am not making a commitment either way.