Out of Shape

How is it possible that I am this out of shape? How? I went and played a game of pickup softball with a few friends from improv, and now I am sore all over. I am sore in more places than I was after my ride. What is wrong with this picture?

I can understand why my arms would be sore – I haven’t thrown a ball in a long time. I can understand why my abs are sore – I laughed the whole time I was playing (I am a whole body laugher). I can understand why my foot is sore – I got hit in the foot with a ball. What I don’t understand is why my legs are so sore – I was cycling for 3 months! Shouldn’t this have bought me some kind of free pass for soreness caused by physical activity? At least for the next couple of months.

But no. Most of the muscles in my legs are sore. Apparently, while OK with the circular motion of a bicycle, my legs are still not down for running.

While running the bases, I felt myself getting out of breath. On the bike, I can pedal all day at a moderate pace. But when it comes to sprinting short distances, I am surprisingly frail. I am so not OK with this.

On the upside, I am now able to both sit and stand without sounding like I’m 90. For quite a while, even though I was stretching, it would hurt above my knee whenever I stood up or sat down (the actual motion of getting up or sitting down, not the static activity of standing still or sitting still). This caused much distress. Because (evidently) I am a fan of complaining, I would sigh/groan each time I had to perform the difficult task of lowering my body into a chair. However, this pain has since disappeared. Only to be replaced by the full body pain of a 2-hour leisurely soft ball game. Not a fair trade.

Also, I can feel the muscles in my legs getting weaker. Not that I’ve done a whole lot of exercise since I got back, but my legs are becoming a bit softer. Whereas before my quads were like concrete rods, now they are a like semi-malleable metal. This is probably because I am not riding a bike 8+ hours per day, and also because I am eating far fewer calories per day.

I guess I need to go back to the gym. At least my cardio’s probably still pretty good.

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Changes

“Um, you have a spider on your shirt,” she said.

“Oh, that’s just fuzz,” I said, about the piece of fuzz I had seen earlier but elected, for whatever reason, not to remove.

“No, I can see it crawling on you.”

Oh yes, there was a spider crawling on me. Not a particularly large one, but not microscopic either. “Hello little guy.” And then, ever so calmly, I flicked it away.

Let me put this in context. Last year, a similar incident happened: I had put on a scarf that had a large spider on it (in fairness, it was actually a really big and hairy spider). I did not notice the tarantula-esque spider until it started crawling up my neck to my jaw, at which point I screamed, swatted the spider to the floor, and stomped on it. A lot. My scream was so loud that the bus driver (I was on a bus) screeched to a halt in the middle of the road and looked back at me to check on me. Perhaps to see if I was still alive because my scream had probably sounded like an axe murderer was chasing me.

Maybe this bike trip changed me more than I once thought. I am definitely calmer about local wildlife crawling on me now. Also, whenever I meet someone from elsewhere in Canada, I can now have an intelligent conversation with them about their place of origin, rather than saying, “I hear it’s nice.”

Additionally, I am far more tolerant of terrible weather. I was working on a tour bus yesterday, when it poured rain. Poured. All day. It wouldn’t be so bad had I been on the inside of the tour bus, but tourists wanted to sit on the top of the open-top tour bus, so I had to be up there as well. Before this trip, I would have been really unhappy, cold, wet, and full of complaints. (One time, a fellow tour guide said that the tourists braving the weather upstairs were troopers. I said, what about me? She said no, I was not a trooper because I was complaining too much. Which I was.) But yesterday, all I could think was, “I’ve had worse.” It wasn’t that cold, I was dressed OK, and I could go home after my shift and take a hot shower and put on warm, dry clothes. Also, I was getting paid for this. Paid poorly, but still paid. Why complain?

I wonder how long these changes will last? In a few months, will I freak out because I find a house centipede? Next year, will I complain for 30 minutes straight because it’s chilly and I didn’t dress appropriately? Probably. But by then I’ll be ready for another trip to increase my tolerance for such inconveniences.

Tourist or Traveller?

 I’ve been thinking about this question for a while – on my bike trip, was I a tourist or a traveller? I have disdain for the word tourist. To me, tourism conjures the image of a Hawaiian print shirt, a camera around the neck, a large-brimmed sun hat, and a guide book. Tourists see what’s in the guide book, while missing out on the real experiences. They don’t get to know the locals, they get to know the other tourists at their resort. They don’t get lost on the local bus system, they take the air-conditioned tour bus to the designated location and then have 2 hours to have lunch and snap a few photos before going back to the hotel for the night. They see exactly what the tourism board wants them to see, but they don’t experience anything. They only scratch the surface of their vacation destination, and are spoon-fed the place’s brand. What’s the point?

Travellers, on the other hand, see and experience things first hand. They go off the beaten path, they get lost, they meet locals, and they see things that tourists don’t. To me, travelling is the way to go. If you’re not going to a place to experience different foods, sights, and cultures, then why not just stay at home at look at photos? Because really, that’s an adequate substitute for touring.

But what was I doing? Cycling long distances on a bicycle is referred to as “cycle-touring,” so was I a tourist? I wasn’t able to stay in most places for more than one night, I had to miss out on some sights, and (because as a lone female traveller, I felt safer) I stayed in campsites rather than free camping or using Warm Showers (like Couch Surfing but specifically for cycle tourists). Just like a tourist, I moved quickly from place to place, unable to really experience each locale. While I did try to live in the moment, not take too many photos, try some local foods/beverages, and talk to locals, was it enough to have been a traveller?

What could I have done to be more of a traveller, and less of a tourist? Maybe there’s a reason it’s called cycle touring. Had I stayed longer to really experience each place, I would still be in the Prairies by now. In order to complete my trip, certain sacrifices had to be made, but at what cost? I didn’t till a field, I didn’t go hunting, I didn’t go hiking in the mountains, I didn’t fish, or go off the beaten path, or diverge too much from my intended path. (Not that I would have wanted to do all of those things, but the principle stands.) But, I did try to take it all in, and appreciate the fact that I was lucky enough to have gone on this trip. I knew that every time I turned my head I would see something I had never seen before, and go somewhere I had never been before.

When I set out on this trip, my goal was to see my own backyard and learn to appreciate how amazing Canada is. I think I did that. But I can’t help but wonder if I did it as a tourist or a traveller. 

 

Back to Reality

I was walking up the stairs from the subway and noticed that it was dark. I thought, “shoot, do I have my bike lights?” I didn’t have my bicycle, so it was a moot point, but it proves that I am still in cycling mode.

I’m also still on bike time, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. I go to sleep at 10:30, and wake up early. On the one hand, I’m getting a lot of sleep, but on the other hand, I can’t stay up past 11. It’s causing a few problems.

Is this what real life was like before? Have I not changed at all because of this trip? My legs certainly are a lot stronger right now, but how long will that really last? I’m kind of adjusting to being a pedestrian again, although my legs and feet are definitely fighting it. I think they had just gotten used to the circular motion on the bicycle, and are curious when they’ll be going back to that. Since I hate riding my bike in Toronto, it won’t be anytime too soon. (After riding along beautiful roads like those in the mountains and Maritimes, battling streetcar tracks and crazy Toronto taxis isn’t quite as much fun.) I don’t think my ridiculous leg muscles will last too much longer.

I definitely do appreciate the variety of foods I can now have. Even just eating a homemade ham and cheese sandwich is very exciting – I couldn’t refrigerate anything on the trip, so homemade sandwiches for lunch were pretty much out of the question, unless they were made of peanut butter. I don’t even own peanut butter right now. It’s very empowering. I haven’t had rice in a couple of weeks. Which is good. Because now I hate rice. And peanut butter. And tortillas. If I don’t eat any of those things for a year, I will be OK with it.

There was a thunderstorm the other night, and I was lying in my warm and cozy bed, inside my warm and cozy apartment, listening to it, knowing that I would not wake up in a large puddle because I had set up my tent in a depression in the ground. And you know what? It was awesome. But at the same time, I did miss camping. The best way to experience a thunderstorm is in a tent, as long as everything is dry and will stay that way, and you have a fair degree of certainty that you will not be struck by lightning.

I do notice myself looking at bicycles differently now. I’m evaluating how they would do on a particularly steep mountain pass, or whether the frame and spokes could support my gear, or how comfortable the seat looks if a rider had to be in it for eight hours per day. I see cyclists speeding through the city and I miss riding. I don’t miss riding in the city, but I do miss riding. There’s just something so thrilling about seeing the world from a bicycle – everything goes by at just the right pace so that you can take in everything around you, but still get to the end destination in a timely fashion.

So, will I do another big bike trip anytime soon? Probably not in the near future, but it will always be in the back of my mind. I hope.

 Image

Back to Toronto

My feet hurt. That’s weird. I walked for a bit, I stood for a bit, and I cleaned my apartment (on my feet) for a bit, and now my feet hurt. This is absolutely not normal. I think my body is resisting its new upright position. Bring back the bike! We just got used to the bike! Body had just gotten used to cycling for 8 hours a day, why are things changing again?!?
It’s very strange not riding my bike anymore. I’m not sure this adjustment is as smooth as I thought it would be. For the first few days, while I was staying at Martha’s in St. John’s, I was a happy camper and was loving being off my bike – my muscles were relaxed, my joints weren’t being stressed, and my butt (my poor, poor butt) was finally getting a break from being on a bike seat. Sure, my legs, feet, and back hurt if I stood for more than 10 minutes, and my shoulders and neck started hurting if I stood for more than 20 minutes, but at least I was off the bike.
But then, I was driving my mother’s car full of my earthly possessions into Toronto to move back into my apartment, and I yearned for the bike. I got stuck in traffic on the cursed Gardiner “Expressway” and it took me two hours to get back to Oakville (normally about a 45 minute drive). I found that two hours driving a car more physically painful than cycling 150 kilometres in the prairies. Everything was sore when I got out of the car, especially my butt (my poor, poor butt).
I had a lovely time in St. John’s with Martha and her family (her husband, John, and her 13 year old son, Nicholas). They were absolutely amazing hosts, and I am so glad that I got to spend time with such wonderful people at the end of my trip. Martha is a phenomenal cook (I don’t throw that praise around without due cause), and I ate like a queen. At that point, I really would have gone for anything that wasn’t rice, tortillas, and peanut butter, but the quality of food was so much higher than I was used to. Awesome. I think I adjusted fairly well to not eating 5000 calories per day. The first day in St. John’s I was a bit hungry throughout the day, but only up until the point when my body realized we would not be getting back on the bike and riding all day.
My hosts showed me all around St. John’s and Newfoundland. We went to a museum called The Rooms where Mary Pratt (a Newfoundland artist) had an exhibit. As it turns out, Newfoundland is a pretty small and tight knit community. Martha and John are actually quite good friends with Mary Pratt’s children, and so they were able to offer a lot of insights into the paintings and the exhibit. “This is a painting of Barbie [Mary’s daughter]. She looks very sad here. She made the dress she is wearing because she couldn’t find anything she liked better.” They were more eloquent than that, but you get the point.
We also went around downtown St. John’s and did a bit of twacking. What’s that word, you say? Oh, it’s just a Newfoundland saying meaning to window shop. I may have picked up a couple of Newfie phrasings. No big deal.
When we had nice weather on Sunday, we went for a drive outside of St. John’s. They took me up to Cupid’s Cove (or Cupid’s something), which was the first British colony in Canada. 1610. So, that was pretty cool. We had lunch at a tea room there and I got to try a touton, which is basically fried bread dough served/smothered with either molasses or maple syrup. I think a few other cultures have it, but the Newfies do it well, and I enjoyed it very much. Martha took a photo of me eating my first touton and posted it to Facebook. At the end of the meal, a family who had been eating nearby came to say hello to Martha (once again proving that Newfoundland is tight knit), and congratulated me on eating my first touton. Gah! I’m not sure how I feel about everyone knowing my business all of the time, especially when all of the time is actually 8 minutes after the event.
Then, the time came to pack up my bicycle into a box to take it on the plane back to Toronto. I purchased, yes, purchased, a bicycle box from one of the cycle shops in town. All three cycle shops charge $10 for a bike box because everyone finishes their bike trip in St. John’s so there’s a market for bike boxes. Apparently no one ever starts their trip their. I can imagine why. Martha and John told me about some of the roads further west on the island, and the ridiculous winds that the west of the island receives. Apparently these winds occasionally blow tractor-trailers over. So yeah, I’m OK that I didn’t cycle that.
Nick, Martha’s son, helped me pack up my bike. Because I dive into things head first and only think about the consequences later (example: this trip), I removed and deflated the tires first. This, as it turns out, is not the correct way of going about dissembling a bicycle. I should know this because I dissembled my bike when I shipped it to Vancouver 3 months ago. The pedals should be removed first so that the resistance created by the chain and wheel can be used to counter the force of unscrewing the pedals. That was perhaps not a very clear description – YouTube explains it better. Anyway, the wheels of my bike were off and there was no going back. Fortunately, the 13-year-old, five foot eight inch Nick was able to use brute strength to remove the pedals. After that, it was a matter of unscrewing everything and figuring out how to get it in the tiny bike box. I swear that the bike box I bought in St. John’s was smaller than the one I bought in Oakville. I swear. The bike did eventually fit, but it was close.
It may have been a good thing that the bike box was smaller (I swear!) because it only just fit through the x-ray machine at the airport. Any bigger and I would have had to open the box, which I did not want to do.
Once I had checked my bags (the bike box and one of my panniers with my stove and knife and liquids and gels), I headed to security. Having already checked in online the day before, I had downloaded my boarding pass onto Passbook, an app on my phone that stores this type of thing. I did the same thing with my boarding pass when I flew from Toronto to Vancouver. I actually ended up showing the security personnel my boarding pass for my flight from Toronto to Vancouver instead of the St. John’s to Toronto boarding pass. They let me through, and I only realized the mistake later on. Even though there were different airports, and the date was completely wrong, I was allowed through to the secure area of the airport. I have nothing but confidence in this system. I did, though, get “randomly selected” for a pat down and for my bag to be tested for bomb residue. It was only because I was early for my flight and was the only person to go through security at the time. Don’t worry, I was clean.
The St. John’s international airport has eight gates. Eight. That’s not even enough gates for me to not spell out the word. Eight. I was boarding at gate one. One. I think when I left Toronto’s Pearson International Airport I left from gate 39. Not one.
I went to one of the three (three) stores in the departures lounge, which had a Tim Horton’s in it. I greeted the Tim’s employee and asked how she was doing. Mistake. She told me that she was good, but not really. “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” said I. Mistake. Because she then went on to tell me how her lupus was acting up again so she wasn’t really having a great day. I could not help but think back to the TV show House and recall that lupus was not contagious. I felt a little guilty about that, but she was serving me food and telling me about her medical condition, so I felt less guilty. Then she told me that the donut I was ordering was really fatty. We weren’t friends anymore.
The flight was uneventful. I was happy about that.
My dad picked me up from the airport and we brought my bike (disassembled) home, where my mother had prepared an amazing meal. There were no tortillas, rice, or peanut butter. I liked it. On the drive home I kept looking at the shoulder of the highway and thinking, “I wonder how it would be to ride on this road?” Shoulder looks a little thin, road conditions are OK, lanes are a bit narrow, but there are some gnarly pot holes. This, apparently, is how my brain now works.
After dinner, I slept in my sister’s bed (I don’t have a bed at my mom’s house – I took my bed to my apartment). It was tough getting to sleep because I was so wired from the day’s events – coming home to Oakville, seeing my family, sleeping in a bed, not being on a cross Canada bike trip anymore, you know, the little things.
I re-assembled my bike on Thursday morning. Because no trip on Air Canada is compete without something breaking, my read brake got bent in transit, and must be replaced at the bike shop. (Anything more complicated than changing a tire is not something I’m keen to do. I don’t even like changing tires.) I rode my bike to the shop (with only a front brake), and realized that I’m terrible at riding a bike without 50 pounds of gear on it. I was all over the road trying to bring the very light bicycle under control.
It’s taken me two days to move back into my apartment in Toronto. My sub-letter left things pretty good, but I cleaned everything before putting things back. It feels good to be back in Toronto, in my own apartment, in my own bed. (Technically, I haven’t slept in my own bed yet, but I am really looking forward to it tonight.) I start work tomorrow, so hopefully I will be able to establish some form of routine. Not that my life hasn’t had a routine for the last three months (get up, eat, pack up, eat, ride bike, eat, ride bike, eat, eat, set up tent, eat, sleep), but it will be nice to have my own space again.
It still hasn’t really sunk in that I’ve cycled across Canada. Everyone keeps saying that they’re proud of me and it’s really cool what I’ve done, but it still doesn’t feel real to me. I’m not sure if or when it will.
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