Friday, July 13, 2018

Seeing is believing

I've only managed to run 820km so far this year. It should be around twice that number, but injuries suck, especially when they rob you of your confidence. I've had a lot of trouble with my brain telling me awful things about myself over the past months, and it gets difficult to cope with at times.

I'm only 38 - I can't be in the sunset days of my running adventures, can I?

I've struggled some with body image, since the lack of training has left me a few pounds heavier than I'd like to be - things don't fit the way I'm used to, and it's discouraging to put on an outfit you love and discover it's too snug to hang properly. Mostly, though, I've struggled with feeling weak when I work so very hard to be strong, and that leaves me questioning my competence...and not just in running, either.

A few photos have recently helped me see that maybe it's not as bad as I think, though, so I am going to unabashedly post them here.

Tanker took this one on Canada Day while I enjoyed a sublime evening paddle on Lake Erie. When I threw on those bikini bottoms I felt like I bulged out over them horribly and everyone would laugh at the chubby chick with the muffin top flailing her way around on a board. While yes, there's a bit of extra insulation there, what shines out to me in this photo is the strength in my quads - the same strength I felt was slipping away from me as I limp my way through this season of running beset by pain and frustration. Despite the hours I've spent lifting and even running a recent ultra, I didn't know I still had those quads.

This is another example of a photo that surprised me with the visible strength in my legs. I was just trying on a pair of board shorts at MEC and took this photo to send to Tanker.

Those calves, thighs and butt don't look like someone who has been slacking off in their training. They look like someone who has spent years building strength and endurance through forward motion. It can be hard to feel like that person these days, but the truth was there in the mirror if only I'd take the time (and get my mind right) to look.

The last photos are actually unrelated to running, but is still tie directly into the theme of confidence in my own competence. My motorcycle has been running like junk for the last couple of years - hard to start, stalling when coming off the throttle, and with a horribly uneven idle when it's warm. I thought I had the idle problem licked after a clutch adjustment (it had to be done at the motor - I was out of adjustment at the lever), but it returned despite improved shifting. The throttle was also sticky; I'd have to manually roll it off when shifting from 2nd to 3rd or the motor would stay revved, which is hard on the bike.

My poor girl deserves better.

The last thing I could try before sending it off to a licensed mechanic for untold hundreds of dollars of diagnostic and repair work was a valve adjustment. It's specced every 24,000km, the bike has almost 68,000km on it, and apart from the initial adjustment after the break-in period (around 1,500km) I think I'd only done one other maintenance adjustment around 27,000km. So, the poor girl was definitely due.

The problem is that it's about a 5 hour procedure that takes quite a bit of skilled wrench work, and I didn't know if I was still up to the job. It's been years since I attempted anything terribly challenging on a bike - I think the last delicate procedure was installing a set of forward controls on Tanker's bike all the way back in September of 2015.

On a horribly hot day, in someone else's garage, with a somewhat hodgepodge selection of tools..

Knowing that we had a big trip coming up, I had to pull on my big girl panties and get after it. There is a lot of frustration involved in the valve adjustment: there's no bloody clearance, which makes it difficult to even get the valve covers off, and once you do it's nigh impossible to get a feeler gauge under the tappets (they have to be bent into a lazy Z-shape in order to sneak under there)...but I actually managed it.

Just enough space for my fingers between the frame and the rear cylinder intake valve cover.

The front cylinder inner exhaust valve is about the only one you can properly see.

There was a lot of swearing, loads of cursing the Suzuki engineers who designed this nightmare, and one I-hadn't-eaten-for-8-hours tantrum when it looked like I'd be unable to remove one valve cover due to a stripped bolt head (8mm hex heads with no clearance? REALLY?)...but walking away for 10mins and having a snack got me sorted out enough to finish it up. I even did some cleaning & lubrication of the throttle body while I had her tank off.

She looks so sad without her tank and saddle..

When she was finally all back together at 10:30pm, I didn't even have the guts to start her up to give it all a listen. I'd had to go very carefully just to get everything rebuilt the way it should be: flywheel cover, inspection port cover & valve covers re-installed; pair valve hose re-attached; tank & wiring harness re-connected and bolted down; gauge cluster re-connected and bolted back in place...all while thoroughly exhausted. If I started her up and it was clear I'd somehow made things worse, or if she wouldn't start for some reason, I would have collapsed into a sobbing I just waited until the next day when I had no choice, as I had to warm her up in order to do an oil change as well.

Blood transfusion time!

Fortunately, while a little on the loud side (I set the clearances a little loose, as I feel it's better to lose some top-end power with loose valves than to risk burning a valve by having them too tight), my hard work seems to have done the trick. She started up much more easily than she has in ages, and after the oil changes on both bikes we took them out for a ride.

Let's go already!

The variable idle is gone. She doesn't belch black smoke when I really dig into the throttle. She honestly feels fantastic - like I got my girl back. The throttle doesn't stick anymore, either!

Almost like I knew what the hell I was doing.

So, as we head out this Sunday on an adventure filled with uncertainties - motorcycle touring alone can be a bit chaotic, let alone camping and attempting to climb some mountains along the way - I can look at these photos and feel just a bit less like the weak, pathetic, hapless idiot my mind wants me to believe I am.

Listen here: I even managed to take a photo while STANDING UP on my board on Sunday evening!

And I'm bringing my running shoes along, because there's this:

Waterfront trail section near our first night's campsite

And this:

Trail in Parc National du Mont-Tremblant

And this:

View from a trail near our campsite in Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier

So you'll be spared my sniveling for a week while I go use my confidence to ride my newly improved bike to some beautiful places, then let these strong legs carry me to see some incredible things. I'm grateful to have the strength and competence to go explore our amazing world in these ways, even if I sometimes lose sight of my own worth.

I'm also grateful to have someone around to remind me, even when I don't listen very well.

He's always got my back.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Board not Bored

When Tanker and I booked our campsite at Long Point for the Canada Day weekend and I saw that there were no trails at all in the park, I thought I might end up bored.

Sun, sand and SNORE.

I'm not a beach person, really. I grew up on the water, sailing and playing in Lake Ontario, but I've never been one to just sit on a beach, and even wading tends to lose its appeal after fifteen minutes or so. I haven't been going to the pool lately (schedules changed, a pool closed, and now it's almost impossible to get to a lane swim that isn't ridiculously late) and have no triathlons on the horizon, so an open water swim wasn't too appealing beyond a bit of splashing around to cool off.

Then, things got interesting when my Mum bought me an early birthday present.

I really am a spoiled brat.

All the way back in October of 2011, I'd taken a stand up paddleboard lesson with Bill Trayling while we were up in Muskoka. While Lake Simcoe on a windy day wasn't the most ideal place for a clumsy first-timer, I did actually manage to get the hang of it.

I only fell off once.

Bill even got me to try some schmancy planks.

I absolutely loved it, as I do pretty much all paddle sports - I've been canoeing and kayaking since I was a kid, and I've always derived limitless joy from being out on the water. I looked into renting paddleboards around Port Rowan, Turkey Point and Port Dover, and there were a few options...but with the heatwave and the long weekend, everyone and their dog was going to be down on Ontario's South coast wanting to play in the water. The couple of places I talked to said I should have reserved a board for rent a month or more ago, as they were solidly booked. It looked like my odds on being able to get out for a paddle were pretty slim, until my wonderful Mum stepped up and bought me a board of my very own.


After hitting the market on Saturday morning, having brunch and heading down to the park, we got ourselves all set up at our campsite...conveniently located about 100 feet from the beach! As soon as our tent and bedding were sorted and our gear was stowed, I grabbed my board and paddle and climbed over the dune to get a look at Lake Erie.

And I do mean climbed.

The lake was a little ornery from the wind that had been blowing all day, but I headed out regardless.


Gawd bless Tanker and his quick camera skills. Despite the 4' ground swell and fairly extensive break, I did actually manage to get to my feet a couple of times.

I can't believe he managed to snap a pic!

Both times, though, I met the water at speed within a second or two.


But I had a lot of fun just paddling on my knees and learning how the board handled.

She surfs really well!
Me, less so.

Tanker and I did some wading as well to cool off (though I'd been in the drink plenty - even managed to fall off from my knees once!) before heading back over the dune.

Love having fun with this guy!

We had a wonderful evening at our campsite - the dune broke the wind off the lake down to a lovely, cooling breeze, I cooked us up a good dinner, and we walked on the beach at sunset.

Yes, I do enjoy this part of beach life.

Then we sat by a campfire and toasted maple marshmallows. We even made s'mores with 70% dark chocolate and (because of my food allergies) corn tortillas.

I call them s'mortillas.

I hadn't worn shoes since about 30mins after we arrived - it was delightful just walking around barefoot in the sand all afternoon and night.

Even toasting my tootsies by the fire.

We had to climb back over the dune around 11:30pm to have a look at the incredible orange moon over the lake, leaving a glowing trail on the surface.

And then we ran away, because apparently all the mosquitoes went down to check it out, too.

Sunday - Canada Day - dawned just as sunny and hot as the day before.

I could get used to waking up to this.

It was all I could to do restrain myself from running straight to the beach with my board, but there were priorities.

Pancakes with lots of maple syrup - what better way to celebrate Canada?

As soon as brunch was done, though, off I went over the dune. The wind had dropped overnight, so I found a much calmer Erie, and quickly made it to my feet once I paddled out past the break.

I got up and stayed up!

I had a lot of fun even with some remaining ground swell trying to tip me off the board, but it certainly wasn't very cooling - I was pouring sweat from the exertion of balancing and paddling under the hot sun, and only my feet were really getting wet.

But, I brought last week's crayon art to life!

Once he'd done the dishes from brunch - after I'd paddled around for about 45mins under the blowlamp noon sun - Tanker came down to the beach to join me. Due to a traumatizing childhood experience, he's a little ware of open water...but he shares my love of paddling, so decided to give my board a try.

He started on his knees to get a feel for it..

He got standing up for a minute, too!

A tumble into the water later he'd had enough for one day, but has said he'd like to try again!

So proud of him!

I had done some research before we left and found a tract of trails not too far from our campground called Backus Woods. I didn't want to go the whole weekend without running, so we headed over there after I got changed into something a little more appropriate for running.

Not to mention a little more patriotic.

In sweltering heat and vicious sun I ran into the trails from the wild turkey release historical plaque trailhead, enjoying the shade of the trees for a bit before emerging at a sun-drenched creek.

And some seriously overgrown trail.

It was absolutely beautiful running through the tract, but the trails are obviously not very well used despite maps at every trail crossing that make navigation incredibly easy.

Even a lemming like me couldn't get lost.

I could see why some might be hesitant to explore in the high summer, though - the woods were absolutely teeming with mosquitoes and deer flies, all hungry for a taste of sweaty runner! I ended up running much harder than I would have otherwise just to try to escape them, as stopping or slowing to a walk would lead to every part of me being absolutely covered in biting insects.

The network of streams and bogs that criss-cross the tract likely don't help with the bug situation, but the footbridges are lovely.

I put in a little less than 7km, doing the outer perimeter of the section between 3rd Con & 4th Con, then called it a day while I still had any blood left in me.

I'd usually hike a hill like this, but that wasn't an option here.

Afetrwards we made a lightning trip into Port Dover to hit an amazing bakery, and I went for a wade at the main beach to cool off after the sweltering run. The lake was like glass there, and I had a pang of jealousy - why couldn't it have been that smooth when I was out paddling?  We did a little bit of browsing through some neat shops, then headed back to camp.

I was feeling a little worn out, so didn't know if I'd actually take my board out again - my quads were feeling my noon paddle, as your legs work pretty hard to keep you balanced on the board, and I actually considered buying an inflatable lounger at a camp store we stopped at so I could just float in the water to cool off. I did pick up some after-sun moisturizer as I'd got rather badly burnt while out paddling after brunch, but decided against the lounger - I could just wade and float a bit.

Once we got back and settled in, I threw on a tank top and a fresh pair of bikini bottoms, and decided to bring the board over the dune to the beach. I figured I could always paddle with my hands, laying on my belly so I'd get wetter and stay cooler, but I brought the paddle along just in case.

I'm so happy I did.


While Tanker treated himself to a cigar on the beach, I paddled calm, smooth waters for another 35mins in one of the most transporting experiences I've ever had. The last of the stress from my work week - which had been extra hectic - simply melted away in the golden evening sun.

Happy girl.

The breeze was freshening, which did a lovely job of keeping me cool as I paddled but boded poorly for wave conditions come morning. That was a problem for another day, though - for now it was back to our campsite for a tasty dinner and another campfire to round out what I honestly believe is my best Canada Day ever.

Still barefoot.
I wore shoes to run, and flip flops in Port Dover, but that's about it.

Monday morning brought more sun and a stiff wind off the lake. The latter helped keep the mosquitoes down at our site while we had brunch, but the former, well..

You tell me if you think I needed more sun.

Having already been down to the beach when I got up for a pee around 8am, I knew there was no chance I'd be able to stand on my board to paddle before we left.

Lake Erie got a little angry again.

So, after we packed up camp, I brought my board over the dune again but left the paddle behind. It was time to try some surfing! I started by paddling out with my hands and surfing in on my belly, but soon figured out that it was easier to just walk the board out past the sand bar until I was in neck-deep water, then jump and scramble up on the board and start paddling to try to match speed with an incoming wave. After a few times I decided to try popping up to my knees when I caught a wave, and it was a riot!

No, I didn't try getting to my feet.
I know I'm a klutz!

It was a ton of fun, and despite my burn I spent nearly an hour just playing in the waves.


By 1pm, though, it was time to get on the road home so we could unpack and get ready for another week at work. I was sad to say goodbye to our beachy haven, but I look forward to many more adventures with my awesome birthday present!


As a matter of fact, as soon as I get home this evening I think I may have to go out to one of the lovely little lakes that surround our home for a quick paddle. The heatwave may have finally broken, but there's still plenty of sunshine, and it always looks even lovelier from the water.

Best Canada Day weekend EVER!

It sure doesn't hurt that standing on the board helps me work on balance and proprioception, which are areas that will help with my ankle injury and with trail running. So technically it qualifies as well as being a ton of fun!