Kathy’s Lighthouse Legacy

Thirty years is a long time to live without your mother.

It’s 30 years of missed birthdays, Christmases, weddings and grandchildren. I’ve lived so many more years without her than with her.

2018 is a milestone year for me, filled with milestones I never could have imagined would be here so soon.

April 22 marks 30 years since my mom died at age 44.

April 25 marks the day that my daughter will be the same age as I was when my mom died.

And December 16 is the day that I will outlive my mother. I want to be too young to outlive my own mother. I’ve had to figure out too much of life without her.

Death anniversaries are reasons to grieve, but they are also reasons to celebrate that I’ve made it when I didn’t think I would. I couldn’t let this year of milestones pass by without doing something to acknowledge them.

After my mom’s funeral, friends and family returned to their homes and their lives, and so did we. There was a new normal now and we tried to figure it out as we went. Tears were saved for the night when I was alone. We talked about my mom occasionally, but I think it was mostly too painful. I wanted to get back to life as a normal teenager, but there really was nothing normal about my experience. I didn’t ask for the help that I didn’t know I needed. Extended family offered practical support as needed, but there was no grief counselling, no one to provide much needed emotional support. This isn’t to place blame. It’s just how it was.

All these years later, I am undone once again when I think of a family living through this kind of loss without the resources to process the pain and grief. This is where the Kathy’s Lighthouse Legacy project comes in.

I was inspired to create something special to celebrate and remember my mom, so I reached out to a local custom jeweler, Monica of www.glamjulz.com, (who also happens to be a dear friend) who helped me to design a very special bracelet in memory of my mom. A friend told me about the Lighthouse – a local organization that provides support to grieving children, youth and their families (www.grievingchildrenlighthouse.com). Sadly, a support like this was not available to me when I lost my mom.

I hope to raise funds for the Lighthouse and to inspire others through Kathy’s bracelet. I have set a personal goal to raise $5,000. It’s an ambitious goal, but I want to make a big difference!

To receive a bracelet, I am asking for a minimum donation to the Lighthouse of $75. As a tribute to my mom, the bracelet is purple to highlight her favourite colour, and it has a few beads that symbolize her love of nature. There is also a lighthouse charm as a symbol of hope and healing through grief. You can see photos here and on the Facebook page.

The Lighthouse will accept donations for any amount and I want you to feel comfortable to give whatever you are able. $5, $20, $1,000 or anything in between. You can donate directly on the Lighthouse’s website even if you don’t want a bracelet; under Donate, select Kathy’s Lighthouse Legacy option.

There is also a more “deluxe” version of the bracelet that has a gorgeous purple Swarovski crystal (extra special and sparkly!). For any donations of $200 or more, you will receive one of these deluxe bracelets.

Donations can be made directly to me via e-transfer at tkbaerg@live.com. If you’re unable to e-transfer, message me and we’ll figure out a different option. I will then donate a lump sum to the Lighthouse, who will issue tax receipts. Please let me know if you require a tax receipt, and make sure I have the necessary contact info (address, email address). Any amount is appreciated and welcomed. (Tax receipts factor in the cost of the materials for the bracelets).

I am so grateful for your love and support!

 

 

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Race report: Gravenhurst Duathlon

The Gravenhurst Olympic distance triathlon was one of my goals for many months. Having completed a long sprint distance in September (750 metre swim, 30km bike and 7km run) I felt confident that with 10 months of training over the fall, winter and spring, the distances of 1,500 metre swim, 40km bike and 10km run would be no problem physically to complete the race.

In addition to my regular club training four days a week, I regularly added my own swim and run sessions. I surprised myself by showing up at the community pool at 6 or 6:30am on Monday mornings, ready to swim for a solid hour or more. Being neither a morning person nor what I would yet call a swimmer, just getting there and doing the workouts felt like a huge accomplishment.

The feeling of completing my first 2,500 metre workout and my first 1,500 metre non-stop swim was indescribable. I was humbled at how far I’d come in a year, while also humbled at just how far I still had to go to gain more confidence, and, of course, more speed. Because as much as I am thrilled to complete, I am a competitor at heart and I want to keep improving. I feel I can compete in the bike and run, but the swim is holding me back.

Then in May, I did the Caledon triathlon and my swim segment imploded. What should have been an easy 400 metre swim in an indoor pool turned into some sort of panic attack, with me being unable to put my face in the water after the first several lengths. Not finishing the swim wasn’t an option, so when I realized that breaststroke also wasn’t working for me, I backstroked the rest of the race, leaving myself just 10 seconds before the swim cutoff.

Unfortunately, this rattled me badly, as this should have been a really comfortable swim for me. I never really got this out of my head before I participated in the Welland sprint distance a month later.

I felt great the morning of Welland and was excited to test the calm, flat waters of the canal. But that panic returned just minutes into my swim and I spent an awful 23+ minutes struggling to get through 750 metres. By the end of the swim, I’d pretty much talked myself into quitting triathlon altogether, feeling I was doomed to keep repeating this pattern.

Gravenhurst was just around the corner, though, and I needed to figure out what to do. If I couldn’t handle 750 metres, then I likely couldn’t handle 1,500 metres after jumping off a boat in the middle of the lake. The option was available to switch to the International Distance Duathlon, and I fought with myself for several weeks, right up until the deadline to switch events. I decided to back out of the triathlon and wait until I knew I could swim the shorter distances without panic. I felt a huge burden lifted as soon as I made the change. The stress seemed unnecessary and I had finally reminded myself that this sport is supposed to be fun – what’s the point otherwise? I am doing it for myself and really don’t need to worry about disappointing anyone.

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AKA: There is no TRI, only DU!

Race day in Gravenhurst was beautiful, calm with blue skies and not much wind. Within minutes of arriving, I’d found my teammates (Karen, Lydia and Jessie) and had already bumped into several other friends. While I may have occasionally told myself that I was taking the easy way out by not doing the swim, that was actually not true. This duathlon is 10km run on rolling hills with very few flat sections. That’s followed by a 40km bike also on rolling hills with plenty of traffic, and then 5km over half of those same rolling hills from the first run.

 

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Getting ready in transition

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Pre-race with Karen

I felt strong for the first 10km and enjoyed running with Karen for the first 6km. It was so helpful to be able to encourage each other and to maintain the same pace. The first 35km on the bike also felt really good, but I could feel myself faltering near the end – low energy and no desire to head out on another run. By then I had no water left and I had nothing to hydrate with in transition. It was all I could do to keep putting one foot in front of the other until the first hydration station. What had previously been “only 5km” now felt like so much more, especially because I knew what I was headed into. The hills were brutal and for the first time in a race, I walked for part of it. My body just couldn’t move any faster.

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Almost finished the bike and trying to smile

But I eventually did finish, much slower than I’d anticipated, but with a little kick at the end, and was so relieved to have it behind me. I have no regrets about the decision I made and know that I will always have the option to do the triathlon distance and this event again. At least an hour after I’d finished, as awards were being handed out, the last competitor headed into the finish chute while everyone was gathered on the grass. At age 84, this man was still able to complete the distance (the only one in his age category) and he got a huge cheer from the rest of the (much younger) athletes.

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Post-race with Karen

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With teammates Jessey and Lydia

Perhaps I’ll still be doing triathlons and duathlons in 40 years? If that’s the case, then I have plenty of time to nail the swim. There’s no panic – just keep swimming!

{Photo credit: Derrick Cormier}

 

 

 

Race report: Caledon Triathlon

On Sunday, May 28, I participated in the Caledon Kinetico KOS Triathlon with other members of my tri club, the Tornado Triathlon Club. Distances included a 400m pool swim, a 12.5km bike and a 5km run.

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The Tornado tent

I know that there will always be something I can learn from each triathlon I do, and this event definitely had some learning opportunities (maybe more significant ones than I wanted!). It’s easy for the memory of difficult experiences to slowly fade over time, so I wanted to capture some of that here before I forget and think, well that wasn’t really so bad, was it? It’s actually shocking how quickly a person can forget, and promptly sign up for the next event!

Triathlon is a pretty unique sport in many ways, but especially in the number of ways that things can go wrong. That sounds appealing, doesn’t it? I’ve now completed 5 triathlons, and each one had its own challenges, although nothing I wasn’t able to manage.

In my first ever triathlon (Iron Girl, Grimsby, August 2016), I made the silly decision to try something new on race day. The biggest piece of advice I’ve seen about triathlon is to never try anything new on race day. However, I chose to wear the new, “better sealing” goggles, that actually didn’t seal at all and I got so much water in my goggles, making me worried that I’d lose my contacts, that I could barely put my face in the water. Lesson learned. Won’t do that again. I also forgot to leave my socks in transition, but a last minute fix solved that. My next events were lacking in significant learning opportunities, thankfully.

And then came Caledon. I’ve been preparing and training for about a year now, week in, week out. I’ve spent a lot of time in the pool over the fall, winter and spring, and have gotten pretty comfortable, although not super fast, in the water. The Caledon tri offered a 400m pool swim, which is absolutely no problem for me – a typical training warm-up distance. I resolved to take it easy, wanting to finish comfortably within the allowed time and just feel good that I did it.

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Me with my teammates and training buddies, Lydia & Jill

But several lengths into the 14 length swim, I panicked. My heart rate was much too high and I could not keep my face in the water. All I could think was that the water was way too warm, so uncomfortably warm. I couldn’t understand why it didn’t seem to be bothering everyone else. I tried to calm myself by doing every second side breathing rather than every third, but that didn’t help. I tried to catch my breath at the wall, but it wasn’t enough to get me through the length. I did some breaststroke, but I couldn’t handle putting my face in the water.

Not finishing the distance wasn’t an option, so I just kept floundering along. I was desperately trying to get my thoughts under control, thinking that I could outthink the panic. That didn’t work either. I debated backstroke, but was worried about crashing into my lane mate. But at the same time I noticed that my lane mate was already out of the pool, I noticed another lady swimming backstroke in another lane, and I knew this would be the only way to finish. So, backstroke it was, and instead of having several minutes to spare before the cutoff like I’d anticipated, I finished with 10 seconds to spare. And even though it wasn’t pretty, I finished every single metre of the distance.

I felt fantastic coming out of the pool, knowing I wasn’t the last one (other backstroke lady climbed out at about the same time, which was nice), but also feeling not so fantastic, wondering what on earth I’d done wrong. It’s hard to put what feels like a fail behind you enough to focus on the next discipline.

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Never been more glad to run away from a pool!

The bike went well – nice, easy, 5-lap course where I was able to encourage and be encouraged by my fellow teammates along the way. And although my heart rate wasn’t settling as much as I needed it to, at least I was in my happy place. But my internal dialogue and mental self-lashing (along the lines of: “I’m going to have to quit triathlon!”) weren’t doing me any favours, especially as I started to think about the 5K I still needed to run.

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Happy, happy place

The temperature was definitely creeping up by the time I hit the run loop, 5-1K laps of a grassy, mucky field. My legs felt like bricks, of course, because that’s how they’re supposed to feel after the bike portion of a tri. I felt sluggish but finally noticed my heart rate settling about halfway through. I was able to talk myself into a bit of a harder push, and was able to make up some ground on some people ahead of me. It wasn’t a great 5K time, but I was happy with the way I finished, based on what I thought I could do, and what had already happened earlier in the race. Felt SO GOOD to be done, and to have plenty of my Tornado Triathlon teammates cheering me through the finish.

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Always the best moment of the day

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Great race, ladies! Proud of us!

I don’t know exactly what contributed to what I call my pool-fail, and I suspect it wasn’t just one of these in isolation. It could have been a series of things that would have been manageable on their own, but compounded, led to my little disaster.

  • not enough sleep the night before (but when do I ever get enough sleep?!)
  • glass of wine or two the night before (shouldn’t that have worn off 12 hours later?)
  • not enough warm-up (I did get my heart rate up before getting in the pool, but likely not to the extent that would provide maximum benefit)
  • less time in the pool in the two weeks leading up to the event than I’d been putting in for the past months (vacation and work were the culprits here)
  • too much pressure on myself (what can I say? I have high expectations and I want to see myself improve. I guess after this experience, I can ONLY improve!)

And there you have it. I’m going to take this as a learning experience and hope that it doesn’t happen again. I’ve talked to many accomplished swimmers in my tri club and almost every one of them has experienced something similar, so I know I’m in good company! I’ve now earned the nickname of Dory, as in, Just Keep Swimming…

I would definitely return to this race next year. It was well organized, relaxed, and a lot of fun. And I may just have a score to settle with that pool for next year.

Overall time: 1:11:32

Swim time: 11:50

Bike time: 29:57

Run time: 29:46

Floating Away at Zee Float

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea. ~Isak Dinesen

 

I love the truth of this quote, but it’s likely Dinesen never tried float therapy. If she had, I’m quite sure she’d add it to her list of salt water cures.
Ten inches of body temperature water. About 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt. No light. No external sound. Nothing.
I recently spent an hour in a floating chamber at Zee Float in Hamilton. Their website promises a generous list of benefits from floating, including relieving pain and stress, improving sleep, alleviating stress and promoting relaxation, and many more.
I was drawn in by the idea of zero stimulation. My days, like yours, are filled with phones ringing and text messages buzzing and never-ending emails and places to be (5 minutes ago!) and meals and laundry and groceries and activities and deadlines – basically non-stop stimulation coming at me. I am always doing and going, never just being.
Zee Float offers a relaxing spa-like atmosphere and I started to relax as soon as I walked in. After a brief tour, I was shown to my float tank (there are three different tanks – I enjoyed the Oasis Tank) and given instructions. It’s a very simple process, but things like a pre- (and post) float showers are essential, along with wearing ear plugs.
And then I floated. 60 minutes of…nothing.

No light – just total darkness. I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. No sound – other than my breath and heartbeat, and the occasional ripple of the skin-temperature water. The only stimulation was internal – trying to turn off my brain and slow down my thoughts. It feels so foreign and strange to do nothing, to simply be.

The experience of floating effortlessly is new to me. It didn’t feel like it should be possible. It was almost like lying in a tank of jello, or on a pile of soft fluffy pillows, totally supported, but without pressure points. The feeling of total body support is probably what surprised me the most. I didn’t expect to be able to achieve such utter body relaxation. (Will continue to work on the utter mind relaxation, but one step at a time).
60 minutes feels like a good amount of time to lose yourself (they offer some 90-minute floats as well, which I’ll try next time, because there is definitely a next time). I completely lost track of time and had no way of knowing how much time had passed. I don’t think I fell asleep, but I came close, as in when your brain waves shift to theta, that blissful place of almost-sleep.
The biggest challenge for me during my float was to slow my breathing down. I tend to take shallow breaths and rarely concentrate on taking full, deep breaths as I go about my day. There is such a difference when you can breathe mindfully. The air inside the pod was warm and humid, so I really had to focus on those deep, cleansing breaths.
Eventually, the soft music comes on, gently letting you know that your time floating is up. It’s a bit strange stepping out of the pod, after having felt weightless for the past hour. A salt-removing shower is the first step (showers are in the same space as the float tank, so it’s all very easy and private) before you dry off and get dressed.
After leaving your private room, there’s a lovely lounge to experience while you slowly prepare to get back to reality. There are comfy chaises to relax on, soft lights, a salt lamp, kombucha on tap (yum!) and tea, books to read or to write in and an oxygen bar.
There’s also a beautiful meditation room, something to try another time.
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And the verdict? Did my float session do what I hoped it would?
A definite yes! I generally sleep well, but that night was one of the deepest sleeps I’ve had in a long time. Things that might normally wake me up in the night…didn’t. The next day, some of my chronic back pain had eased. It didn’t, and hasn’t, gone away, but there was noticeable relief the day after floating. I am curious to see what would happen with more regular floats – perhaps floating provides cumulative results?
I guess there’s only one way to find out…
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 Check out Zee Float at 430 York Blvd. in Hamilton. You can read more about floating here and you can even book online.
If I had to choose one word to describe my first floating experience?
Bliss.

Never too Late

I’m walking across the pool deck wearing my brand new black and red one-piece swimsuit, my first-ever pair of goggles and a swim cap that’s pulling my hair in all the wrong directions. My daughter and son walk confidently in front of me, the pool deck as familiar and friendly to them as the back of their hands. It’s just another in a long line of practices for them.

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My insides have been taken over by butterflies and something funny (not funny) in my chest makes me feel like I could cry. I’ve got a creeping feeling of dread starting to build. My feet want to turn around and head back to the change room, get dressed and get out of there. But I stay.

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It’s my second swim lesson and I’m wondering if I’m always going to feel this way. I actually felt pretty confident going to the first lesson. Anything is learnable, right? How hard can it be? It’s just swimming. I feel like everyone knows how to swim! But it’s more daunting than I’d imagined. It feels less learnable than I expected.

“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”
― Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

In early January of this year, I decided on some very specific things that I wanted to accomplish in 2016. I’m not much of a resolution-maker, but I wanted some tangible goals to challenge me physically. When there’s a goal, the training has purpose, which leads to greater motivation.

My goals for 2016:

  1. Learn to do the splits for the first time in my life (status: worked on them regularly for a few months, got bored/frustrated with the goal – progress is SLOW! – gave up).
  2. Learn to do a handstand for the first time in my life (status: I’ve got a LONG way to go still).
  3. Learn to swim for the first time in my life (status: signed up for a triathlon in August like a crazy person, currently feeling confident about my cycling and running abilities, and now desperately learning to swim).

And when I say learning to swim, I mean from scratch. I have zero previous swimming skills or abilities, although I’ve never been afraid to jump in a pool or lake. I’ve rarely opened my eyes under water. I can’t dive – people cringe at my attempts. I’ve never put a swim cap on my head. And I live with three competitive swimmers.

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Learning to swim at age 41 is probably the scariest thing I’ve done in my now 42 years. (Splits and hand stands really aren’t that scary.) And so far it feels like an impossible dream.

For context, here are a few things that have been less scary than learning to swim: getting married really young (thankfully that’s worked out!), moving back and forth across the country several times (such an adventure), going back to school at age 38 (I loved it!), riding my bike down a hill at 60km an hour (such a rush – pun intended).

What the heck is so scary about swimming, anyway? I’ve always loved being near the water.

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It comes down to this. I hate having water in my face. Water in my eyes, water up my nose, swallowing water that I don’t want to swallow (ewww). And guess what. There is a whole lot of that when learning to swim. At least in MY learning to swim there is.

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And there’s this whole thing about learning to breathe properly. The simplest, most involuntary and natural action in life turns into a deliberate, carefully planned, crucial aspect of the sport and there isn’t really a margin of error.

Oh, you breathed wrong?! Cue pool water up the nose and plenty of gasping and floundering. It’s not pretty. And it feels awful.

Which is what my swimming has looked like to start. Floundering with a generous portion of flailing and a little side of gasping. And that is what is so humbling about this whole idea of learning to swim. I like to be good at things, now.  I’m not patient. I don’t need to be great, but I want to at least be competent. Call it pride, call it self-respect – either way, I have been humbled. A lot.

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When I struggle to complete  50 or 100 metres without needing a rest, I can’t imagine how I’ll swim 500 metres in an event. When I gulp water as I catch a wave while  swimming next to someone, I wonder how I’ll manage inhaling/drinking lake water while I swim with dozens of other people, who might also be kicking me (inadvertently, I hope, in the face). I am humbled by just how hard this goal is turning out to be.

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But I can’t give up now. I have the privilege of having incredible, patient coaches guiding me along the way. I get to train with my two oldest kids, who inspire me with their skill and how easy they make it look, but mostly with their work ethic. And a little voice in my head keeps reminding me that this is never going to get any easier than it is right now, so it’s probably a good idea to stick it out. Learning to swim in my forties is definitely going to be easier than in my fifties.

When I think about what I’ll wish I’d started today a year from now, I know that there won’t be any regrets.

And then, my coach tells me that what I’m doing is starting to look like swimming, and I know there’s hope. That this is kind of a big, scary dream after all, and it just might come true. It’s never too late, right?

And now, less than one month to see it all come together…

Why I Ride

In case you’ve ever wondered what possesses people to squeeze into spandex and hit the roads on bikes with skinny tires and uncomfortably small seats for hours on end, I’m here to give you a little insight.

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There are plenty of reasons not to ride, of course. Gravel on the sides of the road, nasty potholes, flat tires, rude and dangerous drivers, roadkill, unpleasant head winds, those less than comfortable spandex shorts that create funny looking tan lines (all those MAMILs – middle aged men in lycra)…

But here’s why I ride:

  • Because flying down a hill at 50 or 60 km an hour is the most terrifyingly exhilarating thing I’ll do all day
  • Because when I pass other cyclists, I feel empowered, strong
  • Because when other cyclists pass me, I’m motivated to push harder, to train harderIMG_6839
  • Because I can’t wipe the smile off my face when I’m riding (but really should to avoid getting bugs in my teeth)
  • Because those pesky hills make me stronger for my next ride
  • Because pushing through a strong head wind feels like a metaphor for life’s challenges
  • Because my bike takes me so many places I wouldn’t otherwise go

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  • Because of that carefree feeling of riding a bike as a kid – pure freedom
  • Because the road stretching long and open in front of me reminds me that life is full of possibility and surprise – one just never knows what’s around the next corner (please don’t let it be a big hill!)

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  • Because some of the best cycling roads around are just minutes from my front door
  • Because Burlington, Ontario is such a cycling mecca
  • Because stopping for a mid-ride coffee break for some of the best espresso (and possibly butter tarts), ahem, Flying Monkey Bike Shop, around is sometimes all the motivation I need
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  • Because I love feeling sunlight on my face (and sometimes raindrops)
  • Because heart pounding and legs on fire makes me feel alive

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  • Because when my mom was my age, her health was quickly deteriorating
  • Because riding 40, 50, 80km before lunch feels like an accomplishment
  • Because every pedal stroke, every mile makes me a happier, more grounded person
  • Because when I want to quit I only have to think of my mom
  • Because it’s just me, my bike and I

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  • Because the monotony of the miles, combined with being out in nature allows my mind to be creative in new ways
  • Because my back doesn’t hurt when I ride
  • Because the sun over the escarpment is all kinds of beautiful
  • Because old barns and quaint farmhouses and grazing cows and birds soaring overhead and bridges over creeks and streams and rivers and the sun rising over a misty field make me stop and notice and stare and feel grateful
     

     

  • Because spending time with this guy just makes life better: IMG_0990

New York City in a Nutshell

What’s the best way to experience New York City?

Based on our recent visit to the city, I’d have to say by foot, bike, taxi, city bus, subway, ferry and skyscraper, 100 floors up!

We saw far more of the city than I’d anticipated we’d have time for in a three-day trip, taking advantage of every imaginable form of transportation in the city (minus a horse-drawn carriage and rickshaw).

Our favourite form of transportation was, of course, our bikes. The streets of Manhattan are surprisingly bike-friendly, and even more surprisingly, we felt quite safe on our bikes. The city is in a perpetual state of organized chaos, and almost everyone seems to adapt quickly to the constantly changing flow of traffic. Throw in a hefty dose of horn-blasting and some well-timed cusses and the city is practically a well-oiled machine. It felt surreal riding a bike right through the middle of Times Square.

And while all that honking and yelling provides the musical soundtrack of the city, it’s the smells that are more pervasively memorable. A cacophony of sounds, but of scents, too. Bakeries and delis and coffee shops mix in with the wafting smells from street grates, sidewalk heaps of leaking garbage and exhaust from seemingly omnipresent taxis, and in every doorwell, a cigarette being enjoyed like fresh air.

We rode the city bus almost by accident, when we climbed on board to ask for directions. Of course we didn’t have the proper fare, but the driver took pity on us Canucks, as he called us, and dropped us off where we wanted to go.

Our trip was 9 months in the planning. Our purpose was to bring our bikes to NYC so we could ride them through the five boroughs of the city along with 32,000 other people, in what promised to be an epic and memorable (for all the right reasons) tour – the TD Five Boro Bike Tour.

Since the forecast for our Sunday ride was calling for rain, we woke up early on Friday and Saturday mornings, grabbed our bikes and rode Manhattan’s impressive system of bike lanes to Central Park. The bikes lanes that surround the park add up to an almost 10km ride, so we spent each morning riding around the park, stopping for photos, breakfast and coffee and feeling like we’d just won the lottery. We passed hundreds of runners, joggers and dogs with their owners, along with other cyclists and no shortage of horse-drawn carriages.

The morning of the bike tour was cold and damp, as expected, and got progressively more cold and damp as we rode. The smooth stretches of the paved road were slippery and the rough patches (there were many) made the roads even more dangerous, combined with all skill levels of cyclists. We hurried past iconic bridges and beautiful skylines that I’d dreamed of stopping to admire and, of course, take photos of.

New Yorkers stuck their heads out of apartment windows to watch and cheer, and some cheered along the sidewalks, including one particularly memorable elderly woman, toothless, unkempt hair and wearing only a thin floral nighty, but cheering her heart out, unfazed by the weather or being out in public.

Our goal was to climb the (thankfully covered) and daunting Verrazano Bridge and finish in one piece – mission accomplished. We ditched the finish line festival on Staten Island, rode to the ferry where we shivered our way past the Statue of Liberty, then rode all the way back to our hotel. It was a memorable 50 mile ride, but not for all the right reasons like we’d hoped.

 

And then there were the highlights.

We were hangry and chilled to the bone after nearly 6 hours in the cold and rain , so we headed to John’s Pizzeria for some of Times Square’s hottest pizza and the coolest ambience we could find. The restaurant is in an old converted church and boasts delicious food, huge helpings, a stained glass ceiling which resembles a pizza, and tables in the balcony.

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We enjoyed an incredible performance of Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre in the Theatre District.

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The set of Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre

We found our way to the East Village for tapas and sangria at Cork n’ Fork. We watched the first half of the Raptors’ game 7 at Hibernia in Hell’s Kitchen, then watched them win the game at Tonic in Times Square.

We wandered through the Garment District and shopped at Macy’s, then headed up 5th Ave for some window shopping and then over to Rockefeller Center.

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Rockefeller Center

We ate at the iconic Carnegie Deli, opened 79 years ago across from Carnegie Hall, where the meat on the sandwiches is piled so high it’s impossible to eat politely. The photo below shows half the sandwich we ordered, of which I ate less than half. If you don’t eat meat, don’t go to Carnegie’s! Definitely expect to wait in line, and bring a solid appetite.

We saw incredible architecture and interesting buildings everywhere we looked.

Visiting One World Trade Center was a sobering but uplifting (no pun intended) highlight of NYC. The tower rises 100 floors above Manhattan, with 360 degree views and many reasons to remember, including the memorial at ground level.

New York City is epic skylines and iconic destinations and massive deli sandwiches and never-ending lines of yellow taxis. It’s also blaring horns and glaring lights and tacky tourist shops and aggressive pedestrians.

But it’s also cheerful volunteers standing in the rain for hours to encourage cyclists; it’s the spirit of a 50-something woman who was excited to ride 40 miles in the rain, less than 6 months after she quit a lifetime of smoking; it’s the baristas at Gregory’s Coffee who served us some of the best espresso in Manhattan; it’s the waitress in Hell’s Kitchen who made sure we had the best seats to watch the Raptors game on the big screen; it’s the teen dressed in a generic reptile costume riding the subway (no judgment, only observation!); it’s the fellow cyclist who we happened to talk to on the ferry through chattering teeth, who told us the quickest way back to our hotel; it’s a bus driver who was more concerned that we Canucks got to our destination safely than that he collected his fare.

And that is New York City in a nutshell.