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Waterloo Region CrossingDespite all my preparations for the Waterloo Region Crossing, to be honest I wasn’t sure whether I would manage to complete it. While I had done my best to get in shape, my training sessions had involved going an hour at most. Determined though to at least do my best, I made sure I was ready to board the bus in Waterloo by 6:15 am (before the sun was even up!) for transport to the event’s starting point.

For those that do not know, last weekend I participated in this trek for which the focus was to raise awareness of, and funds for, homeless citizens. I had chosen to participate in a shortest, 8 km Pioneer version of the trek, though others who had signed up for full 65 km would walk for nearly a day.

My confidence was buoyed at least somewhat because I would be doing the trek with my friend Suzie Nunes. Just, as I have shared, I had additional reasons for participating, Suzie would be walking for Detlef (Duff) Becker. Trauma survivor and previous street person, Duff had been planning on doing the trek, and had tragically passed away just a couple months previous.

Night sky

Night sky. Not a picture of the sky that morning, and that’s how dark it was when we set off!

Setting off!

Walter Bean Trailhead

Walter Bean Trailhead

After a short ride, the bus arrived at our starting point, the Walter Bean Trailhead. Following a brief recognition of the traditional First Nations land that we were on, everyone started off down the path. And a mighty group we were! About one hundred trekkers in total, much more than the handful of those who participated the previous year when the trek started.

Right away, I noticed what a mistake it was for me to not be wearing my ice cleats! Starting off as fairly icy, the trail quickly became at certain points like an ice rink!! Stopping to put on my cleats, (cumbersome Velcro ones that had been purchased years ago), nearly all the trekkers passed us, minus a few at the back who were in the support crew.

Charles Whitlock

Event volunteer Charles Whitlock

This made me nervous! Not the best of navigators, I wanted to stay with the group in case of an unexpected turn that got us lost. Eventually to my relief though, around the point where we turned onto a path along Blair Road, my friend and I got hooked up again with some others. This included professional hiking leader Charles Whitlock who I did not mention earlier, but had done my gear check the previous day.

With my legs at this point already starting to ache, I enjoyed hearing some of Charles’ travel adventures to take my mind off how I was feeling. When he eventually went on ahead, I happily noticed around that point how far we had already come, and felt hopeful that I would finish the event.

A “Rare” opportunity

Sign Lamb's Inn located in Rare Charitable Research Reserve
Despite my spirits being lifted, I will admit I was relieved to discover we had reached the point where we could rest and recharge at the Lamb’s Inn. This was part of the Rare Charitable Reserve, a place roughly just a twenty-five minute drive from my house. Unbelievably, I had actually never visited this place before. I felt excited to be exploring parts of my area that were so close and yet previously unexplored by me!

The walk continued along the Record Heritable Trail, along a pedestrian bridge that crosses the 401. Although the scenery at that point wasn’t wonderful, I was impressed by the creation of this bridge that made it possible to pass what otherwise would have been an impenetrable barrier.

I believe that, around where the trail passing the Doon Valley Golf Course, we encountered some deep inclines. I remember, despite wearing cleats, holding onto the railing to prevent myself from sliding down the icy path, trying not to slide into a fellow trekker in front of me. Glad-fully that did not happen and there were no injuries to report!

An event of great significance

Bald Eagle - Back from the Brink

By now also having passed Conestoga College, we were in the final stretch, walking along a trail that ran through some cornfields. Around then perhaps the most memorable part of the trek for me occurred – a bald eagle flying was spotted flying in the sky!

Too high up to get a photo, I would never have noticed it if not for some other trekkers pointing it out. Despite how hard it was to see, everyone seemed incredibly thrilled to see it, and a trail sign that we had just passed underscored the ecological significance of the sight. As the sign described, bald eagles were a once common sight over the Great Lakes area, but had become an endangered species since the mid-1950s. What a miracle it was then to see this beautiful bird!

Seeing an eagle on the trek had great significance to me personally as well. That is because for me, eagles are signs to me of the need to take perspective and look at the big picture. I had undertaken the trek out my desire to challenge my self and start living out more of my dreams. The eagle seemed to me a powerful reminder to do continue doing this.

The last stretch

Suzie and I at Pioneer Tower!

Suzie and I at Pioneer Tower!

Following this, we only had a short distance to go. Though a difficult last bit it was for me! My boots were digging into my ankles and my legs felt as stiff as boards!! Despite having chosen the shortest trek, I started feeling unsure whether I was going to make it. I knew though that this trek was important, and, despite my discomfort, continued on.

When we at last reached Pioneer Tower, I could not believe it! Though my muscles were tired and I was hungry, this trek that I had so long prepared for was actually done!!! Where this will all lead, I did, and still do not, know. I am glad though for the experience of it, one that I expect to remember for many years to come.

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My Story of the Waterloo Region Crossing 2019

[Story 1]  [Story 2]  [Story 3] [Story 4]

 

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Early on, I realized that going around town to buy my gear for the Waterloo Region Crossing that I participated in last weekend did not make sense to me. My reasoning for not wanting to do so was this: I didn’t want to be trying to make the ends justify the means.

Briefly, for those that do not know, I participated in this trek to help connect the dots between homelessness, land-use, and global climate change. While the first two issues were what the event organizers had focused on, after a lot of thought, I decided that I also wanted to do the trek for climate change too given how these issues were closely interrelated.

Especially after having put so much thought into my reasons for participating, I wanted as much as possible to align my goals for the trek with how I prepared for it. This included my process of getting “in gear” so-to-speak, with my equipment.

Aligning with my goals

A photo of a Nissan LEAF (Author: EurovisionNim. Source Wikipedia)

A photo of a Nissan LEAF (Author: EurovisionNim. Source Wikipedia)

The most obvious reason for my decision was that forking out funds for gear that I might only use once ran counter to my goal of raising money for homeless citizens. Given that they often cannot afford the clothing they need, how would it make sense for me to purchase clothing that I might never use again?

As for driving around town unnecessarily, for those that know me, that may seem confusing given that my family owns an all-electric vehicle, (a Nissan LEAF to be exact in case anyone wants to know). A type of vehicle that I want to quickly add I know not everyone has the means, or should be expected, to buy, and that I realize we are quite fortunate to own.

Without a doubt using an EV saves A LOT of energy compared to the average combustion engine vehicle, and we try to augment that by charging it at night when electricity is more likely generated from hydroelectric and nuclear sources. These being energy sources that at least have lower “downstream” carbon footprints once the necessary infrastructure is put in place..

However, driving reduces the lifetime of the battery, and the manufacturing of batteries, as well as the vehicle itself, whether electric or not, results in the production of greenhouse gas emissions. So, for relations relating to my transport, I did not want to drive around town unnecessarily while purchasing equipment for the trek.

Less obviously although also important to me, I did not want to purchase my gear from mega-stores. This is despite how difficult this can be given that, for the most part, this is at least where most real-life (as opposed to on-line) sales occur nowadays.

I won’t mince words in saying how frustrated I feel with how these stores perpetuate urban sprawl — frequently locating away from the heart of the city, using up large quantities of land, and stealing customers from small local businesses so as to bring about urban decay and the loss of local jobs. The impact on the homeless includes less land being available for affordable housing, and the location of goods and services in inaccessible, car-centric places, amongst other things.

Having said this, *without a doubt* I realize that buying from these stores also can be a necessity nowadays, especially for those with less disposable incomes or with many members in their household. As I said, trying to find products other than in these stores can be difficult, and I shop in them too occasionally. Trying to avoid shopping at them just made particular sense to me in the context of my trek.

The approach of the tortoise

Aldabra giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea) (Source: Wikipedia)

Aldabra giant tortoise (Wikipedia)

My solution to dealing with these challenges was to adopt the approach of the fabled tortoise as opposed to the hare. I did a little bit to prepare my gear each day or so, for a couple of weeks prior to the event. This gave me time to go gear hunting – first in my home and then with my outdoor-loving friends and neighbours.

Even with all this,  a few days prior to the trip I discovered to my great panic some items that I still needed (including electrolyte tablets which I had not even heard of before!). Fortunately, firing off a couple more email messages and texts helped me find people who kindly lent them to me.

There were also a couple items that I still had to buy, including some mitts that I felt I desperately needed to avoid potential frostbite as well as some gaiters to keep the snow out of my boots. I did though purchase these items from stores that I have greater respect for (including one largish store that at least is located in a fairly central location) and that I was able to visit en route during another trip.

Warm mitts!

Warm mitts!

Check, check, check!

Pharmacist at Alphamed Pharmacy

Helpful pharmacist at Alphamed Pharmacy

With all the difficulties I had experienced with preparing up until that point, for some reason I had it in my mind that the gear check would be also challenging. To my great joy, my experience was pleasant and everyone who helped officiate this process was quite encouraging.

The only hitch arose when I was asked if I had Band-Aids. Technically they weren’t required, and common sense dictated that I needed to bring some. As we had run out of quality ones at home, I ducked afterwards into a small local drug store, Alphamed Pharmacy, that I hadn’t visited before. As I was in there, I shared with the pharmacist why I needed them, and he, without me even asking, offered me a discount on them. Not a major discount, and I nonetheless appreciated his thoughtfulness.

***

This last experience in the pharmacy encapsulates my experience with gathering my gear. It felt like my entire ‘tribe’ of family, friends and larger community helped me get outfitted for the trek. I was so glad-full for their help and excited by the feeling that everyone was coming together to make the trek possible! A much-anticipated trek about which, at long last, I will try to share with you about next.

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My Story of the Waterloo Region Crossing 2019

[Story 1]  [Story 2]  [Story 3] [Story 4]

I desperately needed to train! That was the discovery I made when I first started preparing for the Waterloo Region Crossing, a trek that happens in the dead of winter with the goal of raising awareness about the risks of exposure for the homeless.

I’ve already shared a little bit about this trek earlier, a trek that, after a fair amount of preparing, I finally ended up going on last weekend. I’d like to talk more though about my process of training, a process that as I was to discover, had both physical AND emotional aspects.

A difficult start

The warmest pair of gloves prior to the trek!

My warmest gear for my hands prior to the trek!

Most definitely part of the training that I needed was physical. I just needed to don my gear (more on that to follow), get outside, and start moving! I knew this because, during my first brief training walk just three weeks prior to the trek, I was barely able walk a half an hour was around my small neighbourhood. How I would manage the 2 1/2 hour, 8 km ‘Pioneer’ trek that planned to do, I had no idea.

Running counter to this need to walk though was the possibility of knee troubles. In the past, pain in my knees had prevented me from with doing physical activity. I worried that with too much walking, they might give out on the day of the trek.

That leads to the emotional component of my training process. I was, to be honest, feeling quite nervous about it all. It had been a looooonnnnng time since I had done anything seriously physical. Yes, I had done long distance running in high school, biked in university, and cross-country skied during what I call my paid labour days, though my days of doing all that were long in the past.

My Training “Strategy”

The glamorous headgear I wore for training in -30 degree Celsius temperatures.

The glamorous headgear I wore to train in -30 degree Celsius temperatures.

A mom of a young daughter and volunteer, finding time for just a brief walk can be difficult. Determined though, I found ways to train, fitting in small walks here and there. At the beginning, I was able to only find time to walk about a half hour tops. Then one day I excitedly realized that I could get in longer one-hour walks in Kitchener while my daughter was in gymnastics. Or at least I felt excited until the first day I went to train at that time.

That day I realized, to my horror, that day we were in the middle of a -30 degree Celsius cold snap! A cold snap complete with strong winds as well!

Not to be deterred, I put on nearly every warm article of clothing I could outfit myself with. That is minus my face mask and ski goggles, which I carefully, surreptitiously, donned outside the gymnastics centre, for fear of how I would look to the other moms at the centre.

(While in reality, the moms there are all quite lovely and would have probably thought nothing of it, my high school memories of trying to ‘fit in’ kicked in that day big time…)

In-to the cold

Bracing myself against the cold, I told myself that I was doing this all for an important cause, and set out for an urban hiking adventure! Despite having to forge my way, without even gaiters, through some deep snow along a nature trail that had not been cleared, I somehow managed.

To my surprise, I made an amazing discovery on that hike. There within the city on that trail, surrounded by trees, birds, and fresh white snow, I reconnected to my love of nature and the outdoors.  “How could I have forgotten that I so *need* this?” I wondered, which lead to the thinking, “This is so close to me. I must to do this more often!”

My inspiration continued

My experience that day further inspired me to continue training, albeit even though I could only manage to do it every couple of days or so, and often only for a little while. As opposed to the cold snap continuing, the weather was constantly changing, with it being sometimes cold, then milder, then cold again in the time leading up to the trek.

Although this weather was inconvenient in that I never knew quite how to prepare, it kept me aware of my purpose in doing the trek: to help connect the dots between homelessness, land-use and global climate change. The climate was changing in strange and unpredictable ways that had dire implications for all of us, especially the homeless, and I waned to raise awareness about that.

What is next

That basically describes my process in training for the Waterloo Region Crossing. Had I stopped with this, I would have met my desire to challenge to myself and pursue more of my dreams, as I had realized I wanted to do following a recent health scare. While these experiences had great significance me, I feel I have some other important stories relating to the trek that I’d like to share, hopefully soon.

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My Story of the Waterloo Region Crossing 2019

[Story 1]  [Story 2]  [Story 3] [Story 4]

The Waterloo Region Crossing started last year as a crazy idea to raise awareness about the risks of exposure for the homeless by going on a 65 km trek in the dead of winter. Involving then only a few people, this year the event was opened to the public and amazingly about 100 participants signed up. I, for reasons I will share here, was one of them.

A difficult, yet important journey

waterlooRegionCrossingMap2019

For the ambitious, the full trek involved journeying across the Region nearly non-stop for almost a full day, starting at the Walter Bean Trailhead in Cambridge and ending in at the West Montrose Kissing Bridge (see map). From what I read about the previous year’s trek, this was a journey that pushed people to their limits.

Fortunately participation no longer requires doing the full trek, with a mid- and short-length trek available too. I personally opted for the shortest, 8 km Pioneer version of the trek.

Nevertheless, participating in any length of the event still required a great commitment in fundraising, gear preparation and such. Not to forget being ready to board a bus, for transport to the starting point, at 6:15 am!

The attraction of the event

The growing awareness about this event could perhaps not have been at a more fitting time. Late this past December, long-time friend of the Working Centre, trauma survivor and previous street person, Detlef (Duff) Becker, passed away. Although I did not know him, other participantsdid and made the trek at least partly in memory of him.

As for what drew me to participate, those reasons, as for anyone I guess, are complex. In part though I felt compelled by how the trek also sought to highlight the root causes of homelessness, by exploring the impacts of rapid development in Waterloo Region.

While by no means an expert in homelessness, my background in land-use planning helped me see the connections between these issues. People are homeless largely because we aren’t using the land in ways that provide adequate affordable housing and economic opportunities, not to mention a host of other planning reasons.

long-time advocate for responsible planning, this seemed incredibly important to me. I had often felt conflicted with concerns over urban sprawl and its resulting destruction of green space and agricultural land, as well as the lack of affordable housing. I was excited at the thought of exploring both issues together!

I was also attracted to how all money raised from the trek were going to the Working Centre. Far from just trying to put a bank-aid on the issue, the organization tries to deal with the root causes of homelessness.

Personal reasons to participate

Still, in considering why I wanted to do the event, I was not satisfied with walking just for these reasons. I also wanted to connect the dots to another issue that is near to my heart: global climate change.

Far from being a separate issue deserving attention elsewhere, the climate is closely intertwined with homelessness and land-use. As I have heard many a time, urban sprawl perpetuates the burning of fossil fuels and destroying forests means less carbon being removed from the atmosphere.

What is more, tragically climate change is both exacerbates the effects of,  and causes, homelessness. For instance, the homeless face increased exposure to heat wavesand cold snaps caused by a changing climate. Unfavourable growing conditions caused by climate change also result in rising food prices and thus an increase in the cost of living.

For a long time, I have dreamt of an ideal world where people would join forces to work together and get at the root causes of *all* these issues. Yes, it has been deeply buried in my consciousness, ignored by me for most of the time, and it has been there nonetheless.

Rather than wait for that to happen, I made the decision to sign up and do the trek. Deciding to share with others my reasons for doing so, which is why I am writing all this now.

To me, these reasons made my journey on the Waterloo Region Crossing a truly GREAT TREK. I want to tell you more about my experiences on the journey itself. However, that seems better left for another time, hopefully not too long from now…

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My Story of the Waterloo Region Crossing 2019

[Story 1]  [Story 2]  [Story 3] [Story 4]

newLeaseOnLifeMy last birthday marked a major milestone. I turned forty-nine, just one year short of having lived half a century. The gravity of this didn’t really hit me hard until my church had a requiem service recently where we reflected on the aging process and death.

As I sat in my pew, I found myself thinking, for the first time, seriously, in my life, I am getting older. I really am getting older! I do not have an infinite amount of time at my disposal. What am I going to do with the time that I have left on Earth?!?

I feel I have begun to find my personal answer to this question, but before I elaborate on that, I need to provide some context. About two years ago now, the doctors relayed to me some devastating news: they thought I very likely had ovarian cancer. They wanted to operate, right away, and beyond that, who knew what else. Chemotherapy? Radiation??? The future was looking quite uncertain and scary.

I knew that the chances of recovery from ovarian cancer were low, even with the solutions they were offering. I also knew that filling my body with radiation and chemicals was not an approach in line with how I had generally sought to live, in harmony, as much as is possible today, with the Earth.

In saying this, I want to pause and add, emphatically, that I am not saying those who opt for such solutions are wrong. Especially when faced with a life-or-death decision, such solutions can make sense. I know this first-hand, because I came perilously close to possibly having to make such decisions myself. They just weren’t, in the end, the solutions that I realized I wanted to pursue.

So, instead, I decided to take a radically path. Drawing on the advice of a couple people with whom I had some trust and with the help of family and friends, I opted for a completely natural approach. This involved radically changing my diet, starting certain supplements, practising intermittent fasting, taking up Qi Gong (a therapeutic form of Tai Chi), doing body work, and eliminating stress from my life as much as possible.

The results were astounding! Rapidly, my CA 125 levels (a blood test that can be used as an indicator of possible ovarian cancer) began to plummet. The irregular masses in my body that they had detected, using a CT scan and ultrasounds, started to disappear. Most importantly, the pain, which had sent off the sirens that my body was not healthy, abated.

And another wonderful side effect took place in me too! Amazingly, I started to feel younger and more energetic!! The brain fog that I had been dealing with for much of my life largely lifted, and I was able to think more clearly than I had for years. It was, in short, like I had been given a new lease on life!!!

So…as I sat in the church pew, contemplating what I was going to do with the time I have left here, at least in my present body, it was not an entirely doom and gloom question. Yes, I was coming to grips that I was older. There was no denying this. AND at the very point in time when I might be considering slowing down, taking it easier, and doing less, I found myself instead actually CHALLENGING myself!

What new experiences did I want to experience now, at this point time? What did I feel I am capable of now that I feel so enlivened and rejuvenated? Where could this all take me? What choices might I have the courage to undertake and dreams might I follow that until then I had felt too frightened to pursue?

What is more, excitedly, where could this take my family? My community? And how might I respond with renewed vigour to all the devastation happening on this precious planet? A planet that by all reasonable accounts is dying, just like I seemed to be dying not too long ago? A planet that I and so many others care so deeply about, and upon which all of us, including the incredible diversity of species that share it with us, depend?

These are the sorts of questions I found myself asking that day, and continue to ask myself. Rather then provide you with some of my answers though, with that, I will end. For now. Except to say I have lots more to elaborate on this, soon….

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