The Power (and Payoff) of Persistance

It’s only a coincidence that I significantly ramped up my activity levels when the pandemic started. Originally, I added a whole host of daily habits to my routine in the interest of fighting a bad case of post-trip letdown. In addition to mental habits like starting a gratitude journal, reducing and then eventually eliminating social media use, and adding daily meditation, I added daily activity. At first, in the midst of winter that meant putting my bike on a trainer and riding in a virtual world for 30-60 minutes. However, as the weather improved, I added outdoor cycling, running and several days a week, push-ups (I’m working up to 100 – at 78 now) to the mix.

It may be the lovely weather, or it may be the habits but now, after 55 consecutive days of activity, I notice a number of things. The first is that my mood has definitely improved. I know this in part because I’ve been tracking my previous day’s mood on a scale of 1-5 for several weeks now. Here’s how the graph is looking:

Another thing I notice is that good habits over time become addictive. Take my exercise streak. After a week the idea of taking a day off seems like no big deal. But here on day 55, the idea of taking a day off and ruining that streak is unthinkable. At the same time, I notice that I really look forward to the ride or run which usually happens in the afternoon. I notice myself imagining it earlier in the day with anticipation. And those two things really attack whatever it is in my nature that generates excuses. Take yesterday, in fact. From up here near the top of our highrise I saw storm clouds all around and even rain falling in the distance. Rain used to be a frequent excuse for me to cancel a run or ride. Yesterday, though, I thought ahead, programmed the training plan that usually comes from my phone in to my watch. The idea of running without music used to sound impossible but I resolved that if the weather was bad enough I would leave my phone at home for sure. And in the end the weather turned out fine. Along the way a mural gave me some encouragement.

I sometimes struggle with routes for cycling. Will there be too much traffic? Will the destination be interesting? This is a recipe for disaster for me. On more than one occasion in the past I have sat in front of maps for literally hours trying to decide where to go. Then, noticing that I was now out of time, I would give up the idea for a ride. The antidote for that is to just choose a location and let the other details sort themselves out. So yesterday I decided that it had been too long since I’d visited the Scarborough Bluffs – a beautiful spot on Lake Ontario to the southeast of us. I plotted a route out on a cycling website that lets me find routes based on either how popular the roads are for cycling (a nice way to get safer and more comfortable routes) or most direct – which might have more traffic or more challenging routes. In my case I made a loop of the two for variety. And then, ending the procrastination, I got on my bike.

The route took me down in to the nearby ravine and along a paved path free of cars. There were, however, dozens of people walking and on their own bike rides. Maintaining physical distance was a challenge in this stage. But then the route took me out of the ravine and along a trail I’d never seen underneath some hydro lines.

There were a couple people here – a few walking dogs, others walking alone or on bikes. The path ended in a residential neighbourhood and soon I found myself in a park filled with families and children playing. I was surprised at the crowds and am hoping that most of them were in the same families. We don’t need another surge in cases. Rather than overthink, I just appreciated the sound of happy children as I slowly rode through the park.

Scarborough is not known for its bike-friendliness and so I did have to ride on relatively busy Danforth Avenue and then Kingston Road for a little while but with the reduced traffic due to the pandemic, that was very manageable. And soon I found myself at the top of a huge hill that leads down to the lake. There was a shocking amount of traffic going both to and from the park. Clearly everyone was wanting to get out and enjoy the outdoors.

I fell in behind a car and thanks to the assistance of the incline, sped up to nearly 60 km/hr, zooming down the hill with the wind roaring in my ears, a smile on my face.

And then the traffic slowed again at the bottom. There was so much activity that a line of cars was inching through the parking lot to find space. Once I got past them I found my way back to a path where cars were not allowed. There were so many people but it appeared that most were gathering sensibly. Family groups were together and these groups were far from other groups. And groups of friends seemed to be giving each other space for the most part.

As I rode along the waterfront, I remembered why I loved being here.

It is really one of the more beautiful places in the city. But with transit poorly serving the spot and the hill climb to get out of the park deterring cyclists, it’s mostly a spot for people with cars. Still, after several weeks of practice I was confident I could manage the hill.

For the most part I managed the hill well, going a steady 8-10 km/hr up the hill – about the speed of someone out jogging. There was lots of traffic going up so there was a little stress of drivers being irritated by my holding them up for the few seconds it took for them to be able to pass with one guy near the bottom of the hill in a large truck needing to squeal his tires as he passed me to show how upset he was at the delay. By the time I got to the top of the hill, I ended up passing him at the stop light – so how much of a delay was I causing?

The trip home was on the most direct route and as such it was a little busier. Again most drivers were very courteous, giving lots of space thanks, in part to the fact that the roads are much more empty. There are always a couple exceptions but you learn, with time, to let those go. The direct route was, indeed, faster but less interesting. There were no families playing, few interesting stores to look at and no quiet paths under hydro lines – until I was almost home. And then, nestled in the back of a residential neighbourhood another trail was hidden.

This is one of the mountain bike trails that go all over the ravine next to our house. They’re great for trail running, excellent, I’m sure, for mountain biking. However, for a touring bike they pose a challenge. Soon after I got inside the trees the path turned steeply downward. The clay path surface was a little slippery and roots crisscrossed it making it challenging to navigate. After a couple of near-falls, I decided to walk the rest of the way. So down I went, eventually ending up in a swamp with a small wooden bridge crossing it to prevent bike tires from getting stuck in thick mud.

And then, soon after reaching the swamp, I came out of the trees and on to the original paved path that I started on. Navigation from here was easy enough. Through the trees, past the new path being built, and then up one last steep hill out of the ravine toward home.

Had I agonized over the route, or thought “It’s 5PM, traffic will be bad.” or worried about the somewhat threatening clouds in the sky I would never have had this lovely adventure. Such is the value of commitment to a task – of choosing to say “I’m going to do it and figure out the details later.” rather than “Let’s analyze this and see if it’s possible and comfortable and if so, then maybe I’ll try.”

10 thoughts on “The Power (and Payoff) of Persistance

    1. True! I am a huge fan of tasteful graffiti. I think in this case the graffiti was commissioned by the neighbourhood so it’s even better. More from that place is coming soon.

      Believe it or not, that bridge is for mountain bikes mostly. There are some elsewhere in the ravine that are even elevated a bit giving you a potential fall if you aren’t careful. I’m adventurous but that’s a little too much for me, I think. Walking across it is fine though.

      1. We really are lucky. I’ll keep exploring and sharing other places. It is gorgeous – especially in certain times of the year.

  1. Those are some excellent outcomes of the pandamic at the personal level. The only addition I have made health-wise and wellbeing-wise is mediating. I used to mediate before also but now I have increased the duration and do it twice a day almost religiously. And those routes you take for cycling are mindblowing. It’s difficult to stay indoors with places like that 🙂

    1. That’s a great addition. I think I need to ramp up in the same way as you have. Improvement isn’t just a one-time thing. I need to continue to push myself.

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