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Filtering by Category: Trail running

the skirts. or, when running is a feminist issue.

Carrie Karsgaard

Hey, it’s the Skirts – looking good, girls!

I acknowledged the comment unthinkingly, with a wave and tired smile over my shoulder at our new friends on the trail.

By Day Two of the 2015 Gore-tex Transalpine run, being A Skirt was already old news for my teammate, Rene, and I. Out of the blocks, on a particularly rough and toasty climb, some local hikers looked us up and down in our fluorescent salmon skirts and other matching get-up. A German competitor translated their chuckling comments as they stepped aside for us to pass: well, they're not the fastest, but they sure are the prettiest. 

After that, we were off (as it were) to the races. Hikers stopped us during the race to take our photos as we curtseyed, men’s teams encouraged us to run ahead so they could follow (if you catch my drift), and other racers greeted us as The Skirts from Canada while they fell in with us for bits of each stage. Nathan (my husband) and (his teammate) Dan sidled up alongside us when they could, enjoying how their male competitors stepped aside chivalrously for us – a mini-skirted women’s team – allowing our boys to ride our petticoats and pass more easily than otherwise.

Among those who didn’t have good sight lines to my name on my race bib, I became A Skirt instead of Carrie – a new name for a new landscape, for eight days of running from Germany to Italy. We were one of 30-some women’s teams in a race with nearly 250 teams – and our skirts, common back home but a novelty in the European landscape of white spandex, announced our presence on every stage: The Skirts are here!

Do you hear me?

A Skirt. A Skirt.

 The boys following in line at TAR 2015.

The boys following in line at TAR 2015.

Back home, skirt or no skirt, I’m back to being Carrie. Whether at our training clinic or in a group of friends, I settle into a conga line of grubby runners where I’m just another body on the trail. Nobody cares what I wear – and there is neither celebration of my ability as a female runner nor condescension towards me as a girl. I have been elbowed competitively by Kevin and by Alana, held up by my shorts when I'm tired and picked off the ground when I've fallen, chased up a hill and offered an extra fig newton, been pushed and supported by all manner of runners in our group.

When I asked some of my homegirls how they felt being – well – skirts in Kelowna’s running community, they nearly all answered: I never think about it. I just feel like a person when I run – not a girl

That being said, none of us have signed up for a running group for skirts, where participants are motivated to train by promises of glittering necklaces, congratulatory hugs from firemen, pink headbands, and universal sisterhood. We’ve chosen to run in a mixed group that trains according to fitness and ability, not by gender. Now and again, a guy joins the group who takes a week or two to realize (with more than a few huffs and puffs) that the girls run with the boys in this scene – that we all run together – but for the most part, they tend to come around.

Which is maybe why, in the Alps, I didn’t mind so much being A Skirt. While the responses to our flouncy mint gelato or blue accordion numbers may have been the stuff of pop culture (fueled, at least to some extent, by our predilection for dancing - however nervously - in start lines), Rene and I felt nothing less than solid respect and recognition from our fellow runners. As we swung from Marilyn Monroe-ing for tourists to churning through cow shit as fast as fast can be, so did the guys around us abandon masculine posturing for - well - skirtier behaviors. At one finish line, a new friend cried as we slouched together in reclining chairs, thankful for the encouragement that buoyed him through a tough stage. Another day, along a technical, rocky ridge, a flatlander from the Netherlands shared his fear of heights with us (literally: Carrie, I'm scared). We ran chunks of stages with men's teams, mixed teams and women's teams, bumping beers at finish lines with the runners who shared our race bubble - our pace bubble - throughout our journey.

As at home, we felt strong  - perhaps doubly strong - both as female runners and as simply runners - gender set aside for the online stats of women's rankings and taken off the trails, where we could simply run.

 Skirt scrambles on McCrae near Revelstoke.  

Skirt scrambles on McCrae near Revelstoke.  

trail names against humanity; or, what Kelowna's trail names have to do with reconciliation

Carrie Karsgaard

I’m no mountain biker, but trail names appeal to the blend of English teacher and dirt bag in me. Too slow on the draw to create puns myself, I can’t help but nod appreciatively at Jabbarocky, Tumbelina and Berm Donor (bonus points to the first two for also being literary allusions – BAM!). As for my dirt bag side, I’ve taken photos at the Dusty Beaver, discussed whether Moose Knuckle should be renamed Camel Toe, and imagined an entire back story to Brian’s Worm (think: Brian’s ex built the trail and left a warning for all who may be eyeing Brian up as a future partner).

I certainly don’t head out on MTB trails expecting the peaceful, natural names of hiking trails – the rockwalls and ridges and rims. Instead, I get a chuckle or two at the trail signs and concern myself with making adequate airplane sounds (or racecar – it’s open to interpretation) while banking corners by foot. Follow it up with a pint of Backhand of God and a dirt tan, and I’ll sleep easy.

So it’s been a bit of a thing for me that I haven’t slept so well since hitting some local MTB trails a couple of weeks ago. A few of us were running through the Gillard trail system, where we could have been skipping down technical downhill trails with names like Roller Coaster or Drops-a-Lot. Instead, using a combination of trail signs and the Trailforks app, we found ourselves on Squaw Hollow.

Surprised by the name, I casually raised it with my group and got a boys-will-be-boys-esque response along the lines of – well, you know mountain bikers. Which I do. (In fact, I’m hoping to one day trade my spandex roadie shorts for baggy ones – as soon as I can get over the implications of trail names like Knuckle Duster and Skull Coaster). But this shrug-off seemed like a bit of a cop-out to me. I get that we need our spaces to loosen up and crack jokes at Brian’s worm – and trails are one of the best places for that – but come on now. Squaw Hollow?

A quick culture lesson for the folks who think the word “squaw” is no big deal – or at worst, is a titch politically incorrect. Kind of like the N-word (some folks dub it the S-word), it carries a special zing as it refers exclusively to women (think slut here, not superwoman or survivor). A derogatory term, it’s tied to the casual, insidious and all-too-familiar discriminatory attitudes towards Indigenous women and – let’s be honest here – to serious forms of sexual violence, along with Canada’s shockingly high numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Tack on the word hollow, as the trail name does, and the whole thing takes on an ominous tone.

A nasty name indeed – but perhaps I’m being too sensitive here? MTB trails are basically a deck of Cards Against Humanity, anyway – have another beer, and they become funny. Shall I return to my Backhand of God and just stick to Kerplop next time I’m in Gillard?

I-would-if-I-could-but-I-can’t-so-I-won’t.

See, the trick is that it’s not just a nasty trail name. Let me elaborate. This nasty name (nastier than Brian’s emasculation - sorry, Brian), like all the other names of the trails, is stuck on a piece of crown land – land I (as a syrah-drinking trail runner) might see as a fine chunk of Okanagan recreation and wine country but that has never (in fact) been handed over to said crown by the Syilx people who know it like the backs of their hands. Who know it because they have inhabited it, lived from it, and traversed it for millennia (before mountain biking was a twinkle in anyone’s eye). So, by naming our trails in any way that ignores this, much less in such a way as to overtly degrade, demean, and dehumanize, we lay one more crust over this fact. A crust that means we continue to forget that this land isn’t ours to name (which could be what we want – is it?).

People across Canada are starting to recognize the name game and are peeling off this crust by renaming everything from mountains in Banff to Toronto city streets, re-minding us that Indigenous people are here now, and many of us are living and working and mountain biking and trail running and Backhand-of-God-drinking as guests on Indigenous land. I’m not always a bandwagoner – but there’s a movement here that I think we Kelowna folks could learn from.

Some of us, I’m sure, think it would be a big waste of time and taxpayer money to put the effort into renaming, especially considering how solidly we’re attached to our trails. With every trail (and its name) comes a memory – whether it be of a wipeout or a great rip. We’ve watched the landscape change as we’ve ridden through the seasons – as the mud dries up and the larches turn – and we might feel that by changing the trail names, we will lose our connection to the trails we call home.

(Funny thing – the names were changed and the land shifted hands a long time ago, in ways that sought to remove Indigenous people’s even deeper connection to their spaces, their lands, their homes.)

So often, unless something matters to us personally, we shrug and move on. Even right now – as I struggle to write – I notice the sun starting to come out, and I feel like closing my computer, downing the dregs of my mocha, keeping the crust where it is, and heading out for a trail run in Gillard, where – if I keep my eyes on the technical terrain and wicked MTB features – I can miss the Squaw Hollow sign entirely, or brush it off again. Damn, it’s a good day for a fall run. I think the larches are turning.

I-would-if-I-could-but-I-can’t-so-I-won’t.

Because you know what? We are in a perfect place to change the name of Squaw Hollow and have a big chat about the significance of names in the Okanagan.

We have a hard-working (and downhill-ripping) local crowd of folks at MTBco who maintain the currently “illegal” Gillard system. They are pursuing Section 57 status, where MTBco will gain the right not to own the land, but the authority to construct, rehabilitate and maintain the trail network. They already know (they’ve expressed to me directly) that new trail names are a must, from Squaw Hollow to the straight-up sexist trail names (look them up – they also have to change – for overlapping but slightly different reasons). So why not do it right? Let’s really think about how we do our naming. And make Gillard a well-maintained trail system that our whole community may be proud of.

To be honest, I thought about doing some renaming myself (I’m pretty sure there’s a hammer and some scrap wood in my garage). But despite my English teacher roots, I don’t have the pun-skills to do the trails justice ( – Berm Donor! How do people think of these things?). Pretty sure I’m not the best person for the job.

Instead, perhaps Gillard provides an opportunity to bring our community together, where people like me may get to know our Indigenous neighbors better and listen to what they have to say about matters like this. Where, instead of naming our trails in a way that continues to erase (or worse: discriminate against) our neighbors, we find ways into meaningful relationships as we build our trails together.

So. Let’s talk.

Can we do this?

art night. or, map my run.

Carrie Karsgaard

There are few things as anxiety-producing for me as my friends’ Art Nights, where everybody shows up with all assortment of paints and papers and pastels and pencils and print-making materials, and proceed to play. Stories and ideas and impulses take shape into quirky or dark, fanciful or beautiful forms. If I (somehow or other) get talked or (more likely) tricked into attending, I stare nervously around the room, making demonstrations of testing out colors to disguise my lack of productivity. I bide my time, waiting for everyone else’s work to accumulate so I can fall into my groove of seeing ideas and patterns emerge in their work, asking questions about their pieces – rather than creating something of my own (unless, of course, I’m given free range of a kitchen, where I can ignore most of a recipe to the end of keeping my artsier friends well-fuelled – cookies, anyone?).

I think you get the picture. In the visual realm, I’m not much of a creator. But I do have one or two theoretical pieces of art that exist only in my imagination. Here’s one:

Imagine a map. A trail map of a park, say, Knox Mountain (a local favorite; it could be substituted with Okanagan Mountain Park, Rose Valley, or Myra-Bellevue).

As an aside: I love maps. This is something I get from my dad, who would get so distracted reading maps at gas stations (maps I was certain, as a child, were identical to those we had already scrutinized prior to heading out on the road) that my sister and I could sneak extra bags of Hickory Sticks and Nibs into his purchase while he distractedly route-planned through the backwoods of Montana. Now, much to my chagrin, I buy maps – and Google them – and imagine my own routes, deeper into BC, up-and-over mountains. Only for me, I’m usually checking out where I might explore on foot, while my dad loved to hit the road.

Anyhow, back to the trail map of Knox. This map, preferably topographical, traces all the routes I’ve ever taken on Knox, thicker lines appearing in places I have traced and retraced, thinner lines where I've gone off trail only once, whether to scramble somewhere new or because I’ve lost my way. I imagine pulling from my Suunto data, overlaying every route I’ve taken over the past few years, 45-minute jaunts to five-hour endurance runs. Over the map of Knox, I imagine a web will emerge of all the spaces I’ve traced and found and made, a lattice of routines and explorations, the familiar and the one-offs.

Then, somehow – and please, don’t ask me how, I have no idea how – I would layer images on the map that are representative of moments I’ve had along each of these trails. Because, for all the times I’ve run these trails, no two times have been the same.

Some images could be signposts, like the cairns near Kathleen Lake. I’ve hammered up past these cairns on hard workouts, mouth stuffed with Okanagan dust. I’ve stopped still in the middle of a run and stared at my stone friends after months of work-travel and felt from them a silent welcome home!, as they pointed my way with their off-kilter arms along my most comfortable solo trail. Another time, alone on a five-hour run, I cried among the cairns, when, after months of training, it was uncertain whether my running partner would be able to race in the Alps. The stones hold these moments for me – sometimes reminding me from where I’ve come and other times keeping their peace (thank goodness – I’m not a big public crier, and I wouldn’t want it regularly thrown in my face).

Other images would be signals of the changing seasons, the phases of life passed on the same trails. A ridiculous Instagram of my friend throwing snowballs in the air, goofy smile spread on his face, during his first wintertime run. The balsamroot that signaled my #firstkelownaspring: after five years of regular travel, I took my first April spin on Knox and asked my friends – did the city plant these yellow flowers? Where did they come from? – only to find out they are regulars after the snow melts. Selfies with friends during midsummer runs, when Knox is decorated in dogs and dog-walkers in colored tank-tops. Images of glowing green eyes from autumn nighttime runs when the deer herd up, and we slip by as silently as we can, crossing our fingers that they are (in fact) deer, and not coyotes or lynx or bears.

Not all images need be particular to me. I couldn’t help but pop into my piece of art the view from the gazebo at the top of Apex trail or the bench high above Paul’s Tomb. Runner after runner has taken photo after photo of these locations, but who can blame them? A couple of weeks ago, I took out a new trail runner for his first spin on Knox, and he apologized for taking so many photos of what (he assumed) must be (to me) mundane vistas. I don’t think he believed me when I told him that I have dozens of photos of the same spaces – in different lights, with different people, from silly selfies and artsy snaps, most accompanied (at the time) with some version of: I can’t believe I live here.

There are more – but suffice it to say that this map could have layers and loads of images that snapshot my inhabitance of Knox. An artist could make it look striking, these layers and lines, but for now it is just my own imagining of how my random and resolute ramblings on Knox have rooted me in this place – and how I, somehow, have made Knox: well, Knox – a place to be found and run and explored. Fancier philosophers than I (aka: Certeau) have said before that “space is a practiced place,” and “like cartographers translating physical places into graphic spaces [for my dad to peruse at gas stations], we participate in the human mapping of territories by transforming places into experiences (cred: Busque). Don’t ask me how to do the graphic work of capturing this experience through pastels or paints – I’ll leave that up to my Art Night friends, with all of their ease in the visual territory – but I will continue to build in my imagination the web of my wanderings on Knox as I run and run again. 

 Cairns.

Cairns.

 Balsamroot in #firstkelownaspring

Balsamroot in #firstkelownaspring