The One Thousand Kilometre Walking Challenge

Summer is a time for many things—working in the garden, lying in the sun, going on road-trips. This summer I decided to set myself a walking challenge. I walk every day, but I thought a challenge would help me walk more consistently.
Back in May, I came across my cousin’s Facebook post about the walking challenge he set for himself. I thought, what a great idea. My IPhone counts my steps, so I’ve been using the Health app to keep track of all my walking—whether it’s to the mall, to the train, on the treadmill, or just Out there walking.
My goal is one thousand kilometres by September 22. Thus far, since May 23, I’ve clocked six hundred eighty-one kilometres.
I’ve thought for years that Edmonton is too much of a car-town. As a pedestrian, parts of this city—depending on where you need to go—are practically inaccessible. Edmonton has a decent transit system, but the bus or train can’t get you everywhere—at least not in a hurry. And some places, not at all.
When my daughters are home, I have the luxury of a car. Much of the time, I rely on foot and transit. Edmonton is reasonably accessible, more than most cities in other parts of the world. I can’t speak for people using wheelchairs or walkers, but as someone married to a white cane, Edmonton isn’t bad. The endless construction, of course, is an obstacle for everyone.
If you want to set yourself a challenge this summer, make it a walking challenge, or even a pedestrian challenge. Walk and take transit for a week, and see how fast your life gets reorganized. Even if you just make an effort to walk more, you will be better off.
And as you fight the rush-hour traffic and the road-rage, watch out for pedestrians. According to a City of Edmonton website, on average, three hundred people in Edmonton are hit by motorists each year, and most of them in crosswalks.
I’ve had many close calls with vehicles, some of which ended in my cane getting mangled by a car. I’ve always thought my cane makes me more visible to drivers—but not always. Enjoy the remaining days of summer, and embrace the slow life by walking whenever you can.

Spring Walking, Spring Reading

As the days get longer, and the university term winds down, I find myself walking more and more. These days, I’m stress walking. It’s the kind of walking I do in the spring to help me recover from the year at the university. My average is ten to twelve kilometres a day—or so my IPhone tells me. That’s enough to help me sleep at night.
Apart from the stress, spring is the best time of year to walk in Edmonton. The days become longer and longer, while the geese, robins, and crows fill the evening air with a sound like longing.
The end of term is a transitional period—a stepping out of one thing and into another. It’s also that time of year in which we, who choose to live in these northern climes, embrace our seasonal amnesia and forget the six months of winter we’ve just left behind. We see the detritus of winter littering the ground, the dull nakedness of trees, the brownness of fields, and we think it’s spring. And every year it snows in late March, April, or May, just as it did this passed Easter weekend. But do we care? No, because the sun will shine and the snow will melt and soon the world will explode in a profusion of green.
In the meantime, I walk; I walk, and I read. I have to manage myself in these transitional periods. If I don’t, I will fall on my face from exhaustion as soon as the marking is done and the grades are posted. Reading and rereading is one way I manage myself. As I’m walking this spring, here are some of the books I’m reading.

Station Eleven
By Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven was the MacEwan book of the year for 2016-17. I read the book for that reason, but I also love dystopian fiction—and this one is by a Canadian. And, I was able to hear St. John Mandel read at MacEwan this past March.

The Handmaid’s Tale
By Margaret Atwood

And speaking of dystopian fiction written by a Canadian, I’m finally reading The Handmaid’s Tale. I’m not a big Atwood fan, and I had trouble getting through Oryx and Crake, the first book in her MaddAddam trilogy. However, I’m determined to read this book. I have a softer spot for Atwood after seeing her very disarming and personal talk at last year’s Kreisel Lecture in Edmonton.

Great Schools of Dune Series
Sisterhood of Dune
Mentats of Dune
Navigators of Dune
By Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Herbert and Anderson continue their stories in the Dune saga, created by Frank Herbert. None of the books by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson match the books in the original series, but if you want to immerse yourself in a science fiction universe, this is one place to do it.

The Underland Chronicles
By Susanne Collins

Before she wrote The Hunger Games, Collins wrote The Underland Chronicles, five books about Gregor and his adventures in the underworld that lies deep below New York city. This is a lost civilization series, populated with giant bats, cockroaches, and rats, all in a battle for control of the Underland. Great coming of age stuff.

Warriors of the Storm
By Bernard Cornwell

Cornwell’s Saxon Chronicles are set in the Britain of Alfred the Great, and each one is a wild ride—battles, horses, long boats, Northmen, and a mostly corrupt Christian church, all narrated by Uhtred of Bebbenburg. This is the ninth book in the series, and I’ve loved them all. Again, if you want to lose yourself in another world, and another time, check out this series.

Happy spring, and happy reading!

On the Tracks

My brother, who is always a source for bits of news, told me the other night about a visually impaired man who fell onto the tracks of the SkyTrain in Vancouver. Fortunately, some quick-acting students were there to help the gentleman out of the tracks—just as the train was pulling in. You can read more of the story here.
For blind and visually impaired people, navigating public transit can be tricky—and sometimes just bloody dangerous. Buses are one thing: you wait, bus pulls into the stop, and you get on. Trains are different. For one, it’s a train. Trains don’t stop as quickly as buses, and you have to wait on a platform next to a four and a half foot drop into the tracks. If you can’t see, it’s hazardous.
In 2010, I was coming home by train on a snowy evening at the beginning of January. I got off the train at the South Campus station, which had opened the previous spring. I stepped off the train, turned left instead of right, and headed down the platform to get the bus.
My mistake was turning the wrong way after getting off the train. The platform was covered with almost an inch of snow. They hadn’t yet had a chance to clear it.
I was heading for what I thought was the steps to take me down and out of the station. Instead, I walked straight off the platform and fell onto the tracks.
My initial response, lying there on the tracks on my side, was having no idea what had just happened. It wasn’t until I reached out and grabbed one of the rails with a gloved hand that I understood. That’s when I started to hurt and knew I had to get off the tracks.
The track-bed isn’t especially deep—until you’re standing in it. Try scrambling up onto a platform, slippery with new-fallen snow and level with your chest, while you are in shock and can’t breathe because you’ve just had the wind knocked out of you.
Fortunately, someone spotted me. A man ran over, and soon two people were hauling me up onto the platform. Other people came, and I was helped to my feet and onboard the train while the driver called for an ambulance. A slightly scared and completely sincere eight-year-old boy tried to comfort me while we waited for the paramedics. He insisted his grandpa would help fix my cane, which had gotten bent in the fall. The paramedics arrived, announced me injured but more or less intact, and gave me the choice of going home or to the hospital. Given the choice, I went home. They drove me the seven minutes back to my house, and I was never so glad to reach my own front door.
I fractured two ribs in that fall, and it took me all of eight weeks to recover. It wasn’t until February that I started taking the train once again—more carefully, as you can imagine.
I’ve gotten myself into all sorts of situations over the years, but rarely have I felt so helpless and in need of assistance. Strangers helping strangers is a powerful thing, and I’ve always been grateful to those people who helped me out on that snowy evening in January, especially that little boy, who understood the importance of helping out, and did his best to give me the comfort and reassurance he could.

A Ghost Walk on the University of Alberta Campus

I’ve always believed that ghosts haunted the University of Alberta campus. Last week, I found out I was right.
Last week, I went with some friends to take in the UofA ghost walk. We gathered in front of the Rutherford House on Saskatchewan Drive—a surprising forty people for a cool night in late October. Our guide stood on the steps of the house and outlined our walk. She told us about the house itself, Alexander Cameron Rutherford and his family who moved into the house in 1911. She encouraged us to visit the house, where, if you listen carefully, you can hear the ghost of a little boy and his ball who has haunted the second floor of the Rutherford House since the 1980s.
Our walk took us across campus to the Power Plant, where we learned about Dr. Carl Clarke, an early researcher into the oil sands, whose lab-coated ghost still wanders the building. We headed next to Pembina Hall on the west side of campus, where we learned about the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic in Edmonton, and the bodies that were temporarily piled in the basement of the building. Finally, we walked all the way BAC across campus to the Emily Murphy House, where our guide told us about Emily Murphy, the Famous Five, and the early days of Alberta politics. People say you can sometimes still see the ghost of Emily Murphy, and sometimes, you can hear the kettle whistling in the room that was once the kitchen.
There was much more to our walk, as it was a historical tour as well as ghost walk, and our guide had many stories about the early days of the UofA. You can find more stories about campus ghosts here.
I wouldn’t say I’m overly sensitive to ghosts. I’ve been inside Glamis Castle in Scotland, which is supposed to be one of the most haunted castles in the country, and I didn’t feel too bothered. One gets a sense of days long passed in such a place, but I never felt or heard anything specific.
But I’m still prepared to believe such stories. As I said, I’ve always thought the UofA had its ghosts. If you are in the Humanities Building at night, as people clear out of the building, you will begin to feel the oppressive silence of the place, like something pressing on your ears. You will start watching, listening, and looking around corners. And sometimes, if you turn quickly enough, you might…

Welcome to Spring


Happy spring. This year apparently marks the earliest spring in over a century. The vernal equinox  happened on March 19 or twentieth, depending where you live in the northern hemisphere. Spring is about many things to many people. For me, it’s about yard clean-up, restarting the composter, the Easter weekend, the end of the academic year, and most of all being outside, walking, and reading.
Alberta has seen a mild winter, so I haven’t felt as caged as I normally do by this time of year. Nonetheless, the sense of freedom that comes with walking, especially in the evening, is one that always takes me a little by surprise. And, of course, I’m not the only one out there. People are out walking, biking, and running—all exhibiting the intoxicating possession that overcomes those who look eagerly for signs of spring.
Reading and walking is something I do all year, but going for a walk in a spring evening is a far cry from navigating ice and snow on my way to catch the train. And when I say walking and reading, I mean playing audio books on my MP3 player as I tramp around the neighbourhood. I know of people who walk while reading a physical book, but this strikes me as a more dangerous form of distracted walking. I listen to my books, which I recommend to anyone who wants to be outside and reading.
I always try to keep a new book on the go, but I also tend to reread more than most people I know. A good way for me to both reread and read something new is to read everything by a single author. A few years ago, I decided to read all of the dune books, which meant everything by Frank Herbert, but also everything by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson took it upon themselves to write prequels for the Dune books, as well as a conclusion to the series. It kept me going for most of a summer.
This spring and early summer, I’m thinking either DouglasAdams, Terry Pratchett, or Patricia McKillip. Pratchett might be the most challenging of these three because of the sheer number of Disc World books. But whatever I go with, I’ll be happy to be walking and reading as the spring unfolds. Get out and enjoy the lengthening days.

Walking into Spring


Spring in Edmonton means many things. It means sunshine and longer days, warm afternoons as the snow slushes around your boots. It means longer evenings, actual evenings when you can go outside after six o’clock and it’s not dark. It means spring snowstorms—wet snow and sloppy sidewalks that freeze, melt, and freeze again.
Spring means the world is suddenly on the move. Canada geese sometimes fly right over my house. The song-birds return, and I can hear the piercing cry of the small hawks called merlins that live in the neighbourhood. Spring used to mean the return of the crows, but a couple of years ago the crows made up their minds to stay here through the winters—and I always thought they were smart birds.
Spring means the unclenching of winter. For me, it’s the end of the academic term, it’s my sister’s birthday, and it’s Easter, but most of all it’s about walking—walking in the afternoons and feeling the sun that has the power to make me sweat beneath my too-heavy coat, , and walking in the evenings as the sun is setting and the quiet of the evening fills the sky.
When I walk, I read. I walk and read all the time. I have a small reader that I keep in my pocket, and I plug in a portable speaker that I carry in another pocket, or sometimes tucked into the collar of the fleece I wear under my coat.
I’m lucky enough to live in a place where walking is easy. And as I walk, I read anything and everything.
The past few summers I’ve had a reading project. A couple of years ago I wanted to read all of the books in the Dune cycle, including those published by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. I think I got through twelve of those books as I tramped around the neighbourhood. I wanted to read The Song of Ice and Fire series, but I only got a hundred pages in and quit. I reread as well. I’ve reread Tolkien, Lewis, and Le Guin; I’ve read books by Montgomery, Phillip K. Dick, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Bernard Cornwell. I’ve read The Silkworm, Oryx and Crake, The Shadow of Malabron, The Fountains of Paradise, Blood Red Road, The Road, the Magicians, and The Horseman’s Graves, all while walking—in the morning, in the evening, at night, and sometimes in the rain.
Along with many others, I was sad to learn of the death of Terry Pratchett this spring. Pratchett is another author whose gift to the world is a place to visit when this one gets too grim. His books are my next project. I’ve already read the Bromeliadtrilogy, and I’m onto the Tiffany Aching books. Who knows how far I’ll get with Pratchett, but if it isn’t Discworld, then it will be somewhere else. Enjoy the season, and enjoy whatever you are reading.