It’s a cool day in Vancouver with clouds and periods of misty rain. The summer of 2021 is almost over. And what a summer it has been! Though its heat and the Olympics evoked powerful memories for me, this summer featured extremities never seen before. My personal, emotional ups and downs were intertwined with the extremes we all suffered/celebrated here in Vancouver (and to some extent provincially, nationally, and globally). There were the splendid sunny days (something like 50 days without rain in “Raincouver”!); the promise of liberation as summer began, with 70 or 80% of people in BC fully vaccinated; COVID-19 cases down, restrictions lifting. Then there was the heat dome, the forest fires attacking much of BC’s Interior, and the menacing, changing face of COVID-19’s fourth wave.
(Diary entries in italics.)
The “official” first day of summer, June 20, was also the first beautiful day of what had been a cool and rainy June. On June 21st I was enjoying a perfect morning on the beach at Sasamat Lake when I got a phone call from a Phoenix Running Club friend telling me that Jim Thomson, a long-time member, had just passed away. It wasn’t a surprise—Jim had been ill with cancer for years—but it seemed especially sad on that perfect day. A couple of days later I learned that another friend, a beloved member of my Toastmasters club, had also passed away on June 21. This news reminded me how harsh death can be: my friend was almost ten years younger than me; brain cancer had taken her in a year and a half.
On June 24 I got my second vaccine. The following day, I felt a little sick on my morning bike ride, but went to Sasamat Lake anyway to swim after my ride. I got chilled after just a few minutes in the water and couldn’t get warm on the beach, even though it was hot. The heat dome was upon us! Yet I spent the rest of the day in bed with chills, feeling sick and lethargic.
The heat dome
The following day, June 26, was the first day of extreme heat. It was also the day of our Phoenix Running Club reunion in Mundy Park. Luckily, I had recovered from my vaccine reaction. We had closed down the 30-year-old Phoenix club in February 2020; for various reasons, our club had been struggling for a few years. I missed my long-time Phoenix friends and it was great to get together with about 20 of them again. A couple of our members shared their memories of Jim. Then we separated into small groups to walk or run in the park. Sadly, I was a walker, not a runner, that day. A hamstring insertion injury had nagged me since November and I avoided running in June to see if that would help it heal. (It didn’t.) After our walk/run, we enjoyed Cathy’s delicious homemade cakes, coffee, and lots of water!
Keith didn’t come to the Phoenix reunion, even though he’d been such a boost to our club with his help at races (finish line videos) and informal photography. By late June, Keith couldn’t even do a short walk. His left knee, always a problem, had become much worse in April. As of this writing, Keith’s incompetent GP has still not succeeded in getting him an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon; our health system has completely failed him, and he has, in a sense, “missed” this summer. His knee is too painful for him to walk on or even stand on for long, despite steady doses of extra-strength Tylenol, Aleve, and (in the evening) alcohol.
Later that day, after the Phoenix reunion, my cat Tux and I moved to Keith’s ground-floor apartment in a North Van home for a few days. I knew my apartment, with its northwest-facing windows, would be unbearable during the heat dome.
Even Keith’s apartment, which during a normal summer would stay at a comfortable 20 degrees or so, got up to a record 30 degrees during the heat dome! On June 28th, my Toastmasters group was supposed to meet in Rocky Point Park for our first in-person meeting since last summer. We had to switch the meeting to Zoom after several members emailed to say they couldn’t bear the heat outside. From Keith’s place, I took part in our Zoom meeting—and was somewhat comforted to see that everyone seemed to be suffering from the same heat-induced exhaustion.
Meanwhile, that day Lytton, BC, recorded the highest-ever temperature in Canada at 49.6 C. There were plans to evacuate the town because of fire nearby; then the fire advanced so rapidly that 90% of the town was destroyed.
On June 30 I returned to my apartment; the worst heat was over. Most of my balcony plants were badly burned.
June 30, 2021
It was a relentless, exhausting heat, yet there are some things I liked about it. I lived in my underwear except when I had to appear on Zoom. Even my lightest flimsy dress felt oppressive against my skin. I sat outside with Keith in the evening coolness after 9:00 p.m. Susan and Serio [Keith’s landlords] were always around, tending to their garden, but I couldn’t be embarrassed about my lack of clothing. It seemed like a survival tactic to wear as little as possible.
The heat dome days were over, but the perfect sunny days continued. Wildfires continued to worsen in the Interior, but Vancouver escaped mostly unscathed. There was only a mini heat dome in August that brought a couple of days of bad smoke. I took full advantage of the hot weather. I probably swam at Sasamat Lake more days in July than ever before. Often, I went to the lake after dinner when the heat in my apartment became stifling. I even chose to sit on the shady side of the beach.
Despite my nagging hamstring injury, I completed my annual mini-triathlon on July 30—but I wrote about that in my previous post. Yeah, my run was slow but I did a PB for my little swim course!
August 2, 2021
The pink in the sky deepens. My swim was one of my best, maybe the best, of the summer. Swimming is becoming so easy and natural now. The water is so warm I can relax and enjoy the rhythms of swimming, my crawl either steady or sprint-powerful, or the complete relaxation of hanging in the water or floating on my back, or the gentle sculling on my back or breaststroke when I can look at the beauty all around me from my place far out in the lake, far away from all the boats and floaties and paddleboarders.
My adventures weren’t all done solo. A novel activity this summer was hiking with my friend Laurie, who showed me many wonderful trails close to home, many of them in the hills (mountains) above Port Moody’s North Shore. There were afternoons when we’d be on trails for two hours and see only one or two other people. Some of our hikes were extremely challenging for my damaged knee, but it seemed to recover quickly, and there were always rewards for the climbs and the difficult footing. One day we hiked to a little-known lake in PoCo called Goose Lake. It’s so hard to get to that it will never become a popular destination! Having a pristine lake to ourselves for swimming was wonderful.
Another day we went on the more familiar Jug Island hike from Belcarra. Again our reward was a refreshing swim, this time in the ocean, followed by relaxing for a while in the last patch of sunlight on the beach.
The hike to High Knoll at Minnekhada Park I had done before—but not for years—and it was harder than I remembered!
There were shadows behind my exuberant workouts of summer, though. Sometimes I became depressed about my own deterioration as a runner, but this paled beside the heartache I felt about Keith’s situation.
June 21, 2021
I’m discouraged today. I jogged a little and felt so rickety. Running isn’t natural anymore. The line between being forced to give it up and wanting to give it up because it’s so difficult and so unnatural is getting blurred.
June 30, 2021
I feel a peculiar kind of loneliness. I am celebrating all I love about summer, but mostly on my own.
July 9, 2021
Both the recent Phoenix “reunion” and Jim’s memorial service stirred up so much sadness and so many memories. And there can’t be a new beginning for me, running with another club. My running is so pitiful and limited that it must be a solo activity.
August 15, 2021
The sadness isn’t about one week apart and then another week apart. It’s the realization that the whole summer has passed and Keith is still in terrible pain, and he doesn’t even have an appointment yet to see any kind of specialist. This is ridiculous. The summer has passed without our being able to do one bike ride or hike together. Instead, since April, Keith has become more and more disabled, so each low was succeeded by something worse.
Our fun hikes first turned into painful short walks to the Inlet; then even the Inlet was too far; and now he can’t even walk to Thrifty’s. I am angry with his GP, and I feel fear, too, about what this will do to his overall health.
The one bright note was that Keith was able to swim at Sasamat Lake with me a few times. However, even the short walk down from the parking lot to the beach was painful for him.
The 2020  Tokyo Olympics
I had a perfectly-timed break in my editing work which left me lots of free hours starting July 29, just as Athletics was getting underway at the Olympics. And did I ever get into watching those CBC livestream videos! I watched almost every heat, every race. I was more excited and inspired than I had expected. It seemed so indulgent to spend early mornings, my most productive work time, watching races, but so worth it!
I was stunned by the excellent performances of so many Canadian athletes. I don’t mean just the stars, sprinter Andre de Grasse (gold, silver, bronze medals) and decathlete Damian Warner (gold), who deservedly got tons of media attention. I was filled with admiration for the many Canadians who placed high in their finals, beating many runners ranked higher than them going into the Olympics.
There was Mo Ahmed, whose brave front-running in the final paid off with an amazing silver medal. Gabriela Debues-Stafford did more of her share of front-running in the first two rounds of the 1,500m to ensure her place in the final, where she finished 5th. Geneviève Lalonde set a Canadian record in the semi-final of the 3,000m steeplechase and then lowered her own time slightly when she finished 11th in the final. Aaron Brown, Justyn Knight, and Pierce LePage were overshadowed by the Canadian medallists in their events, but they achieved superb performances in the 200m final (6th), the 5,000m final (7th), and the decathlon (5th), respectively.
Finally, we saw incredible toughness and endurance from Evan Dunfee in the 50K racewalk and Malindi Elmore and Natasha Wodak in the marathon. Dunfee’s bronze medal was achieved by his all-out speed at the very end of his race. Elmore and Wodak ran perfectly paced races in extreme heat, showing great discipline and awareness of their bodies’ abilities. They finished 9th and 13th, respectively, in a field where many of the runners they beat had faster PBs than they did.
August 2, 2021
Yes, this is one of my best summers ever. The heat and the Olympics bring back so many memories of other hot summers. I remember running the 10,000m in Ottawa at Mooney’s Bay several times at the end of hot, humid days.
The Olympic Games are surreal. They are only Games—yet they bring so much emotion. The physical/emotional beauty and power of human beings. The range of performance and emotions. The spectacle that the Japanese organizers have given us. The success of these Games in the shadow of COVID, exceeding everyone’s expectations. This is a celebration of health and spirit, after so much sickness, death, and anxiety, our world’s being turned upside down. Surreal, yes, because COVID is not over, and Japan as a nation is suffering more than they are admitting to the rest of the world.
COVID-19: the fourth wave
July 21, 2021
I am truly appreciating summer this year. It’s still a strange year—with most countries and people going back to “normal” life while the pandemic is still raging out of control in many countries and the anti-vaxxers are sealing their own doom, but perhaps making control of the virus near-impossible for everyone.
Here in Canada we are lucky ones, for now.
But now, a month after I wrote the above, the tide of COVID-19 is changing for the worse again in Canada, as it is in so many places. In BC, we’ve gone from 30–40 cases a day in early July to 600–700 cases a day currently. COVID-19 is terrible in many countries where they don’t yet have sufficient vaccine doses, places like Brazil, India, Mexico, Russia, and recently Indonesia and Malaysia. In addition, there is a frightening resurgence of COVID-19 because of the Delta variant in countries where full vaccination is easily available, like the UK and the US (where the situation is exacerbated by the astonishing percentage of the population refusing the vaccine).
My son Abebe lives in Japan, so I’m more aware of the shadow behind the Olympics than most people. According to Abebe, the numbers of people contracting COVID-19 or dying of it are far higher than what is reported. He told me a few days ago that 60% of people sick enough to require hospitalization can’t find a hospital that will let them in.
Goodbye, summer: your songs are forever
I’ll never forget you! Your heat, your ecstasies, your physical adventures and exhaustion, your tragedies and sadness.
Your music! I rediscovered The Guess Who. “These Eyes.” “No Time.” “American Woman.” Other favourite songs that brought back memories and will always be the essence of summer. “Summer Breeze” by Seals & Croft (1972). “Summertime Sadness” (2012) by Lana Del Rey. “Insensitive” (1994) by Jann Arden. “Bobcaygeon” (1998) by The Tragically Hip.