Free Gym

The moment they were deconfined, Montrealers leaped into action. In a grand burst of pent-up energy, they undid 60 days of Netflix and the chill of a terribly belated spring. With no gyms open until June 22, they fanned out across the great outdoors, and discovered that combining a breath of fresh air with the discipline of reps and circuits makes fitness routines much less routine. Outside the confines of the gym are sensory pleasures—a breeze on a sweaty brow, the scent of mock orange on a bike ride, the sight of the river while jogging. Any bit of greenery—a corner of park, an edge of the Lachine canal, a bike path or a dirt trail—has become a stage of unusual exuberance. Montrealers are getting up early and going solo, meditating by Beaver Lake on the mountain or staking out shade with their mats and doing hour-long yoga practices. Some suntan and stretch at the same time, and when they’re appropriately aglow, they stop for an I-woke-up-like-this-selfie. Classes with coaches are everywhere: there are big groups of carefully-spaced karate kids punching at the blue sky, their bare feet deep in the newly planted sod on the north side of the Lachine Canal; there are forms of Crossfit with apprentice amazons and gods hefting weights and dropping them to the earth; there are enterprising personal trainers clocking clients doing burpees on the ground. Of course, Montrealers are running endlessly at all hours and suddenly biking so much that the only machines left in bike shops should be in the Tour de France.

Happily, in the midst of all this, there’s also surging popularity in a sport that’s always been in Montrealers’ DNA and equally key to our collective mental health—professional-calibre picnicking. The skill involves little equipment, and the rules are simple: bring things from the fridge or stroll to a good pizza joint that’s open for takeout. Decent wine, sometimes a shaker of some chilled elixir, or else quite a lot of beer is key to the game. The real skill, which improves with practice, involves finding a location that combines, if possible, some fragrant grass, a body of water, and slanting rays of sun. A large blanket must then be shaken out and spread on the ground, and the team clusters upon it to play. Apart from that, there are few rules, although violations of the latest social distancing guidelines appear common. It’s perhaps our favorite sport—doing nothing all together, just talking, eating, soaking in summer. The way we used to.

text © Dianna Carr          illustration © Francis Tremblay