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“To Reach a port, we must sail; Sail, not tie at anchor; Sail, not drift.” ~Franklin Roosevelt
So I sat in my car today and I watched as a huge SUV tried to back into the tiniest of parking spaces. I contemplated reversing and trying my luck in another row of vehicles further down, but decided there was no where I really had to be. I was in no rush at all. So I just watched and waited and gave myself kudos on my *choice* to drive a small *economy* car (It’s an ’87 Jetta).
I patted my own back while wearing a smug look on my face, all the while subtly cringing at the nine-point turn the gas-guzzler was struggling through. Who doesn’t know that it’s easier back into a lane or road than it is to back into a tiny stall? Really.
As I had so much time on my hands to judge others and self-affirm my positive life choices, I also had a moment to realize an overwhelming sense of Déjà vu. I swear I’ve done this before. Actually, I know I’ve waited for this exact vehicle in this same parking lot…..I did this here…. I did this last year! It was pre-Christmas. I wrote about it! Ah ha! HA.
And so it is that I re-visit my little blog.
I had to have a look at what I wrote last year at this same time. Where was I in my own head? What was my mood? I had just settled back down on Vancouver Island and I was surrounded by family and new friends and the excitement of living and breathing the snowboarding lifestyle and getting paid for it with a job at the mountain! It was time for me to put down roots and explore a new community – how exciting!
The handful of entries I’ve managed to post since that time a year ago, don’t really give light to all that’s been going on in my life. It’s hard to write about your thoughts and feelings and outlooks when you’re in one place and the people you see every day are directly contributing to your thoughts and feelings and outlooks.
It really ups the level of accountability when you don’t get to just pick up and leave every few days!
Although, in saying that, I did manage to move to Nanaimo briefly. I got the opportunity to move in with fabulous friends and go back to school. Well, actually, school fell through…. and after a few weeks (it was days) slugging through a less-than-stellar job, and the realization that we were all so busy I wasn’t even really spending time with my room mates, I decided to pack a backpack (it’s my default I guess) and go up north. I had been asked by my uncle to help out as shore crew for the Van Isle 360 - a circumnavigation of Vancouver Island that happens every two years. It’s an elite sailing race and I was happy to have the chance to be a part of it.
I arrived in Port Hardy ready to do the team’s laundry and cook them warm, hearty meals upon request. Luck was with me – the boat was short-crewed and I must have struck them as the perfect Weight-Distribution-Specialist, as I was invited aboard. This was amazing for so many reasons. One being that I had entered (and lost) a contest just a few weeks before (see previous posting) where I was trying to win a trip aboard a sail boat. Kismit or what? This was waaaaaay better than any two-bit prize…. I got to do real sailing, in a real race, with my (yes, real) uncle.
Among an amazing array of other scenery, I saw the beautiful northern tip of the Island and spent a fun-filled night in Winter Harbour. I’d like to say I picked up a lot in the way of sailing knowledge, but everything moved so fast, it was hard to keep up…on the water, and off. Sailors really know how to party. We had a night to recover in Ucluelet after being battered for hours and hours (one of the other boats broke their mast in the storm) on the longest leg of the race – 140 nautical miles – over the rugged west coast waters. The wind was so bad and the rocking so incessant that two of the life-long sailors aboard our boat couldn’t move – couldn’t even sit up for over 12 hours.
We had the wind at our back as the danced into Victoria’s inner harbour. And we got caught in the narrows for hours on our arrival into Nanaimo, but this was a great opportunity for the Coast Guard to deliver Tim Bits (donuts – to all you non-Canadians) out of pity, as we anchored and tried not to move backwards. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it was so perfectly timed (the whole trip – not just the donuts). I got a much-needed reminder that I love the adventure – I’m always up for the adventure – and although I’m trying this settling down in one place thing, it doesn’t mean I have to settle.
I realized I didn’t want to live in Nanaimo. I moved away when I was eighteen for a reason. And although I’ve changed, and the city has changed, I wanted something different. I missed the little life I had started to set up in the Comox Valley. And so I returned to Courtenay, once again with a backpack on. My family put me up, yet again, while I started looking for employment. And employment I got. All of a sudden I was ironing trousers and blow drying my hair. Within a few weeks I had my own place… and my cat and I found ourselves living together for the first time in 3 years. Sometimes these things happen that fast. Well fast may be a relative term….
Anyway, we all move at our own pace and there’s no point in pushing it. Things are feeling like they’re falling into place for the most part, and that’s pretty awesome. This life has proved to be quite the incredible journey so far, and my guess is: it will only get more incredible as we continue sailing forward.
I’ve entered Living Oceans Society’s The Way I Sea It Contest and I need your help!
You can check out my entry, which is a story about an experience that inspired me to make a difference in the world, at:
In order to win the Whales and Totems sailing trip with Maple Leaf Adventures, I need lots of votes, so I need your help!
Please take a quick second to vote for me. All you have to do is click on the Vote for this Entry button and enter in your name, email address. Only one vote per person, so no multiple voting, please.
Also, please pass this along to others to help me get even more votes.
For more information about the contest, please visit http://www.livingoceans.org/thewayiseait and for more information about Living Oceans Society, please visithttp://www.livingoceans.org
If I win this contest I get to sail around and publish a blog on the experience!
I appreciate you taking the time to read my story!!
I have been writing more and more frequently in the last few days and so I know it’s time to share a bit. This is my usual pattern. Write, fumble..write, wonder how one can have writers’ block when one isn’t really a writer?? scratch, write more, stumble, feel a bit of flow, laugh at the crummy stuff I’ve come up with… and then in one fell swoop write something I feel I can share. It’s like a quick exhalation of real coherent thought… although this is subjective!!
The rest of it, all those little pieces of writing-excess, they are good and important and all that, but for me, the thought that hits home has a specific feel. I might compare it to the feeling you get when you swing the club and know, right away, that it’s a good one… maybe it doesn’t quite get you that hole-in-one, but it’s fairly straight and it’s not going to hurt anyone. It’ll go as far as your experience, strength, and equipment will allow.
And so I plan to make this a short post….
My last few months living down in a valley and working up on a mountain have been everything I had hoped for and so much more! It’s been refreshing, fun, social, and rewarding to work outside again. My snowboard and I have made good friends. I might not know thirty words for snow, but I know that “variable conditions” mean many different things to many different people and that the whole feel of the mountain can change in a matter of twenty minutes or twenty centimeters..
The season is coming to a very quick close. As I find myself in another period of transition.
I’ve also come to realize that as I settle down into routine and into living in one place for more than a few months, that the vastness of “new and different” aren’t lost – instead they change. I might see the same scenery day-in and day-out; speak the same language; align myself with those old familiar social norms; it’s all so the same. But really everyday is unique. There’s a richness in routine. The layers of the people we meet, the decisions we make – it’s fascinating and it keeps the spark alive. I’m especially impressed by my friends.
I don’t want to sound like an over-indulgent parent, but my friends are amazing! They make hard decisions, follow-through even when the going gets tough, and have the gumption to admit when they’re wrong.
They are funny when it’s appropriate and hilarious when it’s not.
They stand strong, ask for help, melt a bit, reorganize, restructure, change their friends’ kid’s diapers and down an 8-pack of Lucky in the sun when they have to. I have friends that run marathons, start new lives in foreign countries, and deliver new lives without even melting a bit!
I could go on and on, but I think I mentioned this being a short entry?
It’s been quite a ride. The forecast continues to call for variable conditions, with a 50% chance of melting.
We all know that Christmas is a special time of year. Family, friends, wining, dining, and gifts. Yeah, it’s special, no doubt. There’s the flip side to consider, as well. Stress and all that mumbo jumbo….so-busy-bad-weather-unexpected-expenses-hard-to-buy-for-too-much-to-drink-to-eat-to-wrap….yadda. Yadda. Blah blah.
My advice? Start watching the chaos and find humour. Just give yourself a little extra time and sit back and watch the insanity ensue. You can’t change the crazies that come out of the wood work and emerge in droves at your local shopping venues. Instead of getting annoyed at the person who takes eight minutes and a nine-point turn in order to back into a parking spot, give these people a break. Everyone shops this time of year (with exception of those overly down-to-earth types who have found the true meaning and all that..or the really crafty types that are so prevalent here on the west coast). So it falls to reason that unskilled shoppers come out at this time of year. This makes it that much more adventurous for the rest of us!
Actually, I think I’ve over simplified these characters. They aren’t unskilled at shopping – they are more-or-less unskilled at basic social interactions and sometimes even logic in general.
Watch the person in front of you try to explain a specific book to the lady at the cash register – while not knowing the title, the author, or even the genre of book they’re in such dire need of. Take note as she get more animated and frustrated, starting to lash out …. “nobody in this bloody store knows anything about literature!” She storms off feeling vindicated knowing she is better-read than anyone else in the shop and also that it’s run by illiterate morons. Now instead of letting their negativity rub off on you and your retail experience, just take a moment – realize you’re just very lucky not to be that person. Smile at the cashier. A knowing glance can do wonders. Now you can feel vindicated in your own right – and the camaraderie of like-minded, socially-adjusted people is exactly what this season is about.
Love thy neighbour… and your local customer service associate.
In all seriousness, I’ve really had to embrace being back in the real world for this time of year. My battle is not with the general public, but with my memories. I thought I had it all figured out – I got a job at the ski resort in order to fully wrap myself up in winter. Being up on the heavily snow-covered hill, surrounded by people who love being outside – it’s the perfect way to get through the long dark winter. Yes…all figured out – I knew this sort of job would ensure I worked through Christmas and I could slog through this very emotional holiday by working hard and feeling exhausted enough to sleep through the night. I could avoid Christmas… again! What luck.
Luck comes in oh, so many forms. I truly believe that each one of us is lucky, it’s just a matter of perspective.
So I guess I was one of the lucky ones – my schedule gave me both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off. As I was about to volunteer to take my coworkers’ shifts, I held my tongue and thought about the opportunity at hand. This could be exactly what I need. I’ve stated before: some of the best outcomes have been from situations that are difficult and way, way, way easier to avoid. It dawned on me that I need to face the holidays; the traditions, the ups and downs that come hand in hand with this time of year.
It’s been pretty sweet so far, and even with a few tears there is some sense of accomplishment.
I can’t even begin to count the ways in which I’ve been lucky. Life happens, sh*t happens, some of it’s heavy and bad and life-altering, but we do our best to pick ourselves up, and when we do – whether it’s luck, or determination or sheer grit, we, hopefully, can look around and begin to see the love surrounding us.
My love and thanks to everyone who has been part of my life these last few years. I have met so many special people. I have travelled with each and everyone of you whether it’s through airports and foreign countries, written word, or shared memories.
We’ve arrived here …right now. It’s pretty good, isn’t it?
Keep each other laughing. Share music. Hug to stay warm.
It’s hard to believe that the Tour du Mont Blanc is supposed to be one of the most popular multi-day treks in Europe. No one I talk to has ever heard of it! Maybe I’m not running in the proper circles. I don’t know many people that own trekking poles.
Anyway, this ten day hike was a chance to catch up with one of my oldest and dearest friends and her lovely husband and to see some awe-inspiring scenery to boot. We met in Switzerland and set out for ~144kms through three countries. We stayed in mountain refuges – fully functional dorm accommodation with night-time meal included. Hiking on the West coast of Canada (where I grew up) is a different breed altogether. Up in the alps one feels quite civilized. You can shower almost every night! We also stopped though a few towns along the way so we were able to pick up supplies as needed, and to celebrate milestones and new countries with a pint, or a wee bit of fois gras.
This is quite a tramp and it doesn’t take all that long to get into the swing of things even if you’re not that much of a long distance hiker. One of my favourite moments occurred on the second day in. I think we were en route to the Grand Col Ferret (2537m) which marks the border between Switzerland and Italy. We were slugging up yet another summit, sweat and sunscreen pouring into our eyes, sun blaring down on us, packs digging into our backs. My good friend Diana casually looks at me, and with a resigned but somewhat enthusiastic smile says, “mhh, and to think…we could have been sailing in the Mediterranean right now!”
I’m fairly certain I stopped dead. “Pardon me??” …confused laughter escaping my parched and sun-burnt lips.
Answering with a casual chuckle and a shrug of the shoulders, “oh yeah, didn’t we tell you? If we hadn’t done this hike we were going to charter a boat and sail around the Med for two weeks.”
As my jaw dropped, she added proudly: “Jeff and I are both Skippers.” Broad smile. My uncontrollable laughter was a reaction to the altitude, I’m sure.
The Mediterranean aside, this was a fantastic journey and although it was many weeks later that any of could fully enjoy cheese or sausage (after eating them every day on the trail), the scenery was enough to put one in one’s place.
We worked really hard through heat, rain, wind and even snow…. and we met some great people too. It was an amazing experience but I won’t hesitate to volunteer as a deck hand on our next vacation together.
Switzerland is very much like a story book. The hills are definitely alive with the sound of music, and no matter how you’re travelling you can’t help but notice the cleanliness, the politeness, and the over-all put-togetherness of both the people, and the beautiful towns and cities.
Yes, towns here are way more polite than back home.
All this cleanliness and picture-perfectness comes at a price, of course – it’s damned expensive!
Case in point: I asked my friend from London to pick up hiking socks for me. She bought two pairs for less than it would have cost me for one, here in Switzerland. Imagine: cost-savings from the UK!?
I’m no expert, but I thought I might offer a few practical tips for the traveller on a budget. These have worked for me!
- Buy groceries. Everything seems a little pricier here, but man, oh man, nothing beats a good loaf of bread and a block/wheel of FANTASTIC Swiss cheese… Add a tomato, sausage, beer – well, you’ve got all the bases covered!
- Plan your trip around the first Saturday in the month – most galleries and museums are free! A bigger city might be an idea – you’ll have more choice and can realistically “museum hop”
- Find new Swiss friends to share fondue with. The price per portion are better with bigger groups…although it may be hard to find locals who will eat this famous national dish when snow isn’t lining the ground. Other travellers may collude with you to eat liquid cheese & wine out-of-season….even if it isn’t actually cheaper sharing, it’s waaaay more fun.
- Spend most of your time hiking, wandering towns, or swimming. These are free and healthy!!! You can work off the cheese and bread and chocolate that you’re bound to be consuming.
- Camp. Zero-star accommodation can be five-stars of FUN!
- Couchsurf and be amazed. (www.couchsurfing.com)
- Invest in a ½ Price Swiss Rail Card. The cost is $99CHF and it’s valid for all rail/bus passes in the country for one month. Even if your itinerary only allows a week or two in Switzerland, this may be worth while if you’re moving around a lot. You can order online a few weeks ahead, or pick one up from a major train station when you arrive in the country. Start here: (http://mct.sbb.ch/mct/en/sts.htm)
- Check out second hand stores for cheap souvenirs. There seems to be an abundance of cookery items and mugs and national flags…full fondue sets, figurines, cow bells…
- Take a break from the internet, and if you can’t manage that, alternatively make a “to do” for when you decide to pay the exorbitant prices (just so that you don’t spend all your time on Facebook stalking your friends and looking at pictures of people’s children and your exes…)
- Go during the off-season (not in August!)…sigh
This isn’t my usual style for this blog, I realize, but a little travel advice never hurt anyone. Hope it’s helpful!!
The Swiss experience cannot be complete without an up-close and personal glimpse of the mystical, magical Matterhorn. Luckily you don’t have to be a mountaineer to appreciate the astounding beauty of the (second) highest mountain in the Swiss Alps. It’s obvious that this 4478m monolith has indeed caught the attention of the world … there is a chocolate bar based on it’s shape. Do you know which one?
We arrived in Zermatt, the small village at the base of the Matterhorn, early in the day. The train was full but not uncomfortable. There were less young people than I thought there would be, but then I considered how expensive Zermatt must be (picture Whistler in a really expensive country and you’ve got the idea), and then I understood that although it’s a very popular place, it’s not necessarily on the “backpacking circuit”.
With the money we were saving by camping and bringing our own groceries, well we could maybe pick up some souvenirs… I had my eye on one of the watches in the stores selling for $42,000 and change.
So we found our camp spot and it was as basic as they come. Actually it was sort of just a field…maybe even more like a yard, with a fence around it. The sign “Camp Ground” actually had 5 stars engraved on the bottom, yet NONE of them were filled in. Our accommodation was “no star”!! It was perfect enough. We set off to explore. There are dozens of hikes from Zermatt. We pointed ourselves upward and walked for a couple of hours. How we enjoyed the graceful views of the Matterhorn in the dying daylight; the sun hitting the surrounding peaks and glaciers was exactly perfect.
The second day we set off early. With our nice strong, dark café warming our tummies, we sprung off the dark, cool valley floor and climbed until we found sunlight in which to eat our morning feast. Glaciers and mountains, wooly sheep, small derelict cabins, and the sound of roosters announcing another day (and helicopters starting their scenic tours) were a great accompaniment to our bread and cheese. We completed the 18km circuit of the Höhenweg Höhbalmen in about six hours.
The trail was quite busy, but we had some spectacular views and were able to take a rest in the valley (the Höhbalmen). I was convinced that Heidi was going to come bounding over the next hill. This was exactly how I have picture walking in the alps.
There sure is a lot of time to think when one is climbing a mountain – or even traversing across it. This is quite a feeling.
My mind wanders and analyzes on a constant basis; this is true of most of us. We relive events, and delve into new ideas all the time….all the time. There’s that certain beautiful point during any extended activity, were the mind suddenly relaxes.
Ahhhh…. It’s nice to get to a point where you’re just concentrating on the next step.. or the wild flower at your feet, or the fact that there are dozens of butterflies landing beside you; on you. The first marmot is spotted, and then you search the rocky hills above for more. You watch the mountains creating clouds in the clear blue sky and your thoughts get bigger – they get perspective – they put you in your place. There’s nothing like the grandeur of mother nature to make you realize how small you are. It’s wonderful, and Switzerland is full of it.
Well, I’m happy to say that I didn’t get lost in the far northern reaches of British Columbia. And although I’m certain that my mind has wandered away from me more than once in the last couple of months, I’m positive that I am in good physical health and in a generally good state altogether…
In reality I spent most of June and July engrossed in the laid-back culture and the natural beauty that makes Vancouver Island the best place in the entire world. Home was nice. It’s just so damned beautiful. We really do have something special on The Island. Let’s not tell too many people ’cause I think it’s catching on.
Home was busy and wonderful and sunny and comfortable. I didn’t spend much time in one place – not more than a few nights – and so I guess I didn’t get much of a chance to settle down again. This is not, apparently, the way to set oneself up for success in matters related to resuming normal home-like activities. I didn’t even ever actually unpack!! In fact, I managed to find a smaller backpack to stuff my belongings into. Due to this amazing feat (among a few other things) I made the decision to keep going. Just a little longer. Just a few months. I’ve made my way over to the intriguing and diverse continent of Europe.
After landing in Frankfurt a few days ago, I caught up with a friend from high school. Isn’t facebook amazing? For all it’s faults, it’s certainly a good medium for staying in contact with those far-flung friends from around the world. Not only was Wesley residing in Germany, but he lives a mere half hour away from the airport! How wonderfully coincidental. Isn’t it also so wonderful to be met at the airport? This is quite a novelty and so very much appreciated. It’s nice to be led around by someone in the know? It can be quite an ordeal to navigate airports and cities after hours of breathing re-circulated air, eating plastic food, and that incessant worry about deep vein thrombosis (I jest). Truly, though, it’s nice to follow for a bit, and it was nice to see a familiar face, albeit one that is all grown up in comparison to that fresh-faced 18-year-old I once knew.
Wesley is a computer scientist and his girlfriend is a mathematician, so the conversations were interesting, to say the least. Some of their friends, all of whom are physicists or scientists of some such, came over for a party one night. It got crazy, I’m not going to lie.
It was really fun. And everyone spoke English…most of the time. And we cooked and ate and drank and I realized that home is where you make it.
We spent most of our few days together catching up on over a decade of living, all the while exploring the cities of Darmstadt and Frankfurt. A definite highlight for me was sitting on the edge of the Main River and eating leftover chili. The old churches are all right too. Germany is pretty cool.
I’ve eaten bratwurst on the streets. Well not OFF the street exactly, but more from street stalls. The mustard accompaniment covers the bits of dirt and debris …just kidding. I think the theoretical physicists’ sense of humour may have rubbed off on me.
As I write this, I sit on the side of the Alaska Highway. I’ve just driven through the small town of Dawson Creek and glimpsed the “Mile Zero” post that marks the beginning of the epic highway built during WWII.
I’ve filled the car with inexpensive Albertan gas from the last Shell I passed. Engaged in pleasant smalltalk with the gas station attendant – as he removed bugs from my windscreen – I inquired as to where I could get a nice cup of coffee. He paused a moment, looked contemplative, and then earnestly suggested the place down the road. I’m now enjoying the suggested brew and can’t help smiling to myself. Esso gas station coffee isn’t necessarily “nice” but it does the trick. I guess. It was kind of the fellow to point out that the coffee at the competing station is way better than their own.
Yeah, you know, when in Rome….??
Well, I am listening to classic rock…
although I do draw the line at country music.
Up here in the northern reaches of Alberta and British Columbia, life is simple and pleasant – straightforward, if you will. The coffee is served two ways: black, or double double. Easy.
I’ve pulled over, on this straight stretch of pavement because I wanted to get a picture of the “Moose Crossing” sign on the side of the highway. Doesn’t this image just scream Canada? A stark contrast to the “Wombat Crossing” sign I took pictures of, oh so many moons ago. On my way back to the car I glanced over to the side of the road and guess what? There, amongst the trees, stood a real moose!! Wow, are these signs accurate!
He wasn’t exactly crossing the road, but he had that look about him that suggested he was ready to travel. He was eying up the south side of the highway, and it wasn’t lost on me: he had plans to make moves.
Anyway, I’ve also pulled over, on this straight stretch of pavement, because I’m having a moment. That kind of moment I find myself having every so often, where I have trouble wrapping my head around exactly where I am. I can’t begin to count the number of times I wake up and don’t know, often for many long minutes, where I am. Sometimes this happens in broad daylight as well…like now. A hazard of travel, I reckon! Its not so much that I don’t know where I am, it’s just hard to absorb that I was somewhere so very different and so very far away only a few weeks ago.
On the other hand, it kinda feels like I never left.
Well this is another part of the adventure, isn’t it? I can’t imagine I would be drinking coffee from Esso and taking pics of moose in any other country besides here….
I’m back, and it’s going to be a fantastic summer!