Just another Monday

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It’s been said that the way/person you spend New Years is the way/person you will spend the rest of the year.

I think that’s bullshit.

What if your midnight kiss is a total dud!?

Even if the night is epic, every day isn’t going to be like that. You are going to get food poisoning  at some point this year and probably a pimple or two and you’re car might break down.

Not every night is going to be all sequins and disco balls.

Or board games and Lucky Lagers if that’s your thing.

It’s one night.

I’m not bitter. I don’t have strong opinions about New Years because I’m single, but because all the shit we get fed is god damn depressing. There is so much pressure for the perfect night! And for what?

It’s just another Monday.

It’s like engagement rings. Diamond engagement rings weren’t a thing until Da Beers said it was in likely one of the most effective marketing campaigns in the history of the world (aside from those that convince millions of people for many years that smoking was good for you) and now look at us! We’re mad for diamonds!

And cigarettes!

I prefer great grandma’s ring or a down payment on a cabin in the woods or a trip to Hawaii.

I digress.

We put so much pressure on ourselves to do all the things that people and Facebook say that we should do but for what?

Why should we feel ashamed for not having “plans”?

Yes, we made it through another year. And yes, we have another year to look forward to, but that doesn’t mean that the year ahead is cursed because we’re in sweats at home binge watching XYZ or hunched over a toilet barfing of dancing it up with a stranger with kind eyes.

Or all of the above…

Who thee actual fuck cares?

You do? I know. I get it. I have TOTALLY been there. Just not tonight. And hopefully never again.

New Years can be a magical night, but so can the Sunday after… Or March 22 Or…

Just like weddings and 30th birthday parties, all too often we put the emphasis on the wrong thing. It’s not about the event, it rarely is. Regardless of how epic the photos are of your best friend’s cousin’s black tie wedding their marriage has no more of a chance of working out than someone who got married in cowboy boots in a field with 20 people and a hot dog-fuelled reception.

That’s a wedding I want to be at… Just add Bon Jovi and it sounds like a perfect night.

I digress again.

For any of you who are not feeling too good about what your situation is this evening just remember this:  In 24 hours the Instagram stories will expire and life will go on.

Besides, what better way to start the new  year than to be OK with being exactly where you are.

I love you. Happy New Year.

 

 

 

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A million kinds of Christmas

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I wear a silver band on the ring finger of my left hand. It belonged to my friend and mentor, Hazel. It’s the only finger it fits on.

Hazel loved Christmas. She was the type of person who counted down the days on the outside of her office door. She listened to Christmas carols as soon as they were on the radio, decorated and bestowed cards and gifts upon colleagues and friends throughout the holiday season.

Her generosity and thoughtfulness didn’t start and end with the holidays. I have a starfish keychain she gave me after she returned from a weekend on Vancouver Island. And a bracelet with multicoloured rocks from another. After the successful execution of a project, she bought me a gift certificate to pick up any last minute items I needed for Spain, where I participated in an exchange program after my eight month work term.

She kept in touch the entire time I was gone.

Hazel was a force; a wild spirit in a red cardigan and glasses she often forgot were perched on her head. As strong was her heart was, she was maybe 100 pounds soaking wet. Whenever she hugged me I feared I would crush her, but we both always made it out alive.

“You smell good,” she would tell me.

She often said what she thought.

When Hazel was excited about something her eyes would sparkle and her smile would light up a room.

Her enthusiasm was contagious.

When she was concerned, she furrowed her brow in a way that made you concerned too. She was so well respected that when she had something to say people listened.

She was my hero and my inspiration. When I grew up into a career woman who wore glasses and cardigans I wanted to be just like Hazel.

A few years before I was laid off from my job in oil and gas I received some feedback from my boss.

“You need to be careful about your facial expressions. People can tell what you’re thinking.”

I shared this with my then-mentor.

“That’s what I love about you,” he said. “You have a way of getting people excited about something and when you’re concerned about something people take notice of that too.”

Hazel.

Hazel had her flaws, like all of us, but she loved and was deeply loved. This was evident in her standing room only funeral service.

Two months before Hazel passed, she sent this note out to her loving community:

I don’t want folks to feel sad or bad for me.  I’ve had a great 2
years and I’m now coming to the end of my journey on this earth.  With
no complaints with no pain and with a strong quality of life. I’ve had
a pretty good run at life with lots of love coming my way.  That’s
what’s important to me.  And the process has been long enough that
it’s carried me along with it.  There are worse times to leave this
earth.  Christmas is a very Festive time with lots to celebrate–24/7
carols (FN 95.9)!

I think of her often, my dear friend, but I especially think of her at Christmas.

Jim loved Christmas too. I didn’t know Jim, but I trust he was loved.

Is loved.

I was sauntering in the woods behind my house yesterday, when I stumbled upon a tree that had been decorated with ornaments. For some reason (I was too much in my head, likely), I hadn’t noticed the tree on my way up the trail, but there it was with red and purple glass balls hanging off of it. One decoration in particular stood out: it had a photo of a smiling man on it. Below the photo, the following was written:

To Jim, who loved Christmas so much.

I can only guess that Jim passed on which got me thinking about Hazel and the other people who are no longer here to celebrate the season of togetherness. It also got me thinking about the people in my life who felt deep loss this year.

My dear friend lost her husband. My mom’s amazing best friend lost her daughter. My sweet friend Chloe passed away tragically only two weeks after we reconnected.

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Christmas is a time of joy for many people, but not everyone. For some, Christmas is the hardest time of year because as the people we love gather around we can’t help but feel like someone is missing; something is missing.

For others, there isn’t anyone to gather around with.

For some, 2018 was the hardest year of their lives. I would love to say next year will be better, but I can’t.

For some, Christmas will never be the same because it’s not about the presents, is it? It’s about the people, the food, the memories of past years and the making of new memories.

As crazy as my family makes me sometimes, I am forever grateful to celebrate the season in a house full of people drinking various shades of wine and snacking on cookies while the turkey roasts. My favourite times are those where we all gather around the table together and share a meal, laughter and sometimes tears.

I missed Christmas two years ago because I was living in Panama. It was heartbreaking to be alone. The hangover didn’t help.

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Christmas can be a lonely time for many people.

Some people are away from their families and others are curled up in their beds nursing broken hearts.

Some people are sharing a table with others and still feel alone for a variety of reasons.

There is something about the holiday season that brings out a number of different emotions and not all of them are joy.

So what do we do?

For those of us who are riding the holiday high, take a moment to send a message or make a phone call to someone you are thinking of. Not a group text, but a Merry Christmas thinking of you, [insert name here] text. Take a friend for coffee. Send them a meme or a card or a quote that will remind them of how fucking awesome they are when they feel like garbage.

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Regardless of how great our day is, I don’t know a single soul who doesn’t appreciate hearing they are being thought of.

For those of you who are feeling lonely/sad/heartbroken know this, someone is thinking of you. Someone in this big wide world saw an Instagram post or heard a story or ate a cookie and thought about you today. Maybe they didn’t tell you, we aren’t always good at that because it either makes us feel too vulnerable or because we think you already know we think of you, but it doesn’t make it less true.

For those of you who are down one person at the dinner table, I wish I could tell you things will get better, I wish I could make things better, but I can’t. Instead I will say that as long as we toast these incredible humans they are never truly gone. As long as we tell their stories and sing their favourite songs and eat their favourite holiday treat they will always be with us.

It’s not the same and it never will be, but that’s love, isn’t it? It changes us forever whether the person is still with us or not.

I wish you all a season full of joy, laughter and tasty treats, but I know that this isn’t reality for some people.

You might be watching the Hallmark channel and crying into your morning coffee. I get it. Last night I watched Dear John. I cried. A lot.

GD Nicholas Sparks gets me every time.

You might be curled up on the couch holding a sweater that belonged to someone you loved who is no longer with you.

So while I wish you all a joy-filled holiday season, I also wish you peace. I wish you the space you need to feel how you feel and if that means you don’t say Merry Christmas that’s OK. If it means you don’t wear Christmas PJs or post happy holiday photos that’s OK too.

Maybe next year will be different. Maybe it will be a little bit better; maybe you will feel a little bit better.

Only time will tell.

But for now, for however you are feeling and wherever you are, I am thinking of you.

Redefining failure

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Warning: Contains poo talk

I woke up feeling ill. I’d had a wet cough and sinus congestion for a week, but that wasn’t it. Something was off. Immediately after breakfast I hurried to the toilet to do toilet things. It was not good.

I couldn’t be sick. I was on a mission that day. I had a 10.5 km hike ahead of me which included a 1,200 m descent. I had another 20 km in the subsequent days.

I’ll be fine, I told myself.

Halfway down switchback number 25 I started feeling the effects of heatstroke. There was no shade to be found and it didn’t matter how many sips of water I took my mouth felt immediately dry. I tortured myself about not leaving earlier and bringing too much stuff, but the truth was it didn’t matter.

I was not fine.

The worst part wasn’t being sick. It was being sick and alone.

When I reached my final destination at the bottom of the canyon I immediately fell asleep. An hour later, I made my way to the “hot” springs in hopes of washing the day and my sickness away.

Thank goodness there weren’t any signs prohibiting people who have had diarrhea in the past 24 hours from using the pool…

The mosquitoes were biting like mad, the pool was cold and I was still exhausted. I was trying to be positive, but the idea of two more days of trekking with a day pack and three litres of water made my head ache and my stomach gurgle.

After putting on all my warm clothes, I sat on the side of the canyon starting down at the river wondering what in the fuck I was going to do. Fortunately, I had wifi and was speaking with my dear friend who just returned from a two week solo trip to Sri Lanka.

“I feel like a failure,” I wrote after telling her I was thinking of taking the bus back to the main town 1,200 m up instead of carrying on for another two days and 20 km of trekking.

That’s why I came to Colca Canyon after all–To be in the canyon.

She typed no in five different languages.

“You are not a failure. Traveling solo is all about listening to yourself and do what works for you.”

She’s wise. I know.

Even with her permission, I felt like I was taking the easy way out. People do this all the time! They shit in the woods. They carry their 3 L of water and provisions without a peep of complaint. They make it happen.

So why couldn’t I?

When dinner was served, I immediately felt ill. Just the smell of food was enough to make my stomach turn. I forced it down because I knew I needed sustenance and I didn’t want to be ungrateful, but it didn’t matter in the end because it didn’t stay in my stomach for very long.

I’ll decide in the morning, I told myself before passing out at 8:15 pm.

It was a restless night of tossing and turning from side to side because the pillow was so hard my ear would get numb and hot. I went from kicking off all the blankets to pulling them back on my shivering body. It wasn’t the rest that I wanted or needed.

I woke up at 5 am when the light entered my room. I rolled over and fell back asleep until 6 am when the sound of a Peruvian man pounding a stake into the earth woke me up. I spent the next hour lying on my back wondering what to do. In doing that, I missed an hour on the trail before the heat of the day kicked in.

Fuck it, I thought. I quit.

I picked an orange from the tree and ate it quickly before the mosquitos bit into every part of me. Then I packed my bag and started my trek back to the main road to the catch the bus.

Naturally it was 45 minutes late.

When the bus stopped to change a flat tire 30 minutes after I got on, I couldn’t help but doubt myself.

Did I give up too soon? Or did I do what I needed to do to take care of myself.

I want to be the girl who says, fuck it! I’ll poop on the trail and drink from the river and sleep in the bush.

Sometimes I am that girl, but not today.

There are a lot of things I can tough out, but I don’t always think that doing so is a badge of honour.

It’s hard not to feel pressure to perservere. You see all the quotes about not being mediocre and crushing the day and how you have to work hard to get what you want bla bla bla, but sometimes I just want to pull the blankets up over my head and scream “No crushing it today. Today I will be mediocre.”

There are so many times in my life that I have held myself to an unreasonable/unrealistic standard, and naturally when I don’t hit the high bar I set I am totally down on myself. But why does the bar need to be that high?

What am I trying to prove? And to who?

I still don’t know the answer to this.

Here’s what I do know,  sometimes I give up too early. Sometimes don’t give up soon enough; I hold on too tight to things I need to let go of. I am a work in progress, but at least I know this.

So my story isn’t that I failed. Not today. My story is that I hauled my ass down the side of the canyon, sat in the hot springs and took the bus out. That’s that.

 

 

 

From hostels to hotels: the evolving identity of a traveller

20181204_105115_HDRI’ve been known to change my mind. I don’t think I’m flighty, but sometimes I make decisions before I have enough information and when I get that information it leads to a course correction.

Take this trip, for example.

I started thinking about a fall trip in July. I weighed two options: travel alone to a new country (Peru), or return to Costa Rica and Nicaragua where I would possibly meet up with my best friend.

In the moment, I felt like I needed to get out of my comfort zone. I started looking at flights and found a smoking deal to Lima. 

Decision made. 

Five months later, I arrived in Lima exhausted, but excited. I originally planned to travel alone, but in a last minute turn of events an old friend who I hadn’t seen in ten months decided to join me. 

We had an incredible time strolling through the streets of Lima and Cusco looking for the best ceviche and sweaters made with “Pura Alpaca” wool (Easier said than done). We weathered sleepless nights at a loud hostel and lost luggage. He went for water and looked for accommodations post-trek (which was my job) as I barfed my brains out after a bad experience with local cheese, and I tried to make sure we always had snacks. 

There was a balance, a rhythm, and it was nice.

We trekked to Salkantay Mountain, Lake Humantay and Machu Picchu. We took a collectivo to Pisac and explored the artisan market and ruins. We surfed little Waikiki in Lima. We fell asleep every night exhausted, yet energized from the day we had and the days that lay ahead of us.

To say we had an epic time would be an understatement. 

Then he left.

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I have travelled alone many times over the past 15 years, so I know I can do it, but it wasn’t until he left that I realized that I didn’t want to. 

I’m not the badass solo traveller I once was.

I liked having someone to ask me if I was ok after throwing up in a nasty hostel toilet or getting a slight headache from the altitude. It was nice to have someone to experience sunsets and ruins and amazing meals with. When I saw something beautiful it warmed my heart to hear someone say aloud exactly what I was thinking. 

Walking through the streets of Lima the next day, all I could hear was his voice. When I saw pom poms in the tree, I heard him making a comment about Christmas decorations. When I walked by the statues near the mall I remembered his observation about them looking like vaginas (they did). I watched the surfers at little Waikiki and remembered the pure stoke on his face after a surf sesh the night before. 

Everywhere I went in Lima reminded me of him, so naturally I had to leave. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to remember our time together but rather Cusco and Lima were places we experienced together and being there without him didn’t feel right. 

I decided on a night bus to Huanchaco. At the time it made sense – sleep on the bus and not miss any daylight. Arriving at the bus stop at 9:30 pm made me feel a little less sure of my decision.

The bus was packed and while the seats reclined, I would be lying if I said I had a decent sleep. I’m not even sure it could be called sleep.

Ten hours later and another restless night under my belt, I awoke somewhere outside of Truijillo to the sound of a poorly dubbed cop movie playing on the big screen. When I could no longer hold my bladder, I reluctantly peed in the bus toilet, which was basically peeing in a toilet bowl full of other people’s pee. 

I prayed we didn’t hit a bump.

I arrived in Trujillo exhausted and after learning I had to walk a ways to find the collectivo to Huanchaco I bartered with a cab driver and buckled up. 

Well, I tried to buckle up. There were no seat belts.

Ten minutes later, I rolled up to my hostel. It had a great rating, but as I walked up the stairs and through the common area I could tell the reviews were given by mega budget backpackers looking to party. 

The cushions in the common area were torn and stained with god knows what. The hammock looked as though it had a few STDs to give and three German girls sat chain smoking at the bar. After dropping off my bags, I went back to the common area – an outdoor patio facing the ocean – and watched the waves. 

The sky was grey. It matched my mood.

A couple joined the German girls and I overheard them talking about all the shots they took the night before and what time they got home at which was basically an hour or so before I arrived. I didn’t judge them. I understood where they were coming from, but I just wasn’t there anymore.

After a quick check in with my best friend about my new living situation and my mental state, I got the fuck out of there and booked myself into a hotel down the street with a pool for two nights to adjust to my new setting.

After being back in hostel situations, I’ve realized how much I have grown out of that environment. I love a good night out once in a while, but I also love sleep and not being hungover. I like to read on the couch without worrying about what I’m sitting on. I don’t want to share a bedroom with strangers anymore never mind a bathroom.

After 15 years of travel and countless hostels (several dodgy ones), I’m over it.

I don’t want to travel like a broke backpacker anymore. I mean, I’m not a broke backpacker for one and two I like to be comfortable. I’m not on the road for three months and pinching pennies. I have three weeks to explore this epic country and I don’t want to be sleeping with my passport for the rest of my trip because I’m afraid someone in my room is going to steal my shit.

I hate stepping into a shower that has someone else’s hair in the drain.

I don’t want to be woken up by someone snoring unless I adore them because at least I can roll them over if I adore them. Or kick them.

I thought staying at a hostel would be a great way to meet people and get tips, but the truth is I don’t really care if I meet new people and I can ask Google for tips. Or friends who have been here before.

Thanks, Phil!

If I meet someone cool along the way, YAY! I am not so closed off that I would cold shoulder an opportunity to have a good conversation, but I don’t want to talk about how many shots you did last night. If I can’t be with someone I legitimately love traveling with, sometimes I think it’s better that I just travel alone.

Which brings me to my current situation.

I had big plans to surf Northern Peru and then head up to Ecuador, but after my friend left I started looking into it more and realized how many buses it would take. At least two 10 hour rides.

Fuck. That.

I could fly from Lima to Quito and back, but the cost of that flight is worth the same as my flight from Canada to Lima.

If Huanchaco was the sleepy fishing village the books and websites said it would be, I would stay here, but the streets smell like diesel and fried food and dog shit. The buses roll through every few minutes drowning out the sound of the sea. If this town is sleepy, it’s the kind of restless night bus sleepy and that’s not the vibe I was going for.

As a surfer and beach bum, I’m surprised at how drawn I had become to the idea of flying to southern Peru to explore the mountains, canyons and volcanoes in the Arequipa area. The thought crossed my mind before I started north, but now that I’m here…

After all the stories of the Andean people and experiencing the Andes for myself I couldn’t help but think that I could have an epic girly surf trip in the new year. I will find waves close to home in the very near future. I may never come back to Peru.

And so, I booked a flight out of here.

I changed my mind.

This isn’t the first time that I have altered my course. It’s not an easy decision to make. Sometimes I feel like I failed for not sticking to a plan, but what would I be accomplishing by forcing myself to stick to a plan I am no longer inspired by?

Sometimes we need to slow down. Sometimes we need to move forward. And sometimes we need to do a complete 180.

Sometimes we try something – a town, a hostel, a travel buddy – and it doesn’t work out. Is it more noble to roll with it our to course correct? In my experience, the decision to make a move is sometimes difficult in the moment but is always worth it.

Sometimes the right thing and the hard thing are the same.

When you travel you are constantly faced with options. There is always somewhere to go and always something to see. The time constraint make things both easier and harder because our time is finite. If we sit around for too many days feeling uncertain or refusing to make a decision for whatever reason (cost, fear) our trip will be over before we know it and what would we have to show for it?

Regret is a heavier burden than the back packs and day packs we carry with us.

This is true in life as well, but time seems infinite when we’re in our day to day routine because nothing really changes.

When you travel, the only constant is change.

So, with a week left and heavy heart I say good bye to the sea and hello to a day of air planes and airports in anticipation of great adventure.

The no tipping point

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With Alberta’s recent minimum wage increase, there has been a lot of talk about tipping in the service industry. Responses seem to be mixed: some will continue to tip as they do now because they tip for service; some will leave something because of societal pressures; some have said they’ll tip less or not at all because servers get paid more, alluding to the fact that they’ve only tipped to supplement a server’s income and NOT for service.

Some people are terrible tippers and will continue to be just that.

Let me clarify – these are the people who say they’re good tippers, but leave anywhere from 0-10% regardless of the service they have received, or they admit they’re shitty tippers and just don’t care.

To those people I say: keep your dimes. You need them more than servers do.

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As someone who served to put herself through college, when minimum wage was $6, and recently spent the summer serving, I wouldn’t say I’m an authority on the topic, but if any one person is impacted by no/poor tipping it’s the server.

Here’s the thing, the way the tipping system is set up often benefits the server, but they aren’t the only one. If you have never worked in the service industry, you probably don’t know that servers share their tips. A percentage goes to the bartender, the kitchen, the hostess and the food expediter. Depending where you work, there’s another sneaky little percentage that goes to “the house”.

I still don’t know that that means.

When you tip upward of 15%, which is pretty standard, the server walks with less than 10% because he/she has to “tip out”. If you tip less than 10% servers still have to tip out. Again, depending where you work, that could be on total sales or food and beverage sales.

Regardless, we don’t walk out the door at night with as much money as you think we do.

You still with me?

For those who don’t tip – and trust me there are a lot of you – we actually pay to serve you. That’s right, just because you don’t tip us that doesn’t mean we don’t tip out the team. If the bartender was backed up at the bar/took their time with your drink order and you ding us for that, the bartender is still getting their full tip out. If there is an issue with your food, even if the server rang in everything correctly and it was a mistake in the kitchen, and you ding us for that, the kitchen is still getting their full tip out.

You hear what I’m saying?

Let me break it down for you.

If a server did a $1000 in sales and averaged 15% in tips, they will walk out with less than $100 because of the tip out. If they average closer to 12% they will walk out with closer to $50 at the end of the night. I know that may still seem like a lot, but serving is not for the faint of heart.

Serving is hard. It’s not brain surgery, but I would love to see a brain surgeon hustle from table to table, prioritizing the needs of each guest, including made up allergies (if you have a severe enough allergy that it might kill you, PLEASE TELL YOUR SERVER when you order your food), filling a kid’s soda for the 4th time (really parents?) and making sure that your drinks come out quickly and your food arrives with everything on the plate exactly as you ordered it and the right temperature. I would love to see them pick gum from underneath a table and pick up used toothpicks. We also get to have the same conversations over again every time a new table sits down. And we have to go along with it when a guest things they’re hilarious and they make a comment about the menu that we’ve heard 100 times. We have to keep our head held high when someone sexually harasses us or doesn’t leave us a tip. We have to uphold our dignity when people treat us as less than.

It’s 2018, but there are still a lot of people who look right through their server as if they deserve less respect and kindness then the person across from them.

Some shifts are easier than others. Some are harder. If you see a server is having a hard time maybe his cat died. Maybe her mom is sick. Maybe he just got out of a relationship. We aren’t robots and sometimes it’s hard for us to slap a smile on our face when the apron goes on. It doesn’t mean she sucks or she’s unfriendly. It means she’s trying.

If you really pay attention you can tell. I give those servers 30% because I’ve been there.

Haven’t we all?

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I do not agree that servers should get a fat tip just because. As a server, I know what it can be like to both have to hustle and to have a slow night, so I tend to tip on the high side if my server is personable, efficient and knowledgeable. If I can see that the place is busy and food and drinks are slow, I WILL NOT ding her points for that. I will, however, ding her points if I see my drink is up and she’s flirting with the bartender or picking her cuticles.

That’s annoying.

So yes, being tipped is a privilege and not a right, but it’s also a privilege to dine out and if you have a nice experience then a tip is greatly appreciated. If you don’t, remember that it’s not always the servers fault, but they are the ones who will suffer if you do not tip.

So for those of you who haven’t been tipping for service, I suggest you reconsider. And for those of you who feel like you shouldn’t have to tip as much or at all, on behalf of servers everywhere I kindly ask that you stay home.

Like sand through the hour glass

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I’ve been having trouble getting to sleep at night. At first I thought maybe the cereal I was eating as a late night snack had too much sugar in it giving me a buzz before bed. Then I thought maybe I was getting too much sleep when I was down for the count meaning it was harder to get to sleep the next night because I simply wasn’t tired yet.

I’ve tried wine, tea, pranyama, reading, The Crown and hot baths. I have changed my sheets and rotated through all four of my pillows.

At long last, I think I’ve figured it out.

While the rest of my body has had enough for the day my mind continues to race. It floods me with all the things I need to do, want to do and haven’t done.

It takes me back to last Tuesday night when I answered a phone call from my mom in a typical cheeky manner, only to hear her broken voice on the other end telling me a dear friend we loved passed away.

She was only 23.

I grew up babysitting this now grown woman and affectionately referred to her as monster. As adults, we laughed about my name for her and I know she loved that we had our own little thing. As a baby, she loved my sister, and I was quickly relieved of my babysitting duties, but she always had my heart. She was a force to be reckoned with.

Now she’s gone.

She’s gone and not only does my body ache of sadness for the loss her family is experiencing, it aches knowing how quickly things can change.

On Saturday night I started writing this while nursing a tea I made with a teabag I took from her memorial. Funerals are far too expensive and taking a teabag for the road was my way of revolting against the lack of parking and the fact that they couldn’t get the music quite right. I was disgusted to find marketing material for wills in the chapel instead of boxes of Kleenex.

What the actual fuck?

Screw you funeral home! I’m taking a tea for the road! Oh by the way, I’ll be getting my will elsewhere thank you very much!

You can very clearly tell that I have been working through the anger part of my grief.

Only five days before I head the news of my monster’s passing, I received word that I was the successful candidate for a job I really wanted in a town I really wanted to live in. Normally, September is a sombre month for me. I think it brings back memories of having to put shoes back on and brush my hair after a summer of being free. Maybe it has something to do with an October birthday. I don’t know. But I do know that September for me has always represented a time of change and I don’t always handle change so well; especially when it’s not on my terms.

September started on a high. I had just returned from an epic girly surf trip, interviewed for the job and had a really nice long weekend. I thought maybe this would be the year.

Then monster passed.

Then it snowed.

The weather has matched my mood: confused.

I lie awake staring at the plastic glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling and think about all the time I could have spent with my girl. How easy it would have been to meet her for coffee or lunch once a month. How I could have checked in with her more often.

Why didn’t I?

I so naively believed that she’d always be there.

You always think you’ll have more time until you don’t.

I think about the list of hikes I wanted to do and campgrounds I wanted to stay at and only half of them have a check mark beside them.

I think of the friends I made plans with that never panned out.

Where did the time go?

Whenever I hear people say they’re excited for boot and sweater weather I want to throat punch them. I have cute boots too, but I’m not ready to wear them. I’m not ready for change. I’m not ready to say goodbye.

But I don’t get to decide. The power isn’t mine. Sometimes that’s a relief and sometimes it really cramps my style.

As I put the flannel sheets on my bed I can’t help but yearn for those hot summer nights we all complained about not too long ago. Everything seemed so simple back then. I didn’t need to pack up my life to move to a new town. I didn’t have a big girl job to prepare myself for. Monster was alive and I happily hit ‘Like’ on the photos and memes she posted.

Now everything is different and it’s happened so fast.

Now that I’ve gotten it all out, my eye lids grow heavy. I look forward to the flannel; to the stars on the ceiling; to the sound machine; to the hope that despite the chaos (heartache, laughter, tears and joy) I get to do it all over again tomorrow with a little more gusto and gratitude, and a lot less cereal.

The KOA Effect

“Going back to a simpler life is not a step backwards.”

Yvon Chouinard

 

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Only a 45 minute drive away from Arches National Park and all the people in it lies Fisher’s Towers where I saw only four other people in three hours.

I recently returned home from a 20 day US road trip. What started as a once in a life time trip down the I-15 and back up the west coast 2.5 years ago has become an annual pilgrimage. Every time I make the drive south there is somewhere else I want to go and something else I want to see and do; a trail, a wave, a taco truck – it never ends.

My first two nights were less than ideal. Instead of pitching a tent by a river and falling asleep to the sound of a babbling brook as I had intended, night one was spent in a nice enough rest stop parking lot outside of Helena, Montana. Night two was spent in the Walmart parking lot in Provo, Utah. Not my fav.

While car camping is easy – pull over anywhere and sleep – and hotels are convenient, I like sleeping in my tent. I love falling asleep to the sound of water or the wind through the trees.  water. I love the smell of damp mulchy earth and salt on the post-sunset breeze. That’s a big part of what these trips have become for me: reconnecting with my main mama – mama nature.

Two days in transit and sleeping in my car were less than ideal, but Monday I arrived in Moab and found a beautiful spot on the Colorado River only steps from the trail head to the Corona Arch. There was a toilet, but no sink. I bathed in the Colorado River. For one night and $15 US it would do.

When I decided to camp on public lands instead of in campgrounds, I was prepared to not have amenities like flushing toilets and sinks, but there is an element of convenience that comes with campground amenities that I’ve learned I kind of like. My main motivator to camp “off the beaten path” wasn’t out of financial necessity, but rather the desire to be closer to rivers than roads and animals instead of people, but that came with an element of roughing it.

On my first night in Moab, I ate dinner at the brewery in town (not roughing it and not that delicious) so I wouldn’t have to mess around cooking somewhere that didn’t have water or a basin for me to do the dishes. I had both those things, but then I would have to empty the Rubbermaid container that held all my cooking utensils to use it as a sink and then use my drinking water to wash meaning I’d have to track down a place to get potable water the next day.

Too much work.

Moab was hot as fuck, so the next night I splurged and pitched my tent in the dry desert dust at the KOA (Kampground of America for my Canadian people) just south of town. I definitely needed a shower at that point (my rinse in the silty Colorado just made me feel dirtier), but what I really needed in that 40 degree Celsius heat was a pool.

They had a pool.

After a morning hike to the Corona Arch, I made my way into town for a coffee before checking in at the KOA – my new home for one night.

Before I set up my tent I used the bathroom. I love KOA bathrooms. They are usually clean, stocked and the toilets flush. I know, I know I sound like a priss, but after a few days of gas station restrooms, peeing on the side of trails and pit toilets, being able to flush makes me feel like royalty.

They don’t call it the porcelain throne for nothing!

And a sink to wash my hands?

Heaven.

Did I mention the pool?

I did. OK.

The next day, I was back on the Colorado River feeling like a whole new woman with a little more sun on the backs of her legs than she probably needed from an afternoon spent poolside.

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I spent my last night starfishing in my tent with the fly off looking for shooting stars. It was hot, but there’s something pretty amazing about being totally immersed in the outdoors as opposed to being behind four walls and completely removed from the natural world around us.

When I’m camping, there are certainly moments when I yearn for air conditioning and fresh towels, but that last night staring up at the sky with beads of sweat on my upper lip was not one of them.

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After three nights in Moab, I made my way to Arizona. It was long drive to Page, so I had far too much time to psychoanalyse my time in Utah. My camping experience got me thinking about needs versus wants and the importance of stripping ourselves bare every once in a while to remind ourselves about the things that really matter.

The truth is, when I’m at home I’m not always aware of how much is too much. I’m surrounded by excess: too much stuff, too many expectations and too many ideas of what my life should look which only leads me to strive for more… more of what I really don’t need.

Being away from the comfort of home gives me the freedom to think a little bit more clearly about the things in my life that, while sitting around a campfire eating a hot dog off a stick in and old flannel shirt and shitty jeans, seem a little superfluous.

I don’t need very much to be content, but I only know that because of the moments in life when I’ve left it all behind.

When I get in my car or on a plane with only a backpack full of my favourite things – only necessities – I feel a sense of relief. I’m certainly not saying that everyone needs to backpack for three months, or spend a week in mountains as part of their own personal needs/values assessment, but there’s something to be said about “starting over” even if it’s just imaginative.

I do, however, think every new relationships should start with a weekend camping trip. If you can shop for food, cook and do dishes together, get lost in the woods, and experience one of you getting an “upset stomach” there’s not much you won’t be able to handle as a couple.

I digress.

Being away from home creates a disassociation that allows me to see what actually brings me joy, like catching up with a friend over brunch, camping by an alpine lake or laughing with my nieces and nephew, and what feels like a burden, like having too many pairs of shoes.

I don’t think we all need mega soul searching journeys to remind ourselves what matters, sometimes a good conversation will do just that, but there’s something to be said about sleeping somewhere unfamiliar or trying something new that grounds me in my truth in a way that my fourth floor apartment, full closet and job can’t always do.

Travel has never been about finding myself, but rather losing myself. It challenges my ideas of who I am and what I really give a shit about. There are times when I was making more money than I needed so I would spend it on clothes, shoes and trips that ended up being far more luxurious than I was comfortable with. To be clear, by version of luxury includes a private room in a clean hostel with a new pair of Havianas and street tacos.

Rouging it was a bunk bed in a questionable hostel with hair clogging the sink drain where I showered wearing old navy flip flops stuffing my face with peanut butter and jam sandwiches.

Like I said, I’m a KOA kinda girl.

After travelling around the world sleeping in hostels in various states I know what I need: somewhere clean, with a private room and a cozy bed. I don’t even need a private bath, but it’s certainly nice.

After being in relationships I am more clear about the qualities that I want in a partner than I have ever been before. Humility has never been more important. Kindness. An adventurous spirit. None of those things would have been immediate considerations ten years ago.

Sometimes we only learn by doing, but if we don’t dare to sleep in the tents and date the duds and eat peanut butter and jam sandwiches for three months how will we really know?