You know what, I’m cooped up at home on a Friday night, my housemates both in separate rooms, wondering what to do next on my never ending task list.
I’m nearing the end of an 8-week creative non-fiction writing course, that has not only taught me all the things I don’t know about writing, but has worn me down with a mountain of assignments and reading tasks. I should be reviewing the work of my peers and reading about lyrical essays and mixed media. But I can’t. I just want to write without intent, or style, or consideration of a beginning, middle, or an end.
I’m writing tonight because I want to. To rid myself of that feeling of being under-qualified, or as my friend Chrissy so rightly put it, a complete literary fraud. I’m going back to the form I know and the voice I’m familiar with. There’s been a lot on my mind that I’ve wanted to communicate, so I’m writing because it feels liberating.
The writing course, of course, has been incredibly insightful none-the-less. I’ve learned to express myself in eloquent metaphors, but I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process. I’m one of the least creative, creative people I know, and I put it down to a life full of efficiency. I eat the same foods, wear the same combinations of clothing, and try to use every second of every day productively. I don’t take time to soak in the details, use clever language or colourful prose. I want to get my messages across succinctly, so I can move onto the next assignment before the next.
It sounds awful, but even when I’m not doing something it’s because I’ve scheduled time to do nothing – like meditate, or fold laundry, or speak to my housemates because it’s socially required. My life is one calculated move after the next, but it’s essentially what drives me. There’s nothing worse than an unproductive me.
The interesting thing is that I recently found my breaking point. The moment when I realised I’d tied myself in so many knots, I could no longer undo them all.
I experienced this in a number of ways; increased anxiety, inability to focus, moments where I’d burst into unexpected tears wondering what the hell was wrong with me. My life had become a series of tasks, and if I didn’t get them done I was failing.
The problem was overselling myself. There wasn’t enough time to do everything. But instead of prioritising, I just continued to steamroll ahead. Like a deflated balloon in much need of air, I began to sink instead of breathing.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned this year is that I’m not perfect, and that’s okay. Though I’m a strong independent woman, admitting that I need help has made me feel more empowered than I’ve ever been.
I’d always viewed help as a sign of weakness. I want to do everything I can on my own. But it’s amazing what happens when you accept vulnerability. Reaching out is often harder than going it alone.
So if I were to extrapolate a theme from this, as my writing coach would insist I do, I’d say it’s about accepting that I’m human. And instead of juggling life’s demands while sitting at my desk on a Friday night, I’m going to celebrate humanity instead, by setting aside time to share this story.
I’ve been sitting in a lot of meetings at work recently, discussing ideas and creative solutions to problems that often cause me to drift away on my own thoughtful tangents resulting in two columns in my notebook. One for work, the other for my own inspiration.
Friday was one of these aforementioned occurrences and I thought it worthy of sharing, as my notebook weighed more heavily towards the B column.
Sometimes the solutions to a problem can only be found by working back from the desired result. I’ve been applying this principle to the project I’m currently working on, but because I’m equally consumed by thoughts of what to do once this contract is up, I’ve begun applying this philosophy to myself.
In other words, to decide what to do next, I need to start from the end and work back, which as a concept raises some rather interesting questions.
Where am I when I die?
Who is around me and where do I live?
What was I doing before I died?
Was I sitting on a yacht drinking champagne, living in a cottage in the woods nursing squirrels, or did I plummet to my death as a human kite?
What job did I retire from?
What possessions did I own?
What was on the wall of my bedroom?
What languages did I speak?
What was my greatest skill?
Who will remember me?
What was the final chapter in my memoir?
Death is a reality I usually sweep under the carpet and avoid thinking about, but the more I accept it, the more I remind myself to live. And perhaps if I consider these sorts of questions before my mortality catches up, the better I can steer my choices when it comes to making decisions.
Like a lot of people, I don’t have these answers, any of them in fact. I don’t have a five or ten year plan, I feel weighed down by options, I change my mind frequently, and I’m constantly questioning what the hell I’m doing here. But if the decisions I make today shape my tomorrow, perhaps I should start to consider what my tomorrow actually looks like.
I purposely reversed my regular walking route today for a new perspective, while considering the questions above. Though it didn’t result in specific answers, the common themes revolved around simplicity, community and activity. Who knows how this translates over the next five, ten or fifteen years, but for now it feels like a good place to start.
Human kind was blessed with compassion, and although we don’t always exercise this gift, people step up when tragedy strikes.
It’s been said that the worst situations bring out our best, and I can attest to that after witnessing the flood of support for a close friend of mine who lost her home on Monday night.
A group of us were playing trivia when my friend Mikayla received a phone call from her dad saying that her house was sinking. She and her brother live with their dad on an old transport boat from the 1940’s south of Vancouver on the Fraser River. Mikayla jumped out of her seat and fled the restaurant, closely followed by a friend of ours whose immediate reaction was to follow her and help.
The next morning I discovered that at 2am her home had been completely submerged, but thanks to my friend Kieran coaching her through the process, Mikayla was able to salvage her personal items before the boat went under.
I spoke to her that afternoon, and through her desperate tears she told me she was cooped up in her dad’s girlfriend’s two bedroom apartment with five people. Offering up my home was a no brainier, and then setting up a fundraising site to collect donations from those wanting to lend support was the obvious next step.
Since Monday night Mikayla has been inundated with calls from people offering their thoughts and prayers, a place to stay, food and clothing, plus access to a shower and laundry. Over 40 people have collectively donated over $2,500, and most of these people are earning just over minimum wage working two jobs to afford living in Vancouver. With only one week until Christmas and the extortionate costs for retrieving the boat from the bottom of the river, this financial assistance is invaluable to Mikayla and her family, and I’m hoping that over the next few days that total will creep even higher.
When I told Mikayla about the donations, she fell to her hands and knees on my kitchen floor and wept, saying her heart isn’t big enough to accept all the love she’s receiving. I bent down and held her hands, and explained that we are the ones who have been blessed with the opportunity to help her. People thrive on being good, on the satisfaction of contributing to something greater than themselves. I said that her challenge, above everything else, is to accept the generosity from those who want to help, who are as grateful as I am to be able to make her life just that little bit easier.
Though you may not know Mikayla personally, if you’d like to make a donation, your contribution would be greatly appreciated. For most of us it’s hard to imagine what being homeless really feels like, especially one week before Christmas during one of Vancouver’s coldest recorded Decembers.
This time last year I went searching for a way to lend support to others over Christmas. This year the opportunity found me.
I looked in the mirror today and thought… ‘Huh, I’m actually starting to look my age’. It’s not just the lines on my face or the sprouting grey hair. It seems that my general appearance and body language is saying, ‘This is who I am, take it or leave it,’ and I can really tell I mean it.
The older I get the less I give a shit about what others think. Everyone’s so wrapped up in their own lives it’s ridiculous to think they even care. But it’s taken years to realise that I’m not the centre of the universe. I’m only as important to people as they are to me, and the world doesn’t owe me or anyone any favours. Make the best of what you have. It’s so simple and true, and for once I understand it.
Tomorrow is my 34th birthday, and as I wandered the cemetery this afternoon on another of Vancouver’s grey and drizzly days, I thought about how damn lucky I am to have so many wonderful people in my life. I’ve literally hit the jackpot with a sense of community and a stimulating job, and even though I feel like the most ordinary and uninspiring version of myself right now, I actually feel the happiest.
I spent many of my nomadic years craving a community. Longing for the ability to round up a group of people at the drop of a hat for dinner, a party, or to hang out with in someone’s lounge room on a lazy Sunday morning. So for my 34th birthday I decided my celebration of life would involve just that, bringing together 34 people for Sunday breakfast in one of the most casual settings possible: my kitchen and lounge room. Not all 34 could make it, but those who came are some of my favourite friends that span the past nine years of my life.
It was the first time I’ve felt comfortable combining my different worlds, and I realised this afternoon it’s because I’m finally comfortable with who I am. I can be the same person around my 25-year-old friends as I am around my 35-year-old friends. I behave the same, I dress the same, and I have the same conversations, because I’ve fully embraced the 34-year-old me.
This may not sound like a big deal, but I used to feel like many different people: The Australian Rozanne, the Middle East Rozanne, the Canadian Rozanne, the PCT Rozanne, and the family Rozanne. My life seemed so incredibly different in all of these scenarios because I lacked my own setting. I was immersed in the culture of other people’s lives, living experience-to-experience, and fitting in with other’s routines and schedules in-between. I was a real-life serial nomad, and I’ve come to realise that existence lacks an important sense of belonging.
When I walked the Camino in 2014 in the wake of the PCT and four months of working in Abu Dhabi, I realised what I craved the most was a permanent address, full time friends, and a community of people who share the same interests.
For the past 1.5 years I’ve been building that life, and today I realised it’s slowly coming together. It’s probably one of my most satisfying achievements, because it’s grown so organically and because it’s not an easy thing to find.
So on the eve of yet another year on this planet, I’m so grateful for my friends and family, for those who still listen to me ramble on, and for each new line of wisdom that appears on my aging face. If I can feel this good every birthday, I’ll know I’m doing something right.
Registrations for the 2017 Yukon River Quest open tomorrow – Nov 1, 2016. Though I am not planning to paddle in the race next year, mainly because of work commitments (yes I got a new job), I do know people who are planning to take on the epic adventure (in a kayak and on a SUP). To celebrate their decision I have put together a quick breakdown of what I believe contributed to my success in crossing the finish line in under 63 hours in a solo kayak (despite my broken rudder and foot pedal).
I suggest scheduling your training sessions in your calendar each week. If you can maintain a routine that’s the best, but if you have to go week by week, ensure you’ve locked down a rough plan the week before. Ensure you allow sufficient time for recovery. My friend Jerome could never stress this enough!
This was my rough training schedule:
Gym sessions: 30-60 minutes on the rowing machine (twice a week)
Swimming: 1.25km in an indoor pool (twice a week)
Running: 5-10km (1-2 times a week)
Cycling: 8 – 10km (daily commuting)
Paddling: 2 x shorter paddles (1-2 hours) & 1 x longer paddle (2-6 hours) each week
2-3 very long paddles up to 12 hours to test all systems (one in May and one early June)
Talk to people who have completed the race. Everyone has his or her own systems and opinions, but theirs will give you a good place to start.
Train with all the gear you will use that isn’t stored in your hatches (if kayaking). You want to test your gear and systems as much as possible. Hopefully what’s in your hatch you won’t need.
Train in the clothing you plan to wear. Use the cold winter training sessions to prepare for those cold nights.
Test out the food you plan to eat, especially on your longer paddles to make sure it’s digestible. Store the food as you would on the race so you know how to access it.
Keep track of all your gear by keeping a list of what you still need and what you’re using. Keep this list updated so when it’s time to head to Whitehorse you know exactly what to pack. Don’t leave anything off this list no matter how small (e.g. ear plugs for Carmacks, dental floss, etc).
Make a detailed list of what you want your support crew to do at Carmacks and figure out what you plan to eat there so they’re prepared (see my Carmacks TO DO list for Morgan).
Purchase the maps early (Mike Rourke), colour them in to distinguish the river from the islands and banks and write distances and notes on them before laminating.
Practise peeing whilst in your boat – many times. I used a female urinal which I attached to the deck behind me.
Find someone to train with (if possible). It will help you push your limits and provide additional motivation through the rainy months.
Create a playlist of motivating songs that will keep you awake and inspired when the caffeine pills just aren’t enough.
Heard the expression ‘beating a dead horse’? If something isn’t working, change it!
Get plenty of rest before the race. I was told to take three weeks off but I only took about two. Bank lots of sleep, you’ll need it!
Get to Whitehorse early so you can do at least one or preferably two practise paddles, especially if you’re renting your boat and have never paddled it before. I did one from the start point to Burma Rd on the Saturday before the race and another from Burma Rd to Lake Laberge and back to Policeman’s Point on the Sunday. Be aware! The road into Policeman’s Point is seriously rough. Don’t go down without an AWD or 4WD.
Plan if you’re going to stop at the end of Lake Laberge or not. I wasn’t planning on it until my rudder broke. It’s up to you, but if you’re going for time then I suggest doing what you need to do in the current of the river after you’ve made it across the lake.
Start eating healthy well before the race. I consulted my friend Justin who is a nutritionist and came up with a basic meal plan to ensure I was eating the right foods 80% of the time at least 6 months out.
Start taking Glucosamine tablets 2-3 months out for your joints. I recommend reading about it and making your own decision. Turmeric is also good but whether it was mental or not, Glucosamine worked for me.
Get your SPOT device or inReach working early. It will stop you getting grief from Peter Coats prior to the race.
Be diligent about your first aid kit and prepare it early. Make it easy for the race organisers and label each zip lock bag with the contents so they don’t have to fish through and count everything. The requirements can be found here: https://www.yukonriverquest.com/first-aid-kit/
Purchase travel insurance if you’re not from the Yukon.
I found a GPS was a must during training and the race to check distance and time. I used a Garmin 62S (version before the 64S). With lithium batteries it lasted all the way to Carmacks (easily) but my support crew Morgan changed the batteries just in case.
I used the Seals Sneak spray skirt with a zip down the front so I could access inside my cockpit more easily. My spray skirt leaked like crazy (I should have known this from training). Make sure your spray skirt is water tight. I spent 63 hours soaking wet and cold. Not fun.
Tape a piece of foam under your heels; they will love you for it.
Have a light that you can attach to the front of your boat (headlamp is fine or I also used bike lights). You don’t want to wear a headlamp on your head for the sake of comfort and it will destroy your night vision.
I used my dry bag with extra clothes as a thigh cushion. Martin who did the race the year before me swears by using a thigh cushion but I found the dry bag was a good alternative.
I used a deck net to hold down items I needed quick access to behind me (urinal, water bottles to refill, rain gear). The suction cups were a little inconsistent but I never lost anything (thankfully).
I loved my Gortex rain hat. It didn’t cut my vision or hearing like a hood does. Get one big enough so you can wear a toque/beanie underneath when it’s cold.
Have a jacket big enough that you can throw it over your PFD or be smart like my friends Pam and Jim and just use the arms with a thin piece of fabric that connects them (they just bought second hands jackets and butchered them with scissors.) Your PFD will keep your core warm so you only need to worry about your arms, head and hands.
Chewable Mentos were awesome for a quick breath refreshment and edible teeth clean. Don’t take chewing gum or you’ll have to dispose of it.
Take ginger Gravol chewable tablets or something to settle your stomach. You will likely feel sick and chewing something will keep you awake.
I carried a lot of extra weight in water. You definitely don’t need to carry much until the White River comes in and you can’t drink from it anymore. I had a 4L bladder full of fresh water and a 4L bladder with NUUN electrolyte tablets and additional calorie tablets stored behind my seat.
Flat Coca-Cola was lifesaving at the end of the race to keep me awake. I also couldn’t get enough of corn chips because of the salt.
Other Random Tips:
If you’re feeling cold pee. You waste so much energy heating all that urine you’re storing.
I took a sleeping pill and a magnesium tablet the night before the race and at Carmacks and slept like a baby. Test them out first!
I took Tylenol every few hours during the race with plenty of water. I can’t imagine the race without it but some people battle through.
Have an old piece of carpet or bubble wrap (like Morgan and I did) to slide your boat off at the start of the race. It’s fully loaded and will be heavy and you don’t want wet feet from the get-go.
Pick your line early. You don’t want to battle the current so know which side of the islands you want to go and get into position as early as possible. Also pay attention to your maps. It’s very easy to lose where you are (which is when your GPS distance will help).
Don’t forget to pack a change of clothes for Coffee Creek.
I super glued Velcro to my spray skirt and wrapped Velcro around my paddle shaft so that when I stopped paddling, my paddle would stick to my spray skirt and not slide off into the river.
I used a cream called Sore No More on my muscles before and during the race and LOVED it. It’s all natural ingredients and heats up the muscles a bit like Tiger Balm. I highly recommend it. http://www.sorenomore.com/ (and no they don’t sponsor me, but I wish they did!)
And lastly feel free to flip through my blog entries in preparation of the race and afterwards. You can also watch my newly edited version of my race video FLOW. It’s only 18:23 minutes instead of 30:00. And if you want more, the full-length version of all the videos I took during the race can be found here (just don’t get too discouraged – it’s a good reminder to test your boat well ahead of the race if you can!)
Best of luck, but more importantly, enjoy the journey!
It’s been far too long, so long I felt the need to say something profound when I finally broke the ice and resurfaced. Then I realised we could all be waiting a long time for that, and simply put pen to paper.
Fall is such a tumultuous season. I struggled through it last year so I know what to expect. But it’s a constant rollercoaster for me, magnified in part by the dramatic change in weather and reduction of daylight. I’ve already had my fair share of ups and downs, been completely overwhelmed by life and the world and what I should be doing, and then just fallen back into the ‘ah well let’s just see what happens’ kind of mentality.
Since the Yukon River Quest life has continued at a fairly hectic pace. I’ve hiked trails, paddled, surfed, SUP’d, spent time with my folks, and presented about my race. I uploaded all my videos from the YRQ 2016 so you can now watch the unedited clips (if you were left wanting more), read my gear and food lists, and see the list of tasks I set for poor Morgan at the halfway point in Carmacks. I was hoping to review all my food and gear, as not all were effective or the best choices, but I’m at least sharing my opinions with another prospective paddler for next year, and so the baton of knowledge is being passed on.
Part of this month has been spent at job interviews wearing knee-length pencil skirts and ironed blouses, and the other at my current job Googling images for made up words like ‘Fug’, and learning how to tie bowlines between customer service. Working in retail has provided me with some of the most candid workplace scenarios I’ll ever experience, while introducing me to some of the most eclectic and wholesome people I’ll ever meet. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my vacation from the ‘real world’; from responsibility, corporate clothing, office cubicles and adults. I teleported 10 years back in life to experience an alternate version to the one I lived in fast paced international events, and I’ve come to realise I’m looking for something in between.
So this is where I’m at, contemplating all the the who (am I?), what (am I doing?), why (am I doing it?) where (am I going?), when (should I go?) and how (will I get there?) kind of questions we love to ask ourselves. The first two are easy to answer, but the other four take a little more thought.
I feel as if fall is the season for change, so although I’m not sure of the exact direction I’m heading right now, I’m just gonna ride the wave and see where it takes me.
Life has a way of throwing us the unexpected, and sometimes I feel I’m dealt that hand more frequently than some. When I took on the challenge of the Yukon River Quest, the longest annual canoe and kayak race in the world, I wasn’t 100% certain I had what it takes to paddle 715km non-stop down a river for three days. I figured to do this you needed to be a super human… like those who run ultra marathons before breakfast and climb mountains in their sleep.
My goal since the beginning of the year was to become this super human, to train and prepare my body for a gruelling exercise and to research and test every system and piece of gear imaginable to increase my chances of success.
In January I’d paddled no more than 25 uninterrupted kilometres in my life, but by May I’d increased that to 140 by putting in close to 1000 training kilometres throughout the winter months. By the time I reached Whitehorse in June, I’d eaten all the right foods, taken all the advised supplements, ticked all the boxes on gear, and ensured sufficient rest time before the big day.
When my boat finally launched from the banks of the Yukon River at 12:00 noon on June 29, 2016, I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. I was doing what I’d been dreaming about every waking minute since the beginning of the year. My body felt strong, my systems were dialled, and my mind was ultimately focussed.
When I reached the 50km stretch across Lake Laberge just 3 hours in, I moved across it effortlessly. There was barely a breeze, the water was calm, and there was even time for candid conversations with fellow paddlers as I casually cruised by. I passed my friend Jason who was racing on a stand up paddleboard around the 60km mark. It was the first year the race organisers had agreed to include this experimental class, and because Jason and I had shared many a training session together in Vancouver, it was a special moment seeing him out on the water.
“You’re killing it,” he cried, and I replied the same to him.
The slight headwind that had rolled in kept our interaction brief, but I was certain at some point our paths would cross again.
Then 30 minutes later when I was half way across the lake, a mere 65kms and 7 hours into the race, my right foot pedal began to come loose. Not only does the pedal control steering, it allows one to use the stronger muscles in their legs and torso to power each stroke, alleviating the weaker muscles in the shoulders and wrists. I held my breath as it wobbled unsteadily beneath my foot, moving in a way a fixed object in a boat never should. The next thing I heard was an audible clunk, and suddenly the foot pedal was gone.
I was struck by a shockwave of disbelief. I didn’t know what was happening, other than my boat was starting to turn sideways. I stretched out my foot to feel the plastic pedal dangling along the rudder cable within an inch of my toe. I nudged it gently and the boat veered right, but the minute force caused the pedal to disappear altogether, along with my ability to steer.
My eyes widened with alarm. I stopped blinking. Thoughts littered my mind as I paddled towards the rocky shore on one side, praying for some kind of reasonable explanation as to what was happening. A family who was setting up camp watched me zigzag towards them, and a young girl and her mother held onto the end of my boat as I clumsily extracted myself from it, knee-deep in water perpendicular to the shore. Their faces expressed intrigue and a hint of bewilderment as I tried to force a smile to match theirs. But my world was being swallowed like liquid down a plughole, and my attention fell immediately on the task at hand.
I bent my head into the cockpit to assess the damage, extracting a sheared piece of plastic that had once bound the foot pedal to the side of my kayak. The balloon of hope inside me deflated, and a flood of tears came rising to the surface.
“My foot pedal’s broken,” I croaked breathlessly, gasping for air through my trembling lips.
The woman’s expression shifted dramatically, but the young girl seemed to be clinging to hope.
“My dad’s pretty handy,” she offered sweetly, her bright eyes aglow with the strength of possibility.
Though her words resonated above the cacophony of panic plaguing me, I stared blankly towards the shoreline, motionless in my inability to comprehend.
“Why don’t you come out of the water?” her mother coaxed gently, her concern beginning to mirror my own.
I lumbered out of the water with my clipboard and maps dangling heavily from the bottom of my spray skirt, attached cleverly with the industrial velcro I’d adhered only a few nights before (another ingenious system that had taken me months to concoct).
While the woman’s husband began his examination of the boat, I wandered up the beach out of view, squatting behind a log as I watched the other racers passing by.
‘Could they see me stranded? Had anyone spotted my boat and wondered what was happening?’ I wondered while my chest felt heavy and my senses went numb. I’d transformed into a spectator. Sidelined. Forcibly extracted from the race I was moments before participating in.
All the training sessions, the months of testing food, the gear I’d purchased, and re-purchased, and changed and purchased again. Nothing seemed to matter now. It was all drifting away like the boats on the lake floating past me.
As I walked back towards the boat I listened for hope amongst the man’s grunts and heavy sighs. He’d had his head inside the cockpit for 20 minutes, and when his face reappeared he looked defeated and forlorn.
“Unfortunately there’s not much I can do,” he said shaking his head apologetically.
My tears resumed their steady stream, and my audible sobs told the story of my utter disappointment.
“Do you think you can still paddle?” questioned the young girl with quiet curiosity.
I wiped my eyes on my damp sleeve in an attempt to recompose.
“I guess I can try,” I whispered hoarsely, resolved to the fact I had no other choice.
I lifted the rudder out of the water and climbed back into the boat as the three of them held onto the bow.
“You’re still a hero to me,” the young girl smiled courageously, her persistent enthusiasm clinging to me as her dad pushed me from the shore.
It was shortly after this moment I turned on my camera for the first time, capturing the thoughts, moods and emotions I fluctuated between throughout the course of the race. Over the last few weeks I’ve been stringing together these clips to tell my story, and while I leave you to watch my 30-minute video (I’ve actually edited it down to 18:23), I wanted to thank everyone who was cheering me on from the virtual sidelines, and to those who supported me while taking on this challenge (THINK Kayak, Zeal for Life, MEC & Deep Cove Kayak). I’m truly grateful for everything I experienced.