Category Archives: Canada

The grass is always greener

My legs felt like lead this evening as I pushed my heavy hybrid mountain bike up the steep hills of Vancouver towards my house, following my fifth straight day at work. In other jobs I’ve worked for months at a time with no days off, sometimes for more than 15 hours a day; but there’s something about working in retail and customer service which drains the lifeblood from every one of my veins. I’ve spent the last three days paddling boats in English Bay to gain hands-on experience about our rental fleet, but fatigue and hunger and my general feeling of blah urged me to stop at my local Vietnamese Phở restaurant ¾ of the way home tonight on Main St. I’ve named the place appropriately ‘Can’t give a Phở’ because I tend to stop here when I’m aching from the incline, and I can’t be bothered with the thought of cooking dinner at home.

On this particular occasion, sitting opposite my steaming bowl of raw beef and rice noodles, accepting the fact that with my miserable pay check I’ll need to work a full hour to cover it; I feel unusually alone. Not the kind of loneliness where I’m craving for someone else’s company, but the kind of isolated sensation where I realise that I do things like sit at restaurants or go to the cinema solo, just because it’s more convenient to be by myself. While listening to the stereo in the back corner pumping out karaoke style instrumental versions of popular music, I’m sliding into one of my favourite habits of overthinking.

Perhaps it’s a result of my hunger, or fatigue, or deepening sensation of isolation, but I can feel my mood slipping from a rather flat, insignificant feeling of dullness, to bored, to cranky, to being self spiteful, to overwhelmingly unmotivated, to a sense of being poisoned by my own negativity. The kind of feeling where my dark inner demons pull me deep into my own self disillusioned despair. This often happens when I’m on my own. When my brain has the time to focus and think solely about me. About my situation in life, and all the things that I could be doing better, or that I should be doing better, and where I eventually hit the bottom and question why I’m such a miserable and useless human being.

I snap out of these pretty fast, like a passing rain shower on a summer’s day when an unsuspecting cloud whips across the sky. For others this state of despair is more permanent, and I’m thankful to say I’m in the category where I might just get a little damp in the sudden downpour, but am able to dry off soon enough. For those caught in the deluge for long periods, I can only guess that eventually they feel like they’re drowning, becoming water logged so the effects are not only internal, but are also physically visible, like wrinkled fingers that have soaked in the bathtub for too long. But I’m no expert on these conditions, I only know what I feel, and the things I can learn about myself from those feelings.

My initial reason for logging my thoughts at this very moment was because I was thinking that if I were craving solitude and freedom, this would be the exact situation I would dream to be in. No obligations to anyone other than myself. I can sit alone in a restaurant amongst a few strangers and no one on the planet would know where I am. No one’s calling to find out when I’ll be home, what I feel like eating for dinner, asking about my day at work or making plans for the weekend. I’m a lone ranger, my own airline, cockpit and pilot. No one’s calling the shots except for me. Other than keeping to a revised bi-weekly schedule of around 35 hours a week, when my lifeblood is drained and I ride home with heavy legs, I’m completely free.

It made me wonder why our brains constantly crave the green grass on the other side of the fence. It’s not exactly the situation I’m in now, but it’s invariably something I contend with. Those times when I’m compelled to fence jump, because I’m tired of the side I’m on, fighting hard to make it over to somewhere new. And then after all those struggles to change, the mountains I climbed, the hurdles I jumped, the rivers I forded and the distance I travelled to get there, I want to go back to the original side I was on.

greenwashing-question-mark I think part of the issue is not looking after the grass on my current side of the fence. The grass that was green; exactly the way it had looked; but now is turning a little yellow, lying almost horizontal and lacking that lush, vitalised appearance it once had. I seem to forget that once I’ve chosen a side, I’m responsible for tending to that particular patch of grass. For feeding it and helping it grow. If I don’t assume responsibility the grass will inevitably turn dull and lifeless, or it will grow out of control into a jungle of weeds; until I look back at the grass I originally came from, with its lush green trim at the right height because it’s been carefully tended to. Of course I want to go back to that side, but that’s not where my life is anymore.

Then on the other hand I might see grass that’s far worse than mine in a different direction, but I ignore that brittle, patchy lawn in need of serious attention, thankful not to be there. That’s not grass I’m envious of, and it’s not a place where I want to be; but sometimes we all hit bumps in the road that allow our gardens to degenerate as badly as that one. And if we let it go too far for too long, we may accidentally cross into that place, because we can’t tell the difference between them anymore.

What this brief lesson in lawn maintenance has taught me is that I need to work hard to create the foundation I want to build my life upon, and then constantly maintain it. It’s a lot easier than letting it grow out of control or die altogether, where the only options are to simply continue living that way, work harder to repair it, or flee to a new patch and start all over again. The problem with the latter option is that if I don’t learn how to become a better gardener, the same thing will inevitably happen; no matter how tough or how green or how thick or how loved that lawn once was. If I don’t look after it, it will deteriorate in time.

Not everyone is going to have a manicured lawn in the end with the luxury to employ others to tend to it. But if I look after what I have, with the resources available, bouncing back from the dry summers and harsh winters that might set me back, I’ll end up with a few green sprouts in the springtime that will make me proud. And then maybe, just maybe, I’ll stop looking over the neighbour’s fence, and writing deep philosophical essays when I’m alone eating phở.

Pho

Anything difficult is worth doing

It’s been over a month since I last posted, which is why I got itchy feet from inactivity today, forcing me back to the keyboard to report on the happenings of the weeks past. Restlessness has been my theme of the week, so I’m putting these thoughts into words, hopefully to paint a clearer picture of what I’m actually going through as a self diagnoses. I’ve been living in Vancouver for almost two months, not long enough to be settled, even by my standards. I’m living in a great house with awesome housemates, I’ve reconnected with old friends, I’ve found a job, and summer’s on the doorstep; but already my mind is thinking beyond.

IMG_5039

On my way back from the quaint little suburban French café a few blocks from my place, which is a local hang out for new mums in the neighbourhood and where I spend half an hour of my hard earned wages on decent coffee; I thought about what has been stirring these fidgety feelings of flight. I received an email last week from a friend I made at the hostel I volunteered at in Güemes, with the subject ‘Astronauta’. What I could translate from the rest of his message was that the world is running small for me; that he believed I wished to be an astronaut and travel beyond, more far, more high, with more curiosity. Perhaps he knows me better than I thought, though for someone who doesn’t speak a word of English, and with my rusty-at-best Spanish, it’s incredible how much I was able to communicate through body language and behaviour.

It got me thinking that even though we’re in one place, part of us is always somewhere else. I’m not sure how much of me is spread around, but there’s certainly part of my soul in Spain, a large chunk back in Australia with my family and friends who I miss more than ever, a portion with my family in Holland and my friends in Dubai, and an eternal piece left in the USA on the trail. And then there’s the physical me in Vancouver. Perhaps that’s why my mind wanders so frequently to other places?

IMG_5136

Many would say I’m living the dream, and I wouldn’t disagree. I’m working a casual summer job so I can focus time on other projects, but I seriously underestimated how demanding a retail job at an REI equivalent would be, selling outdoor gear to likeminded adventure enthusiasts. Aside from the hissy fits from unsatisfied customers who have thrown shoes at me or treated me as a sub-standard human being, most people who are shopping for their next international jaunt or escape into the wilderness are happy-go-lucky individuals, who love the fact I know even a marginal amount about the gear they’re purchasing.

A job with little responsibility, minimal management, where I can live my inner teenager by painting my nails blue and showing up with un-brushed hair from under my bike helmet seemed like a no brainer; but in reality, I’m having to dig deep to find ways to cope with the dull repetition as the hours of each day creep ever more slowly by. On weekends it’s slammed, and I don’t have a chance to wallow in my own self-pity between juggling boxes of shoes, filling packs with weighted stuffing and discussing the R-value of sleeping pads. But during the lull of customers, when I’m straightening shoes on display and zipping up jackets that are sliding from their hangers, this is when my mind goes into mayhem.

I found one of my colleagues hiding behind the display of sleeping bags yesterday, so I know I’m not alone in my struggles with monotony. And when I see my workmates passed out on the sofas in the lunch room, I realise I’m not the only one battling the physical drain of scaling shelves in the back stock to retrieve the last size 7 pair of sandals hiding beneath 50 other boxes. Truth is unlike me, they’re probably suffering from their social debauchery the night before, when I’m simply tired from the one hundred ‘can I help you’s’ I’ve spoken that day.

I consulted my eternal source of wisdom Wikipedia yesterday regarding my curiosity for the state of boredom. I learned among other things that:

Boredom has been defined by Cynthia D. Fisher in terms of its main central psychological processes: “an unpleasant, transient affective state in which the individual feels a pervasive lack of interest and difficulty concentrating on the current activity.” 

In positive psychology, boredom is described as a response to a moderate challenge for which the subject has more than enough skill.

Perhaps I’m suffering from both these causes, but it’s only me who has the power to alter my emotional state. I figure if something is difficult, it’s worth doing; and perhaps what seemed to be an easy task at first, may well present one of the largest challenges for a restless person like me. To conquer boredom, tedium, restlessness or whatever seems to be ailing me, my first task is to accept the challenge, as large or small as it may be. I think instead of cruising the sidelines at work, subbing in for bursts of activity like I sometimes do, I need to immerse myself completely. And failing that, falling back on my inner crazy seems to be helping too, like wearing outrageously patterned leggings to work that double as pyjama pants to see just how far I can push the open dress code.

IMG_5219

In regards to staying in the one place, perhaps that simply needs to be treated as a challenge too. I go from thinking about how I’d manage to enter the extortionate real estate market here, to dreaming about packing my bags and getting on the next plane. But I set my goal to stay until September, and vowed not to make any rash decisions too prematurely before that time comes.

So that’s my therapy session for today, I’ll hand it over to the other brains reading for their input.

Be what you decide to be

This post may sound a little ‘self help’ and preachy, but my parents just sent me the most incredibly thoughtful greeting card, and it got me thinking. On the front is a little yellow bird, sitting on top of a teapot, with one of the best quotes I’ve ever read beneath it:

‘The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.’ Ralph Waldo Emerson

IMG_5081

I’ve spent most of my life having no idea who I want to be. I remember being asked this question in grade 2 at primary school, and couldn’t believe at the time we were being asked to make such a formative decision. It seemed so final. But my parents aren’t even here to consult with, I thought, as I fretted watching my classmates scribbling away with their coloured pencils and crayons. I felt paralysed, with my entire future dangling before me, dependant on this finite decision.

I think this fear of commitment has continued to plague me. What if I get locked into this one thing forever?  is a common concern of mine. I realised the other day that I’m not satisfied with living just one life. I want to see, be, and experience everything the world has to offer. That’s why I’m constantly jumping around, taking part in one lifestyle, before following another dream and moving onto the next.

But am I lacking substance? Am I missing out on the experiences and relationships that take time to create?

I want to find out, which is why I’ve decided to stay put for a while. I finally knew where I wanted to be so I moved here. I knew exactly what sort of house I was looking for, and the kind of people I wanted to live with, so I found them. I knew the job and the exact store I hoped to work at, so I start tomorrow. Did I manifest it, or did I just work hard to get it? Should we expect things to happen just because we want them to, because we decide they should? I don’t think so. But if you work towards what you want to happen or who you want to be, it’s got a much greater chance of happening.

Back in that classroom in grade 2, I decided I wanted to be a magician. Not a bad choice at the time, without the modern day considerations of work/life balance, financial constraints, career progression, working conditions, holidays and sick leave, pensions or health insurance. Maybe we should be making these decisions when we’re 7 years old, before our minds get clouded and jumbled with too many conflicting ideas.

So what did the 32-year-old Rozanne decide she wanted to be? An active person sharing her passion for the outdoors, while living in the most beautiful city in the world.

Sure I’m earning minimum wage working part-time in the third most expensive city on earth. But like the 7-year-old me, I’m not thinking about my future career path. It’s what I want to do now, and unlike that paralysed schoolgirl in grade 2, I’m no longer scared of my future decisions being forever. If you can’t be the person you decide to be today, then who are you destined to become?

Two years down the track

There’s no better way to bring on nostalgia, than by rediscovering all the gear and clothing I carried for 2,650 miles along the PCT, for the first time since I finished the trail.

IMG_4966

Video:

It’s been 2 years since I stood at the Southern Terminus and began that life changing experience. Since then, a whole season of hikers have lived their own adventures along that twisted red line that stretches all the way from Mexico to Canada. Remember what that looks like?

I do. All too well! But now when I look at that red wiggly line and imagine walking every mile, all I can wonder is how?

IMG_5005
MUK AUK?? Ahh well… close enough!

I’ve had a few people contact me about their upcoming hike on the trail this year; and if I played any part in inspiring them to get there, that’s the best news I could hear. Every time someone tells me they’re off to hike the PCT, my immediate reaction is envy. I can never go back to that cloudy day on April 15, 2013, when I stood on the trail looking north to Canada and thought, ‘well, here we go!’ But as I was talking to my friend Leigh recently about repeating the experience, we concluded it just can’t be done. Sure you can hike the trail more than once, but there’s only one first time for the trail; and like the first time for anything, it’s often the most special.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was sad to discover recently that I barely fit into my hiking pants anymore. I’m not talking about the pair I finished the trail in, when I was a bag of bones with loose skin hanging off me. I’m talking about the pair I started in, when I was beefing up before the trail. I said in my last post that I feel more solid, well there’s probably good reason for that! But it simply makes me more determined to hit the trails. Since arriving in my new home, I’ve done a few short walks to set me back on the right track. Despite feeling pain in the front of my shins and the small bones on top of my feet, it felt good. But you better toughen up body, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

IMG_4968

I was also disappointed to hear recently that a fellow mountain-lion-fighting lass named Cat has been diagnosed with hip dysplasia, just before starting her journey on the PCT this year. Though devastated by the news, she isn’t going to let her condition stop her from following her dream. She may not be able to hike the trail the conventional way, but she’s determined to tackle it whatever way she can. Her story is inspiring!

I also discovered in the most mysterious way that my SPOT device is out on trail again this year, being carried by a Kiwi named Stewart. The device completed the trail last year with a hiker named Brian, whom I can only assume has passed it along to Stewart for his 2015 hike. How do I know this? You’d never believe me if I told you!

image
The SOS button looks worn out!

So with new footprints marking the soil of our beloved trail again this year, instead of feeling envy, I’m going to celebrate the class of 2015 beginning their epic adventure, and the fresh start of my own!

IMG_5002