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Dilemma

There’s been this huge problem weighing on my mind while I’ve been on this adventure.

A while ago I asked myself, “If you could be any animal, what would you be?” What started out as a mind game, with the intention of being fun, has turned into a bit of a problem. It’s become all I think about when I see animals now.

The time I was hiking through the woods and saw the woodland chipmunk, I thought, “Well you’re cute! Maybe I want to be you.” Then I’d start thinking about predators and cold weather, and my mind would change.

I go through the same dialogue with myself each time I run into any animal: elk, bald eagle, white tail deer, mountain goat, domestic dog…you name it. The conclusion is always the same. No, not that (for one reason or another).

The closest I’ve got to seriously considering becoming a certain animal has been the sea lion. I saw them while on “The Island,” as it’s called by the Canadians.

Vancouver Island and specifically Tofino came highly recommended. A common question I’d receive while in conversation with Canadians in a parking lot or line at the supermarket was, “So, where’s next?” When I’d reply “Tofino,” their eyebrows would raise. A lot of Canadians haven’t even traveled there so to say I was excited for the island hop is an understatement.

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The ferry ride over to Vancouver Island (from Tsawwassen – the T is silent – to Nanaimo), was an experience. Similar to air travel, ferry travel required me to drive my car into a line, park it there, where I could then kill time until departure in a terminal. There was a chocolate shop, coffee shop, multiple bakeries, Chinese restaurant, gift shop, and other stores. It was wild.

Having never traveled by ferry before, when it came time to drive my car onto the humongous ship, I felt like a 16-year-old learning how to drive for the first time. There were all these nuances that the ferry-frequenters clearly knew about and it was up to me to mimic their movements and try to look cool, like a ferry-frequenter myself. I’m sure I looked like a wide-eyed, first time driver.

Within the first hour of my time in Tofino, I was in love. Tofino is popular with Canadians for the great surfing. The cold water requires surfers to wear wet suits, but the waves get pretty intense, making it the perfect destination for Canadians looking to take up the lifestyle.

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The vibe of the city is laid back in a different way from the previous tourist towns on my journey. I didn’t see tourist buses full of people piling off with their selfie sticks, nor did I see many elderly couples traveling with their RVs. There were a lot of young, hipsters (tourists and locals alike) and when I passed a bus that read “Rastafarian” on the side in spray painted letters, it made me smile.

I got excited when I learned Tofino has a hot spring and immediately started researching the route to get there. The catch was that Hot Springs Cove is only accessible by hydro-plane or boat. I opted for a boat ride.

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Hot Springs Cove exceeded my expectations. It’s a completely raw and natural alcove in the rock. The hot mineral water falls into the rock pools from a stream above. I had been so accustomed to commercialized hot springs where the pools are plastered in, with lockers and showers offered on site. Me having done zero reading in preparation for the trip didn’t even bring a towel. When I walked up I didn’t realize the water was hot until I dipped a toe in and found it was scalding (122 degrees F). The only indicator that the hot mineral water is nearby is the faintest smell of sulfur.

The overall effect of the atmosphere is both romantic and mesmerizing. The mineral water eventually pours into the Pacific Ocean at the end of the series of pools, creating a constant movement of water. It’s easy to get lost in watching the flowing water from the waterfall or the ocean, or the pools themselves.

The boat ride to and from the cove proved to be a wise decision. The gale force winds made the 1.5 hour boat ride more like a roller coaster and I was giggling like a child each time we caught air. On the journey we whale watched (both the captain and one other passenger spotted a gray whale) and spotted other sea life such as harbor porpoises, bald eagles, and sea lions.

The sea lion was the cutest and most interesting creature we’d spot on our journey and thus the thoughts of becoming a sea lion began. Our captain was full of knowledge and referred to them as the “teddy bears of the ocean.” He shared that the sea lion differs from the seal in that they have ear flaps and are able to walk on land with their four legs. Both land and sea? My thoughts were seriously leaning toward making the sea lion my choice animal until he shared that while in mating, the male sea lion will bite chunks of the face off their mates, in a sort of courting ritual. The resulting effect being the desirable females have scared facial tissue. No, not that…

Tribesmen

A while ago I read this article about finding your “tribe” that made me think.

I realized that while I have deep, loving relationships with family and friends, I wanted more people in my life that have similar ideas about things as me. My definition of a tribe is probably looser than what you’ll find on a Google search but it’s a group of people with whom I feel comfort and a sense of self (my yoga class is an example of this and I don’t know half the people in the room).

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In other words, a tribe is a group of like-minded people. They don’t have to have the same interests, or have the same jobs, or look the same, or be the same age or gender, they just value one thing in common. There’s a wide range of topics I feel passionately about, but a few that come to mind are health and mental wellness, women’s leadership, and the nature and outdoors (obviously).

So I set out to find my tribe. Mind you, I didn’t actively do anything different; I just kept my eyes peeled whenever I met new people. I didn’t attend meetups or take up some new hobby, the simple awareness and open-mindedness of expanding my circle, expanded my circle. It’s easy to strike up conversation with people you connect with. There doesn’t need to be a 100% likeness of mind, only one thing. So long as each person is accepting of differences, the other stuff just fades into the background.

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Someone that I consider to be in my tribe, and that I’ve mentioned in writings before, is my boot camp friend. Like me he’s a hippie and has a wonderful, all-inclusive mentality on life. Thankfully for him I met a new friend, Motocross Racer in Utah that helped save me after my first tent camping experience on the road. Motocross Racer and I still keep in touch and he recently messaged me about my coming to mind when he watched this video about “My First Time Camping.” (Happy to be the butt of the first time camper joke.)

Boot Camp Friend opened his tribe to me again with the introduction of his friends in Vancouver. This family of four proved to be on the same level of good people as Motocross Racer. They opened their home to me, including one of the most prized things in the entire world…a warm shower. Having been four days since my last shower, I was feeling pretty ripe and they, without hesitation, took me in and made me a part of their family.

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Again exceeding my expectations they invited me to stay with them over a weekend on their land on Gambier Island (off Lions Bay near Vancouver). Feeling honored and appreciative for such kindness I took them up on the invite only if I could help however I could over the weekend.

Since they were making winter preparations on the land, I offered up my services for some manual labor. Boot Camp Friend’s description of me as “sturdy” (way to make me feel like a lady) proved to be pretty accurate as I helped mix concrete, wash dishes, and set up beams in preparation for a roofing structure over their trailer. In return they let me play on their island! We climbed their tree house, watched the water crash on their beach, went crabbing, and they fed me some of the best food I’ve had since I’ve been on the road (including Indian food which I’ve been craving for over a month).

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It was one of the warmest experiences I’ve had since being on the road. The feeling of acceptance they gave me is something that will never leave me. We stayed up late talking about travel, boys (the 12-year old and I), good reads, and Canadian culture.

A tribe is not a homogeneous group of people. I shared likeness of minds with Vancouver Friends’ 12-and-9-year-olds too. Aside from our talking boys, their 12-year-old and I read similar books. This definitely speaks more highly about her than it does me; she’s a very smart, witty young girl. Their 9-year-old and I started a new inside joke. Him having the same affinity for device power as I do, have a new mantra – “preserve the battery!”

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Even their terrier and I hit it off. Being a spunky, alpha female, it seemed that we had plenty in common out the gate, and ended up sleeping soundlessly together at night; me the big spoon and her the little.

Vancouver Friends showed me the power of the tribe and how like-minded people stick together. Their beautiful family made me feel accepted and like a part of their team. One day I’ll hope to open my tribe up to a wanderlust hippie in the hopes to pay it forward. I’ll know to give her a warm shower, a bed to sleep in, and to make her a part of my family.

Failure

I liked Whistler so much I want to learn how to snowboard there.

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The drive alone made a visit to Whistler worth it. Known as the Sea to Sky Highway, there are beautiful waterfalls just feet off of the road. Along the highway the mountains are surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, delivering a dramatic effect.

I took it easy my first couple days in Whistler. Staying at an Airbnb with free laundry facilities allowed me to have a clean set of clothes. No need to publicly show off my stripper clothes this time. Having banged myself up while taking down my tent in rainy weather, I used the down time to nurse my scrapes and bruises.

Hours of sitting in my car have left my body feeling tight and I had forgotten about a practice I kept up with while in Dallas…yoga. It had been a month since attending a class and I was feeling like something was missing from my road life, but couldn’t place it. Only when a friend suggested I attend a class did I realize that’s what has been missing from my nomadic life.

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So while in Whistler I walked in on a class at Whistler Yogacara and felt like a new person when I left. The 60 minutes of stretching out my tight and beat up body was a welcomed challenge and the last minutes of guided meditation cleared my mind of all worry (the most of my worry these days is where I’m going to sleep).

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I tried to tackle a mountain hike while I was in Whistler, too.  It was in that six hours of hiking when I was rudely awakened to the danger of rain and snow this time of year in Canada. I had been really fortunate to have beautiful weather on my hikes up until my intense mountain climb. The Wedgemount Lake Trail gains 3,800 feet in elevation in only a little over 4 miles – exactly my kind of hike. The rewarding lake views are spectacular and views of waterfalls and beautiful forest is also a part of the journey…supposedly.

Embarking on the hike while it was raining, I wasn’t naïve to the fact that I would not be seeing much of the lake or surrounding mountains. The rain clouds cover much of the scenery to the extent that only the trees surrounding me are visible. But after seeing all the beautiful sites on this adventure I’m no longer hiking for the views, I’m hiking to be in nature and challenge my body. I’ve become so comfortable hiking by myself (this late in the season absolutely no one is on the trails) I listen to podcasts aloud on my phone. The hours seem to melt away while I’m in the back country and I feel at home.

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The elevation climb was a true test of my endurance and at the point I started to see snow I knew I was reaching some intense altitude. It was at a trail marker that told me I was .25 km (a little over 1/10 of a mile) away from the lake when I began to feel uneasy. I’d been laughing aloud while listening to my podcast and feeling like I belonged in that forest, up until that point.

The snow was about a foot and a half deep and beyond me was a rock field. I’ve always been a stubborn person and once I get a thought in my head it’s hard to sway me. Only until I witness my dumb perseverance put me in a bad place (an “oh sh*t” moment), do I adjust my plan.

“Hiking” through the rocks and boulders involved me scooting across it similar to crab walking or sometimes crawling on my hands and knees. At one point I decided to try upright human walking and one of my small, now wet feet slipped through a crevice between two boulders.

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You’d think after this fall I’d have turned around. But no, dumb perseverance persisted…once I unjammed my knee and shoe from between the boulders I continued my crab walk and baby crawl to reach the other side.

Feeling triumphant, I pressed onward in the deep snow, excited to see whatever bit of the lake I possibly could. But as I entered the forest, I realized the heavy snowfall had completely hidden the trail. I’d lost it and there were no trail markers to guide me the rest of the way.

In the past I always accomplished whatever hike I set out to do. Most times I would even opt for longer paths to extend my journey because I was having such a good time. It’d been an emotional and physical roller coaster to climb up that mountain and not getting the sweet feeling of accomplishment was a new experience for me.

Surprisingly enough as I stood in that snow-covered forest, probably feet away from the lake, I shrugged, shouted “until next time Wedgemount Lake!” (aloud, because I now talk to myself on regular occasion) and turned back into the snowy rock field for some crab walking and baby crawling.

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I’ve changed. I can tell you the old version of me may have attempted to continue blindly hiking through the forest (Traveling Kimi says, “that’s not safe”). Or I may have become upset and cried through my feeling of frustration and failure (Traveling Kimi says, “that’s a waste of energy”). So why the change?

I think it’s because I face little challenges each day and have learned to handle them in stride. Living on the road involves so many unknowns that it is impossible to plan for all scenarios and come out on top, 100% of the time. If the power goes out, the highway is closed due to a fatality, it’s raining/snowing/hailing/sleeting, I don’t have drinking water, I don’t have access to a toilet while driving, I don’t have access to a shower…the list goes on. I’ve faced all these challenges and each time it happens I smile at the “oh sh*t” moment and simply look for a solution, like making snow yellow.

Unlock

One of the responses I hear most from people while on the road is “you’re alone?!”

It’s probably the way my sister felt going to a Sandals Resort without a +1. It turned into a running joke because when we’d ask for a table of 5 they’d correct us and say “You mean 4, right?” The words three or five just weren’t in their vocabulary. Our society is built for couples so when an outlier of one is thrown into the mix it confuses people.

This is especially true in the travel industry where it is so common to find people traveling in couples or groups. But I can say that traveling solo was the very last thing I was worrying about when embarking on this adventure.

Similar to how one would train for a marathon, I did some training to prepare me for a big solo traveling trip. And it’s all about baby steps…so I started with going out to eat by myself. I’ll never forget the first time in my life that I ate out by myself, only about two years ago. I was scared sh*tless thinking everyone was staring at me wondering what was wrong enough with me to compel me to eat a meal out by myself. Then I realized people are too caught up with their own lives to be worrying about mine, and all my fear seemed to melt away.

I also booked a series of solo trips…consider them my 5ks to prepare me for a marathon.

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First was Martha’s Vineyard. I specifically chose it because it’s hard to get to – they also have a nude beach there that was really enticing to me. Requiring a plane, bus, ferry and taxi to get to and from my destination excited me and seemed like the perfect challenge to test my street smarts. I saw the fireworks for July 4th, sun bathed on the nude beach (duh, I was nude), walked through an adorable storybook cottage neighborhood, and considered that trip a great success.

My next solo trip was Iceland. With this being my first international solo-trip I had some anxiety about being by myself for so long, but then I’d think about all the freshly downloaded books on my Kindle and got really excited about having the time to read them. I did a Game of Thrones tour that showed me some sites where the show was filmed there, spent a day at the Blue Lagoon, saw a celebrity at the iconic church tower, and did a tour where I learned about those adorable Icelandic horses (they don’t like being called ponies, because technically they’re not ponies…they’re horses, just cuter with shaggy hair).

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After Iceland, I was hooked on travel, in general, and learned I really loved traveling by myself. I was so appreciative that I had taken the plunge to book the Martha’s Vineyard trip. It’s like it unlocked this side of me that craves experiences and seeing the beauty of the world we live in. For so long I thought I needed to wait to meet someone compatible enough to travel with in order to see the beautiful sights of the world. But once I discovered solo travel, it’s like the world had been unlocked for me. I could go where ever I want, when I want. No need for waiting and holding back my life for someone else.

My third solo trip was to Zion National Park. I’ve talked about that trip a lot but just to reiterate, it was life changing. Only a month after my return, I’d made the decision to commit my full-time to seeing the parks and going hiking. I had booked a Labor Day weekend trip to hike in Rainier National Park before I quit my job and once I returned from that very fast trip (I think I was only at the park for something like 30 hours) I was itching to hit the road and be able to enjoy the sites without the crunch of time.

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Do I hope to travel alone for the rest of my life? Of course not. I hope to meet my life partner and we travel together, hopefully with a beautifully big family, but I’m not holding out for it. Our world is too vast and beautiful to be seen, “hopefully one day” with a companion. But one thing is certain to me, if I do meet my life partner and have a family…I’ll always allow myself one solo trip a year because being in solitude is like having a key that unlocks your mind to new insights about yourself.

If you decide to take the plunge and do a trip by yourself and find you’re getting dirty/weird looks from people, one of two things is happening: (1) it’s all in your head and they indeed aren’t paying you any mind because they’re too busy with their own life or (2) that says more about them than it does you; you’re not a mind reader and they are probably envying your adventurous spirit and wish they could be in your place enjoying your trip. Just keep smiling and let the adventure unlock a new side of you.

Kid

If happiness were a currency, I’d be a billionaire.

After Jasper I was itching to pitch my tent and be out in nature again. There’s nothing like sleeping outdoors, without heat, running water, and the amenities of modern-day life. It gives me a completely different perspective on living my life and problem solving in general.

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With the warmer weather of Okanagan Valley (40s and 50s), tent camping was made possible for the first time since Wyoming. A typhoon along the west coast of Canada had brought a lot of rain and nasty weather inland, but I was headstrong about setting up my tent on Okanagan Lake.

Regardless of the warmer weather (compared to the low temperatures I’d become accustomed to in the Rockies), I was still out of season and Okanagan Lake Provincial Park’s winter season was in effect. This meant zero services (drinking water, showers, electricity, restrooms, etc.) were provided. Thus making it the most primitive camping experience I have ever had.

Most State/Provincial and National Parks offer services on site for campers. These services are always advertised on the website via informative little icons (simply follow the legend) and range from the basic ones being showers and restrooms to the more glamping level ones of laundry and restaurants – Grand Teton National Park was of the glamping level; a shower cost me $4.25 but there was laundry and a full restaurant/bar in the campground!

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While at my services-free campsite, I’d boil water from the lake for my coffee. They were some of my best mornings yet because I could set up my stove and equipment only feet away from the water. I used a driftwood log as a bench and for a fleeting moment felt like a grownup drinking my French pressed coffee…until I’d crack open my baby food.

The water brought me into a sort of trance; listening to the waves crashing in and out. Each morning, after breakfast, I’d either read on my Kindle or write in my journal, as I let the water rock my mind into a conscious slumber. In that state of mind, I could see no wrong…about anything.

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I felt like a kid again. Since I didn’t have power at my campsite (among many other things) I’d keep my phone on airplane mode to preserve the battery. As a result I rarely looked at it and truly had no sense of time or day whatsoever. Walking up and down the beach was a common way I’d pass time and it’d encourage my imagination to wander. While on one of my strolls I stumbled on a red Maple leaf, so I started hunting for others. Before I knew it I had plans to start a leaf pressing “station” at my camp and select the best one to frame; the result being a Canadian-looking flag.

In between hunting for red Maple leaves, and walks on the beach, I tasted a lot of wine. Being in Canada’s wine country I figured it was a requirement to sample the local specialty. I’ve never seen so many wineries concentrated in one area and had a blast sampling the delicious varieties – although it’s not one of my favorites, Ice Wine (a dessert wine, made from grapes reaching temperatures in the teens) was one of the popular ones tourists sampled. My favorite winery was Quail’s Gate and I ended up buying three bottles from them and one from another winery.

While driving around Okanagan Valley I began to get stares and people coming up to strike up conversation with me in parking lots. It appears that I’ve finally gone far enough away from Texas that my license plates are beginning to draw attention. At least a couple of times a day now I’ll get people honking and waving at me and I know it’s a sign of solidarity from a fellow traveler.

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At first, only seeing someone honking at me and what appeared to be shaking their fist, it took every ounce of my being to restrain my city-self from not flipping them the bird. I guess you can take the girl out of the city but you can’t take the city out of the girl…not quickly, at least. I’ve finally adopted the “Traveling Kimi” mentality and kindly smile broadly and wave back to share the moment with them.

Finding more people glancing my way I found the need to learn how to smile differently too. In Banff I would go around teeth-smiling at everyone, probably looking like a total psycho that wanted to chop everyone up around her into little pieces. So I’ve resolved to this sort of smirky grin as my resting face. I’m finding, now having mastered the art of smiling without my teeth, that I can look happy, without looking crazy. I just can’t help myself from smiling wherever I am…this has to be what being a kid feels like.

Goal

I was feeling sad while leaving the Canadian Rockies.

Reaching the mountains had been my goal of this entire adventure and I’d accomplished it. They were everything I’d hoped they would be, and more. But what was next? I hadn’t put much thought into things I’d wanted to see or do after I explored Banff and I was feeling a little lost as to what I should try to tackle next.

One thing was certain; I was missing my tent. I was itching to pitch my tent as it’d been since the Tetons in Wyoming when I’d last enjoyed camping. Some storms in Montana kept me from tent camping in Glacier National Park and most of the campsites in the National Parks throughout the Canadian Rockies (Banff, Yoho, and Jasper) were all closed for the winter. So I’d been staying in shelter throughout my time in Canada.

I stayed a full week in an adorable cabin basement apartment called “The Gopher” during my time in Banff and grew to love my little home. With my location being walking distance to the Visitor Center, bars, restaurants, and grocery store located on Banff Avenue (Banff’s main street that runs the entirety of the downtown center), it was the perfect home base.

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Aside from great hiking around Lake Louise, another thing I loved about the Banff area was the hot springs. Ever since my vacation in Japan with my mother and obachan (the Japanese word for “grandmother”) I’ve had a serious obsession with soaking in the hot springs.

The naturally hot mineral water from the mountains has a relaxing effect on the body that I feel all people should experience. Visiting the baths is a social experience in Japan and deeply apart of the culture with locals. It’s not unusual for the Japanese to go to the baths and soak every weekend with their friends, coworkers, or family.

Come to find out, it’s like that in Canada too. In addition to the many tourists (there were lots of us in Banff) there were plenty of locals at the Banff Upper Hot Springs, located on Sulfur Mountain. The biggest difference between soaking in Canada and Japan is nudity. I much prefer soaking naked (color me a free spirit). And this is only something I’ve found at the Japanese onsens (the Japanese word for “hot springs”) or other Asian style bath houses.

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My stay in Jasper was equally as accommodating and provided me with warmth from the below zero temperatures. While in Jasper it was clear I was in relaxation mode but I did a bit of celebrating too. I could feel myself giving me a pat-on-the-back for accomplishing this huge goal (reaching and exploring Banff) that I’d committed so much energy, time, and resources.

Aside from the one night of boozing in Banff, I hadn’t ventured out to any of the bars near the US National Parks. So while in Jasper I became well acquainted with my new favorite beer (Blueberry Vanilla Ale from Jasper Brewing) and visited with locals and tourists alike. Becoming chummy with the half-Italian stud of a bartender kept me at the same bar stool for hours on end.

While my butt remained firmly stuck to the stool I’d call home through the evening, I carried on conversation with a couple of young guys next to me. Of course with me in my drunken state began a lecture on the importance of hard work, not selling drugs, and education. Clearly this was extremely sexy on my part because one of them, a 19-year-old Quebec boy, stole a kiss from me upon his departure for the evening.

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After the young, newly lectured boys left, a couple traveling companions from Ontario took their places. We were old friends in no time and met up the following evening at the same place for comedy night. The Traveling Companions from Ontario enlightened me about Canadian culture and gave me an insider’s perspective I hadn’t had previously.

I learned from them that real estate in Canada is at a premium right now. Buying a lakeside cottage for weekend or summer trips was once a normal and expected tradition for Canadians but is now becoming unattainable for those newly out of university. I also learned about the impact the media is having on the opinions of Canadians in regards to the United States. Overall Canadians aren’t used to the gun laws that are in effect in the United States, and with the media painting a “Wild Wild West” type scene, have fears about encountering large numbers of Americans carrying guns in public.

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My time in the Canadian Rockies was both memorable and fun! But all good times must come to an end and my adventure is far from over. There are plenty of beautiful, now snowy, sights to see on the road from Alberta to British Columbia, so I packed up my tubs (I no longer have luggage, I now cart around my belongings in plastic tubs and grocery bags) to continue my journey.

Taking the road north of Jasper proved to be an equally beautiful drive to the Icefields Parkway and I got to experience some winter road conditions as well. There are numerous signs stating mandatory use of “winter tires” to be in effect starting October 1, so during a routine all-traffic police stop, the cop asked me if I had mud and snow tires. After letting him know that unfortunately the only tires I have on me are the ones on my car, being from Texas and all, he ultimately let me pass. But I realized he was right in that I truly needed better equipped tires. On that east bound drive I faced sleet, rain, snow, and weird freakish fog (I could barely see 10 feet beyond my hood). Driving in the winter weather was dicey at times but it was also really fun. I discovered a love for a new favorite past-time…making snow yellow.

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Gifts

Before I embarked on my adventure those I spoke to warned me about bad people but they rarely said anything about good people.

I was expecting the worst when first starting out and thought, I can only be myself and if others bestow upon me the same warmth I give them, then it’s a gift. There are some people from early on in my adventure that are still pressing on my mind, so I thought “I should share about them.”

I don’t know why this came as a surprise to me but I’ve found all the people I meet while on the road fall in camp #2 – they’re travelers, adventurers, outdoorspeople, or non-conformists. We’re all out here seeking nature and adventure and because of that, we have a wonderful common goal. Being like-minded, happy people, out here doing what we want to do and seeing what we want to see results in us being warm to each other.

Some people who stand out are The Lifesavers from Virginia, Adorable Family from Louisiana, and Mother and Son Team from Texas.

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Underestimating my water intake, I ran out of water on my hike back from Lake Solitude in the Teton mountain range. Reserving the little bit I had left to allow myself a sip every two miles was my strategy to maintain hydration for the 11 miles ahead of me. But on my way back to the trailhead I ran into a wonderful couple from Virginia. They had underestimated the hot day as well and borrowed some iodine tablets from other hikers for additional water. Even with their limited supply they offered up their water (and even part of a granola bar) from their Camelbak to me, not to mention hiking companionship back to Jenny Lake. He was an engineer and she a geologist, had some of the most interesting stories I’ve ever heard and I feel appreciation for them in a way I can’t describe.

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After my hike back from Lake Solitude I was tired and hungry. I desperately wanted to throw off my hiking shoes and let my feet feel the cool, mountain air. So I did…in the parking lot, alongside my car. While resting, bare-footed, back against my car and eating a sandwich, a sweet young couple with a baby boy walks up from the trailhead. The dad, seeing my Texas plates immediately strikes up conversation saying they’re visiting from Reddell, Louisiana. Having a soft spot for Cajuns and after sharing my sister was born in Lafayette, Louisiana, we were old friends in no time. Out of all the people I’ve met on the road, they were the only ones that didn’t bat an eyelash at my being alone…Cajuns, oh how I love your independent spirit!

Grizzly bears have different personalities than black bears. They can be more aggressive and territorial about their space when surprised. So while on my hike in Glacier National Park (Montana, the start of my time in Grizzly country), I figured my wimpy cheerleader clap wasn’t alerting enough. My thought for something louder was to play music on my phone.

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So while in solitude on the trail, I start playing tunes on my phone and inevitably was singing and dancing along with Selena Gomez in no time. Only when I reach some fellow hikers do I pump down the music. The Mother and Son team from Texas surprisingly didn’t give me the stink eye, and said there’s no shame in singing and dancing on the trail so long as it keeps me safe from the Grizzlies. The son had recently graduated from UT and became a server at a local lodge in Whitefish, Montana to pursue his passion for being outdoors. His mom, a retired science teacher, would easily bring our attention to caterpillars and other interesting creatures on the trail. They showed me people can have likeness of minds, regardless of age.

I suppose with such low expectations for human decency it’s normal for me to get surprised when good people do nice things for me. But I don’t think it should be that way. The normal should be that I should expect people to be polite and good-natured. Only when someone shows me they’re mean or nasty should they be put in an inferior minority. And that’s been my biggest take-away since being on the road. That people, as a whole are good-natured and warm to each other. They’re willing to give you gifts if you’ll accept them.

Chilled

It was as if the city was contagious with relaxation and I got the bug.

While in Jasper I lived life like a normal person and didn’t feel like a tourist. I did laundry, watched Walking Dead on my iPad, drank at the local brewery, and nursed hangovers while staring at the mountains (come to find out, mountain air actually does get rid of headaches).

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My first day in Jasper being “laundry day” probably set the pace for the rest of my stay in Jasper. Doing laundry is a monotonous, slow-paced obligation of life and the only thing that made it interesting while being on the road is that it required me to visit a laundromat. The resulting feeling was that of me being a college student again and perhaps questioning my choice of clothing (upon hanging some clothes to air dry they appear to be the wardrobe of a stripper).

You’d be amazed how many compliments on my pants I get while hiking on the trail. One fellow hiker said, “I like your leopard tights; you’ll scare off the bears!” Yeah, maybe if bears fear strippers…

Jasper is a sleepy, slow-moving town on a completely different pace from its neighbor city, Banff. The timing for relaxation couldn’t have been better because I was beginning to feel the tiring effects of road life. Pouring cups and cups of coffee into my system in order to stay awake on long car rides has taken its toll. I welcomed the opportunity to chill at the local brewery and enjoy a tasty Blueberry Vanilla Ale (or two or three…).

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Even the drive from Banff to Jasper was a slowing experience. While Google Maps told me it was about 3.5 hours from point to point, it actually took me closer to 7 hours because of the abundant sights to see along the way. Driving the Icefields Parkway is a tourist attraction in and of itself because of the close proximity of the road to mountains, lakes, and glaciers.

The wildlife was abundant on that drive, too. At several points along the route I had to stop for herds of mountain goat to slowly mosey off the road for me to pass. There was something so soothing about sitting in my idling car, watching animals that had zero awareness of the rules of the road. They would look to one another, then look at me in this nonplussed way that almost made me think they knew they were holding me up, but didn’t care.

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The only thing about Jasper that made me feel like a tourist was, well Jasper. The mountains are on top of you there and you need simply look out the window to admire them. It was clear Mother Nature is Queen in Jasper when I heard the elk bellowing out their calls while I lay in bed at night. While driving to a hike I saw a herd of elk grazing on the side of the road. Like several other tourists, I pulled over to roll down my window and sneak a peak of them from the safety of my vehicle.

While there I also experienced an early arctic front and bundled up from the low temperatures in the negatives. Being my first time experiencing that level of coldness I learned a lot about layering up and listening to my body when it’s telling me when my fingers or ears are cold. I have to admit I’m having mixed feelings about leaving the mountains. Hiking in the 30-degree weather was a first experience for me and while I’ve come a long way to acclimate to the cold weather I’m looking forward to the warmer temperatures of Canada’s wine country – Okanagan Valley. But I’ve developed a love for the mountains and even in my now, chilled state know I’ll have a longing for them when I leave.

Play

Everything seemed beautiful in Banff.

I was in a constant state of wonderment while enjoying the outdoors. I would walk or hike around with a goofy grin on my face about 99% of the time. I probably looked like a complete idiot.

These YouTube videos come to mind of a child experiencing rain for the first time in her life or this other one of a baby laughing hysterically as her dad feeds her dog popcorn.

That’s how I felt while staying in Banff. I asked myself what made the outdoors different in Banff verses say Glacier or the Tetons. I realized it was snow.

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I’ve never experienced snow like this before. It’s big, fat, beautiful, fluffy snow, and similar to the child experiencing rain for the first time, I was awed while hiking around as the beautiful snowflakes surrounded me.

When it covered the trees I found myself stopping on hikes just to admire the forest. My focus, up until that point, had always been the mountains but it was now the trees stealing the show. The contrast of the dark, emerald-green against the bright white, was mesmerizing and my eye didn’t know where to focus.

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The mountains and the lakes are breathtaking here too. While hiking around Lake Louise in Banff National Park it felt like someone was gifting me with this beautiful experience. It was snowing in the morning but by the time I’d started working up a good sweat on the trail, the sun had already started to shine. In a matter of an hour all the low hanging clouds that were hiding much of the scenery lifted like a veil. By this point I was already well above the lake, so when I turned around, what was once a white cloud was a view of the brilliant blue body of water below me.

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I felt like I was a woodland princess in a play. Someone from above me would yell, “Cue the reflecting pool!” and there I would be skipping along, and stumble upon Lake Agnes in all its reflecting glory. “Cue the chatty chipmunk!” and up comes along this adorable chipmunk chattering away at me, so I could say my hellos on the trail. “Cue the tea house!” Now this one surprised me. The idea of enjoying a warm beverage, while still in the mountain never even popped into my mind. And I got to enjoy it twice as I visited not one but both tea houses located in the mountains near Lake Louise. Enjoying hot cocoa or a cup of Oolong after a snowy hike is now my new favorite thing.

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As if I hadn’t seen enough beautiful things in this play, that I call my life, I stumbled upon the boat house at Lake Louise. “Cue the solitary boat ride!” Here I am, the only boat on Lake Louise, soaking in this amazingly blue water. It brought me to tears…both because it was such a humbling experience that I was so appreciative for and because it was damn cold on the water!

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Even the people in Banff were beautiful. I don’t mean the outside-the-book-cover-beautiful we’re most accustomed to (although they were that too; beautifully tattooed and effortlessly hipster-cool) but good-hearted and friendly. While enjoying a Blood Orange Hefeweizen at the Banff Ave. Brewing Co., I hit it off with some locals. One of them had the most gorgeous lashes I’d ever seen so I took note of her mascara of choice. Another bar patron and I shared stories of our international travels. The three of us shared a shot together courtesy of the sexy and knowledgeable bartender. He educated me about the shot we were taking called a “Shaft” and it’s origin from a bar in the Lake Louise area. Being a Black Russian (who knew these existed?!) with espresso, it was one of the yummiest drinks I’ve ever tried. “Cue the drunken fun!”

Wilson

I’ve officially started forming an unnatural attachment to my belongings.

Apparently it doesn’t take being cast away on a remote island to start talking to things rather than people. I find myself thanking things when they serve me some purpose, “Thanks for keeping my butt warm, seat heaters!” Afterwards I think, why am I talking to my car?

It appears that being in solitude has given me a deep sense of attachment and appreciation for things I’d never imagined I’d be appreciative for.

Car – While in Montana I spent four hours washing my car. When I looked down at the time, it was 11:00 a.m. and when I looked up again, it was 3:00 p.m. I don’t know where the time went, but it became clear to me that my washing, de-bugging, and shining my car, was my way of showing appreciation to something that’s served me so well on this journey. Towards the end of the cleaning session, while seeking shade in the parking lot behind an Auto Zone, I was shining the wheels and buffing out water spots. All while saying “We’re going to get you nice and pretty again!” or “That just doesn’t want to come off does it?!”

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Hiking Shoes – I’ve formed a true love affair with my hiking shoes. They’re one of the constant things in my life that continue to provide me with utility and let me see the beautiful mountains. While hiking I’ll hear myself saying, “Whoa, that was a big rock and we didn’t sprain our ankles!” It’s like we’re hiking together and I’m always appreciative they’ve made it through yet another adventure with me.

Aquaphor – I’m not sure what would happen if we parted ways but it scares me to think about it. I keep tubes of the stuff in my car, hiking pack, purse and “bathroom.” I’m always saying, “Time to keep my skin from cracking!” before slathering it on the backs of my hands.

These are only a few of the examples of the things that have started to occupy a sort of person-like existence in my mind. They all have one thing in common, that they’re giving me some benefit and in turn I’m sharing thanks and the moment with them, albeit looking a little crazy while doing it.

After thinking more about this, maybe it’s okay to be thankful for such small things. There’s tons of research and articles out there in support of gratitude journals.

I’ve tried implementing the habit of a gratitude journal in my life and it was always hard to get in the swing of doing it. It’s as simple as writing up 2-3 things each morning or evening that you’re thankful for, with the idea being that if you express thanks, your thoughts are more positively influenced.

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But I’m finding while being in solitude, immersed in nature, and on-the-road, I’ve naturally created my own gratitude journal. I’m better seeing the small things that are providing me with such great reward. Rather that writing it down, I’m speaking it aloud, but it’s the exact same concept.

As I’ve happily created my very own concept of Thanksgiving Day, every day, Canadians across this beautiful country are celebrating their observed Thanksgiving Day, officially falling on Monday, October 10. The big difference between them and me is that they’re probably talking to people rather than things.

Happy Thanksgiving Canada! Click here to read more about the Canadian Thanksgiving Day and how its existence was celebrated before America’s – thanks to explorer, Martin Frobisher in 1578.