28.7.12

Fin.

Crossing the border
I found a butter tart in my bag this morning and while scarfing it down, I realized that I had yet to write my final post from my self-imposed exile.  Luckily, this isn't a handwritten piece or you would see the butter stains all over the paper :)

After our time in Victoria drew to an end, Katherine and I packed Clarence back onto a ferry and drove him south of the border into the US! My friend Sara lives in Seattle and we had decided to meet in Bellingham, WA to have lunch and catch up. I have many, many summers' worth of border crossings under my belt and assured Kath and Clarence that it would be no big deal. Uhhh...not so much. We waited in line for an hour, turning the engine on and off repeatedly, since B.C. is an "idle free zone" and cracked jokes about who might be holding things up ahead of us. When we finally got up to the booth for our interrogation, we were asked two questions in the most incredulous of tones...1) "What the heck are you doing here?" and 2) "Who's car is that?" We answered very seriously, of course, and were on our way.
Sara and Me
We met up with Sara and wandered around the historic Fairhaven neighborhood. It was full of funky galleries and cool boutiques. The main attraction, though, was friendship and conversation as we shared stories, laughed together and compared frustrations and triumphs. All too soon, it was time to head back to Vancouver to return Clarence. Another rainy wait at the border and another set of wacky questions and we were back in Canada. We quickly drove around Stanley Park and watched the sun sink behind the clouds over the Pacific. A beautiful end to the day.
The next morning, we headed to Granville Island for gallery-hopping, amazing food, and window shopping. It was a great way to stay out of the chilly rain and absorb some of the cool Pacific Northwestern culture. After lunch, we explored Gastown, a part of Vancouver named after one of its most illustrious citizens, Gassy Jack. Yep, that's really his nickname. Apparently, the "Gassy" moniker comes from the lengthy speeches he used to make to anyone willing to listen...I'm not so sure that's all it was. Especially since the main attraction in Gastown these days is a steam-powered clock that toots every half hour. We shopped around for a bit, ducking into and out of the rain before retiring to the hotel for some HGTV and take out food.

And that's it. The next morning we both left early and before I knew it, I was back in Chicago. I've been back now for a few days and it was overwhelming how quickly my "real life" came rushing back to me. I knew the transition would be a challenge for me, but I had no idea how much so. I'm getting through it. Soon, school will start again as a welcome distraction and I can start putting my life back together piece by piece. Some of the pieces aren't going to fit anymore and I'm trying to store them away as kindly as I can. There are also some new pieces that I will need to find a place for. I've never been much of one for puzzles, but I'm a quick learner and I'll get there.

A parting message from B.C...
Besides, this butter tart tastes just as good as it would have in Whistler and if a pastry can stay delicious over time, I'm sure the memories of my time of reflection, peace and growth will have an even longer shelf life.

Signing out until the next adventure, Lindsey

23.7.12

Ferry of dreams...

Clarence!!
After sun, sun, and more sun in Whistler, we awoke to a rainy morning in Vancouver. Luckily, the sun was (figuratively) restored when we picked up a rental car right after getting up...we landed a bright yellow VW bug! After christening the car "Clarence," we hopped in and headed immediately for the ferry from Vancouver to Vancouver Island.

View from the ferry before I drifted off...
With so many clouds and chilly drizzle, we weren't able to see much of the supposedly scenic crossing. So I napped instead. I had crazy dreams, the content of which faded as soon as I woke up...then I'd drift off again, dream wacky stuff, wake again and so forth. Once Katherine, Clarence and I were on solid ground again, we headed down the coast of the island to Canada's most British of cities, Victoria. We knew we had arrived when double-decker, London-style sightseeing buses almost ran Clarence off the road. We explored the quaint downtown area for a bit on foot dodging from bookstore to tea shop to bookstore to keep out of the worst of the rain...

Finally, we tracked down our B&B, a quaint cottage on the outskirts of Victoria. We were greeted by a courteous teenager, who we later found out was completely running the inn with his siblings while their parents - the owners - were out of town! After a bit of unpacking and down-time, we turned around and went back into Victoria for a massive Indian dinner (delicious!) and a short Clarence-led driving tour.

The next morning, we chowed down on a teen-made breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast while we chatted with a personable couple from Belgium and a shy grandmother from Edmonton in town for her granddaughter's wedding. Clarence drew a lot of looks on our drive out to Butchart Gardens, one of Canada's most lovely historic sites. The gardens were created by the Butcharts, a wealthy family involved in limestone mining...once the quarry was tapped out, they built these incredible gardens to beautify the otherwise ugly hole in the ground.

The gardens are still gorgeous today and they've even opened the Butcharts' home and transformed it into a tearoom where they serve a substantial high tea daily. We...okay, I...scarfed down finger sandwiches, tiny pastries and scones complete with Devonshire cream and strawberry preserves. When you wash all of that down with an entire POT of tea, strolling the rest of the gardens became rather difficult with my seriously full stomach. Yikes!

Me!
Doing our own misfit thing...
We capped off the day with some shopping in downtown Victoria and a movie..."Moonrise Kingdom." Wes Anderson is a genius. I think this is a contender for favorite Wes Anderson film...I haven't quite decided yet, as "Rushmore" has held that title for quite some time for me...I have to be sure before I can make the decision official! I think my favorite thing about all of his films, but this one in particular, is how he elevates the misfits of the world to having epic adventures. Love, love, loved it!! It was the first human creation that has given me any sense of hope in a few weeks, so I'll cling to that like Suzy clings to her binoculars :)

20.7.12

Whistler Wrap-up


Of course, Whistler hasn’t always belonged to adrenaline junkies and shopaholics…before the Starbucks and the après-ski happy hours arrived, this land was the domain of two First Nations tribes: the Squamish and the Lilwat. A small but striking museum and cultural center has been erected in Whistler to showcase their customs, artwork, and traditions, as well as to preserve their heritage and languages. I joined a guided tour lead by a young woman who is a member of the Lilwat Nation who told us about the blanket weaving, canoe making, and totem pole carving traditions of her people. We also got to go inside replicas of a Lilwat Pit House and a Squamish Long House…they were both made of cedar and smelled sooooo good! I’m definitely going to have to work a cedar closet into my condo remodel somehow. She also taught us how to make a short length of woven “rope” from the inner bark of a cedar tree. Mine didn’t turn out quite long enough to wear as a bracelet, so I’m thinking it will be a new key fob when I get back to stateside.
I should preface this next bit by saying that I was seriously bruised and battered from my fall during my hike yesterday, and every muscle from my ears down was sore. So other than my cultural adventure, I only had the stamina to explore the shopping culture in Whistler village. Luckily, my credit cards didn’t get too much of a workout…guess they were fatigued as well.

The next day, I awoke feeling better, though sitting was still a little uncomfortable on my beat-up tailbone. So, I decided to canoe The River of Golden Dreams. It was a lot of fun! I’ve been canoeing before, but didn’t feel comfortable trying to navigate a river on my own. So, I signed up for a tour with a guide and a family of four…I was fortunate to be assigned the front seat in the guide’s canoe, so it was a relaxing and entertaining paddle. The family didn’t fare as well…novice canoeists, they had a little trouble steering and often wound up in the brush lining the river. The guide whispered that the alternate name of the river was “The River of Broken Marriages!” After listening to them trying to steer that canoe without swearing in front of their kids, I can see why! For me, though, it was all good fun and it was nice being out ON the water and not IN the water for a change!

And that, unfortunately, brings my time of healing, reflection, and solitude to an end. As I type this, I am waiting for my friend Katherine to arrive in Vancouver. She will be helping me transition back to the civilized world of Vancouver and Victoria before I have to head back to the Chicago area to face the music…at least I hope there will be music again at some point in my life. This time in BC hasn’t only been outdoor adventure and relaxation…I’ve done a lot of soul-searching here. Trying to escape the loneliness and heartbreak hasn’t worked. Trying to mask the pain with anger hasn’t helped. Trying to outrun, out-canoe, out-hike, or out-swim the fear of what my life will look like when I get back to Oak Park has only been a temporary fix. So, as I say “adieu” to Whistler, I say truly “à Dieu” (come on French-speakers, you can do it J) and do the only thing I can do: surrender.

19.7.12

Waterfalls and getting wet :(

A severely bruised tailbone, an insane number of bug bites and some wet undies later (it's not what you might be thinking...), I can still say that I'm glad I hiked the Rainbow Trail. I had read about this off-the-beaten track trail in a tourist "magazine" I picked up at the airport in Vancouver and had decided immediately that I had to see it for myself!

I got a slightly later start than I wanted to, so I knew I would have to hustle to make it to Rainbow Lake, the turnaround point for the 16 km/2700 ft elevation gain trail. I was anticipating a hot, sweaty climb since the weather was in the 30s C in Whistler Valley. However, the temperature dropped almost immediately as I entered the old-growth forest and followed the path that snaked alongside an icy river. Within 15 minutes of hiking, I found the aptly-named Rainbow Falls...it was so unexpectedly and breathtakingly beautiful, that I literally felt the wind knocked out of me. In spite of the time crunch, I took a break to let the roar of the rapids and the spray from the freezing-cold water pound the tension I hadn't even realized I was carrying out of me.

The trail continued the uphill climb until I broke through the trees and encountered a plaque informing me that this watershed was the source of all Whistler Valley's drinking water...some of the freshest tasting and naturally cleanest in the world. This was accompanied by a reminder to not swim or to throw garbage or other debris in the river or lake system...and to dig latrine pits FAR from the water if need be. Yes, folks...this is foreshadowing.

After about two hours of hiking vertically, I got my first inkling that this wasn't going to be just "a walk in the woods." I got to a small stream rushing downhill and while taking pictures and admiring the sound of the surge of water, I realized that I no longer saw the path ahead of me. Then I realized that the "stream" actually WAS the path. The snow runoff was so substantial that it had taken over the trail! I managed to find where earlier hikers had beaten a small footpath into the brush on the other side of the path/stream and managed to cross with only mildly damp feet.

Up and up and up I climbed...the only wildlife I encountered was a squirrel that squeaked angrily at me until I was out of sight and about 800 million and 1 mosquitoes. I genuinely think they were trying to nibble me into smaller morsels so they could just carry me away in pieces, but no such luck. I kept slathering on "natural bug repellent"...a stinky mix of citronella and other herbal crap...but to no avail. After all that, I can honestly say screw carcinogens!! Bring on the DEET!

Well, as I smacked and scratched and flailed my arms, I realized that the path was getting muddier and muddier and then snowy patches started popping up here and there. And I was running out of steam. Just as I was starting to get discouraged, the trees faded away and an amazing Alpine wetland opened ahead of me. The dirt trail became a wooden boardwalk that took me up and over the icy water and mud. The mosquitoes receded into the shadows and I got a second wind. Certainly, I was swollen and scratching like a leper, stinky, covered in mud, but I felt like I must be getting close to Rainbow Lake...the turnaround point!!

Surprisingly, two hikers on their way back down the trail asked me to take their photo and as I scratched and shot pics, they asked me if I had ever hiked the trail before. They seemed slightly cagey as I said no and asked how far was left to the lake. They let me know that it was probably another hour's hike with a solid mile of that hour through an area where the path was completely covered in snow. They didn't say it in so many words, but I could tell they thought I wasn't going to make it to the lake on my own.

They were right. As soon as I reached the snowline, I lost track of where I was supposed to be going and which way the trail led. The stubborn achiever in me desperately wanted to continue, but common sense ruled the day. I was tired, itchy, and would soon be lost in the snow if I kept going. So, I turned around. I didn't make it to Rainbow Lake, but had seen so many beautiful sights along the way (and lost so much blood to bugs) that I decided that I was not a failure for calling it quits early.

The descent went a bit quicker than the ascent, but the bugs were worse even than on the way up, if that's possible...so the descent may have gone more quickly because I was practically running from the blood-suckers. Well, it was bound to happen...I was going too fast on too-tired legs and my thoughts were elsewhere. So, when it was time to cross the stream/path, I slipped on a rock and flump! Before I knew what had happened, I was flat on my butt and up to my waist in icy, rushing water. Brrrrr! Once I got my bearings and managed to stand up, I realized that everything from the waist down hurt. Bad. Those rocks did not make for a soft landing...luckily though, the icy water kept the swelling from being too terrible.
Moments before biting the dust...or rocks...

The remainder of the hike in sopping, cold socks, shoes, pants and undies was substantially less comfortable than it had been just moments before. But, I made it. And I even laughed about it...two days later.

Honestly, though, I saw so much amazing natural beauty and had so much time to think and reflect on where I've been and where I'm going, both literally and figuratively, that I would hike the Rainbow Trail again in a second. I didn't make it to the destination I thought I was shooting for, but the journey wound up being its own reward.

And to the people of Whistler Valley, if your drinking water tastes funny over the next day or two...sorry. That would be me...it was an accident :)

16.7.12

Zen and Adrenaline

The last two days have been a study in contrasts...yesterday, zen. Today, adrenaline!

Yesterday, I got up early for a free outdoor yoga class, thinking it would be relaxing and soothe the sore muscles I was feeling after my hiking around the summit of Whistler. Unfortunately, the class wasn't the relaxing, slow-moving style of yoga I've gotten used to...so, today I have sore arm and back muscles to go with the sore legs! It was fun, though, and reaffirmed my decision to spend the rest of the day relaxing.

Off I went to the Scandinave Spa! As the name implies, this spa focuses on the a Scandinavian-style hydrotherapy experience. First step: you heat yourself up for 10-15 minutes in one of four heating areas...an eucalyptus steam room, Finnish sauna, thermal waterfall, or 104 degree pool. Step two: cool yourself down...rapidly!! There was a chilly waterfall, a cooling pool and a "Nordic" shower that made me feel like a football coach at the end of a big victory...icy Gatorade all over my head! Brrr! Finally, the third step was the best part: Relaxation. To allow your body to absorb the benefits of the hydrotherapy, I got to sit in comfy chair surrounded by wildflowers and flowing water and enjoy the play of sun and shade. It was amazing. I relaxed like it was my job...literally. I was there for seven hours :)


Today, on the other hand, I woke up to the first rainy day of my stay here. In spite of the rain, I headed out for a ziplining adventure! Meeting our guides, we had time to strap on the system of safety straps and harnesses and get fitted for helmets before reports started coming in of lightning in the area. Since the whole premise of ziplining is to attach yourself to a steel cable and zip out over tall trees and bodies of water, it seemed that going out in a lightning storm would be tempting fate just a leeeeeetle too much. So we sat it out, trading travel stories and tales of modern gypsying, which was a fantastic way to pass the time. Ah, to be a backpacker again...
After the storm passed, we headed out to the course for an amazing few hours of flying through the cedar forests and over the roaring river below. Within the forest, it smelled like Christmas and looked like something out of The Lord of the Rings. Once we shot out from the cover of the trees, the rain spattered our faces, the wind whipped our hair, and a sky full of clouds opened up over our heads. Magnificent! For the last zip, we were told to go "freestyle..." so I took the advice to go upside-down! A quick tuck and kick up into the air and I had a whole new perspective...I let go of the strap and flew across the ravine in completely inverse abandon! The video is about 15 seconds and isn't my upside-down run, but I hope it's fun to watch!
video

Following up the zipline adventure with a soothing trip to the farmer's situation, a long nap, and a good book was the perfect end to a rainy day. Oh, Oak Park, IL...you feel so blissfully far away!! I know I have to go back and face real life eventually, but I have a little more respite ahead of me, thank heavens!!

14.7.12

Every (moving) picture tells a story...don't it?

video
So, I did a lot of ruminating in yesterday's post, so today, I'll let my video speak for itself. A huge thanks to Josh Garrels for the inspirational tune in the background called "Be Set Free." Hope you enjoy!

P.S...in case you can't tell, that black blob in the last snippet of film is this guy/gal snacking on dandelions:

13.7.12

Alpine Adventure

Yesterday, I saw this sign posted for hikers about which trails were open...and I'm sad to say that I didn't really believe it. I mean, it's mid-July!! It has been around 100 degrees in Chicago for weeks! So, I decided to see for myself.

I took an open chairlift to the top of Blackcomb Mountain and watched the world around me transform from meadows of wildflowers, to pine forests, to snow and rock. The only other time I've been on a chairlift, I had a snowboard strapped to one foot and I fell on my face every time I tried to descend, forcing the other skiers and boarders to fall over me in a giant pileup. Ugh. The good news is...it's much easier in shoes!! I didn't fall once :)

The Peak 2 Peak Gondolas!
I kept my eyes peeled for Black Bears on the ride up, but didn't spot any today. I tried to picture the scene flying by under my feet covered in snow and skiers, but couldn't quite manage it. Instead, I just kicked back and enjoyed the feeling of the sun on my face and the breeze fluffing my ponytail. After some delicious chili in a bread bowl at the restaurant at the top of Blackcomb, I took the Peak 2 Peak gondola that took me from Blackcomb to its neighboring peak, Whistler. I rode with a grandfather from Vancouver (and his silent grandson) who regaled me with stories of his hitchhiking journey through the US in the early '70s complete with accents...he was quite a character and kept me entertained for the entire traverse. Once on Whistler, though, I felt discouragement wash over me as I reflected on why I'm even here in the first place and what I'm running from acknowledging.

Surrounded by snow and ice, I was reminded of the lyrics to a song that was performed at church earlier this year...I was so moved by them that I clipped them from the bulletin and kept them in a notebook that I happen to have brought with me: "In the bitter days of winter, locked within the ice and cold...All the world seems to be frozen, all the world seems dark and old...When the trees are bare and lifeless and the earth is hard as stone...Troubled times can steal our courage, troubled hearts feel all alone...Far below the frozen surface, melting ice begins to flow...With the rising of the water, hidden seeds begin to grow...With the storm clouds in our faces, we are searching for the sun...We must gather all our courage, for the journey has begun...As the stream flows to the river, as the spark turns into fire...We grow stronger in our journey to the land of heart's desire...Where the evil will be broken, where the wrong will be made right...And the ones who live in darkness, shall be children of the Light."

The giant...
...and mine.
I kept these words in mind as I ascended to the very tippy-top of Whistler's summit, where I found dozens of Inuksuit, including this giant one. The First Nations of this area used these stone landmarks to communicate between travelers and they traditionally mean "you are on the right path." Taking heart, I built my own tiny cairn and reflected on the path that has brought me to where I am today...the good, the bad, and the ugly. Up here with the sun on my face, the valley stretching below me and the trickle of melting snow making music around me, it felt a lot easier to reinterpret everything through a positive lens.

Upon my descent from the summit, it was amazing to stumble upon this large bit of snow graffiti...it was just the reminder I needed that everything is going to be okay. In case it's hard to see in this small-ish photo, it says "Glory of God." :)


11.7.12

You know how to Whistler, don't you...

Well, I'm in the right place! Craving solitude, nature, and reflection, I stumbled upon an ad for Whistler, BC, in a travel magazine that I bought on my way to TX. It seemed to fit the bill, so I booked a ticket, rented a condo, and was on my way! This is probably one of the more spontaneous things I've done in recent years, and I'm so glad I followed the guiding hand that steered me here!

My living room
The view from my balcony!!
I had very vague directions on how to get to the condo and figured that I would have the Vancouver Airport Shuttle drop me at the hotel that appeared to be closest to the condo address on the map. However, in a classic "you can't get there from here" situation, there was no direct route between the hotel and the condo. I wound up dragging my large, wheeled suitcase along a packed dirt, root filled path through the woods and finally found the right place. The sweaty trek through the forest was worth it, though. The condo is gorgeous...huge, comfortable, and homey. In fact, if I could move here permanently right now, I most definitely would!

Where I spent Day One...
Unfortunately, my first full day here was spent in bed with a horrible fever. Not sure where it came from or where it went, but I'm glad it's gone!! I was laid up in bed all day long and felt like my back and every joint in my body was about to break at the slightest provocation. Ugh. Lots of ibuprofen, prayer, and sleep later, I woke feeling like a whole new person today...ready and raring to go!!

So, I hit the trails and took an easy stroll out to Lost Lake. Not too sure about the name, since I found it easily, but it would have been worth hunting!! Look at this place!!

After walking around the lake on the loop path and enjoying my picnic lunch, I changed into my suit and went for a dip. Bbbbrrrrrrrrr!! This is a glacier-fed lake and it was chilly! After paddling around for a little while, though, I was numb enough to not feel the cold. After a nap in the sun, I was ready to continue on the trail back to Whistler Village. Here are some of the sights I saw along the way...
I finished off the day with a farmer's market (yay!!!) and a really cool circus performance in the Olympic Center just as the sun was starting to go down. Needless to say, this was a great, refreshing day...I definitely feel like I'm where I am supposed to be and am grateful to be here. We'll see what tomorrow holds!