Into the wild…,well, sort of…
Hello you lovely lot,
And we’re back from our mammoth coast-to-coast road trip of Canada! Apologies if we saturated your Instagram with yet another photo of a mountain or lake, but Canada for us was much more than just a holiday.
Back in December last year when we booked our first flight, I, (Helena), initially thought of our trip as a big adventure to look forward to, and honestly speaking, an escape from a very stressful and unforgiving job that was no longer bringing me any joy. However, thankfully, it soon marked of the beginning of the next chapter, when I decided to hand in my notice in April. For Naomi, it was a reclamation of time lost last summer, when she had to deal with a serious family crisis on our return from Obonjan festival in Croatia. Inevitably, Naomi was anxious about leaving her family for four weeks, in fear of what she might be coming back to, with other previous holidays unfortunately cementing this worry. So, for her, Canada was a big deal. We were counting down the days, and with me leaving my job only a few days before we were due to fly, and Naomi facing another critical family emergency with her father being admitted to hospital a week before our departure, - which led to her debating whether she could even go on the trip -, we were totally exhausted by the time we got on the plane.
Up and away!
Tired, but relieved and excited to be on our way, we faced our first hurdle on arrival in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where our connecting flight to St John’s was cancelled at the last minute.
Though only a minor set-back, this had a knock-on effect on our carefully-planned itinerary, (of course, there was a spreadsheet!), as we only had 2-3 days in each place, and this meant we would lose a day in Newfoundland.
Normally, this would be incredibly frustrating for two control freaks like us, but determined to not let anything put a dampener on our adventure, we preceded to sweet-talk the airline into putting us up in a hotel downtown, and made the most of our evening in Halifax, eating lobster rolls after a stroll along the boardwalk.
Arriving in St John’s the next day, we happened to be visiting on the one night of the year when it goes party-mad for the George Street festival, so we headed into the throng. Within seconds of stepping into an Irish pub, we were greeted by a very charming and confident Canadian who hugged us hello and insisted on buying us drinks. His name was Chris and he had hitch-hiked all the way from Calgary, Alberta to Newfoundland, which had taken 18 days. His best friend was there, as she had told him that she would fly out to buy him dinner if he managed to make it to St John’s.
However, the most impressive thing about Chris is that he was born without arms and legs.
Having worn prosthetics for years, he had decided that it wasn’t for him and, instead, he gets around on a skateboard. Never had we met someone so comfortable in their own skin, and un-phased by their physical disability, choosing instead to live his life to the full, and to respond to the inevitable stares with a smile and a wicked sense of humour. Chris has made a name for himself across Canada, and is a motivational speaker and mentor for child amputees, in addition to climbing mountains and doing marathons!
It felt serendipitous meeting Chris at the beginning of our big adventure. Speaking to Chris reminded us that this experience would be what we made it, and not to let limiting fears or insecurities prevent us from making the most of our trip.
Taking on new challenges
Back in Halifax, we picked up the rental car which would take us all the way to Toronto, via Prince Edward Island - Quebec City - Montreal and Ottowa. To my horror, our hire car was essentially the size of a small minibus. Having not driven in years, let alone on the other side of the road, in an automatic car, I raced back to the desk demanding an exchange for a smaller vehicle, but to no avail. Thankfully, Naomi took the helm that day, mastering the roads instantly, to my equal relief and dismay. Whilst it was tempting to let someone else do the driving, I could not let my friend do the whole 2000km stint on her own. So, facing the, (literal), beast head on, I insisted on driving us to Peggy’s Cove the next morning, despite the rainy and misty conditions. After feeling shaky, and couple of attempts to drive on the wrong side of the road (!), I made friends with Bertha, (the nickname for our vessel), and even began to look forward to my stints of driving.
Having never thought I’d even pass my driving test five years ago, I feel incredibly proud that, together, we took on the challenge of driving across Canada, braving unknown territory, from the crazy Quebecois drivers, to grizzlies on the Dempster Highway. It’s no surprise that we got nicknamed Thelma and Louise by the odd over-friendly trucker.
Feeling the fear, and doing it anyway!
Later that week, on the way to Montreal from Quebec City, we made a morning pitstop at Montmorency Falls, which are famed for being taller than Niagara Falls. Oh, and there’s a double zip line running right across them. Of course, Naomi announced on arrival that she would be doing the zip line. My initial gut reaction was, “absolutely not”, however I then spent the rest of the morning torn between curious excitement and dread. Finally, after seeing a little boy and his grandma take on the challenge, and very aware of the need to practice what I preach, I decided I couldn’t refuse. Naturally, I bloody loved it, and wanted to it all over again. This made me realise how easy it can be to let opportunities pass when you let the scared voice in your head take over, and that, sometimes, the things that scare us are not that frightening at all in reality, and may even give us a thrill!
So close to “finding ourselves”…
Naomi and I have spoken about what we will be taking away from this trip. For me, it was embracing the friendly and open Canadian culture, and making the time to have conversations with people who would approach us at gas stations, coffee shops, in taxis and restaurants, on ferries... the list goes on. I have never experienced anything like this in London, and it took some getting used to. However, I really appreciated being offered a small insight into the lives of all the people we met, even though I knew I would probably never see them again, and you never know what might come out of a conversation - all the tips we received from interested people meant we got to experience each place we visited to the full!
Unfortunately, half-way through the trip, Naomi received some bad news from back home, awakening her fears that things would be falling apart without her there to hold them together.
The challenge she faced was recognising that she can’t always fix a situation, especially when physical distance is involved. Allowing herself a morning of feeling sad, she picked herself back up, and, taking inspiration from Chris, was determined to make the most of the precious time we had, and enjoy the rest of the holiday.
Naomi said that, for her, the Yukon was an immensely restorative place that encouraged a quieting of the mind and the capacity to breathe deeply. Feeling so small amidst the great expanse of wilderness and breathtaking views was strangely comforting. Nearing the end of our trip, we’d become so relaxed, our brains, for once, not buzzing with to-do lists or future plans, the only thought being “What shall we have for lunch?”.
We both realise now that acknowledging how important the trip was for the both of us at the start was what made it such a good experience. For once, we didn’t struggle with holiday blues at the end of the holiday, as we knew that we had made the most of every day, and that every minute had mattered. Of course, there were anxious days, but treating the holiday as an act of self care meant that we were determined not to let any setbacks, bad news, worries or insecurities taint our experience. This is now something that we can add to our ‘positive playlist’, and have a whole catalogue of incredible memories that we can call upon when we are in need of an uplift!
We are also have a sense of pride in planning every step of such a huge trip, and taking on the challenging journey, and physical distance involved within a relatively short space of time, as two single young women! #Girlpower.
We hope you enjoyed our holiday monologues!!
H & N xxx
P.S. Let us know if you’re planning or dreaming about your next big trip - we’d love to hear about it!!