elf plans, nature laughs

I tend to go at things using the all or nothing approach.

An example: I’ve decided to not drink alcohol or watch TV this month on a whim because I’m tired of this routine of mine where I watch Netflix almost every night with a glass of dry white wine or two. When I tell my friends this, they ask why I didn’t just reduce the amount down to 1-2 times a week  so it’s a bit less of a shock. But it really never works if I give myself a bit of allowance. Also I’m kinda a masochist in some ways.

The other year while struggling with relationship woes – I knew I needed to do something. My answer? Go on a week long solo bike touring trip from Vancouver to Sooke. This was an easy trip physically-wise but for someone who has never camped alone or gone bike touring – it felt big. When I thought about it, I’d feel this deep panic about possibly getting raped or murdered. I had frightening visions of rolling into a campground and discovering that it’s only me and some really creepy camp caretaker. On top of that – I barely knew how to change a tire if I got a flat. When I expressed my concerns to friends – they’d suggest that I do an overnight first to just get a feel of it. But naaaaaaaw.

After spending a few weeks obsessively reading about bike touring, planning my route, and borrowing/buying everything – it was finally time to pack up and face the hard cold truth that I was now stuck with a massively heavy bike. I had four full panniers and my sleeping bag & tent strapped on. But I really did need my camping chair, all these changes of clothes, a few big books, and my fancy food which included avocado, cheese, a carton of almond milk, and other delicacies. So what can you do. Off I go!

My hallway has a small staircase going up before I reach the elevator. Hauling my bike up these mere few steps was a struggle – it felt like this bike was twice my weight and I started to feel a tiny bit concerned. That concern continued to grow as I rode to the skytrain. I was surprised how different it felt to ride with all this stuff attached. Steering was hard and learning how to do this while cars whipped by me was… an uneasy feeling.

After a trek on the skytrain, bus, and ferry – I was finally on Vancouver Island! It was raining. In fact – the day before, I looked at the weather forecast for the week and it said rain… for every single day of the week. It was September and we basically live in a temperate rainforest so it’s kind of to be expected. Despite the rain – it felt thrilling to ride off the ferry and know I was pah trubiz starting my trip! Daylight was almost gone but McDonald Campground was not far away. Upon my arrival – I was relieved to see that there were a lot of people camping. I wouldn’t be murdered while sleeping! Or wait – does more people mean that the percentage of creepy murderers also increase?

I set up camp quickly – thinking to myself how fortunate I am to have camped while growing up. My mom raised my sister and me on her own. Our childhood was not easy – mom was put under massive amounts of stress and trauma due to her parents. That trauma had a ripple effect in almost every aspect of our lives. She did not have much support and we were quite poor. Despite all this – she always made sure to take us camping almost every year. Road trips were a thing for us. I have fond memories of our mom driving down logging roads. Watching the landscape change as we drove by. Learning how to chop wood and make campfire. Carrying our own backpacks as we hiked down endless trails to beaches. Sleeping outside – cowboy style with millions of stars smiling down at me. It’s because of my mom that I have confidence when it comes to making sure my tarp is set up well, that I can intuitively quickly put together my tent and get fire going, and most of all – it’s because of her that I have this deep adoration and respect for nature.

As I got up, I saw that it was no longer raining. Excellent – time for coffee! First, I needed to set up my stove which I borrowed from my girlfriend – a MSR WhisperLite Stove. She showed me how to operate it a few weeks beforehand when she visited me during a break from her forest firefighting job. It seemed simple enough. I needed to get the stove all set then attach the fuel bottle. However, much to my dismay – I couldn’t twist the bottle cap off. It was childproof, which apparently was elf-proof as well. I spent a hour alternating between struggling with the cap and googling. Finally after a hour, I got the idea of using a stick – put it through the cap hole, press down, and twist. It was so simple, I almost cried. I then proceeded to burn some hair off my knuckles while getting the stove going but hey! Anything for coffee! Delicious… instant coffee.

I spent the day in Sidney – wandering in and out of stores, drinking some more coffee, and hanging out at the beach. There’s something heartwarming about the gulf island beaches. Vancouver is great – I’m happy to call this city my home. It has beautiful northern mountains that greet me each morning. But the beaches – they just are not the same as the ones I grew up with. The view is different. The smell is different. The beach treasures are different. So whenever I am able to hang out at a beach on an island – it always feels like I’m coming home.

I woke up the next morning feeling excited. It was miraculously sunny and it was time to head over to Goldstream Campground which was about 40 km away give or take. I planned my bike trip via google maps a while ago and found this trail that I could ride after I got off the Galloping Goose to get to the campground. First – I was to ride down the Lochside trail before I’d turn right onto the Galloping Goose. As I left the campground and rode through Sydney – I became increasingly worried that I was about to get a flat. Honestly though – it was just the all this weight that made the tires look slightly lacklustre. I had a hand pump but it was a pain so I debated stopping by a bike shop to use their big pump but the idea was anxiety inducing.

You see – I’ve had chronic social anxiety since I was 15 years old. It started as a soft whisper. A tingling in my gut. A tightness in my chest. Over time, the whisper grew into a merry-go-round of anxious thoughts – they don’t like you, something is wrong, you’re crazy. I at first tried to push it away and me being all or nothing – this at times resulted into me living on the streets. Maybe if I was constantly around people – I could outrun whatever this was? When I was home, the anxiety took over and I would hide. Afraid of most people. Afraid of school. Afraid of trying to get a job. Afraid. Afraid. Afraid and very lonely.

By the time I was 18, I was living on my own and mostly housebound. Afraid to step outside. Unable to apply for jobs because even just going into a store to pick up a job application (ah the days before the internet) felt impossibly hard and always resulted into me sobbing uncontrollably. Going into a store was scary because I’d be trapped in a space with strangers and they’d see the panic in my eyes. Busses and long lines were scary because people would maybe talk to me and it’d become clear that I’m deaf and everyone would stare at me. Almost everything would set me off – panic would invade every part of my body. My heart pounding. Chest tightening – cannot breathe. Hands sweating. Stomach curning. Lights impossibly bright. My body received only one message from my brain: ESCAPE.

It took years of hard work to climb out of this hole. I learned coping tricks such as wearing sunglasses while out so I feel less exposed. But most of all, I just let myself have a real fucking break. I stayed home most of the time – I gave up on trying to socialize or having a job. I got into crafts. I fell in love with interacting with people via internet. I let myself enjoy solitude instead of seeing it as a punishment. When I did go out – it was often to go visit the ocean.

Slowly, on my own terms, I was able train my brain to recognize that things are not actually that scary. That it’s okay to feel the fear seize my body and still do it anyway. To better understand my triggers. But certain things and places still manifest irrational anxiety which results into me having a conversation with the very afraid part of me. Bike shops are one of those places for some reason.

I parked my bike in front of the bike stop and nervously scribbled on my notepad about how I’m on a bike trip and would they by any chance be willing to pump my tire. I hesitantly went inside – found the owner and of course it was perfectly fine. The owners were very friendly and we had a nice conversation about bike touring. They seemed impressed that I was out touring by myself and I left feeling like a little badass. Ah brain, the ways you work so hard to convince me that something will go horribly wrong. But if anything – it’s a good challenge. It’d be nice to not have this challenge but it is what it is and that’s okay.

The bike ride was glorious. The sun was shining. The trail was smooth. I leisurely rode by farms – spotting long fields of pumpkins, corn, and hay. I had somehow forgotten that the Lochside Trail goes by Reynolds – the last high school I attended before I dropped out. It goes right through “the pit” which was where all the teenagers would gather to smoke cigarettes and weed. Thankfully, there were no teenagers today so I had no problem riding right through. I then quickly spotted a thrift store I used to visit often. I loved thrift stores back then and I still do. There’s something special about wandering up and down aisles – looking at objects and imagining the former owners. My thing as of late is to buy unique floral dishware but I used to steal quite a lot while growing up.

We were poor so at times our mom would encourage us to put on clothes we needed underneath our outfits and we would all walk out together – silently performing a family crime. During that time of my life, I would pocket little porcelain figurines to decorate my room with. Whenever I needed to cry – I would pick one of them, go outside to a quiet place and smash the object. It was a sure thing – I’d always cry over the broken pieces and in turn feel my feelings in a removed way. Later on, when we were teenagers – whenever we needed to make money, we would steal books from thrift stores and then sell them to bookstores. What can I say… we were creative?

The ride on Galloping Goose was uneventful – I was only on it for a little bit before I got off to head over to the campground.  I found a route via a bike blog that mentioned a nice trail called Ed Nixon Trail. As soon as I entered the trail, I was alarmed to see that the trail was mostly loose chunky gravel and had extremely tight curves. After attempting it for a few minutes, I gave up and pushed my bike through the entire trail until I could rejoin a road and proceed to stop every few minutes to doule-check my map (which got old fast) to ensure that I was still going the right away.

Much to my horror, as I rode down into the campground, I could see that the campsites were not at the bottom, they were up another hill that seemed to never end. At this point I had accepted that my bike was way too heavy and did not have the right kind of gears for going up hills long – I would always have to get off and walk the rest. So this meant… I’d have to spend a really long ass time pushing my bike that seemed to be twice my weight up this epic hill. I’m happy to report that I made it but not without a whole lot of panting, groaning, and stopping every few minutes to catch my breath. By the time I set up camp, it was dark so I made dinner, drank some hot chocolate and called it a night.

I slept quite poorly all night long due to unknowingly pitching my tent right beside something that smells awfully a lot like pee. Despite this – I still woke up feeling ready for the day and was greeted by the sight of my garbage bag with my panniers that had food in it…. scattered everywhere. One pannier was missing even!

After following a trail of chewed up food & granola bar wrappers (to toss into the garbage bins) – I caught a glimpse of orange. My pannier!!! It was completely empty, stunk horribly, but was still mostly intact. Nice. However – as a result, almost all of my food was gone (my avocados!!!!). The raccoons graciously didn’t consume my dehydrated camping food though which was enough to last the next few days. But I needed to clean everything and I could see that it was about to rain. With this in mind, I decided to text the airbnb I had booked for tomorrow and see if I could book for tonight too. Yolo!

The arrangement was successful so I set off for this little barn converted into an airbnb (so typical) with horses, goats, and chicken – only about 15 km away. The nice thing about this place is that it’s literally right beside the Galloping Goose. The back gate opens up to the trail. I had visions of a super comfortable bed and a hot shower. Which of course meant that the hot water lasted for only about two minutes, the power kept going out all night long, and my bed was soft (which is the worst thing for my back. I’d rather sleep on the floor than sleep in a soft bed tbh). I spent the night texting with my girlfriend – struggling to sit with feelings of uneasiness and grief. Changes are tough, especially when your intuition tells you that the end is coming despite us both desperately trying to dodge it. A few months later – we ended up having a series of very painfully honest conversations and lovingly broke up.

The next morning I felt a bit lost and anxious without a plan since I ended up with this airbnb for two nights instead of one. After trying to do a bit of Queer ASL work on my phone (a frustrating task) – I decided to just get out and ride out to a beach. It felt so strange to ride the trail without my panniers. I actually struggled a bit at first! I became so used to the heaviness and the amount of control I need for steering. It felt like my bike would just float off if the wind blew hard enough!

The next morning – it was finally time to ride out to the Spring Salmon Place Campground by the Sooke Potholes (operated by T’Sou-ke Nation) and reach the end of the Galloping Goose trail about 25 km away. As I rode, I kept seeing little signs about some bridge – I didn’t stop to read. I really should have because eventually I was greeted by said bridge and it was closed off. By this time, I had no cell service and no way of knowing which roads to ride instead. The only clear option I saw was a hiking trail bypass. At first glance it didn’t seem too bad so I decided to just go for it. The hills were a bit steep and had large chunks of rocks – so I had to walk which was a pain but overall doable. Until I faced this massively steep hill that almost looked like a wall.

Me being me, I started to push my bike uphill. Halfway through – I realized that I was this close to slipping and falling back down the hill… and potentially having this bike land on top of me. Getting hurt in the middle of a trail with no cell service and no way of getting help…. not the smartest move for this elf.

I carefully laid my bike down and started carrying the panniers up to the top of the hill. As I was in the middle of this process, a guy appeared out of nowhere. He may as well have been talking to me but I didn’t notice until I looked up. Immediately I felt cautious – here I am, a deaf person being read as female in the middle of nowhere. This could very quickly go horribly wrong. I’m glad to report though that he was incredibly kind and helped me finish the process. I asked him if the end of this godforsaken trail was close and he said yes – it was just down another steep hill and rejoins the Galloping Goose. He’d also help me bring everything down the hill. At the end as we were walking back up, me for my bike and him continuing on – he took out a folded piece of paper and gave it to me. He gestured that he had another copy for himself and wanted me to have this one. I put it inside my pocket, telling myself to read it later, and thanked him again for all his help.

I rode off in a pretty darn good mood. This trip has been mostly solitary and that’s okay. I enjoy solitude more than most people I know but it was nice to engage with someone for a brief moment and to practice trust.

Reaching the end of the Galloping Goose around mid-afternoon felt exciting but also somewhat anti-climactic as these things always are. I then turned around and rode for about 5 km into the campground and set up in the sunshine. My site faced a river and was at the very edge of the campground – a perfect spot for spending the last two nights of my trip. I also made sure to hang up my food bag this time, just in case – although I think if raccoons wanted to get to it, they still could.

I had read earlier in the morning that the fire ban was being lifted so I searched for the (very not creepy) camp caretaker to confirm. A few minutes later, I was armed with a big pile of wood and  a tiny borrowed chopping axe that was incredibly dull.

Thirty minutes later – as I sat in front of the campfire and gazed out to the river, I remembered the piece of paper and took it out of my pocket. It turns out that it’s a letter of affirmations about being worthy.  The paper looked like it had been read many times – the folded lines all worn. It made me think about how we all have our struggles and are trying our best to figure stuff out as we work our way through this thing called life. I have no idea where you are now, but thank you Ben for helping me out – you made that experience a whole lot more pleasant and special.

The next couple days were quietly spent doing things like this picture below:


Not a bad way of ending my trip and I also didn’t get murdered!

Also – staying true to my ways, I am most definitely planning some all or nothing adventures this year. What? Time will tell my friends, time will tell.

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