this is not a hiatus

Exactly one year ago, I was on the way to the airport in Vancouver, bike in the boot. I had meticulously planned and prepared but it didn’t make this move seem any smarter. Like everything else I do, once I’d gotten the idea into my head, there was no way it would budge. So that was that, I was leaving, smart or not, for disaster or worse. What would become my life had sat neatly folded and placed beside my bed for months. It waited there like I was ready to hit the airport the very next day. And then I was.

But it started before booking that first plane ticket on just another dark, cold ordinary day after work in January. It started in a tiny nowhere town in Northern BC that prides itself on 2 sets of traffic lights and 3m of snow in the winter. In the middle of a dusty summer, I realized how the rest of my life would unfold if I just walked the walk. Graduate, sign a contract, spend 5-7 years of my life on construction sites before moving to a consulting gig, fly off to a tropical paradise for two weeks a year, splurge on my days off, marry, have a family, ta-da, done! How many times had I heard that story? How many people had I seen on site happily, or less unhappily, plodding through that plot line? Too many. I thought there was only one definition of success, measured in house, career, family, money. That’s what everyone around me seemed to believe, and so I did too. I watched my bank balance rise every shift and realized it was just numbers on a screen. I didn’t want to jolt awake from this reverie at 36, with two mortgages and a mediocre boyfriend and realize I could only remember a handful of days of the last 15 years because they had all been, more or less, exactly identical to each other. I’m by no means saying this happens to everyone in this line of work, but this was my expectation.  

And then someone did the unthinkable in front of me: left their job mid-project and flew away, chasing some strange unrelated idea in a place I’d never given a thought to. It was an alien concept that I’d only seen in advertisements, scams and sponsored, wildly popular Instagram accounts. At first I dismissed it as some mad trick of irresponsibility. Of course they’ll come back soon, I thought. They have to, because this is life, and it works like this. No one ever told me otherwise, so it must be like this and I’m doing it properly. But they never came back, and they’re still out there, breathing proof that life is not exactly like “this”. It was a tiny spark of an idea, just a shimmery little thing in the corner of my mind that begged to be ignored, smushed out and proven wrong in the name of nurturing a barely-there career. But I like shiny things, and all it took was a second glance for it to go up in roaring flames and consume everything: I should do that. I have time to muss my life up. 

So, muss my life up I did. Royally, completely. The mess is total, and it’s all I have. Traveling forces you to relinquish all your attachments to material objects. It will strip you until you’re left with, God forbid, only things that actually matter. People, connections, stories, memories, feelings. Whether you like it or not, everything, everything you carry with you will wear out, break, snap, get dropped, get lost, get dunked and get dusted. You can’t break memories. Memories don’t depreciate over time. I remember eating peanut brittle for breakfast on the side of the road, in the drizzling Vietnamese mountains with my bike’s engine steaming and cooling beside me like it happened yesterday. I still know the gut-wrenching feeling of falling out of a plane at 19,000ft in New Zealand. I can remember exactly how annoying it was to get a spot for my tripod in front of Angkor Wat at 5:00AM in the morning. The happiness of pedaling at the top of Stelvio Pass towards the bratwurst stand amidst a sea of motorcyclists and road cyclists isn’t going to wear off anytime soon. Those are the things that matter. You come to terms with the fact that however much you love what you’re carrying, it’s replaceable, and this is a wonderfully freeing concept. The stories I’ve collected are not replaceable. Everything I own is in varying stages of breakdown –Steph version 2014 would have been up in arms over this. Steph version 2016 could not care less, because if it’s in a stage of breakdown, it hasn’t fully broken down yet, has it? It works, and that’s all I care about. 

Maybe you think I have no fear of going to new places because I’ve adjusted to doing so all the time, or that I don’t get anxious when I’m booking a one-way ticket that will launch me to the other side of the world and desert me there. Of course I get scared. Of course I get nervous. My adrenaline hops every time wheels leave a runway beneath me. I never get over it and it doesn’t matter one bit where the plane is heading. Familiar destination or alien, the feeling remains unchanged. But it turns out I’m a bit of a junkie for that feeling, and I know, I know, that the fear and anxiety is completely irrational –many people are happy to let it dominate their decisions, because it’s a very comfortable thing to do. It feels safe, but it’s a little bit dangerous. It’ll sneak up on you, that comfort, and smother your wildest dreams. I don’t mean to be a drama queen about it, but from a completely logical standpoint, wild things are not attained by tame actions. Wild things you can only dream about are not captured with repetitive, comfortable motions. Wild things have to be chased -they won’t hang around and wait for you. You’re going to have to break a pattern, overextend, miss catastrophically, look like an idiot, be OK with looking like an idiot, rejoice in looking like an idiot, recalibrate and take the next leap at a run.

Why not and yes have strung me along for the past year through 19 countries around the world. It’s a world whose size has dramatically shrunk since I left Vancouver. I’ve felt like an idiot frequently. I think it’s good for you. Back when I was “planning” my “worldwide tour” destinations and budget (everything was wrong, so wrong), I thought that 12 months would be enough. I was wrong about that too. It seems like I was wrong about many, many things. So when a little voice piped up and started murmuring, we could keep doing this, see more places, climb new mountains, see the Himalayas, eat butter chicken in India, drive all the way to Mongolia, float in a balloon over Turkey and trek through Chile. I couldn’t ignore it and I didn’t bother asking why. I said yes. 

Yes to the great wide open, visas and crowded passports. Yes to countries whose names have never passed my lips, to being stuck on the edge of a small town with a thumbs up to passing traffic. Yes to living out of a backpack, sleeping in a tent and living off pasta. Yes to foreign tongues, strange delicacies and curious customs. Yes to hurling my entire being wholeheartedly into a decision. Yes to that ever-fleeting feeling of change that I am happy to chase, and chase, and chase…

So while this year has finally, properly opened my eyes to how small my little world once was, while this year was amazing in every true sense of the word, while I could yammer on and on about the roller coaster that I’ve been riding since the plane to Iceland, while this year has been nothing short of life changing, I think I can do better. No, I’m sure I can do better, so I’ve resolved to make Chapter 2 just a little bit more unforgettable than the last one. Whether it be driving an underpowered car across two continents into Russia with someone I’ve never met and another someone I haven’t seen in five years, whether it be flying overseas to Vegas and making the decision in the space of 30 minutes, whether it be learning to eat with my hands in India or finding tiny coastal towns in Portugal… I doubt it’s going to be boring. 

It took me an entire year to realize it’s acceptable (to me), to not know the answer to, “You coming home yet?”, a question that is becoming ever more frequently asked, and part of me wishes I could say, “Yeah, do you mind picking me up at YVR? But another part silently snarls, Not a chance. Come find me and I’ll show you why. It took me nearly two years to design May 1st, 2015 and I’m still happy to abuse that constructed opportune moment. Call this whatever you want: quarter-life crisis, a phase, a transition, temporary madness (such a perfect relative phrase), or call it what I’ve come to call it -normal-, but don’t call it a hiatus. Calling it a hiatus implies that I’ll be returning to whatever was before

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