A quick shot of me during a pit stop on a drive through the west Highlands

My first ever multi-day hike | Preparing for the West Highland Way

Health and Wellness Travel, Hiking, Life Lessons, mindfulness, Scotland, United States

I’m doing it—finally. I’m hiking the West Highland Way in September, and as of now, I’m doing it alone.

Am I scared? Yes. I spent one night in the wilderness alone once and shit myself. But it was worth it. The self-confidence I gained from taking the plunge and wild camping alone continues to radiate from me to this day. So, I can only imagine what 8 days will do for me.

What’s the West Highland Way?

That’s right. I’ll be hiking and wild camping for 8 days straight through the west Highlands of Scotland. The West Highland Way is a trail that begins near Glasgow and extends for 154 km up to Fort William (aka the most beautiful place on Earth). It attracts around 80,000 people every year, of whom more than 30,000 walk the full route.

Although I’ve never actually walked any of the trails that are part of the WHW, I have been to a few of the destinations I’ll be seeing throughout the hike and let me tell you, I am far beyond excited to be back. Scottish scenery is some of my favourite. The green is lusher than any other green I have ever seen, and the endless supply of grassy hills and forest could steal the breath of even the most cynical urbanite.

Why am I putting myself through this?

As terrified as I am to stay overnight alone in the wilderness, nothing in this life has brought me more joy than a good hike. That said, I’ll see if I still feel that way after 8 days of hiking (or 7, depending on how much work I do on my cardio before then). No movie, book, TV show, job, game or any other distraction has fulfilled my soul and balanced my mental health the way nature can. So, needless to say, trekking into the wild for a wee while is a no-brainer.

Also, it’s a goal of mine to complete a proper through-hike by the time I’m 35—that’s one of those massive months long expeditions you hear crazy nature buffs and hippies attempt (examples include the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail which take six and three months to conquer respectively). I feel like my upcoming Scottish spirit quest is a good stepping-stone to that eventual adventure. The hiking isn’t too difficult on the WHW, and the wild camping is pretty straightforward. There aren’t any real predators in Scotland (minus badgers and angry sheep) and I think they only have one type of poisonous snake, maybe. In comparison to the other massive trails in the US—the PCT goes from the Mexican border all the way up the west coast to the Canadian border—the WHW is no big deal.

What do I have to do to prepare?

In short, A LOT. But what would I have to write about for the next seven months if I gave it all away right now? Some blog posts to come: fitness prep, buying a new backpack, figuring out how to filter water, hesitations with shitting in the ground, and more. Be sure to check back soon!

A tearful trip to Phoenix, AZ

depression, Health and Wellness Travel, Hiking, Life Lessons, mental health, Prose, United States

“Let your tears water the seeds of your future happiness.”

-Steve Maraboli

My trip to Phoenix, AZ was the first one I’ve ever taken that was not fun. It was hard. But it was necessary.

The day of my departure was relaxing and smile-inducing. I met a friend for lunch and laughs and hung out with my mum for a bit before heading to the airport. With my old, trusty, green pack strapped to my back, I smoothly made it through the craziness of YYZ and sat down with a beer and a book, waiting to board my flight. I was calm. I was happy. And for the first time in my life, this vampire was excited to bask in the glorious sunshine and heat that was waiting for me upon my arrival.

Mellow beginnings

On my first morning, I thought I’d head out bright n’ early to the market for some tasty eats and then do some museum exploring. But, of course, I got chatting over breakfast at my hostel with a really cool entrepreneur trying to make a living in the life coaching space. We exchanged Instagram handles and wished each other good days ahead.

A little seating area in the back of HI Hostel Phoenix

The market gave me some pretty epic hummus and flatbread for lunch and the Art Museum opened my eyes, as art always does. Art inspires art as they say, but I’ll leave those learnings for another post.

The sunshine I was hoping for didn’t quite appear from behind the clouds that day, which was a wee bit disappointing, but I was still happy to be wearing shorts and a t-shirt, exploring cacti-covered streets and snapping pics of palm trees.

The Foundre in Phoenix, AZ

By 3PM, I was back at the hostel reading in a hammock, loving life.

But something deep down wasn’t quite right. I was restless. The peaceful feeling I was riding from the day before was quickly evaporating and a tightness was beginning to stitch my stomach lining together. I recognized this feeling all too well. The consuming loneliness of my depression was threatening me, toying with a trip I’d been looking forward to for months.

Floating in worry

I decided that this was probably the perfect time to try one of those float tanks everyone’s talking about these days. From what I had learned thus far, they’re meant to be great at alleviating depression and calming the mind. What better time to seek mental clarity in a dark space than while on desert-y solo spirit quest?

Well, to be honest, as much as the whole thing was relaxing and good for my skin, being trapped in a pitch-black room for 60 minutes really only heightened my anxiety and led me to over think everything that’s happened to me in the last year. I emerged from the tank feeling physically mellow but mentally depleted, and incredibly lonely.

It was around 8:30 by the time I left the float centre, so I decided to take myself for a Mexican feast then get to sleep early to be ready for my big hike in the morning. I was hell-bent on conquering this wave of sadness that had washed over me by staying busy and keeping my chin up.

Climbing a mountain, and crying

That hike was incredible. It was the first of its kind for me, having to scramble up rocks for about 20 minutes near the top of Camelback Mountain. I pushed myself further than I ever had before alone on a hike and was so proud to have accomplished it. My soul felt fulfilled by an abundance of unfamiliar natural surroundings and from the hot sun beating down on me for my hours.

After conquering Camelback, I decided I had plenty of time to consume even more nature, and made my next stop the Desert Botanical Gardens (the part of my trip I was most looking forward to).

This is where emotional shit got real.

Suddenly, while regarding a host of cacti and desert shrubbery, I started to bawl. I left my sunglasses on to keep my tears hidden from the many people around me. But I couldn’t stop crying. Everything I had felt while swinging on the hammock the day before just exploded out of my eyeballs.

 

Desert Botanical Gardens view in Phoenix, AZ

You see, I’ve been working with a therapist the last few months to help me get through a very difficult year. The deeper I dig and further back I remember in these sessions, the more my wounds are opening and the more the tears spill out.

I’ve learned a lot about how I handle unpleasant emotions, especially since moving back to Toronto and being totally out of my happy zone. That is to say, I don’t handle them at all. I use alcohol, and friends, and relationships, and marijuana, and work, and exercise, and even travelling as an escape from ever feeling the bad stuff. The hard shit. Those feelings that actually just make us all human.

I’m finally starting to understand that those feelings, the ones we don’t want to feel, are wholly necessary to feel and to reflect upon.

My therapist said something like: “you need to be able to work through your emotions and face them head on.”

To which I replied: “how does one ‘deal with their feelings’? I have been doing that. Going for walks and exercising and socialising and moving forward. Yet here I am, completely depressed and emotionally fucked.”

She looked surprised and thought about it for a second.

“Tori, you just have to sit with them. You have to be sad. You have to allow yourself to feel hurt and angry and upset. It sucks, but that time to reflect will eventually help you get past them.”

Fuck, I thought to myself. Sitting around, being sad, crying. I had never once been told that those things are healthy. I had been told that my problems aren’t as bad as others’ and to be thankful for that. And I am. I still have a hard time not feeling guilty about being depressed when my life is easier than 99% of peoples’. But it truly is all relative, and the more we push down our negative emotions, the shittier and shittier we feel, and the more our mental health suffers. It’s a vicious cycle.

Final days in Phoenix

Really, the rest of my trip consisted of more of the same. I just couldn’t stop crying. But instead of fighting it, or ignoring the tears, I let them flow. This year, I faced a lot of tough shit. Shit that was tougher than I wanted to let myself believe. Everything I had been planning for, the future I had created in my mind, was totally set back by something completely out of my control.

That’s life, though, isn’t it? Nothing ever goes as planned. People come in and out of our lives so quick, steps backward have to be taken to move forward, and bad things need to happen to make us stronger. But instead of fighting against the sadness and darkness that comes with these changes, I’m learning to embrace the emotions. To cry without limits, to give myself days to mourn the loss of a life I thought I’d be living, while simultaneously starting to piece together a new future.

By the time I was packing up my bags to leave the friendly and beautiful Phoenix, I was exhausted. I was depleted. I was low. But I felt better than I had in a long time. Lighter. I felt like the sunshine I was blessed with the majority of my trip. My eyes were heavy, but my heart wasn’t anymore.

So yeah, in the end, my trip to Phoenix wasn’t fun. It was the hardest trip I’ve ever taken in my life. But it was revolutionary for me, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

lUaolKMhR26fLtKUonrSzQKRA4Td8XTUCeThXsDp0r1A5gB1Hd2FQ7Wc+NZfKBoQTw53brjGuXTrGcQ%mFCP0VMgz9aUSgbHRZeiRXY2JRCLegZ26x2pV8SRev04WI%nmjUQ

Tribulations of an over-thinker (and Tantallon Castle)

Life Lessons, Scotland, Toronto

My brain has always worked at a pace I can’t ever get ahold of. Small worries turn into big worries which manifest new worries all together. It’s hard to explain, but I’ll try. Just now, my heater made a little cracking sound. Instantly, I sat up, looked at it, switched it off, and moved to the other side my bed in case of possible explosion. Which turned into: if it explodes, will I survive? Have I accomplished everything I wanted to up until this point? I haven’t. What a sad death that would be. You know what would be a sadder one? If someone broke in and stole all my things and finished me off before leaving.

As you might’ve guessed, it’s generally negative things I over-think. To a less dramatic extent, let’s say at work, it often goes something like this: Oh no. I told someone I didn’t like their idea. Ugh look at their face. Their smile faded ever so slightly. Are they judging me? Are they upset that I said that? Will they ever enjoy working with me in the future? I hope I didn’t hurt their feelings. I’m worried I’ve made them feel awful.

 I’m hoping by now you get the picture. Not only is it absolutely useless to think in this anxious cycle of negativity, it’s bloody exhausting. Friendships, relationships, all the ships, are so stressful, not in and of themselves, but because my brain makes them that way.

I know, I know. I’m working on it. I really am.

I started seeing a therapist, which I really should’ve done much sooner, who is teaching me a little about acceptance. Acceptance that I am the way that I am, and I can’t do anything to change that fundamental piece of my brain. But I can learn to reprogram those negative thoughts into positive ones, simply by accepting that I am going to feel how I feel but also offering my head a new thought to snowball from. Something more positive.

It’s definitely a process. But I’ve finally had the epiphany that maybe being an over-thinker isn’t bad. It’s just a part of who I am. And there are so many positive facets of my personality that come along with the wheels turning so quickly in my brains. I’ve become more and more empathetic with time, since I think so much about how people are feeling about things. I’m also very good at my job and problem solving because of my innate gift to overanalyze every situation (which is wicked cool because my high school math teachers would argue that problem solving was never my strong suit).

All this thinking about overthinking leads me to remember the time I spent in a cabin by the sea in North Berwick, Scotland, and my visit to Tantallon Castle. I wrote about that adventure in a blog post a while back and it’s helping me to reevaluate myself a bit. What we think of as being flaws in our personality are actually what make us special. Everything we’ve been through in our lives has brought us to the point we are now with our mental health and ability to move forward. And it’s okay to feel broken. Like Tantallon Castle, destroyed in battle to almost complete ruin, it’s our broken bits that make us more beautiful, more unique.

I’m starting to gain a little more clarity on my brokenness, and I’m finding I’m not so broken after all. It’s just a part of who I am. A part that makes me a much more deep, dynamic, and aware person. The trick is, remembering these lessons, no matter how dark it starts to get.

 

Out of control

Life Lessons, Toronto

It’s all out of our control. But, is that always so bad?

 

When I was younger, I hated the ocean. Everything to do with it terrified me. The unknown creatures that lurked beneath, getting all salty and sandy and uncomfortable, surrendering myself to a natural force so powerful, I’d have no real control over my fate. That was a big one. Having no control over what happens to me. 

 

I used to trick myself into believing that every choice I made, every step I took, was a calculated decision. If I was unhappy in my life it was wholly because of something I did, and I could therefore pull myself out of that unhappiness by making an equally calculated U-turn.

 

I’m quickly learning that being in total control of one’s own life is a naïve dream. We’re all at the mercy of a number of forces that dictate where we are and what we become. For one, governments have imposed strict laws that separate families and force people to leave their homes. That was a tough pill to swallow for me. Mourning the loss of my home, twice, have been two of the largest hurdles in my life.

 

And what about expectations set on us by society? I’ll forever battle stigmas about depression and STIs and be told I’m too large or too loud or too abrasive. Social pressures to find the perfect job, buy property, get married, have children, raise them well all the while never aging because it should be a woman’s main goal in life to stay 19 forever, yet be mature enough to juggle all the above. And I know I have it so easy in comparison to the rest of the world who have to face all these alongside poverty, war, discrimination, etc. 

 

On top of the plethora of wee social expectations and implosions that control us every day, we have to deal with and accept our own mortality. That any day, illness could subdue us, an accident could take us, or anyone we love who plays a meaningful role in our lives could stop breathing. 

 

I was a fool to believe I could control everything. 

 

But now, when I sit next to the ocean, I feel at peace. Sometimes, you need to learn to give in and let the forces around you take control. The ocean, though wretched and powerful, also has moments of complete rhythm and synchronicity. When you sit next to the sea on a calm evening, watching the sun set, smelling the salt and the sand and the wind and the mist, you realize that you don’t need to be in control of everything to be happy. In life, there is pain. But there is also beauty beyond our wildest imaginations. 

 

I’m currently in a place of transition in my life, standing on the edge of a cliff of uncertainty about my future and what I should do to move forward and be happy. But then I think, “when are we not in a place of transition”? The answer is when we’re dead. Or, when we’ve decided to stop growing and learning and at that point, if we are breathing, are we even truly alive?

 

I guess I’m writing all this to say: I miss the ocean.

 

But I will keep fighting to search for answers and figure out where I want to be in my next phase of life. As cheesy as the saying may be, life is about accepting what you can’t change and making waves anyway. So far, luck has given me more blessings than I ever deserved, and I’m going to try to focus on those and embracing the inevitable as I determine what path I should take into the abyss that is the future.

How I’m really feeling right now

Life Lessons, Living Abroad, Poetry, Toronto

When I left Edinburgh, I cried tears not only for what I had to leave behind but also for everything I came to experience, to love. For all that I gained. But where is that woman I became so proud of overseas? Only remnants of her are left. I feel broken into hundreds of little pieces that I’ve been trying to force fit into a shape which no longer exists.

If a flower isn’t growing how it should, you move it to more favourable conditions for it to flourish. That’s a big lesson I’ve learned, one that seems to cross my mind regularly now, especially after travelling to Halifax and feeling real air, ocean air, salt spitting against my skin. Being so far away from it for so long has left me with a hole in my heart, the depth of which I can’t begin to describe. I know in my soul that there is more adventure and happiness ahead, but oftentimes the big city wares me down to believe I’ve reached my maximum potential and all that’s left is utter stagnancy.

Lately I’ve been afraid of being honest on my blog about how hard it’s been for me in the big city. I’ve tried to maintain an air of positivity about my personal purgatory but sadly, the happiness I feel here appears in small waves stifled by the overwhelming loneliness that comes from living in a place where people are often so disconnected from each other.

I realize it’s all about perspectives. Maybe I just feel this way now because I had a lovely weekend away in a place that has always felt more like home than Toronto. Maybe tomorrow everything will be easier. Depression has a way of doing that to you – suddenly tricking you to believe you’re much less happy than you are in a specific moment.

But the bottom line is, my soul is aching for more than what I think I can find where I’m waiting now, and I reckon it’s only a matter of time before the hundreds of pieces I’ve broken into fly too far away for me to bring back. The pieces that believe in the power of nature, loving everyone and smiling from dusk ‘til dawn every day.

If you’re reading this, I’m okay. Don’t ache for me or anyone else struggling a bit to cope. We’ve made it this far and we’ll continue on. Ache for the experiences you never had because you were too afraid to try. Ache for the people you never got to know because you were too proud to ask for their friendship. Ache for the love you never let yourself feel because anger is easier to bare than the possibility of being hurt. Ache for your life and strive to take the steps you never took before to move forward. That’s all I can do right now. Ache for the life I know would make me happy and strive to make it there as soon as I can.

My partner in crime is about to leave. And while we anticipate this next big step, it’s hard to accept the fact that someone who loves more parts of me than I do won’t be around for a long time. Before we even really got to know each other, he taught me more about myself than anyone ever has – about my propensity to dwell on my imperfections and about the depression that lurks within dark forgotten corners of my mind.

As we struggle to make something work, the romanticism of falling in love with someone from somewhere else has completely faded. The magic from our love has been beaten out of us by arbitrary borders that, from historical evidence, have done nothing but divide us and promote hatred and fear of others. Every time we take a step forward, we fall back several feet into the unforgiving concrete that is thousands of pages of paperwork, all written to keep families apart and force so many to suffer.

This may be the most poetic piece I’ll ever allow anyone to read. I don’t normally write like this, but to be honest, it’s the only way I can really describe what I’ve been feeling. Poetry is overindulgent. It allows writers to brood and extend their verses to anyone willing to listen and feel sympathy. I’ve never been much for producing it, let alone presenting it. But after hearing the pleas of others suffering as I do, as so many do, I’ve granted myself clemency to write freely and put forth the following poem. It’s a snapshot of a hard time from a couple years back. Reading it now and knowing I overcame one of my most prominent roadblocks, gives me hope that I’ll make it through this episode and be fine. It gives me hope that if I overcame my worst, my friends can too. My family can too. My love can too. You can too.

 

Low point

My brain currently thinks and feels in snippets.

Little moments that flash through my mind like lightning.

Quickly bursting and dissipating

leaving me feeling anxious and uncomfortable in my own skin.

I don’t trust myself anymore.

I don’t know myself anymore.

I don’t laugh anymore.

I just feel.

Desperately feel my insides eroding

and my happiness evaporating

and everything I love slipping through my fingers.

My eyes are open but sometimes I can’t focus on anything.

It’s like there’s a glass wall between reality and me

and I’m floating out into nothingness.

Put a Big Bird in a Small Cage

Life Lessons, Prose, Toronto

Since moving back to the hustle and bustle of the big city, I’ve not been doing much blogging. But that’s not to say I haven’t been doing much writing. I’ve successfully made a career out of something I both am good at and like to do. And I’m happy about that, for the most part.

You see, that whole annoying belief people have about doing what you love for work seemingly holds some validity. Once you turn something you love into a job, it becomes just that – a job. I’ve not been finding solace in writing for myself anymore, simply because I do it far too often for other people.

I am sad about all this. I miss seeing beautiful things and pouring my heart out in to a notebook. How am I to write poetry and prose about the beauty of nature from behind the walls of a concrete jungle?

Okay, yeah I know, I’m being overdramatic. Really, Toronto’s been good to me. And even though the big city can sometimes be overwhelming and cold, I’ve also met incredible people I’m lucky to call friends and have found a comfort in knowing there’s always something going on.

I’ve just moved to a new area steeped in colours, curious architecture and best of all, interesting and “interesting” people. There’s never a dull moment or dull wall this side of town (see graffiti photos below) and I’m feeling incredibly fortunate to have found such a great wee home.

IMG_6348

Sadly, besides all this greatness, I’m still having trouble coming up with innovative ways to inspire myself creatively. I’ve spent so long drawing inspiration from mountains and oceans and wildlife and inactive volcanoes, finding it in city streets spattered with litter, vomit and all matter of atrocious things has proven difficult.

But I recently felt a spurt of hope after listening to an old favourite tune. It’s called Big Bird in a Small Cage by Patrick Watson (shout out to Mel Lyon for introducing me all those years ago).

The song has always been one that I sing along to but never fully understand.

A line in the chorus goes: “you put a big bird in a small cage and he’ll sing you a song.”

In my mind, the whole song is about the birth of art and how perhaps the most beautiful creations come from a place of perceived suffocation. For the last couple years, my creative periods have occurred during a significant transition or when I have immersed myself in nature. Though big changes and wide-open spaces have played a large role in my soul-searching, I’m realising that being in a place I find small and uncomfortable may in fact lead me to produce more beautiful work than any amount of running space has granted me in the past. Perhaps it’s where we find ourselves least comfortable that we will learn the most.

So friends, I’ve turned a new leaf since deciding that my small cage (Toronto) won’t stop this big bird from writing and singing and blabbering on about things I’m sure you’ve all already figured out. But, you know me. It takes me a long time to come to simple conclusions.

Tori, signing off for now but not for good.

IMG_1133

On the plane to Toronto

Life Lessons, Living Abroad, Scotland

 

I don’t want to be on this plane. I never wanted to be on this plane.

 

No, not just because the assholes in front of me have reclined all the way back to the point where I’ve spilled my rum and coke (I went for it). But mainly because I feel like I’m being ripped away from a home I could have easily spent many more years in. I feel like I’m being dragged away from a new family kicking and screaming, but without the dramatics.

 

It’s easy for everyone to tell me this isn’t the end but a new beginning and it’s tempting to think of it that way. But to me, to negate this ending is to erase the whole experience I’m leaving behind me. It IS an ending. It’s an ending to my time in a city that helped me become a much better person. It’s an ending to many friendships that I fought hard to cultivate and an ending to walking past architecture, green-space, and spots that hold hundreds of significant and not-so memories. It’s an ending, no matter how you package it.

 

cropped-cropped-dsc_45801.jpg

 

Although leaving Edinburgh is an ending, I know that moving to Canada isn’t necessarily moving back, but moving forward. But I don’t want to. If I’m being honest, I feel like living in Edinburgh brought out the best in me. It helped me heal from an intense depression I didn’t even recognise I had until moving away. It helped me rekindle a love of reading and writing I thought was snuffed out for good. It built my confidence up higher than I ever thought it could have and it introduced me to some of the most inspiring people I have ever met.

 

I had a conversation with an incredibly wise friend while sharing our worries about the future in the Highlands last year. I expressed to him how I thought it was silly that I was nervous to move back to a place I associate with my worst self, when I’m sure it’s not so much Scotland that changed me but more so the lessons I learned while living there.

 

As he is one of the most honest people I know, he said something like this:

 

“Think of yourself how you might think of a flower that’s wilting in a corner of your living room. Generally you wouldn’t blame the flower for not flourishing, but blame its environment. Move the flower to a sunnier spot and perhaps it’ll grow stronger and more beautiful.”

 

td

 

That’s how I feel about my move–well not moving to a sunnier spot, obviously, but one more equipped to bring me joy. Edinburgh and the people I surrounded myself with there encouraged me to blossom from a sad and wilted orchid (I like orchids) into one everyone would opt to purchase from their local florist.

 

I suppose what I take from this is that not everywhere in this world can help you to grow an amazing amount, but I guess that doesn’t mean you can’t grow a little from these places. Sure, I’m going back to a city I have negative feelings towards, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t regard it as an opportunity to learn and move forward. Currently I’m considering Toronto a positive purgatory where I can build up the mental stability and resources necessary to continue my exploring. I have an idea of the type of city or town that helps me to be the most positive version of myself, and being around family and old friends I love and enduring the busyness of a big city will more than likely help me get to my next home faster.

 

I will miss you, Edinburgh. After taking all I could take from your people, I’ve decided the most important lessons I’ve learned from living in you are self-love, acceptance, and patience. I hope that this time around in Canada I’ll grow in ways I didn’t expect. Maybe Toronto will envelope me in positivity the same way Edinburgh took me in and nurtured me for two beautiful years.

 

Scotland, I will never forget you: the challenging and dark beginning of loneliness and internal struggles, the educational middle full of healing, smiles, and new friends, and the end when I finally learned how to feel stable and balanced while living in the present.

 

I’m only 26, I’m not kidding myself. I know years or even just months from now I’ll probably reread this and think how foolish I was to be so nervous of moving to Canada. Tracking my progress through my writing has made me proud of my growth every step of the way, and I’m excited to face what’s next head on with the grace, confidence, tenacity, and love Scotland has instilled in me.

 

IMG_2992IMG_3904IMG_3899img_6240IMG_3007pals9IMG_5657IMG_5575cropped-img_1988.jpgIMG_4149IMG_3897IMG_3241IMG_3682IMG_2953IMG_2053IMG_3132IMG_3068DSC_4574Edinburgh strollscropped-img_35451.jpgIMG_3343tdbpals4IMG_4680IMG_4731IMG_4827IMG_2986

Alone in the airport

Life Lessons, Living Abroad

Day 1: Edinburgh – Krakow

I’m sitting at Gate 23 in Edinburgh Airport. It smells like French fries and ketchup and around me I can hear the buzzing of foreign languages (Polish for one) and the howling of the bathroom hand dryer. My flight to Krakow has been delayed by an hour. Classic. I’ve not experienced one single trip in the past two years that didn’t contain at least one delay or missed connection.

That’s alright though. Generally speaking it’s these delays that have forced my usual impatient and neurotic self to become a relatively zen and chilled out chick. It’s also often these wee bumps in the travel road that force my hand in some kind of creative or productive way, be that writing, drawing, or reading—I always make the most of my time in airports and bus stations.

This is it, I keep telling myself. I’m considering this adventure one more challenge on the long, never-ending road of Dudys self-discovery. I’ve lived on a different continent than home for two years now and still have yet to do any extensive solo travel. So this is it, my time to nut up or shut up.

Two years ago, three weeks of backpacking would have been a pipe dream, or really a pipe nightmare. The idea of going anywhere outside of my local spots on my own was not just unsettling, but out of the picture entirely. I think I’ve always pretended to be some tough, independent, bad ass bitch on the outside, but on the inside I couldn’t sit for longer than an hour on my own without feeling pathetic, lonely, and incredibly depressed.

I thought when I moved into a one bedroom apartment that I was proving I was independent and could take care of myself. Although looking back now I always had people over: a best friend, a boyfriend, an acquaintance, or anyone else who could keep me from noticing how disgustingly and pathetically lonely I constantly felt. I was in no way happy with what I was doing, where I was, and ultimately who I was. If I hated who I was so bad, how could I ever like being alone with not but me as company?

Not anymore. My two years away have instilled in me a desire to live and a love for myself I’ve never before experienced. I’ve pushed myself to and right fuckin’ past almost all my previously perceived limits and now thinking about it, I’ve only got a thirst for more: more sights, more colours, more culture, more lessons (hard ones and easy ones), and more love.

Sitting here, waiting for Ryanair flight FR6624 to Krakow, I’m reminded why pushing myself past my comfort levels is so important. It keeps me inspired. This is the first time in about three months that I’ve written anything. And my fingers are itching to write more.

Throughout the next three weeks, maybe good shit will happen, maybe bad shit will happen, but hopefully I’ll continue to be this excited to write it all down, share my story, and blog the way only an incredibly lucky and privileged, travelling,  naïve, twenty-something can.

 

A new-found fear of sheep

Living Abroad, Prose, Scotland

The short, sassy, and stupid tale of a city girl taking on a night in the Scottish wilderness

 

Through and through, I was a true city girl. I adored shopping, shoes, the hustle and bustle of a city centre, business folk storming subway stations in suits, and taking Ubers in exchange for 20-minute walks (this remains true today as well). I was a sucker for busy cocktail bars and huge cinemas, hectic streets and expensive eats. That is, until I decided to sell all my belongings and move to Scotland.

Once I arrived in Edinburgh, the peacefulness of the nearby ocean and excellent hiking spots right in the middle of the city forced me out of my usual comfort zones. I started to understand what all the fuss was about when it comes to beautiful natural surroundings. And since the sun is a rarity in this part of the world, one’s desire to spend time outdoors skyrockets, everyone sharing the mindset that if we don’t soak in some vitamin D at every opportunity we’re sure to die of rickets.

One rainy day I found myself in bed watching the film Wild—you know, the one where Reese Witherspoon takes on a three month hiking journey from Mexico to Canada and battles inner demons and coyotes and rapists and such. It’s based on a true story and sure enough started making me wonder whether, with my new-found love of nature and desire to roam, I could fare on my own solo, Scottish spirit-quest.

The next day I ventured out to the Mountain Warehouse closest to my flat and spent far too much money on shit I really didn’t need. After buying two pairs of “hiking socks,” a spork, water purification pills, and a well-stocked and bulky first aid kit, I felt as prepared as I ever would be. I booked a return ticket to an unmanned train station in Loch Lomond National Park and was given a map of the area to navigate myself up the top of Beinn Narnain (a Munro or small mountain) and find a smooth, sheltered, grassy spot to pitch my tent and toast marshmallows.

When I arrived, I managed to make it to the nearest town and find what I deemed to be a woodland path up to the peak of the Munro. Alas, t’was not a path. I ended up wading and fumbling across a very large beaver dam and sliding through mud and what looked like deer shit for about two hours before finally making it to a clearing. My obvious inability to properly read a map led me to believe this clearing would be near the top, when in fact the summit was still about an hour walk away.

 

 

A woman defeated is not a woman tae fuck with, so when a bunch of fellow hikers yelled at me from across a cliff and took the piss for walking slowly, I waved a giant middle finger in their direction and sat my tired ass down on a boulder, ready to call it quits.

But I decided to continue on to the top of Beinn Narnairn, tent, sleeping bag, and other gear on my back, floor mat in hand. It was tough but I was proud of myself for doing it.

On my descent I was searching for the perfect camping space, which I found. A great little flat patch of grass next to a river where someone had already built a fire pit.

As a bonafide city-girl, camping doesn’t come second nature to me. So of course I took the proper precautions and practiced setting up my tent in my living room the night before. It seemed excessive at the time, but I’m glad I brought that bulky kit full of useless shit. You see, somewhere on my hike I managed to drop my bag of tent pegs.

Nae tent pegs? I thought as tears welled in my eyes. I decided I could either turn back before it got dark OR I could suck it up, MacGyver something together, and be the strong, independent woman I’d wanted to be since three days prior while watching Witherspoon win at womanhood.

Nae tent pegs? NAE PROBLEM!

 I pulled out two pens, a Swiss Army knife, rope clips, and of course, my trusty plastic spork, and started fidgeting around with the tent and tarp.

I did it! I thought, completely in awe of my genius. I’ve got this now.

IMG_3369

My set up for the night. Note the obviously crooked tent tarp.

 

After the tent debacle, I lit a campfire, toasted marshmallows, boiled some water for tea, washed a bit of myself in the river, and settled in with some crossword puzzles, snuggled tightly in my sleeping bag.

But at approximately 3:30 am, shit got real.

I woke up to the sound of hooves muddling around and short, loud, breathy, grunts echoing outside my tent.

It’s just sheep. It’s just sheep. They’re harmless, go back to bed and when you wake up you can get the Hell outta here and enjoy the majesty of nature on YouTube, like you shoulda done to start with.

Though it was definitely just sheep—there are no large predators in Scotland—my mind kept creeping back to a certain headstrong ram that, hours earlier, was staring me down as I stood above it on a hill. It looked about ready to charge so I made a speedy U-turn to the next path over.

IMG_3355.jpg

Blurry shot of said ram, but you get the picture. It looks like it fuckin’ means business! 

It must be the ram, I thought, Swiss army knife in hand whilst sitting up straight and petrified under my sleeping bag. He’s come back for revenge. I’ll be the first person in history to be murdered and eaten by sheep. What have I done? WHAT HAVE I DONE?! Goodbye cruel, cruel, world. I’ve lived a full life.

 Waiting for the sun to rise with no cell service and sheep brushing against my tent felt like years. When I checked the time and saw it was nearly 5:00 in the morning and that a bit of sun was starting to creep through the tent fabric, I made the daring decision to unzip the tarp flap and loudly flail my way out of the tent in hopes of frightening away those fluffy, white, terrors.

To my surprise, when I emerged frazzled and in a cold sweat, there were absolutely no sheep around. No animals, no people, no birds, no nothing in sight. In my panicky state I managed to spend an hour and a half making up noises and confusing the wind rustling the tarp with sheep trying to break in and kill me.

Even after all my stupid mistakes and unrealistic fears, I made it through. And though I’m proud of myself for doing it alone, I will never look at a sheep and think “wow, what an adorable, beautiful, harmless, little mammal,” ever again. And rams? Rams, you can go f*** yourself! From now on my adventures will go back to consisting entirely of hikes through shopping malls and pushing my physical limits with late nights of dancing and short walks to the fridge.

IMG_3282

Quartz!

IMG_3329IMG_3332IMG_3357

IMG_3361

“I like that boulder. That is a NICE boulder.”

IMG_3314

Kate Moss

IMG_3310

Everyone here hates the rain, but really that’s the reason everything is so incredibly green and lush! Like what’s a bit of rain when you get THIS BEAUTIFULNESS right outside your door always? Sheesh!

IMG_3307

The majority of the so-called path through the woods I “found” (slash made) was right beside a beautiful, wee waterfall. Coulda been worse.

IMG_3366

That jaggedy beast in the background is called The Cobbler. I was meant to climb that originally but I went for the smaller one in the end…okay so sue me!

IMG_3362IMG_3359

IMG_3358

Another view of The Cobbler.

IMG_3357IMG_3343IMG_3364

Poetry about boots

Amsterdam, Living Abroad, Norway, Poetry, Scotland

Here’s a quick poem about my boots that have been to so many places over the past couple of years. If I’m being honest, the ones I wrote the poem about have now gone to shoe heaven (may they rest in peace) BUT all the things I said they’d seen they really had.

img_4916

These Boots

 

No, I’m not referencing

the back trunk of a car.

Instead I mean the soles on my feet,

the ones that have travelled oh so far.

 

They’ve seen the highest mountains.

They’ve seen the brightest cities.

They’ve seen sublime castles,

and things that weren’t so pretty.

 

The scattered sands of beaches

sprawled across the toes

have left wee little stains

like scars left by noble foes.

 

These boots down on my feet

have been left sitting by the sea

waiting patiently for me to surface

in not but my skivvies.

 

From the top of Mount Floyen

to the red lights of Amsterdam

they’ve walked every where I have,

reminders like passport stamps.

 

Their black, worn-out leather

shows new marks from year to year.

Stains from grass and dust and soil

and the salt from several tears.

 

These boots have left footprints

almost everywhere I’ve stepped,

but what’s more are the imprints

on my soul those places left.