In the summer of 2015 my friend Dana and I decided we should go on an adventure together. The more definitive decision to hike the Continental Divide Trail in 2017 came later in the same year. During the first long weekend of September-and what felt like the last rays of summer-Dana, myself and two other friends (who incidentally were dating) went on a short bike camping trip before the start of school and busy work schedules.
So at the tail end of August we did some light planning, aligned with the kind of biking trip ahead of us. This September bike trip will forever be etched in my mind as the weekend bike trip from hell. The weather was shit and most of the things that could go wrong, went wrong; repeated flats, inadequate bikes for the distance covered, forgotten rain gear, you name it. All and all, a bike ride that had usually taken me between 3 and 4 hours at a leisurely pace took us 6.5 hours to complete. Right from the beginning, this was the bike trip from hell.
By the time we arrived at the camping site, I believe we were all ready for a meal and some fun times. That fist evening, the sky was clear and the climate cool but temperate. Pretty ideal for a nice diner after an eventful day. My patience had been tested to a point of irritability and I believe we all gotten more then we had bargained for out of this trip- intended as a chill, relaxed end of summer celebration. After eating a filling delicious meal, however, it quickly starting raining, and raining increasingly harder. Grumpy tired and not exactly on the same page about various aspects of the trip, we all went to hide in our respective tents. Although by chatting through nylon walls, Dana and I convened that we weren’t quite ready to go to bed, so they joined me in my tent and we continued chatting about life and our eventful day.
That’s how Dana and I really connected and our complicity around adventure-styles took root. That night we commiserated about the day and talked about this and that. We had a hoot and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. But the adventures of the bike trip from hell were far from over.
Of course, of all weekends, we picked the one where it poured buckets. Dana had forgotten their rain jacket but made a poncho from a large plastic bag, I had mine and I was a happy, dry camper. Ultimately, Dana and I discovered we are comrades in snark-full of piss and vinegar and meant for epic adventures-of that I am certain.
When Dana initially introduced the idea of completing the CDT trail together, on that fortuitous night in the rain, crammed in my tent, I really had no sense of what this entailed. However, I knew it would be challenging and rough and full of up and downs and I was thrilled. The suggestion of taking the major part of a year to be together, alone in the wilderness opting out of the rat race and creating our own kind of challenges felt like the answer to a question I didn’t quite realize I had been asking myself for quite some time. This question looks something like “What am I doing with my life, why do I feel so stuck and where am I going- if I am to make my life meaningful and fulfilling?
I had spend 7 months between 2013 and 2014 without regular work after a rather frustrating experience at a seasonal non-profit project, the funding of which had not been renewed. The contract ended badly. I now see how my performance wasn’t great, mostly due to a lack of experience for the position I had been given. However, over time I have also come to appreciate how critical and unaccountable upper management had been throughout my contract, placing most of the blame for any mishap on mysely and the team, rather then owning up to their piece also. I left the position feeling dejected and incompetent after recurrent critiques from my higher ups and the resulting tensions within the team I was overseeing. I still sometimes need to remind myself that I was 26 at the time having never been in a supervisory role. After all, what in my life could have possibly prepared me for the level of responsibility I had been handed? And this, for a project that was falling to pieces from the very first day.
This difficult experience was the last of a series of not so positive employment experiences. I had worked in these amazing non-profits which theoretically ought to have inspired the best in me for the communities I work with. Some how though, the work environments felt toxic, profoundly toxic, and by 26 my sense of capability as an employee and overall caring compassionate person had more or less been crushed.
After months of looking for work in my field, social work, I decided I needed to curb my expectations and expand beyond my training to start considering various employment opportunities. By that time I was really strapped for cash. I ended up working for a law firm where I assisted clients in getting all their documents in order. A soul-sucking job at first glance, given my politics, the work environment actually re-energized me; people were kind to each other and seemed truly interested in investing in a work environment that was supportive and nice to work in. While this position worked wonders for my self esteem, on the other hand I felt guilty about relieving a salary on the basis of aspiring immigrants who often were investing all their savings, all their family’s savings in the hopes of a better life in Canada. I was discovering that an uneasy conscience was an integral part of my existential malaise above and beyond my trampled self-esteem. I needed out, I just couldn’t quite formulate it yet.
In an attempt to curtail this visceral guilt and self-doubt, career-wise, I became involved with an amazing organization, first as a volunteer for one campaign, then as a board member, and finally I was offered a year-long contract as an administrative coordinator. Part of my position’s mandate also included assisting the organization with a sexual violence awareness campaign; my area of expertise. Finally, I was working for an organization that combined a great group of people as staff. They truly seemed to care about each other, working in mutual support. I was also getting paid to do something I truly believed in. But no amount of this awesome combination could provide a thick enough salve to heal my work related scars. It is as if a year at this organization was a slow and painful scar tissue-forming period; ultimately I was in need of deeper self work then what I had managed to offer myself so far.
Dana’s proposition to hike the CDT rang true at my deepest place of need-somewhere buried inside this ball of accumulated perceived failures, could-haves and should-haves. I Vaguely knew I needed out; I just didn’t what or when or how, and the CDT answered the call in a way I suspected would save my sanity. I mean that literally.
So now, I begin my process for the next few years, focused on exiting the rat race in a slow, kind and loving manner. The plan looks like this: a year off of work, travelling and writing in the Philippines for 2016, the CDT trail in 2017 and finally the construction of a tiny house (as energy efficient and as off grid as will feel feasible and comfortable for me by that time) in 2018. By the time this plan is said and done, I will be 30 going on 31 and this moment could not have come too soon. At this point in my life, I am eager to find my own beat, once that respects who I am and is sustainable-unlike this autopilot bullshit I have been practicing over the last who knows how many years.
Dana and I will be taking a year to get ready. They will be biking alone across Canada over the four months of the summer, while continuing their alternating work as a bike mechanic and bike courier. They are already close to the kind of shape we should both be in by the time we hit the CDT. I on the other hand, will be continuing to bike as my main mode of transportation, deepening my yoga practice and taking advantage of my year off aboard to go on regular hikes and outdoor expeditions; to get trail ready, physically, mentally as well as to develop a good portion of the know-how that I am currently missing.
When I come back in February 2017 Dana and I will take advantage of the Canadian winter to do winter camping treks and perfect ice pick techniques. All in all we will have at most 5 months to train together from February to June 2017 before we make our way across the Continental Divide Trail, south bound from Canada to Mexico, on foot. For those who don’t know the unofficial motto of the CDT is “embrace the brutality”. But before we do any embracing, we will be doing much preparing.
This blog is meant to chronicle my process of getting out of the rat race and to reflect on what this will look like. I will also be posting some poetry and short essays on various social justice issues close to my heart. I am interested in exchanging with hikers, travellers, writers, people marching to their own drum and invested in getting out of the rat race.