Well, as you probably know, I've been back in Canada for the summer and after spending a couple of weeks in Toronto catching up with friends there, I came back up to the shores of Georgian Bay. In between weeding and mixing concrete and various dinners with friends, I've had plenty of time to pause for thought. After running around almost continuously for the previous six months this has had its pros and cons. On the plus side it has been nice to not have to pack my bag every other day and move on, because as much as I love being on the move, it's tiring and the constant stream of new people reaches overload at times. On the downside though, when you take that constant high away, it gives me far too much time to think. And I really do miss the constant change and all the random situations that life on the road throws up.
It's been a real emotional roller coaster of a ride being back here this summer for so many reasons. Getting to know people in a community, sharing in their ups and downs, including ones that make you question the very purpose of life...well, it changes you. I think I've both laughed and cried more in the time I've been here than I have in the entire rest of my life. I've also learnt more than I ever thought possible, especially about what I don't want to do with my life. I've spent time with people who have taught me tolerance. I've witnessed how incredibly cruel life can be and shared time with people who have made me truly grateful for my comparative lack of problems. Friendship crosses generations here and the wisdom I've gained from that I'll forever be grateful for.
However, for the last couple of months I've been trying to deal with an obstacle in my path that I really hadn't banked on, something that I've really struggled to figure out how to deal with, even after countless sleepless nights of battling with my thoughts. When I left the UK my plan was to move, wander, see places, experience new things and meet interesting people. My only rules were that I should have no plans, be prepared to change my mind often and to always follow the path that felt most right. What I didn't anticipate was that sometimes doing what feels right isn't actually an option. I'll explain.
I've learnt a lot of things about myself in the last year. Little things mostly, such as how much I like hiking, that peaches are actually quite nice even if they are furry on the outside, that I'll never in a million years get used to the fixed back wheels on supermarket trolleys and that maple syrup improves almost anything, but I’ve learnt bigger things too. I've learnt that often I'm my own worst enemy and that thinking too much does me little good. I've learnt that patience is not one of my virtues and that accepting that 'what will be, will be' is something I really struggle with.
Let me start by saying that when I set off on this trip, meeting someone was furthest from my thoughts. I was happy alone, I liked the independence and ability to be selfish (and I still do), but I wasn't prepared for how much of a curveball life throws you when you meet a special person. Suddenly everything changes and you have little control over it.
For the last year or so I've been fortunate enough to be able to share a lot of time with a friend I love very much. Whether it's been taking trips into town by boat for ice cream or kiting in Cuba and exploring Belize and Guatemala, or simply curled up on the couch in front of the wood stove watching movies, we've shared a lot of great times and I wouldn't change a minute of it.
Sadly though, there are factors involved that for a while have proved to be insurmountable and the conclusion we've come to is that in order to see if things might work out between us in the future then right now we need to spend some time apart.
I'll be honest, that breaks my heart. It also posed for the first time the dilemma of what to do now that I can't follow my instincts and do the one thing that feels most right. For the last couple of months this has left me feeling a little empty and very much like I've had the wind knocked out of me. First world problems, I know, but what to do next really has been a big dilemma for some time now. Sadly, it looks like I'll have to work on my acceptance of 'que sera sera'.
To make matters worse, I'm pretty much out of money at this point. This is my own fault, I spent the last of it on my flight back to Canada and to be honest, it doesn't concern me greatly. Of all the things I've learnt during my time away, one is that money really isn't a necessity, even to travel around, but it's undeniably useful to have a small amount. I like that I can trade my time and efforts in return for food and a bed and the thought of returning to a job that pays money doesn't appeal to me in the slightest. In short, I guess I took my eye off the ball for a bit and now I'm broke, and for a while there I found myself aimlessly sifting through many options trying to decide what to do next.
I'm grateful therefore to a few people I've met along the way who taught me valuable lessons about life and my attitude towards certain things. One person made me see me that going back to the UK for a short period of time to recharge my batteries and replenish my bank balance isn't such a bad option. Another has just been there to listen to me when I've needed a friendly ear, never judging, just allowing me to offload and being there with a hug when I've needed it most. Another person told me that going back to a place isn't always a backward step and that sometimes you have to go back in order to discover things you missed when you were there before and to find the right path to move forward on.
Then in the last couple of weeks I learned another important lesson and that is that sometimes all that is needed is patience and a little faith. What was starting to look like a one way ticket back to the UK for a bit to earn some money has slowly and surely morphed into a possible crazy new plan. Over the last few weeks Evan and I have spent time together, talked, taken some steps back and agreed to see how things go from now on without any expectation. We’ve talked about what we each want to do in the future and we’ve discovered that seeing some more of Central and South America is high on both of our lists. We talked about how perhaps meeting up down there sometime later in the winter might be a good way to move forward. Then we watched the Long Way Down and suddenly everything started to fall into place. The answer to the 'what to do next' question was staring us straight in the face - buy motorbikes and a tent and head for South America, without any real schedule or time constraints, just wandering as we go.
So hopefully, that's what we're going to do. Next week I fly back to the UK where I plan to work for a few months and organize all the things I need to do before I go, including getting my bike licence. It's a crazy idea and I'll be the first to admit it gave me at least a couple of sleepless nights when we first came up with plan, but now that apprehension has turned to excitement and anticipation, much the same as that feeling I had when I booked my ticket to Toronto in June last year. That slight fear of the unknown coupled with a feeling that only amazing experiences can possibly follow. Everything has begun to fall into place, as it always does, despite the fact that for a while I didn't have the faith that it would.
I know the road ahead is still a rocky one. Already we’ve discovered several obstacles that are going to be tricky to overcome. For example, I've already discovered that buying, registering and insuring a bike in Ontario is all but impossible for me to do without an Ontario drivers licence, so I’ll have to do this in the States, while he can’t now get his full motorbike license until May because you can’t do a test here in the winter, but we’ll figure it out I have no doubt. Where there’s a will there’s a way. No one knows how this next chapter will work out, least of all me, but what I do know is that I haven't been this excited about anything in a long time. I can't wait to get going, hopefully late next summer, and there’s no one I'd rather be doing the trip with. Hopefully we’ll also be able to fit in a winter trip to Morocco to rent bikes and ride through the Atlas Mountains. So I guess the answer to the question 'what do you do when you can't follow your gut feeling?' is 'just be patient and wait until you can'. And if everything changes and none of this happens? Well, I guess that's what's meant to be and I'm sure that whatever path I'm supposed to take next will make itself clear in due course.
The next week is without a doubt going to be one of very mixed emotions. I’ve already said goodbye to so many people here as they’ve slowly flown south for the winter. In exactly a week’s time I’ll be on a plane back to the UK and saying goodbye to this place, again, is not something I’m looking forward to. The people here have become my second family and the only consolation I’ll have is that I know this won’t be my last visit. Thank you everyone for your friendship and warm welcome, I’ll see you all in the spring. And to the people where I’m heading, it’ll great to catch up with you all over the next couple of months!