Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Turning 26

26 is a funny old age, don’t you think? Not quite as momentous as the quarter-life crisis-inducing 25. Nearer to 30 than 20. A bit adrift in the tumultuous sea of the “mid-20’s” age bracket.

Half of your friends have babies and houses, set for life - the others are living in cramped London flat shares and spending their wages on overpriced wine in heaving city bars. Where exactly in your life are you supposed to be at 26?

Personally, I’ll be in Jasper, Alberta, Canada. On some kind of mountain. In a tent. Preferably armed with hefty supplies of chocolate and wine.

Truthfully, my life feels a bit suspended at the moment. I’m moving neither forwards nor backwards. Physically, of course, I am – making my way across British Columbia, working in lodges and farms and camping along the way. Before we hit 2017, I’ll have explored Alberta, returned to BC, driven down to Texas. Flown home to the UK for Christmas via Singapore. Yep, in terms of my geographic location, I’m moving a lot. But in the other sense? The big, emotional, life progress kind of movement? I’m static, like someone pressed pause on a song between beats. I’m somewhere in between the homemakers and living-for-the-weekenders, while simultaneously having not much in common with either party. It’s a strange place, this undulating flux, this impatient pocket of time.

But that’s not to say I’m not enjoying it all immensely. The past year has been so rich with experiences and new things and places, that for lack of a better expression, I’ve really grown. I know a bit more about myself as a person, I’m a bit more comfortable in my own skin, I feel enriched by the things I’ve seen and people I’ve met. I take a bit less crap, I beat myself up a bit less. I’m calmer. My mind’s more still.

It’s just that there’s something about birthdays, about counting and commemorating the years, that brings the passing of time home. I can run around the world all I like, hiding in the wilderness and in tents and on mountains… but life still goes on, and I still get older.

I wanted to write a post about turning 26, but wasn’t really sure what would be remotely relevant to my blog or even that interesting to read. So I settled on rambling on for a bit, before writing a kind of stock-take on where I am right now, what I’ve learned. A manifesto of Right Now, if you will. I also had a think about some goals and hopes for next year, just for fun. Hopefully the result will be interesting –but I can’t promise anything!

26 things I would tell my younger self:

1.      Travelling somewhere – anywhere – will make you a more rounded, understanding and interesting person. It’s a big old world. Too big to sit still.
2.     Everyone has different opinions, and not one person is right 100% of the time. It’s important to take everything with a pinch of salt and form your own opinions.
3.      The sooner you start accepting yourself and stop beating yourself up for things you can’t change, the better. Your spatial awareness is terrible and you can be an antisocial bastard sometimes. And that’s ok.
4.      Comparison is the thief of joy. There is absolutely no point comparing yourself to others. You are you, they are them. Learn from them, be inspired by them, but comparing yourself in a negative way will only make you miserable.
5.      Coffee and music make every task easier.
6.      Whatever problem you have, someone in the world has felt the same. You’re never alone in anything.
7.      You have to be your own biggest fan. Treat yourself as you would a friend.
8.      If you’re ordering shots of tequila at the bar, go home.
9.       You can’t ever control what someone thinks of you. So don’t worry about it. At the end of the day, it’s actually none of your business.
10.   It’s important to do things to make yourself proud.
11.   Watch lots of sad films. The soppier the better. You know you love them. Get those cathartic tears out!
12.   You can learn something from every person you meet.
13.   You can do hard things. And next time you try, it will be so much easier.
14.   Nerves are a sign that you’re about to do something really, really brave.
15.   Stop thinking about last week. Stop thinking about next week. Living in the moment is hard but it will make you happier than you thought you could be.
16.   Make more space for yourself in the world. Be the main character in your story, and stop apologising.
17.   Saying that, you should let more people in. What’s the worst that can happen?
18.   Don’t get a fringe. Just… don’t.
19.   Push yourself. Challenge yourself. It’s always worth it.
20.   Pay more attention, ask more questions.
21.   Nothing lasts forever. Take from every experience as much as you can.
22.   Lay off the eyeliner. And the orange foundation. Just step away from the makeup bag.
23.   Write more.
24.   Nothing beats being genuine and honest. It’s way more important than pleasing everyone.
25.   Some people suffer quietly. Be there for them.
26.   The best is yet to come.

26 goals for being 26

1.       Run a 10k in under an hour.
2.       Get a piece published in print.
3.       Learn more French.
4.       Volunteer.
5.       Write at least 10k words of a novel.
6.       Read more.
7.       Pass my driving test (finally).
8.       Get on top of life admin – things like pensions and financial goals are kinda important.
9.       Try to get the hang of this meditation business.
10.   Do a writing course.
11.   Do a course in something I know absolutely nothing about.
12.   Learn to cook 26 classic dishes perfectly.
13.   Find the ultimate fake tan.
14.   Put more energy and focus into this blog.
15.   Stop taking everything so seriously.
16.   Learn a few words of every new language I come across, and write it all down.
17.   Live life a bit more consciously.
18.   Grow my hair long again (I knew I’d want to do this as soon as I cut it. I never learn).
19.   Go to Alberta, Singapore, Iceland, home.
20.   Swim in as many oceans as possible.
21.   Go to a music festival.
22.   Write down three little goals every morning, and three positive things that happened at night.
23.   Try 26 foods I’ve never tried before.
24.   Write poetry (even if it’s rubbish).
25.   Do yoga at least twice a week.
26.   Laugh more.

What are your goals for right now? I’d love to know. 

Friday, 10 June 2016

WWOOFING Adventure No.2: Paradise Valley

After a week of camping and hiking in Squamish, it was time to get back to work and to our next WWOOFING placement: this time, on a farm in Paradise Valley.

After having such an incredible introduction to volunteering at Ruby Lake Resort, I was interested to find out how our next placement would measure up. But I can safely say that while this experience was a completely different one, it was just as rewarding and interesting as the first.

The night we arrived, we drove down a winding gravel road through the forest, eyes peeled for our new hosts’s home as the sun began to set. As we rounded a corner, a huge wooden house, looking like one of those moody, high-contrast stills from a trendy folk Instagram account, suddenly appeared. It was so impressive that we involuntarily slowed the car down. And that was before we even learned that our hosts, Ian and Claudia, had built the whole thing themselves from the ground up.

It wasn’t to be the last interesting thing we learned from these guys, who over the next two weeks taught us about a sustainable, organic lifestyle, Biodynamics and the process behind their successful local cutting board business. It wouldn’t by hyperbolic to say that every day they taught me something, and widened my horizons with their outlook and lifestyle. To me, this is kinda the whole point of wwoofing: to learn and broaden your mind, and perhaps adopt some principles you agree with into your own life.

We were given a cosy room in their rustic yet modern home, and prepared to get to work. As well as the cutting board business, they grow their own fruit and veg to eat, and also keep chickens for eggs and goats for milk. It was my job to tend to the chickens in the morning, and I also learned how to milk Schneilly the goat. We’d get up at 8am and have a leisurely breakfast of homemade granola and coffee with goat’s milk until 10am, then we’d work until 1pm. After a lunch of salad fresh from the garden, homemade bread and freshly whizzed hummus, we’d start work again at 3pm until 6pm. Although the days from start to finish were long, the leisurely breaks and laidback pace meant we never felt tired or overworked.  

The property was gorgeous - a place where the wilderness was tamed with a light and respectful hand. Filled with towering trees, wildflowers and of course the meticulously tended garden, it was a peaceful and gently restorative place. In between learning to make sourdough bread and adding compost to the vegetable beds, I went for lazy runs through the forest trails and down to the river, where the high water cut fast and powerful through the land. 

Our two weeks in Paradise Valley differed to our time at Ruby Lake in many ways. Firstly, we were the only WWOOFERS there at the time, so as a result we were able to spend a lot of time getting to know our hosts personally. Staying in someone's home and helping them with their daily tasks is a big contrast to helping out with the running of a busy resort. It's more intimate, and while the pace was slightly slower here and we didn't experience the camaraderie between WWOOFERs that we did at Ruby Lake, it was so valuable to genuinely experience our host's lifestyle and get a taste of what it would actually be like to live it ourselves. 

One of my favourite little tasks was oiling the cutting boards in preparation for market to be sold. Ian and Claudia harvest all of the wood from their own property, and it’s left outside to kind of mature before it’s taken in to be shaped and sanded. They’re oiled as pretty much the last step in the process, to condition the wood and keep it in top shape. It was another of those repetitive but deeply satisfying tasks which gives you plenty of time to think and reflect.

If you like the look of the boards, you'll need to seek out Raven Timberworks at either Whistler or Squamish markets over the summer. They're a fiercely local and decidedly offline business, so Google won't help you this time. 

After a couple of days, I became a bit attached to the greenhouse (something I never expected to say!). During our WWOOFING experiences, I’ve discovered that in the beginning I like to have clear instruction then freedom to work, and I really enjoy repetitive but satisfying tasks where you can see the result in the end. So when I was given the task of weeding the pathways in the greenhouse, I attached it with relish, weed bucket in one hand and rusty trowel in the other. It might just be me, but there’s something so incredibly satisfying about the irregular pop of the roots as you unearth them. As the humid sun beat down heated the greenhouse, I put on a relaxing playlist, sipped icy water and drifted off into a kind of productive meditation as I completely cleared the paths. So satisfying.

In the evenings, we’d cook together or watch a movie. The couple’s adorable shiba inu dogs, Tiko and Toro, were a constant source of cheeky entertainment. 

As a couple, Ian and Claudia were warm, accommodating and full of stories. We had so many interesting debates with them, and their passion for the environment and a sustainable lifestyle was contagious. I found myself looking around sometimes, marvelling at the fact that this beautiful environment was completely hand-built. It takes a pretty amazing couple to do that.

But, as always, sooner or later it was time to go. We waved them off as they left for the market on our last morning, their refurbed Chinese fire truck all loaded up with cutting boards. We then drove 6 hours up to Williams Lake for our next placement, where I’m currently sat in an airy wellness studio, tired and covered with insect bites, but content. Stay tuned to find out how we get on here J

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Three of the Best Hikes in Squamish

It’s official: the secret’s out. As is the case with much of Canada’s wild west coast, Squamish has been discovered by the “outside world”, and people are moving here in their droves.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed by the locals, who grunt and groan as the masses start to fill up this previously quiet miller’s town. So why is Squamish such a big deal?

According to our WWOOF hosts, Ian and Claudia, people are attracted by the dramatic landscape, the famous Sea to Sky Highway, the vast land up for grabs. Squamish is also positioned nicely between two larger and more well-known tourist hits – ski haven Whistler and hippie-friendly Vancouver - so it delivers a healthy slice of wilderness without taking it to the extremes. Property prices here haven’t yet reached the lofty heights of surrounding areas (but with its sudden surge in popularity, that looks sure to change).

But perhaps the biggest benefit that Squamish offers is its abundance of hiking opportunities. It’s a land riddled with mountains, lakes, rivers and cascading waterfalls, waiting to be discovered just a short hike away.

We’ve been exploring Squamish for a couple of weeks now, so have had the opportunity to try out some of the area’s most celebrated hikes. Here’s three of my favourites.

The Chief

Difficulty Level : 3.5/5

Perhaps Squamish’s most famous characteristic, the Chief is a hulking mountain of rippling grey stone right next to the highway – in fact, it’s one of the largest granite monoliths in the world (dwarfed only by El Capitan in Yosemite, and the Rock in Gibraltar). Its dramatic sheer faces make it a magnet for adrenaline-seeking climbers from all over the world. If you squint, you can make them out as they scale the mighty walls with their ropes and pickaxes.

But never mind about climbing; hiking the Chief is enough of an experience itself. You’ve got three peaks to choose from, so the hike can take you anywhere from 3.5 to 5 hours. I won’t lie; it’s a bit of a toughie, and mostly uphill. About ten minutes in to the hike, I did question what the hell I thought I was doing (but trust me, it’s all worth it in the end!) Just make sure you’re wearing proper hiking shoes and leave enough time to climb back down (or catch the gondola) before it gets dark.

You start off in the woods, climbing up and up (and up and up…) wooden steps and scrambling up increasingly steep slopes crumbling with loose rock. You have to just embrace the thigh burn, as it continues like this for most of the hike. At one point, lethargic and red-faced, we paused to take a break and asked the nearest hiker making the descent how much longer we had to go until the top.
“You’re about 90% of the way there”, he told us, and I felt a little bubble of elation form in my stomach. “There’s just a few ladders and chains to go, and then you’re there”.

I genuinely thought he was joking. But sure enough, the next section of the trail took us up precariously balanced steel ladders, and had us hanging from loose bits of chain drilled into the side of the mountain itself.

But then you get to the top. And boy oh boy. It all makes sense. The views out over the highway and Howe Sound are just amazing. It’s the ultimate Squamish must-do, but make sure to go on a weekday if you want to avoid the crowds.

The Sea to Sky Trail

Difficulty Level: 4/5

This tricky 7km uphill stretch takes you up to the top of the Via Ferrata Gondola, which towers even above the Chief. You start the hike on the Chief trail before veering off into the forest and onto a trail which takes in hidden waterfalls, plenty of viewpoints a final climactic view.

Although pretty strenuous – and again with plenty of ladders, ropes and pretty much vertical slopes – this hike is immensely satisfying and well worth the slog. It even managed to shake me out of a foul PMS mood when we hiked it. 

There's plenty to do at the top of the gondola when you finally get there, too: grab some food, take in the views or even enjoy one of the gentle scenic trails around the top (if your thighs can take it).

The 4 Lakes Trail

Difficulty Level: 2/5

If all this talk of uphill hiking is making you tired just thinking about it, the gentle but scenic 4 Lakes trail is the one for you. A local favourite, this 6.5km loop meanders past four of Squamish’s most picturesque lakes: Alice Lake, Stump Lake, Fawn Lake and Edith Lake. You’ll walk through peaceful second growth forest and also pass trickling creeks as you make your way through the trail which is mostly flat and easy.

If you’re feeling a bit toasty by the time you’re finished, you can even go for a refreshing swim in one of the lakes (just watch out for the marked off areas at Alice Lake).

What are your favourite hikes in Squamish, or British Columbia? Let me know!  

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