“Escape the ordinary.” These words have followed me for years, emblazoned in gold across one of my journals. They followed me to Spain and all the European countries I had the fortune of visiting. It was easy enough then to escape the ordinary since everything I did was new and unknown. 9 months later, I sketched the quote in a new journal I had bought in a Moorish market, while 30,000 feet in the air on the plane home from London.
“Escape the ordinary… what does that mean?” a young Englishman, who said he would be travelling through rural Alberta towns as a Christian Missionary, asked from the seat behind me.
“Actually…I’m not really sure anymore” was all I offered as reply. And it was true, the message of the words I once had no choice but to follow now evaded me completely. How could I “escape my everyday” in -25 Edmonton, the city that so ironically boasts the nickname Deadmonton?
“Well then, good luck with that.” He dropped the subject and receded back into the grey WestJet seat.
While the summer still lasted I left town to camp alone in the mountains and took overnight backcountry hikes. Across valleys I saw grizzly bears with fearless marmots looking on from a mere arm’s length away; I crossed clear water rivers and surrounded myself in mountain peaks; I saw fat clumps of snow fall over densely green trees and hiked along a precipice as painful pellets of ice assailed my face. I fought my way to the tops of mountains reciting quotes over and over in my head, and knew with every fiber in my being that I was doing what I wanted to do, what I was meant to.
But these adventures still only offered a few nights of escape and it wasn’t long before I needed to return to the ordinary.
During classes I began new regimens and committed to waking up early every day to work out. I pledged to spending long hours in the libraries as part of my attempt to achieve a string of A’s. I challenged myself by pursing new hobbies in my free time, and made the effort to speak to everyone – classmates, co-workers, and strangers – as a means of making and maintaining connections. I fought off any and all feelings of anxiety and did exactly what I wanted, and none of what I didn’t. I let old friendships die, avoided relationships, and re-learnt what it meant to be alone.
And then the most frustrating thing happened. All these new challenges became ordinary, a new homeostasis. Suddenly I was no longer pushing myself to follow any of my old goals, they came all naturally, and rather than feeling proud or accomplished I just felt incredibly exhausted; exhausted, and afraid of the possibility of becoming too comfortable yet again.
Now I had a week’s worth of free time laid out in front of me, and no plans for it. So I packed my car and I left, bound for the only place where I can clear my mind, the mountains.
Nearly half-way there I was desperate for a bathroom, (thanks to the coffee with a shot of espresso,) and nearly jumped out of my car to get to the roadside restroom. Relieved and taking a deep breath of wild air I made my way back to my car and tried the handle. Locked. I saw my keys lying on the seat as if taunting me and, thanks to the reflection in the car window, looked myself in the eye. Why are you like this? I just stood there for a moment before calling the towing company in the nearest town. I crouched in the restroom for over an hour, thanking myself for at least stopping at a rest stop and not just on the side of the highway; I had a heated bathroom so I wouldn’t freeze to death, because of course my coat was in the car.
In case anyone is curious as to how much a blunder like this will run you – it’s $200, for all of about two seconds to unlock the car. I kept my keys in my bra for the rest of the trip.
Angry with myself, I questioned why I was even doing this in the first place, why I couldn’t just be satisfied with the ordinary and the comfortable.
“Hey,” I called my sister before setting off again, trying to warm up in the car, “I got in, cost 200 bucks.”
“That sucks, couldn’t you have gotten them to lower the price?” She was always very prudent with her money.
“I wasn’t exactly in a position to bargain, you know?” I let out a sigh as she agreed. “So what do I do now, I’m closer to home. Do I just turn around?”
“Well you might as well make it worth it now.”
I pulled into the hike parking lot and put the car in park, letting out a deep breath as I collapsed over the steering wheel. The last half of the drive was long and all I could think of was how badly I wanted to be in the woods. I grabbed my bag, stuffed my packed lunch and camera into it, checked that I had my keys for about the hundredth time, and set off along the trail.
I only hiked a short while before coming up to a tree on a steep incline whose roots spread out before it like bent legs. I sat between them and ate my lunch. I glanced down at the trail below me and followed its two paths; neither made me want to continue. Instead I picked up my bag, stepped over the large roots and headed up the steep pine-cone ridden hill. I walked into the meadow that must have been a grazing area for elk and found a perfectly curved rock to sit on, overlooking the entire valley. Snow started to fall lightly despite the warmth of the day and the sun shining over the valley. Tears tracked down my cheeks in relief and awe. This moment was pure perfection.
So no, the heavens didn’t part to present me with any answers, and I’m still just a confused fifth year university student, but I did renew an old promise to myself; to go forth into every foreseeable tomorrow unapologetically pursuing my passions.