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Making tracks across the U.S.A.

Solo travel can teach you many lessons, but the biggest ones it has taught me are to ‘Trust your Gut’ and to ‘Take a Chance’.

For me learning to trust my gut has been a huge learning curve.  Growing up I know that I was not the most self-confident person and quite often relied on others for direction and to make the decision for me.  But travelling has changed that and so often it’s one of the hardest things to listen to.  When your mind is telling you one thing and your gut is telling you something else. It’s hard to hold true and follow that gut feeling.

Anyone who knew me growing up knows that I did not take chances.  I was NEVER the first to do something, nor the second.. perhaps maybe the third or the fourth, but preferably always the last.  I NEVER did anything that would put me out on a limb, out by myself, rather more preferring to stay as one of the crowd.  While some of this is still true today, there is a higher chance that I will be tempted to take the plunge.  And I know now from experience that if I trust my gut when I take a chance… I’ll probably be ok.

Packing up and moving myself to another country and starting fresh was the first chance I took.  The second, stepping out and taking the chance to put myself out there to meet total strangers knowing that I might not have anything in common with them and the third? The third was taking a chance to drive halfway across the country with someone I had only met not eight weeks earlier and with whom I had only spent a couple of hours (at the most) with.

What makes someone do this?

The chance of adventure.  The chance to do something that you might never have the opportunity to do again. The chance that you might miss out on something. The chance that you might see something that you would never have otherwise seen. The chance to see it all. But mostly it’s the chance that if you don’t, you will live to regret it the rest of your life and forever ask yourself, ‘what if?’ and tell yourself ‘if only’.

When Laura first mentioned moving to Ontario and the potential of a road trip, I know that my eyes lit up (who doesn’t love a road trip) and I knew that I’d be jealous of her if she did it without me. It’s strange thinking about how easily it is to become jealous of someone you hardly know, simply because they are going to get the opportunity to do something that you know you could only dream of.   So when she mentioned that she needed company and a copilot for the drive, I told her, without hesitation, that I was in.

Preparation of trips can be consuming.  They can also be stressful and loads of fun. Laura can probably tell you a different story but when you email each other a potential road map and your trip routes are almost identical.  I think that you are pretty much on the same page. It almost felt too easy.  We never had any discussions on ‘what if’s’, and the only time I considered the potential of this trip not going to plan was the night before we left when I drew the conclusion that no matter what happened and where we parted company, as long as I had my credit card and could get to a bus station or an airport, I could get back to Calgary no problems.

Thankfully I can say it was the only time I had that thought and now fourteen months on, it is almost a distant memory and one that I am almost ashamed to admit.

In eight days we covered eight American states, including; Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan and the two Canadian provinces of Alberta and Ontario. But within the confined space of the car we also covered a lot more. We talked and we sat in silence.  We sang and starred in awe. We laughed (OMG did we laugh) and every day I became more thankful for this road trip in more ways than one.

Since that moment we pulled away from the curb in Calgary I have been thankful that I chose to take the chance.

 

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A beautiful winter morning in Calgary

There is nothing better than getting out and exploring the city, town, area that you live in.  Actually it can become quite fun and you never really know what you are going to find, experience or see.

Last winter I’m sure that many people thought that we were stupid getting up early on Saturday and Sunday mornings to go for walks along Calgary’s many river paths, but when you get the opportunity to witness, to photograph and to enjoy unspoilt scenes like the one above.. it makes it oh so worth while.

With the many pathways and parks along the river and the quietness of the weekend downtown core.. it’s hard not to feel like you are a million miles away from the hussell and bussell of the city.  Another thing that I love about Calgary – That city feel that isn’t quite city.

Explore your neighbourhoods and the ones next door. Check out the local diners, the local cafe’s and of course the local pubs. Find out what makes this city, your city beat and what makes you fall in love with it everyday.

Challenge yourself to see as much of it as you can.  To enjoy every tiny detail and to search out those hidden secrets that no-one, absolutely no-one knows about and share them with the people you love and care about.

If I could take my little pieces of ‘Calgary’ home with me.. one would be the place in the picture above.  The quite little Island park between the Bow and Elbow Rivers. A park that is not frequently visited, but more likely to be home to the homeless.  A park that has its own peaceful stunning views of downtown Calgary and the iconic Calgary Tower.  It’s own suspension bridge that makes it seem so much more unique and special.

The other.. well that’s a secret…..

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Simply Breathtaking

During the final days of preparation in Oz before I left to come to Canada, I made the decision that no matter what, I would live close to downtown.  Generally it means that rent is higher, but it also means that you don’t have to have a car, you can walk to work everyday and should you decide to hit the town… the taxi fares are much cheaper.

Luckily I found a place that allowed me to do just that.

Xenex 1209 was stunning.. it was love at first sight and while the 12th floor apartment was a simple bachelor suite, what it lacked for in size, it defiantly made up for in stunning views.

Admittedly I was pretty devastated when I found out that I would be facing the city, rather than the mountains, but falling to sleep to the twinkling city lights and waking up to stunning sunrises like the one above…. meant pretty much that I slept every night with my blinds open, staring out my floor to ceiling windows and taking it all in.   In the end, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world..

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Enjoying some quite time at Lake Agnes

May 22, 2010 – Rocky Mountain Road Trip Time!!..

Everyone loves a road trip.  Well I do and the May long weekend marked the first time that I would be hitting the road alone in Canada.

To me this meant hiring a car (yes, renting for all you Canadian’s – RAY!!) and escaping the rat race and seeing as much as my blue eyes would allow me  to take in over the three days.

Now I admit that my initial planning was a bit way-laid.  I’d had a thought that I might like to drive to Jasper for the weekend. Enjoy some of the stunning scenery and see just how spectacular these rocky mountains really are.  After all I knew that the short Greyhound bus ride from Calgary to Banff in late March was really only a teaser of things to come.

I arrived early enough at Lake Louise to be able to enjoy the sights without the flood of tourists.  It was still spring and a little bit of snow was still on the ground BUT the lake was pretty much still FROZEN!.. I admit I was shocked!..

a. it was May

b. it was a big enough lake, how could it be frozen!; and

c. I’d only ever seen the ‘beautiful emerald’ water that everyone raves about – again I have learnt something new.

I’d planned to walk the shoreline of the lake.  Enjoy simply being outside and being in this magical place, but en route I passed a trail head that said ‘Lake Agnes Tea House – 3.8km‘ and I knew I just had to do it. I’d grown up with the lure of ‘Lake Agnes’ being on my doorstep back home on the farm in Patchewollock.. the difference was that it has been dry for hundreds if not thousand’s of years, plus didn’t Catriona Rowntree from Getaway do this hike not that long ago.. it looked easy when she did it! So I saddled up my backpack and hit the trail.

The first couple 100m of the trail were steady-going, a slight incline all the way and spectacular views of the lake below.  It was beautiful.  After the first switch back the heart began to beat faster and the realisation that I was going 1,204 feet in 3.8km, with altitude hit me.. WHAT WAS I THINKING.. I was from the mallee and pretty much sea level.  But I had started and I wasn’t stopping.

The higher I got, the more snow on the ground and colder it become (a  lesson that I learnt very early on – always pack for every condition). But the views of the valley below were spectacular.. plus, when I got to the top I could enjoy a nice hot chocolate in the tea house, right.

Little did I know that the tea house didn’t open until June 1st!.. What.  I was like a week too early. So instead I enjoyed my lunch and nice cold drink on the rocks by a thawing Lake Agnes, simply staring at this amazing place and ‘Remember(ing) to Breathe’. It was only day one!.

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Ok.. well technically the countdown started a long time ago.. but since it’s getting closer and with only 18 days left until I’m on a plane bound for home, I thought that I’d post a daily photo of my time in Canada..  

Now I have to admit that it is going to be one hell of a challenge choosing JUST ONE photo everyday, but hopefully you can relive the last two and a half years with me in these last few weeks..

I have been lucky enough that each of the cities or towns that I have lived in (ok, well we won’t count Patche in this) have all had a river run through them.  Mildura – The Mighty Murray River, Dublin – The River Liffey and now Calgary – The Bow River.

Each of them have their own special trait’s, but living in Calgary has made me realise how little I ever ‘enjoyed’ the Murray River, which has been on my back doorstep for over 10 years.  One note to self is when/if I ever move back to Mildura, or any other town that has a river flowing through it, that I make the most of it.

This photo was taken within the first week of my arrival in Calgary.  I had just been for an interview with a financial planning firm which operated out of a beautiful 100-year-old house on the banks of the Bow River.  It was quite a change from what I had come from (a firm with in excess of 80+ employees).

Little did I know as I stood there on the bridge above The Bow, that that financial planning firm would become a huge part of my Canadian family and that one of my colleagues was literally my sister-in-laws next door neighbour from Benson, Sask.

Over the past two and a half years I have learned that it is not really that cold in March, in fact that small amount of ice you see on The Bow is nothing in comparison to what you get to experience if you stay for a winter.  I have learnt that a balmy 5 degrees celsius or even a balmy -10 degrees celsius can actually be quite warm (after a winter that included a few -40’s).

I have learnt that being from Mildura will get your foot in the door for an interview (if the person reviewing your random email enquiry enjoyed their honeymoon picking grapes in ‘sunny sunraysia’). That a 2 week job placement can turn into two and a half years in the blink of an eye and that no matter what you have done, where you have been or where you are going, there is always something to learn – Personally and Professionally.

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Chocolate.. it’s the no. 1 downfall in my life.

I love it..

I wish so much that I could give it up.. that I could live my life without it.. but there is just NO WAY..

I don’t really care what type it is.. oh yes I have my favorites, but if there is nothing else on offer … dark, white, chilli flavored, cheap and nasty.. I will still give it a crack (hence my far from ‘trim jim’ figure!).. so when the girls that I’ve played Slo-pitch with for the last 2 years decided that as part of my ‘farewell from Calgary‘ we should go to ‘The Fairmont Palliser’s DEATH BY CHOCOLATE‘ night… who was I to resist!!!

A plate of (un)goodness

Now I’ll admit that I really didn’t know what to expect when I rocked up tonight.. I guess some part of the chocolate dreamer in my head had assumed a room stocked to the hilt with all the chocolate that you could ever desire.. or ever want… (think Willy Wonka)… well pretty much this is what we got.. just not so much on the grand scale..but definately on the quality side!

Two tables of deliciously laid out desserts .. from white chocolate, chocolate and berry to mint chocolate and cookie  cheesecakes to  mini-mini cupcakes, choc chip infused bread pudding, mousse rolls and the list goes on.. to a chocolate fountain with assorted fruits, creme burlee, miniature profiteroles and half-dipped ginger, mmm mmmmm!

oohh yes… chocolate fountain dipped strawberry’s.. their healthy right???

Tell me your mouths are not watering?

Well the best thing is you can share in it too.  Every Monday night from 5:30pm – 9:00pm DEATH BY CHOCOLATE is open.. and how is that not the perfect way to begin your week!!.

To make sure that you get your $28 chocolate fix and pick of the BEST chocolate desserts (not that there aren’t any) I recommend getting your girlfriends together, getting there early, grabbing yourself a comfy possie, ordering a nice cocktail and settling in for a couple of hours of indulgence… well at least that’s what we did.

Oh yes.. A Golden Mojito and a plate full of chocolate dessert.. HEAVEN RIGHT

To the girls that came.. THANK YOU… what a send off to have.. and to LB that missed out.. I hope your mouth is not watering too much.. and I tried to have your share :-)..

……….. I don’t think it needs any words

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Enjoying Christmas Day at Lake Louise 2011

I love living in another country. I love the ability to step outside of what I know are my comfort zones. To reach out on a limb and take a chance. I love experiencing new things. Love the sensations that I feel when something is new to me and the happiness I feel when I accomplish something that I may never have tried at home.. but I LOVE my family more!.

The past eight to nine weeks have been a whirlwind, but a weekend visiting extended family in southern Saskatchewan in early August gave me the clarification that I needed.

The wide open spaces of the prairie lands. The golden fields of wheat. The sweet sounds of nothingness. The clear skies scattered with a million stars… and the photo’s of MY family hanging on a wall… It was all that I needed for my head and my heart to align and for me to know that I wanted to go home.

Golden Fields of Saskatchewan

The last two and a half years have been amazing. There have been days when I could not have been blissfully more happy and days when I wanted to pack it all in. Curl up, close my eyes and wish that I was somewhere else.

I will miss EVERYTHING here in Calgary..I will miss my amazing friends that have made the two and a half years I have been here so much better, my adopted Canadian family, complete with nieces and nephews and our annual Thanksgiving get-aways and the colleagues and clients that have become part of my everyday life.

I will miss the summer day’s when hiking in the mountains makes you feel alive and the coldest of winter days when it feels like moths are stuck up your nose and you can’t open your eyes because of the icicles on your eyelashes have frozen them shut… but it is not a goodbye.. more simply a see-you-later.

Hiking the ‘Many Springs’ trail in Bow Valley Provincial Park (July 2011)

I am looking forward to coming home. Spending time with my ever-growing family. Meeting my new niece and spoiling all over again, each and every single one of the ten nieces and nephews in my life and annoying my four bigger and older brothers (and their wives).  Catching up with friends and preparing for the next adventure.

My Mum and my beautiful nieces and nephews (before Jorge)… so cannot wait to spoil them all again

By far my adventures, travel and personal, are not over.  They are simply beginning the next chapter.

‘Home James’ …. looking forward to seeing this sign once again

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