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Thursday, 19 July 2012

Driving Through 'Merica

My upcoming Europe-Asia tour has been much hyped and has been the central focus for my 11 month sabbatical. However, my sabbatical already started back on July 1 and, two weeks later, I consider my recently completed journey within my home continent to be the start of my adventure.

My friend Jackson and I just drove back from Calgary to Toronto through the United States and, despite being forced to brave long hours of monotonous freeway driving, relentless heat and humidity, and back-wrenching car sleeping, had a pretty awesome time. We drove through parts of Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan.
Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota
Here is a quick list of my notables regarding our southern neighbour (caution: highly biased):
Cheap food - everything on the McD's menu is one to two dollars cheaper including $1.39 McChickens (I don't consider this real food, more manufactured stomach filler)
Cheap gas - we filled up for around $3.40/Gal or $0.90/L, except in Detroit where we somehow filled up for $1.33/L
Overweight people - consequence of the above
Credit cards - no insert chip payment
Road signs - too many, too many words, all in English
Road tolls - one thing they do right
Speed limits - up to 75 mph or 120 km/h on the interstates
Beautiful landscapes - we drove through rolling pastures home to happy grazing cows through much of Montana (rather contrary to America's reputation for factory farms)
Propaganda advocating God and condemning abortion
Liquor sold at gas stations
Detroit - a real ghetto. Also, liquor stores everywhere, not a single coffee shop
Surprise fact? Kinder Surprise is illegal. Guns are not; and
Gun shops
Abandoned house

I also had two fun interactions during my trip as well. As I was leaving a McDonald's one kid from a group of three said hi to me. I said "hey, I'm Canadian, eh?" and one of them asked me "is weed legal there?" The conversation ended soon after but I had a good laugh. Damned kids these days.

And pulling up to a red light there was a man sitting with a sign which wrote "homeless and hungry." I offered him 50 cents change. He refused. I asked "why?" and he just told me that he was hungry. I offered him a granola bar. He just shook his head. Before I could ask why, the light turned green. We drove away bewildered.

All in all, our drive through America was a good time and made for a good story. And knowing me, you can expect a moral to this story...

As pleasing to the ears as is the sound of someone travelling across the world, one cannot underestimate the experiences available close to home. I honestly can't wait to get back to North America so I can check out Utah, Yellowstone, the Oregon coast, Portland, North Saskatchewan and Yukon.

And, of course, I can't forget about my adopted hometown of Calgary and my adopted backyard of the Rocky Mountains. Just before driving off, two days of Stampeding in Calgary reminded me of its underrated and progressive culture, and five straight days playing in the Rockies reminded me of its matchless beauty and endless hiking opportunities to last the rest of my life.

Lake O'Hara, most beautiful spot in the Rockies

Sunday, 24 June 2012

11 Months! Excited Yet?

Everyone and their cat these days seems to be posing this simple and straightforward question my way, yet everytime I think about it, the answer becomes more elusive.

ARE YOU EXCITED YET?! After a brief pause I usually say something along the lines of "to tell you the truth, I don't know..."

As busy as I have been preparing for this presumably exciting trip, I haven't had time to feel excited. And as someone who tries to live day by day, my focus should reside in my current place. But it can be hard to do this when it's easy to mentally checkout until it's time to travel.

I initially spent much of this past month being a hermit and enjoying simple things I won't have when I travel, such as TV. But I was just wasting what precious time I had left here, as well as neglecting the good times had and awesome friendships built over the past 4 years in my adopted hometown of Calgary. The past few weeks, and particularly this weekend, have changed that, switching my focus to spending time with friends.

As I write, I am languishing among the fallout from last night's farewell party consisting of empty wine bottles strewn about, broken shards of glass and wine and pizza stains on white carpet. The cleanup will suck, but in the meantime the mess is a pleasant reminder from last night. Today has been near perfect too. I went to the bar to watch some Euro Cup, got stopped by a photographer to take some pictures of me for some promotional company's Facebook page, stopped at a friend's place, then a cute little book shop. On this lovely day I walked everywhere, and on the final walk home, with the warm sun on my face and the cool breeze on my skin, I had one of those "life is good" moments that brought a quasi-tear to my eye.

Sure, I am probably excited about 11 months off, but I'm just as excited about the rest of my time in Calgary. So give me a call and let's hang out! Let's make some lasting memories to hold on to until I return from my 11 months.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

11 Months To Do Nothing, and Everything

So I guess the secret's finally out. I will be taking about 11 months off to travel. But it's oh so much more than that. Unshackling from the 9 to 5 routine will be liberating and relaxing. Lush landscapes, pristine beaches, ancient landmarks and sexy parties await. But I am more excited for the experience to learn and grow. Ultimately, this trip will provide the opportunity for me to change my perspective, annd discover what makes me tick and what I am passionate about.

I will be starting off the trip with my sister. By mid-July we hope to touch down in the UK and tour Europe in 3-4 months. Among several countries we plan to visit, I am most excited about seeing Spain and Croatia. Along the way we hope to participate in the tomato fight in Bunol, Spain, and walk the Cinque Terre along Italy's east coast.

After Europe my sister we're off to Asia. However, my sister only wants to see Japan before returning home. India, China and Indonesia are on the top of my list. In addition I am considering entering a monastery to study Buddhism, engaging in voluntourism, and learning Mandarin or a martial art. If I can fit half of the things I want to do into those 11 months I would be ecstatic. But I'm definitely not going to rush things.

The decision to embark on this 11 month trip is the culmination of the decisions and the path I have chosen in the last 4 years of my life post graduation. Until then I had never been a risk taker, never made a leap of faith, or never willing to stray from expectations. But my short Europe trip after graduation was a catalyst for change and a glimpse of what the world had to offer. Moving to Calgary helped me to finally grow up. It opened me up to new experiences and brought me to realize that I always held the key to any door I wanted to open in life, but was too afraid to turn it.

11 months later, upon my return to society, I will surely have stories to tell, but my ultimate hope is to learn important life lessons, understand what makes me tick and what direction my future will turn. And after working one more year in Calgary and achieving my Professional Engineer certification I will again stand at a similar crossroads: should I stay or should I go?

Hopefully I can figure this question out in those 11 months.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Throw Away Your Television!

Despite usually being just plain random, the Red Hot Chili Peppers actually do say it best about TV in this quote:

Throw Away Your Television
Take the Noose Off Your Ambition
Reinvent Your Intuition Now

I woke up fresh as a daisy this morning from a more than adequate night of sleep, went to work and, safe to say, worked harder and surfed the internet less than usual. I am even making a return to blog writing to the joy of you loyal readers out there. All because I got rid of my TV.

So what drove me to throw away my television? Sometimes I think I am just plain crazy. One thing I now know for sure is that I’m not normal. But I have always believed we can all live better lives without television and I bet many of you think the same (especially those of you who watch TV as much as I did). The problem is almost literally “getting off the couch” and doing it.

Truthfully the thought of giving up my TV had always occupied my thoughts, but that thought had been cornered into deep recesses of my brain, displaced by strong urges to lie on the couch, switch on the PS3, watch sports, shows, movies, etc.

Fortunately I found inspiration through a chance meeting with an acquaintance. One day in the coffee shop I was reading while my neighbro (yes, I spelled that correctly – buddy who lives next door) was catching up with an old friend. Their conversation caught my attention, because it wasn’t ringing with monotonous news like “work sucks”, “getting married”, or “bought this” and that. In fact it was the complete opposite. It turns out this guy gave up all the things people strive for in life, a high flying lifestyle with possessions that indicate affluence and sophistication, and traded it in for a life of simplicity. He gave up his sports car, a place to live with decent square footage, and, of course, his TV.

Doesn’t that sound crazy? Well, as a guy who we’ve just minutes ago established is a bit crazy, I was hanging off his every word. To back it up, this guy seemed to be doing meaningful things with his life. Coming out of that meeting sprung forth my motivation to give up my TV! Moose, if you’re reading this, thanks buddy.

Since dumping my TV to the curb, I have renewed my relationship with life. It’s been about one week and I’ve already eclipsed my productivity for all of 2012: I played board games, went snowboarding, attended a speaker presentation, attended an outdoor living show, volunteered, am hanging out with friends and reading more, and hosted an awesome birthday party.

I figured my birthday was a memorable date to choose to dump the TV to the curb. I also figured I would do something special with the wall space, to cover up the black hole that had once sucked the soul out of my limpless body for hours on a daily basis. The result? An instantly priceless canvas painted by my friends during my party.
Thanks everyone for contributing to my new awesome wall art!
Like the RHCP lyrics goes, I have rediscovered my ambition and intuition. It’s still the early stages, but I figure I can sustain a high level of productivity without burning out or yearning for TV again. There will be growing pains. How will I watch late-night tennis tournaments, or the NBA playoffs? How about HD movies with surround sound? Most of all, can I wean myself off my addiction to videogames? Maybe equally worrying, would this turn away prospective girlfriends?

Girlfriends aside, the solution is simple: I have some big upcoming plans. If I continue to make the most of my time freed up by no TV, I might forget I ever had one. Time will tell, but so far so good.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

As The Sun Sets on 2011

On a late afternoon on New Year’s Eve I felt compelled to do something productive. This unfamiliar motivation was sparked by a whole week of being glued to the couch and wasting my life away, then finally convincing myself to try and end the year on a high note. So I got my ass up and jogged to the top of the stairs above the Calgary Curling Club and watched the sun set on 2011 with an amazing view of downtown Calgary.

It was a good time to be alone with my thoughts about another year gone by in Calgary. I’ve come a long way since arriving three years ago as a fresh young pup, alone and afraid. Every year keeps getting better, but I was somewhat conflicted about 2011.

2011 can be described by three themes:

Music is the first theme. I saw my first real concert (Gob during frosh week did not count), System of a Down, in April. Along with my 50 year old coworker/friend, we were a pair of excited misfits in a sea of leather-toting, Mohawk-wearing, tattoo-laden rockers.

I fell in love with Linkin Park’s latest album, A Thousand Suns, released in Sept 2010. I managed to go from hating it in the first month to it eventually becoming my favourite album. We have grown together as funky beat and listener and, to this day, I still listen to it more than any other music and played it during emotional times in my life. The music is moving and deep in meaning; it just takes time to get used to. It is epic!

My number one highlight without doubt was the Linkin Park concert in Taiwan in September. One lucky Couchsurfer got to accompany me to the concert and watch me jump and scream my face off among a sea of relatively lethargic Asians waving light-wands. Here I didn’t look as much as I acted like a misfit. Nevertheless, this was a concert I will never forget.

Oh, and Taiwan was really sweet too! Most rewarding was not the tasty food, cheap shopping, and beautiful sights (and girls), but the feeling that I could survive on my own in a completely foreign land with unfamiliar language and culture. Again, the word “misfit” is applicable in this context. Taiwan goes down as the first of hopefully many unorthodox travels.

The second theme is Nature. I became quite heavily involved with overnight hiking trips through being a member of the Alpine Club of Canada and gaining access to huts isolated in the majestic Rocky Mountains of Canada. My appreciation for glaciers, clouds, bears and everything in-between grew leaps and bounds!

The third and most obscure theme defining my year is personal sacrifice. I adopted the “do-gooder” mindset and began putting to action words that are often carelessly uttered. I recently completed, and barely survived, my 2 month no-driving challenge, which became really tough after one month. Also in 2011 I completed the Ride to Conquer Cancer, adopted earthworms, and purged useless stuff, among other notable things I could mention, but I don't want to bore you or sound arrogant (too late). I hate to show off, but this is what takes to inspire and to prove that yes, it can be done!

At times, these accomplishments came at a cost. My sustainable lifestyle became frustrating and burdening, not only to myself but also to others as I became more antisocial and was nearly labelled as "the annoying hippie." I nearly hit rock bottom, while questioning the point of doing all this when others were out enjoying their lives.

It took until New Year's Eve to pull myself out of this funk. But, as I watched the beautiful skyline of my adopted city of three years, I realized I am very proud of everything I have accomplished.

At the end of a wild and memorable year of economic and societal upheaval, overwhelmed by natural disasters, recessions, war and global suffering, I am also grateful for everything I have. But just because I am grateful doesn't mean I shouldn't accept what is given to me. In resolution, my goal for 2012 will be finding a better balance between enjoying life and living sustainably.

Listening to my favourite band, Linkin Park, and my favourite song, Iridescent, I found myself singing out loud while cautiously looking around and assuring myself no one was listening. It was a satisfying release of emotion and, at the same time, I felt myself acting out the cathartic lyrics of the song “Let it go.”

It was quite the way to end 2011.