I'm going in all directions—here are the notes of timely hits and big misses I've journaled while en route.
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Someday for a Sunday Funday. — 10.11.13

Starting off slow and accelerating—— wrrrrgh to a wooopwooop!
After beginning my first week in Australia as a wallflower, observing and transcribing my thoughts on the sides of my brain, I’m starting to dabble with a few leaps into the flow here.
I spent a few days with Anna and Ryan down in Warilla, taking my time to wake up in the morning with a run and a stretch and barbequing for dinner and ask ridiculous questions and loving the feeling of ease that comes with friends, and then I made my move north to Avoca Beach. 
It ended up being a bit of a trek to get up there (bus wouldn’t let me on with my board so I had to cab, and then the train got held up for hours in Epping), and I was famished upon arrival but, lucky for me, I was swept up and taken in by the loveliest couple, Cath and Jumbo, (via a Canadian family connection) who immediately invited me out for a seaside dinner of ribs and nachos, and then threw me the invite to stay as long as I’d like at their nest on the hill with the MOST mesmerizing view of the bay below. 
Right? These people exist.
Just completely overwhelmed by their generosity, I blissfully snuggled in it for a couple days, not sure if I would or could ever move on.
And for a week I didn’t. I walked and surfed and ate and coffee-ed all within a radius stretching no more than a kilometer or two. Cath took me SUP-ping, Jumbo gave me a driving lesson, and they both gave me conversation, ideas, suggestions and support in whatever hare-brained schemes I thought up. And breakfast. But more importantly they’ve given me a place I can go back to here, which gives me the confidence to make riskier leaps, because I know that I can fall and crash but won’t burn-up. 
They’re like my SPF 45+. 
That’s pretty cool.
Within that week my community expanded even more to include family-friends in the neighbouring town, who, after spending an evening together celebrating their daughter’s 7th birthday, have included me under their umbrella of friends and put me in touch with people in Byron so that I arrived here and felt so welcomed and utterly fantastic! 
I’m sure the Byron-description would read something like “it’s being on a starship of love gazing into the energetic light of the world!!”
—But, really, it’s like that.
I feel incredibly lucky—my birthday rolled around and it feels like it’s been a fortnight of gifts!
I’m staying at a YHA in Byron Bay and taking things a day or an hour at a time, interchangeably. Explorations have brought me to the surf, the lighthouse, Lennox Head, and multiple coffee shops and markets. 
Also, food. Always a big way in how I travel. One of my favourite things to do in new places is browse the grocery store. There are always such strange and curious delights to come across! (Like pickled pork spread, terrible peanut butter, an amazing Muesli selection (hurrah!) and the prolific pies) From delicious to ‘people-eat-whha?’, I could spend hours in a grocery store. (Yes, I know friends who’ve gone shopping with me will say I do that even if I’ve memorized each aisle and only need a can of tuna.)
Observations? They like their sweets, avocados are expensive(!), discovery of lebanese cucumbers, red peppers=capsicum, cilantro=coriander, helllooo passionfruit, and how many kinds of sour cream do you really need?!?
I feel like there are a lot of extremes here. Sweet means REALLY sweet and pickled means suuper-vinegary. I’ve pondered if it’s weather-related. Does the greyness of the West Coast give us the taste for appreciating subtlety? Because there are other ways that Australians are definitely brash and brazen (though I’ll limit any social stereotypes for now) One thing—people are really attached to smells. Alright, maybe it’s just because I’m new here and, being unaccustomed to the smells, the sense is heightened, but I feel like ultra-perfumed things are everywhere. People wear stronger deodorants or cologne or eau d’something, even when they’re running, which makes me feel like a real stink-bag. But also in their household products—Anna and Ryan had scented garbage bags, and (as a fellow-Canadian) Anna agreed she thought it was strange at first and tried to avoid it but then explained that the toilet-bowl square really was necessary because the summer heat really brought out funky smells.
This made sense.
Back to food—I’m hopelessly out of season, and still trying to figure out the growing months of what foods are coming out now. (Mangoes are starting to ripen now..)
Byron has also brought me some new connections, a mix of random encounters and given/networked/contacted phone numbers.
Eliza put me in touch with an amazing woman, Leana, who has already shared bits of Byron and the surrounding area with me and made me feel welcomed. happy. good. right. at ease. in the right spot.
What more can a girl ask for?
Well, one thing. It was my birthday, and a generous gift into my bank account from my parents was turned into my smallest wetsuit yet. One without legs! I was just getting steamed in my 3”2.
And its bright raspberry-pink and purple with mustard yellow cuffs. Right? because if you’ve only ever had the choice between black and black, you might as well go for it. And I’m not a boy, even if my shorn hair says so, this suit exclaims otherwise. (Though hair grows surprisingly fast and I’ve once again reached the length where I can give it a water-whip after a shower, admittedly the smallest flip you’ve ever seen. Funny, but I missed that.)
So, hair-growing, wave-surfing, food-testing, I go and on and on. And I am so thankful that they do—
How goes the on and on where you are? What’s shifting and shaping in your week? 
Thank you for your continuing updates both longest of letters and briefest of notes, you keep me smiling. And I know they take time to write and I appreciate every letter, typo and groovy hellooo because I hear your voices behind each one.
Lastly, thank you so much for your many birthday wishes, I am Me because of You and wouldn’t be here if I didn’t know you were there.
So, ending this glorious Sunday Funday, which started with an ankle-high surf at Lennox, headstands on the beach with Leana and pizza at the market, and continuing through this email, I’m going to meet a lady for a glass of wine at the Beach Hotel—cheers to you!

veesea: Alive and well and (temporarily) living in Warilla. — 29.10.13

Oh, haaai friends!

I got on a plane and many hours later … arrived. I’m in Australia. 
And, I’ve been getting this nagging feeling that I should write something to update you all on my time here, but it’s only been a week. And yes, a lot happens in a week, but I’m still absorbing, sponging it all in. Not ready to squeeze. It’s partially adjusting, but not quite, because I don’t really know yet what I’m adjusting to, it’s too early for that. 
I’ve been observing a lot. And I’m hoarding my observations.
It’s funny how our brains work. There are so many differences, but when I experience new people and places, I can’t help but see them in reference to the ones I know. I don’t mean comparing, but, you know when you go to a new city and you meet someone new and completely separate than your friends back at home? But your brain still tries to file them in somewhere? To categorize them? And not just with people but places, stores, items, foods. My brain treats it like a game of memory, flipping over cards to find the matching pair—finding the nearest version that’s similar. “Oh! This is the Habit Coffee shop of this town and this is the Tim Hortons. This is the Peter Mansbridge of Australia, this is the CBC/NPR…, this place is the Duncan Mall of Warilla.” A kind of rationalizing tuna as ‘Chicken of the Sea!’ phenomenon, I guess.
On that note, I haven’t been eating enough tuna since I got here. (But then, are there tuna around here?)
And then there are things that don’t have any compartment yet. So, I’m creating new file folders. That takes time.
I’m currently visiting some friends south of Wollongong and it’s been a real joy to be in a house and find some footing. The days go by slower and are filled with more activities when you don’t have the hustle of planning WHat’s Next?! or paying for every minute.
So maybe, once I’ve had a few days here and am more sorted I’ll have some grand perspectives to share with you. For now, in the hopes of keeping you in the loop but not making any preemptive claims, this what I’ve sketched down in my daily log:
Oct. 20 - The day I arrived in Sydney and realized I’d brought too much “fall” clothing. Sunny. Got a cell number. Slept ten hours.
Oct. 21 - The day I walked a whole lot and made a wish around a pine tree in the botanical gardens. And didn’t buy a van.
OCt. 22 - The day I almost bought a car, but test driving it was worth the train trip anyways.
Oct. 23 - The day I found the beach (Cronulla) and became a blissful water nymph. Everything is going to be alright.
Also, car was offered at a substantial discount because the other offer came from a “prick.” Said yes, but am now flip-flopping on said deal. Probably better without vehicle.
Oct. 24 - The day I realized my dorm-mate is super nice but won’t stop talking. Discovered the library in Cronulla, had a scone with cream and jam, didn’t buy a car, blocked some guy’s number (from a ride-share) and went for a surf in small waves, wind chop and sunshine.
Oct. 25 - The day I read to my heart’s content and refused to feel guilty about it. Discovered a real quality coffee shop, traded my backpack for a smaller one and had cookie gelato (with too few chunks in it) after a sub-par sushi experience when I saw 95% of the rolls were cooked chicken. AKA NOT sushi.
Beauty day but windy.
Oct. 26 - The day I bussed to Wollongong and watched two Aussies barter over a BBQ. I have no knowledge on the matter, but when asked reply that I like the 90s aesthetic. Ryan buys BBQ for $250.00
Oct. 27 - The day I can just be and observe small(er)town Aussie life in Warilla with Ryan and Anna. We run errands, build and play mega-Jenga and BBQ in the eve. A storm looms and lurks but only spits and spatters.
Oct. 28 - The day I ran, yoga(d), bike(d) and body surf(ed) all before 3 o’clock. And think that if Norman MacLean first wrote “A River Runs Through It” in his seventies, there’s hope I’ll be a writer yet.
to be continued …
A favourite way to explore new places is by eating. The coffee is delicious. We had some kangaroo loin tonight, also very tasty but I’ve yet to warm up to any of the bread-spreads they have. The PB isn’t the same and I’m not a fan of vegemite. I haven’t jumped to the pie train but I’m sure when I do I’ll be going full-throttle.
I’m healthy and open and free and experiencing and the ocean makes me happy!
Arright you fine folk in fall and fleece and far away fraternities, I’m sending love by sea, land and carrier pigeon, 
(SB, I don’t have Ant’s email but, Ant, you’ll be proud to know, I’ve been eating Tim-Tams on the daily, and walking around with barefeet everywheres).

Movin’ on, movin’ down. — 14.09.13

Smells like fall! (today is the 20th anniversary of the release of In Utero, didya know?!)

And getting to that time of year: pants and sweaters and that sorta thing. Or, if you’re me a mix-match of the two, summer dresses topped with heavy-knit wool. 
It’s mind-boggling that I moved here more than a year ago. And now that a year has come to an end, and a semi-bi-weekly blurb of my life has been filling your inboxes, I can look back and read that Vanessa’s life—another Vanessa’s life—at that time and it’s pretty awesome. Dear Diary …, my not-so-private diary. That being said, I’m on the fence of continuing the email updates—to be determined. (I say this as a warning that if they are discontinued, it’s not because you’ve been bumped off this exclusive list).
So, Halifax. It’s humid, face-sticky humid, and raining, like you have-to-put a-jacket-on-even-though-it’s-too-humid-to-wear-one-with-comfort kinda raining.
It’s been a slow start to the hurricane season out here, which means not much surfing except for a few days here and there, but looks like this storm will leave next week with a super fun forecast. My roommates and I are thinking of heading up to Cape Breton for some different waves and potentially less people (so, an adventure really). And not that you can call these crowds, crowds. Especially now that they’re mostly friends, with that time passing and ‘those strangers’ turning into ‘those familiar faces’ in the water. 
August in BC. What a time that was. How do I even touch on the topic—well, half of you were there anyways. Somewhere between wedding-dancing, friend-laughing, tea-drinking, story-telling and berry-picking, I elapsed into a little ball of love for you all. I’m sorry if I didn’t get to see you when I was there—I’m a scatterbrained love-ball.
I saw family and dear friends. And, through the marriage of my brother, I gained a new sister, Ami. Huzzah! That’s a successful trip if you ever saw one!
I’ve been back in Halifax now for the last few weeks, working, doing some interning for an online blog and … readjusting for another take-off. 
Oooh, yeeeah, roight. About that:
I’m sad to say I’m leaving Halifax, but stoked to say I’m going (probably driving) back to BC before Thanksgiving (my favourite holiday!) and then heading off to Australia. October 18 y’all.
Down under.
It’s booked.
I’m overwhelmed with what to think or say about these steps and travels because my excitement is so mixed up with the heavy notes of goodbyes. And I haven’t even said it out loud yet, so you guys are privy to this news first. Weeoo! Exclusive update for your eyes only!
But, phew. There it is. It’s out there in the world, and soon I will be too.
So, right now I’m off to work. To work. Maybe make some dollahdollahbillz, and to give my two week’s notice (!)
Happy September to you and you and you and yours. May the blisters from raking those leaves heal quickly.
Looking forward to some pumpkin pie, and if you don’t know my stoke about Thanksgiving, send me a pie and I’ll show you. Or, well, refer to last year’s email ;) 
And, if you have any connections or tips about Aus, hook this sister up. Until then, I’ll be free-floating in the free world.
sending so much love, 

To a friend far away, after coming home. (reflect)

This visit to the island has been a little mind-boggling. Seeing so many friendly, familiar faces is a kind of mix between amazing and exhausting.

After a year apart, there’s so much to catch up on, but replaying your own stories is never as interesting as hearing new tales. I’m eager to hear the news from my friends but they want mine. And so we sit there, battling out who asks what, darting around answering before responding with a question back.
But I’m the one who’s been away, so I dutifully repeat my story, and it changes a little each time, but generally runs the same gauntlet. 

This past year—and I keep calling it a year but really the time is stretching past that—has been, for lack of a better term in mind, full-on.

And a simple question carries so much forward in my mind. And hearing myself try to bring these people with me on my journeys has been good and bad.

Bad because I can’t quite explain what’s happened, what I’ve learned or how I’ve changed, though I’m sure the latter is more obvious to them than it is to me. And I want, so badly, to bring them to these places I’ve visited, and show them—no, introduce them to the people I’ve met, but words fail to make them as vivid as I know them.

So when people ask, “How’s Halifax? Do you like it there?” I nod and emphasize YES. “How was California? How was your trip?” GREAT, I grin.

One-word answers because attempting more is overwhelming.

How there were times when I was so lonely, and even knowing the loneliness would pass didn’t help exhaust the feeling of emotional destitution. How I struggled through the silliest episodes that, at the time, sent my day into trauma. And how many days passed where I just wanted to have a really good friend there, one I didn’t have to make any effort with, one who just let me be grumpy or happy or quirky without asking why or what or who?

But also how I met the most amazing people who welcomed me into their lives. And that I almost embraced this life they invited me into as my own, forever, not looking back. I’ve shared a living or temporary sleeping space, I’ve made coffee, broken bread or split a grocery list, and travelled roads, for hours and days, with people that are so close and dear in my memory and heart that mentioning them in a few words only amplifies the geographical distance between the people I’m now explaining them to. 

But, it’s also good. Because it reminds me that I’m still journeying. And that I’m a lucky, lucky girl. Because I have people like you in my life now.

And it’s good because hearing myself say these things out loud helps me remember that they happened, and that they will happen again. And that means I have so much to look forward to.

I’m an ocean teabag. — 08.08.13

Here’s a note to say helloooo, and we’ve made it to August. 

How was everyone’s July? Tough breaks? Any problems with technology? You know Mercury was in retrograde until the 22, right? So if things were tough—well, now you know why. 
For myself, my computer has this habit of not turning on. It’s an issue and we’re working on it. My friend, Mac, suggested that my computer was nocturnal. Maybe we’re in different time zones. Ah—and things were going so well between it and I. 
It’s a slow process of me not knowing what to do, but maybe, if I push the button a bit longer it’ll turn on? Or maybe not as hard? Or maybe if I shut it and open it again? Or maybe push the button left-to-right? Right-to-left? And then I give up and come back ten minutes later and it’s sitting there, a happy, alive screen glowing at me—Oh, hey, good morning! What’s up Google? Oh, and by the way, your time preferences are on year 2000.
Oh, yeah, my computer is also a time machine.
Cool story, Hansel.
So that’s one reasons for this tardy update. And then, between work and good weather and finding swimming holes and computing for work (yep, more on that later) I haven’t sat down to write to ya’ll in a while and, even now, I find myself with only a sliver of time to recap it all (as the sun is shining, I have to work in a bit and then paaack my bags for my trip out west), but here’s the highlight reel:
Has it’s ups and downs. 
My job at the restaurant started off kind of rough, lack of organization and it’s been under constant construction/renovation but it’s levelling out. What’s kept me there is that I really like the people I work with and for. It’s always nice being in an environment where they allow you to be you, and like you for it. Right?
A few weeks back Anthony, Sarabeth and I took a long weekend and went up to Cape Breton. I’d never been and I never wanted to come back. It’s so beautiful! We stayed in Ingonish, Sarabeth is from there so we had a place to stay, lots of good company and all the insider knowledge, and spent four days gallivanting and exploring and just generally being outdoors and salty and well-fed.
We had clay baths in the brook, and spent the mornings hiking, and then explored the beach—the kind of beach that has big rocks out in the bay so you can swim rock-to-rock. That’s my favourite kind of beach: an interactive one. Isn’t it better when you are swimming to something? It feels like you’ve accomplished a goal. And then diving off? I’ve been practicing my belly-flop water entries. Either way, I’d much rather jump in than wade into. And then, after getting properly steeped in the salty brine, we brought soap to the lake and washed it off.
This one day we hiked in the park, bringing nothing but the bathing suits we wore, and we migrated up a creek for an hour clambering over river rocks and through swimming pools, passing small waterfalls and edging around corners, until we got to an even larger waterfall where the rock was worn so smooth you could slide down the face of it. I nearly died of happiness. But it got even better. After basking in the sun we went back home, and feasted on the forty-seven mackerel Anthony caught. I drool now just thinking about it.
Forty-seven! He only made two casts that didn’t catch a fish. Fried up with cayenne and cornmeal: delicious. We had them for breakfast too.
Last week we went to Kejimkujik (Keji), a national park in the middle of the southern end of the province. Lakes, camping, forest, campfire. It was so nice to be in a forest again, a real one, where the trees are above your head. It’s also a protected “dark spot” or whatever they’re called, a place where they preserve the darkness so that at night you can see the stars really well. No artificial lighting, etc. 
Except, then the trees ruined my view of the stars. Cut those things down!
If I’d had a canoe it would’ve been a different story. Lots of lakes and streams to kayak/canoe around—next time, next time.
I’ve also been working a bit with my writing, doing some research for a woman who … well, gets paid to write. You know, something I’d like to eventually be doing. But experience and networking, man, that’s the thing, it’s aaaall about the networking, roight?
And social media, egads.
This past week I’ve spent two evenings with Shakespeare by the Sea, a theatre company that puts on shows in Point Pleasant Park during the summer. I saw a hilarious rendition of Snow White, which they took so many liberties with, it was not even the same story, but so good. And then the other day I saw Much Ado About Nothing. I really, really enjoyed both shows. And walking through Halifax in the evenings to end up on a blanket in the park with the ocean beside you, is pretty much paradise.
But, honestly, in the day when it’s sunny, I try and get out of the city—it gets too hot! And I’ve found the loveliest swimming spot. Secretzz. (If you come and visit I’ll show you..)
But don’t come in the next couple weeks—I’ll be gone! Out west! Back home! For 16 days, or some such nonsensical amount of time. I’m super stoked, but know the time will race by—sooo get at me here, or via text, for hugs and kisses, and over-excited-arms-straightened-toohappytostoplaughing me and more stories (because you know it’s so much better in person, riiight? That’s when I can really get in my element.)
I hope everyone’s summer is filled with quality eats and treats in a variety of forms, cheers to that!
Throwing love all around to you, my friends, in all your lovely places. This e-love will have to suffice until our paths cross again, but then … I’ll be seeing some of you verrry sooon, 

Of sesame, swimming & sunset stooping. — 09.07.13

Yesterday was high 30s and soooo hawt, today is low 20s and cloudy. And currently, my feelings towards this city are as dependable as the weather.

I’ve simultaneously fallen into a back-in-love vibe with Halifax, and struggled to keep positive about being here. Wandering around the streets that, when I left, were cold and grey, and seeing them now, transformed by greenery, with people out and about.. (!!)
The Commons are alive every evening with beer and league baseball games, rugby scrimmages, cricket matches and ultimate throws, the air is humid, smells like BBQ and sounds like the clack of flip-flops, the sidewalks chatter with pedestrians and the lanes of single-speed bikers stream on. Legs with short-shorts and even shorter-short-shorts and floral skirts and shoulders and bellies and sunburns showing from cut-off tank tops and wrists hide under bangles and heads under caps and page-boys and pony-tails and hands full of ice cream cones and jolly ranchers and iced coffees and the city is a mixture somewhere between fashionable and functional summer accessories that get us through June and into July.
The end of June and beginning of July meant moving into a new place. A really, new place.
My friend Ben just finished—well, is still finishing really—a house here on Duncan Street. So, we moved into the lower apartment as he finished up the one upstairs. And now we’re like a family house, Ben is upstairs and Sarabeth, Anthony and I live downstairs, but it’s communal eating and hanging. I’m really enjoying that, it’s my favourite part of being here.
We’ve had a couple runs back to the old place to grab left-over greens from the garden, but other than that we’re getting settled in. I’ve never lived in a place where we’ve stripped plastic out of the refrigerator and taken the labels off the washer and dryer before using, had to clean up the fresh drywall and still wait for the backsplash to get grouted. And had input on some of it. So ‘vierd. But exciting. Everything is new! And we have a dishwasher.. And we just got internet hooked up yesterday, hence my tardy email update. Not that you folks noticed, right? Summer makes time sing by.
I’m discovering a bunch of things about summer in Halifax:
1) There is a lake 10 minutes from my house that makes an amazing morning, afternoon and evening swim, (except for the mosquitoes at dusk),
2) The beach is where it’s at. But get there early, or figure out your own secret beach because the city empties out to the coast when it’s hot—
3) The city heats up real quick, 
4) The surf is not very consistent, (though there’s been a couple fun days)
5) Deedee’s ice cream is better than yours,
6) Stoop culture—Halifax has it going on, beer ‘n stoop hang outs,
7) T-shirt temperature at night, such a glorious thing we don’t get out west,
8) Halifax is so beautiful when the sun shines.
Last week was Ben’s birthday and we had a birthday and house-warming-gathering-combined-with-sweaty-dance-party-ending-with-a- 4-AM-poutine-feast, which, I feel, sums up a night out in Halifax. It was good. It was needed.
I’ve been working at a local restaurant, it’s a wee disorganized. I’m not sure if I enjoy it yet, I’m staying on in order to pay my basics, but I’m looking at keeping in touch with my writing and realizing how much I need to move onto internship opportunities for the fall and winter.
Something that IS really neat is that I’m starting to understand how much I really enjoy words and pretty much everything to do with them. I’ve always loved reading, especially good, clever or funny writing. But I also enjoy figures of speech, alliteration, puns and good or poetic articulation. I like when a sentence is aesthetically and phonetically pleasing. And even if I’m never a great writer/journalist myself, I’m a big appreciator of those things.
Other things I appreciate? A well-made coffee in the morning, a well-timed drive through town with every light on green, the comfort-level we’ve already achieved in this house in such a short time and that Sarabeth and I have started a toxic relationship with tahini (in and on everything).
And, with more about SUNSHINE and SUMMER—in one month to-the-day I’ll be heading out west, aiaiaiai! I’m expecting some good lake and ocean time with y’all. And berry or fruit-picking for whatever’s in season (I’ll fill your freezer, Ma!), and pot-lucking and beer-cheersing and bike-riding and belly-laughing because those are always in season. I booked my flight yesterday and will be VI bound on the 9th of August (getting in in the morn so I’ll be on time for a special event in the aft), will be in Victoria/Cowichan/Tofino for a week and a half before heading to the interior. Weee!
In a few moons time I’ll be sprawling out on your back deck and whining for you to get-off-work-and-hang-out-with-meeeee! Let’s play ping-pong and bocceball and fooseball and surfboardriding, which doesn’t have a ball but we’ll have one anywaaaays!! Yew!
Now I’m too stoked to have that quiet Monday night I thought I had before me…
Wishing you a wonderful week, send me your thoughts on July—what’s hip-happening?
Hip-hop-love to you ALL, the warmest hugs and tahini-flavoured-kisses sent in this computer-envelope and sealed with sticky-baking-fingers, 

The last stretch is the hardest. (reflect)

At a glance from above, I’m just a red dot slowly approaching the end of Highway 70. Keyword: slowly. Right now that’s the rock in my shoe, the cramp in my foot, and it’s overshadowing any joy at the progress I’m making en route.

Something in me started to tick as soon as I sensed the ocean getting closer. I’d lost reception in Texas and Tennessee but now I was losing focus. A restless itch runs through me as I tap my thumb impatiently on the wheel; the road stretches ahead and I’m starting to meditate quietly through each stoplight as frustration creeps in.

Road-tripping has a romantic ring, but it’s easy to forget ‘road’ is half the title and usually more than half the while of a journey by car.

After five hours, and almost as many states, of driving in one day, crossing from Virginia, through Maryland and Delaware into New Jersey, I was hoping to arrive at the coast sometime before sunset. A five-hour drive is a small price to pay in seeking out new turf for adventure, but that was just today. Landlocked since Encinitas, California, I’d crossed the continent in ten days and it was the culmination of over forty hours of driving that was starting to get to my senses. And my lower back.

Stiff and sore, I shift around like a boat bobbing on anchor, constantly readjusting my posture. I peel my back off the seat and a breeze blows across the damp of my shirt. I’ve refilled my water bottle at least four times but still risk dehydration—I’ve been sweating since Baltimore.

Glancing at the state map for the twentieth time, the minute space I’ve inched towards the blue mass labeled ‘Atlantic’ in the last few minutes adds punch to my spirit and pressure on my gas pedal.

After slipping off the Interstate a few miles back, swapping high-speed rush hour for a slower but more direct route, the congested single lane is making me regret my decision. I’m starting to feel desperate in the haze of traffic.

This is when I pause and reflect. In this almost-there moment, I’m forgetting the now. I’m forgetting to appreciate the bridges, literal and figurative, I’ve crossed to get here.

There were many times on this trip where I could have driven further instead of stopping in time to set up camp, so I could quietly watch the sun set. There were even more times I could’ve hurried through places instead of dilly-dallying in some small-town supermarket, ogling over the new-to-me junky snacks on offer; I could’ve bypassed the scenic byway or the opportunity to snap a photo of the world’s largest rocking chair; I could’ve cut my conversation with Elma short when she started telling me about her grandkids, but those are all moments intertwined in a trip. Those are all people and places that have given me a story to tell.

But so is this one. All those high points, caught in memory or glee-filled snapshots, are riding on the back my current less-than-glamorous situation. So, as I shift back down into third (again), I simultaneously shift my mindset and take a breath. Then I wet my lips with the tepid water remaining in the bottle, crank up the radio and beat out a new rhythm on the wheel—one that vibrates with stoke.


Of storage and momentum. — 12.06.13

Yesterday I moved all my things out of storage into my new room. 
In Halifax. 
Today I have to find a job and it felt wierd to hand out resumes, I don’t think I’ve had to do that in years and I didn’t like it—though I do have an interview this afternoon at a coffee shop. Figures, barista-ing does seem to be my calling.
I’m trying to come to terms with the idea that I’ll be in one place for a while but there is still a large part of me that wants to rid myself of things that might weigh me down, winter jackets, rain gear and bottles-of-product-for-special-occasions feel excessive. But I still enjoyed spending yesterday evening colour-coordinating my closet, emptying bags of things that had been in storage and delighting in them anew.
And then this afternoon, actually when I started this email, my friend and new roommate Sarabeth called me—just checking in, and oh, by the way, we’re getting evicted.
No real reason, the landlord is a little whacky, the place has been in SB’s cousin’s name for over six years and now she wants us out. So end of the month we’re out of here.
I’ve never been evicted before but it’s kind of exciting. Maybe it wouldn’t be if I had been here a while but having lived from a bag and basket the last couple months and with the suitcase still underfoot in my room it isn’t a far cry to keep on keepin’ on in this manner.
I’m not sure when I last wrote in the past few weeks, so much has happened in such a little amount of time.
Paul Simon sang me into Memphis, Frank Ocean danced me out of Nashville. Gillian and Dave took me to the mountains. The sun kept shining, I followed a river through the trees.
I met my match in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. By match I mean I had to fight to keep my spirits up there. 
I wandered into Virginia, realizing only a few miles from the border that I’d actually be passing through. Luckily, Danielle had a friend there, who is now my friend, George, who accepted me into his home without having met me. The people we meet along the way! Having a roof over your head for the night is such a simple thing and yet one is so grateful to receive it.
Virginia was the best surprise—Appalachian country! It had just been a place I’d heard about in social studies, something to do with a civil war?
And then suddenly I’m hiking and the vistas that were mentioned in print were unfurling before me and it was so gosh darn beautiful.
And hot. But I won’t take you on that swimming adventure because it has a sad ending.
I did have some amazing fresh apple cider.
I rolled into Charlottesville for the evening and night and then onwards in the morning—to New Jersey! The ocean was calling.
Through Maryland and Delaware and into the Garden State, through traffic, sweaty like a Beyonce video, and arriving on the Jersey Shore around five in the afternoon. Too late for a swim and too small and windy to surf but damn, that sand in my toes felt good.
New York. A whirlwind which requires it’s own lengthy story, not here. 
A city of amazing people, to look at, to talk to, to be around. I spent the first day staring and staring and then found a bit of solace in Central Park. I went to Rockaway, I rode handle bars in Brooklyn, I ate good food and drank good beer, and sat in the subway, and wandered Manhattan and got lost and stared up at skyscrapers and watched baseball in the park and read a book and drank good coffee and trolleyed myself around, absorbing. Trying to absorb—it was easy to get overwhelmed and overstimulated, so sometimes it was necessary to block it out.
D met me and we surfed at Rockaway. It was cold. My northern resolve was weakened.
But after a few days we left and drove to the paradise of Kittery Point, Maine. There we stayed with the lovely El, a friend’s mom. And after days of noise we relaxed in quiet and emptied our pockets of the city’s vibrations. 
I conked out and woke up in the woods (that surround the house, not to give the impression that I was actually in-the-woods). I don’t think I’d slept so well in weeks.
We paid a visit to Grain Surfboards, makers of wooden surfboards who are genuinely awesome. One of the owners, Mike, gave us a tour and we ended up hanging out there for a good hour before making our way to Portland, where we ate lobster and had a beer tasting at Allagash Brewery. And then we trundled back to Kittery Point to soak up some more peace and quiet before the final stretch to Nova Scotia the following day.
The longest day of driving yet, mostly because we didn’t break it up with longer stops, but also just the hours on the road—ten up to Halifax.
D stayed with me for a few days, settling me in, getting out into the cold water with me a few times. I feel like she got a good, short dose of Nova Scotia—waves, a campfire on the beach, rain and sunshine. And then she was gone.
So now, after over 60 days of being in very close companionship I am fending for myself. 
It doesn’t feel quite real to be back yet—when I left there was snow and now the trees are green. My friends from school have shuffled around the country and some won’t be returning from their respective internships. 
I’m re-entering the community without the student identity, and that feels funny and good at the same time.
And now I’m going to go find a job, and another place to live—uprooting the kale for another garden. Here goes, wish me luck!
Thanks for keeping in touch and sending your support in a number of ways. I would send my address, but alas, it is, again, temporary. Such is my way.
My number is back to this:________
Sending lots of soggy thoughts out from Halifax, 
Hugs, more hugs,
and so much love, 

A second instalment on today’s swim. (Read after first). — 28.05.13

A second note I have to add is that when I got out of the water, after this long enduring tale of a day to get in it, I was approached by a boy. A kind-of-chubby-around-18-has-his-first-chinstrap(kind of)-boy. With terrible greasy bangs. Sorry, dude. They were bad.

This conversation was a little longer than written here, but the gist:

Are you here with someone? He asked.
A little startled at being approached I had to ask him to repeat. 
Are you here with someone?
I saw you from across the park and thought a pretty girl like you couldn’t be alone, but you are? You’re here alone?
Uh … thanks(?) .. and yeah, I’m here alone.
Wow. I mean you’re really pretty. I thought so from back there, but like.. up close.. you’re pretty too. I was wondering if I could have your number.
Honestly, I kind of choked back a laugh here, but tried to brush it off with a Oh, well thanks, but I’m not from here.
He said he wasn’t from here either.
Oh, ok. (this made even less sense to me, if he wasn’t from here and I was then still … why would he want my number) Where are you from?
Well I grew up here, but I was born in ____ (town I don’t know).
(So… he’s from here…?) Oh, well, I’m from Canada, I said slowly so he would understand. I’m really. Not. from. here.
Oh. Well. I’m just here with my friends, well, my cousin, and the others we just met today too. He pointed. We both turned and they awkwardly waved at me. I waved back with a thumbs up. Sooo awkward. 
Uh, cool, well, yeah, just stopped in for a swim. It was really hot out, so thought I’d jump in the lake … (Explaining my purpose of being at a park. Yes, alone.)
Oh. Yeah, I saw you when you came here, I didn’t think a pretty girl like you would be ALONE. (long pause, I kinda grimaced and raised my eyebrows, acknowledging the compliment but not indulging in it.) Finally he breaks it with: Pools are where it’s at.
Oh? Yeah, there weren’t many places to swim when I was driving across. People don’t like to swim in lakes here, eh?
Yeah, lakes are kinda gross, you know dirty. Pools are where it’s at. I’m Mike by the way.
Oh. Neat. Well, nice to meet you Mike. I’m Vanessa. (I shift my towel awkwardly and motion to my clothing, getting ready to leave)
So, do you have Facebook?
Uh, well, yeeeeaah… but you have to be friends with one of my friends to add me. soooo….. (I shrug)
Oh, well what’s your email?
(Dude… For real?) Uh, it’s my name.
Here I’ll get my phone. (And he’s back in two seconds holding it out to me) Put it in here.
I start typing vcratjen and he gets a text. Oh, you’ve got a text, I tell him.
Fuck it, he brushes it off. (Is he playing hardcore and carefree? It’s not working for me …)
I hand it back to him anyways without finishing, Uh, it’s @gmail.com if you want to finish putting it in…
He squints at my name. What is that?
That’s my name.
I thought your name was Vanessa.
Yeah, it’s my last name.
What? That’s crazy! (I’m liking him a lot less.) How do you say that?
I have to repeat it a few times before he tries. And fails.
Ok, well thanks Mike, it’s been nice meeting you, I say with more resolve this time and taking more solid steps to back away. I’m going to get changed now.
My first Canadian friend! He calls out and waves.
Right. Yep. Friends.
I feel so used.
I know. I KNOW. I’m just the biggest push-over when asked by an 18-year-old for my number. But I mean, who am I to crush dreams?

The day the swimming gods left me. — 28.05.13

One of the best things about road trips is not knowing where you are or what’s going to come next. 
One of the worst things about road trips is not knowing where you are or what’s going to come next.
Often romanticized, I think people forget how much time you spend sitting and driving. Call it German efficiency if you will, but as a current road warrior—now crossing the continent for the third time this year—I’ve learned that I have to use the time out of the driver’s seat well to avoid insanity.
So I go swimming. 
Going for a swim in the middle of a five hour stretch makes the day a whole lot better—you’re up and out, you’re moving, you’re getting a rinse of that mildew-y car-sweat, and you’re discovering a new place, often bumping into non-traveling folk you wouldn’t have met otherwise. You know, people who are just out and enjoying the day, not driving zillions of miles.
When Malcolm and I drove across last summer, we swam in 18 different places in 16 days. Some of my favourite memories come from those places, and it definitely kept our spirits high in the August heat.
So today was one of those days. 
I was just west of Memphis this morning and had the whole day to drive the just-over-three-hour stretch to Nashville. Plenty of time to stop, wander and find a new swimming hole.
I stopped at the Tennessee Welcome Center as soon as I crossed the bridge into Memphis this morning, early enough, around quarter past eight.
I chatted with the lady at the counter who pointed out that the state had many parks. 
The green parts, she told me. And she pointed. Here, here. Here’s another one. 
Along with green, the map seemed to have plenty of blue on it too, which was my real concern. That’s why places like Arizona killed me.
Loaded with a few tourist pamphlets and feeling assured, I spent the morning, coffee in hand, walking through a bit of Memphis and telling Expedia to refund me money (another story). Then, snack-stocked from the grocery store, I turned to the road.
Underneath the first few park signs I saw were a variety of symbols: hiking, boating, fishing, golfing, picnic. Tennessee(ians?) like recreation. Alas, no swimming. But I wasn’t concerned, there were more coming up.
The few clouds in the sky did little to deter the heat today. When I stopped to put my contacts in (so I could switch vision-glasses for sunglasses), there was an imprint of my legs on the seat, my back felt sticky. Good, I thought, the water will feel that much better.
After Jackson, but a good hour before Nashville, I pulled into another visitor’s centre, of which there seem to be many here (unlike Missouri or Oklahoma), to use the facilities (hydration is good and reminds you to stop more often, another excuse to stretch the legs). Under another pamphlet-laden shelf promoting Tennessee and its highways and byways, sat a cute little lady. We talked about Memorial Day (today) and I mentioned going for a swim somewheres en route, maybe the park that was coming up in the next 10 miles? She looked at me kind of blankly.
Well, there’s a resort with a swimming pool, she replied. 
Hm, pool. No natural bodies of water?
Well, she paused. There’s the Tennessee River, that’s about 30-35 miles onwards.
Great! I said, and it’s obvious where you can go swimming? Just pulling off the highway?
Oh, she replied. She hadn’t been towards Nashville in quite sometime, she couldn’t be sure…but she supposed so..? (We’re talking 30-35 miles here people, that’s a half hour drive. And uhm, I’m sorry ma’am but isn’t this an info centre?).
My positivity could not be tampered with! Onwards! To the River!
Crossing over, the Tennessee River sparkled, so beautiful! It looked inviting. I saw people on a boat down below but … the riverbanks were lined with trees and hedges looked really swampy and there were no signs or turn offs, except one leaning out calling to RVs.
Maybe …? I thought, but I hesitated, and a moment’s hesitation on the I40 means that the exit is gone and the next one won’t be coming for a few miles yet. 
So, no turning back! I’m off towards Nashville!
While keeping both eyes on the road and hands on the wheel at all times I scanned my state map. 
There were a few options but nothing promising, and all the state park signs mentioned was fishing. And golfing. And boating. And fishing. And golfing. 
There was a big lake just outside Nashville, mind you on the eastern side of the city, but it had a big state park on it. 
Ok, I thought, by that time I’m starting to think maybe swimming was a silly cause to keep fighting for, it’s already past 2, by the time I’m swimming it’ll be around 3:30, past the heat of the day, I could just stop in Nashville and shower. And if I decided not to go swimming today, no loss for time, right?
But I would not be deterred. 
Onwards to Nashville! Onwards past Nashville! To the lake, the big shining sea! 
By the time I turned off the interstate I was shifting uncomfortably in my seat and feeling swim-hangry, but my skin could sense water was near.
Driving the highway, there were a few bent-up brown signs for the park, but I missed the entrance gate. Oops, I’ll turn around in a wider section of the road, I thought. But around the next hill I found myself crossing a bridge over a section of the lake and on the other side, the road was lined with cars. 
I have found many a good unnamed swimming hole or surf-spot by scoping out the side-of-road vehicle situation. Relying on my previous luck I pulled up behind a white Ford, excitedly grabbed my towel and suit, still a little damp from an excursion in Arkansas yesterday, and looked for the path that would lead me through the woods to a whole new refreshed sense of self.
Ducking under a gate I started down the dusty path and within 20 meters it split in a few directions. Hearing voices to my left, I made like a sheep and followed the line towards them. I didn’t need the perfect beach I just wanted to get in, get wet!
The path narrowed and, having heard about poison ivy and poison oak, I started to tread carefully and slowly. I didn’t grow up with those as a threat so I was feeling wary of anything green and spooked by anything attempting to brush my legs.
Then I felt my feet starting to sting.
I’d been so busy playing herbalist that I hadn’t taken any notice to the fact I was standing in the middle of an ant’s nest and my feet were literally black. With a new enemy at hand, the plants felt very benign. I ripped off my shoes and started slapping my ankles with them, dancing a little with pain but trying to to hop right into the bushes because, really, poison oak right now would do me over.
The bites made the water situation even more desperate and I scuffled down the now-not-really-a-path towards the water until I could see it. Alas, the voices were coming from canoe, not somewhere to swim.
With a sweaty back, dirty shirt, burning feet and no shoes I was starting to feel defeated. I turned back to the car, sprinting up the path this time and poured my water bottle on the red spots, like a rash covering my poor ankles. (Don’t worry, swelling now gone, ankles returned to proper size and texture, no cankles.)
Determined, I went back to the park entrance, drove in, parked and once again grabbed my towel and suit.
If the fifteen-a-side volleyball game didn’t tip me off that Tennessee(ans?) are not beach people, the fact that a sign on the lakeshore, this big, fresh, cool body of water in front of me, said “Swimming Prohibited”, really, really did.
WHAT THE DEUCE TENNESSEE? Don’t you like to SWIM? Seize the day and take a DIP! 
What is WRONG with people here.
I think I stood there for a good five minutes rereading those two words before turning back to the car.
Ok, Tennessee. I’ll shower. Fine.
You win.
On the way back to the car I grabbed a pamphlet specific to this state park. I wanted to be sure. I needed to be SURE. 
And there it was. “The only swimming beach in Long Hunter State Park is at Bryant Grove.”
Ok, one place to swim. In this whole state. (And you call it a grove? I want to SWIM not decipher riddles here “Volunteer State,” this is not what you call helpful.)
Well, it meant at least another 15 minutes of driving (each way), and they almost didn’t let me in due to overcrowding on the holiday, but since it was 4:30, and most people were leaving … they did. 
I was in the water for a whole of ten minutes before I realized how hungry I was. So I got out, and got dressed.
To the grocery store!
As a person of the coast, you’re a mystery to me state of Tennessee.
Now I’m just wondering how long it takes for that swimmer’s itch to set in, because I know there’s more you’re going to give me.