Thursday, 24 May 2012

Six Things I've Learned Before Turning 24

This pretty much sums it up.

Last Thursday I turned 24, and, aside from battling a minor existential crisis, I’d say it went smashingly. Celebrating your birthday in a forest a few thousand miles away from your friends and family makes for a rather unorthodox occasion, but we made the best of it and now I’m another year older (how the hell did that happen?!?).

To be honest, since the tender age of 18 I’ve sort of given up on making a huge deal out of my birthday. Maybe it’s because since then I’ve spent the majority of them away from home or maybe, deep down, it’s because I’m just not fond of marking a day that only recognizes the fact that I’m getting older. In my experience, the mantra of age vs. wisdom is largely untrue, but then again, what do I know? I’m still relatively young, aren’t I? One thing I know for sure is you never stop learning. Which leads me to my first point:

The older you get, the less you know.            

I’m a sucker for quotes, and I try not to swamp my articles in them in fear of looking completely lame, but I have to include this one from Mr. Oscar Wilde: ‘I am not young enough to know everything’. If there’s anything I’ve learned after living for 24 years, it’s that I know nothing, and I don’t mean that in the I’m-an-idiot-and-incapable-of-doing-anything sense, but more so as an ode to the 99.99999% of things in this world I have no idea even exist. If you stop asking questions, being curious, and admitting to yourself that you have an infinite amount of learning ahead of you, you’ve reached the point of ignorance. It’s a nonstop cycle of finding answers that in turn generate five times as many questions, and we’ll never be able to understand everything, but that’s what makes it so much fun. You’ll become old when you think you’ve got it all.

Your thoughts are not your own.

Okay, without getting all mystically hippie on you, I’m going to try to explain this one in common sense terms. I learned this not a year ago and it was a major part of managing the onset of depression that could have been crippling otherwise. I’ve always been under the impression that whatever was going through my head was directly related to my self, that is who I am and the true person I have become (aka my core morals, values, outside relationships, etc). So, consequently, if I was having negative thoughts, I would feel horrible all day and I’d let it get in the way of what I wanted to accomplish. On the contrary, if I was experiencing lots of happy thoughts, I’d be in a great mood and life would be all tulips and roses and freakin’ rainbows and crap. While this part was great, I’d let my thoughts totally dictate my actions because I saw no separation between the two. Not until I realized that those often uncontrollable things that are trapped in my brain are actually completely different from the rest of my body, and I can learn to step outside of them and not let it control me. Of course, I’m still working on this, and it’s not always perfect. If you get good at this, though, you’ll actually begin to feel more mentally balanced and not have such dramatic ups and downs. This can have amazing benefits to your communicative abilities and intrapersonal relationships, not to mention your self-imagine will improve dramatically.

Your fears get bigger, and more real.

Seriously, who wouldn't be terrified??
When you were a wee child, the biggest fears you encountered included the monsters under your bed or whether or not tonight’s episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos was going to be new or a repeat. While I would never want to downplay the severity of these issues (I am still pretty sure I get visited by the Mad Hatter every night), they tend to change and morph over time into things that are more tangible and equally, if not substantially more intense. Adult fears can be debilitating - fear of change, fear of being hurt, fear of rejection – and we all face a point where we either allow our fears to control us or we do something we really fear. Although it can be awesome and even life changing to face a fear, it’s so much easier to not and to exist in our own little comfort bubble. Big fears are a big part of life, and we’ve all succumbed to ours at one point or another…Because we’re human and that’s just what happens, but to not pick ourselves up again is to do something you’ll probably regret later on.

Sometimes you’re wrong, and that’s OK.

Freakin' TANNINS, Jim. That's all I'm asking for.
Being born into my family means that, purely by default, you’re as stubborn as a door knob. Stubbornness is a funny thing; it can be incredibly advantageous yet completely destructive at the same time. I’ve gotten myself into more hairy situations that I’d like to admit thanks to this sometimes less favourable quality of mine, which made this lesson hardest to swallow. Growing up in a culture that has hard-wired competition and the value of always being right deep into my bones didn’t really help either, and I know I am certainly not alone on this. Hell, I will fight something I know isn’t true just to be the one who ends up on top. One of the hardest things you may ever have to do is mutter these two simple yet oh so painful words to another person: ‘I’m wrong’. It hurts the ego, makes us feel vulnerable and ashamed, and for us men it can be 180% emasculating, but it saves relationships. I’ve almost lost some of the most important people in my life over my inability to do this. Not being OK with being wrong can lead to quarrels over the simplest and most unimportant things – who didn’t take out the trash, which direction the bus stop is and whether the tannins in a well-aged cabernet merlot contribute to sweetness or bitterness on your palate (…just me?). Next time you’re in a heated debate heading hurtful with a loved one, step aside and ask yourself: ‘Is this worth ruining our relationship over?’. Being wrong can be so, so right.

Your bandwagon gets smaller. Much smaller.

Or too big. Whatever.
There’s no two ways around it: some adult decisions can just suck. Not necessarily because the outcome will suck, but because you know there can be a big difference between the choice you want to make and the choice that other people want you to make. You see, as you grow older, the things you want may be...How do I put it...Absolutely not what other people want for you. Throw in the fact that sometimes this includes those who are very close to you, like your best friend or your parents, and things get a little more complicated. Maybe the people who have supported you over the years (possibly financially or otherwise) are also part of the group that isn’t so quick to hop on your bandwagon. This can make things substantially more complicated. Many young adults are pressured into making decisions that they ultimately don’t want, all because they just want to make someone else happy. The only problem is that (shockingly) this usually won’t make YOU happy, and now you’re stuck living out someone else’s idea of what’s right for you. To avoid this, you’ll need to understand that staying true to your own desires can and probably will upset some people who are important to you, BUT that consequence is both temporary and won’t leave you with regrets and bitterness. Which nicely takes me to my final thought...

Be selfish.
The word selfish itself has taken on a really negative connotation, when really all it’s referring to is the ability to take care of oneself before looking outwards. As I’ve stated above, you need to stay in touch with what you want, regardless of who may think otherwise. Being selfish is just a counterpart to this important lesson, and is synonymous with the idea of self care. This is law of human emotional nature: if you want to care for others, you must care for yourself first. If you want to love others, you must love yourself first. I’ve seen too many friends or coworkers who attempt to bypass this rule in blatant disregard for their own health, and it’s a one way ticket to a total mental and physical burnout. At this point, you can render yourself useless in every regard, which can have negative impacts socially, at home and at work. SO do yourself a favour and BE SELFISH once in a while; it’s really the best thing for everyone.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Six Undeniable Reasons to Travel the Alaska Highway to Whitehorse

Most people who travel Canada’s West will hang out closer to the national border, usually sticking to Vancouver Island and the coast or venturing into the ever popular Okanogan Valley for some wine and....old people? If you’ve never actually been past Prince George before, you’ll look at the mountains and think “gosh, Canada is such a beautiful, diverse country!”, or something else that’s bashfully endearing. While you wouldn’t be wrong with that sentiment, the Southern Rockies are certainly not the end-all-be-all of stunning mountain scenery and culture for us humble Canucks. Not by a long shot.

Usually, the way things tend to go when you’re travelling is that you have to make three times the effort to get to the places that make it worthwhile. Yes, Vancouver is pretty, but if you think you’ve seen Canada just because you spent a two week vacation in Whistler, you’d be quite terribly mistaken. Things become a lot more untamed after you’ve pointed yourself north, as I’ve done, and get to the Alaska Highway.

Mile 422 - Toad River Lodge
The Alaska Highway officially begins in Dawson Creek, BC (not to be confused with Dawson’s Creek, unless that show was about a group of biker outlaws fleeing a paper trail and working in an isolated industrial wasteland). This is the official ‘Mile 1’ of an ambitious project that would finally connect the Yukon and Alaska with the rest of Canada and the mainland. From Dawson Creek, the highway stretches north past Fort St. John and Fort Nelson, dotting small roadside stops on the way – each with their own unique character. A crown jewel amongst this journey, however, is Toad River Lodge, situated in between Summit Lake and Muncho Lake. The Northern Rocky Mountain Range begins to enfold you at this point, and at times it will seem as though you are a tiny spec treading through the land. Toad River Lodge is complete with a service station which boasts a collection of over 3000 hats, most of which were donated by travellers passing by. The ‘restaurant’ is usually occupied by friendly neighbours, lonesome truckers and the regularly scheduled Greyhound passengers en route to Whitehorse or somewhere in between. 

This is why their buisness is ahead.....Heheh.....

Mile 462 - Muncho Lake
A mere one hour’s drive northwest of Toad River on the Alaska Highway is Muncho Lake, the centerpiece of Muncho Lake Provincial Park. The highway will  skim the edge of the lake, an unforgettable sight as towering cliffs contrast the clear blue below. While you’ll feel dwarfed by the scenery, Muncho Lake is a place of serenity in the wild. It’s most startling attribute forms out of a special mix in natural chemicals that allow the lake’s water to appear crystal blue and translucent. This section of highway traverses the ‘Muncho Pass’, that is, the Northernmost range in the Rocky Mountains to be traversed by a highway. It is also arguably the most beautiful section of driving in BC.

Mile 497 - Liard River Hotsprings
Follow the Alaska Highway closer to the Yukon border and you’ll end up on the other end of the Muncho Pass, where an oasis of naturally heated spring water awaits. In Liard River Hotsprings Provincial Park, a boardwalk trail leads over a bog and into the overhanging canopy of lush boreal forest, complete with unique species of plants that are not found anywhere else in Canada. Two pools of blissfully hot water trickle into the overgrowth, creating a sanctuary for those who need a reprise from the road. You would probably forget you were in Canada if it wasn’t for the putrid smell of lingering sulfur in the air (kind of smells like rotten eggs). Nevertheless, Liard River Hotsprings are truly a must see on the Alaska Highway. 

Mile 597 – Watson Lake Signpost Forest
Watson Lake is the first real ‘town’ North of the BC/Yukon border on the Alaska Highway, and like many other roadside establishments in this end of the country, there’s not much too it. But the big claim to fame in Watson Lake is the Signpost Forest; an impressive collection of vintage licence plates, hand painted signs and road markings posted by passersby. Word on the dirt road has it a homesick U.S Army G.I by the name of Carl K. Lindley first nailed a sign in this location during the construction of the Alaska Highway in 1948 indicating the number of miles to his hometown. What Lindley didn’t know is that he would start a fad that is now well over 10, 000 signs strong. 

Mile 866 – Tagish Road to Carcross Desert
The wayward traveller is welcome to venture off the Alaska Highway and into more uncharted territory. Tagish Road, at Mile 866, is one such opportunity that reaps great rewards. Diverting an hour Southwest, Tagish Road eventually happens across the small community of Carcross, home to what many refer to as the World’s Smallest Desert. True, The Yukon Territory is probably the very, very last place you would expect to find a desert, but it’s there...All one square mile of it. The area itself was originally covered by a glacial lake, which then retreated, leaving its exposed sandy bottom behind. It was a very bad, very dirty glacier. Today, you can climb the dunes of the Carcross Desert and pretend you’re a tiny cowboy searching out the nearest scallywag for a tumble. If that’s what you’re in to. 

Mile 866 – Atlin Road
 If you’re feeling extra saucy, you can continue on past Carcross and ride South along the Klondike Highway to its terminus at Atlin, BC. Affectionately deemed The Little Switzerland of the North, Atlin is situated in the Torres Channel Mountain Pass, home to massive glaciers and gorgeous white-capped giants. The area was first occupied during the Gold Rush in 1898, but a few residents continue to live in the town year-round. If you’re searching for breathtaking scenery coupled with nature’s bounty, look no further.