“I fell way behind my pack, limping like the runt of the litter. As my boyfriend fell behind to help me up the millionth step, I felt instant shame, looking around at the faces of my patient pals as they held on for me to catch up.”
I didn’t really know what to expect when I moved from my home in the United Kingdom to Vancouver, Canada at 20 years old. The only thing I knew for sure was that it would be exciting and completely different.
More or less sheltered from the “real world” and the responsibilities it thrusts upon you, the most challenging thing I’d experienced up to that point was moving to a big city all alone. I was about to find out that moving to a different continent would teach me so much more and change who I was for the better.
There are many moments on my travels through the United States, Canada and New Zealand that I can pinpoint as being monumental, awe-inspiring and moving. To capture one is a challenge, so I’ve decided to tell you the first thing that pops to mind when I think of a big change due to travelling that I would never have thought possible.
Standing proud on the edge of one of the most famous highways in the world is a mountain that sits at 700 metres tall. “That’s a pretty small mountain” you might say, but for a young girl who was barely able to climb two flights of stairs and was teetering on the edge of being overweight, that granitic dome in Squamish, BC looked like Everest towering over her. The Stawamus Chief was a steep hike that many locals did often, and to my outdoorsy Canadian and Kiwi friends it didn’t pose much of a threat, so I decided to brave the dreaded exercise and early rise to have a fun day out and experience something new.
It was a pretty rainy day, so we nearly cancelled, thinking it might be too slippery (this was my first indication that maybe this wasn’t just a hard walk). But the Canadian leader of our pack, Claire, decided we’d be fine, and we headed out anyway. At first, I was feeling pretty happy, trudging along with my friends and admiring the beautiful waterfall flowing through the trees. But as we came to the 20-minute mark, I was noticing the stress on my body. I fell way behind my pack, limping like the runt of the litter. As my boyfriend fell behind to help me up the millionth step, I felt instant shame, looking around at the faces of my patient pals as they held on for me to catch up. I said, “Go ahead without me, I don’t want to slow you down”.
This pitiful effort went on for some time; I was always at the back heaving my unfit body up and up the endless stairs. Finally, we got to a point where it levelled out, and my friend yelled down, “You’re nearly there, now we just have to get up the peak.”
With elation, I upped my pace. Then I approached the toughest part, the real climb. Hooked into the rock on one side was a thick chain, and on the other was a sheer drop down into the huge pine trees below. It was so off-putting that many other hikers were coming back down saying “No, I don’t think I want to try that.” But we’d made it this far, and I wasn’t turning away, after much effort and terrifying moments slipping on the wet surfaces I eventually made it to the final hurdle: the 10-metre chain climb up two huge boulders.
At this point, I gave up. My weak little arms couldn’t pull my body up the rocks, and I was holding everyone else up, so with tears in my eyes I said, “That’s it I’m done, please just leave me.”
Pathetic! That’s all I could think. I was down there with a sheepdog that also couldn’t make it, in a little nook watching everybody else climb to the beautiful views at the peak. It was literally rock bottom.
Then all of a sudden my pack leader Claire came back for me, it was like something out of an action movie—she reached her arm down to me and said: “Come on, there’s no way I’m leaving you behind, you’re going to make it.” With the help of a boost from a friendly stranger, who happened to be a high school cheerleader, and the insane belief that Claire had in me, I reached up and pulled myself to the top. After that, the short slippery walk up to the viewpoint was nothing—I was filled with adrenaline and excitement. The view was indescribable and higher than I thought I could ever have climbed. We ate M&Ms and looked out onto the Howe Sound.
A few years have passed since that hike up The Chief, and I am now a fitness lover. I exercise three to four times a week and have gone from keeling over after 15 seconds of running to being able to run for 30 minutes continuously. My fitness journey is still ongoing, but I would have never found this part of me without that one hike and my new friends to help me along the way. Even now, I get emotional thinking about it and how happy I was to have achieved my unachievable goal.
Travelling changes you. It moulds you into a different person and opens you up to amazing experiences that you might never have tried otherwise.