Countdown to Solo Travel
by Cheryl Smyth www.cstravelsandpics.ca
Nothing like getting my dog tangled up in leash and camera straps to show the lightheartedness I was finally starting to feel. Kakabeka Falls, Ontario
As the day drew near my fears intensified, pushing me into worsening meltdowns. I was afraid of going, yet I was terrified of not being able to go.
I desperately wanted to drive west across Canada with my dog, Tessi. I enjoy writing about our adventures together and badly needed new inspiration. I’ve read various books about women travelling solo throughout the world and figured if they can successfully explore menacing countries then I, with a doggy companion, could traverse my own relatively safe one.
I’d hoped to make the trip last year, but the needed funds hadn’t surfaced. That was the excuse I used, anyway. Deep down, fear taunted me. I wasn’t emotionally ready to tackle a considerable distance on my own. Western Canada is a long way from my southern Ontario home. It takes days to wend your way out of Ontario itself before taking that many days again to reach Alberta. I felt especially vulnerable knowing I’d have to camp to keep within a budget.
In my little world, nobody I know would undertake such a feat. When I started telling people of my plans, I received varying reactions. Sadly, the frequent pessimistic ones stood out and fed on my insecurities. I eventually stopped mentioning it.
I vowed to make the trip this year. Watching cancer steal my sister-in-law’s life specifically motivated me; I didn’t want to be bearing regrets when someday arriving at death’s door. I’d also been feeling trepidation at seeing Tessi’s fur turn whiter and whiter. Though there’s no guarantee she would leave this world before me, I know a dog’s life is short. I wanted this journey with my best buddy before it became too late.
Eventually, I saved enough. Then the fretting started. With no funds for a new vehicle, I had to fix up my elderly car. Taking care of several issues almost strangled my budget, but we were still good to go. I’m thankful for my retired mechanic neighbour, who helped out, especially when last minute troubles cropped up.
During those few weeks before our departure date, my thoughts swirled around in panic — of being alone, of my car failing us, with speculation of accidents and running out of money sprinkled in. Each fear took its turn at the forefront of my mind. Fortunately, I have a couple of encouraging friends, who would briefly restore my sanity. And I’d remind myself of many solo hikes, travels throughout parts of Ontario and my cautious personality. The fears, however, always returned.
When the day finally arrived, we pulled out of the driveway with the future wide open ahead of us. The sense of dread kept me company the first couple of days as I drove through parts of Ontario I’d already seen. Feeling very much alone and vulnerable, I wondered what the hell I was doing. I hoped once I started seeing new sights, my sense of adventure would take over. It did. Casting my eyes on the stunningly powerful Kakabeka Falls north of Thunder Bay crowded out any misgivings I’d been feeling.
Concerns gradually dissipated without me realizing it, though I kept the importance of my safety utmost in my mind. One of the warnings thrown at me — of unsavoury men lurking around remote gas stations, didn’t exist, at least where I drove. There are enough travellers buying gas for their gluttonous RV’s and SUV’s to keep multi-service stations busy. I was always careful who I talked to; yet, we still managed to meet others — Janet, Suzanne and dog, Max, heading to Calgary; and Linda, who was on her own from Alabama — amongst them.
Nagging worries of the car persisted, along with the potential of accidents, especially after a moose crossed the highway in front of us. Yet, when I returned to my vehicle after a day’s break in Calgary and discovered a cracked windshield, I sat there and laughed — of all the things that could go wrong. Though I now have a few repairs to attend to, my wonderful car safely took us to several destinations in Alberta and brought us home again. All angst was replaced with a strong sense of accomplishment and lots of precious memories.