Sorry it wasn't 80 songs...my writing is not as prolific as I hoped!
I am sitting in Vancouver airport waiting for my final flight of my 8 month journey that I started planning over a year ago. With an 8 hour layover this is not the fastest way back home in a literal sense, but given I wasn't ready to return to live in the UK a year ago and am now very excited about it, I think the title works for my final blog post.
The final section of my travels have been very different to the rest as I thought they would. I spent a few days in both LA and Vancouver where I had the wonderful privilege of meeting up with some ex-students who are enjoying their post UWC life. It's great to see someone who was very academically able pursuing her career in a very un-traditional way, as well as seeing another student putting the maths he learnt with me to good use in his degree. This message here though, is identical to what I have found throughout my trip. That people should pursue what they enjoy and break out of the traditional jobs and expectations if it feels right for them.
LA was unseasonably cold and I did not get to go for a swim or surf despite staying on the beach. I did however hire a bike and cycle along the coast up to the famous Venice Beach where I walked through Muscle beach and along the boardwalk. I did admire the outdoor lifestyle that seems to come from living at the beach, but I can't say I got much sense of what LA is like as I did not venture into the city or anywhere near Hollywood.
Vancouver immediately felt more like a place I could feel at home. It's wonderfully multi-cultural and I wasn't disappointed with my beliefs that Canadians are super friendly and helpful. My first night I got very Canadian very quickly and headed to a Canucks (ice) hockey game with a group from the hostel. It was great to see live, incredibly fast and skilful. My hostel mates were generally very Aussie. Unlike Brits getting working visas for Canada (very hard) the Australians have an unlimited number and it seems to be the place to come, a bit like the Germans in New Zealand. For the rest of my time I spent time in Stanley Park, cycling around the city, at Granville Island where there may have been a brewery, and enjoying home cooked food at my first time in a student house for a while. It was a really nice finish to my solo travelling but I was getting excited about snowboarding and seeing Mum.
Over a year ago I was sat on a chairlift in Japan trying to think of what I was going to do with my year off. Jen suggested I could become a snowboard instructor. I laughed, thinking I wouldn't be good enough, but I was assured the first level was pretty simple. This set off my first major decision about how I was going to spend my time and not long later I had booked myself onto a 3 week snowboarding course with in Fernie, the supposed powder capital of Canada. The rest of my year padded itself out around that booking. Unfortunately Fernie had it's poorest season for snow in pretty much forever according to the locals, and so I was heading to resort a week before my course started to meet Mum being slightly unsure how much skiing we could do.
I arrived having seen not that much snow on my journey but headed into town and returned about an hour later with my new snowboard, bindings and boots. It was impressively quick work, but very cheap as all the shops were discounting everything after such a poor season. I was expecting Mum to arrive about 11 so when someone tried to open the door about 9 o'clock I was slightly concerned. Luckily it turned out that as she was the only one on her shuttle she left the airport earlier than planned.
We headed up the hill the next day to see what it was like. Initially it was a bit depressing when you arrive at a resort and see fields instead of runs and dirt beneath you as you go up chairlifts. However at the top of the mountain, it was much more white and it was great to be out on the snow again.
Fernie itself is a great little town. Good food, yummy beer and lots of events and community facilities. In my 4 weeks there I went ice skating, curling, beer tasting, to a small gig, to a big gig, celebrated Hot Dog day in 80's clothes and to a Mr Fernie competition (yes it was like those ones at uni....) Me and Mum sampled lots of the local restaurants including some incredible Japanese food and managed to both keep our knees working throughout the week. It was great to feel like I knew the town and slopes before I started my course. The major concern was whether there would be any runs left to board on.
After our week together I moved my stuff to my new residence, the Red Tree Lodge and waved goodbye to Mum as the shuttle took her back to Calgary airport. I met some of the other people who had already been on the Nonstop courses for a couple of weeks and the general talk was what they would do if the snow completely disappeared which seemed very likely given the sunny warm days we had been having. However, the snow gods were smiling and on Sunday we awoke to snow and headed up the hill in snow and went boarding in snow. This meant by Monday then first day of our lessons was a powder day and the hill was incredibly busy compared to a week before as locals closed their businesses and headed up the hill to enjoy the 60cm of fresh snow.
Out in the powder and my first double black diamond run...
Our all girls snowboarding crew and some on the slope snacks we made
The next three weeks were great. My group consisted of me, Karen who had arrived the same time as me, and Poppy and Anne who had already been there for two weeks. We had 5 hours of snowboarding lessons during 4 days of the week but most people went up everyday - in 4 weeks there were only 3 days that I didn't snowboard. It was great to be being taught after several years of just 'getting down' a run however I could and that first week felt like there were so many things I could do to improve my riding. Like any learning curve there are jumps in improvement as well as getting stuck for a bit. After two weeks I felt I knew what I was supposed to be doing but it wasn't always working. The final week was not just lessons as it also included a 3 day course/assessment to become a level 1 snowboard instructor, and more worryingly Hot Dog day, a celebration of a dodgy 80's ski film where alcohol is often drunk fell right in the middle of our course. Although it was a little slow at times, it was good to go back to the very basics of snowboarding and understanding it from an instructors point of view, it definitely helped me with my own riding. To pass you had to pass an assessment of your riding ability and your teaching. Our group had different strengths between the riding and the teaching, but we all managed to pass despite looking like this for one of the days of the course!
Off the snow there was plenty of beer to be drunk and food to be eaten. There was so many lovely people and it was so nice to meet people once and know I would be seeing them all again for the next few weeks rather than the next few days. We all fell in love with Fernie and with the lifestyle of heading up to the snow whenever you wanted, and there were many conversations revolving around the fundamental question of 'how could I live here?' I would love to return as the place is incredibly fun and welcoming, as well as wanting to see the hill with all the runs open and not just half of them. These three weeks have been like a starting point back into 'real life' with the structure and opportunity for learning that the course offered. Of course, I feel like one more week would have been ideal in terms of embedding the improvements I have made to my boarding, or it could be I just didn't want to leave. There were many sad faces around the dinner table last night, which was compounded by us waking up to some serious snow coming down in town this morning as we had to finish packing.
For myself, despite having spent some time in the last few weeks doing some maths, and communicating with my new job, there is still a sense of unreality about this trip finally coming to an end. I have travelled about 40,000 miles, slept in 67 different places (I think), have travelled by foot, car, boat, bike, bus and snowboard and met so many incredible awesome people. But now I'm on the way home....