Like many people I’ve talked to, 2020 was going to be “my year”. I’ve always loved travelling and 2020 was going to be the quintessential vision board of that passion. I had big plans. Specifically, I was going to take advantage of my work’s fruitfully flexible “work from home” policy, jump on a plane across the pond and set up camp in Wales for a month or two to spend time with my grandparents. They’re getting older, and as I reach my ripened peak of maturity I’ve come to realize: it’s now or never. Time to tap into those gold mines of ancestral knowledge.
Of course, like many of us, I was massively devastated by the cold harsh slap of COVID and spent a few months stewing in bitterness and fear. It’s been seven months since the pandemic started so I’ve had some time to reflect and I’ve realized what I was feeling in those early stages was grief. I was in mourning of all the things we’d lost; the lifestyles we’d been building, the relationships we’d been nurturing, the goals we’d been working towards. But around June I decided – enough is enough. I need to find a way to be happy amongst all this doom and gloom. I think that’s the main qualm I have about this entire situation: in the midst of such a dark storm it feels not only impossible, but also kind of inappropriate to still smile and seek bliss through it all. Like watching a tragic documentary, but laughing in between commercial breaks, or knitting at a train wreck: I have this irrational fear that if I’m not serious and tense 24/7 I’m not doing it right.
As you can tell, I was in need of a vacation.
The decision hit me quite impulsively one night. After polishing off a bottle of merlot I called one of my old friends Annaka, who lives in Kelowna with her husband Leon. They’d been living out West for ten years but I never made the trip, partially because we’d grown apart but also because I’d always chased international destinations in my wanderlust adventures. But with domestic travel as our only option, it seemed like the perfect time to go. “That’s it,” I slurred through my last sips of red. “I’m booking this flight and I’m coming to see you next month!”
I won’t lie – I was a bit nervous for this trip. Partially about sitting in a sky tube with masked strangers for five hours, but also about staying in such close quarters with people I’d recently grown apart from. When I tell you the trip exceeded my expectations – well that would be an understatement.
Three weeks felt like six months, but in the best way possible. It only took a few glasses of wine and three hours until I felt closer to my friends than ever. I sunk into the West Coast life like butter melting into toast, and I felt like I’d found my home. We spent the majority of our days engrossed in relaxing activities: making curries and croque monsieurs, binging the Wire on HBO, and checking out local shops around downtown. Kelowna is a funny little spot – known for its disparity in the demographic you’re either surrounded by old conservative retirees or transient beach bums soaking in the summer sun.
On our more active days we hiked, biked and explored the dozens of wineries littered along Lake Okanagan. I’m telling you right now, if you love wine – this is the place to be. Fluttered with rows and rows of luscious grapes, full-bodied cabernet in one hand and sharp cheddar in the other – I was truly in my element.
But of course you can’t come to BC and not participate in the multitude of physically enduring activities. I like to do my fair share of hiking – but man, we hiked a lot. My absolute favourite hike was to the top of Knox Mountain, which provided such beautiful views it made the gruelling work uphill completely worth it.
Another weekend we hopped in the hatchback and road tripped four hours east to Nelson, a gorgeous little hippy town close to the border of Alberta, where we drank IPA, ate tacos and climbed Pulpit Rock – which as you can see, nearly killed me.
Many people have told me returning to Ontario after visiting British Columbia isn’t easy, but I didn’t realize how true this was until I left. I miss the sweetness of the West Coast air, the ever-flowing mild breeze and vast green giants filling every backdrop. Months later I reflect with pure elation, and claim it to be one of the best trips of my life. Funny how you don’t realize how much you needed something until it’s given to you, isn’t it? I’ve been wondering lately if I would have felt this way even if there weren’t a pandemic happening. If I hadn’t felt the need to escape, would I have molded so beautifully into my West-Coast refuge? If I hadn’t had felt so chained by COVID’s grip, would I have felt so liberated, when I finally set myself free?