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Appalachian Trail

I've been working on a little project these days.

This year Damien completely re-built, re-designed, and re-purposed (you could say it was a recycling project) our old adventure blog Outsideways into a new online community for outdoor adventurers to share their experiences with family, friends, and the world. It's a social networking site and one day, hopefully, an app where people can easily post and share journals of their outdoor adventures.

I am helping build content for the site by publishing a trail journal from our AT adventure. What this means practically is that I'm finally editing my photos from that trip and choosing the best images to publish and share. And I'm re-reading and editing, for public consumption, the daily diary I kept while we were hiking the trail.

Someday I'll tell you more about this project. What it means for me to be re-reading and publishing my journals. And what Damien hopes to accomplish with this site. (If you're an outdoorsy person who has adventures and is looking for a social networking platform to share those adventures and connect with other adventurers, you need to check out Outsideways. Someday it's going to be the Facebook of the outdoors community.)

Once a week I work on my journal Beyond our Boundaries and publish my hiking diary and favorite photos from each day of our hike. I'm currently on Day 26.

Damien just programmed a new feature which allows members to embed their journal entries. So I'm posting that here today.

Each day on the trail brought new experiences and challenges but this particular day was stellar, so it's a good one to share. But don't worry, all the days are being shared in my trail journal, the good, the bad and the ugly.

If you're reading this post in email and don't see anything below this line, click over to the blog to read the post. I haven't done this before. I don't know how it will work.


This is the second post in my series on vocation, marriage and work.

From my last post:

We had successes along the way, I'm very proud of our achievements and projects. And I don't regret the journey or the difficult things we went through because of what we've learned through the process. But we couldn't continue on the path we were because it was hurting our relationship, not helping it, not drawing us closer the way we intended.

The path we were on started breaking down for us on the trail and completely imploded late fall 2014. I call it The Breaking.

This series started in my drafts as a single post about understanding work and calling. One post grew pretty quick into two, and three, then four... because I had a lot to write, especially when it came to this point in the story. I need to explain The Breaking and how I'm learning to listen for the voice of vocation in the aftermath that experience.

The Breaking is part of my midlife crisis. It's the undercurrent behind almost everything I've written since fall 2014. I hadn't intended to tell this story in the context of vocation and work, but it's the story that has bubbled to the surface in many posts and has been told in bits and pieces, through direct and indirect means, over many months.

It's time to tell the whole story, the outline at least, to put it all together to explain why The Breaking came in the context it did: where we were living, what we were doing, and why our work was wrapped up in that.

In the spring of 2011 we moved to re-boot our life, we called it Life 3.0. We wanted to move so we could position ourselves better to work towards our goals and dreams. The chief reason for our move was to gain back our freedom but we were also making big changes in our lives at the same time, moving to a francophone province, living in the woods, becoming self-employed, having Damien work from home.

There was so much for our family to gain from this, but there were losses as well, and fear. There were many things I was anxious about in this move; still owning a home in Maine and having to manage it from afar, concerns about where we would live, and how Damien would build a self-employed income.

Even though we were leaving good things - a steady job, our own home, a community we knew - we both felt this was the right move for our family. That it provided the opportunity to better align our life with our dreams and our goals. I believed this, but I still had many doubts, insecurities and anxieties.

Sixes are the primary type in the Thinking Triad, meaning that they have the most trouble contacting their own inner guidance. As a result, they do not have confidence in their own minds and judgements. This does not mean they do not think. On the contrary, they think - and worry - a lot!
~ Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson

I'm not the type of person to make this kind of move on my own. It's crazy to think about "me on my own" because I'm not. I'm part of a team, a partner with Damien. Who Damien is influences me, and who I am greatly influences my husband. I'm not drawn to risk-taking ventures. My natural bent is to play it safe. If I'm going to take a risk I need a partner to help me.

Damien and I have taken many calculated risks in our married life. We had made a couple big moves already before Life 3.0. Maybe it was my age or the fact that our kids were getting older and life felt less "pick-up-and-move" portable like it had in our early years, maybe my preferences as a security-seeking person had finally started to catch up with me, maybe it was the fact that we were leaving things we didn't have in all those previous moves - our own home and a secure job. I can't pinpoint exactly what it was, but moving stirred up anxieties I hadn't experienced before, at least not to this degree. And how I "managed" those anxieties would prove to be detrimental to my well-being and our marriage.

I started to rely on Damien in unhealthy ways, seeking his reassurance, leaning on his confidence. "Is this going to be ok?" "Are we doing the right thing?" became a theme in my communication with him.

Because they do not feel they can trust their own inner guidance, Sixes often look for answers in ideas and insights first propounded by others. Sixes do not just jump on the bandwagon, however; they will subject these ideas to scrutiny and testing and eventually may replace them with yet other ideas. ... Either way, their natural response is first to look outside of themselves for something to believe, and if that fails, to react against it and look for something else. Doubt, questioning, believing, searching, skepticism, and resistance are always part of the picture.
~ Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson

It's ok to seek the reassurance of our partners. And at various points in a marriage we need to rely on the other person to support us. And for those of us bent on finding and doing the "right" thing with our life (which is not everyone, not my husband for example), we may ask these questions often. My problem arose in that I was asking my husband these questions, and variations like them, on an increasing basis. When we made decisions I was an equal partner in those decisions but when I encountered my insecurities and anxieties I turned to Damien for support, over and over and over again.

Damien didn't feel insecure by our decisions, in many ways he felt enlivened and challenged. His fears are of a completely different sort. In fact, a lot what we were doing at this stage was in response to those fears, was a way of moving away from the realms in which his chief fears are manifest.

I couldn't have made the decision to leave Maine and embark on a self-employed path, which we both felt was the right thing to do at the time, without relying on Damien's confidence. I don't think that's wrong, or was a mistake. I think the purpose of marriage is to help each other. But relying on Damien's confidence became a theme in our relationship, and something unhealthy started to take root.

Average Sixes want to reinforce their support system, to strengthen their alliances and/or ther position with authorities. To that end, they invest most of their time and energy in the commitments they have made, hoping that their sacrifices will pay off in the increased security and mutual support.
~ Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson

The move and embarking on self-employment was my first big security shaker. And the decision to move to Quebec, just added fuel to the fire of anxiety, that was just starting to burn low in my belly.

For reasons I've explained here, when we moved back to Canada we choose to live in Quebec. Quebec is part of Canada but is a different culture, with a unique history and different majority language from the rest of the country.

During my early childhood and late adolescence, in other words, my formative years, Quebec and Canada went through the upheaval of sovereignty/separation referendums. I grew up as a proud western Canadian, in a conservative political and familial culture which was mostly "happy to see you go" about the whole issue. For me, a person who values security, tradition, authority and loyalty, the Quebec fight for independence seemed less about self-determination and freedom, ideas I also value, and more of rejection of the beliefs I held dear and true.

Living in Quebec now for five years I know there is no clear resolution to this political tension, it is very complex issue; nor is there a unified "Quebec" position about these things. Quebec is a very diverse place and I am finding my own secure place, as an aspiring bilungiual but still very anglo-anglophone, former New England sojourner, from western Canada. Living in Montreal helps. So many people I know are from somewhere else and have stories like mine. I fit here.

Five years ago I was very excited to move to Quebec, specifically the beautiful region of the Gaspe Peninsula. I love beauty and seeing new places but I was very scared. I was scared I'd be rejected as a western-born and raised anglophone (a fear that's never come true). And more importantly I was scared my right to homeschool my children would be challenged by the authorities.

Quebec is the least-friendly province to homeschoolers. As progressive as the province appears to be, the open-ness is extended towards the collective ideal, pursuing ideas that are best for the group, and only if those ideas are secular and/or left of center. It's the least libertarian place I've lived. And a lot of my homeschool values are very libertarian, the anti-thesis of group-think. (My politics are complicated because I'm also very interested in the concept of Guaranteed Minimum Income and a believer in Universal Health Care. But I'm not going there in this post.)

Suffice to say, moving to Quebec, as much as I was excited to do so, stirred up a lot of insecurity and anxiety. Would I be rejected as an anglophone? (This hasn't happened once, at least not that I've noticed.) Would Child Protective Services come to my door? (Yes. And they closed our file, and confidentially admitted we offered our kids access to better resources than the local public school system. I think the myriad technological devices scattered through our home and the microscope, which I prominently displayed for their visit, was part of this assessment.)

Quebec is a place I have come to know and love. Since living here I have made it a point to study Quebec. I nearly always have a book on-the-go to help me understand this beautiful place I now call home. Quebec has a rich history I deeply appreciate, and natural and architectural beauty I love to explore. And as it turns out this province is actually part of our heritage (Damien's ancestors on his Dad's side are from a town not far from Montreal) which I didn't know until Brienne did a family tree project last year. For these and other reasons, I feel I belong here as much as anyone else. But this awareness and sense of belonging has taken five years to cultivate and when we moved here I relied on Damien's sense of "ok-ness", I relied on his French, and I relied on his reassurance when I experienced anxiety. I was looking outside myself for reassurance and confidence.

"Sixes are always aware of their insecurities and are always looking for ways to construct "social security" bulwarks against them. If Sixes feel that they have sufficient backup, they can move forward with some degree of confidence. But if that crumbles, they become anxious and self-doubting, reawakening their Basic Fear. ("I'm on my own! What am I going to do now?") A good question for Sixes might therefore be: "When am I going to know that I have enough security? Or to get right to the heart of it, "What is security?" Without Essential inner guidance and the deep sense of support that it brings, Sixes are constantly struggling to find firm ground.
~ Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson

Those were the big security-shakers for me and we proceeded to invite and experience more: a period of exploring new ideas and lots of out-of-the-box thinking, moving houses four times, walking in a spiritual wilderness disconnected from a Christian community, our children reaching the teenage years, and then hiking the Appalachian Trail. Hiking the Appalachian Trail is enough of a life-changing, significant experience in one's life, an epic pilgrimage.

That we experienced all of this in a four year time span amazes me. I look back and I see that yes, I was relying a lot on Damien for my sense of well-being, which makes me feel shame. But I can also see that I was incredibly courageous in the face of these many transitions. And I feel both proud and tender-hearted towards myself.

The irony is that the more insecure and lacking confidence they are, the more Sixes rely on external support, and the more they lose their independence.
~ Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson

It is no surprise, given what we did (took lots of "risks" and lived through many transitions) and how we did it (me relying on Damien) that when we reached The Breaking I was at the lowest point of my confidence in my adult life, and I was wracked with anxiety. I hadn't done the inner work at that point, so I didn't understand what I know now. Damien asked me the honest question, "what happened to your confidence?" and I wondered the same thing. And so I set a path for myself to find the answers and to find confidence once again.

Project Home and Healing was a part of that journey. Moving to Montreal was part of that journey. And so was a lot of introspection, honest and difficult communication with Damien, and increasing self-awareness.

After The Breaking I created a two column document named Who We Are.

One side of the column is titled Damien and the other Renee. This two column lay-out is divided into rows, and these rows are titled with headers like: Personality Type. Core Needs. Core Values. Personality Traits. Motivated & Energized By. Chief Fear.

It's an evolving document, as I refine the understanding of who I am, who my husband is, who we are.

Damien loves big projects that give him the chance to go deep into problem solving, that require and depend on his knowledge and expertise in crafting elegant technical solutions. He thrives in ideas and actions that push his boundaries, both in technical and physically challenging situations that depend on outside-the-box thinking. Damien is completely comfortable, in fact, most alive, when working towards a big vision that requires movement through undefined territory. He is enlivened by finding innovative solutions to reach a goal and he is wired to break ground.

And he believes in his abilities, skills, and experience to rise to those occasions.

The AT was a perfect project for Damien: so many challenges to overcome (thru-hiking with a family, hello?), being full-time outdoors, integrating work and keen interests, and building an online infrastructure to publish this adventure.

And for me it was overwhelm at nearly every level, because... surprise, surprise... I'm not like Damien. I thrive in procedures and structure. And in order to hike the Appalachian Trail, and to do many of things we did in the years leading up to the trail, in order for me to feel some measure of safety and security, that everything would be ok, I had step behind Damien because I was too scared to walk side by side.

Sixes would like a guarantee that if they do all they are supposed to do, then God (or the company, or their family) will take care of them. They believe that if they and their allies manage their environment well enough, then all unpredictable and potentially dangerous events will be avoided or controlled.... There is nothing that Sixes can do in the external world that will make them feel secure if they are insecure within themselves.
~ Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson

The fact that I would do this, step behind instead of walk side by side, that I would think that following seemed like the "right way", the "best way" to minimize risk and insecurity; those thoughts took root because of beliefs I held about marriage.

And that's where we have to go now in this story.

This is a long post. That's not unusual, but the post evolves from a newsy, detail-orientated trip report into matters of the heart. This is how the writing flowed and I didn't really want to break it up into separate posts, one practical and one spiritual. For me, the details and the "deep" stuff flow into each other, and through each other. I am both an intensely practical person but also philosophical. My heart, the things most important to me, are lived and expressed in the details of my life.

The first part of this post, after the introduction, is practical and story-telling in nature. Our itinerary, affordability, roadtrip realities, "how we did it", that kind of thing.

The last part is when I delve into the heart. (All the photos in the post are from our trip.)


A couple weeks ago we arrived home from our road trip, happy to be home, but already starting to plan the next adventure.

This was a pleasant surprise for me. That I would have appreciated our trip so much as to be planning the next one.

After our 6 months on the Appalachian Trail I never wanted to leave home again. Before our hike, Damien and I had talked about many different hiking/backpacking and traveling dreams. How we might possibly work and travel and the places we wanted to see. We love going places together, having new experiences. We both love the outdoors. And then I crashed and all dreaming was put on hold. I wanted to make my life very small and very tight. Anything that sounded like "big dreaming" was met with not just weary skepticism on my part (I'm a natural skeptic), but with cynicism and a negative physical response. My body said no, my spirit said no. I'd had enough adventure, thank you very much.

Last summer we moved to Montreal and made home here and there were some plans for an end of summer trip to Maine. But when it was discovered that my passport had expired (I am usually very on top of these details) what I experienced was not disappointment, but relief. I could just stay home.

But time does heal wounds (though you still see scars). And the opportunity to root myself in Montreal - a place where our children are thriving in faith and friendship, in healthy relationships and great educational opportunities; a place that feels so alive and vibrant in my daily out and about in my neighborhood and in the greater context of city life; a place where I have made home in a tidy small apartment with a backyard to cultivate into beauty - has helped me find my equilibrium again.

And in this space of feeling attached, I am once again able to dream and to go. I want to go. And then I want to return.

(This is an interesting consideration in how we raise children also, isn't it?)

And so we came home from our road trip satisfied with the adventure of it all but happy to return to home, and church and homeschool co-op.


the boy is growing into a man

I tell this story from my perspective, its the only one I'm able to really write. But from what I can tell (as ascertained in family discussions, and people's attitudes and behaviors) the kids mostly enjoyed the trip also. And were pleased to come back to their lives, anticipating the start of the homeschool co-op year ahead.

I was thrilled that we weren't coming home from a trip and needing to establish a new home and a new routine, as we have done a couple times - had an adventure while in transition between homes. We were coming home to known variables, which is hugely important to me. Oh, the things you learn about yourself as you grow.

Our trip started as an idea to spend 3 weeks in Montana at Martin & Katie's place. But since Montana is "so close" (relatively speaking) to our homeland of Alberta, where much of our family lives, we were happy to accept Damien's moms offer of financial help to extend our travel plans north.

Itinerary

Montreal to Montana: 2,213 mi (3561 km) 3 days of driving. We camped our first night in Michigan. We stayed with my cousin in Minneapolis the second night of driving. And we arrived at our destination the third night.

Stayed in Montana at Martin & Katie's Airbnb for three weeks. I wrote all about that part of our trip here.


the morning we left Livingston

Livingston, MT to Edmonton, AB: 667 mi (1073 km) one day of driving.

Stayed in southeast Edmonton for 2 weeks. Stayed with my mother-in-law for the first week and my brother-in-law (and family) for the second week.

Edmonton to Sandbanks Provincial Park, Ontario: 2,286 mi (3,679 km) We drove three straight days from Edmonton to Guelph, staying with Michelle's lovely family in Bismarck the first night (hi Michelle), camping in Wisconsin the second night, and crashing at my brother's place in Guelph on the 3rd night. The next day we finished the drive (about 3.5 hours on the 401) to Sandbanks, stopping first at the Wal-Mart in Belleville to get groceries for the next 3 days.

Camped with friends at Sandbanks for 3 nights and then drove the rest of the way home, 234 mi (378 km).

We made the trip in our 5 passenger Honda CR-V. For our trip back east we had to add a roof carrier, in part because Celine bought an electric guitar in Edmonton.

This trip had a lot of driving (5,400 miles) which we were logistically prepared for but we didn't realize how uncomfortable the backseat of our car is for 3 adult-sized bodies until we were driving 12 hours a day. The kids have grown so much since we bought this car last year, and we realized that we have effectively outgrown this vehicle.

We are a one car family and our one car has to do a lot of things: work well in the city, have decent gas mileage, seat the five of us comfortably, be good for long-distance driving (we value travel), and have enough space for stuff (though not too much space for stuff). You can always add more space for stuff with a carrier or trailer. But it's hard to make seats comfortable that just aren't meant for three adult-sized bodies (girls hips and guys shoulders), so when we got home we decided to buy a different car. We're picking it up today. That was an unexpected outcome of our trip.

Affordability

Damien worked full time for the first five weeks of the trip. We scheduled our driving for the weekends when he usually doesn't work anyway. He worked part-time during our last days of driving (he works in the car using a hot spot from our phone service), and took a complete time off work while at Sandbanks.

Damien has an amazing ability to work anywhere: his desk in Laurent's bedroom, a coffee shop, the kitchen table at my sister-in-laws with the cousins running around, in the car. We took advantage of this skill to make this trip possible. He's also not particularly attached to "place" as an anchor for routines, and is easy going about working in less-than-ideal conditions. I'm totally different. I am attached to my space, and environment has a huge impact on my routines and wellbeing.

This trip was not a vacation. It was us doing something different with our summer. We wanted to be in Montana, which was the closest thing to vacation I've had for years, and we wanted to visit family.


early July in either Wisconsin or Illinois

We had free accommodations for most of the trip, with the exception of camping. We found really cheap camping in Michigan and Wisconsin for those one night stays while enroute.

Our biggest expense, other than the roof carrier, was the gas, but driving through the States helped with this. Even with the exchange rate, gas is still cheaper in the US than it is in Canada. (We didn't choose to drive through the States for the price of gas, it was the fastest route for our destinations.)

However, because this trip enabled us to visit work contacts, Martin in Montana and a regular client in the Edmonton area, we can expense certain travel costs, specifically the gas. That is a nice bonus for us. We don't have any paid vacation, but there are other advantages. So we utilized those to make this trip possible.

Of course there is the cost to the vehicle of all those miles but those are absorbed in the larger budget of our lives, in the fact that we bought a very reliable new car last year (which includes a warranty) specifically to enable trips like this.

Food is a huge cost for our family at this stage of life but we have to buy food no matter where we are: home or traveling.

Food costs are higher on the days we're driving. I don't pack food for traveling, we stop at grocery stores along the way and occasionally eat from fast food restaurants. Grocery shopping inefficiencies are an extra cost, for sure. At home, I know the best places to shop and there are economies of scale I take advantage of. I blew the grocery budget out of the water during our time in Montana because I didn't have a stocked pantry to draw from, it makes a huge difference. (And I was buying a few more "treat" things because it was a sort-of vacation.)


getting to know the family at a bridal shower for my cousin's bride

Our time in Alberta, eating from my mother-in-law and sister-in-laws' stocks made up for that. We bought groceries and contributed food, of course, but there were stocked fridges, freezers and pantries that supplied a lot of the staples. Thank you to our families and friends for feeding us, it was such a treat.

All told the trip cost more than our regular lives in Montreal, obviously, but it didn't cost what a six week road trip with a large vehicle, paid accommodations, eating out, and expensive outings and activities would cost. The trip was in the order of several hundreds of dollars, not thousands. Which means it was affordable for our single-income, homeschooling family.

In my online world people don't write much about budgets or the cost of family life. (I don't follow money or budget blogs.) I wanted to share these details because it's a real issue. This is real life. Raising three teenagers on a single-income is no joke and managing our finances is a big part of my job. And it feels funny to me to mention in other posts how tight things feel financially (also, finances is one of my chief anxiety triggers) without explaining how this trip was possible, given those tight finances and anxieties.

Stories

As you may have noticed, I didn't write much about our trip on the blog (I tried to regularly post updates to Instagram, even that was not so successful) except for the posts I wrote while in Montana.

I was a bit disappointed about this, my inability to blog while traveling. It's something I'm trying to work out for future because I want to travel and have adventures and I want to blog. Ideally, I want to do both at the same time.

It was hard to write during the two weeks we spent with family. I eventually just gave up. I felt out-of-sorts in Edmonton. It was an emotional letdown after the high of Montana, where I felt connected to the natural beauty and lifestyle of the place we were staying.


the Motherland

We appreciated being with our family - Damien's mother, siblings and spouses, nieces and nephews - but I found it disorientating and emotionally draining to fit myself into relationships and routines that are not part of my usual life. There were expectations and schedules and plans, and I was there to fit into, and be a part of, a world not my own.

Our time in Edmonton was also very stressful for Damien because of work. He worked the entire trip, except for our 3 days at Sandbanks. And during our time in Alberta he was dealing with a lot of deadlines and frustration around his work. As well as other frustrations, disappointments and loss. That was extremely hard on him, and hard on me.

It was very difficult to write from the heart in this emotional and physical space, so I didn't.

Our time in Edmonton gave us lots of opportunity to see and re-connect with family, which was the purpose of going there. And we celebrated a couple significant events: my mother-in-law's 70th birthday and my cousin's wedding. We visited with my aunts, uncles, and cousins at family suppers and wedding weekend festivities. Our kids got to know their cousins. I had heart-to-heart talks with my sister-in-laws. It was a family time, and it was good.

Spending significant amounts of time with extended family, adding our family of five to a household, is a stretching experience for all involved. Our hosts were gracious and accommodating. We truly appreciate our siblings and their spouses, and feel blessed to call them family.

Edmonton was a difficult part of our trip on a few levels but it also allowed us a lot of time to re-connect with family. So this was a hard/good part of the trip, two different sides of the same coin.

We finished our trip with three nights of camping at Sandbanks Provincial Park in Ontario. If you love beaches, add it to your places-to-go. Sandbanks offers an incredible swimming beach experience for us northern folks. The water was warm and not salty like the ocean. The beach was lovely. And depending on the day, you can have spectacular waves. Our family played for hours in the water.

Camping with our friends though was the biggest draw and the days we spent unwinding at the beach and in the campground was an ideal way to end our roadtrip. By the time we arrived home I was relaxed, having had time to "just be" while we camped, as well as process some of the difficult experiences and emotions from Edmonton.

This is the reality of life. Things aren't perfect, they aren't all beautiful and certainly not easy. Friends asked upon our return, "how was your vacation?" and I've had to give the quick version of, "it wasn't a vacation, it was a trip", and explain it was good but it was also life, just on the road.

Vacations and Roadtrips

A vacation is an inherently relaxing experience, its purpose is to restore. (It doesn't matter what activities you find restorative - beach, hiking, antiquing - the point is that they rejuvenate you.) Traveling, or parts of traveling, may facilitate a restorative experience, but the two are not synonymous. This trip had elements of a vacation, a couple days here and there, and for me, Montana felt pretty close to vacation, but the trip's overall vibe was not "vacation", at least not for the adults.

We wanted to maximize our time in certain places, Livingston and Edmonton specifically, so we drove on a mission to get to those places. And when our time was finished in Edmonton we drove hard to get back home again. Yes, we saw stuff through the windows of the car, but the trip wasn't about the "roadtrip" aspect, it was about being at our destination.

All that driving was not so much fun but driving was the only way to make this trip possible. We had many miles to drive each day and so I had a "deal with it" stance with regards to both intrapersonal and interpersonal disagreements and discomforts.

We tried to make the experience less tedious with audiobooks (though there are very few books our whole family enjoys listening to) and of course media consumption on personal devices.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail as a family raised the bar for us in terms of what we can put up with, and what I know we can put with, to achieve a goal. Discomfort, hunger, boredom, pain, fatigue, nothing about our days of driving came even close to the discomforts of the trail, even considering our car was too small. Thankfully, no one gets car sick, that could be a deal-breaker.


enjoying innocence and three year old conversation and play with my nephew

There are things I really don't like about this type of roadtripping. I don't like some of the compromises we make. I don't like being so pressed for time or finances that McDonalds is the best option. (Reminiscent of the AT.) I don't like shopping at Wal-Mart Superstores, I find them so overwhelming. But they are the easiest to find off of interstates and highways, the prices are good, and they have a good selection. (Not always the best "natural" and gluten-fee selections but you make the best of what you can find.)

These are small compromises in the scheme of things but a long trip is full of compromises (and changes to your routine) and this is one of the hardest parts of adventuring/traveling for me. More accurately, this is one of the hardest parts of living for me.

Compromise, congruence, imperfection and freedom

And now I tack in another direction, into the heart of the matter.

I am a rule-following, order and routine loving person. I live my life by a set of values and priorities, many of which are intentional but others are subconscious. Although my core values feel to me to be fairly consistent no matter where I am, I will express those values differently based on the time and resources available. There is a constant flux in my life in terms of how I prioritize these values. I think most people can relate.

The constraints of time and resources are constantly forcing us, squeezing us, to define and re-define what is most important in the moment, the day, the particular season we find ourselves in. Traveling is one expression of this reality. And I struggle with this part of traveling, the flux and the re-ordering of priorities based on time and resources. I struggle with this part of life.

It is my perception that some people try to keep their life in tight order so they don't have to experience this flux, or can eliminate as many unknowns as possible to reduce the flux. I know this because I am that person.

Part of me is always striving towards this aim: to reduce the unknowns in my life, seek stability, eliminate flux. A big part of the reason I do this is because I want to align, as close as possible, my actions with my ideals. This is called congruence. And if I keep my world tight, tight, it's theoretically easier to do achieve this state.

I have ideals and beliefs and I try to set up my life in a way that allows me to live by those beliefs and pursue those ideals. But I keep learning, through both big hard circumstances and little everyday occurrences, how little control I have over my life. My big struggle is knowing when to surrender, and compromise, or when to fight for that congruence.

My inner anxiety-driven self wants to keep my life in tight-order so I can reduce the flux and occasions for incongruence in my life, both of which cause a lot of discomfort for me. If I let this person rule my life, I'd never travel. This is also the part of myself that esteems wealth as a way out of this mess (called life), because if I just had enough money I could pay my way out of flux, I could pay my way out of discomfort. Which has to be a lie, because I have so much more than most of the world, I have the wealth, and life is still a mess.

It's not surprising that I'm a homemaker and homebody - I delight in creating a nurturing, safe and welcoming home for family, friends and strangers; I love to cultivate beauty and comfort in physical spaces; I feel very comfortable at home.

But a big reason I love home is because it's the one space I can (somewhat) control and therefore I can achieve some sense of congruence in my life in this space. (As my kids get older I have less and less control in our home and this has been disorientating and anxiety-causing for me. I'll leave that discussion for another day.)

Seeking congruence isn't bad. We all want to feel alignment between our values, our inner sense of self, and our actions in the world.

But we live in a complex, complicated world. We live in relationships. And we have to make many compromises just to get through the day.


our family and my parents who traveled to Edmonton also for my cousin's wedding

Traveling, which is different than vacationing, gives me a lot of opportunities to grow through compromises and conflict. It is a way to face and deal with the controlling, anxiety-driven part of myself.

The experience of natural beauty, new places, and connecting with people are motivating forces for me to step outside my comfort zone. I want to go places. But because I don't have enough time in my life to manage everything "just so", to perfectly pack and plan for all contingencies, I have to wing it a fair bit. And trust a whole lot.

I have to make compromises and then wrestle with those compromises. I have to question: is this a core value or just a preference?

I would love to live in a world where I didn't have to make so many compromises on what I value, where I didn't have to sort and choose what is most important, where everything I value could be important. Some people try to do that by limiting their chosen experiences to the known and safe (life always throws us unknown and scary stuff we don't choose). Sometimes I want to live like that, in my box. And I have seasons where I do, because my mental health depends on it, but my long term health and wellbeing depends on stretching outside that box. Dang it.

Traveling, though it can make me anxious, is a way out of my anxiety.

You know all that stuff about perfection stealing our joy? My friend Krista writes a lot about this. So does Brene Brown.


I got to see Krista on this trip, a highlight of my Edmonton visit,
since we live on opposite sides of the country.

The place where this rings truest for me is my inner landscape of my ideals, beliefs and values.

Some people think of perfection as a person's obsession with the house being just so, the decor all matching, etc. That's the surface stuff (that often speaks to a deeper issue). The joy-stealing quest for perfection in my own life is rooted in my desire to align my actions with my values. And the heartbreaking reality that very rarely do those two align. My actions fall short of my values and beliefs, even my core values. I fall short of the measure. There is incongruence in my life.

There's a lot written in my world about aligning your actions with your values. I write that message also.

But when you can't align your actions with your values, what then? These situations, the ones where we can't meet the mark no matter how hard we try, they are the true heart of our quest, and failure, for perfection. So much of what we think is an issue with perfection is just the tip of the iceberg of the real issue which is much more significant than if the pillows match the paint.

And you're thinking, how did we get from travel to this?

For me, the opportunity to travel and have adventures (again, we're not talking vacation, because I would seek comfort on a vacation, comfort and ease would be the point of the vacation) brings these realities and awareness into my life, because many things feel incongruent for me when I'm outside of my comfort zone of home.

I hate that feeling, I hate that vulnerability, and yet I'm inextricably drawn to having experiences, like traveling, that help me grow. Go figure.


taking the kids on a tour of our alma mater, the University of Alberta

It was this feeling of incongruence, the many compromises I made, and my inability to find peace with those decisions that contributed to the breaking I experienced on our AT thru-hike.

I don't have to hike for six months to feel this incongruence, it was just really magnified and intense during that experience. Even when I'm in my comfort zone, that homebody place I love to be, things are incongruent at the deepest level of my being. I can just cover it up better with predictable routines and daily comforts.

Regardless of where I am, there is a fracture in my heart between what is and what I want life to be. And I can't blame "the world out there" for that crack because I, personally, am fallible in aligning my actions with my beliefs. Even in my cozy home.

The real forgiveness and freedom in our lives enters at the place of our most shameful compromises, the deepest fissure of disconnect between our values and our actions. Those are the places where the quest for perfection is healed.

This is the freedom I want. The freedom that is the healing salve on situations that feel incongruent, which is to say, most of life.

I want to explain this clearly. An incongruence between our values and actions, in other words, when we don't meet the mark, is the true point at which we need to find release from the grip of perfection. We may start to deal with perfection at the surface, we stop apologizing for what we've cooked or our messy house. This is good.

But the quest to live wholeheartedly will take us to the place of accepting forgiveness and love at our deepest levels of disconnect, when we realize no matter how hard we try, how old we get, or how much money we earn we can't there from here. That's the place we need the freedom.

I want to live in the place that allows me to travel, offer hospitality, cook meals, share friendship, raise and educate my children, write, manage my home, love my husband, knowing full well that none of these things will perfectly align for me. There will always be a disconnect between my deepest intentions and the natural outcomes. This place of course, is a spiritual one, not a physical location.

I want to live in the spiritual place where grace, not my striving, fills in the disconnect, fills in the fissure.

I want to live in that freedom. This is the quest. Not the quest for the most cozy apartment, the best trip ever, the best family or best marriage. I want the freedom to live in the discomfort of imperfect relationships, homes, jobs, homeschooling, travel, diet, all of it. I want the freedom from perfection at the deepest level, in my fractured heart.

That's the place I want to live. That's the place I want to travel.

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