Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Contemplating my upcoming journey to Mozambique

I have been contemplating my upcoming journey to Mozambique and been thinking about why I am going.

Why do I want to give up my creature comforts...  Netlflix, my couch, beer, my bed, climate control, the internet, just to name a few.  Also why would I choose to leave my family and a new relationship to go on a solo adventure across the globe. I mean I could just take 5 days here and map out a route and strap a backpack on and see how many miles I could go. So why travel so far, to a county I know little about, to run 220 km in the heat with a 10 kg pack carrying all my essentials on my back with people I don't know?

I don't know if I have a great answer for those questions. But before I leave I thought it would be interesting to try to capture how I am feeling and what is motivating me to go on this adventure and then see how I feel after I am done.  When I was trying to come up with the answers to what motivates me I inevitably kept circling back to why I love to travel and run in the first place.

Since I was little I have wanted to see the world, my idea of a fun Saturday morning, was to pull out my atlas and study the maps and learn all the flags and capitals of the world. I didn't get to do much traveling growing up.  When I was in high school I got to go two school trips, to Paris and Italy.  Those were supposed to be the start of my life as a traveler and not the end. The plan always was to backpack Europe after high school. But as we know life is rarely plays out how we plan it. Instead of making my way through Europe at 19, I was pregnant and moving back to Pefferlaw, my travel plans would take a backseat for awhile.  

A few years later as I watched some of my closest friends go to Europe I tried not to be envious. I was now separated and living in an apartment with my 3 year old son in not the best part of Toronto.  I didn't have a car and we didn't have any money to go anywhere.  Dreams of traveling were replaced with dreams of having enough money to survive on our own. 

 Despite this, I remember writing some goals down in my journal.  I remember writing I wanted to do a marathon, a triathlon, travel to Europe, British Colombia and Australia.  I don't think I even wrote Africa because that seemed to big.  Really all of these goals seemed far off as I struggled to pay bills, look after John and finish nursing school. Although I ran to keep fit at the time, I was still smoking up to a pack a day.

Just as I was graduating from college for Practical Nursing, life threw another curve ball at us and John and I were in a serious car accident and he suffered an Acquired Brain Injury and we lived in the hospital for 3 months.  This changed our plans of moving away for work when I graduated, we stayed closer to our family for support. Soon enough I got a full time nursing job and saved up and bought a house.

I started running again for fitness and saw a friend from high school had completed a half marathon and I was intrigued. By 2008 I had run a decent first half marathon and I was hooked.  As my running increased, so did my confidence and independence. I had grown up playing team sports but I loved that in running I had only myself to rely on and with my shift work I could train when it made sense to me. I had lost myself in an abusive relationship with John's father, I once thought of myself as smart, athletic and strong, but when I first was on my own I was a shell of who had been.  Nursing school helped me find my voice again and remember that I was an intelligent person and capable of many things. But running helped me find that inner strength and independence.  It also help me reconnect to that athletic part of my personality that loves working hard towards a goal. .

 I ran my first marathon in 2009 and I qualified for Boston, and that was my first time traveling for running. The next year I was mostly training on the trails and started competing in a few shorter trail races. That is when I first learned of this crazy sport called ultra running.  Trail running helped me connect to the fun side of running and made me remember how much I loved running as a kid. I love exploring new trails, jumping over rocks and logs and getting lost sometimes.  The seed was planted but nothing is a straight line for me. In 2011 I took another detour and found myself in another abusive relationship and running with everything else took a back seat again.  In 2012 when I was climbing out of that crazy experience running was there for me again and I went back in full force and completed 50 km trail races in Prince Edward Island and Haliburton and found the ultra community and trail friends.

It was such a gift to find other strong and independent women that were training hard and balancing careers and kids just like me. I started to learn how to be by myself for hours on the trail and not to be afraid.  The more time you spend in the ultra community the more big goals don't seem so scary or out of reach. I completed 50 and 100 milers and traveled to other destinations to compete such as; Wyoming, British Colombia, Scotland and Iceland.  Trail running has taught me to value the experience and the journey along the way and it isn't about pace or how far I went. I've learned that my favorite way to see a new place is the power of my own two feet.

Not too long ago when I was getting ready to move to Barrie this year I found that old journal and saw those goals I had written down and realized how much I had accomplished in the last 13 years and wondered what that scared and overwhelmed 23 year old girl would think?  I still haven't done a triathlon but I did so much more in running and travelling that I could even dream up with at the time.

Now it is 2017 and I am fortunate enough to be able to go to Africa for a second time.  I started this entry with asking myself why.  Along with contemplating the journey it took for me to get here, these are some of the reasons I came up with:

  • YOLO:  You only live once. I now work full-time as an Emergency Nurse and there is not a truer statement. I am reminded of this on almost daily basis.  Also I am 36 this year and my Uncle Pete was 36 when he died last year. So I know there are no guarantees that I have another 30+ years to get this shit done.
  • SUFFERING:  We are not designed to be comfortable all the time. This is what our brains will tell us, we try to find the easiest ways to do things and to surround ourselves with our creature comforts. But I don't believe this is what our soul needs or what our purpose is. I have found that when I really push myself, I feel the most alive and the most grateful for all that I have.  Its been two years since I've been to Africa but at least once I week I find myself in the shower being thankful for running water.               
  • SIMPLICITY:  The first time I was embarking on a multi-day stage run I was excited about all the uninterrupted time I was going to have to think, contemplate and work through some of the problems I had at the time. I quickly found out that this isn't true and most of the time my thoughts were things like 'one foot in front of the other" "when should I drink?", "when should I eat?", "do I need more sunscreen?", "I hope I sleep tonight".... and more often than not, I wasn't thinking much at all.  Sometimes all that was in my head were the lyrics of Toto's Africa Thanks to my friend Alan Lagon for sending me the You Tube video the day I left!!! I don't know about anyone else but I suffer decision fatigue sometimes, I don't want to decide anything for anyone else, whats for dinner, schedules, looking after patients, what TV show I should watch, what route I should take home, and it goes on. On a solo multi-day trip after a few days I love when the mind gets quiet, its like a mediation. Life is simple, wake up, eat, move, eat, move, eat, move, prepare camp, sleep, repeat. There is so much freedom in that.
  • EXPLORING:  I love exploring new places on foot. I am going to see 220 km of Mozambique for the first time and I really don't have a great idea of the terrain, the landscape or anything. It will be all new.
  • INDEPENDENCE:  The self supported aspect scares me the most, but I know it will give me the most satisfaction when I can get myself so many miles a day on my own and cook and look after my self and everything will be my responsibility.
  • PEOPLE. I love meeting people that have a totally different lived experience than me and all the lessons I learn from that. Also I look forward to meeting the other racers and having the camp experience and hopefully making new friends. 

What motivates you when you take on big new scary experiences!?  I would love to know!


  1. What a great post Steph! Thanks for sharing some of your journey, and your incredible acquired wisdom from your adventures thus far ... can't wait to see what comes next for you!

    1. Thanks Patrick! I enjoy reading your blogs. Meeting the ninjas has renewed my passion for running. It's great to meet new runner's and be inspired by their passion, so thank you ��

  2. I love this! My big scary challenges have been more academic, societal/social/political, but many of your points resonate. Before embarking on something that seems way out of my league (PhD, Pride Festival) I usually find myself asking, "if other people can do this, why wouldn't I be able to?" I totally resonate with your points on YOLO, suffering, exploring and people. I'm especially motivated to help make things better for people and have found that I'm willing to sometimes put myself in the line of fire if that's what it takes, even if the one firing is my own anxious and critical brain! I'm starting to turn toward simplicity now as an experiment in self care and recovery and it's so much less simple than it sounds! - Adrienne

    1. Thanks Adrienne. I think we are all our own worst critics! It is something that I have been working very hard on. I agree that when you meet people that accomplish challenges I always think well if they can do it, I can at least try! Yes, simplicity can be hard, especially when you are much more social than me, but if you listen to your inner voice, it usually tells you whats right for you. I unfortunately ignore mine until I'm in a total crisis, i am trying to pay more attention to this as i get older 😀

  3. Decision fatigue. I so have that! Can't wait to hear your stories :)

    1. Don't we all in this busy world of ours! Thanks Sarah 😀

  4. Beautiful post and can’t wait to read about your beautiful adventure.

  5. Thanks Robin! Hope to share some miles with you again soon!