Does everyone remember that TV jingle - "happy anniversary, happy anniversary, happy anniversary, haaaaaaaappy anniversARY"? That's what I've been singing to myself all week. This time of year is really special to me, and it's one of my favourite things to celebrate.
Four years ago in early October, I was just returning from California. I spent two years involved with an extra curricular project that consumed my life - I worked with a team of university students to design, build, transport and reassemble a solar powered house that competed against 19 others in the Irvine, California area. I was part of Team Alberta for the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon, and I spent about three weeks in California with the house and my team. Our 25-30 person team poured hearts, blood, sweat and tears (literally) into this project for so long, and those weeks were an intense culmination of hard work and energy.
I was exhausted when I came back. For about a year and a half, I had no sense of routine, I slept so little, eating was rare and unhealthy when it did happen, and I had socially isolated myself in favour of this all-consuming project. Then, all at once, I got off of a plane, and it was over. I remember saying to someone "I don't even feel human any more".
A really good friend of mine offered to get me out of the city for a day to recuperate a bit. She told me to pick a place and she would drive. I chose Moraine Lake. I'm sure almost everyone has seen a photo of Moraine Lake at one time or another in their lives; it's extremely photogenic and I had never seen it in person. It's also inaccessible by car in the winter, and we had arrived just a few days after the gates were locked for the season. My friend made an executive decision that took us north up the Icefields Parkway from the Lake Louise area, to Peyto Lake instead.
We took silly photos of each other at the look-out, and that night when I was looking back through some candids of myself (above), I thought "gosh, I haven't seen myself look that happy in sooo long". I knew then that I needed more of the freedom and beauty that I felt in that moment, gawking at the glacial blue of Peyto Lake and revelling in the silence, stillness and solitude. I like to say that that was the day I ultimately fell in love with the mountains. And the rest is history, as they say.
I didn't realize how formative that day had been until last year, when I really started to reflect on how impactful my time in the outdoors has been on me and who I have become since Solar Decathlon. Last year was the first year that I actually celebrated my mountain anniversary, and I celebrated by returning to my beloved Peyto Lake.
It was amazing to see it with new eyes, and though I saw it only days apart from my true anniversary, it was exciting to see it in such a different way: covered in a blanket of snow. So much has happened in the time between, and I have grown so much. The outdoors are my both my inspiration and my refuge. They are where I am my truest, purest, weirdest, and most honest "me". Four years of adventures in the outdoors - my first day hike, my first solo hike, my first night in a tent, my first solo backpacking trip, hiking with friends for my birthday, my first summit, my western US road trip, fly fishing with my dad - they have taught me more about perspective, priorities and integrity than 16 years of a formal education ever did or could.
My relationship with the mountains is uncomplicated, transformative and unconditional. They are always there for me, and I will never tire of growing with them. Watching them burn this summer was so difficult, but I know they will rally. After all, it's the mountains that taught me the resiliency I needed to pick myself back up after two years of utter exhaustion and burn out. Every moment that we spend together, I am learning how to love, listen and forgive. I don't think I could ever ask for more of a companion, and I'm so excited to celebrate that today, and every day that I'm out exploring them.
Photos are my own. Please do not reproduce without my written permission.
First: Mount Rundle 2013 | Second: Peyto Lake 2013 | Third: Peyto Lake 2016