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The Picture-less Day

2010 November 4
by shana

Forest for the Trees - Mixed-Media Encaustic

The first night I hit the road, I took over 200 pictures. Thankfully that was not my daily average since I have a hard enough time keeping up with sorting through pictures and processing them. I have fluctuated from around five to maxing out my memory card at over 300. However, I think this was the first day that I continued on down the road without taking a single picture. In part, it was because I was driving most of the day. However, even after I got settled into my camp spot I still didn’t pull out the camera to take a picture. Not even one. I thought about it. I thought I probably should. But… I just didn’t.

Once I had left Jasper National Park, I was on a mission to get to Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway and get on my way to Alaska. I hadn’t anticipated spending so much time in Canada, but the parks and the landscapes were so beautiful and amazing that I couldn’t resist. I was intent on driving as far as I could in order to easily make it to Dawson Creek the next day. I passed several of the campgrounds on the way and it was 7:30ish by the time I pulled into the Kakwa River campground. I was getting tired and I wanted to grill up some dinner before it got too late.

You see, I was good about eating a small breakfast, but when I was driving most of the day I was not good about stopping and making lunch. With my refrigerator out of commission, I was relying on a small cooler, and peanut butter and honey sandwiches were getting tiresome. I would also try to make as much ground as I could, and this would mean that it could get pretty late by the time I had set up my camper and settled into a camp spot. So, often dinner was not that appealing if it was after 9pm when I started thinking about it. By that time, any feelings of hunger I may have been ignoring had subsided. And although on the days where I drove most of the day, and was only sitting, I still needed to eat more than a yogurt in the morning – at least have a couple small snacks spread out during the day to maintain blood sugar levels.

When I pulled in at Kakwa, there was only one other camper trailer there. I hesitated to stay because of this. It seems to me that a completely empty campground would be better than one other camper. There is safety in numbers, right? And although I was traveling alone, it was still safer to be in areas with groups of people. But, to be alone with one other camper, well, that was riskier. They would know that I was alone and there was no one else there to provide checks and balances. However, if someone came in after I was already there, they would most likely assume there was someone else there with me which perceivably would make me less vulnerable.

But I was tired, and wanted to make sure I ate dinner, and this was the last campground on the list I was given at the Visitor’s Center in Grande Cache. I didn’t know if there would be more along the way, or if I would end up having to drive into the night to get to Grande Prairie. So I started to set up on the other end of the campground closest to the exit.

Shortly after I had set up, a bicyclist rode in. I was relieved and excited to see another person. Not that he couldn’t have potentially posed just as much of a risk as the other person, as far as I knew, however this created the group dynamic that I preferred.

We chatted briefly and I invited him to eat with me. I had picked up a couple of small steaks and had planned on having the second for lunch the next day so I had enough for two. I continued fixing up the steaks, some instant risotto, and mixed steamed pouch veggies while the cyclist set up his camp and got settled in for the night.

I ate while writing in my journal. Once the cyclist was set up and settled, he came and joined me at the picnic table. His name was John and he told me he was cycling from Tennessee to Whitehorse, and how he came to do it. He was posting along the way with the help of his wife and friend. You can read about his journey here.

The next morning, I was intent on getting up and heading out. I wanted to make it to Dawson City early enough to get some work done. My neighbor was also up and set on getting on the road. But… we started visiting again.

We found ourselves discussing the subject of fear. We talked of the fears we had to dismiss or overcome to go out on the road. The fears I had about quitting my job and the fears everyone thought I should have about traveling alone. The fears he had about the consequences of unemployment and the forgotten demons that were unearthed during the many miles he pedaled in solitude and silence.

John mentioned that he was not afraid to die. He realized the risks of this journey for him, and for him the benefits of doing it outweighed those risks. This was something that I had realized just a few weeks before I left as well. I was not afraid of dying, and this trip was more important than the risk for me. There is a certain peace that is achieved when fear is removed. It is like a shackle being released and having freedom of movement. The freedom to… live. Whether that fear is a fear of embarrassment, failure, pain, or even death.

We talked about this shackle of fear as well; of the understanding that we could easily let ourselves be consumed by fear and the raging flow of fearful possibilities. Or possibly even create these things because we would inadvertently and unwittingly seek them out by constantly focusing on them.

We talked of the way fear can control people and their behaviors. That reacting to fear, preparing for what you fear, can, in some ways, give a person a false sense of control of their environment and life. And how these fears can become real to them when that much energy and focus is devoted to them.

In many ways, John and I were from and were living in separate worlds. He had served active duty in the military, was married and had children my age. And yet, despite the many differences, in some ways we were on parallel journeys. But in this sometimes strange passing through of time and space, our paths crossed at Kakwa campground in Alberta. John, it was nice to meet you and visit. All the best to you.

(ps – the image is a mixed-media encaustic painting I finished last week, as inspired by driving through miles and miles of trees where all you can see from left to right is a forest of tree trunks. It is titled: “Forest for the Trees.”)

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