Alaska tiredness, frozen camping and bear spray

“Geeze, how long are you guys staying for?!” the 26 year Alaskan asked whilst heaving our multiple bags into the back of his battered old Ford Focus. “Only a couple of days, just, well it’s a long trip in total, plus I have a lot of shoes!” I protested and climbed into the back seat whilst Blonde did the same into the front.

“Thanks so much for picking us up from the airport, we are so tired, soooo tired, we flew all night and I haven’t slept in a week because SOMEONE talks in her sleep and hogs the bed and now I’m super tired, so super tireddddd” I was starting to get a tad delusional; the difficulties of sharing a bed with Blonde, late nights and now the overnight flight from Hawaii were all taking their toll.

so tired

“I don’t hog the bed” protested Blonde. “You don’t just hog the bed, you steal the cover and you talk, yesterday morning at around 3am you rolled over to me and said ‘don’t be in there mean guys, stay there instead, cheers’ which made absolutely no sense but freaked me out enough to think there was some murderer lurking in the corner” I announced. “That didn’t happen” Blonde laughed “it did! It really did! I spent half the night staring at the corner thinking I was about to get murdered and when the sun finally came up the shadow turned out to be my suitcase. Any way, I’m tired!” I followed this up by singling a little song to myself completely unaware I was doing so.

Alaska, who was driving by this point, swung his head around, a dark mop of curls, big brown eyes and a smile that lit up to his eyes turning them into melted chocolate; completely amused at my bizarre behaviour. “I’m singing to myself aren’t I? Aghhhh” I shock my head and waved my hands trying to shake away the growing cobwebs of sleep; this didn’t help make me seem any more sane. “Sorry, aghhhh, tired” was my only explanation; Alaska laughed and turned his head back to the road. “I’m tireeddddd” I moaned from the back seat “ooh mountains! Look!” I pointed out the window as if the rocks had just appeared out of nowhere.

alaska

“He looks a bit like Jon Snow from Game of Thrones, don’t you think?” I muttered to Blonde with closed eyes, pulling the blanket over my shoulder, “I haven’t seen Game of Thrones” answered Blonde, putting her ear plugs in “well he does, only less stoic faced” I decided before falling into the pit of sleep.

A few hours later, having regained some sense of normality, I emerged from the mound of blankets and drifted downstairs; Alaska’s house was a large modern structure, located off a hidden turning from the free-way somewhere outside of Anchorage. All wood and glass, designed by his father, room after room, sparsely decorated as though they’d just moved in but as I later discovered, only furnished enough for necessity having had no hint of a woman’s touch since his mother had left in his childhood. Blonde and I roamed the empty communal rooms, holding up beaver scarves and wolf pelts found draped over the sofa arm against our bodies, measuring the length; we pulled up stalls in the kitchen island as the gentle hum of Alaska’s motor carried through the house, signalling his return.

jon snow

We headed out to dinner with a few of his friends “what are your plans whilst in Alaska then?” we were asked by the locals. “We don’t really have any plans to be honest, we’re sort of winging it” I explained, “yeah, we’re here for a couple of days then need to hire a car and head up to Fairbanks, hoping to see a national park or something” Blonde continued. “Well I’m off work all week, I can take you guys camping if you like? Do you like camping?” Alaska enquired. “Err well..” I began before being interrupted by Blonde “I love camping, that sounds great!”.

I think camping in Australia might be very different than that in the UK; my experiences of camping all involved rain, lots and lots of rain. Oh sure, it’s all fun and games when everyone setting up the tent, sharing beers around the camp fire and roasting marshmallows but then you have to go to bed; you’ll inevitably need to pee at 3am from all the beer, be forced to risk those serial killers that pray on campers all alone as you seek out those drop loo things with the help of your iphone torch if the battery hasn’t already died, before returning to the tent, spending half the night freezing cold and then wake up groggy, dirty and with a half wet sleeping bag from the bag having be squished up against the tent wall and all the moisture soaking in.

british camping

I tried to explain my concerns to the group but was quickly shot down that I was just a ‘wuss‘ and that camping is in fact, extremely fun “we should go” I was told. “Fine, but there had better be smores!” I demanded. “What are smores?” asked Blonde. “What? How can you not know this? This is an American staple! You get Graham crackers, a small slab of Hershey’s chocolate, roast a marshmallow and make this ambrosia of the gods creation that is a Graham cracker, melted chocolate, marshmallow sandwich of glory, otherwise known as a smore” I informed. “What’s a graham cracker?” she asked.

smores

“If we are going camping we will need to get you ladies decked out” Alaska announced, I wasn’t sure what ‘decked out‘ entailed but I thought best not to ask. We pulled up at a large wooden house at the foot of some woods. “This is my buddy’s family’s house, they’re really out doorsey and have loads of gear” Alaska explained’

Hey” he shouted a hello as a tall, blonde haired, slim man appeared wearing a checked shirt, old jeans, and a pair of glasses perched on the end of his nose. We sat in the family living room as Alaska introduced us; the dad was extremely tall with that natural quietness about him which can but only draws people in, a Geologist who once declared that he found rocks more interesting than people, that was until he met the woman who would become his wife. A lady so full of life and energy, dressed for comfort and practicality, with a million projects to finish at once, always fixing and making and starting something new; seeing the tiredness starting to seep back out of me, she swiftly pulled a blanket from the dryer and wrapped me in warmth, followed by presenting a plate of freshly baked cookies, still warm from the oven “you can leave me here” I told Alaska before turning to the family “could you please adopt me? Please?” I pleaded as I sank my teeth into a gooey cookie.

cookie-monster

The son, who’d gone to school with Alaska was an image of his father, and like his grandfather on his mothers side and his father too of course; was training to be a Geologist himself. I turned to Geo “you should come camping with us!” it was decided. “Right let’s get you girls something warm to wear” announced the mother. Blonde emerged with a pile of thick fleece jumpers, a blanket and some thermal, bright red lady bug printed pyjama pants. “Are you sure you don’t want to borrow an extra jumper?” I was asked, “no I’ll be fine, I’m tough, plus I’ve got thermals at the house and a hoodie, I’m all good thanks” I said foolishly.

The next day we returned to the family to pick up Geo, his pet dog and the gear before heading out. With the dog following our heels, we cycled around the neon blue, glacier lake, snow peaked mountains reflecting in the waters. “I’m helping” I yelled excitedly whilst waving tent poles above my head, watching them wobble back and forth, Alaska took the pole from me with one raised eyebrow and proceeded to raise the tent properly. As Geo set about cooking the mac and cheese, complete with chopped up hot dogs,  Blonde and I walked along the glacier shore collecting drift wood for the fire.

arnold-carrying-a-log1

“Here, help me carry this log” Alaska called from the tree line. “I’ve got it” I bubbled, piling my sticks on top of Blonde’s bundle; I managed five steps of heaving the log through the trees towards the camp site “I’ve not got it, I’ve not got it!” I dropped the tree, letting it crash to the ground in a spark of flying bark. Blonde deposited her sticks into my arms and took over, I ran ahead, dropping my sticks next to the fire “I’ll just take pictures of you two instead, see I’m helping! Is it time for smores yet? Oooh mac and cheese! Can I make myself a marshmallow stick? Hey, I’ll carve us all sticks, I’m like a wild man! I totally belong in the wild, I can hack Alaska, this is easy! Just call me wild Bec. No wait, that’s a shit name, I’ll work on the name. Can I have a marshmallow now?” camping was turning out to be rather fun after all.

Having eaten my weight in smores, washed down with Alaskan beers we sat around the camp fire, the sun just starting to tire in the sky, a sheath of warmth cloaking half the mountain, turning the lake into a pool of gold. Alaska pulled out his tooth brush “what time is it? I asked, questioning why he was preparing for bed so early, “it’s nearly midnight” he informed. “No it’s not, the sun hasn’t even set yet! It’s like 6.30 or something” I insisted, hunting for my phone in the tent “what! It’s 11.48pm! How is that even possible! What witch craft is this!” I joked, “I told you, 17 hours of sunlight at this time of year, messes with your mind doesn’t it!”.

camping

Blonde returned from the drop loo, clad out in lady bug bottoms and layered up in multiple jumpers “looking good!” I called, she robot danced her way down to the camp fire in celebration of her outfit. I stood in the wilderness, in the 17th hour of sunlight, with the sun casting shadows in the trees and the smell of pine trees all around me, perfectly at peace as my electric toothbrush buzzed away in my mouth.

We sat around the fire for a final time before retiring to bed, the smoke blew in my face, I shifted my seat away, the smoke followed. I stood up with a huff and retreated to the other side of the fire, the smoke came after me “fuck you smoke! Why does it always follow me?!” the others only laughed at my troubles.

camp fire

“What is that?!” I demanded as we settled down to sleep, all four of us lying side by side. “What? The gun? It’s a revolver” explained Alaska. “Yeah, I got that! Why is there a gun in the tent?” I continued with a roll of the eyes. “For bears” Alaska justified. “Oh for bears, well of course” I said dryly. “I’ve got bear spray on this side” Geo interrupted, waving a can at us. “Bear spray? Like bug spray for bears?” Blonde asked “can we spray some?”. “No, this stuff is so strong, a tiny drop and your eyes will be crying for hours! It’s illegal to use on humans, if we sprayed any in the tent then we’d all have to sleep in the car” Geo went on.

“If we have bear spray then why do we need a gun?” I asked innocently. “Well bear spray will keep a bear away if he is just roaming around but if that sucker charges at you then that’s not going to stop him” Alaska rationalised. “So why don’t you have gun too?” I asked Geo, “my family never uses guns, bear spray is fine, you just have to be careful not to leave food lying around or be stupid” he remarked, my mind traced back to the marshmallow that had melted off my stick and was still sitting at the edge of the fire pit outside the door of the tent. “I’d rather rely on the gun personally” said Alaska, tapping it next to him.

bear attack

“Ok so, if a bear comes a sniffing, I grab the gun and shoot at his head, got it” I announced, feeling more and more like Bear Grylls. “Not the head! The bullet wouldn’t even get through the skull, you want to shoot for the knees, it won’t stop him instantly but it should slow him down” Alaska instructed. “We’ll be fine, they don’t normally come near people anyway, plus they’re more scared of us than we are of them” said Geo. “Ahhhh, I want to see a bear” I complained. “I want to hug a baby bear” interrupted Blonde “can we find a baby bear for me to hug?” she continued. “No! You will get us all killed!” Alaska laughed, “but I just want to hug one, I won’t take it with me or anything” she justified. “I’m not sure the mother bear will like that” responded Geo.

I slipped the spare oversized fleece trousers over my double layer of leggings and pulled the hood of my jumper over my head before climbing into my sleeping bag, clutching my childhood stuffed toy to my chest because there was no way I was going into the wild to battle bears alone.

bears

We settled down, Blonde getting comfortable in her double layer floor covering, sleeping bag and pile of blankets. “Alright over there in your four poster bed?” we teased her. “Yes thank you, I’m quite warm” came her reply. “Night Becky, night Geo, night Alaska” she called out “night dog” she followed, calling up to the pup asleep in the truck outside. “Night owl” said Geo, “night tree, night moon” I joined in, “fuck you smoke” came Alaska’s input.

It began with my toes, my tripled sock covered toes, the cold seeping up from the ground, sucking away the warmth in my blood, stealing all feeling. Like a vine the ice wrapped frozen tentacles around my bones, slowly climbing its way up my legs. It’s roots dug into my stomach, tangling vines amongst my rib cage. The calories gained from the smores did nothing to protect me, only bloating my belly, threatening to let farts sneak out into the tent. The ice sent frozen darts slicing down each limb and up the spine. I pulled the sleeping bag above my head but within seconds I was suffocating. Whilst the others softly snored in wilderness bliss, I tossed and turned; switching between a frozen nose to gasping for air depending on the sleeping bag being over my head or not.

cold

By 6am I’d had quite enough; with every hair standing on end and shaking limbs, I emerged from the tent, stomping my way to the car, where I pulled on every item of clothing I could find on the back seat. One thermal vest, a t-shirt, a hoodie, a padded body warmer and an extra thick fleece lined jumper. With a hat, all three of the jumpers hoods pulled up, a pair of gloves and the sleeping bag wrapped around me, I sat there, mentally channelling two of Snow Whites dwarfs – Grumpy and Sleepy. “I HATE camping!” I huffed to myself, mentally declaring ‘nope, never again! Next time I’ll do the set up and camp fire bit, the drinking and smore eating stuff is fine but then I’m leaving for the nearest hotel! One with heating. And a bed! And a hot shower!‘.

I sat in the car waiting for the others to arise, as much as I could appreciate the beauty of nature, give me a pair of stilettos over hiking boots any day of the week! Adamant that any blisters are better earned on a dance floor than climbing a mountain at that moment.

cold camping sucks

“What do you fancy doing today? There is a gun range nearby if you want to test your skills?” Alaska asked once we’d returned to the house and I’d spent far too long under a hot shower, all appendages successfully unfrozen. It turned out I was rather good at shooting “runs in the family” I announced to the surprised faces.

When mum had been diagnosed as terminal, when the chemo was given up so that she might at least feel able to leave the house for the last few months before the end came; she came to stay at my flat a night in London one weekend. She was thin and weak, the hair on her head growing back, short and grey. So frail, she felt all the cold; she borrowed my red padded body warmer, the same one I’d worn whilst huddling in the car camping in Alaska.

We went out that evening and came across a vintage fairground in a nearby park, the sort of rides and games she’d enjoyed at parish summer fêtes growing up. We rode the merry go round “it’s called a merry-go-round in England and a carousel in America” she told me “do you know what the difference is?” she asked, I didn’t. “Merry-go-rounds travel in a clockwise direction, carousels travel anti-clockwise” she explained, “who knows this stuff?!” I smiled at her, both of us leaning in, trying to capture the memory on my phone camera before there were no more memories left to capture.

merry go round

“Oh look, come on, let’s have a go at this” she said excitedly, pulling me towards a stall. We paid, I raised my pellet gun, hitting two out of the five targets “not bad” she announced before raising her own gun and hitting every target. “Who are you and what have you done with my mother!” I demanded surprised at her skills. She only laughed and told me how at seven she’d run up to her older brother, who’d be hanging out with his friends at that very stall “can I have a go, go on, please” she’d ask, he knew the game “go away, you’re a pest, you won’t be able to hit any thing” he’d say to the laughter of his friends, “come on, please, just one go” she’d insist until he’d relent, she’d pick up the gun and hit every target, walking away smugly to the awestruck faces of her brothers friends. “Want to try the rifle?” Alaska snapped me back into the present.

vegas gun range

With our feet dangling over the seats in front of us, we sat in a row in the empty cinema, the credits long finished, Alaska, his friends, Blonde and I too trapped in conversation to notice. “There are 70% men in Alaska, so the women get hit on all the time and because of that, the girls are really arrogant and mean! It’s hard for the guys up here” one of Alaska’s friends informed us. “Really? Oooh we should go to a bar here and check it out for ourselves!” I turned to Blonde next to me. “I’m up for that” she responded.

“You two will definitely get hit on if you go to a bar!” we were told, “nah, I never get hit on in a bar” I said “you will here, I’d put money on it!” came the reply. “Want to bet?” I asked “how about Friday night? We all go out and if we don’t get any attention in the first fifteen minutes then you all have to do the strongest shot in the bar, if we do get chatted up, then we’ll do the shot, deal?” I asked. “Ha, yeah ok, deal, prepare to lose!” Alaska answered “there is a saying here, ‘the odds are good but the goods are odd” he continued. “Are you saying you’re odd? We already knew that” I laughed to his smirk.

“Oh wait, we’re suppose to be leaving you tomorrow and heading north” I realised. “Well hey, I need to head up that way anyway, why don’t I take you up, saves you hiring a car. You can spend the night in the national park and I’ll pick you up the way back down the following day. We can go out that night” he suggested. I looked at Blonde “yeah, makes sense” I looked back at Alaska “sounds good to us”.

“Hey on Saturday we can all head down to Homer if you like? There is a really cool bar down there, we can camp before you fly out the next day” he proposed. I was nodding in agreement before I’d fully digested what he’d said “Wait, camping? Again?”.

cinema trip

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Miss Hawaii, pancake fights and the frustrations of travelling with other people

“I’m seriously worried about money for this trip” I confessed to Blonde as we shuffled our way along, in the train of people waiting to pass through security. “Yeah, but you know, I figure if I run out of money I’ll just ask my parents” she responded behind me. “Ok-ay” I paused, biting my tongue ‘not all of us have parents to call as soon as the money runs out’ I thought.

“I also want to try and be healthy if I can on this road trip, I just feel like I’ve gained weight since China and Japan, I’m feeling a bit self conscious” I continued. “Oh yeah, I’m going to be super healthy, as long as I don’t gain weight then I’ll be happy, although I do want to lose my belly” she grabbed at her non existent tummy roll whilst barging past me in the queue, a move that propelled me into the wall.

knocked down

We loaded our belongings onto the x-ray belt and waited our turns to go through the machine “you said last night that we have to be open and honest with each other when something annoys us right?” I stated. “Yeah” she responded watching the security guard for his nod. “Well, you can’t keep pushing in front of me to be ahead in queues and things, like when we’re walking etc, you did it all the time in Bali, it’s really annoying!” I blurted out. “Well to be fair, you did just fall into the wall” she responded, walking forward into the security machine “yeah, because you pushed me into it!” I called after her, watching it fall on deaf ears.

We arrived in Hawaii earlier that morning, having spent ten hours travelling back in time. “Right, we need to get a bus to the accommodation” I suggested, both of us feeling rather jet lagged, standing outside Honolulu airport. “I haven’t changed any money over, have you got any dollars?” Blonde asked. “You didn’t bring any American dollars with you?” I questioned, “no, I just took out a couple of thousand in Australian” she announced “oh and I ordered a credit card yesterday which hasn’t arrived yet so I need to get it sent somewhere in America” she explained.

really? come on!

I stared at her blank expression “wait, you took out 2000 in Australian currency, not thinking to exchange any in either Melbourne or when we changed flights in Sydney airport and you only ordered a credit card yesterday? Where exactly do you plan on getting this credit card sent to? And when? How are we suppose to get the hire car in Seattle? I don’t want to put the whole thing on my card. How are you going to pay for the car?” I questioned exasperated. “Well if they take it off your card I can just give it to you in Australian dollars” she justified. “It’s going to go off my credit card! What am I going to do with a bunch of Australian money in my pocket?” I was too tired for this debate. “I’ll just pay the car hire place in cash, it’s not a problem” she explained, presuming it would be that simple.

“This can’t be it?” I looked at the house, half tree house, half apartment “it’s so, so cool!” I announced as we approached the door. We sat in the living room making polite small talk with our couch surfing hosts, both of us too in need of sleep to manage much conversation, wanting nothing more than to close our eyes and drift away. Our hosts were a couple in their mid 20’s from the East Coast; him having been transferred to Hawaii for work and her, his fiancé a teacher.

hawaii tree house

“Hey, what’s that?” I asked pointing out the award and sash in the corner “oh, that’s just my pageant trophy” replied the girl. “Pageant?” I questioned intrigued. “Yeah, I won Miss Hawaii this year” she explained nonchalantly. “Wait, you won the beauty pageant thing? You’re a beauty queen? That’s awesome!!” I squealed, excited at meeting my very first pageant winner. She slipped out the room, returning with her tiara for us to try on and went on to say how she’d be competing in the Miss America competition later that summer.

Too tired to go far, Blonde and I walked to the local high street that evening in search of dinner; as we climbed the long hill our conversation turned to friendships and Blonde began asking about Bridezilla “You guys shared so much, don’t you find it sad that you’re not in touch any more? All those memories? Do you think you’ll ever be friends again?” she asked, confused.

miss hawaii

We shared a dinner of savoury crepes on the tree-house decking before retiring to bed, a mattress on the floor with a thin sheet for cover, all that was needed in the heat. I fell asleep in our stuffy den, the plug-in fan whirling away, it’s little motor never getting a rest.

Bridezilla and I sat on a bench, she’d asked to be friends again, I’d agreed. It was nice, we laughed, we joked like old days, the past rips in our friendship sew backed together. But a knife lay between us and I didn’t trust my tongue enough to not make her use it. I awoke in the dark, squashed against the wall, one knee raised to my chest, my arms clutching it in a tight embrace. Blonde rolled into my knee “no, you can’t, I need room” she muttered in her my sleep, suggesting that she found my knee to be taking up too much room “you have three quarters of the bed, I leant over her with a sweeping arm to highlight the space she was hogging; she rolled away with a grunt as I lay there unable to sleep.

We navigated the bus to some mountain and proceeded to climb a never ending staircase up it’s face. Step after hot, sweaty step we climbed. Blonde marched ahead, it wasn’t that I was entirely unfit I told myself, but she was longer than me and liked to be in front. It grated on my nerves as we climbed that she’d stop a few steps ahead, catch her breath and await me to catch up, before shooting off again when I did. “Go on without me, I’ll just see you at the top” I yelled ahead, intentionally slowing my pace, stopping to take pictures, all so I could get out of this competition.

hawaii steps

Halfway up the mountain Blonde began talking to a young Brazilian, who happened to be studying in New York and on a mini break to Hawaii. With the help of a Moari Kiwi fitness guru, who took it upon himself to personal train me up the last few steps with “come on, you can do it, a few more steps, keep going”; we all made it to the top.

We paused for breath, took a few pictures, shared our lunch with the Brazilian and eventually returned back down the path we’d climbed – a feat I was much more skilled at! We took our new Brazilian friend snorkelling, followed by a brief game of volleyball with some random Canadians met whilst watching the sunset over the ocean. “Are you sure you don’t want to play?” asked Blonde “no, I’m fine” I insisted, having flashbacks to the one and only attempt at playing volleyball when I was 11, I’d worn my wrists an aching red from failed attempts at serving, followed by a grazed knee on the astroturf, lesson firmly learnt, volleyball was not for me!

Instead I sat and spoke with one of the Canadians “you tried the pancake challenge yet? It was featured on TV” he told me, “pancake?” I asked “yeah, you eat 2kg of pancakes, get the meal for free, your face on the wall of fame and a certificate” he went on. “Now that is a challenge I could do!” I announced, my eyes lighting up at the thought.

pancake challenge

“You should so do it!” Blonde responded when I relayed the conversation to her later as we walked into the local fire station to use the loo (‘not the kind of emergency the fire service was designed for’ according to my brother when I briefly mentioned it in a message the following day). “Yeah but I’m suppose to be, being healthy” I moaned, catching a glimpse of my reflection in the fire trucks polished side, “well, it can be the only bad thing we have all week, I’ll get a dessert too” said Blonde. “Hmmm” I pondered “well I do want to be on the wall of fame!” I finally decided, lighting up again.

The next day, Blonde and I departed for the beach; she sat on the front of my paddle board as I negotiated the swell of the ocean, trying my utmost not to unbalance us and get eaten by sharks. “I love thissss” I yelled into the breeze “I’m so glad we’re here!” all my agitation from our initial arrival getting swept away with the waves.

paddle boarding

Later we sat on the beach letting the sun dry our salted hair and discussed what we were most looking forward to on the upcoming journey. I pulled out my camera, flicking through the pictures from the previous few days “oh look, I look thin in this one” Blonde pulled the camera towards her to get a better look. She clicked past the pictures of me to get to more of her “uh, my hair always looks rubbish, your hair always looks nice, I wish my hair looked as good as it did in Germany last summer, here I’ve got a picture” she pulled out her phone, searching for the aforementioned image “here, see, doesn’t my hair look nice there?” she requested a response. I internally rolled my eyes “your hair was nice then, as it is now” I recited with what she wanted to hear as I did every time she asked me to comment back on her appearance.

I give up

I was starting to question why this all felt so difficult, ‘was it me? Was I just incapable of being around other people for long periods of time? Maybe I’m just this terrible person who is all irrational and irritated all the time. Oh god, I’m never going to be able to have a normal relationship. How do I even have any friends! I’m awful!’ I debated internally before remembering ‘no wait, I was with M for nearly a month in China and she didn’t get on my nerves once, not once, that was so easy. And fun! Even when we couldn’t speak Chinese and were peeing in trenches, we still weren’t getting annoyed at each other. I CAN be around other people, it’s ok, I just have to bite my tongue and try not to get annoyed, just keep it in, try harder, don’t say anything, I can last three months, I can do this’.

miserable person

Our stay with Miss Hawaii was coming to an end, unable to stay longer due to their weekend away, Blonde booked us into a hostel for the last couple of nights. That morning whilst our washing spun in the machine Blonde announced “I’ve got a surfing lesson”. “We can’t just leave the washing in the machine, the housemate is back, she might need to use it” I insisted. “But I have a lesson” Blonde continued. “Fine, just go, I’ll wait for the washing and meet you later” I needed some space, travelling with someone else was hard. We did every thing together, I wasn’t used to it.

It wasn’t Blonde’s fault I was getting so irritated, she’d never lived away from home, never had to pay her own bills before, there was always someone there to fix things; as far as she was concerned, she was on holiday and shouldn’t have to miss out on surfing just because there was washing in the machine. It was more than just the age difference though, there was a culture clash between us. I felt obliged to make more effort with the host, to entertain them as payment for them letting us stay for free; there was this responsibility weighing down on me, this need to be overly polite, to put it bluntly, I was intensely British, it was becoming clear that Australians didn’t think in the same way.

australia vs britain

Later that afternoon we packed up our belongings and moved to the hostel, unfortunately there had been a problem with the booking, the confirmation stating one night for one person, they were fully booked, no room for a second. “We’ll just sneak you in later, they’ll never know” Blonde suggested, “I’m not sure that will work” I answered, glancing at the watching receptionist, clearly wise to our plan.

We took our stuff to the room whilst we tried to workout a solution. Blonde started piling her valuables into the single locker “I have to go get my hair dyed” another job she’d failed to get done before leaving Australia “can you sort out the accommodation and I’ll meet you later” she closed the locker and pulled out her padlock. “Errr I need to put stuff in the locker too!” I remarked, feeling that agitation bubbling back up as I stood there holding my computer and electronics “oh, yeah, well do you want to put your stuff on top, there’s a little space left” she offered as an after thought. I stood there dumbstruck “just go get your hair done, I’ll sort the locker out!” I again bit my tongue, I needed her to leave, I needed her to leave straight away.

hair salon

A few, quickly swallowed drinks with the Brazilian (and the use of his fake ID to gain his 20 year self access to the bar) and I was feeling much better. We were shortly joined by both Blonde and my Arizona friend who I’d met almost eight months before in a hostel in Iceland. Arizona had just graduated from the University of Hawaii and was spending her final few weeks in Hawaii celebrating.

We headed to a bar, letting the alcohol wash the worries away, well for me at least, Blonde refused to drink more than one insisting that she was ‘tired‘. “What are we going to do about the accommodation” I yelled over the music on the dance floor “well you can try and sneak in?” Blonde answered, automatically assuming that it would be me who had to sneak in even though we both paid for the room and she was the one who booked it incorrectly in the first place; thankfully Arizona came to the rescue letting me sleep on her blow up mattress and her friend, who’d been the intended recipient of it, share her bed instead.

drinking

The following day, a little worse for wear, Arizona and I picked up both Blonde and Brazilian (who’d shared a midnight kiss on the beach before getting booted off the sand by the patrolling beach guard and returning to their respective accommodations alone) and went on a guided tour around the island. Arizona pointed out all the key sights, complete with anecdotes from the years of college (Hawaii was sounding like a very good choice to study in!).

All a little exhausted by the end of the day, we dropped off the Brazilian and picked up a pizza before heading to a small party at Arizona’s friends house. As we waited for some of the guests to return from the store Blonde tucked into the pizza, I glared at her, ‘the pizza was suppose to be shared with everyone, we were guests, we should wait for everyone‘, she took a bite, missing any meaning in my look. Once the food was demolished some of the group suggested sharing a smoke “I’m tired, is it ok if I head back to yours?” Blonde asked Arizona who had once again offered to let us both stay our final night after discovering that all the accommodation on the island was booked out and our only alternative would be sleeping on a bench.

sleeping on a bench

Blonde had no idea where Arizona lived and had decided not to get an American sim card, resulting in no GPS on her phone to provide directions, Arizona offered to drive her back. ‘But Arizona has been driving all day, her friends have flown over from mainland America to join her this weekend, you’re taking her away from her party to drive you home because you’re tired! I’m tired too, suck it up!’ I wanted to hiss but unable to say so in front of everyone “what?! I’m tired!” Blonde responded to my look.

The next morning, with our flight out not leaving until the evening, we walked down to the beach. Deciding it was too rough to paddle board I laid on the warm sand whilst Blonde surfed. Wiggling my toes into the grains, hearing the gentle roll of the waves breaking on the shore, a live performer from the nearby hotel sang along to his ukulele, I stared up at the grey sky, thankful it was cloudy, allowing me to lay down for more than ten minutes without having to reapply sun cream. I searched the clouds when my mother entered my thoughts as she so often did when I found myself alone, still for a moment.

hawaii

‘Where are you mum? Are you watching down on me from some heavenly platform seeing my every move, despairing at my drunken nights? Willing me on when climbing those mountains? Am I letting you down? Please don’t let me be letting you down, I know, I need more patience, I need to be a better person, I have to stop getting so annoyed with Blonde, bite it down, swallow the frustration, it’s my problem, not hers, I know’ I talked in my head, but the clouds just drifted by without a care in the world for the girl lying on the beach staring up at the grey.

My thoughts turned, I missed her hands, the callouses from garden work on her palms, age spots just beginning to appear on the back, tanned a deep caramel, always working away on something. I grew sad, I thought I’d crossed the world to get away from the pain of losing her but perhaps I’d just gone to search for her instead; she’d wanted to travel, maybe I was doing it for her. A breeze lifted the strands of hair from my face, I watched as a bird rode the breath across the bay, a young child ran down to the water, dipped her toes in the surf and retreated with a screech of ecstasy.

running into the sea

“Ready?” I asked as Blonde emerged from the bathroom, rubbing her hair with a towel. “Yep, pancake time!” she smiled. “Damn right pancake time!”. Blonde appeared to be more excited than I was about me doing the challenge, she’d told everyone we met I was doing it before I’d made up my mind, inviting them along to watch.

In the end it was only Brazilian, Blonde and I who headed to the restaurant, the others finding themselves too hungover to join. “You’ve got to put it on Facebook now, you have to!” Blonde reiterated “I mean it’s up to you, but you can’t leave without doing it can you?” she continued. I pointed out that she too could do the challenge “no, too much sweet stuff makes me sick” she replied a little too quickly. “Everything makes you sick according to you” I listed the various examples which she had enlightened me with over the last few days, ticking them off with my fingers “going out with wet hair, more than one glass of alcohol, not enough sleep, too much sleep, too much sweet stuff, eating anything too cold…” she interrupted me in defence “no, just sometimes, you know how it is”. “I’ll do a challenge when we get to the mainland” she saw my face “I will!” she insisted “I will and I’ll get a pancake whilst you do this one”.

girls fighting

We arrived at the restaurant, she ordered a salad after telling the waitress that I would be doing the 2kg challenge. “Wait, what! You just said how hungry you are and now you’re getting a salad?!” I remarked. “There is no way I’m consuming all these calories for this stupid challenge if you are just getting a salad, you’ve said all along that you would get a dessert, we’re suppose to be in this together!” I exclaimed. “I don’t want to get fat” she told me for the hundredth time that week, “well neither do I!” I declared “that’s not fair, you’re the one that has gone on and on about this challenge, making me do it” I started.

“It’s up to you, I’m not making you do anything” she interrupted. “You tell everyone I’m doing it, you go on about it all the time! We are suppose to be, being healthy together! I’m not eating all these bloody pancakes if you’re just having a salad” I made my final argument which of course has no logic now but at the time felt incredibly important and valid. “I’ll get a dessert later, or a Starbucks or something” she decided. I was running out of patience, feeling like she’d manipulated me into a situation and then was backing out of her part of the deal “what? no you won’t I know you won’t. You’ll say you’re not hungry, or you feel queasy or there is no time before our flight” I stated, internally I continued ‘you just want me to consume more calories than you so you can be thinner, you’re so transparent!‘ and then I felt awful for having thought that way about her.

what is your problem?

The waitress appeared “I’ll have the salad” Blonde announced with a smug grin. “I’ll have the oatmeal” I rebutted. We both sat there sulking because we were only 11 years old at that moment; the silence became uncomfortable, I engaged Brazilian in conversation who had been sitting there completely missing the power struggle taking place between us. I gave her a few ‘in’s‘ to the conversation but she didn’t take them, offering one word answers to any questions ‘fine, sit there and act like a brat then! See if I care!‘ I thought, only I did care and her stubborn silence was grating on me.

Just as soon as the meal was finished, Blonde stood up “well I’m going back to the house, it’s cold in here and I need to pack” I stared at her, speechless in the moment. After a few seconds I found my voice “we both have to go back to the house!” I injected ‘plus it’s my friends house! You’ve already taken the piss by getting her to leave her friends party to drive you home after you’d eaten your fill of pizza and deciding you were tired. I was tired too but I wasn’t going to be so rude as to make my friend who had kindly come to our homeless selves rescue and taken us in, whilst risking her landlords raft! And now you want to go back to the house without me because you’re in a mood? Come on!’. I couldn’t articulate this, conscious I’d be causing a scene in front of the Brazilian and knowing I’d sound extremely petty, plus I was getting so irritated I was worried what else might come flying out my mouth, I clamped down my teeth, trying to hold it all in. She left, showing all 23 of her bratty years.

getting annoyed

“What just happened? I don’t understand?” asked the Brazilian in all his 20 year old male naivety, missing all the unsaid words that Blonde and I had exchanged, as I tried hard not to stamp my foot and scream. I did my best to explain, he sighed “girls get so passive aggressive, and over nothing” I couldn’t argue with his conclusion. We departed with a hug, I felt embarrassed for my behaviour, blaming Blonde the entire walk back. I was angry, I wanted to rip her head off by the time I reached the house, so pent up with every annoyance I’d felt about our friendship.

‘This hadn’t happened in China, why was that so much easier?!‘ I tried to find answers in comparisons between the trips ‘perhaps it was because M was so much more self secure, I didn’t need to constantly reassure her with “no you are not obese” or watch as she played her naive card “I don’t know, we don’t have this in Australia” it’s common fucking knowledge I’d want to scream every time she said something idiotic and then tried to play it off’. Over and over in my head I tried to work out why she was getting to me so much ‘was I threatened by her because she’d lost weight and I’d gained it before the trip? Was this just jealousy on my part? Or was it just that her growing ego was agitating my English sensitivities which instinctively hate anyone who self promotes? Perhaps it was just her being 23 and me being 31, those 7.5 years more life finding her statements of her wanting to experience relationships, closer friendships, drinking, parties, sex, the random situations I found myself in but her not taking any steps to allow those things to happen naturally, expecting everything to fall into place like the chick flicks she watched. Just let go, live a little, stop being so up tight!’ I yelled internally.

let go

I burst in the house, ready to call her out on her shit but found her quietly packing “oh good, you made it back, we need to leave for the airport in an hour”. Had I hair on my back it would have bristled, I wanted to tear across the room, thus was the resentment I was feeling at that precise moment; sadly my friends were sitting around the living room, I plonked my ass on the floor and proceeded to pack my own case instead.

As my friend drove us to the airport my nerves calmed and I began to see how silly it all seemed, that perhaps I was getting worked up over nothing, I just needed to get over myself, to make more effort, it was just because I’d been on my own for so long, I was being an idiot!

God how I hate to apologise, I swallowed my pride and tried my best “Sorry for being arsy earlier” I eventually muttered as we walked through the airport “that’s alright” she replied with a smile, offering nothing else back. I turned my head silently and stepped onto the Alaska bound flight.

flying

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other people’s dates, stressful hips and leaving once again

“Hey, any plans for Saturday? Want to come to a wedding showcase with me?” Burnley asked whilst pouring me a second glass of sparkling wine. I watched as the bubbles rose to the top, popping upon contact with the air, ‘there goes my health kick again‘ I thought ‘it’s fine, I’ll get healthy in America, running everyday, healthy eating, I’ll be back in my old jeans in no time’ I told myself. “You don’t have to” Burnley snapped me out of my thoughts as she passed me the drink. “No, sure, yes, I mean I’d love to. Wedding showcase, yay! Let’s do this” I over acted. A wedding showcase would be fun, Burnley wasn’t a Bridezilla, I had no roll to play in the wedding, it would be fine, fine!

 weddings

That night I dreamed of my Bridezilla; we were in the hotel room whilst the photographer snapped pictures of her getting ready, she’d smile for the camera and then turn her dragon face on me, hissing demands and insisting I was letting her down. I awoke in a cold sweat, realising that perhaps I had developed a fear of weddings after all!

I dashed across town that evening, climbed the stairs to the rooftop bar in a sweat and spied him and his friend perked on stalls at a table in the corner.

“So how do you know my best friend?” I asked. “We lived around the corner from each other on the Rock, yeah, known her and her hubby for years now. How come we never met on the island? Why didn’t we go for a drink in Sydney?” he asked back. Despite my imminent departure from Australia, Sydney and his friend were in town for work and our mutual friend’s back home felt it only right that we finally meet. He was also from the Isle of Man and close friends with my best friend, he was lucky enough to spend half the year in Australia and the other half back in the UK, living an eternal summer. We’d missed each other every time I’d gone to Sydney for work so finally, with just days to go before I departed, we arranged to meet for a quick drink in Melbourne.

As the beers flowed I regaled tales of my Australian adventures; Santa Claus and all his downfalls to the hipsters of the city; eventually we got onto talking about Tinder and disastrous dates. Mentioning the app, Sydney’s friend pulled out his phone and an hour later we eagerly awaited a last minute swipe right, date.

“That looks like an old picture to me?” I analysed the screen, passing the phone back to him just in time to see a rather drunk woman stumble our way, hand waving in the air and her equally drunk friend trailing behind, wearing a non too pleased face.

mutton dressed as lamb

“It’s my birthday” drawled the lady. “Happy birthday” we all chimed. “35 today!” she declared with a whoop. Sydney leaned in “give or take a few decades” he whispered. Sydney’s friend did the gentlemanly thing of buying her and her sour faced friend a drink, glancing back at us with that ‘rabbit caught in headlights’ look as she groped his bum when he turned towards the bar.

“So, you two dating?” she asked leaning across the table, her leathery cleavage threatening to spill out the top of her ill fitting dress “or you after my man?” she pointed a chipped nail varnished finger in my face before bursting into a cackle, as her head tilted back I noted how her eye-liner had slipped down her face and the red lipstick was staining her teeth. Sydney’s friend was in for a long night!

Sydney and I sat drinking our beers enjoying the circus of the mutton trying to reach her dates tool under the table, of snatching his phone and demanding his password so she can read his messages from any other girls he might be messaging, shaking her boobs in his face. Her friend eventually got bored and left for a taxi “shouldn’t you go with her?” he asked, clinging onto some hope. She didn’t leave; finally he suggested some air, she gave him a wink and lead him from the bar. Much to her disappointment (I imagine), he flagged down a taxi and shut the door before she could drag him in after her. He returned to the bar “well I’m done with Tinder” he announced, we slipped a beer across the table to his willing hand, he downed it in one.

 sliding a beer across the table

The next morning, with one of those hangovers that won’t quite lift, Burnley and I walked to lunch. “Let’s order some bubbles” she proposed. “No, really! I’ve drank everyday this week, I can’t, I’m suppose to be being healthy, I’ve gained so much weight since Easter” I begged. “No way! it’s your last weekend in Australia!” she insisted.

Fed and with my hangover topped up, we entered the Wedding showcase; the smell of wedding cake and flowers hit me, exhibition stands everywhere displaying anything from photographers to table toppers, girls walked around swirling wedding dresses, people handed out business cards; I wanted to hide in a corner and have a panic attack.

As we wandered around the hall all I could think of was Bridezilla’s wedding, of her constant demands, how awful that wedding had turned out; I picked up a magazine, flipping through it, paranoid I’d come across a picture of me in that hideous outfit she’d forced me to wear. “Can we get some more alcohol?” I asked Burnley, “definitely if we can find some!” came the response. We settled down to watch the catwalk show “ooh he’s hot!” I whispered as one of the male models strutted his stuff, any anxiety quickly shifting at the sight of all those topless men showing their wedding boxers (which is apparently a thing!). The rest of the day was eased away with more sparkling wine.

wedding showcase

That next morning Burnley knocked on the door “are you ready? we need to be there for 11?” she called. “Sure, two seconds” I groaned, my mouth feeling like someone had shaved my tongue ‘must be healthy, America, I’ll be healthy in America, supermodel body here I come!‘ I tried to convince myself yet again.

“Is this it?” I asked as we pulled up to a single story house in suburbia an hour later. Spending my last Sunday in Melbourne at a body and mind afternoon tea sounded good in principle, mainly because I thought there would be cake involved but upon arrival, as we were welcomed into a living room where the furniture had been pushed aside and replaced with floor cushions to form a circle, I was beginning to question just how deep and spiritual I would need to get before someone grave me frosting and sponge.

As happy as I am to discuss the long story of how I got from normality to this temporary vagabond lifestyle of mine, I certainly was not comfortable to reveal my vulnerabilities in front of strangers. Gradually more people arrived and before long we were sitting with crossed legs in the ‘circle of support’, being encouraged by our host to one by one, say our name and what we hoped to achieve from the day “errr, I’m fine, I’m just here because my friend wanted to come, yep, next” I announced at my turn.

Meditation circle

One lady was with her partner who was about to be begin gender transitioning, another lady had just got divorced and felt she didn’t know herself any more, a third lady who burst into tears as soon as she started talking, explained her husband had just left her and then apologised for the tears.

Her emotions were so raw and entirely on the surface; I recognised that fragility, how everything is just stinging the eyes, twitching the nose and caught in the throat, how your stomach is empty and you don’t know whether to choke or throw up, where your limbs are heavy and you wake up to stare at the ceiling and seriously question whether you can get out of bed that day. I wanted to crawl across the circle, drape an arm over her shoulder and let our four year old selves huddle under a fort until the world was manageable again, instead I smiled in a way that I hoped conveyed my support but probably just looked creepy.

blanket fort

Burnley explained her reasoning for attending “I’m here because I feel things have been very disruptive over the last year with trying to settle into a new relationship, country and job. I want to focus on health and finding some balance to things” she explained as the group listened. Another friend from England who was staying in Melbourne for a few months had joined us for the event, she followed Burnley “I’m on the cusp of a new relationship but I’m also contemplating going back to England, I don’t know whether I should pursue this relationship or if I’m trying to sabotage it to make things easier for me to leave”.

The afternoon progressed with various breathing techniques “from the stomach, you must breath from the stomach, we all breath from the throat or chest, suck that air in ladies! It will improve your circulation, you’ll relax, everything will seem more manageable, big breaths now, out, in, out, in, feeling anxious? Pull that stomach in!” our instructed demonstrated, in her yoga pants, folded legs, feet on top of thighs, perfectly straight back, pixie hair cut and emitting a peacefulness I couldn’t hope to emulate.

it's all about vodka for me

I prised one eye open, checked that our instructor had her own firmly closed and opened my other eye to review the rest of the group. They all seemed completely into it; why, why wasn’t I relaxed? I stopped trying to breath from my belly and instead lifted my head, straining to see over the table rim to the raw, healthy cakes laid out.

“Let’s work together now and build a supportive environment, we only say positive things in this circle. Now would anyone like to discuss anything?” the instructor asked in her relaxed way, all calming tones and friendly smiles. ‘Yes, I’m hungry, can we eat now please?‘ I contemplated suggesting but figured this wasn’t the kind of problem she was looking for.

Silence hung in the air weighing down the room, the tearful woman croaked up, asking for help in how to deal with the breakdown of her marriage; everyone agreed she was in a lot of pain and time would pass, she’d feel better, just take sometime for you’re self etc. Burnley followed, asking how she could find a way to bring balance to her life with all the things she was juggling, the answer came with her needing to put priorities in order.

That silence fell again, “anyone else?” asked the instructor, I felt her eyes on me, the pressure increasing in the atmosphere. I hadn’t really been paying attention to the room, instead my mind had drifted to thinking about the upcoming America trip; I’d been feeling anxious about spending such an intense amount of time with Blonde.

We hadn’t been friends for that long, there wasn’t a deep foundation of history for us to fall back against and if I was really honest with myself I really did notice that seven year age difference at times, her lack of experience with guys and asking me to explain everything from what some blokes text message really meant to how to give a blow job could get quite grating after awhile.

My anxiety was deeper than the superficial, pettiness though, underneath it all I was worried I’d become close friends with her and that was something I didn’t want, I wasn’t ready to have close friends again, or at least not close ‘new‘ friends. What if they became Bridezilla’s, what if I let people in and then they let me down or ditch me when I need them? I didn’t want to feel that rejection from friendship again, better alone than let down right? I wanted to draw the castle bridge and keep everyone arms distance away.

castle under attack

The group were casting eyes around the circle, willing someone to speak, the longer the silence the greatest the pressure, I opened my mouth. “So, I got pregnant, the day I had an abortion my mum got diagnosed with cancer, then she died, my boyfriend left, my best friend decided I wasn’t supportive enough about her wedding and stopped talking to me, my company relocated” I paused to see all these tilted heads and looks of sorrow floating in my direction. “I moved to Australia, got a job in charge of Santa Claus – he’s an asshole! Wow, that guy! Jerk!” everyone laughed as I continued “and now I’m about to head off to America for a road-trip with a friend. The thing is, I love people, I’m super lucky and have lots of awesome friends, in fact these two are super cool, you should all be friends with them!” I gestured towards my friends with a sweep of the arm.

“It’s just, well” I faltered, trying to find the words “you see, I don’t, I don’t want to get close to people” I thought for a second “actually I don’t want them to get close to me, I have these amazing people who stuck with me when everything first happened and I sort of hold them on pedestals in my head because I know they care but new people, I don’t, it’s hard, I don’t have time, I find it draining trying to maintain relationships at the moment, I don’t want to make the effort with new people to then have it all fall apart in a year or two” I finished, not really feeling I’d quite explained what I was actually trying to say.

embarrassment

Everyone was looking at me and no one spoke, I suddenly felt under a microscope, my cheeks began to redden, I wanted to curl into myself, wishing I hadn’t spoken. “Well, yes, wow” came the instructors voice “sounds like you’ve had a really rough time, no wonder you’re scared of getting involved with people, that’s perfectly understandable. I’d like to try a yoga move, that will be beneficial to everyone” she went on. ‘Yoga? Really? After all that, I get yoga?!‘ I blinked.

“You see, most people hold their stress in their hips and inner thigh, this technique will help release it, which will help you to let go of some of these problems, do this every morning and I guarantee you’ll feel a lot better” she explained as we followed her lead and twisted ourselves into position.

hip yoga

“Right, let’s have some food” she proclaimed after we’d all released our thigh stress and I was instantly cured of all my problems, ready to go make connections with people on deep levels at last.

As I filled my growling belly on raw, vegan, wheat and gluten free cakes (surprisingly good) Burnley appeared at my side. “I didn’t realise until just now that the first thing you do is make people laugh and distract them, you come across as open but you’re keeping everyone away, I’m amazed I didn’t notice this until now!”. She was right and I even I didn’t know I did that.

“Ok before you all head off, let’s try one more practice” interrupted the instructor. She turned the music up, we were encouraged to close our eyes and then convinced to dance in a group circle “feel the music” she shouted “free those limbs”; I stiffly shuffled around the circle, watching as women in front of me waved their arms in the air like they just didn’t care, I did care.

awkward dancing

The three of us went to share a bottle of wine in the pub afterwards and discussed the day; I’d actually found hanging out with Mother Earth quite interesting but despite feeling rather in touch with the world and somewhat spaced out (possibly as a result of all the raw cakes), it became very apparent to me that the new age stuff really wasn’t my cup of tea!

I met Rocker the following day, a quick lunch turned into a couple in the pub as usual “she’s going to drive you mad, I’d love to be a fly on the wall” he declared as I scowled across the table “No! It will be fine! I bet we won’t even fight” I insisted as we discussed my road trip with Blonde.

“Ha” he burst out laughing, spluttering beer across the table “you’re going to kill each other! Two girls in a car together for three months, how could you not?”. “It will be fine! FINE!” I demanded, hugging him goodbye “you know you could still fly out and join us for a bit?” I suggested. “No bloody way!” he replied as I crossed the road towards the tram, “I expect status updates of how many times you loose your shit!” he called after me with a mocking smile.

spitting drink

That night I arrived at Blonde’s house who was in a state of mild panic as she attempted to pack her bags; piles of clothes heaped high on the sofa “I won’t need this will I? How about this? I’m so excited, I just want to get there” she told me excitedly. “I’m so glad we’re doing this, thanks for wanting to do it together” she explained with a smile on her face. I looked at my own luggage taking over the other half of the living room and questioned just how it was all going to squish down into my suitcases.

“Yeah me too!” I replied, feeling terrible for having worried that it might all fall apart and venting my insecurities to friends, ‘we could do this, I could do this, just don’t be a dick, or get too hormonal or moody or well, be too you, or at least the irritable you. Try to be nice, you can do this! We’ll have a great time’ I told myself. I replied to Blonde “It’ll be great, can’t wait!” and I believed it too.

you'll be fine