BY: IAN MASSE
Dark days have been upon us all. It’s nearly impossible to escape the narrow passages of sorrow that inevitably set us off course into a sea of despair. While some cases may be mild, and others severely dangerous, it’s fair to say that each person carries with them a unique and individual type of despondent lifestyle.
Because we are so distinct, we cannot all be remedied in the same fashion. I have what I can only diagnose as a willfully persistent mind. To define that simply, I’m a sad stubborn mule, and don’t need your fucking help.
It’s bad. So bad that I would rather self-establish my imperfections instead of seeking dedicated help. But I’ve realized when it comes to the unpleasant hands of depression, only I have the power to solve the affairs that are enduring inside my thick skull.
Don’t let me lead you on; I’m not that full of myself to think I’ve come up with a cure for depression. I’m far from achieving such feats. In my eyes, I am disheartened, but because I’m also so immovable, I’m not going to let my own wretched stubbornness eradicate any possible joy. It’s a vicious cycle.
So how did the wide-open road rescue me from my gloomy days?
Basically, It’s forced me to do the things I never thought I ever would. Simple. My unhappiness from depression is the fuel I add to my engine, and even though she’ll sputter, stall and breakdown, I’ve always and eventually made it to my destination safely. There’s nothing wrong with showing up at the finish line with a few bumps and bruises. It only builds charm, my mother would probably say.
One day, after being completely overwhelmed by life’s difficult situations, I leaped into my truck and drove towards an unknown destination. Setting my mind on the west coast and my sights on better luck, I had no idea what would unfold. Turns out, the road had many surprises for me, both good and bad, but more importantly, life changing. This would be the longest road trip of my life (so far), 18,400 km to be exact; extreme south to as far north as you can possibly drive within Canada.
On the road and off, I found happiness in the smallest things. Keeping my unpleasant mind constantly busy with photography, long hours behind the wheel, loud and cheerful singing of every song played over the radio. I was alone, but never lonely.
Eventually, voyagers cross paths, and I could never express enough how happening along a fellow nomad made my trip that much healthier. Suddenly, a single breath of fresh air would soothe me. The dynamic of my voyage had unexpectedly changed and I was no longer on the long road unaccompanied.
Eventually, I reached the voice of the vast Pacific, and so I crossed the Salish Sea by way of ferry. A passage I will never forget. Across the sea, I made my first ever attempt at picking up two hitchhikers in Port Alberni. Befriending them over a three hour drive to Tofino would bring opportunity and curiosity into play, as I told them of my plans to head as far north as possible on four wheels.
Knowing each other for only a few hours, we spontaneously decided to spend the next four days together, enjoying what Tofino had to offer to three strangers. Living out of their packs as modestly as possible, Emilie and Michelle would eventually inspire me to trek in the same way.
While the path for Emilie was uncertain and Michelle’s was coming to an end, we had one last memorable moment on the sharp pointed coastline of Vancouver Island. The three of us shared a bottle of bourbon among a picturesque backdrop that night.
Emilie’s path eventually became clear, as did mine, as we further discussed my northbound trip over many warm campfires. At the time, I was afraid to push any farther north unaccompanied, but Emilie had rehabilitated the thought. So it was settled; a warm swill of maple syrup whiskey would cap off the pact we made. We would push north together with open minds.
Beyond the Arctic Circle, we would reach as far as Inuvik, NWT and nose into the reaches of Alaska; a long haul from the southwestern shores of Vancouver Island.
Together we shared the road. Watching mountain peaks rise before us, then sink again behind us. Together experiencing beautiful visuals, we drove hard across plains, prairies, mountain ramparts, Arctic tundra, snow, ice and the perilous Dempster Highway. The colorful backdrop of Tombstone National Park will forever loiter in my mind. As will Emilie.
As the mileage-clicked on towards the north, we found ourselves completely isolated from refinement. Gas stations were 400 km apart from one another. The thought of breaking down was almost erotic, as I couldn’t think of a better person to be stuck with in the middle of nowhere. As the approaching Arctic winds rose, we maintained on, swinging the needle north.
Composed, we steered passed the Arctic Circle, camped under the autumn aurora and spoke frankly about our lives at home over warm, crackling campfires. We’d established that it was possible for two strangers to meet in an unexpected place, at an unexpected time, and have so much common ground.
In the mornings we would rise from our tent, the smell of thick campfire smolder in our hair and clothes, with wide grins. Trying not to overthink the moment, I would frequently ask my self, why did I deserve this? Why did I deserve to be waking up exactly where I always wanted to be? To call ourselves “happy campers” would be a drastic understatement.
Each day brought new opportunity to something big and beautiful. Our path would take us through historic gold rush towns, including Dawson City, where charm is as rich as its gold profits. Here we would find ourselves in the wild northwest, and so we began to act the part. Stepping out of a saloon well oiled in bourbon would be the closest we’d ever come to being true prospectors, but I’m okay with that.
For a total of 18 days, we tackled the road less travelled. It was clear to me now that all of the ill-starred decisions life had prepared for me were beginning to wither away. Not that they were remedied, but I thought about them less and less daily. Although, the thought of departing my new acquaintance weighed heavy on my mind.
As time would simply pass, soon our journey would too. We found ourselves retracing familiar highways and landmarks as our compass bearing veered back south. The final kilometres of the Alaskan Highway had been reached, and so began our last nights together.
For one last time, we camped under a blanket of stars in a little prairie town just west of Edmonton. A drink to cap the adventure, and reflect on our journey was inevitable – a toast to all the kilometres shared together. Booker’s bourbon scorched our lips for one last time. The following morning our postures were distinct, as she would be heading south, and I, east. Although I was sad to see her go, many recollections would keep my head above the water.
As we said our goodbyes, the unknown of the future weighed on me, but the misfortunes of my past had been lifted. I was at ease. Setting course for home and reuniting with family was in sight. A long hard drive through the prairies and bordering states was the only thing between me and a lonely town called Belle River.
I’m writing this three months from the day I dropped Emilie off in Edmonton, and not a day has gone by that I haven’t harvested a smile that plainly draws coast to coast across my face. I’m now back at home and my spirit has been restored. I no longer feel the firm crutches of melancholy. In some ways I’ve been saved.
I once read that if you find yourself lost in the wilderness, and in peril, the best way to find your way out is to collect natural bearings. In order to do this, you must be observant, patient and mindful of your surroundings. One easy trick is to look for bush berries, as they only grow on the south side of hills where they get the most warmth from the sun. An easy way to remember this is to say aloud “south is sweet.”
I now believe this method to be true in more than one way. I’ve been lost countless times before, and was never able to escape life’s unfortunate ticks unscathed. But this time I’ve located south. I’ve found it, and its course is as sweet as could be.
So south I will go, as it will be familiar.
To Chico: May the adventure continue…