The case for discovering the world at your own pace

March 20, 2023

The mountain road that I’m running along worms its way through pretty B.C. forests on its way down to the lake. There’s a sweet smell coming from whatever plants are springing up from the ground in this achingly beautiful corner of Canada and wildflowers add pretty pops of colour everywhere.

I’m here in B.C. on a week-long hiking trip and just now, I’ve snuck out for a quick run. Just a few kilometres. Followed by a plunge into the electrifyingly cold water below. Hey, I’m only in Canada for a few weeks in summer and even though the run causes my body temperature to soar and the lake water will shock me and leave my skin tingling, these are quintessential Canadian experiences.

The sun is hot. Blazing hot. It’s August in British Columbia and already during my stay, the sweltering heat and dryness has sent forests into a blaze. It’s that kind of run where the roads are so dry each footstep creates a little dust cloud. I’m redder than the berries that grow in the woods here but the purpose of this run isn’t speed, it’s to sneak in a little alone time while exploring through physical exercise.

When in a new place, I always find solo time for a run (preferably), a hike (likely), or a swim, cycle, or paddle (if the opportunity arises).

I have a theory which has held up since my mid teens which I put to the test every time I travel anywhere. And that is that when travelling, the best way to explore a new area is going out on your own.

That philosophy has taken me along cherry blossom lined streets in the picturesque Cape Cod where every home looks like a dollhouse. I’ve run through sunrise in Jamaica to reggae beats as parties from the night before continued strong and skies paled to a perfect pink sunrise. In Ireland, I’ve set out from my aunt’s country home in search of a cozy authentic pub only to be greeted by heavy Irish rains instead. Once, I ran through neighbourhoods in the northeast of Brazil past homes the colour of crayons and street dogs just waking up for the day. When I arrived at the lookout point above the city, I knew it was one of my trip highlights.

On home turf, my own two feet have enabled me to see a beautiful sunset in the Maritimes as toy-like fishing boats bobbed up and down off the shores. Afterwards, I ate salty fish caught from the ocean. Then there were all the ski adventures where freshly frosted mountain trails very well could have been the setting of a fairytale. Or, I could tell you about viewing the CN tower from my spot in a kayak. (Not the most obvious city experience but one that does enable you to appreciate the city skyline without the city noise). I’ve run past beautiful Montreal walk ups, taken in the incredible architecture there and rewarded my efforts with a Montreal bagel. (If you haven’t tried French-Canadian food, you’re missing out!)

So yeah, when in a new place, I always find solo time for a run (preferably), a hike (likely), or a swim, cycle, or paddle (if the opportunity arises). So here I am on this hot summer afternoon in Canada’s most notably beautiful province. I’ve left the hiker’s lodge behind me and jogged by the neighbour’s home. I’m thinking to myself how nice it would be to live here in the mountains in this green, bushy area that’s so peaceful and serene. I can’t help but notice that Canadian summers come with a distinct flowery scent mixed with pine. The woods. It’s a smell I didn’t even know I missed. I wish I could capture it and bring it with me when I leave. I run along another curve in the road, pass the local mountain hot spring and the view of the lake opens up. Bliss.

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If it’s not obvious yet, I’m making the case for active travel here. Whether that ends up being hiking along pristine Canadian wilderness, running a marathon through Vancouver streets, cycling in Europe and finding a hidden gem cafe serving the richest coffee, or opting to walk through Seoul neighbourhoods on the hunt for the best noodles, I’ll bet that this is where you make some of your best travel memories. When you’re the one physically in charge of your own adventure, your senses are more engaged, you’re more immersed in the landscape, you’re going at a slower pace (than, say, a tour bus or van) and you’re therefore more likely to catch the little details—the underrated little nuances that give a place its personality.

If had I been in a car or bar-hopping in the town, that moment never would have presented itself.

I once walked along a Colombian mountain trail and came across the home of what must have been a gardener. It was covered—and I mean covered—in flowers. In a country that exports their flowers all over the world and who holds an annual flower festival and parade, it makes sense that its citizens might transform their homes into a garden of roses and lilies. Still, all I could do was stop and admire. If had I been in a car or bar-hopping in the town, that moment never would have presented itself.

When you choose to explore via your own two feet, you also work hard for the adventure you end up having. A little glacial lake in the heart of the woods just looks better when you sweat gallons and felt the burn in your muscles in the pursuit of looking for it. Same goes with lunch at a mom-and-pop family restaurant in the countryside after cycling all morning. I don’t care what you eat, I know it just tastes better than if you had driven there instead.

But back to this sweltering run somewhere on a road in the middle of the mountains. I’m running just a short little route not because I think it’ll be the most amazing adventure of the week (It won’t be… I mean how can this short jog compare to all-day treks with views of mountain glaciers, pine forests, and meadows on a trail above the treeline? It can’t.). Instead, I’m running because even mini active adventures usually lead to something cool. And hey, I’ve got the time. What else are you supposed to do here anyways? I continue on passing the hot springs, the little gift shop, and I pause at the road to allow a jeep to pass. The lake is just 200 metres away. I go for it. I’m about as pink as a wild salmon now. I peel off my t-shirt, slip off my socks and running shoes, but pause for a moment to take in the scene and snap a shot of the lake waters and mountains behind them.

I leap and feel my body plunge underwater. I had been right: the lake water is so cold it feels like it shrinks my skin. I’m tingly and freezing and I gasp to catch my breath. Then, I pull myself under the waves again, my body gliding just beneath the surface as it starts to adjust to the cold. I swim out a little farther doing the strokes I’ve known for almost my entire life. I reach the sweet spot—a safe distance from the shore but enough space for me to appreciate the view and float.

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Then, I stop treading water long enough to let my body be held by the water as it bobs up and down with the gentle waves. I feel happy and grateful. It’s not everyday that I get to be in the middle of one of the best landscapes Canada has to offer. It’s rare to get to float in the middle of a lake on a sweltering day while admiring glacial-topped peaks in front of me. There isn’t even anybody here! I have this whole space to myself. I think about how many friends have told me they’d love to visit Canada one day and how much they’d probably kill to be splashing around beside me right now. This is undeniably such a beautiful country. Truthfully, I feel a little too spoiled to have it all to myself.

I swim back to shore, climb up onto the dock, and sprawl out allowing the sun’s rays to warm my skin which is now just a slight hue of purple. Moments like these are when I feel the purest joy: no notifications, nothing to worry about, just a woman playing outside and exploring. With that, I slip my shoes back on and I make my way back.

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