Resiliency for Traveling through Life! And How to Get It

I’m reposting this for my friend, Leona, who turned 89 a week ago. We had lunch today and I found out she never saw this post. Enjoy this, dear friend. Love you and happy birthday!

The Autonomous Traveler


When I was an elementary teacher, I heard about a summer class, something about making kids stronger. The course description said the class was taught by a guidance counselor who had helped students find their inner strength. I wondered if he would reveal the culmination of all  this wisdom in a little package or capsule of words and procedures that would push my students and, maybe, myself to never ending excellence? Was it worth taking 5 days from my summer vacation to go to the class that was over 60 miles away? And then I got the idea! I’d find a campground in The Adirondacks near the class and commute. I would be a student during the day and at night I would complete any assigned reading by the light of my gas lantern and a wood fire. I loved the idea.

The instructor seemed knowledgeable and passionate about what he did…

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70/7000 The Columbia Icefields and The Continental Divide

Days 51, 52, 53  August 15, 16 & 17, 2001

The first thing I did when I woke up in my van in the parking lot  in Jasper, Alberta, was to walk over to the gas station restroom.  Thankfully no one had locked it.  I then drove  to a quick stop and got a large cup of coffee and a muffin. More moments of gratitude when I got a tent site at the campgrounds, took a shower, and set  up my bed back in the tent.IMG_2353-001

The next day, I realized why I needed reservations in Jasper.  Not far away were The Columbian Icefields.  They are a big tourist attraction, 2.3 square miles, 3.7 miles long and 1,200 feet deep.  Formed between 238,000 and 126,000 BC. during the Great Glaciation, they lay astride of the Continental Divide where mountain waters flowed to The Pacific on one side and The Atlantic on the other.



Tourists from all over the world were brought to the site in snowcoaches from The Icefields Visitors Center.


This whole trip is based on the principle of serendipity.  I had no idea this attraction existed.  What a wonderful discovery.



70/7000 Slept in a Parking Lot in Jasper, Alberta

Day 50 August 14, 2001

I’m a worrier. It’s bad because it’s stressful but also good because I tend to have all my ducks in a row. Before the trip I had anxiety about the ultimate travel nightmare, not finding a place to stay. I saw it as the worst thing that could happen to me and since I was an excellent catastrophizer, I was sure it  would happen. So even though I was newly single with my kids on their own, I bought a soccer mom’s minivan. I took out the back seats and hit the road, confident that I would always have a bed wherever I went.

I took one last picture of beautiful Lake Louise and headed north for my last few days before I would start the long trek home.


I planned on camping in Jasper, Alberta, and my neurotic preparedness paid off.  The campground was filled and so were all the hotels and motels. I parked in the public lot in the center of town and realized other people in campers and vans were settling in for the night. They were being discrete, moving around inside their vehicles with flashlights and speaking in low voices.  I followed their lead and inconspicuously moved some of my stuff  to the front seats  so I had a clear space for bedding in the back of the van.

Before I turned in for the night, I met a couple with a nice RV  who were also parking lot dwellers.  They were astonished to hear about my solo cross country trip and invited me to stay with them in Salt Lake City for The 2002  Summer Olympics. Wow! I took their information.

Another great thing happened. I looked across the parking lot and saw a double rainbow.  I was at peace. “It takes both showers and sunshine to make a rainbow.”


I went across the street and acting like I owned the place,  I went into the restroom at a gas station, brushed my teeth, and did what I needed to do. I sauntered out, went into my van, locked the doors, and sleeping in my clothes had a remarkably good night’s sleep.

70/7000 Camping as a Metaphor for Life?

Day 48 & 49   August 13 & 14, 2001


I stayed two more nights at  Lake Louise in my hard sided van camper.  Some seasoned hikers told me to buy a set of bells at the camp store because the grizzlies were afraid of them and would move on.  A bought a bell bracelet and shook those jingle bells so hard I thought my hand would fall off my wrist.

Thinking about my experiences on this trip, I came to realize that camping is a lot like life.  People come to the campgrounds to pursue happiness. Everyone arrives on their own path and each of their personal stories is unique.   They bring enough with them to meet their needs and the extent of their needs shows itself in their choice of shelter, from small tents to huge RVs with expensive cars in tow.  But there are trade offs for each approach. The big rigs may have TV, a microwave and ice that doesn’t melt but the people within miss a lot of the woodland sounds, the constant changes of the sky, and the golden light that fills up a tent at dawn. But no path or pace is wrong because there is freedom for each camper to choose the way he or she finds joy and that is to be respected.

There is an awareness of others in the campground community but there is also  a code of privacy just like in real life. Social norms exist like they did for the cavemen long ago, no staring, respect for another’s space, and no loud voices. The friendly people will reach out and others will stay to themselves. It’s easy to know the difference.  But the universal human capacity to care is always present.   I  have seen campers come to the aid of others just like in real life when people help each help other during a natural disaster or times of hardship.

Our  human paths cross.  With some people, you may choose to cross their path multiple times. Others  may cross your path and move on.  There are paths of people you may choose to avoid.   I wish life was more like a campground where we let life happen without judgment and respect another’s path in peace.

Camping like life is a matter of attitude. If you stay positive, the trip will be wonderful as your mind focuses on the good things and not the bad.  Yes, things will go wrong. The air conditioner in the RV might break down.  Or the bedding  in your tent may get wet in a rainstorm.  Or your perfect golden marshmallow may fall into the campfire. But you might as well do camping and life as much as you can with a smile.

“Always keep your face toward the sun and the shadows will fall behind.”


Copyright 2018@ The Autonomous Traveler

70/7000 Conquering a Mountain and Maybe Myself

Day 47-August 11, 2001

Today I hiked with Jack and Henny, a very fit and active couple from the Netherlands.


My time with this nice couple allowed me to ask questions about their lives in The Netherlands.  Henny works part time and engages in physical activity as much as she can.  Both she and Jack are into biking.  I got the feeling this is the norm for a lot of Europeans.

I did, however, feel inadequate being with them and found myself over compensating and competing.  I’m a sluggish American compared to them.  I felt an uneasiness and  some resentment, something I knew had childhood roots. This is a fault of mine that always takes away my peace and causes me to fear excellence in others.

At one point the path was a very thin ledge. At other times, all three of us needed to  silently focus on the trail.   In the quietness, I thought about how I should be thinner and more fit and that Jack and Henny were excellent role models for me. I may not be on their physical level but I’m still a good person.  One goal of this trip is to learn and live a life of acceptance.  I am who I am and that’s pretty darn good. I made it to The Tea House and maybe another step to a lasting insight.


When we reached the bottom of the mountain again, Jack and Henny asked if I wanted to hike the next day. They were going to try a higher climb. I believe in squeezing the life out of everyday but was I pushing myself too hard?  I was exhausted.  I decided to listen to my instincts, that music in my soul that makes me who I am. I had mixed with the beautiful spirit of two wonderful people from the Netherlands but now it was time to become centered in my own rhythm, my own tempo.  I needed to be still and find my direction again because I can’t be all things.  I’m me and that is good enough.

I thanked Jack and Henny for their kindness and for sharing a great experience with me. I told them I would never forget them and this day.  (Author’s note-August 27, 2018- I never have.)




70/7000 Beautiful Lake Louise, The Canadian Rockies


Day 47  August 11, 2001

A take my breath away moment, seeing Lake Louise for the first time.


As I stood at the edge of the lake, very engaged in gawking with my mouth open, a ranger with a survey on a clipboard saw my  potential  as an extremely positive statistic. “Would you considered this the most beautiful place you have ever seen?” she asked.

My answer surprised me. “No” I said.

“What do you consider as the most beautiful place you have ever seen?

“My backyard.” I replied.

The ranger scribbled something down and thanked me. Maybe not the answer she wanted but for me it was the truth. My backyard is the most beautiful place in the world  because it is home. It holds me in its arms and give me peace like no other place on earth. I’m safe there. I love traveling but  going  home is pretty wonderful, too. A few more days  north in the Canadian Rockies and then homeward bound.

I met Jack and Henny back at the campgrounds.  They were from the Netherlands and invited me to  hike with them the next day to The Tea House on top of one of the mountains. I thanked them and we arranged to meet in the morning.


I thought about  how much the kindness of strangers had helped my dreams come true this summer, wonderful people who with simple gestures took the fear out of my journey. It is a good world. Yes, there are curt people who don’t take the time to look into the warmth of others’ hearts. I discovered that I was more likely to find this attitude in places of conspicuous consumption, where objects are more important than people.

Our smiles, kind words, open postures, helpfulness, non threatening questions, and genuine interest in people have a ripple effect on our immediate environment and the world.

Another great day. My heart is smiling.


70/7000 The Mama Grizzly and Her Two Cubs

Day 46   August 10, 2001

Well, I traveled the Trans Canada Highway today  and I’m still alive to tell about it. But soon I had another challenge. As I drove up to the campgrounds at Lake Louise, I saw a sign at the registration booth that said, “No soft sided campers or tents allowed.”  This was not a problem for me since I have slept many times on this trip in the back of the van.  I asked the ranger for the reason behind this rule and he told me that a mother grizzly and her two cubs were seen traveling in the area. Oh, great!

I found my campsite and to my delight found a camp worker raking the dirt into neat patterns.  I took her picture because I’ve never had a housekeeper before.


I settled in and walked to the restrooms that were down a trail into the woods. Yes, there is a bit of wildlife here in Alberta, bears and all.



In the evening, I limited my intake of liquids but sure enough my bladder did not cooperate. I was not about to go down the trail to the restroom in the pitch dark with  grizzlies on the prowl. I silently opened the side door of the van and, leaving it open, moved about three and a half feet away, peed, got myself together, and ran the three and a half feet back into the van. It was gross, scary and embarrassing all at the same time but a woman of the woods has to do what she has to do. It’s called survival.

70/7000 The Eagle, the Wolf, And the Wildlife Bridge-Banff, Alberta, Canada

 Days 44 and 45    August 8 & 9, 2001

Crossed into Canada, I’m in Banff. Quite a tourist town!  More glitz than I’ve seen in the last few weeks. As looked over the lake towards a beautiful mountain scene, I saw my very first bald eagle.  I’m one of those people who get excited even over little things, especially when they concern nature.  This sighting is something I’ll never forget.

I love to drive. I sing along with my favorite music or acquire a whole bunch of interesting information from NPR or just think.  This morning the whole concept of tempo consumed my mind.  I found the definition in a dictionary at a bookstore in Banff, ‘tempo, the rate of motion or activity.” I decided it really doesn’t matter if a tempo is fast or slow.  I think consistency is important, a steady repetitiveness that forms a rhythm. Pace yourself. Pick a stride and stick with it. The tortoise and the hare. Steady wins the race. On this trip, I’m realizing that it is not where you go that counts, as long as you keep moving forward.  A metaphor for life?

I got a campsite in the Banff National Park. A wolf actually ran through the campgrounds by my site.  Nobody seemed to get excited. I loved it!




Canadians are so into ecology and the environment.  I went to another ranger talk and learned that there was a problem because a  of lot wild animals were being killed on The Trans Canada Highway. The government came up with some solutions.  They built wildlife bridges that  were made to look as inviting as possible with trees, bushes and soil.


(Picture courtesy of Rebecca Latson of National Parks Traveler)

Also, tunnels  were constructed under the highways to allow animals to pass  unharmed.

A fence along the highway became somewhat of an unsolvable problem.  The wolves learned that if they chased mountain sheep into the fence at a good clip, the sheep would hit the fence, become dazed, and be an easy kill.  The lesson of survival of the fittest, adaptation and resourcefulness, is demonstrated once again.

70/7000-Overcoming The Trans Canada Highway

Day 43-August 6, 2001


Today I got ready to move on.  I had the coupon for a free three nights stay in a condo in Banff but when I called the place I was told they were all filled up. Darn! I should of called earlier but I had no I idea when I would arrive.  Serendipity is the theme of this trip.  Oh,well.

I felt freezing coming on. I  was considering changing course and not going into Canada.  I was afraid of the mountains, the unknown, and The Trans Canada Highway!

I used to have my second graders play a game called “Freeze or Hide”. It was a game of tag in which a “fox” would try to capture “rabbits”. The rabbits had two safety choices, hiding by standing in a space within a hoop on the ground or freezing, standing perfectly still.  In life, I had learned to freeze emotionally.  Having had  a bad childhood and an even  worse marriage, I sometimes relied on numbness to survive. But freezing doesn’t solve anything because nothing gets done and, therefore, nothing gets better.


I wanted to change myself on this trip and become a better me.  I had to think, so……..

(1)I did some research. Got good directions. Looked at alternatives routes and various approaches.

(2) Broke the whole thing into steps. One stretch of highway at a time.

(3) Knew I  was done with sights in Glacier. Needed something different.

(4) Looked at the positives of the upcoming situation. Why was it all worth stretching myself a bit? Answer: I wanted to see the unique wildlife in The Canadian Rockies.




(My journal for this trip!)




(5) Called up my faith that told me everything would be okay.

(6) Reminded myself of my purpose, to take this trip and maybe someday write about it.

And then I recalled the things I had read on this trip. Every time an individual has a positive victory, an accomplishment, a move in the right direction, it is a win for everyone.

My menopausal odyssey continues, ever onward and upward. I’m going to do it! 70 days or bust!




70/7000-Glacier National Park, Montana

Days 39-42  August 2-5, 2001


Wonderful days camping in Glacier National Park.  I went to a presentation given by one of the park rangers about the geology of this place. The  rugged features “started forming 170 million years ago when older rocks were forced eastward up and over much younger rock strata.” I found the information about the stromatolites fascinating. They are 500 million year old fossilized algae mats that once lived under the water.  Glacier National Park  has the most extensive occurrence of early life fossils in the world.


I saw a notice for a bus tour through the whole park but thought I would just drive around myself.  Then a very tragic thing happened. One of the many bicyclists who frequent this large park was killed when he failed to make a curve and went down a cliff. I signed up for the tour and gave my whole attention to the scenery as I was driven around by a very capable and knowledgeable driver.


Sunday mass was held outside by a beautiful lake. Since my spiritual church is the outdoors, I decided to give this type of worship a chance.  The priest’s homily was a standard message.  But a quote in the mass bulletin really made an impression on me. “Make sure your prayers are of benefit not only for yourself but for others. God would act that way wouldn’t He, being that He is a God of love?  Since he is so smart, He would want what He gives you to benefit as many people as possible—a ripple or sunburst.” Cool. I guess, God is a multitasker! Loved this.