I pace quickly up the hill. My feet slamming into the mud of the trail.
My heart is racing, my body sweating. Legs ache, lungs burn. I can’t stop though. There’s something in the trees behind me. Something scary. Not a bear or a monster. Much worse than that.
Now you may think from my last post about socialising while travelling, that I’m a lover of conversation. The truth is, I hate it. I am a level 99 ninja at avoiding it. There’s a lot I’d go through to get out of a conversation. Including climbing a mountain.
This all happened a few years ago, while living in Vancouver. At the time I was incredibly stressed out. My house had bed bugs, but even worse than that, my house had Czech housemates.
Each night I turned my light out at 11pm to go to sleep, only to be kept awake for the next three hours by the random noise of my housemates. One of which seemed to have a constant cold. The only way he seemed to find of relieve his build up of snot was to blow his nose into a handkerchief.
Each morning I would wake as the sound of a window-shaking nose blowing took place. It was as though a foghorn was going off inside the building. Often in the first few moments of waking, I would believe there was an earthquake before slowly realising that it was just my annoying housemate trumpeting into a tissue.
Another housemate couldn’t speak a world of English, and spent each night loudly watching Czech TV on his laptop. He would laugh aloud shouting random things at his screen. Whenever I asked him to be quiet he would look at me in confusion, scratching his head. He wouldn’t reply back, we’d just stand in awkward silence until I left.
Soon enough, I was a prisoner in my own home, scared to leave my bedroom in case I had to awkwardly socialise with the guy who couldn’t speak English or the friend who he always invited over to smoke weed.
I decided the best course of action wouldn’t be to confront my housemates about any of these problems, but instead to ignore them. I’m not one for confrontation. I’m the type of person that just stays silent getting angrier and angrier. I just hoped they would magically realise how much of a pain in my arse they were to me. If not, I could always just move out.
After all the annoyance, I decided that the best way to unwind and relax would be to go on a hike at the weekend, to get away from the house and my housemates for a day and to get some peace and quiet.
Fortunately, Vancouver is surrounded by islands, which you can get to easily by boat or ferry. One of the bigger islands is called Bowen Island. At 50 square kilometers it’s no Hawaii, but is still large enough to have a pretty moderately sized mountain in the middle. The perfect escape!
As soon as I jumped on the ferry it was as though a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. My worries became smaller as the mainland disappeared behind me. By the time I’d reached the island I was in high spirits, ready for a day of hiking.
I planned to slowly make my way up the mountain and relax at the top, have a picnic and read a book, before easing back down and maybe getting some dinner from a restaurant near the ferry terminal.
With a spring in my step I headed along the only road of the island to the trail head. I skipped along, whistling merrily. All around me was silent forest. It was perfect.
As I closed in on the trail head, I looked over the road and noticed an obstacle course. It looked like great fun. It was a long series of balance beams, which you had to walk over. I made a mental note to try it after my hike.
Passing by the course, I looked toward the end and there were some people playing on it. I smiled happily watching a girl falling off a beam into a man’s hands. Almost instantly I got a feeling of familiarity. Do I know them?
Suddenly the silence around me was broken by an unmistakable sound. BRRRPHHH!!! The trees shook, birds flying in all directions. BRRRPHHHH!!! The noise made me twitch. It wasn’t possible. Surely it couldn’t be.
The man over the road turned around and immediately I looked away. It was my fucking Czech housemate blowing his fucking nose! I’d come all this way with the express purpose of escaping him! The idea of it was heaven to me. Now I was in hell. Stuck on an island with my annoying Czech housemates, I couldn’t imagine anything worse. (Actually, I could – living with them.) I could instantly picture a terrible afternoon of making small talk, and pretending I enjoyed their company. All I wanted was to be alone.
So I did what any sane person would do. I pretended I hadn’t seen them. We’ve all been there, right? You’re on a bus and suddenly an old school friend gets on. Quickly you avert your eyes, and stare out of the window pretending you haven’t seen them. Of course you know they’ll see you, but you can hope that they’ll join in on the charade and they’ll pretend they haven’t seen you either.
Am I the only person that finds such situations strange? If you see somebody you went to school with 20 years ago you have to stop and say hi to them. You have to sit next to them and make conversation. Why? Surely, neither of you give a shit about the other after all that time. You’re simply interacting because both of you need to continue some social contract that became invalid years ago.
If you turned to one of these old friends and said, “Let’s not bother talking. We’re no longer friends, I can’t even remember your full name.” They’d think you were the biggest dick alive, yet they’d probably been dreaming all along of saying the same thing to you. Why do we put ourselves through the pains of social interactions we don’t want to have just to save face? Should we really care what somebody from years ago thinks of us anyway?
Similarly, here I was stuck in a position where I would be forced to interact with these people. Sure they were my flatmates, but not my friends. We could barely even communicate enough to learn each others names! Yet society dictates I must pretend to be their friend so we can all feel better about ourselves. Secretly though I’d be ruining their trip and they’d be ruining mine.
So, yes, I did the sane thing, I pretended I couldn’t see them. They were only 20 metres away, on the other side of a road. Never mind that though. I turned my eyes away. Lalala, I can’t see you, so you don’t exist, so I don’t have to acknowledge you.
If they said later, “Hey, we saw you at Bowen Island today!” I’d act as surprised as possible. “Oh, really?! Wow! What a small world! Why didn’t you shout my name so that we could reminisce about how you keep me awake every night playing on your laptop, and how I really want to strangle you with that fucking handkerchief that you insist on blowing your fucking nose into every five fucking minutes?!”
Once I was around the corner, out of sight, my pace started to quicken. I started to wonder why my Czech housemates were on the island. My conclusion was they were also going to climb the mountain. Since I was in front of them, it meant there was no escape, I would have to always be ahead of them. If they caught up to me, I’d be forced to spend time with them, gritting my teeth for hours. Listening to that annoying sound of a nose being expelled loudly all day. My day of supposed relaxation.
The thought turned my quick walk into a jog. Soon I was at the trail head, which was actually just a paved hill with an incredibly steep gradient. So steep that it would be impossible for any human being to get to the top without stopping for a break. But, if I stopped for a break, they might get to the bottom of the hill and see me.
I sprinted my way up the hill. My heart pumping, my entire body sweating. I wanted to stop, but I wouldn’t allow it. The fear of socialising pushed me on. If you ever want to motivate yourself to go to the gym, just imagine that if you don’t, you’ll have to socialise. It worked for me. The pain in my limbs was nowhere near as bad as the pain I’d feel spending time with my housemates, so I pushed and pushed.
Soon a real trail appeared at the side of the road. A dirt path of mud into the trees. I sprinted off the road and down the track. Every time I wanted to stop I convinced myself that if I did they would catch up to me. I leapt over roots and up steps, desperate to not get caught.
Eventually my body couldn’t take it anymore. I fell to my knees. I was panting heavily, my whole body covered in sweat, my head pounding. I took a bottle of water from my bag and downed it in one. I could feel the blood pumping into my head. I was getting nauseous. I didn’t feel so good.
I vomited all over a mossy log. Instantly I felt a bit better, but my lungs were burning. I sat for a few minutes breathing heavily, gaining some composure. Still I was more worried about being caught. I heard a twig snap behind me on the trail and convinced myself that I’d heard the blowing of a nose. That was enough. In a flash I was on my feet, powering further up the mountain.
In retrospect my housemates were a bunch of stoners. They probably never even made it up the mountain. If they did it would have taken them hours after stopping every 10 minutes to roll a joint. Still I was possessed with the thought that they’d see me, so I pushed onwards making it to the top in no doubt record time.
Once I was at the top I couldn’t enjoy the view. If I stopped to enjoy it they’d get me. I took a picture, swallowed my sandwich in two bites and as soon as I’d arrived I was gone. Desperate to get down and escape.
I snuck all the way back to the ferry terminal, taking a longer route through a park in case I bumped into them. Every time I saw a jacket that even half resembled my housemate’s I dove to the side and hid behind a bush until I knew it was safe to continue.
When I arrived at the ferry terminal it was to the news that the next ferry wasn’t for an hour. For all 60 of those minutes I stared up the road, trying to spot my housemates coming. Preparing in my head what I would say to them. “Oh, you decided to come here today too?! Wow! What a coincidence. Oh, you have a cold too?! I never noticed! ” I paced back and forwards willing time to move quicker, but it just did the opposite.
Eventually the ferry pulled in and I ran on, taking a seat overlooking the entrance to see if they’d come on after me. I could always hide in the toilet for the whole trip to avoid them…
When they never turned up and the ferry pulled away, I finally relaxed for the first time that day. I arrived back at the house exhausted and sweaty. But also slightly happy.
I never had to socialise, and that was all that mattered.