Of all the things I disliked early on about Victoria, my strongest fixation was on the airport. Petite in size comparable to say, Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver, and suffering from the weather patterns that frequently engulf Vancouver Island, I found the airport insufferable. The first few months we lived on the island I flew in and out finishing off my Backroads work, I was subject to being fogged in, fogged out, delayed due to rain, due to snow (I thought that one was comical, coming from Calgary). There were only six gates! You had to walk on the tarmac! There is no Starbucks! My complaints of the airport were plentiful, and so it would be in the beginning of Our Life in Victoria.
Those first few months were bleak (in weather) and dark (in my mind). I worked slowly on finding employment, and trying to make my lifestyle better. I thought about the best place to develop a community. A deeply spiritual friend from Calgary suggested I start asking the Universe to supply me with some angels. Guides, helpers, she said, people to make the difference during your time there. Little did I know I was going to receive a fleet of them, and they were going to be dressed in black and orange. It wasn’t long after this conversation with her that I met Mike.
We had coffee and I liked him instantly. With a calm demeanour and an obvious passion for triathlon and his triathlon team, I was intrigued and simultaneously terrified. His group had people that had represented in multiple Championships. Age Group Worlds. ITU. Kona. Could I possibly hack it with the group? We agreed on a trial period and I picked a Sunday morning run to start off. I hardly slept the Saturday night before, worries running rampant through my head. What if I didn’t like them? What if I wasn’t fast enough? Worse yet, what if I didn’t fit in? I was desperate for something to bring a ray of sunshine into my dreary existence as I struggled to find my feet under me.
Sunday run came and went. We ran ten km and I could hardly believe it. Everyone introduced himself or herself, but more importantly, I was talked to. Asked about. During the run I was rotated through the group with different people running and chatting to me, and I was overwhelmed by the general kindness of the people. I decided to stick with it. I joined officially Human Powered Racing a few weeks later and the rest, as they say, is history.
The next many months unfurled, winter coming to spring, spring coming to summer, summer coming to fall, and from fall into winter. I looked forward to each and every workout, a triathlon season that lay ahead giving me a renewed sense of purpose and invigoration. I learned my teammates stories, met their partners and friends, and shared life’s inevitable ups and downs via foot, bike and pool. In the hardest of times in Victoria there was something for me to have, something to which I belonged, a place where people knew my name, learned my story, and cared for me. I felt loved, and I loved them back.
HPR also gave me my first legitimate friend. Living close by helped out the beginning portions of our friendship, and soon we were biking to and from workouts together. We’d meet for a run, a swim, on the off chance one of us couldn’t make it to the group effort. One day in June when I got home from a bike ride we’d taken I realized how much we’d talked about and shared over the ride. I came home so excited and woke Jon up from his nap. I HAVE A REAL FRIEND! I cried. He probably gave me a quizzical look. I texted Joelle: Thanks for the bike ride and sharing friend! Can’t wait to see you soon. Friend. Friend. Coming from a huge social circle in Calgary, and in Backroads, I hadn’t realized that meeting people and developing meaningful relationships was going to be so hard. Joelle was a gift, a sign, life here would continue to improve. It did.
I especially loved Monday, Wednesday and Fridays in the summer time when we’d swim at Thetis Lake. I loved arriving in my shorts, taking the short hike to the waterfront, and pulling on my wetsuit. Being a native of the Calgary triathlon scene where open water swimming is practically non-existent, I was delighted by the easy ability to swim there. The sun would shine late into the evening, I got to understand “small island” “big island” swimming, and I grew and I grew and I grew in the open water. I suffered alongside the group on rainy bikes and runs. I reveled in the view of the ocean every single time we rode to Sidney bakery. I’d always feel a smile looming as we rounded the last corner in North Saanich, knowing the sight of the water was ahead. The ocean! Living in so many land-locked places it was sheer novelty. I loved my athletic life, the part of my year that completely came together.
It would occur to me mid-summer, on an evening ride up East Saanich to the airport –which ironically became one of my favorite rides- how much I adored the once loathed airport. I saw sparkle in it’s large flower sculptures, delight in the tiny, slow moving counters and a joy in being able to walk outside to your airplane at all times of the year. A niggling thought in my head spoke and said, you actually think the airport is quite charming! I actually chuckled at the thought, given my feeling on the slow-moving island ways that could often drive me batty. You’re alright Victoria, I thought on a Tuesday night, as the late evening sun illuminated the farm fields and ocean, warming everything as far as my eye could see.
So when the time came, and it was decided that the time we’d spent into Victoria was coming to an end, I went into a period of mourning. There were so many reasons to return East and open a new chapter. But this would mean I’d be leaving HPR. How could I do that? I’d made a plan for 2012, 2013… I saw myself growing, changing, supporting and being supported by these people. How could I ever leave them? I met with Mike to tell him, and spent forty-five minutes at Starbucks heaving unabashed sobs. I love this team, I told Mike over and over and over again. In the days and weeks that followed, the sympathy, love and compassion that flowed to us came predominately from the triathlon team. We were offered places to stay, meals, financial support, moving help. If I wasn’t overwhelmed at the beginning with the love that had been shown to me the last ten months, this was the trump card of them all.
In addition to the wonderful folk of HPR, I’d be amiss to not also mention also Mark, Olivia and Michelle who made my working life not only tolerable but actually enjoyable. Thanks to Adrienne who gave me support and encouragement where I least expected it, to my first “legit” friend Joelle. I am also thankful for Andrew and Noa, Kelly and Kyle, and Leif and Laura, really special couples who made our time here so wonderful by sharing themselves with us. Last but not least there is Sarah and Bill. If ever I needed proof my Backroads experience extends beyond the four and a half years I spent working for them, this was living proof. They gave us a place to stay two Novembers ago at the beginning of this and a soft place for me to land at the very end. Their undying affection, love, encouragement and support have been overwhelming in its completeness and genuine nature. We were so blessed.
One day I'll write the story of this year, but not now. Sitting in YYJ, this is the end and also a new beginning. I can look around and feel satisfied in this tiny airport, a piece of this place I came to love.
Onward and Upward.