This solo trip to Chilcotin, Canada was my best mid-career break ever. The initial intention was to visit my friend. It was then I decided to do some horse riding. I found Chilcotin on the website and I reckon the wilderness experience and adventure it highlighted appealed to me rather than another dude ranch.
As I would be spending 30 days in Canada and the longest holiday I have ever took alone, I decided to ask to volunteer at Chilcotin as I love horses and would want to spend more time there. So there I was 5 days volunteering and a week as their paying guest.
Kevan and another community partner came to pick me up. The drive up to the ranch was much further than I thought. The wilderness and mountains ranges that lay before me were amazing. I have been to quite a few countries, but the vastness and openness in the land that stretches on and on really uplifted my spirit and I didn’t feel tired even though the drive was long. Along the way, we stopped at the grocery store where we loaded the week’s groceries into the suburban. At the ranch, I helped to unload the stuff as well.
When I was shown into my room, I realized I was sharing a bunk bed. In addition, there was another single bed that was just adjacent to the bunk bed. Having lived in a four room apartment all to myself back home, I was quite surprised how I quickly brushed that thought aside and adapted myself to the new environment. I told myself, “This is a working holiday after all.”
At night, I was sound asleep. Even though the bunk bed shakes each time I climb up, I am glad I woke up fresh each morning from my deep sleep.
Kevan ensured newcomers like me read up on the philosophy of Chilcotin Holidays and their procedures. It was very generous of him and he shared everything like an open book. I noticed the living room floor was covered with down feathers and offered to help to clean them. At the ranch, I have helped to clean dishes and set the dining table for meals for the guests. This was really my first time considering I have never done any part-time or waitressing. As a former Head of Department in my previous job I used to be the one telling others what to do. Yet I feel a lot of satisfaction in doing the mundane work and contributing in any way I can.
On alternate days the horses were given hay. I was asked to help out with the rolling of a bale of hay. It was 750 kg and a lot of hard work even though there were a few of us. Babe is a retired logging horse and gets her special meals twice a day. I would bring her down and walk her to the barn area. I really treasured the experiences and remembered on my last day of stay at the ranch, Babe was drinking water at the creek. She was unwilling to move initially even with the halter on and it was impossible to pull her. But I decided to walk away and call her to follow. It was a surprise but Babe decided to follow me all the way down to the barn. She probably knew I was going to feed her and that’s why she decided to walk and follow.
It’s been more than 3 weeks since I left Chilcotin Holidays and the memories are still fresh though a little truncated. I still remember Molly showing me the Chicken house. I used to be fearful of the hens. But I soon realized I had to overcome it because I have to help feed them and collect the eggs every morning.
Kevan taught us how to use the chainsaw. He was telling us the 101 ways that people can get injured from using it. I was quite hesitant to try. But he said,” You have come so far all the way from your country. If you don’t try new things here, which you probably won’t have the chances to try anywhere, you might as well stay in your home country.”
All the community partners were in their late teens to late twenties. I was the exception. Although I consider myself as a volunteer, Kevan saw me as one of them and treated me the same as everyone else. I shared accommodations with them, ate with them and worked alongside with them for 5 days. I still remember those times when we had to “chase” the horses from pasture to pasture, hiked up the hill and ran downhill too just because they escaped and jumped over the fences. It was then I realized we were all doing our own thing and it was hard to round them up. So I suggested that we form a barricade and then the horses start to move together. For the first time at the ranch, I felt how important teamwork and communication is. We simply can’t do things alone.
Kevan introduced us to wood logging and how to drive the 700kg wood logging horse. I was scared initially, but after learning how to drive the horse with the long reins and learning how to steer and position myself without the logs crashing my legs, I gained more self-confidence.
The 7 day pack trip was the wilderness experience of a lifetime. I have only done horse riding in a small arena in Singapore for 6 lessons. Here in Chilcotin Holidays, I had a lot of first time experiences while trail riding. Tepee, the horse I rode, although small in size made up for it in speed. Often, he loves to graze the grass. Many times I looked down the cliffs, to see the mountains and valleys, I realized I could not really appreciate the scenery and admire them as the fear that I might fall off the edge of the cliffs were real. However, Tepee moved so fast jumping over logs or stopped at the cliff for grass, I had no time for fear. Once he even cantered, and at one moment I thought I would fall. But I managed to regain my balance and let him go fast as he ran up the hills and caught up with the rest of the group.
On Day 5 of the pack trip, I started to question why did I “torture” myself. I reckon I was mentally tired even though I loved the adventure and wilderness. But the realization that I was far from the comforts of home really started to hit me. I went to bed early, going to my tent at 7pm. A rest was necessary and I was glad to wake up the next day. Tepee was raring to go back to the ranch and somehow I shared his sentiments.
The way back I felt a transformation, I was so much more confident, I think it’s because I am really comfortable now in my saddle and with Tepee. I could look up at the huge rocks and appreciate the fast flowing rivers. They brought so much joy to me and I have no words to explain it. My soul is completely renewed.
On the day I left, I teared up especially on the way down from the mountains. It’s hard to say goodbye to the rocks and nature of the Chilcotin Mountains. It’s really the true wilderness because I was totally off grid and out of cell range for nearly 2 weeks. The Wi-Fi, which was limited at the ranch, was turned on only from 7pm-7am. But those 12 days without technology, my life felt so fulfilled and full. I remember Kevan’s words. “Turning the impossible into possible.”
Yes this trip really made me realise that the impossible can be possible. He mentioned that Faded ink is better than the best memory. Yes that’s why I wanted to capture these reflections in words.
Life is never a linear road. There are winding paths. Ups and downs, rivers to cross, mountains to climb, descents can be scary at times. Yet when you finish the journey and look back at how far you have travelled, the dangers you have braved, you truly marvel at the inner strength you actually have. Many times I thought fear would overwhelm me. But Tepee moved so fast, zig-zagging up the mountains, bringing me across the rivers, walking over the snow, cantering up the slopes, jumping over the logs downhill and uphill— I have no time for fear! Simply absolute trust in my horse. I realize in life we do not have to live in fear and anxiety. We need to embrace every step and trust that each journey/stage of our life is where we are supposed to be and where God placed us. Fear is a result of overthinking, this trip taught me that we need to move so fast and keep moving so that we don’t have time to dwell over things and be anxious. Moving forward and onwards lets us have no time and no room for negativity to dwell in us.
My mid career break is ending soon and I was truly glad that I came to Chilcotin Holidays for this big adventure. I am now more ready to return to work life and embrace the challenges that might be up ahead. This was my transformation.