Usually, "Embrace the suck" is a phrase used by athletes to convince themselves that suffering in training makes the races easier, but it can be a life mantra as well. Last weekend was my 11th wedding anniversary, my wife's too as it happens, and we were talking about what we've experienced together over the years. The funny thing is, most everything we talked about was the times that things went wrong. But those were the times that made us smile. Obstacles thrown in our way that we managed to shrug off and made us closer and happier together.
Without question the biggest test of our early relationship was our ill-fated trip to San Francisco. Somehow we got it into our heads that we should pack up and head off to the city by the bay for a vacation in the summer of 2000. We hadn't been dating that long but we knew that we were in it for the long haul and I think that made us think we were more grown up than we really were. I was 19 and Kim was 21 and we jumped in my K-car and headed off down the road. We didn't have ANY money so we camped the whole way and ate cup-a-soups for more than half our meals.
Surprisingly, the trip down went without a hitch. We didn't have air conditioning, cruise control or GPS but we didn't miss a beat. In addition to being broke, the exchange rate was the worst it has been in the last 50 years. We were paying $1.61 for every American dollar and it was tough to even justify a chocolate bar at the gas station. It was a lot like Dumb and Dumber, we were on a very tight budget. Unfortunately for us we didn't have a dead bird to sell to the blind neighbour kid for extra cash.
We walked the pier, did the Alcatraz at Night tour and had an absolute blast.
The next day we started for home. At a little town called Garberville, CA we heard a rattling and thought we should pull over and readjust our luggage. Then the oil light came on on the dashboard. Uh oh. I put it in neutral and cruised down the hill into town and pulled into a local mechanic. This guy could have been right out of central casting. He had the coveralls, the floppy hat and the rag in his back pocket. He pulled out a long screwdriver, put it to his ear and held it to different parts of the engine. He shook his head and told us we had blown a connector rod. I made an equally concerned face, (I had no idea what this meant but I could tell this was the right thing to do) and asked how much this would cost. He explained that he couldn't fix that, we'd need to get our K-car towed to Oregon and get a hotel room and then pay to fix the engine. I did some quick math and it was MUCH more than the vehicle was worth. We thanked the guy for his help and drove the car into a parking lot and started walking around town trying to figure out what to do.
We made our way to the Waterwheel Restaurant and got a table. We decided we should try and scrap the car, buy bus tickets and make our way home to Canada. The waitress made some small talk with us and found out our story and she took pity on us. The story made it's way around town pretty quickly and soon, while we were trying how to figure out how to deal with the worst day of our lives, people were popping in to say "hi" to the Canadians. Seriously, like a half dozen separate people came in just to talk to us. We walked across town to the scrap yard and tried to sell the car to them but the only guy that worked there was out with his truck pulling a semi out of the ditch 4 hours away and wouldn't be back until tomorrow. So, back to the Waterwheel. We didn't want to just abandon the car so we decided to try and sell it. To the busboy. For a dollar. The worst part was the guy had to hum and hah over a $1 car! Eventually he decided that, worst case scenario, he could just scrap it for $100 and make a tidy profit so he took it off our hands.
Perfect, problem solved. So we just needed to get home. As it happened, just across the street was the Singing Salmon. What is the Singing Salmon you ask? What ISN'T the Singing Salmon? It is the local record store, UPS courier franchise AND the Greyhound depot. We popped in and asked to buy 2 tickets to Vancouver, BC. As luck would have it, Kim's parents were in Vancouver on holidays and told us to get there and they'd give us a ride home. The ornery fellow in the Singing Salmon said he was closing in 5 minutes and because of our bags wouldn't have enough time to process us before he closed so we'd have to wait until tomorrow. Defeated we walked back across the street to the Waterwheel and sat back down at "our" table. Kim had a brainstorm, one of the few in our time together, and she thought, "hey, if you can buy concert tickets on the phone, why not bus tickets?" This was the pre-internet era so going online wasn't even an option. Greyhound was awesome and told us we just had to stand outside of the local bus depot when the bus pulled up and the driver could sell us a ticket at the next major stop. So, the dick at the Singing Salmon wanted the commission but didn't want to stay a few minutes late. Such a clown.
We went back to the restaurant and told Kathy, the waitress, the good news. We just needed to be out front of the bus depot at 1am when the bus came. Her eyes got really big. Apparently, one of the solutions to the homeless problem in San Francisco was to give these wayward folks a bus ticket out of town. One of the most common destinations is..... Garberville, CA!
She refused to let us sit outside on the sidewalk until 1 in the morning and instead took us home with her after work for a few hours. She dropped us back off and waited until the bus had us safely on our way. On the 27 hour bus ride to Vancouver we made some friends from Mexico and I played a game that appeared similar to rock-paper-scissors. I didn't know the rules because the kid I was playing against only spoke Spanish and I only speak English, but some how he always won. We had another couple of funny incidents too. In Portland we had a bit of a layover in the bus depot so I sat on a bench just outside the front door. As I sat down a Honda Civic came to a screeching halt right in front of me and the driver asked, "Yo man! You need some batteries?" I said, "uh, no." And he roared off. I was rattled so I went back inside and sat down in a corner. Kim was sitting next to a black guy and he leaned over and asked if she wanted to buy his CD. She instinctively reached over and pulled her purse closer and he did not appreciate this. He started yelling at her that she was a "white bitch" and that he was just a regular dude and she needed to get her head straight. She walked away and ended up guiding a blind man around the bus depot because he couldn't see where he was going and no one seemed to want to help the poor guy.
Eventually the bus showed up. Our next stop was in downtown Seattle at 2am. I popped inside to use the washroom and as soon as I crossed the threshold I spun on my heel and walked out. The dirt and smell that hit me were too much to handle and I decided that I'd go on the bus when we re-boarded. If you decide that a Greyhound bus is a better option for you, you know it's bad. After a short stop we were back aboard and on our way to Vancouver where Kim's dad and his lifelong friend's wife Pat picked us up. After that it was smooth sailing all the way back to Edmonton. You've never seen two people so happy to be wedged into the back of a 2 door Sunfire for a 12 hour car ride.
This could easily have been one of the worst experiences of our lives but the stories that Kim and I have gotten out of it are amazing. Plus, we know we can adapt and survive and it has made our relationship stronger.
On our honeymoon we went to Tofino, BC on Vancouver Island.
It's experiences like this that can really make you or break you. How do you react when faced with adversity? Do you see the humour and opportunity in these situations or do you freak out and break down? This is not to say that I don't have my occasional spaz outs or overreact to bad news but overall I'm pretty calm, cool and collected and even overly happy about bad situations.
This has been absolutely critical in Ironman racing. When you're feeling exhausted after 5 hours on a bike and some teenager yells at you that you're fat and an elderly gentleman gives you the finger you can either get bummed out or you can laugh at just how ridiculous it all is.
I would strongly urge you to take any opportunity you can to look at a everything life throws at you and find the funny, no matter how hard you have to look.