Beep, beep, beep…. I jump up and turn off the 4am alarm. I haven’t really slept due to excitement, so getting up so early isn’t hard. I quickly transfer bags of food and ice from the freezer to the cooler, which is the only remaining thing to be packed as the rest of the camping gear was carefully packed the night before. I rush to get out the door and into the car. I pause to say a short prayer for safe travels, then for a moment, all is silent. Most people are still asleep, the roads are almost empty and it’s still completely dark out. I turn the key and the car comes to life, filling the quiet with the gentle purring of the engine. Next is the drive to the nearest Tim Hortons and get the traditional coffee. The 4am service is slow, and the coffee is often burnt, but it’s worth it. Turning the car toward the highway, I start up the road songs mix on the stereo. Starting with the gentle sound of Traveller by Fernando Ortega, followed by the more lively Life is a Highway, and so on. Once I get on the expressway, the game of how-far-can-I-go-with-the-cruise-on starts. The traffic slowly starts increasing as the sun begins to rise. The beginning of a perfect road trip.
For the past few years, every road trip I’ve gone on has started this way. It’s a ritual that I look forward to and make sure to follow. But it wasn’t always this way. In many ways, my road trip ritual naturally evolved. It started with my original road trips with Mike, Mike, Chris, Dave and myself. I was the one that wanted to leave early in the morning, since that meant we would have more time at our destination. Back then it was always about the destination, rather than the journey. We used to leave at 530am. At some point I started doing 4am and it stuck. The Tim Hortons coffee was something that my friends insisted on. I wasn’t much of a coffee drinker back then, and thought it was annoying that we had to stop, but somehow it became a part of the ritual. I’m sure family drives to the cottage factor into the ritual somewhat too, since I always wanted to leave early, and was always trying to find the perfect wake up music to start the day.
I’ve been thinking about rituals/traditions in my life, mostly because I lost some important rituals from my life in Hamilton…rituals that I haven’t managed to carry on in London. I prefer to call them rituals. To me, the word tradition has a bit of a hollow ring… A tradition is something that you follow because that’s how its always been done. That doesn’t mean a tradition isn’t enjoyable or helpful, but it is something that is passed on to you. Rituals, on the other hand, are more on-purpose and have a deeper reason. At least that’s how I understand it.
Lets go back to 2006 me. Sometime near the end of my first year of university, I started going on exploratory drives around Hamilton. Aside from getting lost in downtown Hamilton, I also discovered the twisty roads through the Dundas Valley. I don’t remember exactly what made me go driving at first, but I remember it becoming something special. Originally it was all about the sight seeing…the destination. Over time, I discovered a joy in the drive itself. Driving became my therapy…something I could do while the worries of life temporarily slipped away. Over time, my Hamilton driving loop developed into what it is now. By 2008, it was a set loop that I drove very regularly. I enjoyed driving it in many situations, but the most common time was late at night. Some nights, my mind was driving me crazy, trying to solve seemingly unsolvable problems in my life, and driving the Hamilton loop was something I could do to clear my head. It became something that I did very regularly, especially when my life was in turmoil.
Sometime in the summer of 2008, I started going to the edge of Hamilton harbour to sit and pray. Near where the HMCS Haida is docked, is a part of the harbour that is public access, but is also still somewhat commercially used. I enjoyed it because it was a bit quieter than the rest of the harbour, and had a corner that I could sit on, right next to the water. Sometimes I would spend more time listening than praying. Other times I poured my heart out to God. It wasn’t perfect, as sometimes there were too many people walking the pier, or it would start raining, or I would be shivering from the cold of winter….but it was a special place that I could talk to God and feel that he was listening. Normally I would go there every few weeks. During the hard times I would visit the harbour once a day.
The Dundas loop, and my visits to the harbour seemed to be the perfect rituals. Driving the Dundas loop allowed me to leave behind the thoughts running through my head, and praying at Hamilton harbour allowed me to confront them. I’ve struggled with re-establishing these sort of rituals in London, as the geography just doesn’t support it. My Hamilton rituals seemed to create themselves….I had very little to do with the process.
The Dundas loop formed naturally out of the fun to drive twisty roads. It was so easy to set out driving and find great roads to drive. Not so in London…..all the good roads are at least half an hour away, and long straight roads encourage deep thought rather than chasing it away like a twisty road does. How does one replace a ritual like this when the area doesn’t seem to support it?
The origins of my times praying at the Hamilton harbour are harder to nail down. I don’t actually remember the first time I did it. I recall photographing the harbour in the summer of 2007, but but I don’t specifically remember my first time praying there. Around the same time that I started going to the harbour, I remember praying at night out on the dock at the cottage. At some point I had started praying while sitting on a tree branch on the rubber dump trail near Mitchell. Somehow, praying while alone in God’s creation seemed so natural…much more so than praying at home. I started to go out of my way to go to the rubber dump on weekends, specifically to experience that time alone with God. Hamilton Harbour was the perfect place to continue this tradition. Late at night, my corner of the pier was quiet, with very few people walking by. The wide open space of the harbour adds a sense of awe, the sound of the water makes it peaceful, and the lack of a guardrail meant I could sit with my feet dangling over the edge of the pier.
Moving to London has killed both of these rituals and I struggle with finding suitable replacements. In a sense both rituals had begun dying even while I was still in Hamilton. I drove the Dundas loop less and less because I was trying to save money, and driving costs money. My times praying at the harbour had begun to lessen as well as I became frustrated with always praying the same prayers and never seeming to get answers. In a sense my habour prayer habit was driven by lots of life changes and turmoil during my years in Hamilton, and as my life became more stable, I had less reason to pray…or so it seemed. Every now and then I think that I need to work harder at trying to (re)establish some rituals in London, but it just doesn’t seem to happen. My attempts at finding twisty roads worthy of driving have failed, and there doesn’t seem to be any quiet, easily accessible spots to pray at night…although I’m sure they must exist. The thing is, when I look back at the various rituals that have formed in the past, they grew quite organically. It wasn’t something that I worked at or forced. It kind of just happened. Maybe I need to be patient and keep looking. Or maybe new rituals, different from before, will spring up. Either way, I feel I need to find something. And I wonder, what rituals do others have?