I remember waking up one morning, staring at the ceiling of a yurt and thinking, “How did I get here?” A pair of Eagle made themselves known as they flew over, as they did every morning of that trip. I looked over at my friend in the bed on the other side of the yurt and I smiled. Here we were in the middle of a Redwood forest at a Buddhist Centre in Northern California.
Traveling does something to us. It shakes up our insides and when we return home, we are changed because of it. Even if just a little bit. When we travel, we often meet others doing the same. I remember as a kid when my family was on a road trip to the East Coast of Canada. We stopped in a tiny village in New Brunswick and, wouldn’t you know it, there was a man there who knew my Dad. Small world, we would say and then the journey would continue. I remember this happening on nearly every big trip that we took as a family. Or perhaps your experience was meeting that other couple at an all-inclusive resort. The four of you sat at that swim-up bar one afternoon, drinking a few too many sugary cocktails and for the rest of the week you would do the same. One night you maybe even met for dinner at the a la carte restaurant and you had so much fun. Maybe when you got back to your respective home cities, you would find one another on Facebook and connect. But over time, maybe nothing really became of that friendship. You didn’t make plans to meet and as the months roll, you forget about that first afternoon of too many daiquiris.
But, occasionally, while on your travels, you meet someone and there is an instant connection. There is something below the surface. A knowing that this person, who just randomly entered your life, is going to be a part of it for a long time. Twelve years ago I was brought to Vancouver to photograph a friend’s wedding. For dinner, I was seated at the misfits table, as photographers often are. You know the table I speak of. The one where the random guests who don’t quite fit anywhere else are placed in hopes that they find something in common. And there my friend was, a guest of a guest. They had just come from Australia and had hitchhiked across Canada to be at that table. And so we met, Katie and I. I don’t remember much about what we talked about that day but I do remember thinking “I am going to hold onto her.”
Years later, I paid her a visit while I was in Queensland. We had a tea party. I met her daughter. Two years following, I was to photograph a wedding in New Zealand two days before Christmas and knowing that I wouldn’t make it back to Canada in time for the holidays, I rang her up and asked if I could be the misfit at her Christmas dinner. We ate seafood at the beach that day. I stayed for a week and from that point on, we became family. Two years later, I was honeymooning with my husband in Australia and we had planned the trip around Katie’s own wedding. Thirty-four people sat around the table on that beautiful day and I couldn’t help but remember the misfit wedding table that had brought us all together so many years prior.
When I got the call a few months later that she would be heading to Northern California on her next adventure, I did not hesitate to join. Because when opportunities to travel appear, you take them without a second thought. We stayed in that yurt surrounded by Redwoods and we soaked in every second of that trip. I took full advantage of having that husband-less and kid-free time with her.
Soon I fly to Australia once more and this time we are heading on our most brazen adventure yet: a journey to the desert to spend time with the original people of that land. We will sleep on the ground, we will share stories and we will return home changed.
Travel has a funny way of presenting people and opportunities to you. They are everywhere, on every adventure that you embark on. Sometimes they stick and you are forever changed for them. Other times, they wash off your back, barely a blip in your life. I have learned to keep my eyes open for the ones worth latching onto because I understand their importance. If I hadn’t talked to that Australian woman sitting at that misfit table, twelve years ago, I suspect I would not be who I am today.