The Solo Travel Adventures series

Do one thing every day that scares you. Mary Schmich

9 July 2021. I’m perched on this motorized “thing” making my way north via quiet side roads from the rental place to Queen Elizabeth Park and I’m pretty much freaking out. What is this thing I’m riding? Where’s the seatbelt? Where’s the gear lever? What are these tiny wheels? I feel as if I’m sitting on a chair not a vehicle. It feels so unsafe.

Sometime in the early part of 1967 my godmother, who I barely knew, and whose name I no longer remember, passed away and left me $150. In those days, especially for a 16-year-old, it was quite a lot of money.

In those days in Australia you could get a drivers’ license at age 17, and a learners’ permit three months before. And in those days in Australia a 16-soon-to-be-17-year-old would be in 11th grade. Because I skipped a year I was in 12th grade. My entire class had turned 17 the year before and many of my friends had motor bikes. I wanted one! And here finally was my chance. That $150 bought me a good-sized deposit, insurance, and a helmet. Dad loaned me the rest with the proviso that I pay him back as soon as I started working. At 16 years and 9 months I had wheels! Whoooohooo! I later got a Bridgestone 90 dirt bike. Fun!

In 2021 I discover that there is a world of difference between riding a motor bike and riding a scooter. I’ve rented a scooter for half a day to try to develop some confidence in riding one in case I want to rent one next time I travel. (If there is a next time, which I understand is certainly not a given at the moment.)

My first bike was a Honda 50 and barely more than a sewing machine.

Photo Credit: Ultimate Motorcycling

The Honda 50 is really a hybrid between a full-on motor bike and a motor scooter. On a bike you straddle it. Even on my little Honda it felt like that. You get your foot down onto that gear lever and lean forward a bit. It has big wheels. You can tip it around the curves and become one with the machine. My friends and I bombed all over town on our bikes, in winter being wrapped in so many layers we were unrecognizable, and in the freedom of summer wearing nothing but a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops.

Riding the scooter I feel so exposed perched up there on that seat. Plus I no longer have the fearlessness of a teenager. What happened? Obviously lack of practice happened, and aging happened, and the difference between riding a scooter and riding a bike happened.

Anyway I persevere. At least it’s automatic and I don’t have to relearn shifting gears. Avoiding main roads and traffic as much as possible I kind of zigzag to the park, trying to get the feel of it.

Thank goodness I practiced putting it on its stand at the rental place because here’s another thing about this scooter. My dinky Honda 50 was small and light and when I parked it I put my foot on the lever and pulled it back onto its stand easy peasy. With this scooter I do the same, grab a hold of the luggage rack with one hand, and the handle bars with the other, and using every last once of strength I have I haul it back onto the stand. I’m strong. I work out every day, I lift weights, but this thing is so darn heavy that I can barely move it. Every time I stop and put the scooter onto it’s stand there are moments when I wonder if I’ll actually be able to do it.

So I get to the park, wrench the thing onto its stand, lock the steering and wander. I’m pretty rattled and glad of the break. Strolling aimlessly I find a part of the park I’ve not been to before and discover a whole field of wild flowers.

I’m delighted. I smile. But I’m not relaxed enough to take the time to lie down in it the way I did in the meadow on Bowen Island.

I rest a short while near the rose garden, then with steely resolve I walk back to the scooter. I will win this thing!

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it. If you fail anywhere along the line it will take away your confidence. You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do. Eleanor Roosevelt

I know that it’s a straight shot along 37th to get to VanDusen Garden but instead of being able to cross Oak Street, a 6 lane major artery, at traffic lights, I have to turn right, change lanes and then turn left in front of oncoming traffic. That’s stimulating.

I make it to the garden car park and haul the scooter onto its stand. I’m still rattled.

I go to the pond and sit for a while watching the ducks doing their duck thing.

It calms me a little, but I know there’s more to come. I still have to do the return journey.

Back on the scooter I drive around the side streets some more, practicing. I’m fine as long as there’s no traffic. Eventually I start heading back, but before I return the scooter I have to fill the gas tank. I could just return it and be charged an exorbitant amount for gas, but I challenge myself to get to a gas station and fill the tank. I don’t have data on my phone. I check for the gas station nearest to the scooter rental place but it’s not helpful. Finally I break the rules of my solo travel days; I call Don and ask him to help. Sure enough the nearest gas station is on another busy main road. I do it. There’s no point just riding around the side streets. I have to learn to ride in traffic.

Well the gas station is a whole other trip! I haven’t a clue how to operate the pump now that they are all digital. I put in my credit card and press some buttons and nothing happens. I’m grateful for a nearby very nice young man who shows me how.

I return the scooter. I declare with both relief and excitement: No scooters or people were harmed in the making of this adventure! The man there points out something that I find really helpful: in Vancouver drivers are not much geared to be on the lookout for scooters, whereas in many SE Asian countries (where I’d be likely to rent one) it’s the most common form of transport and drivers are very aware of them.

When my friends asked me how it was I reply: sometimes terrifying, sometimes okay, and sometimes really fun. But researching for this post, and looking at many photos of Honda 50’s from the 1960’s, I feel like I could get right back on one and know exactly what to do. No doubt due to unfamiliarity the scooter just feels foreign. It’s a metaphor for travelling, isn’t it?

Photo by Cycle BC staff

So back to the gas station. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know how to work the pump. Which brings me to my next story. Here’s a picture, taken just last July, of me about to start driving.

Photo by Surati Haarbrucker

The only reason our friend Surati took this photo is that she needed to have a record of it! In a friendship that spans more than 20 years she had never before seen me driving. She actually thought I couldn’t. And why? Because Don likes to drive. So I let him. I like being a passenger. So he lets me. I never go to a gas station. Don takes care of that. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve used a gas pump in the past 20 years. Until I had to fill the scooter tank and discovered much has changed.

Of course I drive. On road trips we share the driving, and naturally there are things each of us does in Vancouver alone. I’m fine driving around Vancouver, but I discover, to my dismay, that I’m now nervous about going places alone that I’m not familiar with.

27 July 2021. My friend Hedy, the fabulously creative photographer behind Sloppy Buddhist is visiting the west coast, staying out at Crescent Beach.

I could have suggested meeting in the middle, in Richmond, but I’ve never been to Crescent Beach, so we plot a meeting there.

The night before I study the map again and again. Crescent Beach

is on the coast south of Vancouver about 45 kilometres from home. I’m most concerned about when to get off the highway, and from there how to get to the village. I check and recheck to be sure I have the right highway exit number, and also think to myself: I probably won’t need it. The sign will say Crescent Beach. Wrong!

I barely sleep. Setting off for this trip I’m astonished by how nervous I am. Once again it’s lack of practice. Over the years I’ve mostly let Don do the navigating, and here I am heading out by myself to an unfamiliar place and it’s freaking me out a bit. Clearly I need to get out more. Alone.

Anyway I make it to Crescent Beach without a problem. Hedy and I sit and gab non-stop as we watch summer-time low-tide beach theatre.

Eventually, with barely a break in the conversation, we adjoin to nearby Hooked Fish Bar for lunch, and then to a café because I need coffee for the return journey. After several hours I give her a ride to her accommodation, find my way back to the main road through town, and from there back onto the highway home.

I can’t figure out what I was so worried about. I’ve driven all over the world not really sure where I was going, and certainly with the possibility of getting lost, but here it was, this nervousness about driving to Crescent Beach just because I was unfamiliar with it; and after 20+ years with Don unfamiliar with doing something like this alone. Anyway, I followed Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice. I did the things that I thought I could not do, or was afraid that I could not do. And lived to tell the tale.

VanDusen Garden, Queen Elizabeth Park, and Crescent Beach are on the unceded land of the Coast Salish peoples.

Photo by Cycle BC staff

Next post: Vancouver’s Spanish Banks at low tide.

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2021.