Submitted Date 06/08/2019

"There's always Beacon Hill Park. It's free to camp there. The city opens it to the homeless." A twenty-something year-old blonde woman circled a green area on a table-sized map of the city. My face felt hot. I'd forgotten about my giant Osprey backpack that towered above my head. It claimed my back, shoulders, and hips—we'd developed a sort of symbiotic relationship. Before that moment, its weight had given me a false sense of power and strength. In that moment, I felt its full weight. Before she could continue directing me to the amenities available to other vagabonds who entered the city unprepared or lost I assured her that I wasn't that kind of traveler.
Surely not.
Was I?
I regretted revealing that I was not the independent and brave traveler I so wanted to be. No plan, and no idea where I was other than somewhere in Victoria, British Columbia. Victoria was the only city on the island, no? I regretted walking into the Visitor Centre (what the misplaced "e"? Canada!) as I slowly realized that the two twenty-somethings helping me tried, unsuccessfully, to hold back their WTF-is-wrong-with-this-chick-#lostamericanloser-wait-until-I-tweet-this-to-all-of-my-friends smiles. Maybe I was imagining it. Maybe it was the rational part of myself judging the romantic idealist in me who had clearly taken over my mind in the past 48 hours.
Two days prior to my trip, I realized that I hadn't been to Canada since I moved to the Pacific Northwest, that Canada had an island within driving distance, that I'd have to ride a ferry to get there, that ferries weren't log rafts like the ones from The Oregon Trail PC game I played in middle school, and I had four days off work. Wow. Adventure anyone?
My initial plan went a little like this: book ferry ride, book Airbnb for one night, drive to Port Angeles, ride ferry to Victoria, stay first night in Airbnb, go backpacking on the West Coast Trail for a few days, take the ferry back to Port Angeles, drive home. Easy. Fun. Vagabondy. Bucket list, check.
That is not what happened.
My smiling ladies at the Visitor Centre told me that the West Coast Trail was closed due to bears.
Um, what?
"Yes. This time of year they sometimes close the trail because there are too many bears on and around it." The brunette responded. Go figure. I thanked them and left, feeling more lost. They gave me directions to a currency exchange where I slid an American twenty-dollar bill to the teller, failing to hide a tinge of shame with the false, yet polite I-know-what-the-hell-I'm-doing glance with a slight I'm-on-an-epic-mission smile.

My Airbnb host wasn't expecting me at her house until later in the evening, so I explored downtown for a few hours on foot. Oh, that's right. I left my Acura in Port Angeles to save an extra hundred dollars for my ferry ride. More on that later!

Downtown Victoria is beautiful. You're hearing this from a woman who usually lothes big cities. It looked like what I expect the beautiful parts of Europe look like. The harbor and green spaces offered enough nature for me to accept the abundant people and city life. Columns and carvings on the buildings and faded red brick streets welcomed my romantic self enough to help me forget my self-inflicted troubles for a few hours.
Then I found Murchies.

The green and gold sign—the font! One hundred (or so) tiny lights on the ceiling in the entryway. The promise of tea and warm scones. It was meant to be. I had finally found the reason I was led to Vancouver Island.
I ordered a Victoria Fog (a lavender earl grey latte with a splash of vanilla) and a currant scone. It was all served to me on an aluminum tray with a dish of jelly and clotted cream. Heaven.
My social anxiety spiked, so I took a quick trip to the bathroom before they served me. My go-to while anxious in public places. I stopped to look at myself in the full-length mirror. Did I look homeless? My pony tail was pulled through a brown baseball cap that had "Alaska" printed above the image of a grizzly bear. A purple Carhartt windbreaker that bunched over where the belt from my backpack synched over my hips, and baggy black Adidas pants. Two white stripes shot down from my hips to my brown Chaco hiking boots. No makeup and dots of acne sealed the deal—I was ashamed. I obviously didn't expect to be in civilization long. I washed my hands and thought, I shouldn't have to try to impress people with the what I wear or what I look like. I am awesome." Then resumed my teatime.

I sat alone in a corner near the window that faced the sidewalk and brick streets. A woman in her late sixties sat next to me and immediately dove into a conversation about genetics, ancestry, and the royal family—topics I knew very little about. She wore her white hair in a pixie cut. The blue in her eyes blended with a faint cloudy green. She and her husband are retired archeologists and I wish I could remember which one was a professor at the University of Victoria…
After an hour of learning about how every human being is ultimately related to the same few ancient people from Africa, a quote from Eula Biss' essay "Time and Distance Overcome" that echoed in my head: "Even now it is an impossible idea, that we are all connected, all of us." In that essay, Eula writes about the invention of the telephone, the controversy of telephone poles when they were first erected, and lynching. She was referring to an idea that seemed impossible at the time the telephone was invented. We don't even need a wire to transmit our voices now, and one could argue that we are even more disconnected now than we have ever been. It appears we have the potential to become more connected. Every other solo tea drinker at Murchies disconnected themselves from their surroundings to engage in the virtual connections via social media and texting, and this woman—an endangered species among our kind—engaged in conversation with a shy and introverted stranger. She shares with me that race is a cultural construction.

And that we are all connected. All of us. From Africa. By blood.

(to be continued)

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