North Bay, ON For the second time since I moved back from Saudi Arabia, I found myself braving a terrifying snowstorm in the name of love… of the game, of course. A few weeks before, I had hit some severe winter weather prior to the Panthers/Senators game at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa. It was my first game after making my return to reality, and I had only been back for a couple days at that point. Luckily, I had factored jetlag into my game day preparations, and had actually booked a hotel room in our nation’s capital because I knew I would actually die from extreme fatigue if I attempted to drive home after the game.
I normally avoid staying in Ottawa due to superstition. The superstition started years ago, and it mostly just has to do with the fact that something always goes wrong on my hockey adventures in Senators territory. So, I made it a policy to always minimize the costs of seeing the Sens play on home ice, so I wouldn’t feel as bad when something inevitably soured my experience there. That’s right, folks! I’d make the 4 hour drive into town just to turn around and do the 4 hour drive back every, single time.
Anyway, I’m rambling. But my point is that, after 5 years abroad, I know my own limitations, and so I was lucky to have had the good sense to book a room in Ottawa this time around. I mean, if the fatigue didn’t kill me, surely the road conditions would have! It’s called, ‘maturity.’ I mean, you’re talking to the girl who went to a 7:30pm game in Washington only to jump in the car after the final buzzer, and make the 22 hour trek to Dallas fueled by nothing more than her own eccentricities and a couple (literally 2) of energy drinks. I’d say I’ve come a long way.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much of a contingency plan last weekend, as I headed north through an unforeseen storm toward the new home of the Battalion, formerly residents of Brampton in the GTA, and my 75th arena. As the roads grew nastier and nastier, I wondered what I would do if something went wrong. What if I skidded off the road, or blew out a tire like I did on an AHL trip way back when to see the Admirals take on the Griffins in Grand Rapids? If I missed the game would an OHL tilt all the way up in North Bay be worth the effort of a do-over?
That’s what happens when you’re alone on the road with your thoughts. Your brain starts to work overtime. That’s one of the things I love about my hockey road trips. The drive gives me time to think and it’s like everything just seems so much clearer when I’m behind the wheel – even music sounds better! But when you’re trapped in a winter storm, you’re not really alone. The whiteness of the snow, the sky and the air create a whiteout that is all around you and influencing your every thought and action.
The White forces you to recognize that it is in control and that it could destroy you if you don’t play along with its game. The White makes you look deeper into yourself. The White fucks with your shit. It makes you question if “all of this” is worth the risk. At any moment the White could completely swallow you whole. This time I actually found myself wondering if I was to die, if I would even notice the point at which the white of the storm would change into the “white light” that supposedly greets you on the other side. Maybe I was dead! Maybe, for me, heaven was an open road to a hockey arena.
This time, however, the White thought I had some explaining to do. For 5 years I had tried to escape from the hold that hockey had over my life, but I always found myself coming back to the game. I suppose over the past 5 years I felt more like a hockey tourist. I was really only at games while on vacation from Asia. But now I’m back. Full-time. Real life. And it’s like the last 5 years never happened.
Old habits die hard, as they say, and I have found myself using hockey as a means of escape once again. As much as I try to fall in love with my city, I’ve always been so restless that I’ve never been able to settle in any place. That’s why Saudi was such a good fit for me. The GTFOS mentality is my mentality everywhere. I’d love to be the person who wants to see a show, or try a new restaurant or a bar on the weekends, but these things never even occur to me. When the weekend rolls around, my first thought is always, “How can I get the fuck outta town?!”
Sometimes I think I feel this way because I don’t have roots or because I haven’t found the right place to put them down, but if I’m being honest, I’m not sure I’ll ever feel differently. While I was in Nepal in November, I had scrapped the idea of getting a tattoo of all the coordinates of the places I’ve lived: Germany, Canada, Korea, Japan and Saudi. I couldn’t figure out where I wanted to put it, so I decided to just get a Nepalese tattoo instead. I was sold on ‘ghumante,’ which means ‘wanderer,’ but I asked my friends for their input as well.
‘Seeker,’ one of them suggested. And when I thought about it, it was fitting. I’m always looking for something, it seems. Although, I’m no closer to figuring out what that something is. Truth? Adventure? Change? Love? Meaning? Or perhaps I’m just a perpetual seeker, who will always be seeking no matter what I find. Hockey has always given me that change of scenery that I crave. It gives me an excuse to get the fuck out. Perhaps, what I really need now is a new and better excuse. Anyway, my other friend’s suggestion for my tattoo was inspired by a bottle of alcohol that was on the wall behind me. ‘White Mischief,’ she exclaimed not knowing that she was making an eerily accurate summary of my historical misadventures in the fastest game on ice.
If you think about it, whenever I’m alone with the White it’s because hockey has been a bad influence. When the weather gets like that, it seems I’m the only person who doesn’t have the good sense to get off the road. And that’s mostly because I’m on a mission to get to the puck.
“How many more times do you think you can face off with me and win?” the White seemed to ask. “This is arena #75. Will there be a 76th, 80th, 100th? When will you be satisfied?” I didn’t have the answers (and if I’m being honest, I still don’t), but luckily the welcoming glow of a traffic light in the distance guided me out of no man’s land and into North Bay, and safely delivered me from the icy clutches of the White. I guess I’ll just continue to take things one game at a time until I figure them out.
By the time the game between the North Bay Battalion and the Erie Otters ended, the weather had warmed up and the White had moved out with the storm. My drive back to Toronto that night was much less loaded with hard truths and reflective. Of course, that’s not to say the darkness doesn’t have questions of its own…