In my last post, I talked about how being in a social anxiety therapy group helped combat social anxiety, especially through in-group behavioural experiments that really motivated me to continue doing behavioural experiments on my own. Last week, however, it really motivated me to do something that I never considered before.
A little over 30 km to the north-east of Kitchener-Waterloo, there is this beautiful town called Elora. A few years ago, a friend had informed me about it along with its beautiful gorge The Elora Gorge. The gorge runs up to the town with gorgeous cliff walls with the Grand River flowing through it. There are also a few hiking trails along the gorge, as well as tubing. I’ve never done the tubing, but I’ve walked along the trails several times. Besides the gorge, however, the town is also home to the Elora Quarry, which is a beautiful quarry with limestone cliff walls with a lake inside it. Next to the lake is a small sandy beach and, like the Elora Gorge, the Elora Quarry is a very popular location. Like the gorge, I’ve also been to the quarry a few times before and I’m always happy to spend a bit of time there with friends.
Before last week, I hadn’t been to the Elora Quarry yet this summer. It seemed everyone was always too busy to go, which is understandable, life does get overly busy sometimes, otherwise I would’ve made my last post a lot sooner. As well, not being able to drive always presented a bit of an obstacle in getting to Elora; it was always just a little out of reach by bicycle. One solution I did find to the distance obstacle, however, was by taking GRT (Grand River Transit) buses to a small town called Elmira, which is a little north of Waterloo and from there it would be a 20 km bicycle ride to Elora. The GRT bus service is fortunately free for Waterloo and Laurier students (or at least the bus pass is automatically included in our university fees).
While I have used such a method to visit to the Elora Gorge alone before, I never visited the Elora Quarry alone before last week. But summertime was running out, and I really wanted to go. Well, how about if I go there alone by bussing to Elmira, then bicycling to Elora and once there just locking my bicycle to a sturdy-enough tree? And once I was at the beach I would just try to socialise with strangers and go swimming with them? I have to say I’ve never really considered this solution before mainly because it totally overwhelmed me with anxiety. It seemed like such a high price to pay, spending two and a half hours journeying to the quarry with no guarantee that I would find people to be with there. But that’s exactly what I did last week.
I prepared to go early in the morning. I saw an article that the Elora Quarry was such an incredibly popular place that there had been a cap put in place of 1300 people and that no one would gain entry after this cap was reached! (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/elora-quarry-number-of-visitors-limit-grand-river-conservation-authority-1.4231946) I have to admit I wasn’t overly surprised to read this news. Like I said the quarry is very scenic, and the times that I visited there before it took us several minutes (maybe even half an hour) to gain entry and the beach was always crowded. Because of this news, I decided I would go during a weekday when hopefully this would be less of a problem. Not only that, but I would arrange to get there at the start of the day. I didn’t want to venture out all that way only to have to turn around again because the cap of 1300 people had been reached.
So I got up early Monday morning. I put on my bathing suit at my apartment and wore shorts over it. I packed a towel, sunscreen, and lunch into my bag and left at 8 o’clock. I reached the quarry at about 10:30, even though the quarry didn’t open until 11 on weekdays. I was actually the first one at the gate, but soon after that cars began parading behind me on the shoulder of the road and at 11 we were all let in. There was a strong fence running around the quarry, which I locked my bicycle to and then I walked down to the beach.
At first I lay on my towel for a bit enjoying the feel of the sand and sun. As more people flooded onto the beach, there were quite a few young people around, but my anxiety always seemed to overwhelm me about approaching them. Then I started casually strolling around the beach and saw three guys tossing a volleyball around. I thought introducing myself into an activity would be less scary than simply walking over to other people were just socialising because we had an activity to occupy ourselves with. So I asked if I could join in and they consented and we spent a bit of time tossing the volleyball amongst each other. Afterwards, they went back to their beach towels, and I thought it would be a good time to ask if I could join them on the beach. I introduced myself and asked if I could join them, and one of them replied, “You might as well.” We even went into the lake together after that and swam around for a bit. I couldn’t believe it. Not only had I gotten to the Elora Quarry, but I was now having fun playing volleyball, lying around, and swimming with a group of great guys.
In the middle of the afternoon, however, they announced that they were leaving so we said our goodbyes and they left. I could’ve left then too, but I decided to stay a little longer. That was one advantage of going alone to the quarry. I could stay for as long as I wanted, as I wasn’t depending on anyone to drive me back. I could easily get back to Kitchener by bicycle and bus.
Anyway, after they left I began searching for another group of people to talk to. This was when unfortunately I encountered a couple of minor fails. For example, I saw a group of guys playing with some kind of ball and a net. Again I asked to join, but they announced you needed an even number of people to play because they had divided up into teams. After such failed attempts, however, I did manage to find a group of people kicking a soccer ball around. Again I asked if I could join in and this time I got a positive response. I joined them afterwards sitting on the beach after introducing myself to them.
After this second group announced they were leaving, it was getting to be pretty late in the day. It was coming up to 5 o’clock so I had spent almost six hours at the quarry! It was a long trip home. So I packed up and rode my bicycle to St. Jacob’s, which a little town between Waterloo and Elmira where I ate out to reward myself for what I had just accomplished. I then continued to ride my bicycle to Waterloo, but by then I was pretty tired and at which point I took the bus back to Kitchener.
I was pretty pleased with how the day had gone. I will admit there were a few things that I thought could have gone better, for example, not hesitating so much in talking to people, but given that this is the first I’ve done a trip like this, I suspect this hesitation will decrease the more I do it. Not only did I get to visit the quarry after all this summer, but I managed to do it in a way that provided very good therapy for my social anxiety. And it gives me hope of what I can continue to accomplish into the future.