‘The bumper is smashed,’ said my Dad. I hadn’t even left home, how could a new rental car have been damaged on my drive? And where on earth was the petrol cap lever? I would need gas en route. As I googled rapidly, Archie barking in the back of the car (result: customers may find it hard to see the petrol latch – sure did), I wondered if this trip was a good idea? Archie’s car safety harness had not arrived, my contingency plan, which was using his old seat belt had failed (my 37 kilo beast was now too big for it), so he was now sitting comfortably in the boot of my now damaged 4×4 behind a car dog grate I had discovered amongst my camera kit.

Still, step out of that comfort zone, I said to myself as I waved farewell to my parents, turned up the stereo and off we went. Now there were a few initial challenges / Sally worries en route I can’t deny, which for many others would have been a walk in the park (which let’s be honest is all Archie wanted during the 7 hour drive to Cornwall).

Firstly, there was the rather loud noise coming from the rear wheel direction, which felt like the brake. Bit worrying. Secondly, there was the fact I couldn’t get the sat nav to work. Not the end of the world. Thirdly, every time we stopped for an Archie break, I realised I too needed the loo, and due to all the changes that day Arch really did not like being left on his own in the car. I’d never left him in a car before – of course I know people do, but would somebody steal him (I read about it in the press all the time)? Would he suffocate in the heat? It was a hot day, I MUST run to the loo (which I discovered at service stations are always positioned after you’ve walked through all the shops and restaurants), not dry my hands to save time, and certainly not consider getting a coffee on the way back because that would waste minutes.

And don’t even mention Sally’s struggles to find ‘Hideaway Cottage’ (very aptly named), by now in the dark and wet; oh and the fact the front right light was not working on my hire car; and then there was the property’s allocated very tight parking space (see photographic evidence).

Still, as Arch and I arrived at our destination, I breathed in the fresh Cornish air, smiled at my canine companion and felt warmed at the fact we were taking a step out of our comfort zones.

And then I saw a whole load more steps. Quite literally.

Now Archie doesn’t do steps as I mentioned last week. He’s never walked up them since he was a pup and the breeder advised they weren’t good for Labs’ joints until they were full grown. And as I looked up the steep flight of beautiful stone stairs that led to the front door of my cottage (and then to the rest of it, with sheer drops all around), the realisation hit me – I either return home or Archie will need to master these steps. And not only up but down too. And every time he needs the loo, since he won’t be able to access any other outside space.

Now to cut a long story short Arch and I spent 15 minutes climbing those few steps. I got him into the tiny property and he looked at me as if to say, why have you brought me here? Where is my garden, my home?

The next hour I was up and down those steps unpacking the car, cuddling and reassuring a concerned and barking Archie every time I left him in the cottage for another load. As I finally plonked myself on the sofa to stop, I thought, shall I drive home?

Now I’ve read the work of Harvard psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar who developed the concept of the ‘stretch zone’. He suggests that if we step outside our ‘comfort zone’ and into our ‘stretch zone’ we can achieve our fullest potential. In this ‘stretch zone’ neurons will be firing, which means ‘happy hormones’ will be swimming throughout our bodies. At this point we will learn, we will grow, we will feel fulfilled.

I shouldn’t go home.

So how did our few days pan out? Well they involved Archie and I working together to slowly master walking up and down steps in the wet, one at a time. We worked towards walking to the beach without him pulling me over with sheer excitement at the adventure playground around him. We practiced re-call, meeting other dogs, finding our way home (more me than Archie) and my young boy learnt that just because he couldn’t see me, I hadn’t deserted him. I was there and he didn’t need to panic. I learnt that Archie and I are a good duo, that we work well together. That I am a surprisingly competent car parker. And that I was right all along – I have no sense of direction!

Our days and nights were filled with adventures, friends, sea and sand. I still stressed and worried every time he nearly pulled me over or I took another wrong turn down a dark, single-track road to what felt like nowhere. But on our final morning of departure, as we had breakfast together and I then packed the car, I knew things had changed. Archie wasn’t distressed as I left his sight each time for another load. We safely and calmly walked down the stone steps to our 4 x 4. I neatly and proficiently reversed out of my car parking space and smoothly followed my nose home. Service station breaks were filled with fun walks and I even dried my hands without trepidation and bought myself an almond milk cappuccino as I returned to the car.

Archie and I had done it. We had entered our stretch zones. We had evolved together. We were 2 companions on a new journey together. And we were happy.

“Comfort is your biggest trap and coming out of comfort zone your biggest challenge.” 

 Manoj Arora