It’s been two years now since you left on a Big Adventure. You were gone for twenty months, have been back four and already it’s beginning to feel as if you never left.
You don’t actually talk about it or even think about it that much. For a while there you were exactly where you wanted to be; now, not so much so, but this too is something you have chosen and you believe it important to give it your best shot and fully “be” in the present moment.
The person you thought you’d become when you first arrived back is already fading from memory, the taut hard lines of your body softening, your skin paling. You are conscious of a deeper truth: you are still you. Does travel change you? Yes. Of course. No. Of course not.
Work is a shock, the walls, the technology, the too many people. Being trapped inside for the entire duration of a sunny day is a pain you find unbearable. Your tea room looks out over the sea; you can’t decide if this makes things better, or worse. You become a clock watcher, counting down the hours, the minutes, til you can leave this stifling building. You’re shocked by the level of responsibility your job entails, shocked by the comfort and ease with which many of your colleagues appear to wear this. People who were your juniors when you left are now proper grown-ups, usefully contributing to a department they are firmly imbedded in. They have bought houses, had babies. They are here.
And you. You’re again wearing an ill-fitting mask, pretending you too can do this, trying to hammer the square peg of yourself into a round hole.
Your colleagues refer to your trip now and then but you don’t really give much, say much – it’s too far removed – to talk about it somehow seals it irretrievably into “Past Experiences I Have Had”. You don’t want to lock it away, something that was good but now is over. You don’t fit but it’s your fault; you’re not even trying to.
Even the money is a shock, the first you’ve earned in two years and you could cycle for another year on what you bring home in a fortnight but life is so different here and for many even this is not enough. You’re deeply disturbed by the consumerist society you live in, always have been but even moreso now after twenty months of living out of two tiny pannier bags and staying with people for whom even that was a lot of stuff. You want to rebel against it all, continue to live as simply and frugally as you did on the road even though it is no longer strictly necessary. You’re discomfited and embarrassed by your own wealth, which you feel completely under-equipped to deal with.
At first you cycle every day, because it’s normal, because that’s what you do. As the months pass it becomes more and more difficult to motivate yourself to do so, riding yet another loop on pavement, the same old ride on the same heavy bike-that-is-not-a-road-bike. Your road biking colleagues assure you that your standard round-the-river is probably one of the most beautiful urban road rides in the world. They are probably right: there’s the river, the trees, the boats, the birds, sometimes even dolphins. But for you, it’s just a sealed road going nowhere, and endless repetition.
You escape to the bush now and then, but less often than you’d like because it generally involves getting in a car – something you now find unnatural, disturbing and guilt-provoking. There you ride the trails, fall back in love with the speed and technical challenge of single-track, the wonderful control and responsiveness of an unloaded bike and the forgiving squish of full suspension. You had almost forgotten how much you love “proper” mountain biking. You had certainly forgotten how to walk; your body aches in protest at the unfamiliarity when you try it. You love these trees, the gentle companionship of kangaroos……
But it’s all too easy: the flat landscape, the mild, predictable climate; you’ve upped the ante these days in terms of what it takes for you to feel adequately challenged.
You throw yourself into the many activities you weren’t able to do on the trip, several of them inspired by it: you take pottery classes, try your hand at tile mosaics, begin playing the double bass, learn to bake bread, plant a vegetable garden, paint the house, go kayaking, start ballroom dancing and remind yourself how to knit. These activities are all good fun and pass the time but you’ve no overall sense of purpose and you can’t kid yourself for a single second that they excite and inspire you the way an unexplored line on a map does.
It’s supposed to get easier as time passes, isn’t it? It doesn’t. Those first few days, you struggled to say “thank you” in English and you couldn’t flush paper down the toilet, but at least the reflexive, ingrained nature of these habits kept it alive and present. They are too rapidly replaced.
You don’t really even look at the photos. You’re looking forward to the next adventure, not back to the last one. Most of all, you’re looking at how to fall in love with, appreciate and live the adventure that is right here right now.