The word feels awkward in my mouth, shape and sound all wrong, I´m choking back the much more natural “gracias” so as not to appear TOO weird. There are too many English conversations going on around me in harsh Aussie accents, like multiple radio stations blaring simultaneously – I can´t help listening in and it’s a sudden sensory overload. Our shoes get washed courtesy of Australian customs – a service we have come to expect – and then a cross-continental hop later there are long hugs and maybe a tear or two.
Ever since we booked our tickets Tom has been insisting that we cycle home from the airport, a scheme I have been less enthusiastic about since being “sin bici” – the prospect of being toted home on the back of the Big Dummy like a sack of spuds does not excite – hardly a good representation to our family and friends of what the trip has been! In the end the problem is solved when my sister turns up with a tandem. She and I chatter non-stop all the way home while Tom exchanges far fewer words with her boyfriend Ben, who we are meeting for the first time. It feels right to be cycling rather than being driven; after so many hours cooped up in a plane the last thing I want is to hop in a car.
At the house are more family and friends, warmth, laughter, love and a rather fine black and white cat.
Whenever I am away from Perth I forget just how good the weather is here. We are drenched in sunshine and find ourselves back in shorts, t-shirt and sandals, swimming in the ocean almost daily – a contrast to the bitterly piercing winds of southern Patagonia.
We re-acquaint ourselves with our home, and start to unpack our “too much stuff”. We have not needed or missed any of it. Tom goes straight to fiddling with bikes and bike bits, a familiar part of “life now” and a lot less daunting than the boxes of books and clothes from “life before” that need to be sorted through. We have a similar reaction to many of our clothes. “Why did I store this? I can’t imagine ever wearing it” and a pile of stuff for the local second hand shop rapidly grows.
There are many welcome social interruptions to our sorting. Potentially the biggest change to our lifestyle here is that my sister has moved house while we were away – from around 40km away to just 3. We see her daily, as well as friends and neighbours who seem to keep popping by. Despite my dread of return to “city life”, it is clear that we are part of a community here.
We collect our toys, kayaks and bikes that have been stored with friends. Bikes are an important part of our lives whether we are touring or not, and Tom is delighted to be back on his tri-cross, light, unloaded and fast. He has missed it during all those months on the Big Dummy. He takes an ironing board in to work so that he can cycle up every day, a 20km commute by river, ocean and railway. My “commuter bike” is an old faithful hard-tail mountain bike; as usual I struggle to keep up.
Parts arrive in the mail for my full suspension mountain bike, to replace the ones that disappeared on the stolen bike, and Tom immediately gets into assembling it. We both find ourselves noticing the wide variety of bikes in the streets and have the impression that they have grown in number while we have been away – as have bike paths, lanes and parking places. I love that there’s not only the “lycra brigade”, roadies in their bright colours who clip-clop in and out of cafes on a Saturday morning, but there are also upright bikes with baskets carrying girls in skirts to the shops, mountain bikes ridden by people of all ages and shapes, and a profusion of racks and panniers indicating that more and more people are adopting bicycles as a form of daily transport.
The jangle of Tom’s alarm clock on his first day back at work is a shock to us both after so many months living by the natural rhythms of daylight and darkness. I struggle to suppress my sadness at finding myself in a house in the suburbs instead of a tent in the wilderness. I am helped by birdsong and cat cuddles. It feels odd to say goodbye, and to go our separate ways. I am not ready to face the loneliness of an empty house and spontaneously hop in the car to drive the 40km to my parents’ house for breakfast. It turns out I still remember how. Other things come less easily – we automatically head straight to the right (wrong) side of the road every time we leave the house, and struggle to make ourselves flush paper down the toilet.
It’s busy, too busy to think or grieve too much over endings. To us it feels not so much an ending as a temporary hiatus. We were due a longer rest from the bikes. This is just what we are doing for now, until we get back to “normal” life.
I’m holding that thought.