Coming home after travelling
As I sat on the plane a map caught my eye; England was just falling off the edge, hardly visible, but in the centre, a flashing dot marked my current position. It had taken me 5 months to cycle here, but in 8 hours I would be back where I started, the whole experience washed away like writing in the sand. 3 minutes on the plane for every day cycling. I felt cheated. Robbed of my experiences.
But it wasn’t really stolen from me; I felt certain when I returned home my life would be substantially different in some way. How could it not? I had gained countless insights into life from many different cultures. The road had carefully unravelled the infinite mysteries of the world to me with every turn, and provided answers to my own thoughtful introspection.
Back home what struck me most was how quickly everything returned to normal around me, like the calm after a thunderstorm abruptly coming to rest. I eagerly spoke to everyone around me, excited to find out what had happened while I was gone, but the answer revealed that not a lot had changed, as if time had frozen, as they continued to live the same life, working the same jobs, going to the same pubs on a Friday evening. I don’t intend to sound snobbish, and it’s great that they are happy, but that’s no longer a life I can see myself slotting seamlessly into. Back home, I feel even more lost than I did during my travels.
Similarly, the soft luxurious sensation of lying in my bed for the first time after it had sat empty for so long soon became taken for granted, my rocky, cold campsites long forgotten. The excitement of eating foods I had missed was soon routine, and I couldn’t help but miss the exotic foods to which I had grown accustomed. I longed for my life to be as simplistic as when it was packed into just 4 bags. ‘The cycle’ soon seldom entered conversation, as if everyone else had forgotten it, yet it still felt painfully fresh to me. Still too painful to view the photos and videos even.
It’s clear to me that what has changed is me, at the very core; I have learnt what is important to me, and equally significant, what is not. While I was cycling, those ‘things’ I didn’t miss were more revealing than what I did. After living perfectly content and happy with so little, and witnessing happy people with even less, returning to a capitalist culture is a strange experience. Having worn just two pairs of clothes for 5 months, my wardrobe feels excessive, let alone the notion of buying more! I survived without television for so long that watching it no longer holds the same appeal. I find myself restless, no longer content with the norm. I know there is so much more out there, and I need to pack my life with moments and people and experiences. In the words of one bike tourer reflecting on the difficulties of coming home;
“We are condemned to a life of eternal searching or eternal misery.”
I understand how he feels. I'm not sure my life can ever be the same again. I need to continue the search, to relentlessly chase the horizon, to enjoy the spontaneity and serendipity of life on the road. That is pure freedom.