Things Move Forward
I remember the cold nights in the desert. To keep warm and keep hope, I envisioned our return to Long Beach as a sort of triumphant homecoming, a chance to hang out with old friends, share stories and catch up on what has been going on. There would be drinking and laughing – and that moment shivering in the tent would be nothing more than an anecdote between beers inside a warm pub.
Getting off the Metro Blue Line in Long Beach and riding my old bike through my old stomping grounds, through streets that I had once known so intimately, I was overwhelmed with a strange sadness. I was at home, but I felt homesick. Things were different, it was as if the furniture had been rearranged while we were gone. “Home,” I’ve learned, isn’t a place, it’s an emotional warmness that you feel when there’s just the right combination of friends, family and familiarity. It’s a shared past and sense of place with others, but it’s also the promise of a shared future.
We have been gone for a long time – a year and a half. Its not like coming back from a weekend in the country or a two week vacation or even a three month backpacking trip in Spain. It is some serious time. Long enough for the delicate unspoken emotional shifts and mental reorganizations to occur.
A friend, who is a great traveler himself, accustomed to disappearing and reappearing, once told me that “one should not disturb the bee’s nest too often.” What he meant was that it is hard emotionally to come in and out of peoples lives. It is unfair to them to return and ask them to open themselves up to you if you only plan to leave again. Sometimes a Facebook status update is all our hearts will bear.
This, we are learning, is one of the hidden costs of long-term travel. You give up your home to be at home anywhere. You give up those intimate deep-rooted friendships to have new friends across the country. Nothing is without its costs. I think of the late Ian Hibell and Heinz Stucke, some of the most traveled bicycle tourists in the world, who travel for years at a time, and wonder what dark thoughts must sometimes fill their hearts. There must be a saturation point. An instant when it feels infinitely more difficult to stand still than it is to keep moving. After that point, the momentum and the movement is what keeps you sane.
I feel that we’ve traveled just enough to have a taste of that reality, but not enough to where we’ve emotionally let loose of all the moorings. It is a difficult place to be – to be neither here nor there.
So we are setting our sights on what comes next. The new year is almost upon us. We have plans for more travels and adventures to share with you all. We are greatly looking forward to the new places we will see, the new people we will meet, and the new stories we will tell. And yet, while looking at the bright future that has yet to be formed, our hearts feel a little bit heavier this time around as we pass through Long Beach. Everything, we are reminded, marches on to an unfaltering cadence. It is easy to be heartbroken for what is no longer here, but I remind myself to look at it all through our wise traveler’s eyes. I think of the time we had here and the people that graced us with their deep friendship and my heart swells with gratitude. I think of the people we’ve met on our travels and through the website and I know we’ve had a charmed life. I think of the paths yet-to-be pedaled, the seductive lines on the map, calling us into the new year.
Happy New Years to all of our friends, old and new. We hope adventure finds you.
Nancy December 29, 2010 at 1:50 pm
Gosh – I remember being there so many years ago. It’s a tough place to be.
In time, I realized that time had marched on, and that I had changed way more than “home”. It wasn’t so much THEM that had changed – it was ME.
Don’t give up on “home”. In time, you will find new friends that can relate to your experiences. They’ll understand where you are coming from when you talk about that exotic little cafe on the corner in Nairobi, Kenya. They won’t feel threatened by your travels or your world view.
It’ll take time to find those people, but they’re there. You will move on – away from your old friends and on to new friends. That’s not a bad thing, just different.
Give yourself time. It’ll happen.
All the best
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adventure! December 29, 2010 at 4:33 pm
I know the feeling of “you can’t go home again”. It happened every time I returned to my home area since I’ve moved to the west coast. At first I would make sure that I “caught up” with old friends each time I returned. It would be refreshing to hear the familiar voices and tales about people and places that were once part of my life. But they weren’t part of my life anymore. Once I left town, they would continue their lives as they were, but without me. After a while, all we had was the past, and my new life was different from theirs. Now I don’t even catch up with most of them on my return visits.
It’s a little sad, but life goes on, with or without you around.
Trish December 29, 2010 at 5:13 pm
So interesting that your journey has turned out to be bittersweet, for both of you. You are handling it well, and your words are inspiring. I experienced some of the same issues in graduate school, and prior to that, from having spent a year in Australia in high school. I look back fondly on the time and the place, but you cannot ‘bathe in the same stream twice’.
Chris Cavs (Part Time Vagabond) December 29, 2010 at 5:35 pm
This is a side of long term travel that most people don’t think about. The only thing I can equate it to is moving back home after 4 years at college. Things had changed, my friends were either gone or had moved on to other things in their lives. We were no longer the tight knit group we once were. Now, each time I visit “home,” I notice something else that has changed, and since neither of my parents live in the same home I’d grown up in, it just doesn’t feel like home anymore. Home is where I am now. To see that you guys are going through something so visceral yet so real is both heartbreaking and hopeful. Best wishes to you in your future travels, and remember that home is where you make it.
Larry December 29, 2010 at 5:43 pm
It’s crazy how much the road sticks to you. I’ve been back from a solo cross-country ride 3 years now, and I can’t stop that strange restless feeling. I flew to Alaska to do a ride to Argentina for about a year, and a week in I fell and hurt my shoulder and had to face “home” again. It’s the most bitter and soulsucking feeling I’ve ever had, every time I wake up. Bike travel is nothing short of life changing. Thanks for the post, it’s really difficult to articulate this feeling we share.
RGZ December 29, 2010 at 6:15 pm
Having gotten to a point in my early 50’s where I was successful enough to have a passive income stream, and an understanding spouse who let’s me wander around when I want to, I too have conflicting emotions while traveling.
The pull of wondering what’s over the next hill is strong, but I am always home-sick, and always find myself wanting to get home as quickly as I can, yet at the same time lamenting the fact that trip is coming to an end all to soon. I travel by bicycle and by m/c (easier to cover distance faster), and often pass some of the time asking myself, “What’s your problem?”.
I prefer traveling solo-moving to my own rhythm, my own schedule, but always wishing I was sharing these things with someone. I know this sounds like something that should be worked on the shrink’s couch, but it is in fact, for want want of a better word, a way of life, at the same time, both the most rewarding and scary thing.
Find that which suits your needs (both of you) and just do it, and question it later. better to regret doing something than to regret having never done anything.
ha1ku December 29, 2010 at 7:26 pm
I think the feelings that you describe are similar to what military kids experience. — only I’ve never heard it described as eloquently as you just did. These kinds of feelings might be the reason why my closest friends are the same people I went to school with as a teenager, and why so many of us end up pursuing military careers.
Doug December 30, 2010 at 9:45 am
Great post. Though I’ve never been ‘gone’ for nearly as long, I can empathize.
I’d also like to clarify that Heinz Stucke is still alive and pedaling; the tricky syntax of adjectives and multiple names made me wonder if I had missed the passing of the great cyclist. Thankfully this wasn’t the case!
James A. Abercromby II January 2, 2011 at 5:35 pm
Just so you know that what you both did was/is my dream, number 1 on my bucket list. Forget facebook, and twitter and even your blog. All of the GOLD in the world, nothing can take away your experience, and unfortunately many people refuse to understand or embrace what you have learned on the road. Not with a car, but your bicycles!
My father said that in the end if you have even just 1 friend your are batting 1000 and you both have each other for sure.
Yes, everything has a price, there are no free lunches whatsoever. But maybe you don’t realize the true magnitude of your experience and it was still a good, peaceful and positive experience I would gander for the most part.
Its all about growth.
Pura vida, Respect and UN-Learning.
Kevin January 8, 2011 at 7:05 pm
Russ & Laura, I’ve truly enjoyed your journey and you are both exceptional artists and writers. You sound down, choices are hard, especially when they are the right thing to do.
Be patient, it is the action before the act….
Amaya January 9, 2011 at 1:28 pm
There are definite costs to long-term travel, and a sense of feeling unhinged is probably the greatest. Home on the road can never replace a physical home that you can return to again and again and experience instant comfort and a sense of well-being. Some people are drawn to a nomadic life style and there’s just no fighting it.
Carl January 10, 2011 at 8:52 am
Growing up, I experienced a disassociation with Home, several times. It resulted in a percieved need to make a Home. So far I have confined myself to my “ultra” commuting. I wait and ponder when I will follow the Path Less Pedaled. Maybe like that old Rolling Stones song said:
“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try real hard, you might get what you need.” I suppose, In each of our individual ways we follow the path that we need, when we need it.
babs January 12, 2011 at 12:07 pm
you cannot go home again- because you already ARE home. 30 years of bike touring has taught me that re-entry is a skill- one that i often painfully have to relearn. mostly, i have had to banish expectations. most people don’t want to hear about my travels, or they only ask the numbers questions. i don’t know how many miles i went, don’t care the pounds i carried, AH! but the personal insights gleaned, the humbling vistas seen, the instant friendships formed, the knowledge that i can ride all day in the pouring rain and make a warm inviting camp anywhere- it is these things that make me glow from within and keep my eyes on the horizon. my touring life rubs off on every other aspect of my being, it is my spirit life where i’m in the flow and closest to god. when i speak of such things, peoples’ eyes glaze over- truth be told, if they began extolling the virtues of THEIR church, perhaps i’d do the same. so i learn, each time I re-enter, to just shut up and try to enjoy exquisite view from here. touring and travel accelerate personal growth so realize that you’ve been on hyperdrive and are now trying to fit into a world that has probably not kept up with you. YOU ARE NOT THE SAME AND YOU NEVER WILL BE. i am always planning my next tour, always keeping my spirit life alive, that’s one of my coping strategies. best wishes on the aquisition and constant refinement of the necessary skills of re-entry…it is all a part of the touring experience.
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I went through a big, big funk after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and paddling the Mississippi River. Nobody really talks about the downside of long trips, but it’s something I always try to bring up during slideshows. It’s weird place to be, to be sure.