We are finally back in our house after 24 months and 22 days on the road. What a grand adventure this has been, yet coming home is bittersweet. We actually arrived in the US in mid-May, in time for the kids to visit potential schools before the schools let out for the summer. Getting back before school ended necessitated moving up our schedule up by 6 weeks and cutting out biking the Danube. We will have to leave that adventure for another time. It also necessitated a major shift in logistics, but we’ve become pretty good at working things like this out, so it was only moderately painful. Trying to get four bikes plus camping gear boxed and transported from the storage unit in Brugge to the airport in Brussels took some pretty complex logistical work, but we were able to do it with only minor glitches (like the Belgian equivalent of Home Depot isn’t open on Sunday and they don’t rent moving trucks to people without a EU address, so we had to improvise) and a lot of driving. 72 hours later, all of us and three of the four bikes arrived safely in California with minimal damage. The fourth bike was tied up in Dublin and arrived in Reno a week later. My sister and brother both met us at the airport which provided a grand welcome back as we settled in to life in the US.
Although we had to return earlier than anticipated, we were not ready to settle back in to our home at the beginning of the summer so decided to take another US road trip in Sylvia, our trailer. Last summer we did a southern route through Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Oklahoma, and Florida. This time headed north stopping in Oregon, Wyoming, South Dakota, Chicago and finally on to New York. In Oregon, we picked up the newest addition to our family, Fig, a red merle Australian Shepherd puppy. Ever since Taggart died in 2010, we have dreamed of another Aussie. Somehow the stars converged to bring little Miss Figgy to our family just one week after we arrived on home soil. The breeder said that her personality is that of a “spitfire” and she has lived up to that designation. Smart, funny, energetic, sassy, and confident, she is all Aussie and such a joy to have as part of our lives.
Colburn and I met in Wyoming, so going back with the kids was like setting the family reset button 20 years later. Jackson Hole is fantastically beautiful and many of our old friends still live there, so we were able to catch up on too many years gone by without seeing them. Lucia has decided that when she takes a gap year before college, she will either go to Jackson or New Zealand, but Jackson is higher on the list because she take her dog with her since it is still in the US. We will see how this works out for her! South Dakota was simply for the biking and climbing, both of which filled our days before we made a bee-line to Chicago and catching up with Marquee and Jay, friends we met while diving in Indonesia. The next few weeks were spent with family in New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts doing our typical summer thing and catching up with Uncle Joe (and finally getting to meet his daughter Andrea!) and Cilla in Ohio. From Ohio, it was a straight line back to Reno, only stopping for an emergency set of new tires in Utah.
Now we are home in every sense of the word – in our country, in our town, in our home. Friends and family are close by. We sleep on our own beds, have more than four shirts to choose from, can make whatever we want to for dinner and are going to birthday parties and meals with friends, all of the things that are “normal”, yet we grieve for the loss of our travel-selves. It hit me hard when we unpacked our travel mementos – a weaving from Bhutan, a wooden bowl be bought from a family on the roadside in Namibia, beer coasters from anywhere I could pilfer them, a rug from Turkey, the mosaics the kids made at art camp in Florence. As the memories of each item swirled in my head, I realized that there is a larger loss, that of our family as one unit instead of four individuals. Now that we are home, the kids go to bed in their own beds in their own rooms, alone. We give them a kiss goodnight, but I no longer hear them breathing in the bed next to me or see their sprawled bodies first thing in the morning. They went away for two weeks to a sleep-away camp. Having spent the last two years together night and day, it was a drastic change to suddenly be apart for that long.
Each of us has had their own revelation of sadness – Mac commenting how much he misses traveling — which is remarkable given that he spent the better part of our two years abroad lamenting being away from home, Lucia wondering if we will ever get do something wonderful like that again, me contemplating what life will be like without the newness every day, and Colburn working to find his legs without being part of a school. When someone put the label of “grieving” on our emotions, it made me feel better for I have grieved deeply before and that is exactly what I am feeling now. I am sad to know the trip is over. I am apprehensive about the future. I know that there are many wonderful things about being home and that we will adjust and develop a new normal, but I already miss how we were as a family traveling – the laughter, the sense of common goals, the stories we made together. Already I feel the pull of commitments – school, work, activities, friends drawing us apart.
What is it like to be home? It is a much more difficult transition than I had imagined it would be. One afternoon, Colburn and I sat in our car waiting for a break in the traffic so we could turn in to our neighborhood and commented to each other about how busy everything seems here. Drivers are impatient and so self-centered that they cannot wait for someone else to pass. Our dentist wanted to cancel our appointment because we were stuck in traffic and arrived 8 minutes late. There also seems to be a glorification of having a busy schedule. When we ask people, “How have you been?” the answer is almost invariably something along the line of “busy as ever!” or similar. Parents lament about their children’s over-committed schedules, it takes three weeks to get together with someone for a cup of coffee, time is marked in 5 minute increments instead of the full days we were used to on the road. The pace of life is much faster than we are accustomed to living. We have slowed down and are not in nearly as much of a rush as we used to be.
Would we do it again? Yes, absolutely, no question. As we watched the final versions of the videos in this post, we all were teary-eyed and spent the next hour or two considering how we could make it happen again. Spending two years together as a family has brought us to an understanding of each other that is nearly impossible to do in a society which separates us for large parts of every day. We are now more involved in our children’s lives, not simply the driver which gets them to school on time, to their after-school activities on time, and feeds them dinner before making sure they get to bed on time. We know more about who they are, the challenges they face, and the accomplishments they feel because we have gone through those experiences with them, along side of them, not just heard about them at the end of the day. The kids have seen us struggle so know who we are and how we face these challenges. By stepping off of the unconscious train tracks we were living our life on, we can now see opportunities and responsibilities we could not imagine before the trip. We are more aware that world needs us and there are a myriad of ways we can give back. We have learned that if you have stuff, it needs to be useful or bring joy to you otherwise it is simply an encumberance. If you have relationships, they should be meaningful if they are to be worthy of your time. We are more present in each moment together as a family because we know that it is an amazing gift to have such wonderful people around you. No longer is dinner preparation or grocery shopping a solitary, unwanted task for me or Colburn, it is a family event where we share stories of our day and laugh together enjoying each other’s company. We have finished this chapter of our adventure, but already developing plans for the next!