So we got home late last night after an extraordinarily exhausting 53 hours of travel, including some borderline time travel that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. Consider this, our flight left Auckland, NZ on Saturday at about 11:30 pm New Zealand time, crossing the international dateline shortly afterwards. We landed in California (after a 12 hour flight of nonstop turbulence) at 2:30 pm. On SATURDAY. That’s about nine hours BEFORE we departed.
We went to sleep in California at about 9:30 pm. So we were sleeping in California TWO HOURS BEFORE our plane left New Zealand. Go get your mind to grasp that.
After the initial depression of leaving transitioned rapidly into the depression of “I wish this miserable, never ending travel day was over” – all I wanted was to be home. Unfortunately for us, we had one last adventure left in this trip, when our baggage return carousel at Newark airport decided to jam, stranding us with 2 out of 3 bags for over an hour while the feckless Virgin America employees tried to figure out how to get 10 suitcases out of the machine.
By the time we got home, I was thrilled. Ariel wasn’t too excited, but there’s something about coming home to your own bed, your own sofas, your own TV and clothes and dining room table and refrigerator and everything else that just feels good. While New Jersey is pretty freaking far from Bilbo and Frodo’s Shire (although in some ways it’s more similar than you might think), to us, it’s our home. And there is real comfort in being home.
As I got up this morning though, I had a very strange moment where I was highly confused about when and where I was exactly. After two weeks of never sitting still, never spending more than two nights (and usually only one) in the same bed, plus the incredible amount of time we spent in travel limbo, I’m in a strange place. Yet I’m also home. I’m back at my familiar desk in my familiar office. I drove my familiar car, with its familiar annoying noises, on the RIGHT side of the road (although now I’m struggling to remember that my LEFT hand is the turn signal hand), through the familiar New Jersey traffic to my familiar parking lot with its familiar lack of parking spaces. I went up the familiar elevator and said hello to my familiar receptionist.
Yet it all seems somehow unreal. Like any minute now I’m going to blink and find myself on a winding road in the Southern Alps or standing on the edge of a hike up the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in the shadow of Mount Doom.
This isn’t the first time I felt this way – in fact, this is always the way it feels the day after getting back from an extended trip away from home.
You see when you’re on the road (whether driving or taking public transport), there are certain routines you fall into. Every day you get up, pack up your stuff (don’t forget to check the bathroom and fridge twice in case you forgot something), arrange the cooler and BOOM you’re out there. When you get to wherever you’re staying for the night it’s a similar routine but in reverse. Unpack the cooler, freeze the ice packs, connect to wifi, put your stuff in the bathroom – but don’t spread out TOO much or you’ll waste time in the morning getting it all back together.
Then, after a bunch of plane rides and grueling travel you suddenly find yourself at home. No road routine. No new bed tonight. Just up and go to work like the last two weeks (or months or years in some cases) never even happened.
I also find air travel to be completely disorienting. You get into a tin box and magically, a few hours later you’re in a completely different place with different temperatures, different scenery, different times, different people speaking different languages. Plus the whole routine of checking in, going through security, wandering around in the nebulous zone between airport gates amongst other dazed travelers from all over the world, who themselves have no idea where they are really, is just so strange.
It creates such a break from everything that preceded it, that when it’s over, no matter where I am, it feels like that’s where I’ve always been. For two weeks in New Zealand, it seemed like my whole life in New Jersey was nothing but a dream. Now it seems like New Zealand was nothing but a dream.
But then I realize that my sand fly bites are itching. And that I haven’t shaved in days. And I think about where those bites came from or where it was that I shaved last or cut my nails…and suddenly it’s all very real again and I’m back in Milford Sound or Wellington or Lake Tekapo or Matamata and it just takes me right back there.
This is how it always is. Because even when you come home – it’s the same home and the same life and the same people – it’s you that has changed. It’s the fundamental beauty of traveling to far off places and why it makes sense to spend lots of money on limited experiences as opposed to permanent items. Because while the travel ends, a good trip really stays with you for the rest of your life in a way that no 4K TV or leather sofa ever can.
Our experiences on this trip will be frames of reference for future experiences that we otherwise never would have been able to compare. Even in New Zealand, with all of the wild scenery and radically different lifestyle than what I’m used to on a daily basis, I was drawing on past experiences in the Rocky Mountains or Patagonia or other places I’ve gone. It was these past experiences that better helped me to digest what I was seeing around me and have better prepared me to deal with out of the ordinary experiences even in my daily life.
That’s why getting out of your comfort zone is so important. Because while it may not always be pony-rides in May-sunshine, real travel is the time we are most ALIVE.
While I’m a little sad that this was probably the last true adventure away from home we’ll have for a while, I know we’ll be back on the road again one day.
And that is an encouraging thought indeed.
“The road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the road has gone, and I must follow, if I can.”