Hello Loyal Loose-rs,
I just climbed out of an opium den in Cambodia and boy are my arms tired. Just kidding. For those of you that don’t know by now.. Surprise! I’m home. As in the United States of America home.
When I last signed off, I had just finished up a wonderful month in Laos. What I left out was that I actually wrote that entry in.. Pittsburgh, PA shortly after coming home (right around the time I was hangin’ out with my nephew at my dad’s in the picture above). Sorry to deceive you all but it was damn fun. During my last few weeks in Laos, I spent a whole heckuva lot of time on buses criss-crossing the remote green North of the country. Without an iPod (broken earlier in India) or the ability to read anything (windy mountain roads assured me I’d be joining the legions of Laotians vomiting out the windows if I tried), most of that time was spent staring out the window and thinking, mainly about how monumentally I missed my family and friends. With invitations to the Summer weddings of three close friends lingering and daydreams of good times and great weather in the Summer back in the US, I was overcome. It was then that I realized that I wasn’t at all sick of traveling, just sick of traveling solo.
When I started this trip, all I wanted was to be out on my own, away from everyone and everything that had occupied my time and demanded my attention. I wanted to have the freedom to do whatever I wanted whenever I felt like it – to simplify, to explore, to let myself be led in new directions, to be whatever or whoever I wanted – and the mental space to sort through some things that were somewhere deep in my subconscious. After spending the first month of the trip feeling strangely uncomfortable at times, I realized how hard it was for me to shake the sense of responsibility, the anxiety and the ‘aren’t i supposed to be doing something?’ feelings that had become second nature in my previously over-scheduled, way over-stressed life (mostly self-induced, as I’d discover). Then, magically, all of the that mental baggage that I’d accumulated in the last year or two of work and life-related stress started to slough off. And then, the ‘experience’ started. Somewhere in the foothills of the Annapurna mountains in Nepal, as the scenery became stark, beautiful and unfamiliar, where I had only my footsteps and the scenery to accompany me, I started thinkin’ a whole lot. And it was good..
Eight months later, on those windy roads in Laos, I realized that I’d come to a point where I’d processed a lot of that ‘stuff’ that had been in the back of my head for so long, and I’d been changed in some wonderful ways by this trip. And, most importantly, that I was done for now. I guess it was my Forrest-Gump-with-the-long-beard-running-down-the-road moment (minus the loyal followers). And it was time to go home. So, when I got an email from my friend Craig, one of the grooms-to-be back home, reminding me of his offer to fly me back to the US at a discount with his employer United (and the possibility of that offer and his job going away soon ’cause of rising fuel price-related instability) the deal was sealed. “Get me on a flight!,” I says to him. And he done did it. God bless him. (And he didn’t lose his job – yahoo!)
The idea of just showing up back home and surprising family and friends gave me something fun to think about those last coupla weeks. With so much time by myself to daydream about encounters with everyone I love and missed so much, the idea seemed grow larger than life. I let the grooms-to-be know but that was about it. I made my way back to Bangkok a final time, to have a suit made for me by my new Thai friend, Pong,
to be amused by offers of ‘you want boom-boom?’ in the tourist hell of Khao San Road, and to get a stomach bug one more time – just for good measure. I then flew stand-by on three flights from Bangkok to Tokyo to San Francisco to New York for 35 nail-biting hours. But the stress over whether I’d actually get on any of those flights was for nada. I got on all of ’em including the 9-hour leg from Tokyo to San Francisco in Business Class (capitalizing it makes it feel even cooler), where I shared an exit row and more food than I could stuff in my gullet with an Army guy who’d just spent time on one of those unwanted aircraft carriers offering support outside the Delta of Burma (we had lots to talk about). From hostels with oatmeal to Business Class with plates of cheese and grapes in just a few hours. Yahtzee.
I finally made it to New York exhausted and dirty but damn happy. (Later, as almost everybody would ask about my feelings of safety in all of these crazy countries, I’d tell ’em that getting on the subway from JFK at 2:30 AM that night was the first time I’d felt at all unsafe in as long as I could remember. God Bless America). After a coupla days regaining composure and some much-needed weight with my cousin Ed and his wife Landis in Brooklyn, I took a Greyhound bus back home to Pittsburgh, where I sat next to a young Jack Kerouac of a guy who’d recently finished a year and a half solo bicycle ride from the North of Alaska to the southern tip of South America. He spent $5,000 on the trip in total, living on the cheap by poaching camping spots and dumpster diving at Trader Joe’s for food (apparently they throw out a lot of good stuff). $5,000 for a year and a half adventure of a lifetime. Who says you need a ton of money to travel?!!
The two months since have been some of the best of this year+ on the road, as I’ve continued the journey, just inside the US, with each stop bringing another reunion. I’ve surprised my family and countless friends from Pittsburgh to Philly, New York to Boston to North Carolina (all via another amazing series of road trips on the motorcycle) and San Francisco, celebrated the 4th of July with a new appreciation, went to a Pirates game with my dad, worked on an organic farm with my friend Jen, watched three great friends get married, finally shaved off the horrendous mustachio, listened to the Dalai Lama speak at my alma mater (turns out it was easier to see him back here than track him down in India as I’d tried..), reunited with my pals at Clif Bar, and capped it all off with an amazing end-of-summer celebration with the ‘Superfriends’ at the 9th Annual Slip ‘n Slide party in Vermont. (I did some math last night and figured that I have slept in at least 23 different places in the ~two months since I got back.)
After so much time away from everyone and all that was familiar and comfortable and so much time to think about how much they all mean to me, the anticipation and joy that comes from reuniting with those I love is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. There are probably a few different variations of the sentiment that for many of us, ‘it takes traveling far and wide to realize that what we seek is right back there where we left it’. Friends and family, as I’ve learned, are what’s left when everything else goes away. I love you all more than ever and thank you for the incredible support and encouragement you’ve all shown me since I started talking about this crazy idea.
While my sense of wanderlust will never diminish, it’s been satisfied for now. My original plan was to come home for the Summer to get my fix with everyone and then hit the road again in September, traveling back to Africa and Asia through next Spring before coming home to do another big motorcycle trip – this one across the southern US and up to Alaska and back (look out Ewan McGregor). Oh, I had all sorts of crazy ideas. But when I got home, and realized how good it felt to just ‘be’ here, things changed. Home felt good, the US felt good, friends and family felt good, the Summer sun, green trees and dahlias in bloom in San Francisco felt good, comfy beds and hot showers felt good, a healthy diet including protein options for this new vegetarian felt good, and the sense of being where I belonged felt good. And I was a little tired.. And so my plan softened a bit.
As I slowly began to reconnect with what was happening in the US and around the world, that plan to help try to solve this whole climate change thing made it’s way to the front of my mind again. And I started thinking about that idea of going back to school to learn something that would allow me to contribute to the discussion in a more significant way. And when I started looking around at ways to do that, I got hooked. I’ve decided to go to graduate school next Fall to study climate/energy policy.
When I got back to my mom’s in Pittsburgh three days ago after nearly 14 months of running around the world – 14 months after pulling out of my friends’ driveway in SF – I realized that, for the first time in probably years, I have absolutely no ‘events’ on the calendar – no flights booked, nowhere to be and nothing I really have to do. It’s all done. Aside from applying to school, I have a completely blank slate. I don’t know where I’m going to live (San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Vermont?) or what I’ll do for work in the meantime. It’s both liberating and a little freaky. Today I go to work on figuring it all out. And should end up in one of those cities I mentioned in the next few weeks.
With that, I bring this incredible chapter of my life to a close. And start another. I’m not sure how interesting this next chapter will be for y’all in the next few months, so I might let’er go dormant for a bit. This here blog that is. Any objections?
Finally, I got the name of this blog from a line in the 5th stanza of Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road”. If you haven’t already, you should read it here. There are a few other quotes that have been bouncing around my head for the last year and I can’t help but want to share them. Thank you for allowing me to indulge myself..
Henry David Thoreau (quoted quite a bit these days, but which now holds a new significance for me):
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.”
Dalai Lama (I’m paraphrasing):
“If, with each decision in your life, you’re not choosing the path that will ultimately make you truly happier, then what the heck are you doing?”
“Peace begins with a smile.”
Thanks for reading. And thanks, most of all, to my friend Jennifer for giving me the push I needed to do it. You were right.
Over and out.
P.S. For those of you that like photos, I’ve put together two slideshows. The first is of the cross-country trip last Summer. The second is of the international stuff. Just hit the ‘slideshow’ button at the upper right of the screen in each set. The international one in particular is suuuuper long. Get some popcorn for that one.
P.P.S. Thank you to all of you that have left such thoughtful comments over the last year. While I didn’t respond to them, I read them all – often multiple times. It meant a lot to hear from each of you when I was so far from home. Thank you!
P.P.P.S. Okay, so I can’t completely let go of the idea of travel quite yet (single, no mortgage, no commitments – hello!!?). After applications go in between December and January, I might try to squeeze in one more trip before school actually starts – assuming I get in, that is.. That’d give me about 5-6 months between February and August. Just enough time to see some combination of East Africa, North India, Tibet, Mongolia and maybe the Trans-Siberian Railway across Russia. Maybe. Any takers? I’m serious.