A couple of weeks ago I gave an inspiring talk at Bike4travel about long distance cycling adventures. Topics concerned preparation and the trip itself. At some point during my talk someone asked me: “what was the most difficult part of your whole 27 month trip?” I didn’t have to think long…
No, it weren’t the tough tracks or the freezing temperatures. No, it wasn’t the high altitude or the crazy wind and no, it was not the ‘first step’ (deciding to go). It was the ‘coming home’ part for me.
Even though I have been away on previous overseas long-term adventures before, this was the first time I had such a hard time adjusting to our ‘normal life’. The first week was fun, seeing friends and family again and heaving all those ‘Oh, I forgot about that-moments’, but very soon (within just a couple of days) everything and everyone went back to normal life, living exactly the same as before. As if nothing had changed, life went on and our trip of a lifetime felt like a long time ago. I had mixed feelings, being happy about the amazing adventure we had and sad to have left the great life of bicycle touring behind me. The Portuguese have a word for it: Saudade ; which means as much as ‘having both happy and sad thoughts/memories over something or someone that is no more’. I had a hard time to live by the calendar, to follow the (too many) Dutch rules and to be ‘normal’. I simply hated the rules, the obligations and the expectations. Around me, friends and family had a hard time to understand I was not happy. They argued “I had done something amazing”, “I should be happy to see them again” or “it’s just the way it is, accept it.” All I felt was I wasn’t special anymore and the loss of something so dear to me. I was mourning.., strange huh?
Finding a job and a home
Being back meant we needed to find a job and a home again. Lucky for us, Elmar could return to Bike4travel and even I was invited to work there. I guess this job gave me a positive push; I am now able to talk with people alike about our trip and to inspire others to do the same. I can share my memories and people understand what I am talking about. For me this job was a life-saver! I wish I could even spent more time here, haha!
Slowly things turned around and we even found a great place to live. These things gave me some peace and thus time to ‘heal’ from my Saudade, although I still miss the time on the road. But now, I can speak about it without feeling down.
Is there a lesson learned from my experience? Well, not everyone is having these emotions. Elmar, for instance, had no trouble adjusting to a normal life. And even though I was prepared for this, I still went through this emotional rollercoaster. At one point I realised I was no fun for the people close to me and most of all, I was no fun to myself anymore. I was so to speak ‘swimming against the current’ and at this point I had three choices: 1. Keep doing this, 2. turn around and swim with the crowd or 3. get out of the water and find myself a different place to swim in. I tried option one, but failed misserably. Not only was I not happy, I noticed others weren’t happy with me anymore. Option 3 was what I really wanted to do, meaning my swimming pool would be riding our bikes indefinately. But I knew it was not realistic at this point in our lives. So, option 2 was my best bet. But, without loosing my beliefs and my authenticity. I still am who I am, but I made my circumstances somewhat easier for myself. In short, Elmar was right; ‘it is what it is now, focus on the future’.
Having these feelings and going through the emotions is part of the whole trip and should and WILL not influence the amazing memories we have. And even though it was a tough time, I never, ever regret our decision to travel the world by bicycle! Now I can look back and smile and enjoy the photos and memories. I actually received these two amazing prints (below) today to hang on our wall! Plus, I have learned a new word: Saudade. Beautiful word, is it not?