Just after we roll into the new year, Chris and I will be halfway through our “year” of travels. (I put year in quotes because sometimes we make up excuses to extend the trip — Burning Man 2016, Wyoming in autumn, too many things to do and not enough time. Other times, on those hardest or coldest or wettest of days, we contemplate going home early, although I don’t think we really would. “Year” is a flexible term for us.)
This is most definitely a time of regrouping, and it feels appropriate to me that it coincides with a season of fresh starts. We have learned so much in these last six months. Nearly every expectation that we’ve had for the trip has been foiled on some way. Perhaps the only one that stuck was the notion that we would learn something and be changed in some unforeseen way.
As I write this I’m sitting in a warm home, in a comfortable chair, looking out windows at a snow-covered back yard. I slept in a real bed, took a proper shower this morning, stacked my breakfast dishes in a dishwasher. I’ve spent the past couple of days in the company of family: talking, laughing, drinking, playing games, eating, and just being together. It’s all that I hoped for when I wrote about my struggles with Christmas. And it’s more.
It’s easy to find oneself wanting to stay in all this comfort, although it’s also clear to me that I (and we) wouldn’t be growing in the ways that we are if we had opted for simple security and sameness. This was elegantly expressed in a New Yorker article from earlier this month, about learning Italian. Sometimes we have to pitch ourselves headlong into the unfamiliar in order to find something new about ourselves.
Usually, such growth is an uncomfortable process. I’m a little unique in how much I enjoy it, how much of my professional life has been spent steeped in change, and how much I consistently seek it out personally. I find it to be very rewarding. But still, it can hurt.
The kinds of change and growth and decisions we face are both big and small.
With day after day of unstructured time, we’re forced to confront our creative habits and the ways we allow ourselves to explore (or don’t – and why); ditto with healthy routines like exercise. While I’m not as creatively productive as I’d hoped for, I’m finding that my writing is turning to new topics as my newly-freed-up brain and soul allows itself to explore more widely.
We are two very independent people, and we’re learning how to share a small space and to be together (usually within three feet of each other) during most of our waking hours; we are also learning how to build in time apart, which is necessary.
We did not anticipate how cold winter nights would be, even in places warm and sunny during the daytime. Nor how frustrating it could be to cook dinner outside in the dark evenings of winter.
On a positive note, I also didn’t anticipate how much time we would spend camping in places where we wake up to see the ocean from our Cricket window. Many good surprises include things about the places we are lucky enough to visit; we were both surprised at how undeveloped the northern California coast was.
I had no idea how many small things there would be to worry about. In our daily lives, Chris does most of the worrying. I recently had a week alone with the Cricket, and I was shocked how much burden it was to ensure everything was in order day after day: bikes still secure on the roof, the Cricket packed away properly for moving around, electrical charged, turning around and backing up in small parking lots, propane safety, etc. I could go on and on but I’ve done enough complaining about these small burdens to a few patient loved ones.
There are of course the good surprises too. I am awed by the easy camaraderie we find with fellow travelers. We recently spent two delightful days laughing ridiculously hard with a fellow travel couple, swapping stories about grumpy moments and the small comforts we miss, all while acknowledging how privileged we are to participate in this lifestyle.
I had some similar conversations with a solo traveler last week, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around how easily I can approach a stranger with an ask for help, and how quickly we then found ourselves sitting on the ground barefoot talking about things like loneliness and cold showers. I knew we would have these sorts of connections, but I didn’t expect how important they would feel.
When we fly back to California to regroup with the Cricket, we will be contemplating some pretty big options about what could be next: Heading down to Baja California for some warm weather and cheap living? Would we feel safe? Scurrying over to the Gulf Coast area for warm nights and a place to chill for a while? Can we feel fulfilled in Texas? Taking one or another kind person up on their offer of a home to use for a little while? Would that feel too easy? Like we were missing out on too much? Do we head over to Death Valley and enjoy a different landscape for a while, cold nights be damned?
I was raised on the idea that I have options and choices, and I love how rich and varied that has made my life. But interestingly, with these travels, even I am starting to hit my limit for uncertainty. Some days I just crave sameness, routine, predictability. I’m glad to know that I will appreciate these things more when(ever) we do return home. And I’m trying to figure out how we build some of these things into our daily lives a little better, while still keeping the freedom that’s so central to this kind of travel.
I’ve felt a little more like complaining lately, a little less secure. That probably comes across in this post. It doesn’t mean I’m not grateful for all the opportunities we have, that we have made for ourselves, and that the universe has afforded us. In part, writing like this helps me keep the little nuisances in perspective while still feeling like I’m being honest about the realities of our adventure — we never wanted this blog to be a spot to simply show off.
So I suppose all of this leads back to where I started this post — we are halfway through, and soon we will be regrouping, deciding how we spend the next half (or however much) of our “year” across the U.S. I suspect there will be changes both big and small. And a lot will stay the same because, truthfully, it’s awesome. Our days are our own, our minds and hearts are our own, and we can do (almost) anything we want.
And so it continues. We are still catching up on fun adventures from the months past, so stay tuned for more.