Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Choice to Come Home

A lot of people that I've talked to do not understand why I am back in Colorado. Those people know I've been infected with a severe case of wanderlust for a long time. They thought I was going to be at the beginning of a long world tour right now. This is my attempt to explain why I'm back in Colorado.

At the start of the Antarctic winter, Brian Nelson and I had talked about buying around the world tickets. We were going to bike Tasmania and the Great Ocean Road, surf in Bali, explore Angkor Wat, hike the Sapa Highlands, seek out a Thai Ice Tea and white bread for Raja in Thailand, ski indoors in Dubai, spend a month biking from Lhasa, Tibet to Kathmandu, Nepal, be awed by the temples of Jordan and scarred by the conditions of the West Bank and Gaza strip, summit Kilimanjaro, safari in Tanzania, and finally return home with who knows what extras in between. Brian might have left after Africa to catch an Oregon summer while I would continue on a longer walkabout to destinations unknown in Africa and beyond.

We both had saved for a long time. We had choices. We had opportunities. The world was our oyster. So many ideas. So many dreams. I had wanted to travel the world and explore other cultures for so long. Since I could never afford to study abroad while in college, it was all I dreamed and talked about. After working on Semester at Sea, it became an obsession to get out of debt so I could travel again.

Given all that, why am I sitting in Colorado writing this?

By May or June (eight-nine months into my time on the Ice), I realized my heart wasn't into traveling the way it has been in the past. I was tired. I was no longer certain of my path. A lot of winter Ice veterans told me that it was just that I had been on the Ice for too long. Once I hit New Zealand, my drive would come flooding back to me. I wasn't so sure that was the case. I saw my priorities shifting while I was on the Ice. What I wanted out of life was being redefined, but I refused to be honest with myself and embrace those new definitions even though they excited me. I just couldn't believe that I was on the precipice of realizing a life dream to see the world and that I'd willingly choose to walk away from it to put down roots at home and chase other dreams.

When October hit, I was forced into making a decision because I was leaving Antarctica in 16 days. I made the decision to try to travel. I'd travel around New Zealand for a couple weeks. If traveling was working for me, I'd buy an around the world ticket. If not, I'd follow my heart home. I felt that plan was a good compromise between what my heart was telling me to do (go home) versus what my brain was telling me to do (travel) because I had chased something for so long. I'd get a chance to see if my priorities had truly shifted or if I was just beaten down by the Ice.

When I landed in Christchurch, my senses were intoxicated. I fell in love with its beauty and greenery. After a couple days soaking it up with Ice friends, I headed off to start my travels. I hiked the Abel Tasman track and then joined Katie Folts on the Banks Peninsula Track. Both hikes were great experiences, but something was missing from both of them.

When we got back on November 1st, Brian Nelson was in town. While the three of us were walking towards a bus stop in Christchurch just two weeks after I had started to try traveling, I had my moment of clarity. “The voyage of true discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes (Marcel Proust).” What was missing was not going to be found while traveling. It was waiting for me at home to see with a new perspective and appreciation for what I wanted.

I told Brian that I would not be joining him on an around the world trip. He was very cool about it and said he had expected as much for a couple months based on how I was talking (I wish he would have clued me in sooner.) I didn't tell many people about my decision because I liked the idea of surprising people back home and also didn't have a ticket booked yet.

One of the first things I did was check to see if I could still buy a Colorado season ski pass. Luckily, I was able to and did. Then, I had to decide when I would go back. My heart was telling me to go home sooner than later, but I also knew it would be stupid to leave without exploring a little bit of New Zealand first. I decided to return home on November 9th, the day before I was told my leave of absence expired at my old job.

Unfortunately, there was a mix up and my leave of absence actually expired in October. When I discovered this in early November, I had just been invited to play ultimate at New Zealand nationals with the defending champs out of Christchurch in the middle of December. I decided to stay longer so that I could play in their nationals and also go on the Ice reunion canoe trip that B-Nelson had planned. That would put me home in time for Christmas.

At the end of November, I was trying to book my flights. Getting home for Christmas was proving to be an ordeal because I didn't plan ahead enough and I also didn't have a credit card. It had expired on Ice and they wouldn't send me a new one in Antarctica or New Zealand for some reason I can't remember. Near the end of that frustration, I went on an amazing bike ride through Christchurch's Port Hills. I hadn't been on a bike in so long, I was loving it. Brian was on his way to Tasmania to bike tour after my nationals, so I figured I might as well join him since I had enjoyed biking so much and getting home for Christmas was proving to be an ordeal.

I chose Martin Luther King Junior Day as my new target date. Yeah, I knew I was missing home more acutely every day I didn't go home, but I figured I was there so it wouldn't hurt to explore just a little more. It is amazing how much more energy I had to travel once I realized that I was going home. Also, since I was surprising everyone and hadn't heard about any big changes at home, I decided that a few extra week shouldn't change a thing and no one would know the difference anyway.

I flew to Tasmania on the 20th and met Brian. We got started on our bike tour the next day. Unfortunately, from day one I was thinking about things at home so much that I just wasn't enjoying the trip. I was trying to hurry the trip along so that I could finish it and get home sooner. On Christmas Eve, this came to a head and I went from thinking about home a lot to thinking about it all the time. Less that a week later, I realized that Tasmania had been a mistake for me because I wasn't mentally there.

On my way to Davenport, I finally decided that instead of thinking about things at home I should go home. I wanted to sleep on the decision for a night though. When I got to Davenport, I started trying to book flights home. It was going to be difficult and it was going to be expensive. That night over dinner, I told Brian that I planned to go home, but would sleep on the decision. After dinner, we wanted to go to a movie but couldn't settle on what we wanted to see. We went to our hostel instead. When we got there, I realized the daily ferry to Melbourne hadn't left yet and knew that it would be a lot easier to get home from Melbourne. With 45 minutes until the ferry left, I said screw it. I didn't want to sleep on it. I didn't want to wait a single day more to get home. I packed up all my stuff and started biking for the 8pm ferry.

My sleeper cabin on the ferry.

This ferry looks awful like the MV Explorer from Semester at Sea (which is a cruise ship).

When I got there, they told me they were sold out of the cheap seats. I only had enough cash for the cheap seats and no credit card. I biked away to an ATM, took out my max for the day, and went back to barely afford a sleeper cabin ticket instead. At 7am, we pulled into Melbourne. The bike shop that was supposed to be open was closed for holiday hours. I went to another bike shop I remembered nearby and someone happened to be opening the store when I got there. She sold me a bike box and the tools to take apart my bike and then closed the store right back up. She had only been opening the store at that hour because she didn't realize they were on holiday hours as well.

The Davenport Harbor lighthouse for a friend.

A second picture of the lighthouse with the sunset as I sail home.

At 9am, I got a cab and went to the airport without a flight home. I called the travel agency that the Antarctic Program works with to let people use a route other than the one they came down to the Ice on. I also called the Antarctic Program to see if they could get me home on my original route. The travel agency was only able to find unbelievably expensive tickets to fly from Melbourne to Denver. The day before a major holiday and with zero days notice, who would have thought that? The soonest the Antarctic Program could do was the 31st. It was the 30th and I didn't want to wait. After some humming, hawing, and serious finagling with my credit card company I decided to get the expensive flight home that left in two hours at noon.

I broke down my bike in the airport terminal, boxed it up, checked in, and got back to Denver around 5pm on January 30th. I had spent about 45 hours traveling and way too much money, but it was worth it. I don't regret it. I wanted to get home to follow new life dreams.

So that is a long winded version of why and when I chose to come home. I simply saw my priorities shift after being gone from home so long. I saw the new priorities, but just couldn't believe the old ones were fading so I didn't give the new ones the attention they deserved.

Am I done traveling forever? No. I'll take long vacations or I'll find a way to explore that keeps new goals in the forefront. I'm just not willing to let my desire to travel be my sole guide to decision making anymore. Other things are more important. Other things can fill my soul up more. Is it time to put down roots? It might be. I'm looking at houses and a dog. I should probably get a job first though.

Biking Tasmania

In short, Tasmania wasn't what I had hoped it would be. I loved getting on the bike and riding every day, but a bunch of things just weren't working for me. First up, after the beauty of New Zealand, Tasmania just wasn't that spectacular. Also, even though I had decided not getting back to Colorado before Christmas would be alright, it wasn't. There were things at home that I had been missing for too long and they were overwhelming my thoughts daily. Because of that, I wanted to get home sooner than later and biked harder that I should have to make that happen. My mind was just elsewhere so I wasn't enjoying the journey.

Brian Nelson, my bike touring partner, finding out how to undo our first wrong turn on the trip.

Our plan was to ride counterclockwise around the island starting and ending in Hobart in about three weeks. We wanted to finish up by the 13th so I could fly to Sydney for a couple days to see old friends and still get back to Colorado by Martin Luther King Junior Day, my second target date since my Christmas date hadn''t pan out. Our first day started out tough. We were near a lot of city traffic and we took a wrong turn. However, we also managed to find a roadside stand that sold some of the best cherries I've ever had.

B-Nelson rediscovers an old friend from the Ice, Frosty Boy!

I don't know how this hill got its name, but I was excited to ride down it.

Maria Island National Park

The absolute highlight of the trip for me was a sidetrip over to Maria Island National Park. It was peaceful. It was quiet. We could bike and not worry about cars. We had a campsite infested with wallabies. We saw our first kangaroos and wombats. We heard the cockatoos call. We saw a fantastic sunset and a sunrise to match. I highly recommend it.

I saw my first kangaroo on Maria Island (check out the use of the tail).

I also saw my first wombat there which was my favorite critter by far. John Bain wants you to know they have a rump shield for defense.

A beach just down the way from our campsite.

Sunset on Maria Island.

Our failed attempt to bike down the isthmus through sand, painful but beautiful.

Painted sandstone cliffs.

Sea critters. I think the red one is an anemone.

The view from the Fossil Cliffs on Maria Island.

Through Brian and my's biggest adversary was a headwind that fought us 12/14 days in two different directions, the logging trucks of Tasmania normally give bike tourists the most difficulty.

One of the best things about bike touring is that you are almost hungry and everything tastes so good. We stopped to buy roadside fruit at every chance we could. This one was a little too big to take.

Freycinet National Park.

The town near the national Park, Coles Bay, moves at a different speed (Think about it, John Franco).

One of the many great views in Freycinet National Park.

Wineglass Bay.

A wallaby (basically a small kangaroo0) with a joey in its pouch.

One of the great things about Tasmania is the number of free campsites. Some people were clearly setup to be there a while. Some tents could have held a car.

An echidna is basically a marsupial porcupine with a small version of an anteater snout. Very cute when you can actually see their face.

Christmas dinner.

The Bay of Fires National Park had red algae on the rocks.

The welcoming statue to Bingalong Bay reminded me of the 1950's California (aka the TV show Gidget)

On the way up to the Bay of Fires, we had our only tailwind of the trip that I can remember. However, the Bay of Fires wasn't on the way. It was a side trip. If we hadn't made a detour out to see it, then we would have a headwind the entire way. The headwind was ridiculous. On my final riding day in Tasmania, it was all I could do not to quit. Well, I guess I did end up quitting, but it wasn't because of the headwind. It was like the wind didn't want us to get anywhere. I'm not sure if Brian got a tailwind when he returned to Hobart.

A beautiful valley and home to the Pub in a Paddock which is near absolutely nothing else, except cows.

I have no idea why, but these cows follows us for almost a quarter of a mile, but if we approached them they backed up. Any ideas?

Random wood carvings. These were pretty cool. Unfortunately, the park they are in is now treeless.

This picture is for Ben Bachelor, the ultimate way to catch a ride.

Opium fields.

Cataract Gorge in Launceston. Amazing just because it is so close to the city.

In the back of Cataract Gorge, I was reminded that this beautiful peacock has one of the most screeching bird calls I've ever heard.

A sitting spot onthe side of Cataract Gorge.

My final sunset on Tasmania at the Swan Point campsite.

Tasmania by the Numbers (719 km/446 mi):
  • 12/19 Hobart to Sorrel 54km
  • 12/20 to Maria Island Nationals Park 80km and a ferry ride
  • 12/21 to Swansea 74km
  • 12/22 to Freycinet National Park 64km
  • 12/23 Rest/Hiking Day
  • 12/24 to Lagoons Beach (near St. Mary's) 74km
  • 12/25 to St. Helens 51km
  • 12/26 to Binalong Bay, Bay of Fires, and St. Columba Falls 64km
  • 12/27 to Scottsdale 61km
  • 12/28 to Swan Point campground 107km
  • 12/29 to Davenport 90km
  • 12/29 night, leave Tasmania