Tonight I arrived back to the last place Joel and I called home. After months of sharing spaces, experiencing new places, and being invited into other people’s homes, we are returning to simultaneously say hello and goodbye to the place we started from.
It’s nearly five months to the day we packed our car with two suitcases, two backpacks, too many books, a cooler and various other “road trip essentials” (which we quickly learned were not that essential), signed closing paperwork on my house sale, and drove away.
My last goodbye was with my realtor in a suburban parking lot. She squeezed me in a tight embrace and said, “You are really leaving right now?” Yes, we were really leaving - the memory of my house keys still pulsing in my palm minutes after handing them over to the new owner - we were leaving this place, right now.
On that day we were a jumble of emotions. As we watched the city grow fainter behind us, we could barely express coherent sentences to each other. We did manage to exclaim “the adventure begins!” at least a dozen times in the first few hours. After driving for a bit we pulled off at a scenic overlook, did some joyful stretches, and laughed hysterically at this weird and wondrous life we now called ours.
But even then, I wondered about the return – when we would go back was a question, and how I would feel about it was an even larger mystery. As I return today I wonder: is it the true end of this chapter of my life or did the chapter already end a long time ago? Can I look back over months of adventuring and reflecting to pinpoint the moment I transitioned from that life then to this life now? Does it matter?
On this journey of so much unfamiliar territory (literally and figuratively) I am eager to know what it will feel like being back in a familiar space. Somehow, returning to the place I called home for almost 16 years feels like the most confusing terrain of all because I am still myself, but I am also not myself.
And though I feel different, I haven’t ever wanted to portray our experience as a profound awakening or glittery, perfect enlightenment. Mostly, I now understand something I had been trying to accept for years, a voice whispering inside me that got louder when I stepped away from the place I knew: “Wherever you go, there you are.” (Refer to past blogs to understand how present this mantra has been on this trip!)
I am still myself in many essential ways. The differences Joel and I feel are because we took the great leap to shed the external identifiers we’d carried for years to see what our foundations were. Turns out, even while on the road, even underneath and beyond all those identifiers, was a lot of the same stuff we struggled with and the same stuff we celebrated back at home. But credit where it’s due: we also did make discoveries, pause and consider things in a new way, broaden our perspectives, and emerge somehow, somewhat, changed.
On this trip, Joel and I have learned more about our values, dreams, and what we hope to create in our future home. Joel got clarity on his redirected career path while I am still a bit unclear on how to pivot my career in fundraising to something that speaks to my passions more. I’m getting closer though. We have grown as a couple and still like each other even after all these miles and car farts, which bodes well for building an unconventional home together in the future. So, in many ways we achieved our main goals of the trip. Home, vocation, self: check!
But we are also in an interim space with an unclear end date, managing our fears around how to keep momentum when we are back in a more conventional life, and still processing a lot. The trip didn’t magically solve all our problems (nor did we think it would). The trip didn’t always feel nourishing. Sometimes, especially after lots of consecutive travel days, all we wanted to do was crawl into a familiar, warm bed and digest the magic of the world for a bit instead of experience more.
I chuckle thinking of my friend Ben warning me early on that our journey would “at times be boring.” It was boring at times. It was exasperating sometimes. Some days required social media filters more than others. I forgot to take pictures I wanted to take; I blogged less than I intended; Joel quickly realized comic-making and doing a 14k road trip was unfeasible; we needed more time for quiet than we had planned for. I didn’t always meet my expectations for myself or the trip.
Our reality was a web of logistics that mostly worked but left almost no time for rest.
Our reality was an ever-present tension between sharing with others versus experiencing things for ourselves and processing privately.
Our reality was we underestimated being without our own kitchen (hence our increased enjoyment of restaurants around the country) and under planned ways to navigate issues like this one.
Our reality was that the people we met along the way were more important, profound, and impactful to our experience than we ever could have predicted.
Our reality was we discovered beauty in almost every place we visited. There were places we were drawn to and connected with more, but no place felt inherently bad.
Our reality was two initial months of “what the hell are we doing!?” that softened into a mindset of “hell yeah we are doing this!!” and a gentle acceptance of our imperfect yet valid adventure.
Our reality was even though we invited this change into our lives, we could never have guessed how the change would take shape.
The biggest transformation - beyond clarity regarding the home and future we want to create - is our understanding of the abundance of our lives.
We have cultivated and grown a large community this past year, thus widening our already expansive circle of people. We are returning to humans we love and who will be very hard to leave. Yet, shortly after our road trip ended, I found myself saying to Joel how much I longed to revisit every single host from our road trip. Not quite a, “Hey let’s do it all over again, honey!” but certainly a moment of awe and gratitude for just how much we gained on this journey.
So now we return to where we started; we are still ourselves, yet also not quite ourselves. This isn’t exactly a homecoming: home is still taking shape, in the interim and in the long-term. Is it an ending? A beginning? Perhaps – in the paraphrased words of Minneapolis rock legends Semisonic – it has been both all along.