Returning Home

A moodiness has invaded my spirits.

Turning to be on the return route, back to that which I left behind me, gives me a sadness. But I think it has always been that way. It was like that on my 2011 seven week solo road trip (in my Rav4). A person who was with me once on a brief road trip noticed a change in me immediately upon my deciding it was time to turn around and head back; this person said there was a drastic difference in my face between day 1 and turnaround day.

The moodiness invaded my spirits the day I knew I would be crossing the border back into America. I was entering my final week of my trip; from then on everything would be oriented toward return.

I am not ready to return. Home for me is being on the road. There is a rhythm to a road trip. Progress. Constant exploration. A freedom from judgment. An openness within one’s self and in the people one encounters. At least from my experience. Even though I feel the trip much more on a motorbike, am much more exhausted by it, feel it in my body, mind and spirit – on the road, I have found Home.

But being on the road, especially on the road alone, I also feel homeless. Toward the end of every day I begin to look for places that will be my home for the night. These homes are temporary. Spaces occupied the night before by someone else. Being nomadic is certainly a lifestyle. It means you belong nowhere, but also everywhere. Nowhere is home, yet everywhere is home.   I take a piece from each place and experience, and bring that piece with me into the next space. And it is not just the places I see that I take (or does it leave?) a piece within me, but now as part of me are the experiences and reactions places created in me, as well as the people I have met with their lives and stories.

There is the wiry man on his bicycle who admired my motorcycle and my exploration, who, when he heard I work with physicians, told me he had just finished a HepC and some other regimen, both of which he picked up from getting a tattoo back in the day (he says this, nodding at his sleeve tattooed arms whose previously presumably sharp black ink lines had turned into those green lines that blend in a bleeding way into the skin decades later); he was super thankful to doctors and shook my hand, so grateful of my work but really of their work.

There was a man on vacation who was curious about my story, joined me at my campsite for dinner to talk more, and I got him to describe to me his experience smoke jumping in the region.

There is the border patrol officer who sternly told me I would need to take off my helmet so he could see my face, and as I was doing so I saw a funny look on his face as he opened my passport and saw from the photo that I was female; he then became less stern and started reminiscing about when he used to ride, but said he had never quite done a trip like mine.

There is the kid whose spot of shade I shared while I had a snack before getting back on my bike and on the road, who, without many questions from me, told me everything had gone downhill since his mom died, and his dad was losing it. He regretted dropping out of high school, but he was so angry over his mom’s death and that was how he responded. I tried to mentor him in the short dozen minutes or so I had with him, and told him some of the coolest people I know have had nontraditional paths; he still has options. I hope I encouraged him and got him thinking. I know I made some sort of an impression on him – when his ride arrived to pick him up, he came over to say good bye, and it was important to him that I know his name: “My name is —–,” he said.

There is the man who owns and manages a campground outside of Glacier National Park, where I stayed while on my 2011 road trip, and when he found out I was alone then, had come back with keys to one of the cabins wanting me to stay there instead of in my tent, because he would not be able to check on me again and he wanted to make sure I was safe as it was just me and one other group a bit down a ways at the campground that night. I had thanked him for his kindness, but showed him how I had set up my tent to look out on his lake. This trip he came around again to the campsites, and I asked him if he remembered me, and started telling him his caring acts; he did remember me.

There is the Native American couple, the wife of which told me her aunt was one of the Native American children who was taken by the Canadian government to the residential schools, only her aunt was lucky and was somewhat protected from some of the worse conditions and got to go home every weekend, because her father was a chief. This is the same residential school system that thousands of other Native American children were also forced into, had such traumatic experiences that they will not talk about those times according to this woman, and for which the Canadian government is now paying reparations to survivors. This same couple are from an area where Canada sent their World War II prisoners of war to work in and for the local farming communities.

There is the Native American elder, who detests the term “elder”, which he described as a government categorization term. He works at the UNESCO World Heritage site, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, and approached me because he thought (accurately) that I have some Native American in me. I asked him questions and he was describing the “conflict” current Native American generations are having between “old world” and “new world” values; when I asked more questions he asked me if I had more time, and took me to a room that was set up as if it is a gathering space for traditional rituals. He explained, “I own nothing; we own nothing. I cannot take; I can only give.” And it made me wonder how much simpler living from that position might be. He said he wanted to pray for me, and did so in his native tongue of Blackfoot, while sifting through his fingers burnt sweet grass mixed with dirt, which from his references and reverence I take to be a sacred representation of the greater world of which we are part. He told me, holding his hands as if positioned on the handlebars of a motorbike, “You are making your own path.”

A good friend once wrote me something that went like this: “Having my sister here is like getting a part of me returned to me.” She said she was more “alive” with her sister, and had forgotten that part of herself. Her sister and her were at that point both back in the same city, and so living together, making a home together; home for my friend was grounding.

Perhaps that is why the sadness for me. Being on the road for me is grounding, returns to me parts of myself that get lost or muted or unexpressed in my “normal” life. Being on the road for me is Home. So in turning around to go back, naturally there is sadness.

There is a photo I took on this trip, of my motorcycle mirror reflecting from behind me whence I came, and beyond the mirror ahead the unknown, rugged horizon. 1654_aIn one sense this photograph is the most literal and panoramic view of a landscape and its experience in space and orientation. Its precise location and contents has even more meaning for me: from where I came as seen in the rearview mirror, was somewhat plain; what interested me the most was what was up ahead, where I was going, the challenges that terrain promised. There was a sort of perfection in the balance of colors and textures that this photograph does not quite capture, particularly in the space I did come up to in the horizon, Waterton Lakes National Park, where at least that day, the landscape perfectly matched itself. Being Waterton Lakes National Park up ahead meant beyond that, and perhaps even some of the mountains I was seeing up ahead, was the United States. So that view was both the wonder and specialness of being on the road and pressing forward exploring, but also a very physical, visual boundary of crossing a distinct line, with the associated formal protocols and rituals, signifying leaving Home and returning to that which is not home for me.

I am always thinking about how to create a space where Home can be my “normal” daily life. I have been pondering this since I recognized this four years ago, and have experimented with different approaches. In the meantime, I return Home, even if briefly, in the ways in which I know how.

See the rest of the Motorcycle Diaries