Current Location: Louisville, KY, United States of America
Current Weather: 32°F (feels like 24°F)
Days Gone: 201
Days Remaining: Zero
Home provides its own type of chaos. Perhaps the chaos and uncertainty craved by the traveler is really just a craving for simplicity. Unknown means no planning. It means your time is yours and yours alone. For me, unknown is easy. With too many variables, calculation becomes impossible. You can’t suffer from analysis paralysis if you can’t analyze the situation. I’ve said before that the present is all we have. Well, it turns out that while traveling the present is the only thing worth considering. Even for someone like me, a person who considers every option and almost subconsciously plans for every consequence, travel makes careful planning impossible. With an unwieldy trip such as this, the possible futures which cascade outward from every event are so multitudinous and varied that I can actually allow myself to not think about them. Mental peace.
But home is where I am now. I’ve been breathing cold Louisville, KY air since early December. My trip was cut short suddenly when I received an email that my grandfather was in the hospital for what would be the last time. Twelve hours (and a bus ride to the capital) later I was on the side of a Malaysian highway helping my cab driver change his flat tire. With only minutes to spare I jumped out at the airport, abandoning in the backseat the sandals I’d worn for seven months and two thick books, jetsam that would have kept my pack from fitting in the overhead compartment. I was living in rewind. It was eerie, the speed at which I was able to backpedal. The speed at which I was able to circumnavigate the entire planet at a moments notice. You know that montage in Fight Club where Edward Norton is flying around the country and experiences a disconnected sort of deja vu? It was like that with less bandages and more security. Malacca-Kuala Lumpur-Bangkok-Tokyo-Chicago.
Chicago about killed me. It was snowing. I’d gone from 100 degrees to 30 in 24 hours. By the time I made it from the plane up the walkway to the airport (in my lightweight rain jacket) my shivering was indistinguishable from a seizure. I’d consumed eight cups of coffee and four back-to-back in flight movies. My plan was to beat jet-lag preemptively. I hadn’t slept. My vision was obstructed by tall people in rough, gray coats. I found myself drowning in English, loud and obnoxious and everywhere. Sickly looking people all across the terminal bared their teeth and screamed into cell phones. Surely they were complaining of their cold, bleak surroundings—their gray floors and gray walls and gray-filtered sunlight. It was a zoo exhibit. Or an ant farm. The giant planes on the tarmac watched us silently through the glass. I found my way to the domestic terminal and huddled next to a vending machine. I was afraid to sit down, fall asleep, miss my flight. I counted to stay awake. I counted “people who stared at me,” “people without cell phones,” and “people who smiled.” I spent 90 minutes next to that vending machine. Smiles lost.
I slipped into my old life the way one might slip on an old shoe. Everything worked the way it should—I could still drive a stick, run the microwave, answer a cell phone—but it was all very surreal. I’m chalking it up to jet lag, reverse culture shock, and sunlight withdrawal, but I can barely remember my first two weeks stateside. I was my own apparition, out of touch with reality. I found myself constantly recoiling from everyday things. I became physically ill the first time I walked into a Bed, Bath and Beyond and saw a $40 piece of metal designed to hold toilet paper; available in bronze, nickel, and chrome. Thanks but I’d rather have five days on a Cambodian beach.
I’d like to think I’ve become more empowered. I’ve learned to accept my own strengths and I know how to take full control of my life. By living simply, eating meals of rice and sharing dirty accommodations, I have become comfortable with my “worst case scenario.” I can now take bigger risks without fearing the consequences, because I’ve already faced them. In many ways the things gained on a trip such as this one are intangible. And most intangibles cannot be defined without metaphor. The writer in me is gleeful at this conundrum. But the reality is that I cannot tell you what I’ve learned, lost, and gained. Our language is not yet that robust.
I spent two-hundred days wandering throughout Southeast Asia. And I did it on my own. Through my self-reliance I have achieved, if nothing else, self-trust. And it is with this I move forward, comfortable in my non-conformity, one step at a time.
The Breakdown by Numbers
Total cost (including airfare): less than $4,600
Cost per day on the ground: ~$17.25 (ranging from $6-60)
Weight lost: 18 lbs (From 158 lbs to 140 lbs)
Days abroad: 201
Distance traveled (by land): 11,000 km / 6,800 miles
Distance traveled (by air): 31,600 km / 19,630 miles
Total distance traveled: 42,600 km / 26,480 miles
This was an experience that will continue to shape me for the rest of my life. I cannot imagine what else I might have done with that seven months that would prove more valuable. For those of you who have stuck with me through the whole journey, I am beyond grateful.
Last thing consumed: Quite a bit actually. I’m focusing on regaining all the muscle I lost. I’m eating 3,000 calories/day at the moment. Since my return I’ve regained 16 lbs.
Thought fragment: I’m driving 1,000 miles to Austin for SXSW in a couple weeks. It will be good to get back on the road again.
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