two weeks with a backpack

It’s October 13th. 9:11 AM. I’m sitting in my house in Orange County, staring out at my backyard, at the bright blue sky. It’s so clear. I have to blink. Last time I checked, I couldn’t see past the olive tree. The coastal fog had been thick, a white blanket of chilled cotton, trapping the morning in its hazy grip. But it’s gone now. Evaporated. In the time between pouring my second cup of coffee and feeding the dogs, the autumn heat burnt the fog off.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it shall be another glorious day in the golden land of Southern California.

I promise that wasn’t sarcasm. No, not at all.

Would you believe me if I wrote that I’ve been home for two weeks now? That I flew from Europe and returned to America before October even began? It’s true. My Twitter account can vouch for me. And already my time in those foreign countries has faded into a dreamlike bundle of memories. There are so many emotions that swarm when you’re in the midst of travel, so much to absorb and learn. It was incredible.

Yes, we came home early. Rather than backpacking for a full month, we only stayed for two weeks. I could ramble endlessly about our decision and the time I spent in England, Ireland, and France, but I kind of already did. For whatever reason (laziness? an unwillingness to repeat myself?), I feel inclined to post an excerpt from my “private journal”. I wrote this mess two days after coming home (October 2), when I was still encased with jet lag and had consumed too much caffeine. But I think I mused over my travels as good as I ever will, so I’m sharing it here. Understand that I wrote this with the intention of keeping it locked away and dusty, so read at your own risk. It does get sticky…!

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….Europe. Europe. Europe. Heather, my God, focus [don’t tell me that I’m the only one who addresses herself in her journal writing]. Europe was lovely. Exhausting. It was as good as backpacking can be. But backpacking, seriously, where did such a ridiculous notion come to place? When did strutting through foreign cities with your heavy life strapped to your weak back, lost, not knowing where you’ll be sleeping, living like a homeless nomad become such an awesome idea? It was absurd! Absurd! Maybe Amber and I are spoiled, weak, but neither of us could fathom how someone could backpack for a full year.

It was so incredibly cold over there.

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But I loved it. I loved backpacking. I reveled in every moment. The physical pain was exhilarating. The emotional trauma was stimulating. A new city everyday, the green fields and fresh figs and historic decaying buildings and the people, all the different people, drowning in the cultures that vary so aggressively, that build these countries piece by piece. I cried most nights. The craze of the day would settle. My depression would crawl up my throat, settle against my tonsils. And finally lying down, finally still, my thoughts would catch up. No, no. Not okay. Ambien. Benadryl. Lunesta. Knock myself out until morning, until I woke, when it was time to again pull on my dirty jeans and strap the wretched pack onto my back once more. But it was okay, it was what I’d anticipated, and Amber and I would dive deeper into which ever foreign world we were currently visiting.

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I knew that I had no where else to be, so I didn’t mind the “trials” of being a nomad overseas. But really, how can one mind when you’re witnessing so many beautiful and obscure things? London, Oxford, Sheffield, Cork, Kinsale, Galway, Belfast, Dublin, Tours, Aix-En-Provence, Paris… They were all so remarkable and extreme in their individual appeal. And even now, listing those cities, it doesn’t sound like much, but it also sounds like too much. And was it all just a silly dream, a joke, am I still asleep?

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A lot went wrong. It became a hilarity. And I loved every flaw. But not in a self-loathing way. No, because each flaw brought on new flair, brought on adventure and change and ridiculousness and what is reality without a good dose of error? Some of the greatest moments in Europe were when Amber and I were stranded and scared and wondering where we’d go for the night and why are those French girls pointing and laughing at us and how have we wound up lost in Irish suburbia? So when our flight was canceled and we had to take an 18 hour ferry to France, it was just silly. Just classic.

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And so when we finally got to Paris, two weeks into the trip, so bruised and weary, and we had no accommodations planned for Switzerland or Spain and couch surfing was a bust and Amber was missing her boyfriend and had a huge test for work to study for and me? Me? Heather, do you want to go home, do you think we should go home? There’s a flight from Dusseldorf for three hundred euro and you won’t go into debt if we leave now, but if we stay you’ll probably spend another thousand euro on food and hostels and debt debt debt debt and your back hurts, your bleeding internally, and you just want a good salad, a real shower, so yes, lets go home, lets go back, is this a good plan?

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I didn’t plan anything for this trip. I didn’t prepare. I didn’t initiate a thing. It was always Amber’s gig — her after college before real job real world backpacking thing. I was just along for the ride. Content. Excited for an excuse to experience something, see new things, shock my system into feeling. So, when I realized how deeply Amber wanted to cut the trip short, I agreed. I contently lied back on the twin sized bed in our dingy Parisian hotel, stared at the sail boats floating on the wall, nibbled on a piece of dark chocolate and said, “Hell yes.” I was fine either way. I could rough it out for another two weeks. I could (preferably — I’m not a fan of debt) go home the next day. So, that’s what we did. Came home. And I don’t regret the decision at all, it was definitely the right choice, and I’m thankful we didn’t let our pride make us stay. It’s nice to still have nine hundred dollars in the bank.

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So, now I’m back in California. Back at this dining room table and I know my writing sounds rather insane. And you know, I do indeed feel rather crazy and antsy, but maybe it’s just jet lag and sleep deprivation and an overdose of black tea, or perhaps I’m approaching the end. The end to all things, but what do I even mean?

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And there you have it. A look into my brain, perhaps? Or maybe my private journal entry isn’t oh so different from my normal blogging style. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.

As of tomorrow, I’ve been home for two weeks, and I can safely say that my (brief) time in Europe was incredible. It taught me a great deal about myself — my personal strength, what I want out of my life, how blessed I am. It was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.