Ironically, I'm finding that life moves by pretty fast when I'm not on a motorcycle.
When we were living on our bikes, our pace was lackadaisical. We stopped often to smell roses along the way. Stayed as long as we wanted, or until our visa or vehicle import permit ran out. I enjoyed living that way - unrushed, letting geography, climate and culture unfold around us so gradually you could barely perceive the changes day-to-day.
But now, this is how we travel:
One minute, we're on a Bullet Train from Kyoto to Tokyo
And the next minute, I find myself walking along the boardwalk in Toronto
All we did was let go of the handlebars and then we're being whisked off by a plane, like a mouse being snatched up off the ground by an eagle. Then swallowed up by subways, trains and buses, like little fish being eaten by bigger fish. Relinquished all control over our travels and wrenched gracelessly back to exactly where we first started. And we didn't even return with our motorcycles.
I don't know what I envisioned when we first set off exactly five years ago, where it would end. How it would end.
I remember watching the show Long Way Round, when Ewan and Charley pulled into New York City - that shot of them riding across the bridge to Manhattan, with a hundred motorcycles behind them to celebrate their grand tour around the world.
Maybe I thought that would be us. What a silly, stupid thing to think, right?
In this reality, we didn't even tell anyone we were coming back. Just showed up, without ceremony, outside our friend's apartment in uptown Toronto.
So there we stood, helmets in hand, a week's worth of clothes in our backpacks, and five years of something inside that suddenly didn't seem so big and important anymore.
Five years of something inside that was fading very quickly beneath Metropolis' glaring summer sun.
So that's it? It all feels so very anti-climactic.
Canada Day celebrations with our new room-mate, Melody
Melody is putting us up in her condo while we figure out what we're going to do with our lives. I feel like we don't have any kind of grand, over-arching plan regarding where we are going to settle down, or what we're going to do with the rest of our lives. We just stopped traveling because we got tired. And Toronto was the default place to come back to because it's where we came from. Not necessarily where we wanted to end up.
In the absence of a roadmap, we just focus on the small things that we've missed.
Neda starts a little garden on the balcony. Unfortunately, the wind and rain up here play havoc with her plants...
I get back into music. Ugh... gotta build up those callouses
I'm suffering from big-time reverse-culture-shock. Having spent three months in Japan, everything about North America bugs me.
The first time I sat on a toilet seat, I jumped straight up in shock. WHY IS THE DAMN SEAT SO COLD!!!! No heated toilet seats here? Barbarians!
While walking down the street, I saw a young woman dump her half-full soft drink on the sidewalk, literally *5 feet away* from a garbage can. I shook my head with disgust. That would *never* happen in Japan.
I can't help comparing everything to Japan.
I can't stop myself from criticizing or complaining about everything in Toronto. From the heavy congestion, to the high cost of living, but I especially hate the me-first attitude of some of the people who live here.
I cling to the old ways with fervour. We buy out all the natto at the local Asian supermarket and eat it every single morning
For fifteen minutes every morning, I can close my eyes and pretend I'm back in Japan.
A few of our old favorites from our trip also make it onto the menu. A friend recommended a good place to buy haggis!
Still not as good as in Scotland though...
Life moves on. A month passes by quickly and I don't even notice.
Friends get married. We celebrate Annie and Daniel's wedding.
Families get bigger. My sister-in-law visits Toronto, and her and my brother announce they are pregnant! We're going to be an uncle and aunt again!
Hanging out with our friends John and Shal up at their cottage in Wasaga Beach
Life moves on. Another month passes quickly. The summer waxes and wanes.
Neda goes hiking with her friends - The Cookie Ladies, is what they call themselves
The Cookie Ladies are so sweet, they took us out on the date of our 5 year trip anniversary.
For Japanese pancakes - Okonomiyaki! And chocolate ice cream to keep our yearly tradition going.
Neda is adapting to life in Toronto a lot better than I am. Yoga classes, pilates, her balcony garden, and she has a social life.
In contrast, I stay in the condo the entire day alternating feeling sorry for myself and being angry at everything in Toronto.
People used to ask us how life on the road changed us as people. Neda was always quick to list all the things about herself that changed during our trip. She adapts so quickly to new situations. I, on the other hand, always maintained that nomadic life didn't change me much. But I was wrong.
Being back in Toronto, I feel so out of phase with the way people live their lives, their interests, the things they talk about. Career, kids, sports, cars, technology. I find I have to brush up on all these things just so I can maintain a conversation when we go out with friends. And when I do that, it feels like I'm wearing old clothes that just don't fit right.
I know that people aren't super interested in hearing about our travels. We've been back to Toronto a couple of times already, so I've already experienced that phenomenon - long term travelers return home and their friends and family have no frame of reference to process their trip, or they just aren't jazzed about hearing you talk about your "extended vacation" ad nauseum. And I've never wanted to be that guy who wants to show you "just one more picture of my awesome trip"...
So although motorcycle travel is all I've known for such a large part of my recent life, I make the effort to divert the conversation to what everyone else around me is talking about. But when I water-down my life like that, I feel like I'm amputating a large part of myself.
I miss our old life so much it physically hurts.
Neda is sympathetic, but she just doesn't feel the same way. She loves being back in TO. For the first time in awhile, I feel like we're not in the same boat. In fact, I'm the only one in the boat, floating alone out in the middle of the lake somewhere and she's watching me from the shoreline.
I feel so stuck in the past and unable to move forward, while she's slowly walking away from me, looking back and urging me to follow. To keep up.
I just can't seem to get unstuck. I can't even get out of the boat.
After so long being on the road with such a narrow focus on just moving through the world, I find myself now rooted in one place, suffering from an identity crisis as well as a lack of direction. And the worst part is not being able to talk to any of my friends about it, without them looking at me like I've got the world's worst case of First World Problems.
Because if my gripes don't revolve around a shitty boss, having to worry about the kids or making mortgage or car payments, it's just not that important.
I feel so terribly lonely in this city.
Our friends James and Margot invited us out to see their RV
James and Margot and us
Last year, they also quit their jobs and decided to live as "full-timers". That's insider-speak for living on the road in an RV.
When we're hanging out with them, I feel like I can relax and be the person I was before coming to Toronto. I feel like I don't have to censure myself, that I can talk about our lives and what we're experiencing and not feel like we're boring them or speaking in tongues. They've spent their first winter RVing in Florida and they're back in Toronto to spend the summer with friends and family.
They ask us about our future plans, now that our travels are over.
Our answers don't match up. Neda is looking for a job, which scares the hell out of me. Getting a job is that first irreversible step to settling down and never ever going back on the road again.
Because "Back on the road" is my unspoken answer, but we both agreed way back when we were in Thailand that we were done, so I can't ask her to go back on our decision. Even though I am so desperately unhappy.
A guy from ADVRider, Den, invited us to meet Ed, another RTW motorcycle traveler that he is hosting just outside of Toronto
We drove an hour west of the city to spend the evening with Den and his guest, Ed, and once again, it was refreshing to talk about travel, motorcycle travel specifically. Ed's been on the road for about as long as we have, been to a lot of the same places we've traveled to and his trip is winding down as well. He told us that he's probably going to spend some time in Thailand, just like we did on our break.
We talked about a lot of things that only long-term travelers could understand, like other people's reactions to our trip. When you try to describe what living on the road is like to someone who hasn't done it, there's either a marginalization ("oh, so it's like a long vacation"), or an over-reaction ("you must be so brave traveling to such dangerous countries"), or just a total misunderstanding of why we do it ("What are you running away from? I hope you find what you're looking for.")
It was very refreshing having a birds of a feather discussion with someone who you don't have to explain or clarify all these things to.
An interesting topic came up that night. Ed asked if Neda and I ever had major disagreements while on the trip. Because I follow Ed's Ride Report, I understood where he was coming from. He's traveled on and off with a variety of companions (he's like Doctor Who!), but nobody long-term due to disagreements about the future.
During the trip, our arguments were mundane: being hangry at each other during stressful border crossings, bitching about who was doing more work in the planning, leading. Disagreements in pace - Neda moves faster, I'm a sloth. But all that pales in comparison to the difference in opinion we were having about what we wanted to do next.
I can't even stare wistfully out the window, because this is all I'd see...
I'm disappointed that after five years of travel around the world, I'm back in exactly the same spot like nothing has changed. Before the trip, we lived in a condo in the city. Back then, we dreamed of taking this grand motorcycle trip because it would mark a fresh beginning. We'd travel to exciting places, fall in love with a new town, get jobs that had nothing to do with what we used to do.
And now, we are staying in another condo literally 4 kms away from where we used to live. Coming back here feels like erasing five years of talking and dreaming of a different future.