The End: Flying back to Oz
Tuesday July 13, 2010
I’ve been draped over a few chairs near the Southwest baggage claim area for quite a few hours now. I’ve got a nine-hour layover in L.A. My bike box and backpack are at my feet and I’ve watched many happy reunions from many planeloads of passengers. The elderly traveller’s aid volunteer has seen me here on each lap of her territory. Finally, on about her 5th lap she comes over to talk to me. Countless laps later, at the end of her shift, she brings me a luggage cart so I won’t have to lug my stuff outside and scrounge a freshly deserted cart for free.
I finally load up the cart and take the elevator up to the departures level and then push the cart outside to the curb. I’ve got to head down a few terminals to get to the VAustralia terminal and I figure there will be less people and it will be easier to negotiate the cart outside rather than through the internal connecting hallways. And so I hit the final headwind of the trip. It’s quite windy outside Terminal One and the cardboard bike box has a considerable surface area that catches the wind when standing on end. It’s actually quite funny. I’m struggling against a headwind right up to the very end of my trip – of course, I’m probably still owed some headwinds after all those quartering tailwinds back in May.
A bit later — So now I’m stretched out on the floor of the international departures lounge. The sense of fulfilment I’ve been feeling for the past couple weeks recedes a little, allowing a sense of sadness to fill any unoccupied spaces in my heart. I’m always a bit sad heading westbound out of LAX or SFO, voluntarily leaving friends and family after a visit ‘home’ to return to the little life I’ve carved out back in Oz. But this is a different kind of sadness – the dreams and anticipation cultivated over 15 years have been satisfied and replaced with good memories and a period of novice recollection. Over time, this recollection will mature and will be a sweet place to visit in my heart. But fresh memories from happy times just concluded are tinged bittersweet with the sadness that ‘all good things must come to an end’. I board the plane to go back to my reality: a life in regional Australia; a job sitting in front of a computer for 9 hours a day (which could be the start of a career path if I want to work toward one); a husband; a mortgage; and, bike rides on rough chip-seal roads. In 13 hours, the bike and I will cover 7500 miles over the Pacific Ocean – but we’ll do it separately and without really seeing anything at all.
Some people set out on bicycle tours to find themselves, or to have an adventure, or to test themselves. Some people find their trip life-changing. This was not the case for me. Most importantly, the tour was just a chance for me to ride my bike a lot – something I’ve always loved to do – along a route that had long held my interest.
For me, I can say that this ride was life-affirming, not life-changing. It has reiterated to me that it is this – the developing and chasing of dreams, the travelling and the riding and the ‘just getting out there’ – that is what makes me feel most alive. Any thought of a career will probably always be overridden by the constant pull from the wanderlust deep within. I don’t know what I would want from a career, or if I really want to make the sacrifices that following a career path would require. Yet, at the same time, I already have some solid ideas forming for the next bike tour in 2013, after the contract I’m returning to is finished. I’m already dreaming and scheming even before I’m directed to stow my tray table for take-off back to Australia. So this may be the end of the ride, but it’s not the end of the road.