Being back in Oz is overwhelming; awesome, reassuring, confronting, busy, noisy, surprising, loving, inspiring, frustrating, nurturing, restrictive and also freeing. Obviously none of that makes sense at all, but it’s a crazy roller coaster ride unlike anything we have experienced over the past 2 years.
Since riding out of Canada almost 2 years ago, we have only had to consider each other and the road, while pretty much conversing solely in Spanish since October 2013. Sure there have been challenges and hectic difficulties, but it was all part of the journey and life on the road. While you can’t expect every happening, you believe staunchly that you can deal with anything that comes your way.
We like to think of ourselves as Masters of Plan Changing, and with a motto that has stayed with us over the decades “you have to have a plan in order to be flexible”, we reckon that knowing what you want is the key to being adaptable. Whether the journey is a physical or spiritual one, there are always different paths to choose that offer the same destination. I guess our truism gives us a feeling of empowerment knowing that, whatever obstacles appear, what we want the outcome to be will overcome any sense of frustration at route diversions.
But the last months have seen us really struggle with that sense of optimism in our adaptability.
Sudden traumatic events present a smorgasbord of emotions and having pretty much lived on our bike for 20 months, it hasn’t been easy to process.
We never expected that ‘re-entry’ would be easy. I guess we just didn’t anticipate the fluctuating degrees of how difficult it could get.
Talking to a friend the other day about ‘going on holidays’, we agreed that one of the most fun parts is coming home and reflecting on what you have seen/done/learned. Looking back through photos, sharing stories with friends and having the safety of home and the comforts of security and routine, we find it easy to reflect back and put into perspective what our journeys offer us and how that effects our daily lives.
Traveling for extended lengths of time and experiencing such diverse cultures necessitates a different kind of ‘in the field’ processing. You can only relate your experiences to the last ones you had and as they have all been so far out of the norm, the benefits of perspective are slightly squewed. We knew that coming home would involve a huge amount of reflection, and we expected it would take a long time to come to terms with what we have done.
Achieving our long-term goal of riding to Chile was incredible. But before we even we were even left Canada, we knew we would have to keep going. That is how we decided to finish our journey by riding the final 2000km from Noosa to Melbourne. We had to create the time to ‘ween ourselves off’ full-time cycle touring while getting back into Aussie life. We wanted to enjoy not only coming back, but being back. Our plan to ride to Melbourne down the coast had us shifting in between spending time with family and getting back on the bike, and we thought that would be a nice way to reconnect with everyone while still being connected to our cycling selves. The idea of reflecting seemed to have a nice balance in this scenario and we were pretty pleased with ourselves for devising with a ‘grown-up’ approach to reintegrating with our families and back into society in general.
So the accident really screwed those plans up.
It’s one thing to have your plans completely changed, but its something else to find yourself struggling with situations that you have spent months devising ways to avoid. Then throw two people in that fragile state deep into social situations and see how they crumble. We have cried, been angry, withdrawn, in denial and suffered some serious PTSD. The Roller Coaster.
Having our goals moved by an external party without our consent has really thrown us through a loop. Our coping strategies have been running high and it’s been difficult to find the right words to explain what we have been going through. We’ve found it hard to relate when people say things like ‘hey so what you’re plans have changed’. We know what we need to do and what is required of us to go on, it’s just been a matter of both of us being in that place at the same time.
I guess that completing this ride of almost 23,000km, I thought I had some super inner strength, and that the fragile parts of me had also toughened up. But the reality is that no matter how strong we become, we still always need to be stronger. I thought that we had faced the toughest situations of our lives. That we had grown exponentially, maxing out on inner strength. So accepting this isn’t the case has not been easy.
Installing ourselves back into society has also meant incredible mountains of bureaucracy but that’s been one of the easier parts to understand, being something that makes everyone want to scream. There is obviously a brazen contrast in the rules of living in Australia compared to Latin America. It makes us really miss that effortless approach to problem solving. If there is a problem, you think of the solution then implement it. No one will try to stop you or suggest a process that should be followed. Here there are just so many rules here for everything, it’s exhausting.
We sway in between coping and drowning with startling rapidity. Being with our friends and family reminds us of the intensity of our connections and what an asset it is to feel that love in proximity again. It is a stark difference to life on the road with only each other to depend on.
All of the emotional nuances aside, getting used to the ‘noise’ of Australian city life has been wild. Being able to understand everything is very demanding. All of the white noise, the music and strangers’ conversations are all now at high volume. Having spent much of the last 7 years in countries where all of this background hubbub was in a foreign language, it was easy to block out. But now with our ears sensitive to zoning in on a language we can understand, it is like suddenly living in the middle of a dance floor. We are bombarded by this intense noise and are yet to find a way to block it out. I am seriously thinking of investing in a set of noise cancelling head-phones just so I can again be in control of the sounds invading my space.
Traveling around the city means reading every sign and acknowledging the effects of endless advertising. It’s really weird to have this consumer lifestyle thrust upon us and to see how many people don’t even contemplate their participation in.
Our life on the road was mostly very peaceful with our own thoughts being the loudest instruments. But with a chorus of competing sounds now, it’s understandable that we can find ourselves in a bit of an emotional tangle. It’s hard to differentiate between our own feelings and external emotional run-off contributing to our instability.
It often feels that Brendon’s accident has blown our plans to smithereens without the chance to put them back together again. It was like we made it to Chile, got home, put the bike back together, overcame more bike breakages, started to reconnect and reintegrate successfully, rode another 1000kms and started to reach more of our goals and then, with the absolutely final goal just another 1000km away, had it all hijacked.
While making it to Chile was an important goal of the journey, the ultimate goal was to ride home to Melbourne. That final triumph was where our sights were set. The idea of riding through familiar streets into our hometown to finish the journey with a gathering of our friends and family, was what propelled us for much of the journey. So while Chile was a super important goal to have met, for us it was never meant to be the end.
And while it is true that we should let the victory of our achievements reign supreme in our minds, we can’t help but feeling that we have had something stolen from us.
The power of our dreams and the way things look in our imaginations is beautiful. For me, some of the most vivid were the images of riding into Sydney and having my sister meet us on her bike, of my parents seeing us riding with that fully loaded bike and sharing our journey with us in person, not just on video or in pictures. Being able to see their faces comprehend what we have really been doing for the last two years were powerful moments I wanted to experience.
But with the serious whiplash Brendon sustained in the accident, riding the bike any further was simply out of the question. Aside from the emotional and physical burdens, it was a major set-back we were not prepared for.
My sister and her husband mounted a rescue effort and drove to the Central Coast to retrieve us. We loaded Falkor into the back of their ute and made our way to Sydney.
Brendon’s physical rehabilitation took precedence over everything and we both struggled to come to terms with how quickly everything had changed. We don’t know what the long-term effects on his health would be and how this will shape his future. I am sure he would hate for me to talk about the pains he has experienced and being the stoic guy he is, probably doesn’t even really rate them. But I will say that it has been a long six weeks of rehab in Sydney with Physiotherapy sessions being the focus.
An accident like this is tricky to process. Without visible injuries it can be hard to accept the major adjustments required. We had to take things day-by-day and, in a first for us, we simply couldn’t make any plans beyond that. It was frustrating and scary at the ease which anger over-came our thoughts and made it difficult to focus. We refused to accept that the ride was over but it was clear to us that we could not go on.
Changing down to low gear and allowing ourselves the space for choices to gradually reveal themselves, we found a new order of priorities and realized we had to find a way to take back the control of our journey.
Still clinging desperately to the idea of riding the last leg, we toyed with doing fewer kms per day but still riding the final 1000km from Sydney to Melbourne. However as Brens rehab progressed, we had to acknowledge that a lot more time would be needed at the physio before we could realistically consider it.
So once again, we have pulled Falkor apart and packed her into 2 boxes for a truck ride from Sydney to Melbourne. Deciding a 10 hour car ride was too much for Brens back, we jumped on a plane. It was the first time we traveled separately from our trusty stead. Well, I suppose ‘trusty’ is not the most appropriate adjective for Falkor, but you know what I mean.
And here we all are. Back in Melbourne in the middle of winter. It’s very bloody cold!
Having only arrived a few days ago, it’s a wonderfully strange feeling to be back. Mostly wonderful.
We will spend this week getting Bren’s rehab underway again, rebuilding the bike, and preparing to celebrate the end of what has been a TotallyEpic adventure.
We are finding new ways to come to terms with our re-entry and to put the accident in its proper place in the journey. We didn’t ride 23,000km through 18 countries to have the glory snatched away from us at the last minute by some silly bloody car accident.
It’s unbelievable that two years has come around so fast. We are still overwhelmed by what we have done, the places we have been and how many people we have been able to reach through World Bicycle Relief.
While its been a tricky few months, we have been very lucky to have our friends and family around us. We know it hasn’t been easy for you either and we thank you all for your love & support. And honestly, even with a car crash, how good is our timing! Not only did we ride into the wedding on the Central Coast, but we made it in time for my nephew’s birthday & to see him star in Peter Pan, my sisters graduation, and even a visit from my Melbourne Aunty & Uncle and cousins. Its been busy!
Here are some pics of the some beauties we have had the chance to catch up with in Sydney. Seeing these pics will make it clear how we have both gained 10kgs each!
It seems just yesterday we hosted you in Sacramento, California. We’ve been following your progress ever since, rooting for you every km of the way, and then hoping for the best after the crash.
It may provide a bit of solace to know that you are among an auspicious group of adventurers who experience re-entry blues and disorientation, and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. This post-tour let-down is quite common, it seems, even without a terrible car crash. Read this post about it by the excellent blogger Emily Chappell and all of the comments echoing her experience: http://thatemilychappell.com/2013/10/a-certain-slant-of-light/
Good luck on July 11, and we’ll be there in spirit to cheer you on the home stretch!
Hello Julie! Sending huge Bremma greetings to you guys! Maybe you are living in Italy now? Lots of new exciting TotallyTandem news on the horizon so I hope you’re still with us! Cheers and Saludos!
A huge otsukaresamadeshita to both you and Brendon! Sorry to hear about Bren’s accident and injury, but it’s great to see that he’s continuing to recover. Happy to hear that you will get the happy ending to this wonderful adventure. Sending you much love from Tokyo!
well done amigos !
This 11th of July will be awesome for you
Hi Emma and Brendan
It was a pleasure to read this post. You write beautifully Emma, with honesty and perspective. I wish I could give you some hope that you will both be able to settle down in Oz (even a little bit). But we have never managed it. All we can eve think to do is to plan another trip.
Wendy and Ken
from Mexico – Playa Dos Amigos in Baja California Sur and Hacienda la Rusa in Bara de Potosi in the state of Puebla (remember Mike and Sascha?)
Hello beauties! We think of you two often and am JUST about to finally finish the long form book!Its been fun reliving our meeting in San Luquitas again! A kids book being published in the mean time so stay tuned, I’ll send updates on the blog. It’e been a LONG time coming for sure!