flight 30: a brief return to the pnw

A year and a half ago, I left Vancouver looking out of the plane window, not really believing what was happening. Seeing isn’t necessarily believing. It was so terrifying to me that I refused to think about it. I was scared about how to get my bike to the hostel, how to find the Ring Road, how to find places to sleep. What if, what if, what if… In the same moment that Vancouver disappeared underneath its signature low-lying clouds, I entered a wormhole in time. There was no way for me to realize what had just happened. I couldn’t see the ground anymore. How was I to know?

The only way to know is to come back, to skid down on the same runway you took off on with a puff of burnt rubber and realize just how fast you were flying. In a haze of bewilderment, I entered my home airport and marvelled at the upgrades. When did this happen? In the same cloud of befuddlement, I whizzed through the “Canadian Passport Holders” line, “kiosked” my way into a country, what a novelty, picked up two bags and a boxed bicycle and wheeled my way into Arrivals.

Vancouver wasn’t exactly how I’d left it, but it was still very much the same city. How could I have done so many things, and seen so many things and this place and its residents seemed entirely unchanged? The same people were at the gym at 4:30PM on the weekdays, doing the same exercises. They must have frozen. Of course I know that life continued here as usual, and I knew I would come home and feel this contrast acutely. To me, from the outside, it looked like nothing of note had happened while I was gone. And what kind of motivation is that to stay put?

Because I’d flown home 8 months earlier than I’d planned to, it felt like my ship had just fallen out of warp speed still light years away from my destination. There I was, spinning in a vacuum, turbines still rotating expectantly, waiting for some kind of explanation as to why did we just lose the hyperdrive? If I haven’t lost you among the stars with this dorky metaphor yet, I applaud you. Back to earth: am I staying? BC has an otherworldly policy that residents can take advantage of once in a five year period that allows you to leave the province and country for up to two years, and still retain your medical plan, which in turn lets you technically prove your residency (kind of). One of the conditions of this is that as soon as you stay in Canada for more than 30 consecutive days, they terminate your “leave”. You’re then confined to the province for 5 of the next 12 months to maintain your residency. So before I’d even landed in Canada I had a flight out of it within 30 days. You see? All bridges remain intact. My escape plan is structurally sound.

After traveling with people for the past 5 months, going back to traveling alone seems… silly. I still solemnly stand by the belief that every single person should travel alone to somewhere completely alien to them, as part of their education towards being a decent human being. It’s humbling. It gives you perspective that you just won’t get anywhere else. It’ll show you how trivial your first world problems really are. That person in the office who emailed you and the tone was a bit off? Who cares? Maybe you’ll learn how to deal with being homesick and maybe it will teach you how to be alone. Traveling alone, I spent most of my time chasing good photo angles and eating delicious food, trying to ask simple questions through charades and having children teach me how to count to five in their language… and there are far worse things to spend your life doing. But I learned what I needed to from it, that’s not to say I’ve learned all I can from it, and now all I want to do is share things. I want to be able to look to my side and exclaim, “Holy shit, are you seeing this? Are you seeing this? This is insane!” while frantically unclipping the legs of my tripod. And I don’t want to just be muttering to myself, I want someone to reply, “Yeah, this is really cool.” I don’t want to have to convey my experiences; I want someone to just know them.

After catching up with a couple of friends, exploring a couple of trails and getting my Vancouverite sushi fix, I didn’t have much else to do except contemplate what comes next. That’s difficult to do when you don’t know and you’re not too rushed on figuring it out. My backpack sits in the corner, stained and filthy. It’s seen better days.

“Itchy feet” is a funny term, because most people use it to refer to a developing, curable and temporary condition. What do you call someone with chronic “itchy feet” (this analogy is getting medically distasteful - my feet are fine)? Even when I was far from home, I never had a satisfied feeling wash over me. I never thought to myself, yep, now I’ve done it all. I can go home now. You can’t do it all. Between my non-career and being funemployed, I really try my best to, but I’ve come to realize that my dream that I would come home and have it all “out of my system” is just never going to happen.

Usually this unsatisfied feeling sparks so many conflicting plans in my brain that I have mental battles over where to go next. I usually scan through Kayak.com, daydream, get a little click-happy and next thing you know, plane ticket. But, right now I’m drawing blanks. I have a one-way flight to New Mexico in a few days and after that, it’s like looking into a void, where anything could happen. And that’s OK. Looking into a void isn’t scary anymore. I didn’t realize it when I watched Vancouver fade in the rain a year and a half ago, but sometimes… what if is the best part.

Cheers from Vancouver Island, Canada.

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