The journey is slowly settling into all of our cells, like time-released medicine. A good friend of ours, who took a similar journey, said this happened to him in the months and years following six months of travel. The journey itself, so close up, can be hard to see. I suppose this is true for all things in life. When we’re up close, we see a few things in great detail—for better or worse—but when we give our experiences space, we gain perspective.
Perspective is one of my key teachers of the last couple years. When people ask me why I took such a leap away from my life into the unknown, the word that feels most accurate for me is, perspective. I’ve got a mix of perspective happening these days. Throughout the journey, I made a point to communicate that such profound shifts in one’s perspective do not require people to take a year or more out of their lives to explore foreign lands. I made this point because I wanted to affirm for people that everyone has access to existential transformation, regardless of if they leave home or not.
This is both true and false.
The transformation occurring in me today is one that began twenty years ago and led me to this phase of my story, where a profound shift in perspective was required to further open up, dive in and shake loose all that was stale in my life.
My perspective today tells me that in order to transform, we must break open. We know, thanks to the poets, the mystics and the scientists, that change requires change. We cannot keep walking the same exact path, living the exact same life, telling the exact same stories . . . and expect transformation.
What opened me up was trust in myself in the face of the unknown. What encouraged me to dive in deeply, was the desire to understand what I was struggling to make sense of. And, what supported me in shaking loose tethers I carried for so long — that were not leading me to joy — was the necessity of navigating discomfort without the convenience of habits and excuses from back home.
The expansion we earned from the trip is tested now that we’re back in the U.S. This is a culture of distraction, mindless consumption and convenience. We have to be mindful about how we walk through each day, not slipping into old habits, patterns or mindsets that we painstakingly untethered from during our journey. Sometimes it feels like running in quicksand. Social norms are dense and tempting. That’s how they sustain themselves even when their very existence is noxious.
Our year in South America was as pivotal to us as a PhD program might be to a scholar. It was a character-building, perspective-giving classroom though we couldn’t have gleaned the same quality education from books, blogs or professors.
There are many ways to gain perspective. You don’t have to leave your country to glean some, but you do have to leave your comfort zone.
Magic happens beyond the edge of the comfort zone.
Now that we’re back in the U.S. and beginning to reconnect with people face-to-face, I struggle to answer generous inquiries about our journey. I’ve experienced something I cannot easily put into words. I found it difficult to write blog posts during our travels for the same reason.
I'm not clear on the journey, yet. Talking with other long term travelers (though, a year is nothing compared to some), that lack of certainty upon returning is common. The journey was big, complicated, beautiful and challenging. It transformed us in ways we haven't yet discovered.
At this phase, I feel socially awkward about answering pointed questions about our trip. So, if you sense this when you ask, understand that we haven't organized our feelings or thoughts completely so it can be challenging to give candid, clear answers. This is a phase of integration — the journey is nebulous and vast, with no clear edges. Stories arise organically in conversation but pointed questions tend to make me stammer. And depending on the day, I either feel grateful to be home or heartbroken not to be in South America, thus limiting depth of off-the-cuff responses.
But, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for asking.
Even after being gone for more than a year, we find that some people don't ask at all. Not even a, "how are you?" Which surprises us. It reminds me of when my mom died and some people said nothing. I understood it was because they didn't know what to say, but it was hard to connect with people who couldn't step towards me with a few words of kindness. I imagine for some people, they percieve something about our trip that puts them at a loss for words. I understand, but it is difficult to connect without, at least, a "how are you?"
I've started to consider our journey a relationship, rather than something static we did that has come and gone. It lives on in us. Just as the influence and memories of my mother, friends we no longer see, beloved pets who've died, or other life-altering moments do. Our trip is now a primary character in the story of our lives. A character that is still being cultivated.
Relationships are complicated, especially our most intimate relationships. There is love and growth as well as conflict and disappointment. The relationship we shared with our journey required us to surrender plans and get comfortable with uncertainty, solitude, confusion and inconvenience. It invited us to communicate well with each other, often after struggling through crappy communication. John's mantra, no matter how miserable a situation was, "we're in this together." This approach transformed rough patches into opportunities for deeper connection. Undesirable, unplanned and deeply enriching.
Suffice it to say, please connect with us by asking . . . anything. It isn't just how we are that has been informed by our travels, but who we are. It is true that time changes everyone. A journey far out of the familiar accelerates that change.
As far as updates go, we've been back in the U.S. since mid-December, staying with my dad in Los Angeles. Here, it is a mix of job hunting, reluctantly getting back into (some of) society's stresses and helping my dad get his apartment ready to sell in the near future. At the moment, John is in upstate New York supporting his mom as she recovers from a knee replacement.
Moving north hinges on a job offer. It could be next month or many months from now. While we're back in our home country, we're not yet home. The journey continues.
We're moving to a smaller town in Oregon. We love so much about Portland, mostly our friends. But, the city is changing in ways we can't relate to. We feel called to live in a quieter, less publicized town. After moving in and out of cities, nature and rural areas for the last sixteen months, we know our rhythm is much slower than the pace of a city like Portland.
After we get settled, my dad plans to move up and make a home for himself nearby. Which is pretty great. A whole new set of memories yet to be made.
Thanks for following along and for your patience as I posted less and less. Consider my lack of blog posts a sign of personal enrichment — as the journey rooted itself in me in such a way, I became the subject, no longer the observer.
Hello all. We want to say that everything is great, we're just not much for blogging these days. Between limited internet service, the fast pace of travel the last few months and a general desire to absorb our experiences, fully, before sharing, I'm giving myself a pass from blogging about our trip.
I am keeping up with photos via Instagram, however. You don't need an Instagram account. Just go to this link on my website or directly to Instagram (my feed is public) and you should be able to see our regular photo updates.
In two days, we celebrate our one year anniversary of departing the U.S. for our journey. We have only 35 days left exploring more of Ecuador, then we will be back in Los Angeles for the holidays and then some.
Hope you are all well and happy.
Blythe and John
Our first date was nearly 13 years ago. He took me to a beloved breakfast joint in Portland, Genie’s, that tried, unsuccessfully, to break onto the dinner scene in 2004. He was kind, open, communicative and intriguing. This was a real person. Someone who had a clear sense of who he was and what he wanted from life. I hadn't met many people like him, authentic and wholehearted. Oh, and mighty good-lookin'!
Planning this journey as it unfolds has had many benefits. We leapt into the unknown without the comfort of a plan as our net and we've made up a journey full of meaning and memories along the way. Being able to untether from timelines, itineraries and commitments has been liberating. We've been free in nearly every sense, at least from the stories of our lives as Americans. A kind of freedom we cannot explore back home, burdened by society and rooted with jobs, a mortgage and all the attachments of life, the joyful and the obligatory.
Nearly a year ago, I set an intention to gain a deeper sense of the idea of untethering during this journey. Could it be done? Would I like the feeling of living with heaping servings of uncertainty? Would I grow or shrink?
We’ve found the place where our daily to-do list is only a few lines long—exactly how we like it. It only took us 6,771 miles to find it. On my list today is: laundry, meditation and biking around aimlessly.
Laundry is time consuming, though, also meditative. We only have a few pieces of clothing, so washing occurs somewhat regularly and it requires a basin of some sort, soap, ringing out of each piece and hanging it on the line. There is a laundromat here but the soap they use is potent and makes us itch.