The Oddity of Time Travel

*photo taken at Oak Hill Park, up the street from our home in Olean, NY

I know I said I would write about area trails, but I have been so busy I haven’t had time to do any hiking at all. This is one of many things about being back “home” which I will gladly relinquish to the past…which brings me to my title. I wish I could say I invented a time machine, but alas, I only feel like I have gone back in time. Since we’ve come back to Olean and have been living in our large home again, the experience has been strange. Have you ever gone back to a home you once lived in long ago, and had that odd sense of familiarity mixed with the strangeness of that place not being home anymore? That’s how I feel since we’ve been home/not-home. Olean is familiar, this house is familiar, and yet it doesn’t really fit me anymore. I’m not the person who left a couple of years ago, the person who gladly hopped into our van so loaded with clothes and furniture it sagged, headed for New Hampshire and a new way of life. It was heart-wrenching to leave my kids, and yet I had done what I could to prepare them for independence. Our families and our friends were left behind, but driving toward the mountains of New Hampshire and a new home in the woods buoyed us like we won the lottery. Who doesn’t want to live like they’re on vacation all the time?

After being on the road for so long, I am a different person for a lot of reasons. When you live in one place for a long time, you grow into a comfortable pattern in which you don’t really have to think too hard about how to get to the store, the post office, your favorite restaurant. Everyone you know has a pattern that is familiar, and we fit ourselves into a mold that works with each other’s schedules. When you leave the house you can navigate the familiar neighborhoods on autopilot, and get from one place to another without really seeing the scenery. Often we have to get out of town and go somewhere new to encourage our brains to kick in to drink in the sights and sounds and smells, unless you work hard to live in the moment. Living in a new environment every three to six months utterly changed that comfortable and familiar flight pattern, and forced me into a new space which pushed me to interact with the world by flexing new synapses. Being in a new place generally excites me, and I love exploring the options of what an unfamiliar town has to offer. For some people, the idea of this is hair-raising, but I enjoy change and seek it out often.

I know there are readers out there who travel a lot and probably understand exactly what I mean when I say travel changes your perspective on life. It opens your eyes to certain aspects of living, like the fact that people really are the same everywhere you go. You realize no matter where you go, your troubles will follow. It stretches your appreciation for the globe as a whole, the incredible and astonishing aspects of nature, and the deep wounds of human interference in the natural world. On the other hand, you also get to appreciate the sensation of being enveloped in the mystery of weather you can’t quite predict, landscapes you’ve never navigated, traffic patterns you might not readily understand, hearing words you don’t use in your own vocabulary, and finding different foods in the grocery store. An oddity of living on the West Coast took us by surprise: butter sticks. I am used to buying butter in long, slender sticks on the East Coast. On the West Coast, butter sticks are short and stubby. It took a while to get used to cutting the sticks to the size I wanted for cooking in recipes, since I was used to gauging the amount from a different shape. This is not a big deal, but it just meant that I had to adjust to an unexpected change of something I had always taken for granted: the shape of a stick of butter.

Coping with new culture, even within the lower 48, can be both exciting and infuriating at times, but the shape of your everyday life alters ever so slightly to adjust. It means needing to think about things you used to be able to do on autopilot. You engage with the culture around you with a new awareness, awakening your thoughts and actions on a daily basis to adapt to your surroundings. Going to the grocery store becomes an adventure instead of just a daily chore. Getting fuel can turn into a scavenger hunt, particularly out West, where you might drive a few hundred miles before finding a gas station after leaving town. So much of what we think is normal where we live becomes the abnormal on the road, and when you need to adapt it changes you. Having to orient to a new town, new vocabulary, new weather, new smells in the air, new plants and animals, new food, and new people all the time—for more than just a vacation—shifts your patterns of thinking radically. Because going on vacation is temporary. Living on the road is all the time.

Eventually, even the consistent change becomes somewhat familiar in its way. Humans are creatures of habit, and no matter where we parked we had our habits. Daily routines still kept us in the realm of the familiar, like needing to feed and walk the dogs, needing to cook meals, needing to sleep and exercise, or needing to work. All the normal daily stuff still happened, but as soon as we stepped out the door of the Falcon, the scenery reminded us we needed to adapt. At first it felt like it took months to get used to a place, but each new landing space became familiar in shorter time frames. After only a couple of weeks in the Carson Valley of Nevada I could navigate to all the most important places I needed to go, which was much quicker than learning how to navigate in Keene, NH (our first assignment on the road). The skills you learn with each new location embed themselves in your subconscious, and it gets easier all the time. Now that I have been traveling for almost two years, it’s strange to be back in a place that once felt so familiar. That familiarity now feels foreign, like I took a time machine back to a day in my memories. My body remembers all the corners and doorways and drawer pulls, and yet my feet still try to take me on the routes in the trailer when I wake to use the bathroom in the night.

Speaking of the trailer, we have been waiting for what might as well be an eternity for warmer weather to arrive so we can seal seams, replace the air conditioner, and remove the antenna from the Falcon. Snow does not seem to want to stop flying yet, and the days have been hovering around the freezing mark since we arrived in Olean. Now Michael has been forced to take a job in New Hampshire (back to Keene, which we both loved) in order to get money coming in while we wait for weather to improve, and I will have to stay in Olean to keep working on the house to prep it for sale. So Michael will travel back and forth, while I sell our unneeded household items and patch holes and paint walls. It will not be fun, but to have the Falcon remodeled and livable again is worth it. To sell the anchor holding us in New York State will be freeing so we can escape the excessive taxes of one of the most expensive states in the union. Most importantly, we can continue our adventure of creating the life we want to live, instead of living the life we can’t escape. Instead of being chained to a house we no longer want, we will be free to park the home we love in any location we can access with a road. Until that no longer holds our happiness, that sounds like heaven to me.

As always, I welcome your comments and look forward to readers who wish to share their own experiences and stories. Remember to be thoughtful and considerate, and be welcoming to all who wish to converse in this forum. If we still haven’t done any new work on the Falcon next week, I plan to revisit our trip to Sequoia National Park, a magical trip Michael planned as a surprise for me last year. Until then, I hope you all get out and do beautiful things with your time, see sights that make you glow from the inside, and meet people who make you laugh.

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