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2.10.14

The Final Chapter: Homeward Bound

Hello Fellow Fish,

I found myself on a plane, bound for the United States of America. It was surreal to be finally making my way home. In a way, I had been looking forward to this since I split up from the rest of the guys in India. Hearing about them getting settled back into “normal life” as best they can, and knowing they were back home with family and old friends made me long for that life too. Even though, they’d probably say I was the one who was lucky enough to NOT be home yet. Don’t get me wrong, there was not a single second that I took for granted during my time in Europe, but it definitely made me think a little bit about what was to come.


A big reason I decided to come home was to see my youngest brother play his senior year of varsity football. As some of you might know, I had a grand plan to be gone an additional 2 years and go through Africa and South America before making my way back home. Which would have brought my time away to about 5 years total. But I started thinking and reflecting a lot and realized, my youngest brother was at every single one of my School sporting or music events and I hadn’t seen any of his. This ate at me on the inside and I promised to not miss any of his games the entire season. I’m proud to say I lived up to that and very soon was a fixture amongst the over zealous team dads, getting rowdy and going nuts when my brother did well.

Anyways, I was on the flight back to America, going to Colorado via Newark to see my good friends Sledge and Justinfected in Denver before returning home for good. The gravity of returning home really started to sink in about an hour before landing. As if my iPod knew exactly what was about to happen, it shuffled to the perfect song for my situation: This is Home, by Switchfoot. After landing, I found myself reflecting and bracing myself for the inevitable reverse culture shock that surely awaited me once I walked off the plane. But in those moments, I started thinking about all the things I had missed about this great country.





At passport control, the guy took my passport for inspection with the abruptness and discourteous snatch that one comes to expect from a NJ/NY TSA officer. I was, however, taken aback and almost moved to tears when this gruff and obviously bored individual handed my passport back, looked me in the eye and said, “Welcome home.” 

I don’t know if I was just being over sentimental, I don’t know if he says that to every guy who walks through his little gate, but those two words resonated with me and I could not have been happier to have been “Home.”

DENVER

I was greeted by the one and only Sledge Foster at the Denver airport. Back at his house, I got settled, showered, and happened to weigh myself for the first time since I had left. I had lost about 25 pounds while traveling. This was remarkable considering all the terrible eating habits I had developed while I was away and especially when you consider all the beer I drank.

I spent the 10 days in Denver with Jeff, Justin, and Beret. Since Jeff and Beret were the locals, we went on a driving Tour of Colorado, on our way to Aspen for a few days of camping. The trailhead started just outside of town and it was a 10 mile hike up and in to the mountains to reach the Conundrum Hot Springs. I started out the hike wearing my brand new sneakers, the first new pair of shoes I had bought in many years. Once I realized that they might get ruined, I decided to put them away and do the entire hike in flip-flops. It would rain intermittently making the hike less than ideal, but once at the top, the hot springs made it all worth it. We set up camp and jumped in the bath-like springs. There were a few other people already in the water when we arrived, and if you tried to picture the type of person you might encounter at a wild hot spring in Rocky Mountains of Colorado, that’s who was there. One skinny bearded fella (not Jeff) spoke with the air of an old hippy doing his best to articulate a really profound thought through the haze of some mind-altering substance. The topic of the moment for him was: him trying to convince us, how with enough practice, he could assume the consciousness of an animal and basically control the animal’s body. It was quite a trip. 







HOME

After my 10 days in Colorado, I was once again, on a plane back to NJ. This time, for good. I had my brother pick me up at the airport and drive me home to surprise my mom. She hates surprises so, naturally, she wasn’t very pleased. That passed, and we went out as a family and basically played catch up on our lives from the last few years. Being at home felt good but strange. With all the familiarity of the people and places came certain expectations that just weren’t happening. It occurred to me that everyone had adjusted to life without me around, and that was a very humbling realization.

14 inches of hair
Surprised mom
First meal back home
After almost 3 full years, 20+ countries, 4 continents, and 14 inches of hair grown, I was back in New Jersey. Back home. Little did I know all the attention this blog would get me, just writing about my travels. As it turned out, a local reporter saw this blog and got in touch with me and wrote a front-page story about my travels. I had no idea this would eventually snowball into a Front Page story for mine (and Ariel’s) local newspaper, which got the attention of another reporter and became Front Page article of the regional North Jersey newspaper, and ultimately the Front Page of nj.com, the state of New Jersey's main newspaper outlet.  I felt like a local celebrity, if even just for a while, as Robbie would come home from school and tell me how his friends and his friends’ parents saw my articles or being stopped at my brother’s football games by people saying, “Hey! Are you that guy that traveled?!” It was very flattering.




FINAL THOUGHTS

Since my return, I’ve been able to reflect upon all the things that I have learned about myself and the world from my travels. While I doubt that I will take another 3 years off, I don’t see myself ever stopping traveling. It’s like a drug, where every time I return to routine or familiarity, all I can think about is where I’ll get the next fix or the next high of being somewhere completely new in a country where I don’t speak the language; completely lost yet completely content.

For the time being, “My West Quest” has ended. I can say with absolute certainty, that traveling was more than seeing sights, or checking another place off the list. In the words of T.S. Eliot, “It is the journey not the destination that matters,” and my journey is best measured in the relationships I made and the experiences I had along the way, rather than distances I traveled to do so. I’ve made it my mission to convince as many people, young and old, to drop what they’re doing and go somewhere, do something, and get out of their realm of comfort. Traveling is a different story for everyone, and the world is a book, but those that don’t travel only read one page.

Until Next Time,



Tuna



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