As I bushwhacked my bicycle over shards of glass alongside train tracks over a Tasmanian bridge, I cursed my cousin, best friend and former roommate's dog.
My cousin is graduating from law school next month, and I was rolling tires over broken bottles. Nobody warns travelers that the world doesn't stop spinning when they leave home.
My sister is moving in with her boyfriend and has received three promotions. My mother tells me it's not a race. This is what all mothers say when you are losing a race.
My former roommate's dog now cuddles with the dude who's subletting my room and sleeping in my bed. He promised to leave on my bed bug mattress cover, but I suspect his evening activities are tainting the first real piece of furniture I ever purchased.
Who needs the dog that I spent years bonding with? I resolved as I wobbled my bike through gritted teeth. My bicycle skills peaked when I had training wheels, and my coordination and confidence have been on a downward spiral ever since.
I was biking through Hobart in Tasmania, Australia to feed orphaned kangaroos and see endangered Tasmanian devils at a wildlife sanctuary. My friend warned: "There is no physical way to bike from here to the wildlife sanctuary," but I was car-less and really wanted to pet some kangaroos.
I laughed at my friend's warning as a smoothly paved bike path wound alongside the Derwent River. The British first established a settlement on this river in 1803, although Aboriginal people inhabited the land for thousands of years prior. Cottages now sat embedded in green and yellow-flecked mountains, as grayish blue clouds bruised the sky.
Then the path stopped. There were no signs. A road simply crossed in front of it, and the path was gone. The road curved towards a bridge with train tracks and no bike path. I asked a chips ("fries" in America) stand owner, who reassured me the train only passed by infrequently.
I dismounted the bike and shoved it along the tracks, hoisting it up over sharp stones and smashed bottles. Should a train rip through, I mapped out a plan to hurl myself into the river rather than into bridge traffic.
The bridge spit out onto a highway, and I bumped over gravel hugging the shoulder as a horn blared past. I squinted, pretending I didn't care that nobody wanted me on the highway, and for that matter, I didn't care if my former roommate's dog didn't want me, either. I determined the dog in my local shared house would be my new best dog. Even if he hides when I enter the room. I took him on a nice long jog recently. He was dragging a bit and went on strike refusing to budge in the middle of the street, but I thought we both had a nice time.
I made the decision to travel, and I feel very fortunate that I can follow this dream. But in my pursuit, I have at least temporarily ceded other elements of life that I also value.
I offer my parents' address as my permanent residence for wedding invitations while conducting a cost-analysis of each friendship:
Do 55 late night talks over pizza + 300 morning runs together = $800 plane ticket + 48 hours recounting good old days - 47.5 hours when she's with other guests + 20 seconds of tearful joy watching her march into marital bliss?
My friends have babies and I click the "Like" button on Facebook instead of meeting the infants to awkwardly grip them like a football.
Other friends are graduating from medical school and law school. They are real, live adults, the doctors and lawyers we said that we'd become when we grew up. They're framing diplomas while I'm cramming plane tickets into my pocket for a yet-to-be-made scrapbook.
At least I have my parents. They still email. The subject lines begin with a person or dog's name. Each is a reminder to wish the person/dog a happy birthday, or informing me that the person/dog is dead.
My best friend is in photos with other people. Almost as if she has other friends? She is having fun even though I am missing?? She even looks... happy.
Who needs an old best friend when I can have a new best friend?! I decided it would be my coffee shop barista, so I spent $3.50 daily on her recommended "flat white" to build our relationship. I dropped a 50 cent coin in the tip jar every day because they are big and loud-sounding coins. I was finally ready to invite her out on a friend date, and I asked, "What are you up to this weekend?" She replied, "My best friend and I are going shopping." I decided then that the barista couldn't be my best friend, not, of course, because she already had a best friend, but simply because I hate shopping.
I left to travel selfishly assuming I would grow, while those I was leaving would sit on a back burner, simmering until I returned.
Except that I'm a terrible cook, and when I simmer something, it burns or boils into mushy oblivion. In this case, my friends have baked into more fully formed humans even though I was trying to keep them on ice.
Bad things have also happened while I've been gone. A friend was hospitalized. Another one had a tough breakup. A third was fired. I sent emails: "Sending you a big e-hug!" but e-hugs rank third worst in hug types, right after sweaty hugs and cigarette hugs. In solidarity, I streamed U.S. movies and ate $10 imported Ben & Jerry's alone. The worst part of all, much worse of course than the hardship my friends were experiencing, is that they got better without me. I kind of hated them for that. Then I hated myself for hating my sick/dumped/fired friends.
It turns out that the people I meet along my travels also have lives. There is beautiful value in getting to know strangers, but they are not props to enable my journey, and I am not a permanent fixture in their lives.
I successfully disentangled myself from my complex world back home. Freedom! Yes, I managed to extract myself from one world and failed to inextricably wedge my way into another.
A traveler is like my friend who fell head over heels in love, burrowed into blissful hibernation with her boyfriend for a year, skipping girls' nights for date nights and passing up brunches for date days. She recently broke up, and we will both in time crawl back to our deserted friends and drown our discomfort in martinis and Hollandaise sauce.
I can't turn out the lights on the cast of characters in my life and expect to flick the switch back on to find everyone frozen Toy Story-style in the positions I left them. They will be married, single, pregnant, promoted, fired, happier, sadder, and I won't have played much part in that. But I will have grown too. I'm not frozen either, and I hope that I can weave my way back into their lives, each of us changed but still finding the world is nicer when the other is around.
I biked up the exit ramp alongside a few cars and arrived at the sanctuary, smearing dirt as I wiped a blistered hand over my sweaty forehead. And then I met this little guy:
It'd be swell if we could all have law degrees without studying and find love without awkward dates and pet kangaroos without biking down highways over glass shards. But achieving a goal requires choosing a path, which may mean you're (at least temporarily) turning your back on another.
As a baby kangaroo nibbled on my finger, I came to realize: If you're doing something that makes you happy, savor it. Don't mourn what you're missing. Everyone is missing out on something.
I met a man living in Hobart who had traveled most of his life. I asked him where he wanted to travel to next. He replied, "I'm pretty happy here at the moment, why go anywhere else right now?" It'd be lovely if when we are happy, we allow ourselves to be happy, and just sit with that for a while.
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