A Challenging Return
The road is my home. It is where I feel alive. It is where I breathe and nourish myself. The road feeds my craving for discovery. It calms my restless mind hungry for new experiences. My dreams are blank canvases that paint themselves as I move forward towards new destinations. I am like a mountain river that needs the movement to fill itself with air. Let me dawdle in a pond and I start to suffocate. It is not that I can’t stay in one place it is just that my energy vibrates to the rhythm of the unexpected and continuous change – endless journeys filled with discoveries.
But two months ago, my 9 months of traveling came to an abrupt end (Alive and Stronger) and since then I have been feeling the weight of inertia. It wasn’t until last week, while trying to find clarity on a beach that I realized just how much of a recluse and grouch I had became, overwhelmed by loss (camera equipment stolen) and sensory overload. It was not only that I felt my energy stuck in a perpetual loop of nothingness, but that my vision and optimism had became clouded with a dark and asphyxiating curtain, like algae chocking a river until nothing lives, transforming a once thriving ecosystem into a dead zone, leaving behind this empty liquid – a ghost.
And these last few months, I have been nothing but an angry ghost, snapping at everything and every one.
So returning from the beach after Thanksgiving, I decided to write about it. I needed a catharsis. I needed to feel the sun again and find peace in the moment. I needed to be grateful for what I had and stop chocking on the things I was missing. I needed to STOP . BREATHE . RELAX and LISTEN. So nature brought me back from the dead.
“There’s a part of me that woke up this morning with a wild heart and restlessness in my bones. And I craved the road and traveling to the point of near tears. So I sat down and wrote about it, drank cups of coffee and told the restlessness to hold on a little bit longer. After spending so much time traveling, it’s often difficult for me to stay in one place. It’s something I’m working on.”
Reading her intimate thoughts made me realized that most of us who explore and seem – judging from all our social media feeds, to be living a life of dreams and adventures, all come back and crash. So I reached out to my fellow travelers and explorers and asked them to share with me their thoughts on the topic.
Scott Rinckenberger, is a professional photographer and adventurer specializing in capturing the most wild and pristine places his legs, skis and bikes will carry him. His commercial clients include REI, Patagonia, Red Bull and Intel.
“There is something that we earth-bound explorers share with those who venture into the open reaches of space. We have both experienced altered gravity. Theirs is a physical experience, ours is mental and spiritual. When adventuring I feel more energy, more strength, more speed and more clarity. For a time I attributed this to how my body was reacting to the environment, but I’ve come to realize that it’s my mind reacting to the change in constraints. It’s become clear to me that daily life in the city has a density that can weigh down and suffocate those who have tasted a lighter way of being. Our lungs expand less readily, our eyes see less distance, our minds have less clarity of purpose, and our bodies struggle under the increased burdens. It is so easy to succumb to the pressure, to opt for depression or escapism. Sometimes I let myself settle for this weakness for a short time. But I strive with all of my being to keep my ears open to the voice that reminds me how fortunate I have been, how much love I’ve been blessed with, how minor are my burdens in comparison to so many. And I force myself to go to my office, fire up my computer and update my status to read: “Stoked to be back home with family and friends.” And I try with all I have to really mean it.”
“It has a name. I call it the PTD, or Post Trip Depression. It comes on soft, posing as nostalgia or phantom warmth, then WHAM it hits like a glass wall. I crash through and land back in real life, whatever that is. I check the mail, mow the lawn, or whatever normal people do to play the game. It’s never easy, coming home. The landing is rough, the tarmac crumbled, and I land in the bed with a blazing heap of metal, luggage and memories.”
Sarah Outen, a British adventurer, ocean rower. She is currently part way through her multi-year expedition ‘London2London: Via the World’ – an attempt to row, cycle and kayak a continuous loop of the planet, starting and finishing at Tower Bridge.
“I work with a psychotherapist and we identified after my Indian Ocean row in 2009 that transitioning back into ‘normal’ life was really hard – and then through L2L that each transition in and out of different phases is the same. The biggest challenge for me came after my rescue from the North Pacific in 2012. Suddenly there was a huge trauma to deal with as well – I had experienced something very intense, threatening in total isolation and lost my boat in the process. People expected me to be happy and to slot right back in at full speed. In fact, I really, really struggled and it took a while to realize the depth of that struggle and seek proper help. It’s something that I have spoken about with many fellow adventuring pals and I would say that many are not that open about it. And I guess that’s not just in our adventuring expeditioning realm either – there is such a stigma around mental health that struggled often get brushed under the carpet or hidden from sharing. I wrote a blog post about my depression post Pacific 2012 and it was one of the most heavily commented posts of my entire trip. I think that acknowledging there may well be a settling in period after a trip is important. We often prepare for the going away, but thinking about the coming home is useful too and how to structure what happens next. Or even just acknowledging that it is OK, it is normal and we don’t need to charge back on with ‘normal’ stuff right away. Be gentle with yourself – that’s one of the best things I have learned on my trip.”
Krystle Wright is an adventure photographer, Canon Master, Red Bull Illume Top 50 finalist, F-Stop Gear Ambassador, SanDisk AU, and global traveller in search of unique images
“I am a child of the universe, officially a non resident of any country. My camera leads me to the far corners of the earth as I try to fulfill my insatiable desire to document expeditions and disconnect from civilization. I crave the escape. I thrive in the extremes, seeking the freedom and liberation that comes with completely disconnecting from modern luxuries. Yet at the same time I am more connected than ever to just being in the moment. Though inevitably I’ll return periodically and jump into the city scene for brief moments. I can only handle it for a short space of time before I feel the urge to get going again. I haven’t had a home for 3 years now and I have come to just embrace the nomadic lifestyle. It’s not that I hate cities, I just know that its not where I belong. There are many wonderful things that can happen in all types of scenarios including the hustle and bustle of the city, my biggest concern is that people become lost and engulfed and probably forget to disconnect and just simply be outside. Ultimately, it’s all about finding balance.”
Cristian Dimitrus, a cameraman, photographer, biologist and tv personality specialized in wildlife and natural history, his work has been featured on major television networks, including the BBC, National Geographic, Discovery Channel, TV Globo, History Channel and Animal Planet.
“Some people say that a true adventure means “get out of your comfort zone”. But when I am back in the city I am definitely out of my comfort zone. So for me being back in town is an adventure in its own way. Not the most enjoyable one but its the place where I have the opportunity to dream out loud, visualize and plan new adventures. This is the way I found to cope with the craziness. My mind takes me wherever I can imagine and sooner than I realize, I am there, back in the wild, where I belong, in Flesh and Blood.”
Catherine Yrisarri, is a documentary storyteller who has produced environmental, political and social stories in over 40 countries. Her clients include National Geographic Channel & Creative, PBS, Oprah, New York Times, The North Face & many others.
“I’ve lived in New York City for the past 6 years which is a strange dichotomy to my life & work on the road where I typically pilgrimage to places of immense natural beauty like the Himalaya, Indian Ocean, Peruvian Andes to capture stories about the culture or environment. In these places, you feel the majesty of the diverse ecosystem that exist in this fragile, beautiful world. It is spectacular. Then I return home to an epicenter of culture and diversity where humanity exists so closely knit here, but there’s a lack of nature. It’s a hard to return to and reconcile at times especially growing up in Colorado so closely tied to rivers and mountains. I find myself pushing toward projects that bring me back to these spaces because they lack in my daily life at the moment. There’s definitely a need in us all for the wildness, untouched beauty. I feel lucky enough that I get paid to escape to these recesses of the world that are slowly closing in by population dynamics and other human impact needs like mining and resource extraction.”
Skip Armstrong, an award-winning director and cinematographer. His client list includes Boeing, Air New Zealand, National Geographic, Camp4 Collective, BF Goodrich Tires, The North Face, New Belgium Brewery, NRS, Patagonia and many more. His films have been awarded at major film festivals including Banff and Telluride.
“I’ve always been struck by the perfection of undisturbed wilderness. The plants, animals, rivers – they are all in a state of balance. I’ve found that after a few days I can’t help but personally take on the same feeling, of being balanced. When returning to cities and the busyness of day to day life the stark contrast between the two worlds is remarkable. I wish and hope that we all prioritize and embrace the value that only wild and undisturbed lands can offer.”
Winston Ben Wolfrider, a British explorer who just returned home after traveling coast to coast across the USA for World Land Trust. He covered over 25,000 miles on just $6 a day, via a hoard of natural checkpoints.
“I call it Re-entry. It’s hideous, and often welcomes me “home” or dumps me somewhere after a journey whilst handing me “plane flu”, a man-cold or a repetitive strain injury, at the same time as most people are ignorant to the fact that I might be jetlagged or in a version of shock. Ending any trip is the most awesome feeling of elation and accomplishment, yet immediately after the smiles, it’s possibly the biggest anti-climax and strongest feeling of loneliness I have ever felt. Many Olympic medal winners feel the same, so I’ve heard. There’s only one thing for it… start seeking the next one!”
Sarah Menzies, a filmmaker based out of Seattle currently working on Afghan Cycles, a feature length documentary about the brave women riding bike in Afghanistan. Sarah founded her production company Let Media in 2012.
“Since I was a young kid, I knew I wanted to see the world. I’ve figured out a way to make those dreams come true when I became a filmmaker. My job takes me all over the world and I love it. The first few years of this work had me living on the road, out of a bag. I felt free. I’m actually renting a place right now, which I’m still getting used to. I’ve never looked at drawers the same way. I can actually unpack my bag now! While life with a home base has been an adjustment in and of itself, my recovery time from trips has totally changed. Life used to be one big trip that I was on. I like the balance of renting because it allows me to nurture a community and my relationships. I just got a dog! But I lack balance in the coming and going. When I get home from a production, it takes me a few days to find my normal again. I miss the sights, smells, conversations that I have when I’m on the road. It’s hard to tell stories from those experiences to my loved ones who were not with me, so I often feel lonely after a trip. Loneliness also comes in the form of missing all the people I met on those trips. My brain easily wanders as I think about those new friends and wonder if I’ll ever get to see them again. But as a filmmaker, I’m in a unique position because I get to relive those experiences (again and again!) as I work through an edit and share the final piece. As I edit something near and dear to my heart, I can almost feel those places, people, and even smells wrap around me and give me a big hug. It lessens the blow of re-entry, and helps give me closure with a trip and strength to move on to the next one.”
Cristina Mittermeier, is a Mexican-born photographer and conservationist, former President of the International League of Conservation Photographers, and a SONY Artisan. Her work has been featured in museums, art shows books and magazines, including National Geographic. She was recently assigned as a judge for the World Press Photo Award.
“The work of the photojournalist is exciting and stimulating but make no mistake, it also requires tremendous sacrifice. It demands infinite energy, tireless enthusiasm, a spirit of adventure, the ability to survive under difficult circumstances and the courage to confront danger. It can be all consuming, which makes for lonely spouses and neglected children. So, I confess. After so many years of being a nomad, all I want these days is to be home. Without a doubt, when the next assignment comes, I will be as excited and ready to go on another adventure, but for now I crave the comforting routine of a small, uncomplicated existence. I know it won’t last long and pretty soon I will be packing again, so while I am here, I like to pretend that the rest of the world doesn’t exist and I savor the beauty of the simple, everyday stuff.”
Chris Burkard, is a photographer and World Explorer of cold, remote places. His clients include American Airlines, Nikon, Volkswagen, Apple, Fuel TV, Burton, Volcom, RVCA, Poler Stuff, Pacifico, among others, as well as having work published on over 35 national and international covers of magazines including Surfer Magazine, The New Yorker, National Geographic Adventure, ESPN.com
“I live for some of these adventures. It is what gets my blood pumping and the hair on my skin to stand up. At the end I am happy to come home to see my family, but there are nights where I am kept up thinking about my next journey or dreaming about where I just was. Sometimes I’ll go to a rock climbing gym to clear my mind, but I’m always thinking about my next step.”
Flemming Bo Jensen, official Fuji X-photographer, traveler, filmmaker, has lived as a nomad for the past 5 years.
“It is always hard to come down after the high of a long road trip and adventure. The freedom of roaming through stunning landscapes, having new experiences and a new horizon every day is bliss for my soul. But after many years as a nomad I have realized everything must happen in balance. The time between adventures is equally important. It affords time to organize and fund the next adventure, time to have a daily routine, time to reflect and recharge. And most importantly, it reminds me how fortunate I am to have the freedom to do these adventures.”
“Coming back from an adventure or trip of a lifetime to the hustle of the city always reminds me of an important mantra: everything in moderation. Moderate your time away from city and moderate your time in the city, you’ll grow to appreciate both. Burning out is real, moderation and healthy balance is what I strive for. Back to hills for me!”
Roei Sadan, is an Israeli adventurer that cycled around the world.
“Crossing the world on a bicycle for 5 years and coming back to the same place was the hardest part of the journey. I felt like it was a dream and that I would wake up. But ultimately I didn’t have to because the journey was inside me. The world is inside me, every challenge I faced, every desert or high mountain range I crossed became a part of me. Every project that we do stays inside of us and makes us better people. I feel like I know a secret that not many people know. But I will tell you my friends, you don’t have to do a big journey or a great challenge to feel great with yourself, the things that make my day are the things that are free and open for everyone. A great day is a day that you can enjoy the miracle of the sunrise and the magic of the sunset, simple and special. You can enjoy that if you are in the middle of the city or in the middle of a wild place. Enjoy the simplicity and dream with open eyes!”