You’re one of the lucky few. One of those crazy people idolized by your friends for your ambition and bravery. You packed up everything, planned it all out, spent thousands on preparations, and embarked on your fantasized adventure. You endured hard days, amazing days, good weather, bad weather, loneliness and physical prowess. That’s right- you just accomplished your dream.
Whether it’s hiking the entire Appalachian Trail (or even just a part of it!), completing your first RAGBRAI cycle adventure, or skateboarding across the country, there’s always one thing shared amongst the elite: Once it’s over, you’re unsure of what to do next. When I skateboarded across the USA, returning to my home state of Massachusetts was a culture shock. I brought my pack and board to my parent’s house, and debated whether or not I was going to take anything out of it. Was it really over? I set up my tent in the backyard (in 0 degree Massachusetts December!) and continued to live that way as long as it was feasible.
I learned that this feeling, this void of fulfillment, was shared amongst those who give up their place in society to chase pipe dreams of adventure. I met a woman in New Smyrna Beach, Florida who slept in her hammock, inside of her house, because she couldn’t even think of owning a bed. Who knew if she could handle settling in one place for a long period of time? I met a man who cycled across southern USA who ended his ride in San Diego, and couldn’t grasp the idea of accepting a job offer given to him when it was all over.
There’s a simple idea behind it all: there is no fanfare. There is no crowd of people waiting for you once you’re done. You can dip your tires into the Pacific Ocean, you can carve your name into a rock at the trailhead, and you can spike your skateboard down at the finish line, but it’s never really over. Once you’re done, everything gets worse. You have to find your way back to your home base and start paying those bills you neglected in your travels. You have to begin making payments on the credit card you used to fund the journey. You have to somehow talk to people in the “regular” world as if you’re somehow on the same level. Ignoring that call to get back on the saddle so you can resume what you left in the first place is simply a debilitating experience.
So, what’s next? Do you accept that job offer, rent an apartment, and start over? Do you go back to work like everything is normal? Do you show up to your buddy’s house and “watch the game” like you aren’t dreaming of staring at snow-capped mountains, capturing pictures of wildlife at play, or admiring the beauty of unseen nature? It’s difficult to say. For most, there is no choice. Some of us have student loan bills to pay, cell phone bills to afford, or employment that expects us to be somewhere at a certain time. Escaping the rat race of society, even if just for a few weeks, a month, or even a year…it causes a giant slap in the face once it’s over.
Personally, I was lost when I got back to Massachusetts. I had journalists looking to catch up with me, interview me, and do photoshoots with me. Buzzfeed specifically was adamant about scheduling a day to come and do a follow-up interview. That was the worst interview of my life. I didn’t know what to say. I was angry that now, after every push, climb up a mountain, and greeting I made with a new person amounted to me wearing regular clothing being asked about my favorite parts of the journey. I never thought about my favorite parts of the adventure because the entire experience was my favorite.
I tried dating. I joined Tinder and Okcupid, as if somehow I could find another soul who could understand what I had just experienced. It was difficult at first. I went on first dates, asking about their careers, degrees, hobbies and interests, but everything somebody said was nothing but mundane. Anyone who aspired to “move up” in a business was someone I couldn’t connect with. It was as if my goals in life had completely skewed after my journey, and what I found most attractive in a mate was no longer their desire to succeed. It was a lust for adventure that I had, and wanted to share it with somebody special.
I tried applying for careers. I have a bachelor’s degree in communications. I poked around on the job boards, carelessly tossing out half-assed cover letters, and a resume from 2016. I didn’t want to sign myself up for a career. A nine to five gig would have crushed me. Though I knew I had something to offer, and could easily find a position that embraced my skills and pay me well for them, I didn’t want it.
I tried rekindling my relationships with my friends I hadn’t seen in years. They were all in committed love affairs, working jobs they had for years, and living in the place they grew up. I felt like I had no connection to them anymore, like the thing that originally made us friends was suddenly gone entirely. I went to a New Year’s Party, had some drinks, and left as soon as the ball dropped only to return to my tent and call it a night.
I even tried taking mini adventures. I jumped back on my board (sans 40lb backpack) and went on a few single day journeys, as if reliving my experience. It was all areas I was already familiar with. I had friends in every town. I wasn’t meeting anyone new or doing anything I hadn’t already done. That hopeless void was left unsatisfied.
I grabbed a part time job and began to write in my free time. Outside of that, I fed my brain literal fodder by wasting away on video games, rereading books I already went through, and endlessly scrolling through social media. I was burning my time until I could begin again. Writing was a way for me to relive my experiences, because nothing I was doing at the time could have ever equated with what I just did.
That’s all you can do. The only cure for the void of returning from a giant trip is to count down until the next one. Taking one life-altering adventure creates a new view of your existence on the planet- one that can only perpetually continue to do what it was that made this way in the first place. You know that a career won’t satisfy you, as money is only a means of getting to the next waypoint. You know love won’t complete you, unless your love joins you in your own goals. You know that smaller trips won’t add anything to your resume of success you’ve began to build your foundation on.
I was only back for a month from making it across the country when I picked up again and skateboarded the state of Florida. I was back from Florida for only two months before I decided to move to North Dakota- and it will be only another two months until I cycle from North Dakota to Georgia. I dabbled with part time, hourly gigs at places I had to lie through my teeth to get employed so I could fund the next journey.
“Where do you see yourself in five years?” How could I answer that question? I knew they wanted to hear that I’d be supervisor or store manager by then, but all I kept thinking about, every time it was asked, was “with my skateboard, on the open road.” I convinced myself that I would rather be poor and living in my tent as long as I could travel to a new place the next day, and the day after that.
There’s no definite answer on how to recover after doing something epic. The adrenaline dies off and the excitement for a new day dissipates, giving you a few things that you “need to do,” but in truth, it only opens up new doors for what “want to do.” The most important thing is to avoid the post-journey depression by making them things you are “going to do.”