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Sweet Home USA

My journey home from Europe took about 50 hours. What was meant to be only a semi-stressful trip consisting of three flights turned into an extremely stressful trip consisting of four. After flying to Oslo airport from Hamburg and spending the night on a Starbucks couch (and being kicked out at 5am, as they were opening), I flew to London-Gatwick to catch my final flight home to Chicago.

Long story short, that flight was cancelled after a seven-hour delay. Since all nearby hotels were filled and I wasn’t about to spend a second night in another airport, I took a taxi to Steyning, England, where Tieran lives. Given, he wasn’t there; he was already cozy in Switzerland, visiting his aunt (he has it rough). Still, his house in England awaited me.

After spending the night there and only catching a brief hello with Tieran’s lovely grandparents, I caught a flight the next afternoon to Chicago, where I was greeted by an extremely rude security guard who was getting irritated by the passengers in customs whose English wasn’t great. Perhaps, I rationalized, he forgot that he works at one of the busiest international airports in America.

Naturally, Norwegian Air lost my bike- which I’d lugged around Oslo airport during my thirteen hour layover, making simple tasks like using the bathroom annoyingly difficult. But by that point, I’d had it. I gave the airline my address and said good riddance to airports for some time.

Being home was bittersweet. On the ride back from the airport, it struck me how big all the cars seemed passing by. Bright billboards shone through the windows on the expressway, and everything did truly seem bigger. Outside, the humid, thick August air gave me the all-too-familiar feeling of my skin expanding. These things I can confidently say I didn’t miss over the months I’d been away.

My actual house, however, was different. Before I even opened the front door I heard the loving thumps of my golden retriever’s tail slapping excitedly against the wall in anticipation. When I entered, I felt the refreshing rush of air conditioning hit my face; something I had craved countless times on sweaty nights during the heatwave Europe was experiencing.

It was great to see my family, and I presented them with the ‘Joika I had brought home from Norway; reindeer meatballs in a can. A family we stayed with in Tretten (near Lillehammer) had gifted it to us, and we’d carried it around on our bikes expecting to eat it, but never got the opportunity. In the end, it travelled another 4,000 miles across the Atlantic, and still sits in my pantry, dented in parts due to numerous tumbles off my bike. I suppose we’ll eat it the next time Tieran visits, and we can find out what we’d been missing.

I started classes again two days after returning, which surprisingly felt good. Unlike Tieran, I appreciate a solid schedule and routine. I had my shower, a bed to sleep in and food in the kitchen. I had my car back, and realized how much I missed driving (despite the couple of driving experiences I had abroad). On the first day of my Spanish lecture, my professor asked everyone to introduce themselves and something they did over the summer. My peers’ responses varied from “I just worked” to “I took a road trip.” When it came my turn to share, I self-consciously downplayed my experience, even though part of me wanted so badly to boast.

Some days, I missed the rush and thrill of being on the road. Not knowing where we would sleep at night; not knowing who we were going to meet. The pacing of my lifestyle changed so drastically in just days, that even now it almost feels like my cycle tour didn’t exist. When Tieran released the first video diary, which focused on our struggles in northern Norway, it reminded me so much of what we had done. Honestly, I needed that reminder.

Coming home, I learned firsthand how effortless it is to adapt to a given situation. On my trip, at times, I set the bar so low. Knowing that it wasn’t supposed to rain made my day. When we found an especially ‘nice’ waiting room to sleep in, Tieran and I got jittery with happiness (the chairs had actual cushions!) When the Hurtigruten (Norwegian cruise ship) was giving out free cakes, we ended up eating so many of them that I couldn’t sleep that night because I got seasick. Being given free coffee or free food had the power to turn our day around.

At home, I truly only appreciated all of the newfound amenities for a day or two. After that, I fell back into my routine. Sure, certain things still felt special for a couple weeks afterward; going to my favorite Thai restaurant, having constant phone service (even without wifi!), and everything feeling ridiculously cheap to me (even in places like Germany, commodities like food are still far more expensive than in America).

Overall, I was ready to come home. My cycle tour was something that was so uniquely challenging and rewarding, I would have a hard time forgetting it if I tried. While specifics might slip my mind eventually, memories detailing the kindness we experienced from strangers and the overwhelming hardships we endured will stick with me.

As of today, it’s another two months before Tieran and I see each other again (I’m visiting England for a month over the holidays, per usual). I keep telling myself it’s cool, because he’s still continuing his cycle tour solo towards central Asia. He’s making his way through Poland now, and at times it can be tough knowing he’s cycling alone. We started the tour as partners, and somehow made it through the summer without killing each other. Knowing he’s meeting people and doing interviews that I’m not involved with makes me have a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out)- but then I just re-watch our Northern Norway video, sit back in a comfy chair, sip a mug of tea, and appreciate what I used to take for granted.

*Disclaimer: Norwegian airlines dropped my bike off at my house a week after I got home. They also paid me $700 in compensation for the flight cancellation, so all is well.


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