So often I’ve been feeling this way, wondering how the past few months have passed in a blitz, struggling to glue together the thousands of digital, photographic and written reminders of what just happened with the feeling of being swiftly removed from a proverbial time warp. How do you go in one person and come out another, then understand the cause of change without a period of readjustment?
Who was I back then? How have I changed? Is this the time, finally, when I reach the end of an expedition and don’t plummet into a hole of loss, grumpiness and soul searching?
Maybe this is not possible, but I hope it is. In the past six years I’ve wondered whether the key to immediate happiness post-expedition is having a combination of stable base, a home, a long-term partner and/or a new focus to sink teeth into, but with all of those things tried I’m still without an answer.
How bizarre, that in the immediate aftermath of a stark confirmation that ordinary people can achieve the most extraordinary things there comes doubt, fear and mild, dare I say it, depression?
It takes some time to sink in, that the life you’ve become accustomed to has ended all of a sudden. It’s like a break-up, I’m now without my nights with sandbars, my days with a wetsuit and a raft. Heck, my team have all gone home. Friends, companions, people I’ve intimately shared this most recent, life-changing experience with. Gone, now.
Which ironically leads to my latest attempt at a solution, not going home.
Such a shift from 3/4s of a decade ago, my lifestyle and values now rely on an avoidance of unnecessary stuff, financial outgoings and anything that can impinge on my freedom. All of the things that I need to function in this current version of my life - my laptop, a phone, a couple of t-shirts, a tent, roll mat, sleeping bag, passport etc - can fit in one bag (a drybag, in case you were wondering) and with that simplicity I’m able to avoid the obstacles posed by the Vicious Circle of Badness when a new opportunity comes along.
Financially, I earn a 10th of what I used to when I was 25 and make ends meet just fine, and because of that I’m 10 times more secure than I once was. On occasion I find that I rely on the kindness of strangers but when this isn’t possible I always get by. Things always work out.
This time round I decided not to go back to London, the magnet that has tugged at me following every one of my previous adventures. On return, I’d seen a familiar city uncomfortably through new eyes, become surrounded by stern, unwelcome faces, caught up with friends who had no comprehension or true interest in what I’ve just been through. How can you sum up months of adventure and struggle by answering the question, ‘How was it?’ How frustrating to get through that particular challenge and without a chance to understand it be faced with the now typical, ‘What’s next?!’ It’ almost as though the last expedition didn’t happen.
It’s always depressed and suffocated me, surrounded by sameness. So I decided to stay away this time and instantly begin a new adventure. I’m not fooling myself, there will be readjustment. I miss my team, I miss the river and I miss the daily challenge. But I need to rest. I need to get my pen out.
There are things to sort out, feelings to understand and process. I need time. In the last year and a bit I’ve completed 5 enormous adventures and I’m tired. Really tired. I haven’t afforded myself one of my passions, to write, so now I’m taking six months off to polish off some books. I can’t wait. I’m going to sleep, get fat, and write. And after that I’m going to go on another adventure. A sleepless, weight-shedding journey worthy of a new story. I don’t know what it will be yet, but there will be one. In fact, there will be 18!
For now I need to deal with my new identity. I’ve been recognised as ‘The Swimmer’ since August 10th. My wetsuit and goggles have defined me. Now, with the same body and the same overly hairy head and face I’m being regarded with suspicion on city streets and in cafes. I look vaguely like a tramp. The lack of a wetsuit means I’m no longer instantly unique, I’m just a regular, shabby-looking guy desperately in need of scissors.
And you know what, I’ve done what I set out to do, so I’m happy with that. One journey has ended, another begins right now. This one, I suspect, will be just as exciting. I just might need some time to let my time on the latest river beginning with M to sink in.