Category Archives: Sensory Overload

What if you don’t get the inner journey?

It was the perfect recipe for transformation: A month-long trek around a clump of stupendous mountains. An ancient pilgrim path. A motorcycle through the jungle. A summer of scraping by with a baritone sax.

So what happens when you finally reread your journals and realize the pages are filled with mental dandruff? Quick shots of confusion, desire, doubt, anxiety, concern, what ifs, hilarity, hot temper, the list goes on. You might ask, “What was I thinking?” or, “How could I have been concerned with this crap?”

But really–does this mean you didn’t get the inner journey? Does the absence of fully-formed ah-ha’s devalue the experience?

I’d urge you to take heart. The writing doesn’t make sense because you were working overtime to make sense. What were obvious associations at the time now require lucky reverse engineering to comprehend, if they can be pieced together at all. Or maybe the snippets point elsewhere–clues are often hard to find, frustrating, and ambiguous.

You had the time and freedom to drop down the rabbit holes, far down. It’s no wonder that, in the flat light of the familiar, what you brought back seems cracked. But these aren’t the words of an incoherent stranger–they’re yours. Although the surface might look like so much debris, a veritable landslide at times, there’s no mistaking that it’s the work of seismic shifts.

To put it another way, you brought home an entire river–now comes the challenge of panning for gold.

Photo by Tapse via Flickr.

The Hazards of Prolonged International Exposure

The right mix of cigarette smoke and cologne puts me on a sidewalk in Granada. A grey-blue overcast sunrise through a crack in the blinds is another Utica snowstorm. The smell of rare wood burning (a piano, let’s say) is the rush of India.

The more places we visit, the more elsewheres we can be transported to by a strange cloud, a scent, or a song heard through the window of a passing car. Not surprisingly, it’s always the same few places that hit me the hardest. It’s places I’ve stayed in long enough to be able to guess at what’s going to be last to change.

Call it the Stray Dog Theory of Place–if you talk to it and pet it behind the ears, it’ll keep coming back. It can happen in as little as a week (less, anybody?), though a month or more is better. What also helps: Multiple trips to the same grocery store. Witnessing sunrise and sunset. An unexpected soaking or bout of shivers. Conversation with kids and old folks. Getting lost, helping someone find their way, finding a secret spot, sharing it. A routine, no matter how rickety.

I’m still a sucker for towering experiences, the big bangs that can define a town, city or country (whether the reason for the visit or randomly encountered). Along with the in-the-moment adrenaline, an afternoon of Porsche in the Swiss Alps delivers an admirable stuffed Done That to hang over the mantle. But it is what it is. (Yes, been there.)

What I’m more curious about are the slow-to-emerge, long-term effects of prolonged exposure. The rippling impact of investing the time to know a place on the secret-handshake level. So far, I’ve found that the places you’ve given the most to will visit you when you least expect them, triggered by next to nothing, wherever you might be.

Travel deja vu, the return of a place’s State of Place. Elsewhere merging with and warping the present to create a new, unexpected moment of travel.

Looking forward to continuing the experiment.

PS — Thanks for reading. There’s no way one post could have answered the whole question…

Photo by Hani Amir aka Dude Crush

What Do Travel And Storms Have In Common?

shelf cloud wall cloud Nebraska storm chaser

Travel and storms are both the changing of a place. You sense a distant rumbling that something’s brewing. An oncoming pressure drop. When the wind gets in your hair, you know it’s on.

It hits and jars your senses. There’s adrenaline, fear, and giddyness in some proportion, cut with the awe of something immediate and massive. You’ll have to act spontaneously, improvise, or deal.

The situation could be a catalyst for memorable sex. On the other hand, you might be thrown into an emergency, a tragedy, or both.

Provided you make it out alive, you’ll have been through something impossible to replicate.

From ski trips, to the beach, to (of course) storm chasing, so much travel is in search of weather. But, after last week’s crazy storms, I’m thinking it’s just as easy for adventure to appear when the weather comes to us.

The photo above is by Dale Kaminski, aka NebraskaSC via Flickr, taken on June 4, 2008 on Highway 40 near Riverdale, Nebraska. His description below is a travel story as much as a weather story, complete with chase and map enthusiasm…

Continue reading What Do Travel And Storms Have In Common?

Put Yourself Inside a Falling Aircraft

Lukla Airport Nepal

Do you imagine the worst when you fly? You don’t necessarily have to dwell on it–an unexpected what if or a quick flashback to the disaster movie of your choice both count.

Maybe you get the jitters while waiting at the gate. Maybe you slap the side of the craft as you step through the cabin door, making sure it’s sturdy. Maybe the butterflies swirl when you buckle your seatbelt.

It’s not a newbie thing, either. Ross Garnaut admits to wracked nerves even after 3,000+ flights. I don’t think anyone’s immune to at least a second of creeping irrationality.

Below, I’ve posted a pretty comprehensive what if? passage from Don DeLillo’s White Noise. Enjoy… (Photo of Nepal’s Lukla Airport by Ilker Ender)

Continue reading Put Yourself Inside a Falling Aircraft

Real Travelers Don’t Get Homesick

Yeah, right.

Have you ever had a bad bout of homesickness? I’m talking severe–where you start missing traffic, and junk mail, and having plaque scraped off your teeth at the dentist? How did it hit, and how did you deal with it?

It suffocated me as a feeling of having slighted my family and friends. As a sudden conviction that they believed my travels to be in spite of them, and that they felt inferior to my wooden bed in nowhere, Nepal. I had a feeling of the action movie digital bomb clock countdown, that someone close to me will invariably die while I’m abroad, and everyone else will point fingers and say this just proves you don’t care.

And worst of all, you can’t say that you really didn’t mean to leave them behind. Nobody’s buying that one.

That’s just the first part of homesickness. The adult version of the childhood Big Trouble in the Principal’s Office and By The Way, We’re Telling Your Parents feeling.

The second part is wanting to make it up to them. Them–your family, your friends, everyone. Everyone who you now realize still loves you, everyone you’re realizing how much you love. This part likes to creep up on you when you’re far from a phone. But it’ll also push you away from calling because you can’t put it into words. It’s a tight-in-the-chest thing. You’d probably explode.

How does it disappear? Maybe you can call a truce with a postcard, or maybe it just subsides on its own. Can’t really remember. Most likely a couple of surprise laughs.