The Longest Year

How Travel Stretches Time

It’s been just over a year since we arrived back in the United States, unpacked our bags, and quietly settled back into a semi-normal existence. It’s hard to believe, because honestly, I couldn’t tell you what exactly I have done in the past year other than some pretty usual, mundane stuff, like eating breakfast, doing laundry and taking my geriatric dog on walks around the hood. I’ve gone on countless fun mountain bike rides, traveled to the coast several times for some marginal, even downright terrible surf, and have spent a lot of time reconnecting with friends over a coffee or beer. Not mention that my income producing activities (some may call this “work”) are about as different as they could be from the past.

But for the most part, the past year is a blur. Not good, not bad, just a high speed blur.

What I’ve come to realize is that period from September 2011 to September 2012 was the LONGEST year of my life. Seeing entirely new things every single day does something to warp time, bending and twisting it so that you never really know how far back the past reaches or how far forward the future can be. It’s a funny thing and something that really surprised me, since one of the first things people said when we first returned was “Wow, that year seemed to go by fast, huh?”
No. Traveling extends your life.

Now, I can say with conviction that there were days and nights that I wished would end quicker. Like the night we shared a car with three Austrian women and two Indonesian men. Seven of us crammed into a small SUV, with me and Chris in the back seat with our knees jammed into the seat in front of us, sporting a heavy backpack on our laps. It was a ten-hour, through the night drive to another surf spot in West Java and our driver, much like most Indonesian drivers, had the propensity to drive with one foot on the brake, one on the gas, one hand on the horn, and the other holding a cigarette.

Had we not been wedged in the car with the luggage, we would have been hanging on for dear life. Just as I was nearing complete exhaustion and falling asleep with my neck crooked in a very unnatural fashion, we pulled into a gas station. It was the 4:30am prayer call and our driver had to pray. I came close to following him into the prayer room to pray for my own sanity but I know I would have fallen asleep in the prostrate prayer position. After 15 minutes, he returned to the car, only to lock himself inside and slump over the wheel for a 20-minute catnap while waited outside enjoying the scenery of a dark gas station somewhere in the hills of West Java. That ten-hour night made it on the top five “worst nights” list.

There were also extended periods of intense boredom and waiting – for transport, food, waves, you name it. We would rotate through the same activities – reading, listening to music, playing cards, or just staring off into space. Our cumulative gin rummy scores for five months topped 12,000 each.

But, back to the staring off into space part. How often do you sit and stare off into space in your life? To truly stare off into space seems to stretch time. And not the kind of staring into space that you might think. Not like in a yoga class when you are desperately trying to zone out while your instructor rambles on and on about how your mind is like a monkey. When the monkey doesn’t have anything to do, he swings distractedly about from tree to tree, much like your thoughts. But, ah, give the monkey something to concentrate on, like moving a million buttons from one bowl to another, one at a time. That “calms the mind” of the monkey. I hate the monkey story, mostly because I like seeing monkeys swinging around in the trees and also, I’m pretty sure if you gave a bowl of buttons to a monkey, he’d dump it on your head.

I look forward to my next trip so time slows down again. But the question remains, can we stretch time all of the time?

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