The comfort of the crash after returning home after an extended gallivant

I remember arriving home at my parents’ house after a major cross-country road trip as a teenager. I’d been gone for months. It was enough time that the buzz cut I’d proudly left with was more of a pixie and George W. Bush was officially elected president a second time.

My head and heart full with so much new experience, I walked into my childhood kitchen and felt my head spin. The familiarity was dazzling. The warmly lit room was both bigger and smaller than I remembered; somehow not quite right in its proportions. I was struck by how much older my parents looked — did they look like that when I left? Is it possible that having a teenage daughter who enjoys gallivanting across the country ages you?

My vision stopped swimming pretty quickly, but the experience stuck with me. It’s since repeated itself, even as my definition of home has expanded and changed over the years.

The pattern is similar: I’ll go on a backpacking trip. I’m not sleeping terribly well, because even the cushiest inflatable mats are still basically skinny ground rafts and to boot I’m terrified of bears. I spend half the night with my heart in my throat convinced I hear an ominous snuffling outside. But, no matter how much sleep I get, I always manage to get up in the morning, pack up my things and my tent, make and consume coffee and food, and spend the day walking.

Nonbackpackers may idealize it as a carefree nature meander, which much of it is, but the days are also chock-full of the minute tasks of daily living that take longer and/or require more intention. Example: cooking dinner isn’t about rifling through the cabinet and seeing what’s there. Usually it’s preplanned, because I don’t want to needlessly carry extra weight. The stove isn’t just waiting for me at camp. I need to find it in the depths of my pack, set it up, get it going. If it’s raining, I also need to either find adequate tree cover or set up a shelter so I can cook and eat.

See? A pretty manageable task multiplies into many smaller ones. I’m not complaining. I’m illustrating that backpacking takes energy and focus, and often that’s on limited sleep.

Still, the days balance themselves out. I’ll exhaust myself from poor sleep and walking, and then catch up one night with a full, sound, bear-less rest. Feeling tired doesn’t faze me like it might in “real” life; the world is beautiful, full, and requires my full presence and attention to navigate.

It goes on like that for as many days as I am able. Then, I have to/want to head back down from the mountains back to the creature comforts of home, in all of its fully mattressed, roof-over-my-head, pantry-filled, applianced glory.

The arrival back home is inevitably a mix of delightful, indulgent, disorienting, and fully exhausting.

The thing is, I don’t think it’s being home that’s exhausting. No: it’s restful, and that’s just it. All of the stimuli I’ve taken in while backpacking; all of the being “on,” the troubleshooting, the long days walking, and the fitful sleep finally finds a place to settle in and recoup. When I arrive home in all of its familiarity, it’s confusing in how absolutely clean, indoors, and comfortable it is; something is signaled to my brain that it’s time and absolutely OK to crash.

So, I do. Usually it’s a lethargy that lasts a day, but let’s be real, Monday acts as an extender.

That’s the other thing: the kind of exhaustion I’m talking about is only compounded by sitting in front of a screen. I can keep it going for a pretty long time when I’m active. But something about the staidness of a professional environment, the type of concentration required of me, only multiplies that kind of fatigue from being outdoors or on the road for a long period of time. I find it very difficult to shift back into focus.

I just got home to Alaska for the first time since I left on April 25. With the exception of two nights in a basic roadside hotel outside of Chicago, I’ve slept either in the back of my truck or in my new trailer all the way through mid-July. I’ve schlepped myself and my belongings from Alaska to Ohio, across the country through the Southwest, and back north.

The journey was amazing. There are countless stories, which will come out in time. I’m still processing it, still letting it all sink in.

And let me tell you, when I arrived home? That disoriented, vision-swimming, sense of arrival back to someplace painfully familiar and yet unseen in so many months was acute. I opened the door to my own house, walked in, and was stunned by how big it felt — this is, again, from someone who has been living primarily in a truck or trailer for months.

During the trip itself, between April and July, I never once felt that sense of overwhelming exhaustion. Throughout the journey I balanced work, play, family and friends with the all-encompassing daily task and puzzle that is trailer ownership, maintenance and logistics. I indulged in nights with Netflix when I had adequate internet, but for the most part I would go for walks, bike rides, hang with friends and family, or have quiet nights reading. Life on the road felt like the right mix of novel vs. comforting.

Yet now, back at my house in Alaska, I’ve had an overwhelming sense of exhaustion. I think it’s just the hard come-down after so many months away, and feeling soothed by familiarity.

Periods of rest are important. But, by being away and having so much consistent and stable energy, I think I’m hitting on something that really works for me. I’m still in recovery mode right now, because that’s what my body and brain are telling me is important, guided by my comforting and familiar surroundings. Longer term, though, I think my last big gallivant has taught me something important about what it is that actually gives me energy, and I think it has a whole lot to do with movement, novelty and dynamism in my everyday life.

I’ll let those periods of “crash” come as they will.

Alli Harvey

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.