In case anyone is confused, I'd like to just to make two things very clear: First, I am indeed back in these most United of States. However, this is by no means the end of the journey.
As has been mentioned before, long-term travelers often see their itineraries continuously changing or abandoned altogether. My original plan had the trip concluding in Quito, with a plane ticket home in May just in time for my sister's upcoming wedding as well as a certain someone's college graduation. This also seemed appropriate since the motorcycle I originally intended to buy--some cheap Chinese/Korean off-brand 200 or 250cc that no doubt would have just barely made it across the Andes to Ecuador--would not have been capable of the long haul all the way back to Texas.
Then came the month at the cold, windy southern tip of Chile. While I made unforgettable friends and shared priceless experiences with them, it was still disheartening to have lost an entire month searching for a new motorcycle to no avail. When a bike finally did come my way it was more bike than I was expecting; a Kawasaki 650cc work of art, not a knock-off "Ronco" or "Zongshen".
Divine will, cosmic fate, or probability. It doesn't matter what universal paradigm you subscribe to, because in such a moment you have to objectively acknowledge that your plan is no longer in keeping with reality. It was time to adapt, so I ponied up the extra dough, threw my bags and myself over top of the black beast, and resolved to ride it all the way back home to Texas.
Other plans change, too. Job schedules and general complications of planning a wedding outside of the country meant my sister's wedding date retreated further and further back, so the May deadline was no longer relevant. Mehreen's graduation date obviously wasn't going anywhere, but she came to see me in Cusco in March. It seemed that I had more time than I thought.
Then my sponge got saturated. Allow me to explain.
Donovan "Swamp" Gravlee, the madman behind the awesome and hilarious (though not kid-friendly) Enduroearth.com, wove this marvelous metaphor about a feeling that most people on long-term trips have encountered at one time or another but often don't know how to describe:
I struggled with this exact sentiment the last few weeks before leaving Ecuador. I felt the seed of it germinating on particularly tough days in the mountains in Perú, but by the time I had reached Ecuador there was no denying it. The thrills that used to wait around every curve in the road eventually failed to stand out from the countless other miles day after day. I passed once-photoworthy vistas without a second glance, and people I would have gladly swapped stories with before were now given a nod and a "gracias a Usted" as I climbed back on the bike and continued down the road.
I wasn't homesick. No, far from it. The inability to enjoy the trip like I used to stemmed from somewhere else. I made conscious efforts to regain a sense of the high of adventure and discovery on the road. Of course, forcing yourself to derive gratification from something is almost always futile, and those moments of failure to appreciate these objectively amazing places and people I was encountering only left me with guilt. The scenery hadn't grown any less breathtaking, the people less friendly, the women less beautiful, nor the food less tasty. How could I come all this way just to get tired of it?
In retrospect--and with the aid of Swamp's astoundingly astute metaphor--I now see that my "sponge" was simply saturated. Four months of riding across a continent had filled me to the brim with so many memories and emotions that I no longer had the capacity to truly appreciate the originality and excitement of each new experience. It didn't seem fair to myself nor the places I visited to have some internal mental obstacle prevent me from taking it all in.
As it happened, my arrival in Quito was within a week of the original date I had planned to end the trip, which meant I still had the plane ticket if I wanted to use it. Coincidentally the bike was due for a visit to the mechanic and several parts needed replacement, which would have meant at least a few weeks of downtime anyway.
In the end--as you already know--I decided to come home. There are family and friends to hug, a girlfriend's college graduation to attend, and a dog named Kaiser who is long overdue for a good round of fetch. There is also a blog to catch up on, so anyone worried that this is the end can rest assured that more is on the way.
I'll be making my way back to Ecuador this summer to finish the ride back to Texas. After all, we're only halfway there.