Suddenly, out of nowhere it seems, we have only ten days left in our trip.
Shit. How did this happen? Just yesterday, we were setting out on our bikes, taking those first few tentative pedal strokes away from Bangkok with ten weeks and all of Southeast Asia ahead of us. No more. Now we're left with than less than two weeks to get our fill of all those things we've grown to love, and check off the remaining things we hoped to do. Suddenly, time matters. Suddenly, days count. The end draws near.
It's been looming on the horizon for a while now, the end has, but has now finally emerged from it's cocoon in our future and hatched full-grown into our present, completing it's inevitable and necessary backwards life cycle. Unfortunately, it didn't morph into a mesmerizing butterfly that fluttered gracefully (if a little erratically) into the past. Instead, it's hatched as a neurotic moth that won't stop slamming itself into our heads repeatedly, skittering every which way all around. It refuses to leave us alone, and is making damned certain that we don't forget about it for even a moment.
The event that prompted the hatching was last night, when we pulled out our maps and started planning the rest of our route. We quickly arrived at the only-slightly-unexpected-but-still unpleasant realization that we are still a long way from Bangkok and there are a lot of beaches between there and here. We counted up the days to stop at the places we wanted, added a few layovers for end-of-trip relaxing, and were astonished at how big the number was. Comparing that number to the calendar in front of us did not arrive at a favourable outcome.
To make matters worse, we then realised we have even less time than we thought. We checked our flight info, just to be sure we knew how long we had left, and found out our flight is two days earlier than anticipated. In a heart beat, we lost two days. Instead of two weeks, we have twelve days. And we need at least a couple of days in Bangkok to sell our bikes and take care of last minute errands, which leaves us at ten. Ten measly days. We've been looking forward to our southern swing along the coast of Cambodia and Thailand since we first imagined a bike tour, and now that it's here, we don't have enough time to relax and enjoy it. Curse our overambitious selves!
We're now stuck in the awkward no man's land between carefree travel and a return to the home we left behind. It's a transition from the world of unimpeded exploration into the narrower world of involuntary compromise. We can no longer follow any path to see where it leads, but now have to cross out half the options before we even begin. I hate doing that. It's my least favourite part of each trip, an in-between time where my mind is split between both places but present in neither. I want to enjoy the last bit of our travels, to continue to immerse myself in the experience of being abroad, but it's impossible not to start thinking about the excitement and demands our return home will bring. Where will we live? What kind of car should we buy? How will we make money? What should we get Dennis and Heidi for their wedding?
These questions push themselves to the forefront of my mind and not even the most beautiful tropical paradise can push them away. How am I supposed to let my mind be still and soak up the peacefulness of my surroundings when I'm about to step back into the maelstrom of a life I've tried my best to ignore for almost a year? Don't get me wrong, it's a good life, but I left it behind on purpose, on my own terms. I want to return to it on my own terms as well, but this always proves difficult. I want the butterfly, but I get the moth.
Perhaps a better way to look at the time we have left might be as a separate trip from the one we've been on, a sort of "vacation addendum". Lots of people go on ten-day vacations and consider them big trips, which they actually are. Our friends Dan and Amy just left the other day on a ten-day bike tour through Austria. It's a real vacation, complete with an itinerary, flights across the Atlantic, even bikes, and they're happily posting excited updates to Facebook every chance they get. They're taking advantage of every single moment and wringing every last drop of adventure from their time away. We, on the other hand, are lying listlessly in our hotel room, ruing the dreaded 6 am wake up call from Abby's watch since it means getting back on our bikes and pedaling into the sun and heat.
Maybe we do need a vacation. Maybe that way we can trick the moth entirely and avoid the transition thing altogether. Yeah, let's officially call our trip at an end, and embark on an immediate (and adjacent) ten-day beach-biking vacation starting tomorrow. It's a bit sudden, I know, but we could use some spontaneity in our lives and it will be nice to get away from all of the stress we've been under. It' a chance to kick back, relax, and not worry about the things at home. We have the right setting, but I fear it doesn't work that way. And besides, I'm too excited to get home. Instead, I guess I'll just have to settle for debating the merits of a Toyota over a Honda as I sip my dollar margarita and watch the ochre sun slide slowly into the turquoise sea. Bummer.