Re-Imagining an Island.
The soft staccato of rain popped amidst the freewheel's purr. My fresh-gripped bars sponged between my knuckles and the mist that curtained the Olympic Peninsula glowed gold in the dying day. I leaned forward, inhaled the musk of newly-soaked pavement, and peddled harder. Amidst the polyrhythms of the road, one mantra echoed over and over in my head:
“This feels like home. This feels like home.”
If you’d asked last July what I missed the most about Victoria, getting caught in a rainstorm 30 kilometers into a bike probably wouldn’t have been my answer. Earthy espresso, heavily-hopped beers, and drinkable tap water were all more likely contenders for that title. Yet in the two months since I stepped off a plane at Vancouver International Airport, it was moments like this that hit me the hardest. Up until now, I'd felt surprisingly underwhelmed.
When I boarded that flight to Vancouver rather than Cairo, I was far from confident in my decision. I’m still not sure I made the right one. The daily call-outs for journalists stationed in the Middle East contrasted sharply against the empty media boards back home. Stories no longer surfaced with each trip to the coffee shop. When I spotted a photographic face across the street I no longer had my well-practiced approach lines with which to coax them into sharing a portrait. I felt lost in my own hometown.
It was a funny thing to grapple with given that only nine months ago, reporting on my hometown was something I did for fun. I even ran a blog, Mosaic, to celebrate the seemingly endless potential of the CRD, too often branded as the city of ‘newly weds and nearly deads.’ Had I forgotten what had caused me to fall in love with Victoria in the first place? Perhaps after so many months spent modelling my life off of atlases and National Geographics, I’d developed nomad's hyperopia: I couldn’t enjoy what was around me because I was too focused on what was—or in this case wasn't—up ahead.
All that seemed to vanish in the whirlwind of pedals, cogs, wheels. Vanished as I pressed my palms into the drop bars and realigned my spine to meet the gentle arc of the road. I wasn’t sure why exactly this moment stood out. I’d ridden plenty in the past month. I’d rented countless bikes abroad. Maybe it was a false significance: a trick of the visceral—the frigid slap of rain, the surge of endorphins, and the caustic cries of undertrained quads? Or maybe what I was witnessing was a connection to a more subconscious familiarly? For six years I’d cycled everywhere in the rain-soaked city—to school, to work, to interviews and events. Maybe it was that for the first time since arriving home, I felt like I was heading somewhere with purpose?
Coming home so last minute, I'd missed the opportunity to reconnect with people ahead of time. I had no job. No significant plans. Moreover, for the first few weeks I actually avoided making them; I wasn’t sure how long I would stick around and as a result didn’t want to secure too many ties. But within the first month, that sense of limbo caused me to grow bored. I was used to heading somewhere new every other day—to forward momentum in the most literal sense of the term. I needed to reintegrate that back into my home life. I needed to satisfy that restless pulse created by the road.
That answer presented itself in the form a backpack. But rather than the quick fix of another airline cabin, I decided to search for a healthy middle ground. I went north. I fished Tofino, hiked Ucluelet and dove into the lakes outside of Port Alberni. I pitched a tent on my Aunt’s beachfront property in Qualicum. I remapped my bike route to explore back roads and kayaked after harbour seals in the unfamiliar bays of the west island. I went out of my way to visit the parts of my island I hadn’t seen before and was surprised just how much there was to explore.
People say that travel teaches you to appreciate what you have back home. In my opinion that statement is only partially true. Travel teaches you—end sentence. But rather than simply rekindle your love for something familiar it forces you to either abandon it or reexamine it as something new. When you’re used to waking up early to uncover the secrets of a new city every day, those behavioural patterns become embedded. You begin to carry them with you wherever you go.
Back home is a misnomer if you refuse to see it as a step backward. Why bask in the comfort of familiarity when you can flirt with the unfamiliar that’s right beneath your nose? I still cringe when I pass the tourist streets of Victoria, but I've begun to walk the other streets as a tourist might: open-eyed and ever-curious. Always eager to see what’s hidden up ahead.