On November 19th, I finally made it home after setting out running from Rome on September 12th, using a pilgrim route called the Via Francigena to pass through Italy, Switzerland, France and the UK. While two months and seven days isn't enough to forget what Normal Life things feel like (getting the tube, seeing friends, speaking English), it is long enough that you return a changed version of yourself.
I had been warned before my departure for the trip, that I would get post-adventure comedown and I had braced myself. However, I found nothing of the sort. I lunched with friends, I worked out, I embraced being in the same place every day and not having to lug my life around on my back.
Post-adventure life was wonderful (and still is) but inevitably, the change that your mind has to make in order to operate when no longer on the road will create a moment of disconnection, a moment in which you realise, with an edge of disappointment, that you are coming out of Adventure Mode.
11 days after the end of my 1250 mile run, that moment arrived, when Normal Life Me jarred with Pilgrim Me and I suddenly understood what the conversion back to normality meant. The only way I can think to describe it that you have to re-learn how to live under the surface, instead of on it.
To journey alone for a long time in strange lands using just your body to power you is to enter a mental space previously unknown. With hours to yourself to contemplate or even to not think at all is a spiritual experience. There is nowhere to hide from yourself. There are no social engagements to distract you, no train delays to divert your emotions toward anger, nothing except the simple sensation of moving your body forward and heading towards an end goal.
Your emotions live very near the surface. Arriving at a town where you thought there was a shop to buy food and finding there isn't one might have annoyed you at home, but on a journey of such magnitude, it prompts devastation. Kindness showed by a stranger overwhelms you with gratefulness. Overwhelmed is definitely a word I threw around too haphazardly before my trip. Only now, do I truly understand what it feels like to be overwhelmed.
I've never spoken aloud to the sun so much, to thank it for joining me. It was the one thing that could dictate the mood of a day and seeing it in the midst of a cold grey day would bring tears to my eyes. Birds flying overhead was another real winner. A bird flying into a strong wind and not getting anywhere would set me cheering for it. "Come on! You can do it! You're stronger than the wind!"
It is a very visceral experience, to journey alone.
To return is to slowly disconnect with those things. Buildings block out the birds. You forget to look at the sun. You no longer rely on the kindness of others so, by default, have less cause for gratefulness. You can't remember what it feels like to be moved to tears by the donation of a biscuit when you were hungry. You are sinking back below the surface. This is the comedown I was warned about.
Living near the surface is an emotionally exhausting place to occupy. It hurts. But it is honest. It is the most honest You you will ever be.