So finally, after a whirlwind year of adventures, I’m home. It’s very strange, and a little surreal. But I’m getting ahead of myself. There are still some Aiken tales to be told…
The final days in Aiken were filled with lots of riding and lots of packing, and lots of memories that I will treasure always. I had my final jumping lesson on the Rock the day before I flew out, and it was an absolute blast. Having not jumped since our event at Full Gallop almost 2 weeks prior, she was (predictably) raring to go, so we blazed through a small course and worked on angling a 3ft oxer, which was wicked fun. We came round to jump the first jump in the angled line for the last time, and about 6 strides out I realised that one of the dogs was sniffing around for a mouse under the rails. Naturally, I yelled at her to move, and when she didn’t, I yelled some more. It soon became clear that this dog wasn’t moving, so there was nothing much to do but just… jump! And jump the dog we did. We kept it short and sweet and I spoiled the Rock with a bath and some mints afterwards.
I was relieved to wake up on my last morning in Aiken and discover that my nightmare of my coach forgetting to take me to the airport was in fact just a nightmare. My final day was spent with a morning hack, more packing, and then a trip to town for lunch at the Aiken Brew Pub – always enjoyable – and a frantic rush to post a large box of stuff home. Finally I returned back to the farm to shower and pack my last few things. The time to departure ticked closer, so I decided to call my coach, who had taken some health papers for signing in Columbia, to see if she would be back in time. Turns out the nightmare wasn’t totally over – she’d got a flat tire and was only just leaving the mechanic – and wouldn’t be able to make it back in time. Frantically, I called one of our other working students at our other barn who (thank goodness) came through and rushed me up to Columbia. My relaxing departure became a rush to say goodbye to people, ponies, and puppies before I jumped into the car and we set off, only just making it in time. But of course nothing ever goes smoothly for me, (remember racing for the train in the Netherlands?) and my suitcase was too heavy. So began the rearranging of things across suitcases, and I was eventually forced to (reluctantly) concede that I couldn’t bring my helmet, the GPA that was gifted to me by Rolex rookie Rachel McDonough. It will remain in Canada (I hope – you guys better not have abandoned it somewhere!) just in case I do venture back…
So I then waited for my coach to meet me outside the airport for the final, hardest goodbye. It was a poor substitute for the half an hour goodbye I’d expected to have in the car, but on this occasion, it was what life threw at me, and there was nothing to do but shed the tears and make the most of a brief, very teary goodbye. We both expressed our gratitude for everything the other had done or given them, and then we stood in silence. There were no more words to say, just tears, and more hugs as I reluctantly headed off to board my first of three flights home. I fought back tears as I passed through security and waited at my gate, calling another friend to say goodbye. Then it was off to Washington, sitting next to a lady reading the most southern magazine I’ve ever heard of – Garden and Gun. Oh yes. It’s a thing. After a few hours and a bite to eat in Washington, I boarded the first of the long hauls – a 13 hour flight to Abu Dhabi where yet again I had issues with the weight of my carry-on luggage. I should have just taken the opportunity to board through the business class lane when offered – ain’t nobody weighing their luggage. As soon as dinner and drinks were served it was time to pop the sleeping pills… and just as they were taking effect, the man next to me started up a conversation and a photo tour of Abu Dhabi and Dubai via his iPhone. Sleep was cut short on that plane. Arriving in the UAE for my final stopover I did the last bit of present shopping, tried (unsuccessfully) to find a powerpoint to charge my iPhone before realising I didn’t have the right adaptor anyway, and wrote a quick blog entry before getting on the last 13 hour flight home.
Going the long way round does have its advantages, although small compared to the amount of time I had to spend in aircraft. I got to see the edge of Australia – the pristine sandy beaches of Western Australia, the bare red desert of the Red Centre, through to the rolling mountains of the Great Dividing Range, all the way to the blinking red light on the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. As the plane touched down I could barely believe my trip was over. In a daze, I made my way through immigration, baggage claim, and eventually customs before emerging on the other side. Seeing my family waiting at the arrivals gate I nearly fell over my suitcase down the ramp – no, seriously, if there hadn’t been a wall there I would have faceplanted it in front of everyone – and I rushed straight into the arms of my mother, father, and sister.
Having been home almost a week now, it still feels odd. I feel a little like a foreigner in my own country. I’m constantly aware of the accents of the people around me, everything looks and feels small, and I’ve finally crashed and succumbed to the inevitable post-travel illnesses. I’m subject to the same sort of questions from everyone, which although it’s great people are interested in my future, does get tiring, and I turn on the windscreen wipers every time I go to put my indicator on. Then there’s the comments on my changed accent, the fact that my dog has suddenly become a pensioner, and the realisation that after living out of a suitcase for a year, I couldn’t possibly need all the STUFF that’s in my bedroom. I can’t get used to milk instead of cream in my coffee, I can’t get used to not drinking filter coffee, and everything is built so close together that I feel claustrophobic. I can no longer sleep in past 8am, I get an itchy feeling not riding and exercising and mucking stalls every day and get hopelessly bored around the house whenever I take a break from cleaning, organising, and job-applying.
Being home is great, but it’s different, and it’s going to take quite a bit of time to settle back in and figure out what the next step may be… stay tuned if I ever figure it out!