In March 2010, we were leaving. Definitely leaving. I imagined that word in capital letters – six years of London life packed into three tea crates and left without a forwarding address. We would be fools to send our stuff back home, we figured. Sure we were headed towards New Zealand, but anything could happen in the interim. How can you begin to imagine the end, when you’re still haven’t left familiar roads?
With anywhere a possibility, our continual cycling chatter often strayed to the liveability of countries we passed through. We free camped in beautiful spots and wondered how long we could stay undetected. We fell in love with Spain immediately, declared Sarajevo almost perfect, were close to setting up camp alongside Russian log cabin builders in the Altai region. In Istanbul we hunkered down for winter in a rented apartment crammed full of our landlady’s books and showed the secrets of our new city to passing Warmshowers guests. For six months our ever expanding concept of home shrunk back down to a tiny one bedroom flat with our own family of stray cats outside our ground floor windows.
Whenever we were on the move, we found the concept of home resonating each time people invited us into their kitchens and gardens – a feast efficiently prepared by six pairs of hands in a noisy Spanish farmhouse, a garden groaning with capsicums fried in an outside cooker in Bulgaria, a whole community gathering to meet us in the single room of a Mongolian yurt. We learnt about edible plants on rambling walks, admired abundant crops designed to feed families through the whole year, and picked our own wild figs, mint and thyme.
By the time we’d reached southern China, New Zealand was tantalisingly close and we were firm in our resolve to give our home country a go. While we were invited into others homes less frequently, we started staying put in South East Asia for longer ourselves. In Laos you would have think we’d stopped altogether, cycling breaks of a few days were woven between settled week long stays in guesthouses. I typed my CV up with an eye on the slow moving Mekong, wondering if I’d ever job hunt again in such a stress-free environment.
We knew things would change, but I don’t think we were quite prepared for the speed of our transition back into the working world. Justin had a job offer in Wellington within a week and my own employment was secured within a month. Any hopes of a gentle reintroduction to New Zealand via quality time with friends and family was replaced by trips up and down the country with a car packed to the roof with reclaimed possessions, visits to department stores to source a bed, television and heater and trips to charity stores to fill the gaps in donated furniture and kitchenware. We were quietly amazed about how much stuff, time and money regular life required.
Re-entry into society was completed with the swift purchase of our own house in June – a pretty modest two bedroom workingman’s cottage dated back to 1911. We were eager to get our first vegetable garden dug by October, and built a raised garden bed to combat the sandy soil in our neighbourhood. We planted beans, tomatoes, capsicums and lettuces enthusiastically, but forgot to factor in the effects of Wellington’s frequent gale force winds.
Despite some early plant losses, there is something stabilising about the very act of putting a garden in: that digging up the lawn, pulling together a raised garden frame, piling bags of compost on top of the sand filled soil. Home is that gritty feeling of soil between your fingernails for sure.
The commute from here to work takes us along the Wellington bays to the inner city harbour, a ride just long enough for daydreaming. We’re slowly acclimatising to staying put for a while, with the knowledge that we have all of New Zealand to explore. Still, on those rare crisp clear mornings as we’re cycling into work, its hard to shake off that craving to just head out for a bike ride instead.