I’ve Just Come Home From 2 Months Kayaking At Sea… This Is How It Feels Returning to Civilization
Have you ever taken a trip into the wild and struggled with the thought of returning home?
Every. Damn. Time.
Whether it’s been two hours or two years.
And after over 15 years of world travel, 40 countries later, I still feel torn about coming home — Even if I’m coming back to good people, a great job or a suite of future-planned adventures.
I have my own ways for dealing with it, but I’m also curious… How do you deal with coming home?
My name is Shane Ross and I adventure for a living.
I’ve done it for as long as I remember. I was raised wild.
I’ve had all the outdoorsy jobs. Led international expeditions. And on holidays (in the rare event I give myself one) I plan the wildest adventures I can think up.
I could never get enough of nature.
And as we all now know, nature is healing for your mental health.
So it’s a no-brainer to spend as much time in nature as possible, right!?
Across the world the COVID-19 shockwave crippled businesses; my own RAW Worldwide expedition and photography business was no exception.
With international travel restricted from March I was anchored home for the year. No income, no home of my own, limited freedom.
So I sat there, at my parents’ place, throughout our (pretty reasonable) lockdown, desperately thinking of a way to break free…
And in April, it came to me.
I decided to spend the next six months planning the most epic adventure I’d ever attempted. And it grew bigger with time.
From September to November 2020, I planned to paddle 1,000km, unassisted, up the remote east coast of Cape York — Aiming for the northernmost point of the Australian continent.
In a sea kayak.
With minimal supplies.
Living off the land, and the sea.
It was to be the best experience of my life, the simple life, and I wouldn’t want it to ever end.
The Life Cycle of An Expedition
You’ve been frantically prepping all night.
It’s 0330 and, with a soreness that runs through your whole body, you climb tenderly into your bedroll.
Your alarm goes off minutes later and you reach out to swipe it off, in the same moment realizing you can’t. It’s already 0500 and today is THE day.
Today we launch.
You spend the next hour hurriedly packing everything you unpacked the night before into your truck again, catching glimpses of your two co-paddlers yawning after their full night’s sleep, fresh and ready to roll.
Thankfully, we need to wait for the sun to rise first. You’ve got a couple hours up your sleeve.
You drive in convoy down to the boat ramp, kayaks loaded on top.
We arrive at a cafe and put our last coffee order in. The wind had been blowing hard all night and one of the boys yells out “The Bureau have just issued a strong wind warning… It’s 30–35 knots out there, plus gusts on top.”
Despite your support crew trying to convince you not to go, how can you not!? You’ve planned six months for this very moment.
And so after another two hours at the boat ramp packing your kayak, you’re ready, albeit nervous, to point your faithful vessel out to sea for the next two months.
You strap in, paddling first out into the misleading calm of the river mouth, known territory to a resident 5-metre crocodile and who-knows-how-many-others.
And then you see the sea.
The waves look mean, crashing ruthlessly.
And still you paddle out into it, knowing in that moment you’re as prepared as you can be coming into this.
Seven hours later, utterly exhausted, having been thrown from the kayak amidst raging seas and with barely enough energy to paddle a moment longer, you make the final few strokes and your kayak touches bottom for the first time all day.
Feeling sore all over again, but elated at having made it to that night’s camp, you climb gingerly from your kayak and collapse on the shore. You’re no longer fearful of crocodiles, you’re just too tired.
Then you think… I have another 55 days of this ahead of me.
Fast Forward Six Weeks
You’re 700km down and you no longer feel the daily pains of paddling. You’ve caught up on sleep, kinda, and your mind has adapted to your new hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
You live every day like it’s your last. If you don’t gather enough food from the wild on a daily basis, to feed your hard-working body, you’ll collapse.
But you find it pretty easy to do so now.
Rice is the only staple you brought and you’re getting very creative at making it taste different at every meal.
You’ve had hard days, plenty of them.
You’ve run out of water and had to live on coconuts. Broken critical gear, including thousand-dollar cameras, your paddle and your fishing rod.
And you’ve had close calls with nature, from crocodile and shark encounters to sun exposure and gnarly weather.
For the first 4–6 weeks time seemed to actually slow down. Even three days in it seemed the start of the trip was months ago. The end felt years away.
But then you passed the halfway point and time seemed to do the opposite. Days blended into one another and the end seemed days away.
Now is the time reality starts to kick in again…
Can you feel it?
Preparing Your Mind For the Return Home
I know we’re meant to be grateful, live in the moment, and appreciate the freedom and opportunity we have in this life.
I’m forever grateful and I’m acutely aware of the opportunities I’ve had throughout my life.
Regardless, that last two weeks before a trip ends is always tough.
I find myself so immersed in the everyday life of the survivor that I don’t want to go back to supermarkets, busy roads and coffee dates.
We’ve gone two months without any communication with the outside world, it’s been absolute bliss.
No mention of COVID, bushfires, drought or climate change.
No alarmist, negative media.
Just the simple life.
Wake up. Get the fire going, make coffee. Break camp, pack everything back into the kayaks. Paddle for 4–6 hours. Unpack kayaks, set up camp. Go fishing to catch dinner. Light the fire, cook dinner. Chat around fire. Go to sleep.
The days are full, very physical and can be mentally testing as well.
But it’s the best life I’ve ever lived.
So coming home is a battle.
Crossing the Finish Line
After reaching our end destination in week eight — The Tip of Australia — I fought the overwhelming temptation to point my kayak north again and head for Papua New Guinea… and instead let my kayak glide up onto the sand one last time.
I was returning to a broken car that would cost thousands to repair, a dose of 2020 debt and a now-unproductive business to tend to.
I had to come home. The trip was over.
I felt crushed, trapped.
Like a caged lion.
A feeling I’m all-too-familiar with, but still struggle to overcome.
It’s now three weeks later that I’m writing this and I feel like writing about it is the best thing I’ve done yet.
Perhaps that’s one part of the growing process post-adventure?
One thing I haven’t been afraid to do yet is tell friends how I’m feeling. Especially if they’ve asked, or checked in to see why I’m a little “off”.
I feel like I need to be honest, ask advice and admit I need to talk this out.
I feel like sitting in this feeling for a while too, embracing the down days as much as I would usually embrace the good.
And I’m not ashamed to be doing so.
It feels like it’s part of the recovery process… To deny those feelings and push them under the rug would be counterproductive. And I’ve had some great advice about embracing the feeling, acknowledging it’s there and then moving on when I’m ready.
I think I’m almost ready, though something is still missing.
Do I need to seek mental help, talk with a complete stranger about why I feel this way? Honestly, I’ve booked in to see someone and I believe it will help.
I also think it’s okay to feel like this.
You’ve just experienced two extremes of life…
- The simple life of the adventurer-survivor, whose main goal is to survive the elements, elude predators and gather enough sustenance from the wild to survive.
- The simple life of the modern-day human, who wakes up in a comfy bed, in a safe, dry home, drives to work in a vehicle that requires minimal energy to operate, gathers food from a one-stop-shop and can access healthy drinking water from the simple turn of a tap… Who keeps that food from perishing in a pantry/fridge/freezer, socializes via a wall-chargeable device, and is privileged to be able to sustain this lifestyle simply by trading hours of work for a reliable income.
And you literally experienced each moments apart.
One minute you were paddling a kayak in dangerous waters, the next you were driving back to your safe, well-provisioned home.
So it IS perfectly normal to feel shocked on your return to society, to find it tough to trade one lifestyle for another.
Even if it was only a one-hour bush walk.
I might be saying this to you while still struggling to re-adapt myself, but you need to be bold enough to embrace and sit in those feels for a little while.
Be prepared to call yourself out eventually though, because sitting in that space for too long is also counterproductive.
Talk to your friends and family about it.
Write about it.
At the same time, don’t feel the pressures of society to share about it straight away on social media… but don’t delay here too long either, as your followers will lose interest and forget about your epic journey.
It’s all about finding the balance, though that will differ for everybody.
And if you feel that seeing a mental health advisor would be beneficial, so you can explain how you feel and why, and potentially delve into those feelings and reasons more, don’t be afraid of seeking help.
And sure, planning the next trip always helps…
Just don’t forget — What you experienced is special to you.
Write about it, keep a diary, reflect, daydream, share. There’s nothing quite like time in nature.
Where to Next?
I’m curious to hear if you’ve had this feeling, and how you deal with it… So please share your experiences with me, across whichever platform you like. Maybe we can help each other out.
For me, it’s pretty abruptly time to snap out of it and start looking for income in the form of a full-time job.
I’ve been freelancing for so long now that’s going to be a battle in itself — Rewriting my resume, looking for jobs I’ll actually be passionate doing and ideally doing that job somewhere I’ll be happy to live for a while — But it’s time to leave the sanctuary of nature and adult-up.
Ugh, I hated writing that.
Sadly it’s true.
I won’t be entirely letting go of the freelance lifestyle though, and hope to keep writing, developing unique, mind-blowing world expedition itineraries (even if they’ll be based in Australia for now) and building my photographic and video portfolio for the future…
The world is your oyster if you choose to look at it the right way.
I just have to admit for now I’m done with eating oysters fresh from the wild, with a kayak by my side…
Metaphorical oysters, I’m coming for you.
To follow my journey and hear more about our epic 2-month sea kayaking odyssey, follow on Instagram @shanerossphoto :)