A Nomad Searches for Home
Of the nearly two dozen place I’ve lived or visited in the past four years, I’ve spent the greatest amount of time in Bend, OR. I “based” there for 22 months, though I was actually there for only about 11 of them. I was “home” for zero of them. On March 31st, I left for good.
Moving around as much as I do, I’ve gotten used to reflecting on places as I see them in my metaphorical rearview mirror. I consider everywhere that hosts me to be a place of learning, but I don’t really expect any place to hold me. It’s been four years since I felt like a place was home. Which leaves this nomad wondering what home actually is.
As I’ve explored over the years, I have identified four main components that make me feel like I’m home.
1) I must connect with the actual physical place. This means the landscape, the town, and my own dwelling.
2) The place must support my identity, which I now summarize as “semi-pro skier, semi-nomadic adventurer.”
3) Similarly, the place will support my direction. In recent years my goals have included continuing to progress as an athlete, grow my businesses and brand, and continue developing long-term systems for a lifestyle of travel and adventure.
4) Home supports relationships that provide growth, joy, and love.
I have found that if I have at least three of these pillars, I can create a tripod of stability, and from that stance I can safely explore the fourth component, no matter how uncertain it is. I can even balance on only two pillars, but if I stay in this state too long my happiness begins to take a hit.
That’s what happened in Bend.
Bend checked boxes 2 and 3 quickly. I originally came to Bend to train, and though there were several bumps along that path, it did generally support this aspect of my identity and direction for the first year. I found Bend to be a good launching point for other adventures, and a place where it was possible, if not necessarily easy, to continue building my businesses and brand.
Traveling as much as I do, I have come to rely on connections with my friends and family who may not be where I am. I came to Bend with strong relationships in place elsewhere, even though I didn’t know anybody in town when I arrived. After three months, I made three good friends, and my circle expanded from there until I had a small community with whom I was extremely happy.
However, I had particular trouble connecting with the landscape. This is in part because the Cascade Volcanoes, for whatever reason, held little mystery and intrigue for me. These stark peaks, standing alone, always made me feel as if I was on the mountain, not in the mountains. And while one of my friends in Bend made the argument that it was a great place to live because of all the other places you could get to from it, I did not see this as a good reason to stay. If Bend’s best quality was that it was near somewhere else I’d rather be, then I think I would rather live in that other place.
My troubles were compounded when I lost a large degree of ability to explore the landscape: I partially ruptured my Achilles tendon 3 weeks after arriving in Bend, and it became much more difficult to explore the forests and mountains when I couldn’t go on foot. One of the reasons I stayed in Bend as long as I did was that I wanted to give the running trails a chance before I pronounced my judgment on the place as a whole.
Regardless of the reason, I never did connect with the landscape. I found the Deschutes river both inaccessible and ineffectual. It did nothing to change the fact that I was living in a nearly seasonless desert, it’s flat water stretch through town offered no solitude, and I had neither the equipment nor desire to run its whitewater. The lodgepole pine forests were shockingly bare of undergrowth, in part to reduce the risk of forest fire, and I found that the forests held no mystery. It never rained.
I personally did not click with the landscape.
But still, I stayed. For 22 months. In reality, I was happy for only the first 6 months or so. After that point, my relationship sector took a hit that it would ultimately not recover from. I was balancing on a wobbly two legs. Those two legs supported me for another 10 months, while I stubbornly stuck it out, believing I could heal my relationships, or that I might eventually connect with the land. But I was living on borrowed time. By the time I left, Bend was supporting zero of my four pillars. That was too long to stay.
Interestingly, I think the Achilles injury had a lot to do with the demise of both my relationships and my identity. Being a runner has always been a huge part of who I am, and when I finally made friends in Bend, I couldn’t run with them. I couldn’t go with them when they explored the landscape, both in Bend and in the surrounding region. I felt that my new friends didn’t really know who I was.
And not running put too much training emphasis on rollerskiing, which is one of the reasons I ended up with Overtraining Syndrome and am now facing the question of whether or not it will ever be possible to return to ski racing. So long, identity and direction! Yes, I think it’s fair to say a lot rode on that injury.
In retrospect I find this unsurprising, because these four pillars are interactive. When ski racing fell apart this year, the rest of my identity and direction crumbled easily. They had borne such a heavy load while I struggled with relationships and landscape. Relationships that existed outside of Bend also felt an increased burden, in part because I struggled to feel safe in my relationships in Bend, and in part because I had now been based there for so long that I’d spent little time with friends and family elsewhere. When a few key relationships from outside Bend faced tremors, it felt like the world was ending.
So when I left Bend at the end of March, it is not an exaggeration to say that I felt like I had no sense of home left at all. I knew I was unwelcome in Bend. I had no physical place to call home and nowhere from my past that I really wanted to return to. Part of the aftershock of recent events was that I faced yet another serious change in my romantic relationship. I had no idea if I would ever be able to ski race again. I felt so exhausted that I didn’t even want to travel anymore.
The “happy ending” to this story is that, for some reason, I feel optimistic. The places, relationships, identity, and direction I’ve left or been forced away from are in my rearview mirror now. You may wonder what’s next for me, or which pillar I plan to rebuild first.
I think first comes identity. With many other things temporarily stripped away, this is a natural point at which to assess whether the identity I’ve been living with is still aligned with who I want to be. My current assessment is that it’s close, but a couple things need to be shifted or added. The priority now is to give myself the resources I need to gain clarity on this question.
I imagine direction will follow. Only time will tell me what comes next with skiing, and that’s a major piece of my direction. I am practicing patience.
Relationships will wait. It’s important to recognize the need to be gentle with ourselves, and I want to honor the need to give myself some time. All nomads spend some time alone, and this can provide true regeneration. This pillar saw trauma in the last 15 months; powerful relationships with good people experienced (and are still experiencing) pain. It’s not the way I would have chosen for it to be, but we all know that sometimes these things happen, despite our best intentions. Rebuilding at a safe pace will be important in finding home again.
So what about place?
The longer term plan is to continue looking for that place that feels like home. For the immediate future, I am doing a bit of an experiment. I’m going somewhere unrelated to my identity, my direction, and my relationships, at least as I have known them in the past four years. I don’t want to say where I’m going, but the goal is to wipe the slate completely clean. I’m going to a place I knew before I started wandering, a place that has changed as much as I have in the intervening time.
The rebuild starts now, at the place where this all began.
As always, you can catch all my writing, training tips, and updates on Instagram and Facebook @ CarlyOutside_TheBox, and keep in touch via email. While I drift, I’m working on some new projects. If you’re interested, you can check them out:
I’m working to get an essay published. It’s about my experience with what I’ve termed “Wanderlove,” the fear of love that has prompted me to wander so extensively for so long. If the essay is published, you can be sure I’ll broadcast it as widely as I can, so stay tuned. If it’s not, you’ll see it here on the blog.
I’ve been taking a deep-dive course on building my online brand into something that reliably produces great content and connects me with like-minded individuals. It’s stretching my creative powers, and that feels great.
I’m accepting new athletes for one-on-one coaching. Check that out here. I’ve been working with a half marathon, providing a free training plan to all entrants, which has been a TON of work, and super rewarding.
I have a new Instagram, @energetic_beings. It explores the spiritual side of the experiences I’m navigating. I’m particularly excited about this, so please follow along if this resonates with you.