Starting A New Life & A New Business (Behind The Scenes: Part 3)
Part 3: Experiencing Reverse Culture Shock
My first adventures had ended, and it was time to leave South Korea to reconnect with family and friends after a whole year away. Of course, I was able to Skype and call various people during my time abroad, but it isn't the same (as we now all know from having to resort to Zoom chats during our recent quarantines and lockdowns), and I missed all the hugs that I had gone without. Luckily, I didn't have to wait long to get a few after moving home in August 2006.
I caught up with family and friends, stayed in Taber, Alberta, where my mom and my stepdad lived, and tried to decide what to do next.
I had heard people talk about culture shock, which I had also felt after a few weeks in South Korea, but I had only heard of reverse culture shock from my fellow travelers. Experiencing it was altogether different. I questioned all my beliefs, life-long-held thoughts, and everything I had previously unconsciously done in my home culture, including my ways of living. Everything felt out of whack, and it was hard to explain to others. I was rootless, uncertain of what to do, and felt somewhat isolated from those I had previously felt so close to before my time abroad. Everything was an adjustment, and all I could do was slowly work through it. It was strange to struggle to fit into North American culture again. I pushed through and kept a smile as I persevered. I tried some new things, like fishing.
After a few weeks, my cousin called me to ask if I could help him with a short-term position working for the Heart & Stroke Foundation Big Bike Adventure: https://www.heartandstroke.ca/how-you-can-help/events/big-bike. My job was to drive a 12-passenger van with a trailer carrying a 30-passenger, 2-ton big bike. The van was 18 feet long, and the bike trailer I was pulling was another 20+ feet long. I made my way to Calgary, Alberta, where I started my journey to my first stop at Grimshaw, Alberta (815km). This drive took me 12 hours, partly due to a severe thunderstorm along the way and mainly as I was driving a bit slower than the speed limit to ensure everything made it in one piece.
Stopping for gas was a challenge. During one very eventful stop, I had easily pulled into the station from the highway, but after filling up, I realized I had no way of turning around or driving forward. I had to back out to avoid traffic coming and going from off the well-traveled highway. I happened to take some videos, although somewhat pixelated.
Do I make it? (I wish I had someone recording the whole experience).
But here's the result (please note: stay focused while driving, don't drive & record a video).
By the time I arrived in Grimshaw, Alberta, I was exhausted, and it was so early in the morning (around 3 am) that it didn't make sense to get to a hotel, so I slept in the van. The first ride was supposed to happen around 10 am, so I had time to rest. I have to say that it cooled down quite a bit in the van during those early September hours. The next challenge was getting the bike off the trailer for the first time and pretending I knew what I was doing. I had grown up driving motorbikes and vehicles up onto trailers for my dad, so I wasn't too worried. I just had to make sure I was dead on when the 2-ton bike hit the ramps. The tricky part I learned is if there aren't close to 30 people on the bike pedaling, it is tough to get the momentum. Somehow, we made it work, though. I have never pedaled so hard in my life...for a job. After several successful rides with some fantastic fundraisers, I started driving to Grande Prairie, Alberta (172km and 2.5 hours drive, now southbound).
On my drive, I crossed Dunvegan Bridge at Peace River and couldn't believe the sight. I even saw a moose.
Getting to Grande Prairie, I was blown away by the enormous stacks of stripped trees as high as a building and as long as two or three football fields. They were immense. I have to share a picture.
I piloted a few more fundraising celebration bike rides with various non-profits and felt more comfortable. It was great celebrating each group's hard work and philanthropy, even in the rain and cold. The ride was in a bit of a valley area, so we had to make a run up a hill, and then on the way down, I had to ensure we had the bike lined up perfectly with the ramp of the trailer to use the momentum to get it up much easier.
I was able to drop off the big bike, trailer, and van in Edmonton on the way back (driving a total of 1,500km over the four days), took a bus ride to Lethbridge, and then got to Taber again. Another job well done. :)
Still unsure of what I wanted to spend my time doing, I decided to try to work through the difficulty of reintegrating into society by visiting a friend in Jacksonville, Florida, in October 2006. Seeing some new places took my mind off my struggles for a while. We made our way to Disney World (my first time), Daytona Beach (riding the world's second tallest and the world's fastest slingshot ride), St. Augustine (founded in 1565), crossed into Savannah, Georgia, and checked out an old lighthouse on St. Simon’s Island (St. Simons Island Light). I also climbed a tree.
Without formal paperwork to apply for a job in the US, I apartment-sat and a dog walked my friend's dog during the next few months. I even took a surfing lesson in shark-infested waters (one lesson being enough).
I also traveled to Jamaica for ten days, losing my camera on the way there, along with most of the photos I'd taken up to then (the reason I didn’t add pictures of my time in Florida and Georgia). I think of all those lost memories frequently. It was nice to get away from an Alberta winter, though.
From here, I traveled back to Florida and then to Washington, DC, just before Christmas in 2006, to spend time with some friends and explore the United States' capital. I could see all the added security surrounding most areas after 9/11.
I was back in tourist mode. I stopped at The National Archives Museum to see the Declaration of Independence. The guards and tour guides all told us that it was okay that we took photos, as long as the flash was off. Apparently, one of the signers, Lyman Hall, is a relative (unconfirmed, but likely a brother of my 6th great-grandfather, Christopher Hall) and I wanted a picture as proof. Well, I thought my flash WAS off...but it still flashed. Damn, disposable camera! I was so embarrassed, and the photo was useless.
I left pretty quickly after that. I couldn’t have been the first “flasher,” and I'm sure it had a protective glass. I ended up finding a copy of the signatures online to confirm (below).
After booking it out of the National Archives Museum, I went to visit Honest Abe's statue, who made me feel better.
From DC, I spent New Years' and my birthday in the Cayman Islands with my sister, Trina. She had lived and worked on the island for nearly a year, and I was the first person in the family to visit. If you plan to head that way, stop by the Grand Caymanian Resort (www.grandcaymanian.com) and contact my sister Trina Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell her Mitch sent you, and she can give you a special rate for Shoebox Scanning. After a few years apart, it was great to give her a big hug and experience her new life and environment. We had a great time catching up.
We checked out all the tourist spots:
Rum Point (home of the Mudslide frozen drink, not sure why I had a beer); and
Bodden Town Pirate Caves (with an authentic Pirates graveyard).
We did so many things in the three weeks I spent there with her. We took in as much of the relatively small island as we could (in between her work shifts), and I helped as much as possible. One of my favorite memories was helping her and her boyfriend transfer some small inflatable boats from one point of the island to another across the Caribbean Sea.
We each piloted a boat over the 6.5km stretch of water. The first time it was great. The water was calm, and we could speed over the vast North Sound (yellow line of the image below).
The second time crossing, however, the winds picked up as a storm rolled in. We kept up our speed to get the boats across before being stuck in the central part of the storm. I remember pushing the throttle to the max to keep up with the others and hitting wave after wave, launching the boat high into the air and coming down hard. I was partly concerned about the wind flipping the boat over and partly about falling out from the impact. But again, I persevered and made it. The jumps & speed were exhilarating, but the need to get across kept my heart pumping faster for a different reason.
It was sad to leave my sister (and all the other creatures I had met, including the tiny frog I found above), but I knew I had to figure out what I would do. The trips and time away had made reintegrating a bit easier, and I didn't feel the same overwhelming feeling of reverse culture shock. But, I knew I wasn't entirely done yet with traveling. Some people call it the Travel Bug..., and I had it.
Thanks for following along. I hope you've enjoyed my adventures and stories along the way. Let me know your thoughts, and stay tuned to Part 4: Time to Go Abroad Again.