Today makes 71 days since I arrived in Oahu, Hawaii by rowboat. 71 days, just as long as I spent alone at sea.
These 71 days have been a huge challenge. If you’ve reached out and I’ve been slow to reply, don’t take it personally. It’s me, not you. Ironically, stepping onto dry land began one of the most ungrounded periods in my life.
The good news is I recently moved into a new mountain home, I’m getting back into my health and wellness routines, and I’m feeling better every day.
In this post, I aim to give you a glimpse into my transition back to land. If you want to know what I learned from the row, and how I’m integrating those lessons, stay tuned – that will come in a future post, but for reasons you’ll see below, I’m not giving a date for that yet.
Phase 1: This isn’t so bad! (Hawaii, September)
My transition back to land began at 6pm, September 11. I stepped off my rowboat Moderation and onto the guest dock at Kaneohe Yacht Club. My legs wobbled back and forth as I took my first steps. I looked like a wave washed ashore.
And in a way, I was. Water was my world, ensuring both my survival and ever-present danger. But now I was thrust back into a world where we take water, and many other things, for granted.
Shortly after arriving, someone on the dock mentioned the club has a pool. A pool? I wondered aloud. I turned to my sister in law and stammered, You can’t just cage water...
I meant it. Seeing water in a pool felt like seeing my mother in jail.
As my wave-self washed further ashore, I had several more experiences where I saw everything anew for the first time, like my first taste of fried chicken later that evening. Still standing in the yacht club parking lot, I smelled the take-away box again and again, relishing the scent and letting my mouth thoroughly water before sinking my teeth in. When I finally did, I nearly fell over it tasted so good.
From sweet taro dinner rolls to crunchy chips and spicy salsa, every food was a new delight. And they were all superb… for two days.
But these novel experiences, which commanded my absolute presence at first, began to lost their luster almost after the first bite. Soon I stopped paying attention to the crunch, and the crunches stopped being so loud even when I did.
But no bother, right? Of course, new foods won’t stay tantalizing forever, showering isn’t nearly as amazing the second time, etc. And I had a lot to do to prepare my boat for storage, plus cleaning and sorting all my equipment.
And all the while, my family and I stayed at a rental house right on the ocean. I slept to the sound of waves outside my bedroom patio, making this phase of my transition feel easy. I got choked up saying goodbye to Moderation in Hawaii, but little did I realize how much harder the transition would become back on the mainland.
Phase 2: Leave me alone! (Colorado, October)
I returned to Colorado the first week of October and my transition to land became far more challenging.
I found myself highly sensitive to traffic, noise, conversation, and music (including music I used to like). I sensed some constant background annoyance that no one else seemed to notice, as if some invisible person was constantly yanking out my hairs, one by one. Overstimulated by basically anything besides nature, I was Grumpy McGrumpster, disinterested in talking with almost anyone, and yet also not taking care of myself enough to enjoy my own company.
At this point, I’d been off the boat nearly a month, and I had fallen fully out of practice with the mindfulness and presencing habits that defined my 71 days on the water. On land I got swept away in tasks – important stuff, like cleaning and storing my boat in Hawaii, and then searching for a place to live in Colorado, but still distractions from being intentional with my raw experience of transitioning back to land. With each day, I fell more out of touch with what it means to be present, in myself and with my surroundings.
And no surprise, I was physically exhausted. No matter how much I slept, I woke up feeling like I was hit by a bus. Saggy bags under my eyes, day after day. Tendonitis in my hands, which is worst in the morning, so I began each day with pain. To make matters worse, I lacked an exercise routine to help myself feel good.
While taking breaks from my work or to avoid conversing, I began checking my phone constantly. Soon I was full-swing in habits like scrolling through Facebook and political news, wasting energy in passive activities that bring no joy. And somehow, although I was already staring at my phone or computer, I could hardly make myself do something productive like respond to email, reply to a text, or do anything else that requires focus.
Hanging with friends didn’t do much good. I was glad to reconnect, but my mind was elsewhere. At one small gathering, the music and conversations (even with just a handful of people) reminded me of that invisible person plucking out my hairs, so I wandered to a nearby water fountain. As I sat down in the grass and watched bubbles float by in the moonlight, the noise in my head calmed down. My mind flooded with memories of staring into the ocean, watching bioluminescence dance or starlight shimmer across the waves.
Sitting with that fountain was a rare moment of peace in October. It reminded me that my connection to the sea is not so strained or far away. I just need to slow down and remember it.
Rapé (ceremonial tobacco) reinforced this insight even further. I was at a friend’s birthday but feeling withdrawn and distant, even from myself. I needed to find a way to clear my mind, and as soon as the rapé entered my system, a flash of relief washed over me: the ocean is touching the same ground as I am. Our feet are doing a high-five! We’re not so far apart now, are we? This simple, even obvious realization helped me feel so much lighter and is as helpful today as it was in that moment.
Phase 3: Finally grounding (November to present)
In early November I moved to Nederland, Colorado, a former mining town 2,500 meters above sea level and just 30 minutes outside Boulder. Away from the noise of traffic and surrounded by national forest, I began feeling better as soon as I moved in.
Life suits me well here. I do cold plunges in a nearby creek, which winds through the meadow below the house. Its icy water soothes my body and brings clarity and calmness to my mind.
I can run as far and high as I wish on dirt roads and mountain trails. Wildlife abounds – I saw moose on each of my last two runs – and I’m loving running, especially after sidelining this passion while preparing for the row.
And mindfulness comes easiest to me while moving. Several times while running recently, I successfully noticed when I imagined a “future conversation” rather than being present to the moment. A rare experience when I’m not in motion, awareness helps me choose whether to continue down an unconscious path or to redirect my mind to the beauty around me, or to the meal I’m eating.
I’ve been focusing on getting 8 to 9 hours of sleep each night, and after doing this for the past 8 weeks, my fatigue is finally dissipating.
I resumed my morning routine from before the row: 15 mins stretching, 5 mins meditation, and a quick gratitude reflection – all before looking at my phone. This helps me set my mind right before the day begins, and gives my body time to wake up naturally. I wish I remembered this in October, but for some reason, it took me a while to remember this trick.
Socially, I’m still not my old self. I don’t feel ready to hold space or support others the way I used to. Doing so requires a level of focus and effort that seems out of reach for me still. But I joined two men’s groups to help process my transition back to land and re-socialize. And although the first meetings were exhausting and wildly overstimulating, with each week, I’m more able to participate and show up like I would like.
And lastly, my housemate and I are both aligned in co-creating a health-focused sanctuary. We’re filling the house with plants, planting an indoor herb garden, doing cold plunges, and share passions for exercise, sleep hygiene, and bio-hacking. After 6 months of living out of suitcases and a very small boat, it feels great to land and nest in my own home, and I’m grateful to make a new friend in the process.
Phase 4: What’s Next?
I don’t know exactly! I’m allowing myself time and space to find the new me. This transition back to land isn’t a transition back to my old self. It’s an integration of what I’ve learned. And integration is slow, it seems – at least what I’m aware of. Putting my personal growth into words remains a challenge, and is something that I hope to better articulate in the coming months.
I still have moody days and get overly frustrated by small things. The health and mindfulness habits I’m building this month are still young, so I’m doing my best to remain intentional and remember to do them each day.
I am definitely not ready to return to work, where I’ll have back-to-back meetings and long days on the computer. That’s more than I can handle both mentally and physically; just typing this blog post caused my tendonitis to flare back up. I plan to begin working again in January, which is also when I will begin doing limited presentations on Zoom about the row…
With ONE exception! For you, my crew mates who made the United World Challenge possible, I’m offering a zoom presentation and AMA. I so deeply appreciate your support, gifts, patience, messages and all the blessings you’ve given me to make this project possible. And it will be my pleasure to share some stories from the ocean with you and answer whatever you wish to ask me.
So please mark your calendars: Sunday, December 6, 10am MT / 5pm UTC. Details to follow soon.
With love from Nederland,