Abby Steel hadn’t seen the inside of her own apartment in over three years. There hadn’t been any need to come home really, so she just…didn’t. Life on the road kept her busy and building her own business had taken way more time and energy than she’d anticipated.
She looked at the compulsively clean apartment and was thankful, once again, that her sister came and dusted the surfaces once a month. It wasn’t as if she’d left it dirty, but time and dust had a way of accumulating in equal and inevitable measure. Lauren had also been nice enough to retrieve her mail from the post office when it no longer fit in her box, getting rid of all the junk mail and opening anything that seemed important. There wasn’t much. Abby had very few bills outside the business, most of which were handled remotely.
At this point, she was thankful for familiar surroundings and the chance to recharge. Three years was a long time to be away. It was time to reconnect with her roots and what was left of her family. Riding back from Alaska, many miles had been spent dreaming about long showers and luxurious baths with unlimited hot water. The grime that had built up under her fingernails would need to be soaked and scrubbed, her hair untangled and brushed—things life on the road rarely allowed for.
It would be good to see Lauren and her nieces in the flesh, instead of over video chat. She was excited to share stories of her adventures and show off her pictures, but seeing them would have to wait until she had energy for endless questions from curious little girls. She sat down in one of the comfortable side chairs in the living room with a glass of water and a stack of mail, but barely got through half of it before falling asleep.
When she woke up, the sun had dipped below the horizon, shrouding the apartment in a kind of eerie glow that reminded her of sunsets on the Spanish plains just outside Sevilla. She closed her eyes and let the scene linger in her mind, colors bursting across the open sky with the sweltering summer heat billowing up inside her leather jacket. Riding there had been nothing short of magical. A lot of places felt that way.
It was the magic that kept her on the road. Each new place had its own set of challenges, its own set of charms. The challenges faded, but the charms remained, decorating her memories and dangling from her heart.
For Abby, the constant drifting from place to place created an unusual sort of routine that was comforting in its uncertainty. Lauren thought it was crazy, never knowing where she was going to sleep or what dangers might lurk around the corner, but one person’s danger is another person’s thrill. She and Lauren, they were wired differently, that’s all.
California’s Napa Valley had been home for thirty-three years, but she left the small-town of Calistoga with an insatiable need not just to see, but to fully experience all the world had to offer. By that time, she’d already seen most of the US, and a good portion of Canada, but those had all been shorter trips—three weeks at most.
Culture shock becomes something of a nonissue when you’re constantly changing cultures. Eventually, the life she’d left in California was no longer the ruler by which she measured all of her other experiences. Instead, her old life became just one of many other foreign concepts, all blended together in a beautiful mélange. Living abroad had changed so many of her perspectives that her old worldview seemed distorted by comparison.
Leaving the confines of the continental United States and choosing to travel the world turned out to be a polarizing decision. Three years later, she felt like a completely different version of herself.
Being back in her apartment, surrounded by all the furniture and artwork she’d left behind was its own sort of culture shock. They were her belongings, of course, but all the things she thought she would miss had eventually faded into the background. They’d been replaced by people, places, smells, and tastes of a life too vibrant and varied to be contained within four walls.
The life she had built before was there on the walls and in the furniture, blended into the color scheme. They defined a person she wasn’t sure existed anymore. A part of her recognized it, was even comforted by the deep familiarity, but an even bigger part wondered if it was possible to go back in time. Time seemed to have gone on without her.
Maybe coming home wasn’t a matter of choosing now or then, but rather, allowing the new to inform the old, and the old to make space for the new. If her life was a tree, like the sadhu in India had told her, then she could never hope to become a different tree. The new experiences would instead have to be grafted onto the trunk, eventually growing together into a unique expression of life.
Steel Journeys was a company she had founded all on her own, most of the seed money coming from her inheritance. Lauren had used her half to build a house in the suburbs and was raising two beautiful daughters. Abby chose to pay off debt, buy a condo, and set off on the adventure of a lifetime. She’d spent the past three years researching the best roads, the best views, and the best options for lodging in dozens of countries, taking copious notes and pictures, giving out business cards, and forming business relationships.
Cataloging it all had been a labor of love, born of passion and drive. Each new place had its own rugged truths waiting to be discovered. She filled several paper journals with notes and sketches, cross-referenced with digital galleries.
She couldn’t recall precisely when the idea for the business hit her—it was somewhere between Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City. Like a reformed smoker she suddenly, desperately wanted other women like her to experience the freedom she had seen, felt, heard, smelled, and tasted. That was the dream—to form a women’s motorcycle touring company and take it global.
“What, the entirety of the United States isn’t enough for you?” Lauren had asked.
The answer was simple. It wasn’t enough. It would never be enough. Wanderlust was embedded deep in her DNA—so deep, in fact, that she wasn’t sure where it ended and she began.
Lauren was happy being a soccer mom and living in the suburbs. She was a card-carrying member of the PTA. The only cards Abby carried were a Visa and her gun permit. She didn’t carry her gun internationally, of course, but traveling solo had taught her a thing or two about self-protection. Tucked into remote corners of the globe, far from big cities and police patrols, the rules were different. Street smarts were learned, and she had learned plenty.
It was a long time to be away, but for Abby, home was a concept, not a place. To some people, home might be wherever you laid your helmet, but for Abby, home was wherever she laid her ass. Home was her saddle, which for the last three years had been a Harley, and before that a BMW, a Triumph, and a custom café racer she’d rebuilt with her dad. Home was the wind in her face and wide-open spaces tucked under an expansive sky.
Home was the road.
This homecoming—this apartment—was one more stop along the way. It was the obligatory reset point on a map filled with pushpins. Except, of course, this room was tastefully decorated, with a comfortable bed, down blankets, and the best sheets money could buy. That bed was calling to her, and the rest would have to wait.
She woke the next morning with dirt on the sheets and little balls of dirt surrounding her jeans, which were hastily removed and crumpled up in the corner like a one-night stand. Perhaps a shower might have been the better choice before bed, but it was still a hundred times cleaner than most of the places she’d lived recently. Dirt was a part of life, and the only thing it damaged was a person’s sense of expectation. She put it out of her mind and padded toward the bathroom.
The requisite extra-long shower, complete with a double scrubbing of her hair, ears, fingernails, and feet took longer than strictly necessary. Lauren was expecting her, but after three years, what was another thirty minutes? When she felt reasonably satisfied with her results, she filled the bathtub with lavender-scented Epsom salts and soaked, with the sun streaming through the glass block window.
As she soaked, she listened to pan flutes and meditation music that reminded her of some of the temples and monasteries she’d visited in India. She only spent a few weeks there, barely scratching the surface of just one region, and there was still so much to see and explore. Indian people were very kind to her, and she admired their deep spirituality. It was definitely on her must-return list.
She emerged from the bath and pulled a long, clean, white T-shirt and some yoga pants out of the closet. “Well hey there, guys! I haven’t seen you in forever!” She paused for a moment, staring at the sheer volume of clothing neatly arrayed before her and shook her head. After surviving for so long on two perpetually wrinkled shirts and one tank top, it all seemed so extra.
Still, it felt amazing not to be wearing jeans or leathers, and not sweating into a helmet for a couple of hours was a delicious thought. Most of the time she wore her thick brown hair up or braided to keep it out of her face. She decided to blow it out a little and let the ends curl up naturally with some leave-in conditioner. She’d barely noticed how long it had become. Upon closer inspection, it was desperately in need of a trim, but split ends would have to wait.
Life’s sense of urgency was something that had mellowed over the miles. Time was slower in other parts of the world. Life was about the experience. Relationships. Good conversations. Being present in the now was something she was still working on, but an area where she’d seen a hell of a lot of improvement.
It was satisfying to think that some measure of growth and change and wisdom had come over time. Everything had fallen into place, and she was finally doing exactly what she wanted with her life. When she opened the back door to let in some fresh air, even the birds sounded happy. The way the morning was going, nothing could harsh her mellow.
Except maybe her ex-boyfriend showing up at her door.