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Thursday, December 12, 2013

One year after getting home and two years after leaving....

December 12th has been a significant date in my life since 1986.  That's when my sister Shari had her first child, Becky.  Becky came into the world 14 weeks early (her mother and others who know her well might be of the opinion that it's the last time she was early for anything!) and weighed just two pounds six ounces and her weight dropped to as low as one pound 14 ounces.  That was in the dark ages of preemie care, and it was a miracle that she survived and has become the beautiful woman she is today, as she celebrates her birthday with her husband Logan. 

12/12 took on additional significance in 2011 and again in 2012.  In 2011, it was the date that we left our suburban lives in Madeira to take our then 11-year old twins on a year-long trip around the world.  The experiences we shared over the subsequent twelve months have been well-documented in the various posts of this blog, and I thank everyone who has read them and everyone who has shared some kind words about them.  The trip was amazing in every sense of the word, and gave the four of us lifetimes worth of memories. 

We didn't necessarily have it planned this way, but our return back to Cincinnati happened on December 12, 2012.  As we tried to figure out when to come home from the South American part of the trip, the one thing we knew was that we wanted to be home in time to enjoy the holidays.  So getting home at least a week before Christmas was a goal.  We wound up deciding to leave La Paz, Bolivia on December 11th, flying through Lima, Peru to Atlanta where we would catch our 44th flight of the trip, a relatively brief one to Cincinnati, landing at CVG on the morning of the 12th day of the 12th month of 2012.  12/12/12.  But you probably figured that out on your own.

Being back home was great, and it was fantastic to see our family and friends again.  We were bombarded by questions about the trip. The most frequent: favorite place and best food.  Answer to both, at least for me:  San Sebastian, Spain.  Annie agreed the best food was San Sebastian, but her favorite place was Cambodia. We never EVER got tired of talking about the trip.  It was fun to run into people who had followed the trip on this blog or through Facebook or both and talk in person about our experiences.  One of my favorite early encounters upon our return was at Kroger in Madeira.  Annie and I went there together one weekday morning and were stopped by a woman wearing a Madeira hat and a Madeira pullover and she said it was great to see us, and what a great time she had following the trip and she went on and on, which was very enjoyable.  That continued for about five or ten minutes and then she said, "well I'll let you two go, great to see you!"  We said "thanks, great to see you too!" and as we turned the corner and walked down another aisle Annie and I looked at each other and each said we had no idea who that was!  But we enjoyed our momentary pseudo-celebrity status.

Over the next few months as we settled back into life in the suburbs, we got to tell our story over and over again.  And now, a year later, it has become this fantastic thing we did.  We are, and (at least to us) forever will be, the Family That Took A Trip Around The World.  It's something of which Annie and I and the kids are pretty proud.  At the same time, we try to be as humble as possible about it, and I still feel very fortunate that we were able to do it.  

December 12th will also always carry some sadness with it.  It was on December 12, 2012 that Annie's step-brother Hank Muehlenkamp died after a battle with cancer that lasted about a year and a half, much longer than anyone expected.  He was only 51 when he died, (the same age as Annie and I at the time) and his diagnosis, which came before we took the trip, is one of the reasons we decided to launch the adventure that we did.  We were glad we got home in time to make it to his funeral and see his family and share so many wonderful memories of Hank. 

But here we are on December 12, 2013.  I find myself with extremely mixed emotions.  It's great to be back in familiar territory, and be able to part of the lives of family and friends and be in our house with our stuff.  A year on the road is an unbelievable adventure filled with so many different once-in-a-lifetime experiences.  But at the same time it wears on you.  We stayed in over one hundred different apartments, hotels, houses, aparthotels, condos etc. and after all that time and changes of location, you get a little weary of trying to find the things you need to get through the day.  No whining here, I would do it again if I could.  However, familiarity is something you really miss when you don't have it for as long as we did.

Once this December 12th is behind us, there will be a little emptiness that I think Annie and I and the kids (to a lesser degree) will feel. For the past year, almost every day we have thought back to what we were doing a year ago.  We have a calendar we  picked up early in the trip in New Zealand where we kept track of what we were doing along the way.  It was fun in April of this year to look at the date in 2012 and say "Oh, this is the day we went to Great Wall of China," or "Look it's that date in May that we took the ferry from Croatia to Italy," or "Hey, it's that day in September that we wound up going to see Bayern Munich play at Allianz Arena!"  That calendar will always be a part of our lives, and we can forever recall that we were in Croatia on my birthday for instance, but there was something really special this year looking back to what was going on 365 days earlier.

One of my (minor) fears about leaving my job on the radio and being gone for that year was that people would forget the name Bill Bangert.  Before we took the trip, when mentioning my name to, say, a stranger at a store or on the phone after being on the radio in Cincinnati for 17 years, I would occasionally get a hint of recognition.  Gotta say, I enjoyed that.  I was afraid that one year away might erase that.  Turns out that hasn't been the case.  In the past twelve months I've come across a lot of people who in some instances think I'm still on either WEBN or WLW.  Others have mentioned hearing some of the reports I phoned in to WLW during our time on the road and saying they enjoyed being able to be part of the experience.  I'm thankful for that, and love hearing that.

The most recent example of that happened today.  I happened to be home when a UPS truck pulled up to the end of our driveway this afternoon.  Our dog Sophie was out, and while she barked away, I opened the door and got her inside.  As the driver stepped from the driveway to the walk leading to the front door he said "Are you THE Bill Bangert?"  I said "I'm not sure there is a "THE" Bill Bangert, but if there is, I guess that's me."  He said, "I loved your trip and hearing your reports on WLW.  You guys were very brave to do what you did."  

Wow.  Hearing that from a total stranger is mind-boggling.  To think that what we did starting two years ago today had an impact on anyone's lives other than our own is difficult to comprehend.  We did what we did because we wanted to do something adventurous with our children while we had the health and money to do it.  Plus the kids, who turned 12 a month into the trip, were at the perfect age.  It makes me so happy and fills me with such wonder to have people say they were inspired by our trip.  That includes a woman who was battling a recurrence of breast cancer in her life early in our trip, as well as a family that is right now doing their own Round The World trip after hearing us talk about it on the radio.  I never ever imagined that sort of thing being something that came out of our trip. 

The envelope that the UPS driver delivered today contained something that would take us on our next adventure:  Tickets to the Bengals/Steelers game Sunday night in Pittsburgh.  Over the years of going to Bengals games in Cincinnati, I envied the hordes of Steelers fans who would invade our town waving those damn Terrible Towels.  This past Sunday I saw the end of the Steelers game in Pittsburgh, (a loss!) and noticed there were plenty of empty seats at Heinz Field, or as my niece Jenni calls it, Ketchup Stadium.  I got curious and checked out ticket prices on StubHub for the Bengals game there this weekend and found more that 4700 tickets being sold for as low as $30.  After talking it over with Annie, we decided to take the plunge and make the trip on Sunday with our son Ben.  Some people have told us that showing up at Ketchup Stadium in Orange and Black might be more dangerous than going around the world, but we feel we're up for the challenge.  It doesn't hurt that the Bengals are 9-4 and the Steelers are 5-8.  Not sure we would be making the trip if those records were reversed.  One thing we've learned is that life is all about timing.

Being willing to take on a challenge is probably the one thing I hope that we come away with as I think back to what began two years ago today and ended 365 days ago.  I'm proud that we were able to make the decision to take a chance with our lives and do something different that all of us would remember and would impact us forever.  We wanted our kids (and ourselves) to see that there are a lot of different ways that people live their lives and that we have so much more than so many other people in other parts of the world.  And we learned (as cheesy as it sounds) that having "stuff" doesn't equate with happiness.  

All four of us are different people than we were on December 12, 2011.  We are certainly different people than we were on December 12, 2012.  What will we be like on December 12, 2014?  Who knows?  Not me.  But I'm looking forward to finding out.