Over the past seven years, I’ve lived in seven countries at seventeen or more different addresses (and that doesn’t include travel for races!). It’s been stressful, exhausting, and frustrating but I’ve never specifically chosen to move, it’s always been a by-product of chasing opportunity. If you want to learn a lot about yourself, pack up and move every six months. Throw in the language barrier, an impossible budget, and four bikes and you’ve got a curriculum that will challenge and change anyone.
When we lived in Holland, I was welcomed into Edward’s team accommodation after failing to find even a remotely affordable apartment in the tiny town where the team was based. It was an abandoned YMCA-turned-hostel and there were 40 residence style rooms and a commercial kitchen. There were 4 bathrooms and 4 showers and at one point there were over 15 other guys living there. Typically, it was just Edward’s six other teammates but we at one point had a visiting junior team and a few other young interns in town for work. It was bizarre. It was dirty. And when my father came to visit and saw our living conditions he sternly instructed me to never tell my mother.
Edward and I have shared a single bed for a total of three seasons. In the summer months, we would take turns sleeping on the floor atop a yoga mat. Our first double mattress was so bad we called it “the canoe”. We shoved so many pillows under the sink hole but nothing really helped and it took six months of chiropractic care and physiotherapy for my back to feel normal again. That was the least of our worries in that house, though, after a piece of plaster fell off the roof and we discovered there was mould floor to ceiling.
In one team house Edward had to occasionally “guard” the door when I showered, the same showers I would literally throw bleach into because someone used to pee in them every night. I’ve had showers with such bad water pressure I could barely wash my hair, a house that had a maximum of two minutes of hot water, and a shower with just the hose…no shower head. One shower was so tiny we had to keep all the shampoo and soap outside on a tiled bench next to the shower because you couldn’t bend down to pick anything up. I still don’t know what was weirder, the doll house-sized shower or the tiled bathroom bench.
Another season, team accommodations were dorm-style staff quarters at a hotel. I was very thankfully the team was happy for me to stay but the hotel management wasn’t too thrilled. Management used to announce room inspections but only the day, not the time, and just to avoid any trouble, I would pack up all my stuff, stash it in the team car and leave for the entire day (read: 6 hour bike ride). For the savings on rent, it was worth it.
I’ve lived in dorm rooms, basements, a ski chalet, a stone cellar, a wooden shack, and the odd “normal” apartment. I’ve lived in cities, a mountain top, by the beach, lakeside, and in the middle-of-nowhere. I’ve shared a bar-fridge with five other people, I can cook a meal on a bed, and I’ve kept my food in a cardboard box. I’ve literally lived out of a suitcase or unpacked onto the floor when we haven’t had a closet and hand washed clothes and dishes in the bathroom sink for months. I’ve learned to live with any housemate–from the chronically depressed guy who wanted to show me his colonoscopy DVD and the guy who hid dirty dishes in the communal closet, to Ethiopians who hardly spoke any English, and the rare gems that became friends.
It hasn’t all been rough (and I’m thankful I’ve experienced so many different beautiful places) but my bar for what is liveable is pretty low after seven years. Usually, we haven’t had much choice between where we’ve needed to live and what we can afford but, as Edward always tells me, “we’re like the cockroaches of moving; we can survive anywhere”. Well, after a good clean we can survive anywhere. On the other hand, I have a heightened awareness of what I really need. Our golden rule is that if it doesn’t fit in the station wagon, it doesn’t go.
It’s never been the living conditions that have made things so challenging, it’s been the constant moving that has been tough. Thing have finally changed, however, and we’ve finally decided to stay in one place. After a six month search, we officially have an address. Our new place is a small apartment, walking distance to the gym and pool. I can run and ride from the house and we are two blocks from a lake with a swim line. We have a full fridge, an oven, and a real bed! We even have a closet so for the first time in seven years we will be able to fully unpack (and not onto the floor). I won’t have to keep all my kitchen stuff in a box or my toiletries in a travel bag. It’s all way above my typical standards, dare I say normal. Dare I say it’s not just a house, we finally have a home.