Repatriation for an Expat

Some Things Never Change

I was tired of looking out windows of aircraft… bored to the bone with the whole flying experience. Even in the Business Class comfort of the ‘80s and ‘90s – when Baked Alaska was still served and alcohol was free – international flights had lost their magic. There was nothing exciting about sitting in a flying cigar tube sharing air with a hundred other travelers allegedly separated into Smoking and Non-Smoking sections.

Other expats traveled for the job; I took the job for the travel. Even when I wasn’t working overseas, I chose to remain abroad to play, explore, and seek out new experiences. One time each year, I was obliged to repatriate and spend 30 days in country to maintain my tax exempt status, but it felt like a waste of time.

Repatriation in Wyoming
Doing Nothing in Wyoming

Maybe I could catch a flight to Denver or Salt Lake and make a connection to Wyoming. I had a few friends there in the Rocky Mountains and they were always ready to do something. Even if I ended up doing nothing, it was better done in the Rockies.


A few days later, I arrived in Cody. After checking into the Irma Hotel, I walked down Sheridan Street to the Silver Dollar Saloon and ordered kamikazes like back in the good old days. My partners and I used to drink them after climbing or bouldering. Mountain Man Gatorade: equal parts lime juice, tequila, and triple sec. Jim walked in as I dropped the first shot and pulled out a chair to join me.

“You climbing, Taylor?”

Klebba reached for a glass and poured a thin shot. He didn’t talk much unless he knew you and only if he had something to say. Medium height and build, strong and double tough… Jim was steeped in the backcountry. He was a Wyoming native who grew up in the West that attracted the rest of us to Cody.

“Let’s go climbing.”

“Sorry,” I replied, “but I got nothin’ purty to wear.”

“You’re about as purty as you’re gonna get, man.”

We laughed and he lifted his refill; shot glasses clinked and emptied. No matter how long it had been since my last repatriation, we were always glad to get reacquainted.

Silver Dollar Saloon
Silver Dollar Saloon in Cody

There were bigger places in town but none better than the Dollar. They served fat greasy cheeseburgers and we ordered up a couple. We gave some thought to ordering more kamikazes but Klebba wanted to wait. He was determined to climb first and drink later.

A Little Adventure

“I’m serious,” he said while dressing his burger. “Let’s go get on a rock.”

“I can’t think of anything I’d rather do but I got no gear, Jim.”

He took a giant bite and made me wait while he chewed. Finally,

“I got gear. We can go to the Bridge Bands.”

Climbing at the Bridge Bands in Cody
Climbing Practice at the Bridge Bands

Klebba had more gear than anyone I knew at the time. He lived alone in a three-bedroom house, and one bedroom was full of gear. He was prepared for any and every outdoor activity. From rock climbing to windsurfing to hunting with pack animals, Klebba could and did do everything fun in the great outdoors.

“Sunlight Sports might have shoes your size. Or you can boulder in what you’re wearing.”

I had not thought of that. It would only take a few minutes to find out if the local sporting goods shop had shoes. A size too small would work; climbing shoes were supposed to be tight. I decided to finish my food and check out the store. I left Dallas for Cody to find excitement, and the idea of grabbing even a little adventure got better with every big meaty bite. And there was Jim Klebba, my favorite climbing partner ready to go.

Climbing in Cody

The Buffalo Bill Dam plugged the Shoshone River between Cody and Yellowstone Park. It marked the confluence of the north and south forks of the river not too far west of town. The limestone of the canyon walls on the downriver side of the dam was good climbing rock and we used it as a practice playground. I pulled into the parking area and put on the gear I purchased from the local outdoor gear shop.

Climbing in Cody Wyoming
Quick Adventure in Cody, Wyoming

Technically, we were skilled; as engineers, we understood very well how the climbing and safety systems worked. We communicated well and made good decisions, and used respectable form and technique. Expert knots. Clever physics. There was more to mountaineering than the physical gymnastics of climbing and we practiced all those things.

It was great to spend time with my friends back home. We had shared so many adventures in wild Wyoming; climbing, caving, hunting and fishing. Fourth of July pig roasts and other events I would remember the rest of my life. And nothing had changed; I could go back anytime and enjoy those ‘good old days’.

Adventure and Repatriation
Caving Adventure in Wyoming

Nevertheless, it was strange going back to Cody. Even standing around at the Dollar meeting with old friends, I felt different than just a few years earlier. It exaggerated the contrast in two possible realities; it was a visual reminder of how life could have been for me if, like my friends, I settled down. All of us worked in the ‘patch for companies with international reach. But some never looked further than the production facility in their town and, for them, change was slow and incremental.

Nothing New

Every now and then, someone got married or someone had a baby, or a pair of someones split up and divorced. A friend lost his job or got a new one; maybe he bought a new truck. I tried to pay attention but my thoughts were elsewhere; sometimes it took effort to stay engaged in the conversation. Coming home made me realize how very little life changed while I was gone.

I didn’t feel like a better person for having a passport and traveling the world, and I was mindful not to entertain such snobbery. We grew up the same, went to the same schools, and my good luck was just that – Good Luck and nothing more. Someday, my traveling gig would end and I would return to the place from whence I came. But traveling had changed my perspective and provided an education not available at home. It changed me and that fact was most evident when I spent time back home.

Repatriation from Damascus
In Damascus, Syria (late 80s)

Looking out the window on my flight back to the Middle East, I was mindful of the truth; the memories I collected were of no real value to anyone but me. Even my best adventures faded in a listener’s ears. My experiences abroad were just stories to my friends. They were adventures to enjoy, but not experiences. I thrived on traveling and felt myself the luckiest man alive, but repatriation taught me to appreciate what I left behind… my friends in Wyoming and Texas. No matter where I went or what I did, no matter the mental or physical stimulation, my heart remembered home.

(Excerpts from “When I Was Cool”)

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 5 / 5. Vote count: 11

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Comments are appreciated & I act on your feedback.