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Fear.

Last week I was discussing an upcoming speaking engagement with a client when the topic transitioned to my presentation and how I could help my client with my speech to my real-life experiences on the road. The topic quickly folded into a subject that most people I speak with tend to share the same curiosity. They usually want to know if at any point during my travels if I felt that I was in danger or if I was afraid.

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People ask this question for many good reasons. But I think most feel that perhaps they would like to embark on some sort of adventure or travel, but they are afraid to take a chance; to risk their current state of being—their comfort zone. Understandably, their curiosity perhaps stems from wondering whether such fears are founded.

My usual response to these curious queries is, no I never felt in danger or fear for my life in my three years of solo travel on a motorcycle. But as my client probed further for insight into my travel adventures, he asked “What about dangerous roads or terrain, were you ever afraid in that way?”

I scratched my head, took a quick gander out the window and confided to him, that yes, I was afraid on a number of occasions.

To be sure, he knew that I crushed my leg on a muddy road in Bolivia during the trip. He knows that a bus roaring into my lane on a downhill turn on a dirt road in Ethiopia caused me to crash. And he certainly knows that a small taxi van pushed me off the road in Tanzania. But in each of these cases I wasn’t afraid. The crashes, for the most part, happened so fast that I had no time to think or react.

Then I started thinking. That’s when I recalled some scary episodes while riding at night, tense, white-knuckled and fearful that this night might be the last of my journey, that I might not make it to my destination before crashing—or worse. It’s never a good idea to ride at night anyway.

It’s funny, many of these episodes involved wet and rain conditions at night.

Like the time I was heading north toward Maceió in northern Brazil. I planned to arrive at this beautiful seaside city before sunset when the rain pelted me and slowed me down. Soaked and cold and with no visibility—no lines on the dark, wet and jet black tarmac. No street lights. And the headlight of my bike barely any use. The rain beaded on my visor and every 30 seconds I had to swipe the water off of it with my soppy wet glove.

As the minutes and hours clicked on, the rain made me wetter and wetter. My visibility so impaired that I had to strain, squint and slow to a crawl just to make sure I didn’t ride off the tarmac, because it was so dark and just blended into the landscape. Then I found myself winding through gentle rolling hills lined with sugar cane plantations.

On the road I had to be careful when rounding curves because trucks that carried harvested cane to ethanol processing plants would drop pieces of cane on the road. Like banana peels I’d often catch one— and my rear tire would slip and slide. My heart beat faster. I gripped the handlebars tighter.

These trucks would also appear out of nowhere. Sometimes a truck would seemingly magically appear out of the darkness of the tall sugar cane plants. Most of these trucks were carrying three trailers, each packed with cane. Most of the time only dim headlights shined on the road ahead. Barely visible I had to be careful because the could either hit me or because I couldn’t see them in the darkness, I might run into the back of them because the trucks were not fitted with reflectors or tail lights. That night was unforgettable and one of the most tiring rides of my entire three years. I was afraid and scared I might not make it.

Trying to make it to Iringa Tanzania from the border of Tanzania turned out to be another harrowing night. When tarmac becomes wet and the sun fades into night, the pavement fades again into the horizon and trying to see the difference between pavement and vast emptiness of desolate landscapes becomes the most important task of riding. The rain poured and even protected in the confines of my rain suit, I felt trapped and blind. The bright streams of lights from oncoming traffic would detract like a star filter through the drops of rain on my visor creating a massive blind-spot that would haunt me as I rode the twisty track. Drainage on African roads is nonexistent, so I would wade through two and three foot high flooded roads, once amazed at the thousands of frogs who sprayed off the wake of my front tire as I rode through. The sounds of the gurgling frogs actually drowned the noise of falling rain.

I was afraid then, too.

Because my memory was vivid from the time I crushed my leg in a slippery fall on muddy and slippery clay, the muddy dirt roads of South Africa, particularly near the Drakensburg scared me too. Like a slivering snake, to me there is nothing more frightening than lack of traction on wet clay. I can see no difference between it and ice—I think I would rather ride on ice. Mud? Please stay away.

At the beginning of my trip I was still haunted and spooked by the notion of bandits in Mexico. Caught in the dark and still 30 miles from the closest village. tense and stressed, and still unable to see through the dark forests of Michoacán, my heart beat fast every time a car came up from behind.

Even as fear tried to suffocate my spirit and crush my confidence in these incidences, I made it through. And with each incident I became a stronger foe to fear. And while fearlessness is unhealthy, balance and prudence is key; as is your attitude. The compromise you make with fear so that you don’t let it get the best of you and in turn, you don’t due anything stupid or intentional that could certainly upset your balance between strength and fear.

When it comes time for you to consider traveling, such as I did or to any of the places I traveled? There’s no reason to be afraid. There’s nothing to fear.

Two Years And Counting.

I started my journey two-years ago today. With an interruption from January to October in 2006 due to my broken leg mishap in Bolivia, I’ve been on the road for 15 months, visited 17 countries and logged 35,228 miles. It was originally a two year journey. And it was about now that I HAD dreamed I’d be returning home after traveling 50,000 miles and visiting 50 countries. I never dreamed it would take this long. Yet I remember an email from August or September 2005 from a reader I’d never met:

“[…] Allan, it seems that you are always in a hurry? What’s the hurry? Do you have a schedule? Take your time. Breathe. You’re doing this for a reason, and I’m sure it’s not to keep a schedule and rush through it. […]”

Dropped off Doc at the local BMW dealer today as with 36,978 miles it’s time for a major service. While my diligent effort in chain cleanliness and maintenance has paid off, it’s been more than 10,000 miles since Doc’s last major service in Santiago in January. Though on my second set of tires since then, the chain and sprockets look good.

I’ll change the fork oil, and run a complete diagnostic and BMW will do what they do to barely earn the huge prices paid for servcie in South America. But today I met Manoel Escorse, a fellow BMW rider with a K1100 RS. He speaks a bit of Spanish so conversation for me is easier than usual. He drives me back to the hotel and for the next couple days we have lunch, chopps (draft beers) and conversation. We even join a friend for a birthday party under the mooncast shadow of Cristo Redentor.

But two years. Wow. Eight months recuperating after surgery included. So cashing in a boatload of frequent flier miles, It turns out I will return to the States to be with a very special person. I’ll take care of some business, too. Notwithstanding filing some income taxes and other esoteric minutiae. But it will be nice to be with family and loved ones. Meanwhile, the local BMW dealer will hold my bike and I will return to continue the ride to Northeastern Brazil and the Amazon.

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H. Stern, the precious stones retailer and jeweler is everywhere in Rio. I got roped into a factory tour with the promise of a free Caiparinha!

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You would never see Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz share the same floor space in the US, would you?

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Manoel Escorse & Doc at Auto-Kraft BMW in Rio de Janeiro.

Rio de Janeiro

The beaches. The music. The fahvelas. The food. The friendly people. The shoeshine boys on the beach walks. The bikinis. The spirit.

Rio is gearing up for the Pan American Games. And Al Gore’s concert for awareness of global warming. I settle in to experience some of the usual sites, the architecture and culture, the food and the sunshine. With a better hotel that has secure garaged parking, I park Doc and experience Rio “na pe”, on foot. For the further out places, I take taxi’s, buses and white vans that cruise up and down the boulevards picking up people for a couple “reals”.

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You must take a trip to the Pão de Açúcar (sugar loaf/bread) at least one time your in Rio. A two station cable car whirs you up to the top of this signature mountain in Rio de Janeiro.

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The views are amazing. Rio looks fake from up here.

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Check out the football stadium on the beach. This is Copacabana beach.

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Another must see is “Cristo Redentor” up the mountain Corcovado. Now voted as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

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Even higher up the views get more unreal. That’s the Pão de Açúcar in the center of the picture where the cable cars go.

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