I’m not very old, far from it, in fact. Yet, like everybody else, my whole lifetime is all I know… So, I’m 22 years old, and I’m sitting in a lawn chair sandwiched between two bikes -1,600 c.c between them- in the Santa Monica mountains. I’d ridden here, ridden here from Vancouver, British Columbia, a trip which took me, given my bike’s sudden mechanical failure- nine days, and 2,800 kilometres.
In the one month I had to plan for this journey I was left wondering if I was too naive to embark on such a journey, all the while knowing that each week, day, moment, and breath is to be taken as they come, and while I can do my best to prepare for events and circumstances, the actual happenings of life will come as they will, in no obvious, distinct, or linear way.
And so, in the end- if there is an end to a decision that begins a journey- leaving was all I had, the final push into then what was then the unknown. To say that I didn’t feel fear would be a lie. I did feel fear, many times.
Before I delve into the many times I felt fear on this journey, I first would like to take a moment to try, at the very least, to understand what fear is.
What is fear? Fear is a habitual response to perceived threats. Fear is inherent, instinctual, and in its most useful form, a tool to keep us alive; alive enough to pass our genes down the lineage; part of the natural selection phenomenon. Fear induces the fight-or-flight response, that is, the activation of the sympathetic nervous system in response to acute stress. The body, in turn, will release hormones such as cortisol or adrenaline, which then cause for certain bodily changes such as an increase in heart and breathing rate, flushing of the skin, and trembling. In doing so, our body is ‘priming’ itself for action.
Since the fight-or-flight response happens automatically, unfortunately it is not always the most ideal response for the situation- sometimes we respond in this way even when there is no real or tangible threat.
Why do we feel fear? Fear in human beings may occur in response to a specific stimulus in the present, or in anticipation of a future threat that is perceived as a risk to body or life. The fear response arises from the perception of danger leading to confrontation with- or escape from- the threat.
We humans fear many things. We fear death, we fear the unknown; we fear insecurity. We seek sanction in physical, emotional, and psychological security. Therefore, we as humans seek sanction in the known, and the comforts thereof. A complete lack of fear would mean certain death, for one of the greatest engrained fears- the fear that keeps us alive long enough to reproduce- is the fear of death. If we did not fear death, would there be anything keeping us here? Death implies pain. We fear death as we fear pain.
Can we rationalize fear? If so, how? Fear is the engrained response, the thing we do when when we don’t want to feel pain, more fear, or death. And so, perhaps the thing to do more than anything else is to acknowledge the fear, understand why and where it is coming from, and make decisions based on both. In this way fear can be used as a tool instead of as a limiting factor.
There are rational and irrational fears, and some grey area in between. Rational fears, or the thought of, may well keep us out of trouble, while irrational fears might be more trouble than they are worth.
While we can mull-over the all the possible adverse scenarios that might happen in life, we shouldn’t limit ourselves because of these, unless that certain degree of safety found in the known is precisely what we desire for ourselves. One can always stay home among the comforts of the known, but excitement lies in the unknown, and any thrill-seeker knows this. After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
“Why should one be afraid of the unknown, when one knows nothing about it?”
There is a road not far from the ranch I’m staying- a road through the canyons- called Mulholland Highway. Mulholland Highway isn’t so much a highway as it is 30 miles of glorious road traversing through the Santa Monica Mountain Range and ending at the Pacific Coast Highway. Eight miles up from the ocean there is a two mile section of twisties coined ‘The Snake’, which starts at a vista overlooking the valley and ends at a diner called The Rock Store. The Snake is a spot- the spot- a hangout spot where people ride bikes, drive cars, hangout, rinse, and repeat. While many roads in this area are glorious to ride, this section of the highway has, without question, gained the most fame. Dev introduced me to The Snake on my first morning there, and, despite his ribs broken from an earlier crash on the notorious Mulholland Highway, we rode the loop 8-10 times that day.
My first crash happened on The Snake- I was coming around a corner, leaned too far, lost traction, and spun-out. First, I was surprised at how graceful and smooth the crash had been, thanks to being fully-suited, and while the bike did not stay in my lane, I did. I watched the bike do a few spins before coming to a rest, and with shaking hands and trembling knees, I picked the bike up and got back on. Thanks to adrenaline, the next few rides on Mulholland were my best yet- save for that one corner that made my heart flutter every time I came around the bend.
Views from Mulholland Highway; the top of the famous section coined ‘The Snake’. June 2018
That is one example of when I felt fear on this trip, and how adrenaline was later used to my advantage- the heightened focus allowed me to ride the next few loops that much better. The other times that I felt fear on this journey:
Fear. Fear when, on the first day of my journey, my bike died exactly at the border crossing between Canada and the United States. Thoughts of maybe I won’t make it to my destination, or maybe this in an omen to go home ran through my mind, that is, until the border guards shed their stern faces and gave me a jump; granting the battery enough energy to make it to the town of Ferndale for a new battery. From there the journey continued south on the I-5; a highway more daunting in contemplation, I found out.
Fear. Fear when, on my second day of the journey, my bike threw an error code on the dash – a code wholly unbeknownst to me – and proceeded to die, first on the dash, and then on the road. I was indeed now stranded on the side of the 101 in a small and derelict Washington town called Humptulips. Humptulips, eh? I thought, looking at my phone, learning then that it was 70 miles to the nearest dealership in Olympia, Washington.
Fear. Fear when, at the dealership, I was told that it was my stator and rectifier that required replacement, and that it would cost $900 USD, and that the bike would not be ready for another week.
Fear. Fear when, while waiting out my repair time in Eugene, Oregon, Dev texted me saying that he had crashed his bike and had fractured some ribs. To say that I didn’t feel stranded in my inability to help would be false. I felt an incessant gnawing fear that one could deem as worry.
Fear. Fear when, newly on the road once more, I found myself whizzing past a starry-eyed deer on a foggy forest stretch, nearly close enough to touch her. From my rearview I had watched her catapult from the asphalt back to the forest, doused in her own fear.
Fear. Fear when, I had stopped to buy fresh fruit from a roadside stand along the ocean in Half Moon Bay and was stung by a bee, thinking I better not go into anaphylactic shock as I got back onto my bike, soon to become so wrought with hives- red, brutal, welts of hives- that the only thing I could do was douse myself in water and ride. With the next nine hours of that ride excruciatingly itchy, riding was the only thing that took my mind off the pain.
What became of these fears? Looking back, the fear felt in each of the situations was not unreasonable, and the combative nature of fear helped me to deal with each of these situations. Since adverse situations are bound to happen on long journeys of the like, it is important to see the light in each. While a wait time of six days for repair in Olympia, Washington sounded like a terrible sentence at the time, I understood that there were infinitely worse places and this breakdown could have happened, and, lucky enough, I had a fellow adventure rider nearby- it was Yeager that I met the summer before travelling from Hyder, Alaska back to his home in Eugene, Oregon, and it was Yeager that and his fiance, Beth, that took me in for six days, six days of which I got to know two courageous people in ways I would not have otherwise.
While it is difficult to say that being stung by a bee was a blessing, I will give you this: with riding the only thing to take my mind off the discomfort, I had travelled 530 miles from Hopland, Northern California to my destination- Thousand Oaks, Ventura County, in the span of 14 hours. The ocean, that night, never felt so great.
Fear. Fear on the journey that arises sometimes, but increasingly less so and less often now, now that I’ve made it here. There is a certain confidence that I can’t quite put my finger on, a confidence that says “I no longer fear the journey, whatever comes will come.” And for each of the times I did feel fear, there were equally as many, or maybe more, occasions that I could have felt fear, but didn’t; I was past it.
And so I can sit here, sit here beside my bike in the Santa Monica Mountains, listening to the birds and wonder how it is that I am so incredibly lucky to be here. Soon, well, soon it will be time for the long haul- the journey north. I welcome a newfound feeling of being okay. There is no fear. The happenings will come as they will, in no obvious, distinct, or linear way.