Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Very Real Panic of ADV Motorcycling Prep & Risk

Last night was a rough and deeply personal night that shed new light on my cowardice and shortcomings, but in the spirit of documenting everything about the adventure and its preparation, I feel I should share even though it not only discredits me as a "brave" individual or adventurer, but may also put me in the camp of, "This guy should never go adventuring. Ever. Ever ever ever."

After a great live hangout with so much help and feedback from so many awesome people, I went to bed feeling pretty amped up about the adventure. Now I know that this trip is not a big deal. It covers a relatively short distance and gets me pretty much nowhere truly foreign. Thousands of others have gone much farther with much less support. Yet, despite the apparent ease and excitement of what lay ahead, last night was a brutal wake up call to the realities of adventure in my life.

From about 2:30 on I woke up to what could best be described as a panic attack. My daughter was crying in the other room, and my sweet wife quickly hopped out of bed to help her. Suddenly my mind was racing, and the stress soon turned to a type of terror I have only experienced a few times in my life. My stomach knotted and my immune system went completely haywire. I had everything from nausea to heartburn to unrelenting allergic reactions. I broke out. I was sweating profusely. My nose ran like a faucet. My heart was beating through my chest and between trips to the bathroom to attempt to vomit or clear my sinuses, there was no chance of sleep.

But the real assault wasn't on my body, it was on my mind and my confidence. My resolve was shredded to pieces, and the happy-go-lucky attitude turned into dread and some serious negative introspection. I'm not some adventurous jet-setting bachelor with tons of time or money or experience in foreign countries. I don't have a job that allows me lots of time off. I don't have a job, period. I've got a family, and some immense responsibilities to provide for them. And if this stuff doesn't work out and my fears are manifested... then it's going to be a long and painful recovery.

I'll try to recall the things that I was most afraid of, and perhaps this will someday ease your mind in that odd an inexplicable way how humans tend to connect through hearing of others' adversities.

Now you have to realize... panic attacks rarely focus on the rational. So these thoughts and emotions may seem baseless or trivial, but at the time (and to some degree even now) they seem like insurmountable obstacles. From my perspective (and perhaps from yours, too) these are legitimate concerns.

According to the farmer's almanac (which is uncannily accurate) this winter could be the coldest in 50 years. This news comes on the heals that the ultimate destination of my adventure (Victoria, BC) depends on a piece of paper issued by a dysfunctional government. My hopes of getting out by mid September are quickly fading to a realization that, at best, the travels will start in mid October. At that time, my home in St. George will be a pleasant 75-85 degrees and sunny, while high temperatures in the north will dip to the 40s to 60s depending on elevation, and below freezing at night. I have camped in much worse, but never from a motorcycle, never alone, and never without a "bailout" plan. These changes in fall weather could lead to dangerous conditions on the road. Wet weather, frost, and even snow could create conditions that could stop the journey completely. This, coupled with the fact that I have no insurance (life or health), and you can understand why my mind went into a tailspin.

And then there was the notion of giving up. Turning back. Failing, which I can't allow. Not only would I disappoint the people that I've committed to educate and entertain, but I would have invested nearly 1/5 of my family's quickly dwindling nest egg of savings into a fool's errand. Buying the KLR back was a mistake not because it's not a worthy bike, but because a 1994 KLR, no matter how good of shape Damon can get it into, will never be worth more than $1500 to re-sell. In short, I will never get my money BACK on that investment, but there's no chance in hell that I won't get my money's WORTH.

The idea of failure is crippling. It would mean not only a huge disappointment for the people who watch my content, who support my dreams, and who most importantly I consider to be "friends I just haven't met yet", but it would doom the entire dream--the entire channel goal. A failure on my first soft-pitch adventure would prove disastrous for my long term career goals as an "adventure educator". Now this morning, with a more rational mind, I realized that this was not the case. If the adventure failed the channel would continue to grow at its regular pace. However, again with a rational mind, I realized that growing at the "status quo" will soon mean that the whole dream is over. A channel with such a small reach as mine has no chance of supporting my family even at the current rate of growth based on Amazon affiliate sales and adsense alone. We only have so much saved to get this started, and unless something big happens (hopefully a shot of massive growth spurred on by the adventure travels) then it's over. A failure to deliver on the "dip your toes" adventure will kill my ability to create content, as I'll need to wake up and get a real job within the next few months if something big doesn't happen. A job will mean an end to large-scale adventures. As you know, family must come first.

So my mind and heart raced onward, pushed by necessity to provide. I have to go. And then came the smaller doubts and concerns--and while trivial and insignificant--they were in some ways just as potent as the panic about financial and physical ruin.

What about my family? Weeks and perhaps months at a time spent on the road. I would miss them dearly. Though my kids are sweet, they're also a handfull. My wife often needs my help to bail her out when she's feeling stressed with the kids. Where can she turn? Where will they turn? They grow up so fast, even a few weeks is like an eternity. Will they feel that I've left them forever? Will they still be close to me when I return?

And my wife. I will have nobody to hold. She is such a strength in my life. She fuels me in so many ways. I need her just as much as I need food, water, and oxygen. I know that sounds corny, but it's true. When I'm without her I feel an inexplicably hollow feeling. Like starvation that no food can satiate. She, more than motorcycling, more than meds, more than anything else, is my antidepressant. Not only does she keep me from sinking low, but she is constantly what lifts me up. And I mean this with all the respect and reverence toward matrimony and our marriage covenants that can be conveyed through words, but what about sex? That loving act is so powerful in our lives... to be without that most important kind of affection and intimacy for a long period of time is certainly going to be difficult.

And now onto more trivial matters...

What about uploads? How could I upload content on the road? Do I prepare a pre-scheduled stream of content while I'm away? Or do I attempt to upload from the road? Editing, comments, and the managerial side of running the channel takes days of work that I don't want to spend away from my family. While I am out, I want to be adventuring, not editing. I will most likely prepare content for the weeks I will be away, then edit and upload highlights of the adventure when I get back home.

Then there's the content overload. And comment overload. And message overload that I'm sure to get when I return. I'm sure to have hours upon hours of footage to sift through... and just like the UTBDR episodes, Moab episodes, and my recent 1000 mile trip, I burned out on editing so the footage either sits unused or the content was uploaded raw. And what about your reaction to these uploads? Would they grow tired of the trip series? These videos can't just be "entertaining"... they must be so good that people feel they are worthy to not just watch, but to share. Without massive channel growth, the dream is DOA.

What about my health? It was not long ago that I had surgery on my "exhaust port" that made riding infinitely more tolerable, but problems still remain with my digestion and ability to handle foods and, more importantly... take craps. I am like Conan the Barbarian to any bathroom I encounter. In other words, I conquer and destroy without mercy. And here I am being offered to stay in people's homes with these destructive digestive issues? Maybe it's not as bad as I think. I certainly hope it's not. For those of you considering hosting me, just know I'm handy with a mop. (Kidding, really... I'm all noise.)

And what about hygiene and showering? When out in the woods, riding a motorcycle, or playing soccer, volleyball, or racquetball I could not care less how I smell. However, making first impressions on people with the odor I can emit is sure to create an experience that they nor their olfactory senses will never forget. I feel awkward at the idea of showering in another's shower, pooping in another's toilet... washing clothes in another's laundry. When I talk about "comfort zones"... that is what I mean. I have yet to tell the trail tale, but I am petrified... I mean absolutely mortified, of defecating in public places.

And I dread repairs. If you know me, you know there hasn't been a single repair attempt beyond replacing a sprocket that has been successful for me. I even struggle with changing tires. Even changing the oil is a 50-50 success rate for me. I am the world's worst mechanic who wants to adventure on a 21 year old motorcycle. That's like a blind man who endeavors to become the world's greatest birdwatcher.

And then there are the little comforts of home. Sitting in a chair. Pooping on a toilet instead of squatting. Baby wipes and spare toilet paper. Air conditioning and heating. A warm shower. A washer and dryer. Changes of clothes. Water on demand. Even a bed with my beautiful wife next to me and a blanket that I can stretch in instead of a sleeping bag that keeps me cramped up like a cocoon. Even my little kiddos waking me up early each morning... this will be a huge adjustment.

True adventurers are laughing at me right now, because I'm sure that Alex Chacon or Ted Simon never worried about these things. Maybe Ewan McGregor did. Probably not Charlie. In any case, I truly am the most ill-equipped human being to go on an adventure in the history of mankind.

Then there's the social norms that I am sure to be clumsy with. My own awkward (and to this point hidden) codes of social conduct and dogmatic rituals that others will undoubtedly find draconian. Some good friends who I have met while riding already know this... and the "dodging" conversations that ensued led to hilariously awkward stammerings on my part,  but I don't drink. The consumption of libations seems to be almost as much a part of ADV riding as putting on a helmet.

Now most people understand total sobriety from alcohol and accept that as a part of some people's lives if they've struggled with alcoholism, or who don't like the taste, or who can't handle the booze, or just would rather not have it... but then there's people like me, where it's not a choice of health or preference, but of religion, an aspect of my life that I haven't really revealed publicly. I assume that many people have guessed my religious beliefs based on where I live and the gratuitous replacement of actual swear words with a more PG rated dialogue, even to the point of replacing socially harmless words like "douchebag", "damn", or "hell" with a bleep. Religion plays a large part in how I try to live. I say "try" to live and not just "live" because I'm deeply aware of my own vices and flaws that haunt me every day. I'm certainly not a standard bearer or posterboy for my faith, and the way I live comes more from personal convictions than from a set of religious rules or "righteous posturing" to look "holier than thou". It is how I was raised. So abstaining from alcohol is one thing, and is quite normal. However, politely declining coffee and tea is just downright weird to most people. And I'm okay with that. I'm okay with being weird because of my religious beliefs, and I will never push them into anyone's face. However, I would very much like to avoid (and even fear) being told that I'm going to hell because I believe differently than other religions. Nor do like hearing that I'm wasting my time in a faith that limits what I can and can't do. As you've seen from my videos, though I struggle with depression and some social weirdness, I'm generally content, I am who I am, and although it's a big part of my life and I find happiness in it's teachings, I very rarely talk about religion at all.

In my life I have lost friendships because of my faith. From experience, I would much rather keep friendships than push my religion (or try to defend faith when others attack it) and lose friendships over what should be largely private and personal paradigms and convictions of how we each choose to live. What is sad to me is the reality that some people, after reading the last paragraphs, will distance themselves from me, make me into a damned soul who needs saving, or cut me off altogether because of something so private and personal. Please don't do that. I have been spit on, assaulted, illegally detained, and had my life threatened at gunpoint over my faith. If you don't think that happens in America, then think again. My fear being attacked both physically and mentally over my faith is very real because it has happened in the past. However, even with these threats I won't deny my personal beliefs. 

So respectfully, let's let each other live the way we choose to live, without judgement and without criticism. Our paradigms are so unique that we can only do the best we can with the lives we have seen from our own perspectives.

On that vein, there has been a very distinctive and respectful way that people have interacted with me both on my channel, when commenting on videos, when sending messages, and even in person. The respect that my friends and audience has shown me by keeping comments clean and family friendly has truly meant a lot. Some riders who I associate with and super-subscribe to even bleep words or try to maintain clean language in their own videos when that isn't their norm. I have immense respect for these people, but hope they know that I would appreciate them and enjoy their content with or without the censoring.... I just might have to wait until the kids are in bed to watch! You should always be comfortable around me to be who you truly are. I will not think less of somebody simply because we have different ways of living. I guess that when it comes to fears, I fear that you will judge me for being a religious wingnut, and I want to lay to rest any fears you may have that I will judge you because of my faith paradigm. That is simply not the case. We are all doing our best to be good people, and that should be enough.

So these fears are real. They spin and entwine. Behind them all is the dread that comes from failure. There's a lot more on the line than a fun trip. We're talking about the well-being of my whole family here, gambled on what... the success of a few motorcycle rides? A YouTube channel? It sounds absolutely insane.

Granted, there is more at stake for me than for most adventurers who have jobs, money, and some time off to go and enjoy what they love. I am staking my livelihood on it. It's both a blessing and a curse. I get to do this as much as I want, but if the money runs dry it is over for a long, long time. I know that my family will recover if I fail, and we will be happy no matter what because we will have each other. But I must admit the guilt I feel for such a risky endeavor is intense. Intense enough to induce these panic attacks at 2:00 am.

However, now that I'm awake and fully conscious--writing for the last few hours and sifting through these fears in my own mind-- the fears are no less real, but the success is plausible, too. The money that I make from YouTube and YOUR help through the Amazon program is nowhere near enough to support a family on, even when compared to a Utah teacher's salary in a single-income home. However, in the last two months that I have worked hard full time on this YouTube stuff, the support shown via the Amazon links has been a major boon to my efforts. The sharing, the comments of encouragement, the private messages with generous offers and kind words... even care packages from amazing people filled with little things for my kids, local treats, or cultural treasures... they fill me with the hope that this really can happen. 

In short, the fear is massive and it is intense in so many ways both large and small... and if I didn't have the support and kindness from friends like you this idea of adventure would have never even crossed my mind because I am just too scared of what would happen if I fail.

However, it's going to happen. To prove to myself that I can do it. To prove to you that you can do it. To prove to anybody with depression, or social anxiety, or panic attacks, or even just a weird and awkward fear of pooping in public places that it can be done. Rain or shine or snow or phone calls or flat tires or having to use truck stop bathrooms, it can be done.

What do I really have to lose? Barring a serious accident that costs life or limb (which we all face daily, on any risk we venture)... just money, really. Money that comes and goes and means nothing in the long run. I could lose some time MAKING money... the cost of going for this dream instead of earning a steady income at a job. However, we've positioned ourselves to have almost no debt. We may lose our home, but that's not the end of the world. Our mortgage is only slightly more than what rent would be, and far less than what rent would be in a similar sized duplex. We may stay below the poverty line, but we're already there, so that's not a factor in our happiness, so that fear has no grip on me. I could "lose" the YouTube channel. Not really, but if I failed I would have to divert my time to other endeavors to support my family, which would take time away from the adventures, editing, and interaction that I so massively enjoy right now. I would revert back to a time before "full time YouTubing", which meant less riding but still showed me a fulfilling life as a special education teacher. That's not a bad thing at all.

I fear the little things, really. Social quirks. My own shortcomings. My inability to leave a bathroom intact. 

What do I have to gain from this?

Well... let's find that out together.

Much love!