In my last blog post I wrote about “game-changing” experiences that shape us forever.
First, some quick background. I wrote earlier about how I felt I needed to shake things up in my life after I landed my first job and began my public relations career. I had put on weight and was depressed over personal family issues. In addition to deciding to train for (and run) a marathon, I also decided I needed to see more of the world. My sister Lynette asked me if I would be interested in traveling to London with her – she had always dreamt of visiting the UK and checking out many of the famous sites. I thought about it and realized I had friends who lived in London, Berlin and Copenhagen – so it could be a fun experience. My manager approved of the extra time off I would need for the trip and gave me stellar advice: “Never wait for the ‘right’ time to do something like this because there will never be a ‘right’ time. You’ll never feel like you have enough money to justify the trip, but you’ll figure out how to make it happen.” And she was right. Lynette went on the trip and it was an amazing experience (one of which deserves many separate blog posts).
The big take-away from that trip and experience was I caught the travel bug. And I caught it big-time. I couldn’t stop thinking about the next opportunity I would have to go back to Europe someday. And my experience traveling through parts of Europe on the train (and admiring the beauty) created another idea: how cool would it be to ride a bike through Europe someday? And so the seed was planted.
I’m going to digress for a moment to explain the title of this post. Some people (especially fellow Gen-Xers such as myself) might be familiar with the 1980s movie, Vision Quest. Some call it the “Rocky” of the wrestling world – and it has a similar plot line. An underdog athlete (in this case, Louden Swain) decides to set his goal amazingly high and becomes obsessed with achieving it. In the movie, Louden’s major challenge was to beat a wrestling icon named “Shute” – an intimidating foe who had never lost a match. The film includes Madonna’s first cameo in a movie and one of the best slow dance songs ever, “Crazy for you” (by Madonna). It also has a weak love story sub-plot and a few other story lines but really, it’s about chasing your dreams and making them happen – no matter what. I admire screenwriters who can capture the essence of a point through dialogue, and in Vision Quest there is one scene that I’ll always remember.
Louden worked in a hotel and befriended the main cook, Elmo (Louden would deliver meals to guests). Louden was close to quitting his pursuit of his dream and the big night had arrived when he was supposed to take on Shute. He went to talk to Elmo, and was surprised to see him getting dressed to go out, instead of going to work. Elmo told him of course he was going to watch Louden wrestle – this is what he’s been working towards all year and he wanted to be there.
Louden Swain: You never took a night off to see me wrestle before. They’ll dock you for that.
Elmo: Hey, kid – money ain’t everything.
Louden Swain: It’s not that big a deal, Elmo. I mean, it’s six lousy minutes on the mat, if that.
Elmo: You ever hear of Pele’?
Louden Swain: Yeah, he’s a, a soccer player.
Elmo: A very famous soccer player.
Elmo: I was in the room here one day… watchin’ the Mexican channel on TV. I don’t know nothin’ about Pele. I’m watchin’ what this guy can do with a ball and his feet. Next thing I know, he jumps in the air and flips into a somersault and kicks the ball in – upside down and backwards… the goddamn goalie never knew what the fuck hit him. Pele gets excited and he rips off his jersey and starts running around the stadium waving it around his head. Everybody’s screaming in Spanish. I’m here, sitting alone in my room, and I start crying.
Elmo: That’s right, I start crying. Because another human being, a species that I happen to belong to, could kick a ball, and lift himself, and the rest of us sad-assed human beings, up to a better place to be, if only for a minute… let me tell ya, kid – it was pretty goddamned glorious. It ain’t the six minutes… it’s what happens in that six minutes.
Talk about words to live by: “It ain’t the six minutes…it’s what happens in that six minutes.” I can’t tell you how many times I uttered that phrase to myself during my marathon training. Oh and spoiler alert: Louden went on to beat Shute in a classic wrestling match.
So what was *my* Vision Quest? I decided that instead of simply thinking about biking around Europe, I was going to make it happen. I had worked at the PR agency for almost five years so I was 26 and still single. I knew that an opportunity and experience like this only comes along once or twice in life – I planned to eventually get married and have children, and at that time such a trip wouldn’t be nearly as practical.
And so I made it official (and public). I would leave my job at the end of June, 1992 and head to Europe for a bike adventure. I had a good friend still living in London, where I would begin the journey. The rest of it, I had no itinerary. I mailed nearly every European consulate asking for free maps, and bought a hybrid bike so I could start training after work for all the riding I would be doing. I also bought two books to serve as guidebooks while overseas: Europe Through the Back Door (by fellow Edmonds resident Rick Steves) and a book written by a couple who had traveled across Europe by bike (with suggested rides).
I had no idea what I was doing – or what I was getting myself into. And I think that was one of the first valuable lessons I learned that I still apply today:
- You don’t have to know everything before deciding to take a risk in life. Sometimes you just have to close your eyes and jump. It’s impossible to be 100% prepared anyway, so why stress about it in advance? Figure you’re going to make some mistakes and every day is a new potential learning experience.
It was also important for me to make this trip on my own, alone. While I certainly never felt I lived a coddled or privileged life up to that point, I knew that I had such an incredible support system through my family and friends. This was one big BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) I had to do alone to prove to myself that I was capable of conquering such a challenge.
On July 1, 1992 I flew out of Seattle en route to London to pursue this Vision Quest. I ended up being overseas for three months and visited nine countries – while riding nearly 3,000 miles. Needless to say, it was an incredible experience and did shape me for the rest of my life – in ways I never would have predicted or understood at the time.
To help commemorate my personal 20 year anniversary of my Vision Quest, I’m going to look back to that time and blog about the experience once a week or so – remembering where I was at the time – and some of my memories from the trip.
I think I’m going to enjoy the journey again and hope you do too.