The Great Fear
The Great Fear starts in Prudhoe Bay Alaska, is what we are told. It is found in the Northern Territories of Canada, deep in the woods of Oregon, in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, hiding in the low brush of the plains, in the alleys of Los Angeles, at the border in Mexico and in the jungles of South America. It hunts you from the dim corners of your waking mind and like a vampire bat drains your will and constitution before you are even aware of it.
In the North, the Great Fear takes the form of the grizzly bear. The bike tourists that we met coming down from Alaska were all duly warned that to ride without a shotgun was madness. They would be bear food and nothing would be left of them except for a few Shimano components licked clean.
None of them saw grizzlies. Some of them saw black bears. All of them survived.
As you travel south, the Great Fear changes suits and transforms into snakes that hide for you sharpening their fangs in the bushes or mountain lions waiting anxiously on some rock outcropping over the road. As you reach civilization, the Great Fear becomes man. He’s going to run you off the road. He’s waiting for you in dark alleys. He’s going to poison your dinner. He’s going to abduct you and take you for ransom.
The Great Fear is everywhere and everything and nothing all at once.
Nils and Caroline were a german couple that was touring from Alaska to Argentina, they were very familiar with the Great Fear and its vociferous choir. Their friends would warn them of bears in Alaska, of logging trucks in Oregon. When we met them in Oregon they laughed most of it off as did the other tourists we met. As they approached the US/Mexico border, the chatter changed from bears to drug lords, ransoms and kidnappings. “There is always something to be afraid of,” they said. “Always.”
It’s never as bad as you think it’s going to be – this is a lesson we’ve learned.
One morning at camp, there were six of us huddled around an Adventure Cycling map on the picnic table. There was a very ominous road we were going to be riding called Seven Devils road. People were talking about it the night before, they were going to bed early and going to push off at first light. Seven Devils. Seven Devils. The Great Fear hung in the air. When it finally came to ride it, we all braced for the worst, but in the end Seven Devils was one of the most pleasant roads we’ve ridden. There was a sharp spike in the beginning, but once we got to the ridge line it was a series of gentle climbs in a little traveled road.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Having ridden 2500 miles and lived for four months without a permanent address, we are gaining perspective on the Great Fear.
Yes there are dangers. Yes, terrible and freakish things do happen to people, but that is the exception and not the rule. For us, we’ve been met with more generosity and kindness than hostility. We’ve had maybe two verbal exchanges with drivers throughout the entire west coast. We are not naive. We rely on good sense and instinct.
The Great Fear is what stops people in their tracks. It is what turns dreams into dust.
For me, I have what I will call, for lack of a better term, My Greater Fear. It is that I will live a perfectly unexceptional existence with this exceptional chance I have been given. My Greater Fear is that I will rot beneath a matrix of fluorescent lights staring at the carpeted walls of a cubicle, or that I will wake knowing exactly what I will be doing every minute of every day for the rest of my waking life, or that I will wait until I am old and enfeebled to give myself permission to live.
In the face of My Greater Fear, which I think is far more likely, I choose to jump and embrace the Great Fear.
We are in Long Beach and we are preparing ourselves for the next leg of our journey. It almost feels like we are starting over again. The first four months has been our training, our long shakedown ride for the rest of the trip. The fears are already starting to emerge. Will we freeze on the side of the road? Be swept away by a tornado? Washed away by a hurricane? Will the Natural Lite drinking drivers of the South finally do us in?
There is always something to be afraid of. Always.