This is the second installment in a series of essays about some life lessons I learned on a recent enduro motorcycle adventure designed to help rejuvenate male leaders. In total, we covered more than 275 miles from Sequoia National Forest to Yosemite National Park ascending to elevations around 10,000 ft. At night, we sat around the campfire having honest, vulnerable, and courageous conversations.
After we packed what stuff we could into our small daypacks, we were instructed to head into the trailer and select our riding gear: body armor, boots, helmet, and gloves. As I put on my gear and walked down the ramp from the trailer, I squinted, adjusting to the brightness of the early afternoon sun. As my eyes adapted and I began to make out my comrades, it kind of reminded me of a platoon of Stormtrooper recruits from Star Wars, mounting our speeder bikes for a patrol on Endor.
I’ll admit suiting up in all of the gear felt pretty damn manly.
I moseyed over to the bikes to pick out which one would be my ride for the next four days. There was a mix of Honda CRF 250s and Honda XR 650s. All red and white. The most noticeable difference was the size. The 650s were several inches higher in the saddle.
In the negotiations between my ego and my fear, fear won, and I angled for a smaller 250. I slowly backed it out of line and walked it over to another part of the church parking lot that was quickly becoming our staging area. We were lined up in two rows about five or six wide. After a few minutes, all of us were geared up and mounted up with engines revving in anticipation of finally beginning our adventure.
One of our guides, Martin (pronounced Marteen), walked over and asked us to turn off our bikes so he could relay our pre-trip safety instructions. It was a alarmingly short briefing. “Ride your own ride. Each bike is equipped with a GPS tracker, so if you get lost, stay put. If you get hurt, we’ll decide what to do. Either carry on, drive you back in the truck to Fresno, or if it’s really bad, use the satphone to call for a life flight. Steve will ride up front. Don’t pass Steve (not that you could). John will ride in the back. I’ll be moving back and forth within the group. And Chris will be following in the chase truck.” In reality, Martin likely said more than that, but in the anxiety and excitement, that’s all I took in.
At that point, Steve, the head honcho, walked his bike over and asked Martin if he had covered everything. Martin said, “Yes. We were just finishing up.” And then turning back to us, asked, “Any questions, guys?”
Before we could answer, Steve asked if we we are ready to get started. He paused, tossed back his mostly unkempt mane and began to slip on his flat-black helmet, “Remember, ride you own ride. Don’t ride the other guy’s ride.” Then after putting on his helmet and his sunglasses, he added for emphasis, “Ride your own ride.”
And with that, Steve said, “Let’s go!” He started his engine and launched out of the parking lot like a thoroughbred bolting from the gate at the Derby. The rest of us sort of looked back and forth at each other for a second, not immediately sure if we were to follow.
Then like a gaggle of startled geese, we chaotically took off following him, speeding down a two-lane, California country backroad—a line of novice bikers finally off on the adventure we had flown across the continent to enjoy.
As we were heading down the road, the sun was hot on my back. My visor was up, and the warm air was rushing into my helmet filling my nostrils with the faint smell of cow dung from a nearby pasture. The shadows of the trees that lined the road created a dapple of sunlight that seemed to sparkle on the worn, rough pavement.
I kept thinking to myself, I think I know what he means, “Ride your own ride.” But what does he mean? It wasn’t a complete thought but more fragments trying to form a whole.
Over the next four days, like a mantra, I repeated that phrase to myself maybe a thousand times. “Ride your own ride. . . Ride your own ride.” Sometimes I even found myself saying it aloud.
I’m a very competitive person, so at first, it was a way to remind me that I’m not on this trip to beat anybody. “Ride your own ride.” It was an invitation to stay within my own abilities and to manage the risk appropriately.
The deeper we got into the adventure “Ride your own ride” became a call to keep me from trying to measure myself against the other guys on the trip.
Then, as we got further into the adventure, I needed it as a reminder to call myself back to enjoying the moment. Rather than my typical mindset of accomplishment and pushing hard, “Ride you own ride” was a way to keep me in the here and now. The phrase confronted me to face the question: Was I on this adventure to get through it, accomplish it, and get it over with, or was I one this adventure to be present to where I am, who I am, and when I am?
Like many others, I can get caught up in the work of measuring myself against others—or worse—measuring myself against my own ideas of perfection. Ultimately this constrains me in comparison, fear, and shame.
Obviously so much of what “ride your own ride” came to mean to me on the adventure are where I need to practice applying the concept to my ordinary life:
-Live within my own abilities
-Not everything is a competition.
-Accomplishment is only one, very limited perspective in which to see the world
-Enjoy the moment. Be present.
-Practice being me. Refrain from measuring myself against others and perfection (can anyone say “Instagram?”)
Like so many life truths, “ride your own ride” is a profoundly easy thing to say and a much harder practice to live out consistently.
On November 1, Sage Hill will release the dates of the 2019 Sage Hill/Wilderness Collective Leadership Rejuvenation Adventures.
I can’t wait to go back to the Wilderness. I hope you join me.
To be the first to know about the next Sage Hill/Wilderness Collective collaboration click here.
The complete list:
10 things that Wilderness. taught me in 4 days.
1) Ounces = Pounds & Pounds = Pain (You need much less than you think.)
2) Ride your own ride.
3) When you get in a rut, ride it out.
4) “I don’t know. Maybe” is a great answer to many questions.
5) Worry about the essentials and !@#$ the rest.
6) Stay on the path and when you get lost, stay put and wait.
7) Disconnect from email, phone, and everything else.
8) The very best things can never be posted on social media.
9) Absence does make the heart grow fonder.
10) Wilderness Makes You Better.
Stephen James, MA, LPC-MHSP, NCC, is the Executive Director of Sage Hill Counseling in Nashville, TN. He is also a best-selling author of five books, including Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys. He is active in training other mental health professionals as well as to speaking to audiences around the country on the topics of living fully, servant leadership, family relationships, and spiritual authenticity.