2019 has been a good year.
I chased the Dakar, then shipped my bike back to Europe and began racing rallies myself, however slowly and clumsily; I trained with the Enduro Escape team in Transylvania, got a concussion, rode around Europe, tasted palinka, met some incredible people, led two women’s motorcycle tours in Ecuador and Colombia, traveled to Cuba with my dad, and ended up back in Peru where I’ll be helping South America Freedom to scout some new tour routes, riding, and writing.
2020, it seems, will be equally chaotic – which to me translates to awesome: I’ll be racing in the Hispania Rally and Hellas Rally Raid, taking women riders on a hard enduro training tour in Romania, riding dirtbikes with the Traction E-Rag nutters in Canada, riding Lucy across Southern Europe, leading a couple of motorcycle tours in the Himalayas, making an idiot out of myself at the RedBull Romaniacs, and hopefully, pulling off a desert rally in September. There’ll be plenty of riding, racing, making friends, helping other people, and there’ll be some epic fails and falls, broken spokes, Greek coffee and Transylvanian moonshine, new discoveries, new challenges, and as always, new destinations. Man, I might even get a new shock for Lucy and make it to Mongolia at some point.
In other words, life is good. Life is just fine. Life goes on. Right?
But here’s the thing: sure, I fully understand you can’t be in several places at the same time. I know everything has a price; I know work has to be done. I know that between the awesome, the exhilarating, and the extraordinary, there need to be periods of the mundane, of simply getting work done, of feeling just “meh”, of bad weather, fractured bones, and dumb decisions. It’s all part of the deal, and it’s OK. I’m also acutely aware of how lucky I am to be doing what I’m doing. I’m relatively young, more or less healthy, I have one of the best passports in the world, I’m able-bodied and I can work online. That’s a crap ton of luck right there. I’m not ungrateful.
Still, I’m going to make a confession. I really don’t want to, to be honest, because it won’t make me look good. It’s not cool, it’s not hilarious, it’s not Instagram-worthy, but here it is: just like so many other people around the world, I suffer from FOMO*.
*FOMO: Fear of missing out, defined as “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website”.
FOMO affects just about everyone, but especially millennials who seem to have the least resistance to it. FOMO causes anxiety, stress, and sometimes, even panic or depression, because regardless of what you’re doing or where you are, there’s always a chance that someone else is doing it better or is somewhere cooler. That’s why people check their phones even when they’re on a date or having dinner with friends; that’s why incessant scrolling through your Facebook or Instagram feeds might inexplicably make you feel like your life is duller than everyone else’s; that’s why people text while driving; that’s why we use filters for our photos and edit our captions, projecting our better, more exciting, funnier selves into the bottomless void that is social media. It’s like shadow theatre, except the shadows are now more real than us, and we tend to forget it’s a stage.
I’m not here to pontificate about the evils and dangers of social media, though. I’m here to make that confession. Here goes: objectively, I’ve got plenty to do, I ride, race, write, travel, and connect with people all over the world. But reality gets warped easily, and my FOMO manifests almost daily, especially when I’m scrolling through my Instagram feed. X is training with one of the best hard enduro coaches in the world, holy sh*t!! I wish I could afford that, too. Y is riding her bike around Africa, OMG I would love to be in Namibia right now. Z has just bought a trials bike and is training in Wales – wow, I wish I could do that, too. B is announcing his Africa Eco Race entry – man, this is a dream. K is selling her KTM690 – goddamn, this would be so perfect for the 2020 rally season. On and on it goes; and as I’m typing, I’m realizing how small and petty I sound. I should be happy for all of those amazing people doing all of those amazing things. I should feel inspired, or perhaps more motivated to get my own shit together, or I should be joyful how diverse and wonderful the motorcycle community is. And I sort of do feel all of those things. But more often than not, I feel the FOMO, the jealousy, and the anxiety more.
Yuval Noah Harari, one of my favorite authors, has said: connectivity does not equal harmony. In a weird but insightful chat with Mark Zuckerberg, Harari expressed his concerns how being connected online is warping and changing our physical reality and our minds. Similarly, in a book “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains”, author Nicolas Carr investigates the effects of constant browsing, skimming, googling, and social media scrolling on our ability to think deeply, focus, and create.
So is Google making us stupid?
Is social media turning us into shallow, petty creatures?
Probably. To a certain extent. Yes. After all, social media is meant to be addictive, and the internet is meant to give us quick answers and cheat sheets. Yet knowing all of this, we’ve got to share responsibility, too, otherwise we’ll have to face a nefarious possibility that we’re just docile, defenseless little sheeple being gently herded into a dystopian future. We might be traveling first class and have unlimited access to drinks, but the destination is still the slaughterhouse for minds and souls.
I wonder if there’ll be a movement to ditch the digital and go back to the physical; if people will start leaving Facebook and Instagram en masse, preferring instead to sit on their porches chatting to their neighbors or travel the world without documenting every breakfast and every mile; if we will go back to living in closely-knit, egalitarian nomadic tribes where it’s all for one and one for all minus the filters, the IGTV, and the Facebook engagement rates.
I wonder. But in the meantime, what about the FOMO? FOMO on the road, no less? Are there any antidotes?
Gratitude is one, I found. Another is understanding the multitude of reality layers; in my universe, Dakar riders are gods, motorcycles are divine symbols of unbridled freedom, and off-road riding is a noble quest. But there is another universe right next to it – a universe of, say, kitesurfers, where kitesurfing champions are gods, kites are divine symbols of unbridled freedom, and chasing the wind is a noble quest. I have no idea who Gisela Polido is, and I don’t give a rat’s ass about waves. Equally, kitesurfers have never heard of Toby Price and couldn’t care less about engines, dunes, or long-distance adventure riding. Yet, both of these realities coexist, and the subscribers of those two perfectly valid and completely irrelevant versions of reality believe in them absolutely.
In the end, though, the only version of reality that matters is your own.
And finally, ignorance is bliss: what you don’t know can’t bother you. So sometimes – in fact, most of the time – simply putting your phone away and going for a long motorcycle ride is the best thing you can do.
After all, that’s why we ride – so we can be present in the moment, so we can shed all the excess versions of reality and be alive, now, in the world, as it is, as it has always been.