Note from the Editor: John Lewis was a guest on the WC010 motorcycle trip to Yosemite who chronicled his experience for Ontraport a company he works for owned by Landon Ray, another guest on this trip. This article was originally published on Medium.com and is used with permission.
How a 250cc motorcycle can help you get back on your entrepreneurial path
Written by: John Lewis WC010 Alumni
I met a shaman once who told me that Westerners have lost the ability to be alert, awake, and observant with senses fully engaged and body relaxed. I considered this idea when I signed up for a three-day motorcycle trip with Wilderness Collective, a nuts-to-bolts outfitter led by a young, tough and freewheeling Canadian guide named Steve Dubbeldam.In nature, it’s easier to quiet your cleverness.
WC promised us things that weren’t implicitly stated in the beautifully shot and well-edited promo videos on their website. Itwas clear from the site that we’d be well-fed and provided with all the creature comforts. It wasn’t as clear that we’d riding on loose gravel with a few treacherous river crossings and cliffs, and that we’d be led through fire roads we’d never be able to navigate on our own. On a personal note, I knew I was in way over my head as I had never ridden on dirt before and wasn’t sure what adjustments I would need to make until I was actually riding. If you’ve ever started a business, this sounds quite familiar.
You see, I had just spent the last five years of my life entrepreneuring in Beijing, China with a business of my own creation. I didn’t have a Steve Dubbeldam to lead the way to make sure I “got out”. I learned Mandarin “on the job” speaking to a patient, bilingual staff, and I definitely ate things for dinner that most Americans trim and toss. Riding dirt was comparable to learning a language with over 2,000 characters and trying to explain to demanding Chinese VC’s how I planned to spend 7.5 million rmb (over $1M USD): While I was in way over my head, it was all figure-outable. This feeling was exactly why I signed up for this trip, and is the hallmark of being an adaptable leader and engaged participant in the journey of life.
And depending on what bike you decided to try, connected to a snappy, fun-to-ride Honda 250 (or 650). In my case, I rode both.
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
As mentioned, WC and Steve have a strict no-electronics-on-the-trip policy. No cell phones. No cameras. The idea is that, without your (de)vices, you can be totally present with other riders (all men) and ultimately connect to your purpose as you rip through 100+ miles a day of John Muir’s perfectly preserved Sierra foothills en route to the Yosemite Valley. (Note to naturalists and John Muir fans: the “archetype of our oneness with earth” can be achieved with proper braking and increased throttle. More on that later.)
Three hundred plus miles in three days of riding with new eight new fast friends and the WC staff (Steve, Yao, our videographer, and superstar Chris who somehow, in the middle of the Sierras, whipped-up cider braised pork shoulder, bison chili, and bacon-wrapped filet mignon, accompanied by handmade cocktails) I got clear on one thing real quick. Riding a motorcycle and running a business have a helluva lot in common, it really is all about the journey.
Realize, I have seen friends test the laws of gravity and the strength of human relationships to know this truth for themselves. In my case, I took a few turns too wide on this trip and applied too much brake and found myself face down in the Sierra dirt.
In 2003, I took a turn too wide on the Kancamagus Highway from rural Vermont through the white mountains of New Hampshire when “it” happened and my entire nervous system was set on fire. I misjudged a turn and found myself on the other side of that yellow line that separates motorcyclists from organ donors. Here in the Sierras, that feeling is no different except there isn’t much time to be present when throttle, poor judgement and gravity slam you face first into mother earth. That honor was shared by pretty much every guy on this trip, and certainly some more than others (no names here).
In motorcycling I always check my mirrors because the stuff behind me, if ignored, will run me over. On the road, it might be a distracted motorist, a texter, or even a reader. (Sadly, I have actually seen people reading novels while driving in L.A. commuter traffic.)
Entrepreneurs build on the past to inform their future — but they never dwell on the failure. Entrepreneurs and motorcyclists both know about scar tissue and how it makes you tougher. (And let’s be honest, it also makes the story just that much better.)
If you stare at one thing too long, it can become too hard to focus on anything else. The spiritualists and self-help gurus will tell you that if you constantly think about one thing, it expands in your mind. Think you’re poor? Focus on your lack of abundance and it will continue to define your reality. In life, you might end up working too much or obsessing over a business relationship you want to control.
Don’t think that little thing in the road isn’t important. Maybe it was an argument, a snarky comment you made, the copy you approved too quickly, or the loose end left undone. Nothing is little if left unexamined. On a bike, it can take the form of loose gravel or a flattened can that decides to become a moveable surface when you apply the brake.
Next step, get off your bike, put the kickstand down, and help your bro push his bike out. Here’s lesson 3.5: If you get through a difficult period in your business, you are obligated to help someone else. Even if they don’t want help, and perhaps they won’t, but you should ask. You should feel an obligation to pull the next person through to where you are; to share your lessons.
Richard Branson explained in a TV interview that during difficult cash flow periods in his startup days with Virgin, he would investment-spend his way out of troubling financial times to show his competitors that he was still in the fight.
Whether it’s an opportunity to go at your competition, or the chance to test limits and alter your approach — throttle makes the difference. Find that happy place between throttle and brake, between expanding and contracting, or being in the front or adjusting to a different position that works for you. Don’t compare yourself to others; find that sweet spot and own it in your business and in your life.
I tell my kids this story at least once a week. When I worked at Nike my boss always said that “God was in the details.” On a motorcycle it’s obvious within seconds if your preparation is rushed. On a solo ride, I didn’t pull my gloves over my jacket cuff and a bee flew up my sleeve at 75 mph on the PCH — and stung me on my arm. In business this means your code might be off and create bugs, or there’s a typo on your website which creates a lack of trust with your reader. Be obsessive.
Hell yeah motorcycles are dangerous…and so is starting a business. The danger is only relative to the danger of NOT doing the thing you need to do. If it’s in you it is in you and the pain of not having tried is not the movie you want to play back at the end of your life.
The energy associated with danger and uncertainty are most certainly your friend. This is not a speech about getting outside your comfort zone, this is more about channeling that crazy energy into your life’s purpose. Ultimately, the bike is nothing more than a tool to help you check in with yourself. It helps quell the cleverness and the business that distracts you and guides you back onto the ‘right’ spiritual (read: metaphorical) path. If you’re not sure what your path is, quiet the chatter in your head and identify a philosophy that resonates with the life you are meant to lead.