“Advance, and never halt, for advancing is perfection. Advance and do not fear the thorns in the path, for they draw only corrupt blood.” – Khalil Gibran
I once saw Kevin Muggleton, founder and president of Redverz Gear and Dakar Rally competitor, give a talk at RoadRUNNER‘s Touring Weekend. Kevin spoke about the challenges of not only applying for permission to take part in the Dakar Rally, but also the financial and logistical challenges of preparing a bike to ride and the intense physical training involved. He described what it’s like to compete in the toughest race in the world and how he ultimately crashed from atop a 100-foot sand dune, broke his back, and endured months of recovery and rehabilitation, which included learning to walk again.
I had a feeling that Kevin’s talk would end with him telling us that he had applied to race the Dakar again the following year, and that’s exactly what he said. As I write this, Kevin is training for the next Dakar. By the time this column makes it to print, the Dakar will have been completed. For me, riding 300 miles on smooth pavement can make me feel physically battered, so it’s beyond my ability to comprehend the sort of mental and physical toughness it must require to ride up to 500 miles a day in sand, dirt, and water in blistering heat and freezing cold for two straight weeks. It got me to thinking about what makes us want to take up riding in the first place, and what makes something like the Dakar so appealing despite the inherent danger and barriers to entry. I wait for the race to air on television every year; I devour the coverage of each day’s stages.
It’s not dissimilar to those of us who simply, at some point or another, decided to take up riding motorcycles—although the Dakar is obviously at a much higher risk level. It can’t be explained in any rational way to anyone who doesn’t understand it. There’s a voice you start hearing inside that taps you on the shoulder from time to time and whispers in your ear, “You have to try this.” If you don’t listen, it keeps calling; and life starts to feel a bit un-lived until you finally decide to take action. No one would blame you if you didn’t; no one would even know about the urge unless you told them. But deep down, where the heart wants what it wants, you would feel something has been left un-done, un-attempted, and not yet dealt with. I’ve run marathons and mud runs, raced biathlons, and climbed rocks, but lately the voice I hear tells me only to ride and to write about riding.
In the documentary Man On Wire, high-wire artist Philippe Petit explains sitting in a dentist’s office and seeing a picture in a magazine of the proposed World Trade Center towers years before they were built. He said he knew in an instant that once they were built, he would walk between them on a tight rope, which he did in 1974. The man spent six years planning the walk, spent the night prior hiding under a tarp in the unfinished upper floors to elude security, strung the wire, and then made his dream come true by making eight crossings between the towers in 45 minutes.
Whether you are Kevin Muggleton racing the Dakar, Philippe Petit walking on a wire, someone who dreams of taking that first ride (or a long, solo ride to reconnect with lost loved ones), or someone trying to recharge themselves and breathe the wild air, the voice is the same. We all have that slow burning flame inside us in varying degrees that has to be tended to. The dominant emotion is never fear; the dominant emotion is always love—that and a yearning to be moved and to reach, to return to the bliss of youth despite the voices of those who would rather you didn’t take risks or pursue your joy. That’s the corrupt blood Kahlil Gibran was talking about—all the voices that would have you avoid doing what you are called to do and who would say it’s dangerous and irresponsible.
Petit said in a recent talk, “Remember, when you see mountains, mountains can be moved,” and that when we inspire ourselves, we inspire others. It’s one of the great joys embodied in the spirits of Kevin Muggleton and Philippe Petit who, when you hear them speak, seem only to have inhaled inspiration and cannot help but inspire others as a result.