“ Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”- Mark Twain
This was the guiding wisdom I ‘packed’ with me as I set off on my scooter as part of the Ride the Future Tour. And what I was about to do did indeed involve ‘sailing away’ from my own safe harbour. After hearing about the opportunity (through a chance encounter at a cafe in Bangkok) and after some contemplation, I resigned from my UN job in Thailand and booked a one-way flight to America. Professionally, it was a questionable decision. But I knew instinctively that this was a journey I needed to take.
So on the 4th July 2013, there I was in Charleston, South Carolina, about to embark on a 7000km road trip. But this journey was a little different than most road trips across America; we had a team of nine as well as a documentary film crew. We powered our vehicles with lithium-ion batteries. No gas. And we were also aiming for four Guinness World Records for the longest distance ever travelled by electric car, electric motorbike, electric scooter and electric bicycle.
My vehicle of choice was the electric scooter, which at full throttle could reach about 50km/hour and yes, we were heading for the great big interstates of America. I’d never ridden a scooter before, at least not until my parking lot test run the night before departing. I also knew very little about electric vehicles. I didn’t know how were they charged, where we’d find spare batteries and what would happen if we ran out of power on a dark, lonely road…
And it wasn’t until the eve of our big journey that I even met those I was about to spend an intensive 44 days with all the way to California — one Brit, five Americans, all recruits to the cause and all from very different backgrounds. Who were these people? Would we get along? I had no idea what lay ahead and in all truth, no idea whether this journey was even possible.
But underlying our Guinness World Record attempt there was a much greater purpose; the Ride the Future Tour involved stopping in 44 cities along the way to really soak in the vast American country, to learn about life in America from locals at planned town events, to take on something completely new as part of a team and to share in celebrating the advent of a new and much more sustainable means of transportation.
The film, “Kick Gas”, documents our journey through the 44 cities with a focus on the incredible diversity of the American landscape, from underground caves in McMinnville, Tennessee, to the cascading hills around Santa Fe, New Mexico. We took Route 66 all the way from Oklahoma, rode past the big oil rigs of Texas and explored the overwhelmingly beautiful Grand Canyon. We paraded our vehicles along the dazzling Las Vegas strip and we watched the sunset along the great Californian coast of Big Sur. All the while, we moved forward on our electric vehicles, edging closer to our finish line.
While the vehicles fascinated those we met (and we’ve answered hundreds of questions about charging, electric vehicle infrastructure, cost and efficiency), what was most encouraging for me was the reaction to the challenging journey itself. We felt like celebrities in small towns like Oden (with a population of 232). We gained riders as we went and at one point, we received a police escort into McMinnville, Tennessee, by Mayor Jimmy Daley. We made prime time news in Nashville which led to a long train of toots and cheers as we pulled out of the city the next morning. And we were welcomed with champagne and much celebration at our final destination, Google Headquarters, Mountain View, California. There were likely many who saw us passing and were left scratching their heads at the sight of our string of electric vehicles. But as strange as we appeared, all those we met were nothing but encouraging of our journey.
As people, we do well at supporting others willing to push the bounds of perceived limitations, especially in the face of challenges. We are, ultimately, creatures with the innate will to survive and to thrive and hence so awed and so inspired by the audacious human spirit. By pushing ourselves physically to achieve what no other had before (even if we were ill-equipped, ill-prepared and unsure of our ability to make the full distance..), we’ve helped to educate in a fun and powerful way about a transition that needs to happen in the face of enormous challenges to our natural environment. I hope the journey also encourages others to push the bounds of their ‘limitations’ and in the eloquent words of Mark Twain, sail away from the safe harbour.
I’m sure the experience of this journey will inform decisions I choose to take in my own life. I know for certain the people I’ve met along the way have already enriched it.
In 2013, I travelled the length of the United States, from Charleston, South Carolina right through to San Francisco, California. Our journey has been made into a film, Kick Gas. Our ambition was to set four Guinness World Records for the longest distance ever travelled by four different types of electric vehicle (car, scooter, motorbike, bicycle). I’ve written about the journey here.
Six months later, I’m better able to reflect on what stepping outside our comfort zones can teach us. Here’s three lessons this journey has taught me about happiness.
- Happiness is being present in the moment. We might think we know this, but we don’t usually live this way. In fact, I’ve spent a lot of my time obsessing over becoming something better. It was always about earning more, getting thinner, looking better or jumping the professional ladder, all of which I thought would make me happier. But I was constantly anxious because this drew my attention away from the moment. When you are alone on a scooter for hours on end, you have a lot of time to be in ‘the moment’ — something we don’t usually allow ourselves to do. It was during these times that I felt most calm. I saw that the life within me was quiet and still and I felt completely fulfilled.
- Happiness is in living for others. I believe people are innately good and want to do good. Doing going, however, depends on how well we understand the needs of others so that we can meet those needs. But when do we ever sit down with another person, particularly somebody we don’t know well, just to listen? I think often about all the very different people I met along this journey and how different they were from each other. They each have a unique story worth sharing. For most people in this world, their stories go largely untold. I realised through this journey that I’d been rushing to make something of myself and tell a good story. But there were beautiful, enriching stories all around me. I just needed to stop and listen.
- Happiness is in living our individual truths. Before this journey, I had what on paper might appear like a fairly successful life. But I wasn’t happy. Success isn’t some easily determinable thing — it is and it should be different for everyone. I realised that in all I had achieved, I had been aspiring toward somebody else’s definition of success. It was easier to hide behind this, however, than brave a big scary world on my own. Heading off on the electric scooter represented what I felt I wasn’t actually brave enough to do in ‘real life’. But by standing up to this challenge, I gained the courage to start following my own individual truth.
There were lots of bumps and grazes as a result of this journey, but I’ve gained immensely in what I’ve learnt from this experience. My life is richer for the calm I feel and for the diversity of characters I now consider friends. And building meaningful connection with others is my truth.