On the first of the month I shared an email with you from a reader named “Phil G.” If you read that email in full, you would have learned that Phil was planning to make a trip by bike this coming year, but that he had some fears about making it happen. Not only did he have a mom that was overly protective and did not let him wander far from his house, but this trip by bike would be the first time in Phil’s entire life that he had ventured out on his own – despite the fact that he was 47 years old and still living at home with his “mama.” As the email went on, you learned that Phil was nervous about leaving home, but that he was even more petrified of something else – something few people would ever admit to being afraid of. You see, Phil was afraid of aliens! Yup, Phil was afraid of men from outer space… and he claimed to have numerous encounters with these creatures in his message to me. Of course, if you read all the way to the bottom of Phil’s email, you would have learned that the entire thing was 100% fiction – a story I made up for April Fool’s Day. Phil and his letter to me were entirely fake!
The story was not real and intended to be just a humorous read for the first day of April. But the truth is, many of the events, stories and themes mentioned throughout Phil’s fictitious email were true… and they were based on stories and events that have happened in my own life.
You see, when I first started traveling with my bike at the age of 17, I too was living at home with my parents and my trip along the California Coastline would be the first time in my life I had ever gone out on my own for an extended period of time. I was scared about venturing out by myself, but excited at the same time. I knew I needed at get out on my own at some point and I saw my bike trip as a chance to make it happen.
Like Phil, my mother was scared about my safety. My father was as well, but I don’t think he expressed it nearly as much as my mother did. My mom was worried that I was going to get hit by a car, be robbed at gun point, kidnapped, eaten by a bear, or something much worse. My biggest fear was that I simply wouldn’t be able to make it the entire way – that my legs would give out and I’d want to come home.
So, while my mother was protecting me in many ways, she did eventually let me go and I know it pained her to do so. I know she had trouble sleeping at night while I was gone and several times throughout that first trip she left anxious messages on my cell phone when I failed to check in after a day or two.
Overprotective parents are something a lot of people struggle with when it comes to world travel and bicycle touring. No one wants their child to be injured or sustain any kind of mental of physical pain. But at some point, you have to flee from the nest and go out on your own. I’ve never been a parent, so I don’t know what it’s like to let your kid go off by themselves for the very first time, but I’m guessing it’s gotta be rough. I wrote an article well-over a year ago with some tips for convincing your parents that a trip by bike is a good idea. I think the tips I share in that article are still valid today and I think they will help you and your parents see eye-to-eye, whether you are venturing out on a trip by bike or an expedition of any kind.
When Phil starts to talk about his encounters with aliens, he brings up a night he spent camping out in his own backyard. This is something I recommend first time campers do before they hit the road for an extended period of time. Camping at home in your backyard warms you up to what it is going to be like once you actually get out there and have to camp in the wild for real.
This, of course, is where Phil’s email starts to get a little strange. While camping in the tent, he sees a bright light (as bright at the sun) pass over his tent. It flies over once and then comes back for a second fly over. While the lights pass over, there is no sound and Phil seems to be nearly blinded from the silent yellow light glowing from above.
Believe it or not, this is something that happened to me while stealth camping in the mountains of Southern California. I was camping with my good friend Jason June, when all of a sudden a bright light passed over us, from left to right, without making a sound. It was nearly 1 AM and my eyes were closed, and yet the bright light shone completely through my eyelids – just as though I had stuck my face in front of a giant spotlight. Jason saw the light too and for several minutes we chatted back and forth, trying to figure out what the light could have been. It was then, completely out of the blue, that the light passed over a second time – at nearly the same speed and from nearly the same direction. It wasn’t a helicopter (as there was no sound) and it wasn’t a flashlight from a passing hiker. The light came from directly above, it was dead silent, nearly as bright as the sun and to this day I have no idea what it could have been. So, that part of Phil’s story is 100% true. I’m guessing the light Jason and I saw that day came from a nearby observation tower, but I really don’t know.
The reason I threw the aliens into Phil’s story is because my father is a huge science fiction fan. He collects these amazing sci-fi pulp magazines from the early 1900’s and for my entire life my bedroom and numerous parts of my house have been filled with images of spacemen and alien creatures. Not only were alien images dotted throughout my childhood home, but a recent study found that one-fifth of the human population now believes there are alien creatures among us. I think this statistic is alarmingly high, but interesting nevertheless.
Along the same lines, when I was in 6th grade (about 9 years old) I became extremely interested in the creature we know as “Bigfoot.” I wrote a paper that same year about the monster and have been petrified ever since that I might run into a giant human-ape while wandering around in the woods. In 7th grade my uncle, aunt and father took me for a 10-day backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, and with Bigfoot still on my mind, I remember being ever-so-slightly afraid to go off on my own – fearful that I might run into the creature. It sounds silly, but when I surveyed readers here at Bicycle Touring Pro, over 6% of the people who completed the survey said that when venturing in to the wild they were afraid of monsters (such as Bigfoot and aliens) as well as wild animals.
Finally, Phil’s email made mention of tiny implant like devices showing up under his skin after his alleged alien encounters. Alien implants are nothing new, but when a small metal-like bump showed up under the skin of my left shin after my 2006 bicycle tour, I joked with my father that maybe it was an implant from little green spacemen. All joking aside, I did have a small, BB-sized lump under my skin and I had no idea where it had come from. On a trip back to California, I went to a local doctor and he examined the bump. I had the thing X-rayed and found out that it wasn’t made of metal. I feared some kind of bone cancer, but the doctor assured me that that was not the case. In the end, the small hard bump turned out to be a collection of dried blood that had formed under my skin. The doctor thought that perhaps, while on my bike trip, I hit myself in the shin with my bike pedal and that this action created some kind of small, internal bleeding. The blood collected under the skin, dried out, and remained there for several months. I’m glad to report the bump is finally gone, but it was something that really scared me at the time and I’m glad it wasn’t cancer or an alien tracking device.
Phil’s email was a joke and it fooled a lot of people. But I think the reason so many people believed the letter to be real is because the events I described throughout were things that could potentially happen.
The reason I’m writing this article now, however, is because I don’t want you to be afraid. I’ve heard for years from people I’ve met on the road that they would love to travel the world, ride a bike, or do any number of things in their lives. But after they tell me all this, they then go on to describe why they are afraid to do those things and go after what it is they really want in life.
My point here, I guess, is that if you really put your mind to it, there are a lot of things in this world that you can be afraid of. But being afraid isn’t something that should stop you from traveling, dreaming big, or doing something incredible with your life.
Most people are afraid of rational things, like theft or robbery or simply not being able to physically handle the life of a long-term traveler. But when you think about it, these are small fears in comparison to what Phil and people like him deal with on a daily basis. So, I encourage you! Don’t let fear (rational or not) stop you from accomplishing the things you want in life. In the end, most of those fears are fictitious anyways. But the only way for you to find out for sure is to go out there and do it! Go after the things you want in life. Travel the world. Learn all you can! Dream big! And don’t let fear hold you back!