I wouldn’t say that there is anything particularly special about the capital city of Bolivia, but it does have one popular attraction that I wanted to experience. From La Paz, you can join a bike tour that takes you on a ride down the worlds most dangerous road, Death Road. I don’t believe it’s still the most dangerous road in the world, but it used to be and the name has stuck with it.
On my overnight bus to La Paz, I met two new travel companions, two Brazilian girls named Mel and Carol. The girls also wanted to tackle Death Road, so we signed up for a bike tour together as soon as we arrived. This was the only thing I was really interested in doing around La paz, but the girls had one more very important activity to take care of while in the city… Shopping.
La Paz is probably one of the cheapest places in South America to buy clothing, souvenirs and everything else. I decided to tag along for the shopping spree. We spent the day going from market to market. It seemed like every stall was selling the exact same things, but the girls, especially Carol, seemed to be able to find new things to buy everywhere we went.
In the end, I got into the shopping spirit as well and bought a sweater and scarf for a few dollars each. This was unusual for me, since I usually don’t buy anything when I travel. I’m glad I did though, since parts of Bolivia and Peru have been quite cold.
We had to wake up bright and early for our transportation to Death Road. When we arrived, the road was completely covered in mist and the air was freezing cold. The first hour of the bike ride was a mental battle. I was soaking wet within minutes of getting on my bike and the cold wind was cutting right through to my skin.
We stopped for a snack break at a little store along the way. The lady working there had a super cute little kid with her, who had mastered the art of extracting chocolate from tourists. We were all given chocolate in our snack bags. Whenever the kid saw someone pull out their chocolate, he would put his hands out like a beggar and look up at them with the cutest face. No one was able to resist.
Up to this point, I had been thinking that, besides the cold, the road wasn’t nearly as difficult or dangerous as I had expected. Then the pavement ended and we arrived at the real Death Road. The first hour was just a warm up before reaching the world’s most dangerous road.
The winding, unpaved, gravel road, running alongside a shear cliff face was more of what I had expected. Although I didn’t feel that the ride was actually too dangerous, it definitely provided enough of a thrill to get my adrenaline pumping. There were times, while riding over loose gravel that I felt my bike lose traction and my heart would skip a beat, even though I knew the road was wide enough and I wasn’t taking the turns fast enough to actually fall off the road.
One of the most difficult challenges was staying focused on the task at hand of safely navigating my way down the road, while still enjoying the absolutely beautiful scenery at the same time.
I was reminded of a lesson I learned from one of my favourite books, The Alchemist. In the book, the protagonist is told a story. A boy is sent by his father to visit the wisest man in the world. The wise man tells the boy that he doesn’t have time at that moment to explain to him the secret of happiness. He hands the boy a teaspoon with two drops of oil on it and tells him to look around the palace and return in two hours, without letting any oil spill from the spoon.
The boy walked through the palace, never taking his eyes off the spoon, being careful not to lose any of the oil. When he returned, the wise man asked, “did you see the Persian tapestries that are hanging in my dining hall? Did you see the garden that it took the master gardener ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?” The boy admits that he did not notice any of these things because he was so concentrated on the oil.
The wise man tells the boy to explore the palace once again and to this time, observe the marvels of the palace. The boy picks up the spoon and leaves to explore the palace once again. This time when he returned to the wise man, he proceeded to share every detail of all the marvels that he had seen.
The wise man says, “But where are the drops of oil I entrusted to you?” The boy looked down and saw that the spoon was now empty.
The wise man then says, “The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon.”
Interpret the lesson in this story as you will, but here is how I understood it… The story taught me to enjoy life and experience all the wonders that this world has to offer, without forgetting the responsibility I have to fulfill my life mission, be productive and make a positive contribution to the world.
I love business. I want to be productive and make a positive difference in the world, but I don’t want to be so completely consumed by this that I miss out on experiencing the marvels of the world.
I also love to travel, but I don’t want to be someone that gets lost in the free and easy lifestyle, enjoying every day to the fullest, but has no idea where they’re going in life and is making no contribution to the world.
I was reminded of this story because during the bike ride, I found myself in a situation where I was able to practice this principle. To make the most of the day I had to stay focused on the road, while enjoying the beautiful scenery around me at the same time. And the scenery was beautiful!
When we made it to the end, we were greeted with a cold beer and we celebrated that we survived Death Road! In my opinion, as long as you are paying attention and not being reckless, the ride is not actually dangerous. There were people on my tour that didn’t have much experience on a bike and they were fine.
That being said, one side of death road is a cliff face, so if someone is careless, it can be fatal. 1000’s of people do this ride every month and our guide said that over the past 20 years, there has been an average of 3 deaths a year. The last fatality on Death Road happened 3 years ago, when a tourist was taking selfies of himself, with his Iphone, while riding at full speed.
One principle that I’ve learned to be true is that how we do anything is how we do everything. If you don’t believe this, then take a course with PSI Seminars or Peak Potentials and you will learn through first hand experience, that this is very much true. We can use an experience as simple as a bike ride to learn a lot about ourselves and how we show up in the world.
People who are recklessly taking tight corners, at high speeds or passing other bikers when it is unsafe to do so, are probably making reckless decisions in their life and are causing suffering to themselves and/or others because of this.
On the other hand, those who are constantly slowing down, never willing to approach the limits of their comfort zone, are probably doing the same thing in life and therefore not taking the necessary risks needed to achieve the things they really want. Jim Rohn said, “Be cautious, but not too cautious.”
People who spend the entire ride nervous and worried about falling, instead of enjoying the experience, are probably also living their lives in fear and missing out on fully enjoying a lot of the great experiences that are right in front of them every day.
I could go on and on…
As I rode down Death Road, I kept this idea in the front of my mind. I understood that how I was riding my bike was a reflection of how I live my life. I was very aware of how I was showing up. I am not going to share my entire reflection on this experience, but I will share a couple observations I made.
First, I noticed that I consistently found myself in the lead group, but rarely in the lead position. I would usually be the 2nd or 3rd biker, but I tended to hold back for someone to go first. I noticed that the couple times I went first, it was only because the person who was normally in the lead, was not ready to go and no one else was moving to take the front position. That is until I noticed I was doing this. After that I made a point of interrupting my habit pattern and going first more often after that.
I do the same thing in my life. I know that I am capable of leading and when I do I usually achieve great results. However, when there are other people ready to step up to lead, I usually stand back and let them, even if I feel like I am the most capable person in that specific situation.
In my business I have no problem leading. When I am around people who know me and look to me to take a leadership role, I have no problem leading. But when I am with a group of people that don’t know me, I tend to stand back and play small, unless there is no one else that steps up.
The second observation I made is that when the road was solid I felt totally comfortable and relaxed going very fast on the downhill slopes. However, whenever I felt myself losing traction, while riding on loose gravel, I would tighten up my grip on the handlebars and my entire body would tense up. This seemed to put me even further out of control.
Stuart was the fastest rider in the group and seemed to have no problem riding at high speeds, on loose gravel. After the ride, he told me that the trick is to stay relaxed. When you are completely relaxed, you can easily make little adjustments as your bike gets put slightly off course by the gravel. This is much harder if you are stiff.
It’s hard though, because my natural reaction was to tighten up and try to take back control of the situation by force. It takes a lot of courage and trust for me to stay relaxed when things seem out of my control.
Again, I can relate this to my life. I trust myself and will push my limits when results are within my control. I also trust other people when I know that results are within their control. In my business one of my strengths was delegation.
Where I struggle is when the outcome is not within my control. This is why it was always so hard for me to be vulnerable and risk looking bad. Telling someone whom I care about how much they mean to me, having deep conversations, opening up emotionally, approaching girls that I am attracted to, and speaking in public…
These are the kind of situations that always made me tense up though out my life, like I did on the gravel on Death Road. The kind of situations where I have no control over how other people will react. Where all I can do is speak from my heart and trust that everything will work out. And to trust that even if it doesn’t, that’s OK as well, because although I can’t control how others react, I can always control my own reaction to every situation.
We can take any experience and use it as a reflection of our life, to learn a lot about how we are showing up in reality. Making observations like these are not going to immediately change our lives, but the first step to change is awareness. People will never change, until they see the need to.
With awareness, we then have a choice. We can take the necessary, usually uncomfortable actions to change or we can choose not to. For me, sharing personal weaknesses in my blog, like I have above, is not naturally comfortable for me, but its one way I am able to interrupt a habit pattern that is not serving me.