Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who fights with monsters should take care, lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes long into you.” This quote has always inspired me, and reminded me of the dangers of travel.
In ancient Asia, places that had not been explored were marked on maps with a dragon. I have always viewed the unknown as some form of monster, and to travel into the unknown was to fight with that monster. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. I always come away from the experience as a slightly different person.
Nietzsche reminds me, though, that as I fight with this monster I should not become it. I should be weary that the road does not change me so much as to lose myself. It can be very easy to wake up one day to find that you have become a man of the road. Hard and cold, vast and indifferent. Every day spent on the road, every morning in a sleeping bag, every squashed ham sandwich, bowl of ramen soup, slice of fried spam, stale granola bar, all of these things, while beautiful and poetic in their own way, each take their toll. The experience of traveling in the unknown, with no reassurance of your self and who you are, except for memories, can be daunting. This is the void, this is the abyss.
It is terrifying: two wheels into the great beyond. When I imagine it, I never see a sunset; I see a deep rumbling Iowa thunderstorm. Rolling across the fields of corn as I streak down the asphalt, lumbering towards each other on an inevitable collision course. In this abyss of a storm, we are alone, and we are nothing. How can we define ourselves without anything to verify our stories? They are only tales, memories, and reassurances of who we think we are. Perhaps this is why we are drawn into the unknown, because out on the road we can be anything we want, including nothing. We can create the person that we want to be, or lose the man that we are afraid of being.
In the end, it is only our fears that hold us back. The fear that we will be forgotten as we venture into the abyss, that there will be nothing to return to and we will be lost, or the fear of not coming back at all. The abyss might swallow us whole, and return nothing to our families. Perhaps there will be no grave to mark our departure from this earth, no memorial scholarship, and no bench in the park with our name on it. These are the things that we too often live for. We live conservatively so that we might leave a handsome corpse for a nice open casket ceremony. We make sure to die in a hospital so we can be buried in the family plot of the cemetery. If this sounds ridiculous to you, it’s because it is.
Our lives cannot be dictated by fear, or our fears will win. Our battles with monsters cannot be on the terms of those monsters, or we will become them. The abyss cannot claim who we are, or there is no reason venture into it. I ride because I know whom I am, and I’m not ashamed of it. I ride because I am not afraid of death, but I know how to avoid it. I ride because my monsters underestimated my strength, and I will make them pay dearly for that.