The road trip that changed my life…
This past April 2017, a few friends and I decided to embark on a journey around the United States. I did expect it to be awesome, but I did not expect it to change my life and me as a person in the ways that it did.
My best friend’s parents let us use their pickup truck (A new Toyota Tundra might I add. Why they trusted us with that beauty I still haven’t figured out.) and their camper trailer, so we could travel around the country and stay anywhere we could park the thing.
We packed our bags, filled the truck and off we went!
I have to admit, I was feeling like Sam Wise in Lord of The Rings, Fellowship of The Ring when he and his fellow hobbit friends pledged to take the journey into Mordor with Frodo.
I was crazy excited and crazy anxious at the same time. So, you could imagine for the first hour I didn’t blink and there was enough adrenaline rushing through my veins to make Moby Dick’s heart explode. I kept my cool though, and put on a fake stunt like it was just another day.
As the hours passed and the miles tallied up, my adrenaline reduced and I was able to actually make sense of what I was doing. I was taking on a journey into the unknown! With some amazing people, I might add. The unknown, something many people avoid, something I had avoided up until this moment.
Sitting there, probably around hour 5 of driving, I realized I was at peace. I caught myself starring out the window, not anxious just relaxed. What I realized in that moment was that everything from the second I sat my ass in that pickup truck was going to be new. New places, new experiences and new memories! This realization made me more excited than your 14yr old boy neighbor watching you water your plants in a white shirt (if you happen to be a woman reading this. If you’re a dude… You’re kinda weird for watering plants in white shirts). But with the excitement came some fear and anxiety which is expected when journeying into the unknown!
The journey was underway!
We visited so many national parks, hiked the most amazing trails and found some places that probably no one knew about but were absolutely beautiful. Although the landscapes might not have been as intense as middle earth (another lord of the rings reference) they were incredible.
You really cannot appreciate the true wonders of this amazing planet until you are there in physical contact with them. There is a surge of energy that is pulsating through your entire body, it is nowhere near as good as busting a nut… but it’s a pretty great feeling.
You come to understand how unimportant you are, how small your existence really is, and at least in my experience, I was humbled by this.
I hope everyone gets a chance to feel this feeling of being so unimportant in the universe. It makes you realize how crazy it is that you are even here in the first place! Once you understand that the chances of you being here are even less than the chances of Frodo succeeding in destroying the ring of fire (that’s pretty F*cking incredible), you will be humbled and have a feeling of gratitude flow throughout your body.
For about a month we traveled around the states and during my time on this amazing adventure into the unknown, my life was transformed. Although many things have changed inside me from this amazing experience I will share with you the big 3.
Increased My Patience:
You know that camper trailer I mentioned earlier? Well it’s made for 2 people to live somewhat comfortably… We had 4 people living in there at once and I can say it wasn’t necessarily comfortable.
We stacked 3 people in the bed and 1 on the floor. Crammed doesn’t begin to explain the inside of that camper. 4 bodies, 4 sets of camping gear, 4 full bags of clothes and much more.
If you can picture the madness happening inside that camper trailer you are probably picturing correctly. Living in there required an immense amount of patience which I had developed over that month on the road.
When you live side by side with people in such a small environment for long periods of time you begin to notice their little habits, which will be different than yours. You come to understand that they do things a different way, not because they want to piss you off or make things more difficult for you or other people but because that’s how it is programmed in their own mind. Once you realize this, you realize that you are the same exact way and they feel the same about you and your little habits!
We all have our own little habits and ways of doing things that may not be the same as others and that is not a problem. The problem comes when you have a problem with other people’s ways of doing things or vice versa. This leads to irritability, anger and possible resentment.
I learned very quickly that my friends and I did some things very differently and in order for this trip to be successful we were going to have to practice patience with each other. That is exactly what we did and I can honestly say we had maybe 4 “fights” really just disagreements on the entire trip.
Not only did I learn patience from being around multiple people in such small spaces for long periods of time. But I also became more patient from all of the driving.
You see, I am from NJ… In NJ we drive fast, and we drive with purpose. I am not saying it’s the right way to drive (it’s the only way to drive… picture the scene in The Fellowship of The Ring when Arwen is carrying Frodo on her horse getting chased by the dark riders, that is us NJ folk on the road!) I am saying that driving in NJ has made it difficult to drive in other places for the sole reason that everywhere else is moving at a slightly slower pace. I had to adjust not only to driving slower because of other drivers but also because we could not exceed a certain speed towing the camper trailer.
Towing that tin lunch box was difficult in the beginning, but with some time and patience I mastered that son of b*tch!
Okay so we had to drive slower because of what we were towing, be more cautious because of what we were towing and drive slower because the people who were not from NJ were driving like normal people!!
Now throw into the mix 8 hour driving shifts!! A truck packed with 4 people and our carry-on belongings for 8 hour shifts at a time… It was crammed, uncomfortable, boring and hard to please everyone at the same time. Sometimes we might not all have wanted to listen to a certain type of music, or podcast, maybe we wanted silence to nap but others wanted blasting music and so on. We were forced to be patient with each other or else we would not have made it an hour without someone exploding.
Lastly what taught me about patience on this road trip was Mother Nature herself!
Hiking these national parks, you are surrounded by natures unbelievable, immaculate and beautiful landscapes and you really come to understand patience. These landscapes took millions and millions of years to develop and now we appreciate the beauty and wonder they bring to our eyes.
It took millions of years for these natural wonders to develop and it puts into perspective the idea that it’s okay not to rush things in life. Sometimes we find ourselves on autopilot mode with cruise control set to 100mph! When we should slow down, relax and understand that some things in life take time, and that is perfectly okay.
Reduced My Anxiety:
This road trip completely transformed my levels of anxiety. It is actually remarkable and sometimes I can’t believe how much it really helped.
Now although we do not have to fight off orc’s or follow a lying creepy creature into the land of Mordor with everyone in middle earth trying to find us (if you watched lord of the rings you know Frodo’s anxiety levels would kill anyone living in our real world.) we still have anxiety in our lives.
Anxiety isn’t a bad thing, too much anxiety is a bad thing. What the road trip did to help my anxiety was place me in situations I have never been in, which forced me to step out of my comfort zone. Every place we went to was a new place with new people and new experiences.
I no longer have any social anxiety, or anxiety in a work place, I do not have anxiety in my relationships, nor do I have anxiety driving, I do not have (excess) anxiety period. I do get anxious! Which is healthy, we need to get anxious at times. But I do not have chronic anxiety that keeps me inside my own bubble and cripples me any longer.
The reason my anxiety has declined in such profound ways is because I was forced to do what made me anxious and uncomfortable. I have learned that the best way to overcome anxiety is to go head first into what is making you anxious, not shying away from it. The road trip placed a lot of these situations along my path.
I learned through experience that it also depends on the mindset you have when approaching these fears and situations that fire up your anxious tendencies. If you try to overcome fear and anxieties with a fearful, scared mindset, you will struggle and might even be crippled or become more anxious and fearful.
Instead you have to be courageous! You must establish the mindset that you can do this thing that is making you fearful, and you will. If you pursue things with this mindset you become braver, gain courage and begin to overcome your fears!
Every experience on the road trip was new to me and a lot of anxiety followed. But with every passing day my anxiety lessened and lessened until I was completely comfortable in almost every situation.
Some things that provoked anxiety:
- Driving for hours on roads we did not know.
- Sleeping in places that were off the map.
- Hiking for miles on paths we did not know. Walking on the edge of cliffs and climbing onto, across and down crazy landscapes.
- Camping in the middle of a desert during a hardcore thunder and lightning storm.
- Encountering wild animals.
- Crossing paths with random people.
- Making sure we weren’t spending too much money.
- And so much more.
This is just a short list of things that had made me anxious, there was plenty more believe me!
Some of the ability to overcome anxiety also has to do with the fact that I was with other people who were also experiencing new places, fears and everything that follows. We unconsciously in our own ways helped each other in every situation.
If I saw one of them do something that I thought I couldn’t do, all of the sudden a switch clicked in my brain “huh maybe I can do that. Let’s give it a try!”. Or if I saw one of them was nervous I would react by showing them the ropes, not consciously but unconsciously lending a helping hand. Having people around you who are also breaking fear barriers and even breaking yours while doing so is extremely powerful and I am grateful for such amazing friends!
If you can, I strongly encourage you to go out and pursue the things that make you anxious with a group of friends. It helps tremendously and most of the time you guys will have fun doing it!
Just think of Frodo… There is no possible way he could have kept on his journey to middle earth without that solid group of friends who also took the journey with him.
Do you know how many obstacles Frodo had to overcome?? The mother**ker was stabbed by a giant cave troll, kidnapped, poisoned by a giant spider the size of king kong and to make matters worse he had a dark lord constantly mind f*cking him every day! If he didn’t have Sam Wise or his crew next to him he wouldn’t have even made it out of the shire.
What this road trip taught me is that really no matter what happens, you can figure it out. I do not worry about things like I used to because I know I will figure it out. I still get anxious and have some anxiety but my levels are healthy not destructive.
Shattered My Mind:
Yup, this road trip completely shattered my mind. It took me through a series of new experiences which completely upgraded my software (brain). My belief patterns were stopped dead in their place and my perspectives on life were tested and forced to evolve.
It was incredible.
We all live inside a walled structure (our minds) and we build these walls ourselves over time from the experiences we have and the information we download into our brain. But not all of these experiences and information are accurate all of the time. As time goes on we continue to build these walls, “brick by brick”, experience by experience. But if we are living in the same place, doing the same things day in and day out we continue to build these walls but with the same bricks (same experiences) every day until it gets so high we can’t see over it!
This is when we become “stuck in our ways” in which we rarely receive or give energy from outside of our walls and we live in limited exposure to the world around us. We live with the limited knowledge and experience we have been exposed to and create stories to fill in the gaps and these become our beliefs and perspectives of life.
The only way to truly understand something and get a healthy belief / perspective is to experience things first hand. Not just from one experience but many experiences that expose you to different stimulus in order to create an accurate and healthy view of the world around you.
So how do we do this? By purposely placing ourselves in situations we have not experienced because doing so allows us to begin to break down those walls inside our minds. Eventually when you have been exposed to enough experiences of something specific, the wall you initially built around that specific something will shatter and you have to rebuild it using the new bricks (perspectives and knowledge from experience) you now have available to you.
This is exactly what happened to me on this road trip! Every new experience was mind shattering and allowed for the rebirth of my perspectives and beliefs which has dramatically changed my life.
Sitting outside the camper one night in the Badlands of South Dakota, I was looking at the amazing land in front of me lit up by the full moon above. Buffalo were sleeping out in the distance and the howls of coyotes was the soundtrack in the background.
I started to think…
How come most people have a hard time venturing out of their home town? Why is it so hard for some of us to go far from where we have lived all our lives and see the world?
I know exactly why, because I struggled to venture far away from my home base for a while. It just did not seem possible in my mind, I could not see over the walls I had built up during my lifetime.
How am I supposed to just leave my job, friends, family (the little family I have), my daily obligations etc. for an extended period of time??
What if things change while I am gone? What if I lose my job? What if, what if, what if…
I came to realize there is always a “what if” and there will always be a reason for any of us to not stray away from home. Is it easy to drop everything and leave? Absolutely not. But that is why we should do it, to shatter our walls.
In order to keep excelling as a person we need to challenge our boundaries and shatter these walls we build in our minds. And a good way to do that is by leaving the boundaries and walls of where you grew up in order to challenge the world views you hold so dearly.
There will always be more opportunities, more relationships, more money to make and more time to spend at your house.
But there is not a lot of time to travel the world and grow as a person while doing so, and there is not a lot of time to challenge your world views, because the longer you believe them the harder they are to change.
How we operate in this world is a direct reflection of our beliefs and perspectives. How can one have a solid belief of the world if they have never truly experienced any of it besides the small confines of their home town.
I have come to realize through experience that it is a must to travel out of where you are from to unknown parts of this world, in order to help us grow and evolve into the best versions of ourselves.
Venturing out to new places, having new experiences and meeting new people will 100% help construct more positive and rational views and perspectives into your being which will in turn help you become a wiser more knowledgeable and fulfilled human being.
This is how we grow and evolve as individuals and become wiser, humbled and possibly enlightened. I would describe this mind shattering experience as Gandalf in the Mines of Moria when he encounters the Balrog (giant flaming demon beast from hell) and falls down into the depths of hell after the bridge under him had shattered (from his conscious effort). Gandalf ends up “dying” on his journey down while fighting a demon only to be reborn into a new, wiser and more powerful version of himself.
This is an interpretation of our minds shattering! When our walls come down we enter into chaos, just as Gandalf did. As we begin to rebuild our walls we reestablish order and our walls come back stronger (we grow wiser and more knowledgeable).
You need to shatter your mind, you need to road trip.
Road tripping was the single greatest thing I have ever done so far in my time here on earth. I want to thank the people who made it possible: my best friend’s father and mother Dave & Lisa for providing the truck, camper, and absolutely everything in-between. And my father and mother Tom & Dee for supporting me and making it possible for me to leave for a month from my life at home. I also want to thank my amazing friends for taking the journey with me, Mike, Liz & Andy. It was our own little Lord of The Rings adventure and I cannot wait for the next one!!