When the difference between being an “inspiration” and being an “idiot” is one small error.
Before I set off on a motorcycle adventure, I thought a lot about death. Motorbikes are seriously dangerous, right? Riders often end up painting the road with the brushstroke of their face. They drop like flies and end up making their own Jackson Pollock-style masterpiece with intestines strewn on the footpath.
My fear was justified, I thought. The gory images in my mind were rational.
Or were they…?
I struggle to tell the difference between rational and irrational fears. I read a lot of great books on the subject because I’m always seeking clarity, but I’m starting to see through experience that it might not be possible for any of us to completely understand what is rational and what is irrational (outside of immediate danger, of course).
Since I wasn’t certain about the source of my motorcycling fear, I decided to try it and see if maybe I was wrong. Perhaps it’s not really all that dangerous? I wondered. Maybe motorbikes have a bad reputation because it’s an alluring outlet for reckless, careless, angry types?
After 2,000 kms and a lot of thinking time, this is what I’ve come to:
Inspiration versus idiocy
Say that somebody named Ellen makes a decision to do something spectacularly bold with her life. It could go one of two ways: she could succeed, or she could fail. Here are some examples of how the public might respond to those two possible outcomes—
1. Ellen comes out unscathed and successful: “Bravo! A bold and daring feat! What a true inspiration! Let’s share her story with the kids and show them what is possible! Let’s Knight her!”
2. Ellen fails, get injured, or dies: “What a reckless idiot. Let’s spend the next four months writing up grim descriptions in all the media outlets as a warning to any fool who might be contemplating the same pursuit. Shield your eyes, children!”
The Ellen I’m thinking of is Dame Ellen MacArthur, a five foot two inch woman who succeeded in setting the world record for the fastest circumnavigation in a sailboat in 2005, beating the previous records—male or female—for both singlehanded and crewed attempts. She’s considered to be a hero, but if she’d failed, then she’d be remembered as the foolish woman who ventured out of her depth.
It’s weird, isn’t it? National heroes and Complete and Utter Dickheads (CUD) are really just one small mishap away from each other. Idiots and heroes are intrinsically the same. So, telling the difference between what is rational and what is irrational is only possible retrospectively.
I have to say that apart from leaving my parents one child down (don’t worry, they have five others!), I was also slightly afraid of the bad press if I happened to paint the road. How posthumously embarrassing!
Well, you’ll be happy to know that I came out unscathed. This CUD survived, muthafuccaaaa! And that means that instead of grim warnings in your local newspaper, I can give you this:
Torre DeRoche is the author of two travel memoirs, Love with a Chance of Drowning (2013) and The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World (due out September 2017). She has written for The Atlantic, The Guardian Travel, The Sydney Morning Herald, Emirates, and two Lonely Planet anthologies.