Today is the last day of the year. Tomorrow we turn a new page. Before we commit to those new year’s resolutions, it’s a good idea to look back and reflect on what got done – and what didn’t in 2014. What you’re about to read is a conversation I had with an old friend. He’s made some sacrifices, done some exploring, and learned some very cool lessons along the way. It’s a story of a gearhead like us whose priorities have shifted. And it’s my 2014 Care of the Year.
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Here’s the deal. I’ve been working on this magazine thing for 5+ years now. It’s not been anywhere near as successful as I’d hoped. Publishing email-based Q&A is a great way to get content – and learn a lot – but it’s always a crapshoot in terms of how things play out. I want GBXM to inspire people to go beyond their preferred platform/pursuit/place, tapping into skills developed in pursuit of high performance machines for application in pursuit of high performance lives.
So, I’ve noticed you’ve done some world traveling. What other posts I’ve seen of yours on the book of faces tend to have a humanistic tone to them; an appreciation of this marvellous ball of molten iron we ride through the Universe. Knowing you used to “play cars,” I’m thinking you might be able to help me bridge some gaps.
I’m not entirely sure how this will play out, but I suspect you understand where I’m coming from. Regardless, it will be good to catch up.
[bd] What’s new since the old 2GNT party days? What do you do for a living?
[as] Well I wouldn’t call what I do “for a living,” I would only consider it a “for now.” I’ve realized over the years that moving up and being successful in life rarely occurs by sitting back and waiting for an opportunity. Unlike the saying, it doesn’t knock – you find it and go after it until you succeed. If you sit back and wait for opportunity, the other guy will beat you to it every time. Move laterally to make progress vertically. It’s really the only way anymore. I work in an analytical quality control lab, and it’s mind numbing. I am going to pursue a masters/ post-baccalaureate degree in clinical lab science so I can do what I enjoy.
[bd] As someone who will be paying more for student loans than his parents paid for their first mortgage until he’s 65 (or emigrates), I find myself less inclined to recommend a college degree to anyone these days. That said, some degrees actually teach relevant materials for specific careers. (I’ve learned more about “technical management” from reading blogs and interacting with other professionals than I did at DeVry.) What is it you enjoy and how will post-baccalaureate training help you achieve it?
[as] Sadly I can’t understate the value of “real world experience” in today’s job market. Everyday I get beat out for positions I’m overqualified for, by someone who just has more experience. When I reflect on my education I have to appreciate the experiences I had as well as the incredible educational opportunities I was afforded. I feel as though this piece of paper you are awarded after you are done with your degree is nothing more than a certificate of achievement, you are now part of a club. I do see the difference in quality of education, from the online degree, to community college (or small satellite campuses), to large universities.
That paper doesn’t determine you are the better candidate, or that you are more or less qualified. It only shows that you are capable of learning at a level that is consistent with, but not limited to, the level of education where you were educated. As important as experience is, often it’s hard to quantify and prove what was not backed with a piece of paper. With that, comes post-baccalaureate studies. Consider it a “trade school” for someone with a large base of broad information in a specific field. It teaches you very specific skills which are related to your given breadth of undergraduate studies.
[bd] Do you still have the Eclipse? Still “play with cars?” What’s changed in that respect? Why?
[as] I sold the Eclipse a long time ago. Like many past 2GNTs, it met hard times after I sold it. I don’t regret selling it. I needed the money and it wasn’t in my heart anymore. It was always more about the community than the car. I think at some point I will play with cars again. I’ve been looking at a TT i6 BMW 335i. I look for a simpler way to have adventure now; something less tangible but in all respects more real and enduring.
[bd] As much as I like talking to people who continue to eat-sleep-breathe cars, I’m also interested in exploring reasons why people walk away. This is a multi-parter (because you touched on a number of important topics), if you don’t mind.
First, why wasn’t your heart in it anymore? Second, why do you say it was more about the community than the cars? (Wholeheartedly agree, by the way.) Finally, tell me a little bit about this simpler way to have adventure now. Less-tangible + more real + more enduring = a winning combination in my book.
[as] I think at some point I realized the car was never going to be what I wanted it to be. The hard pill to swallow was that I started with the wrong one to begin with. As Alan Watts and Tyler Durden communicate so well; “It’s absolutely stupid to spend your time doing things you don’t like, in order to go on spending [money on] things you don’t like, doing things you don’t like, and teaching your children to follow in the same track.”
I was finally honest with myself, I was working a job I hated, in order to spend money on something I didn’t care about, and I was getting nowhere in life while wasting my life doing things I hated. The hobby was the gateway to the community, after a while the community became the hobby, not the car. It was a group of guys that could stand around all weekend and bullshit about absolutely nothing, and have a blast doing it. To me that’s pretty hard to find now days.
The simple adventure; buy a cheap plane ticket to somewhere that excites you. Give up the comfort of your everyday life and do something you wouldn’t do anywhere else. Sleep in an airport, stay the night in a cramped hostel, hike around a city you’ve never been to before and explore. You quickly realize how insignificant you are in this world. No matter how big and important you seem, nothing is more humbling that moving to a big city where you don’t know a single person and few people speak your language.
[bd] Here’s the situation. You’ve scraped together $3000. You’ve got a choice: Spend it on tangible car parts (upgrades) or, assuming it’s even crossed your mind, spend it on an unforgettable, life changing experience. For most, it goes right into the car, where it immediately depreciates by 80%. Sure, you can see those wheels every day, but the first time you curb check one, pffft. Gutted.
I’ve seen you do some travelling in recent years. Where have you been? Why did you go?
[as] In the years leading up to my graduation, I started to question the world I knew, mainly speaking about the US. I knew there was more to the world and, up until then, I never had the means to go see it. I had no place to live, no bills, no responsibilities. It was the perfect storm for an adventure.
I spent 4 months living in Peru. I went with my now ex-girlfriend. Things fell apart when the tables turned and she had to pull her own weight in the relationship. She had basically lived with me for 3 years and never paid a thing. When it came time to go 50/50, she wasn’t up for that. That’s a story for another time though.
I lived 2+ miles above sea level in Cusco, Peru. It was the incredible experience I always wanted. It was eye opening and, even though I taught English, I think I was really the one learning the whole time. The ideals that we hold in regard in the US are so skewed and wrong. Life isn’t about “things” it’s about people and how you connect with them. It’s sad to say we love to think of this culture as “advanced,” but we have become so shut off and distant.
Living in Peru changed my whole outlook on priorities. Adventure, education, love, family, and food are the good things in life. Definitely not “things.” You can safely walk down the road there anytime of the day and feel safer than you do here. How can you call that “advanced?” People will go out of their way to be part of your life for no other reason than to be friends. Here it’s usually because they need something. Its a city of ~1.2 million that feels like a little neighborhood.
I learned a lot about myself. I’m capable, intelligent, and crave adventure. I didn’t know those things about myself before. I would put that $3k on adventure nine times out of ten over things. I will have those stories and experiences for the rest of my life. Things break. Memories are forever (or until I get Alzheimer’s).
[bd] I’ve been thinking a lot about midlife crisis lately; what it is, why it happens. We grow up exposed to all kinds of marketing, sold the idea of good grades, college, “good jobs” – all so we can become consumers. I think Tyler Durden said it best, “Working jobs we hate to buy things we don’t need.” One day, we look around, see our lives are filled with disposable crap that’s never really satisfied, realizing we’ve been sold a lie.
Humanity, environment, meaning. There’s no place for such things in a capitalist society. They’re not profitable. We find ourselves at a crossroads, wanting to change life’s course, having never been taught how to live. How many people fall into the trap of thinking they just need to spend even more money on ever flashier things, right?
So let’s talk about the “good things,” about adventure. It’s the people and planet which gives life meaning. I love what you have to say about learning from another culture. What kind of adventures did you have down (up?) there? Tell me a little about one or two of them? What makes for a truly great adventure? And what, aside from memories, do you keep with you every day as a result of these experiences?
[as] I think you already get the idea. The lectures from Alan Watts have a way of saying it better than I ever could; living your life doing what you hate, to buy things you don’t need, to be stuck in a life that isn’t your own, and to pass that lifestyle on to your children. We are trained to chase after a carrot that seems to dangle in front of us. We can never catch it, and it boggles the mind why it eludes us. If you haven’t guessed it that carrot is happiness.
I guess here’s the real meat and potatoes of the whole thing. Americans (as well as the entire “western world”) are sold this delusion of what constitutes happiness. We chase this proverbial carrot our entire lives, thinking this or that will help us grasp this carrot that’s been dangled in front of us. What no one really tells us is that none of that tangible garbage has anything to do with reaching the damn carrot. No matter how much stuff we have, that meter stick holding the carrot never stops being a meter stick.
The Dalai Lama wrote about this. He’s seen a lot of poverty and sickness during his life. Yet, it’s something he thought seemed to plague just the poor and the destitute. What the modern world suffers, instead of physical ailments, from depression and anxiety. We, in our “privileged society,” are just as sick and afflicted as the poor. It’s just a different sickness. What this tells you is that all this “stuff” and modernity means nothing.
So this brings up the burning question “What then is happiness and how do we get there?” Well, I really don’t know how you find happiness. Hell I don’t know how I find true happiness. I do know that happiness doesn’t come in a package for $14.99 or convenient, monthly payments. You can’t buy happiness on Amazon with free two-day shipping. Happiness comes from doing things and having experiences you enjoy and cherish. It comes from the great people you have selected to be a part of your life. (No, not the 843 Facebook friends you have.)
We love to boast how “connected” we are. Step back one day and look at how “connected” we are. That guy walking down the hallway is staring at his phone, a digitized version of a conversation devoid of real emotion. That girl sitting next to you is reading some HuffPost article her friend sent her on Facebook. None of the people around us are connected to the people around us. We have a false perception of interaction. Go to a 3rd world country and walk down the street. Walk into a store, go to the farmers market – people will look at you, acknowledge you, and ask you how you are. Their families come over on the weekends and cookout. Their friends come over and have lunch. That is being connected, and we, as a modern society, have it all wrong.
Adventure doesn’t have to be some grand trip. It doesn’t have to be a hike over a mountain pass to a forgotten city of a lost people. Adventure is daily. Explore the city, eat something new and scary, talk to that amazing old man down the street who could fill a novel with his life stories. Something that simple can be an adventure. Adventure happens when you give up what you are comfortable with and give life a chance to happen.
I regret a few things in my life, but not for a split second have I regretted living in Peru. It has changed how I view my relationships, how I view “things,” and how I view the unknown. It proved to me that I was a strong and capable person. It proved there is nothing in this world to be afraid of.
THE BIGGEST ADVENTURE
My biggest adventure, perhaps of my entire life, was the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu. A short drive from Cusco was a small town where we met up with the porters for our gear. We hopped in an open back truck and took a dirt road through the mountains. Along the way, we stopped the truck and started the actual walking.
We hiked along a trail with a 100+ year old water canal built by locals to transport drinking water to the village. Once we reached our base camp (2900 MASL/9500FT) below the mountains, we hiked through a mountain pass to a sacred lagoon made by glacial runoff. Camped out for the night back at base camp and saw the stars in the most remote place I’ve ever been on Earth.
We set out early the next day for almost 11 hours of hiking. We started ascending the Salkantay pass (4650 MASL/15,255FT – almost a quarter mile higher than Pike’s Peak). As we neared the top the weather turned viscous, with torrential rain, pea- and grape-sized hail, and sub-zero temperatures. (Mind you this is summer in Peru). We pressed on through the pass following the way the Incas had 500 years ago. The rain continued until we had been soaked to the bone even with ponchos covering our bodies. We finally reached our lunch stop in a valley surrounded by waterfalls and grazing llamas.
Within another hour of descending we were in a high altitude rainforest. Temperatures soon reached 80-90°F (27-32°C) and the descent continued. We hugged the mountain walls as the Urubamba [River] raged below us, fresh from the glacial waterfalls feeding it. From ~3200 MASL (10,500FT) to 4650 MASL (14,255FT) at the top of the pass, we descended to a final elevation of ~2900 MASL (9500FT) at camp for the night. In eleven hours of hiking we had nearly ten thousand feet of elevation change under our boots.
The next few days were much easier hiking, winding along the mountainside while descending another 1000M (3300FT) through heavy jungle that seemed to provide unlimited humidity and boundless variation of flora. For lunch, we hiked into a small village that offered us transport to a larger village home to hot springs – which felt good on the muscles after the arduous journey the previous day.
Early the next day we had an opportunity to zipline across canyons carved by the great Urubamba River. We spent the rest of the day hiking down train tracks near Machu Picchu until we reached Aguas Caliente which rests at the base of Machu Picchu. The following morning we woke up at 4AM to ascend the seemingly infinite stairs of the mountain.
It took most people almost an hour of climbing stairs to reach the summit of MP. Despite the torrential rain, we spent the day exploring the lost city of Machu Picchu. Being proclaimed as a “Wonder of the World” still does not do it justice. It’s truly awe inspiring. Due to the danger of the stairs being wet and the lack of visibility, we decided to descend the mountain in the caravan of busses. We had a short time in Aguas Caliente prior to our departure in which we bought snacks for our long journey back to Cusco.
Reflecting back on this expedition I learned a lot about what I was capable of and how much pain I can endure. Carrying the bulk of the load for the group (I was probably carrying an extra 8-10lbs more than my ex, mostly her stuff of course) led to an expedited feeling of exhaustion. Due to the changes in elevation and temperature, several clothing changes can happen per day to try and remain comfortable. From the frigid cold of the mountain pass to the blistering heat of the jungle, we experienced it all. It was a trek about enduring and experiencing a part of the world only a small few ever have. Of the thousands of visitors to Machu Picchu that day, there were only 5 who had completed the Salkantay trek.
I look back at my entire time there and see it as an adventure in a far away place. I truly cherish all of my memories from there. I remember the early morning classes I would take out for breakfast. I remember exploring the city in my 3-4 hour break in between classes. I remember the amazing food and fresh markets. Most of all I remember how lively and populated the neighborhoods are. I realized very quickly how in comparison Americans are so shut off from the world, that anyone being nice is looked at in suspicion rather than acceptance. This doesn’t define the rest of the world and it made me sad we exist in a world that is that way.
I think Americans have a lot to learn about how to be a part of a family, a neighborhood, and a community. Our reluctance to be a part of anything but ourselves or our small groups of friends prevents us from experiencing an amazing gift of the world – the other people with whom we share it. I know I want to go back. I want to live in a place like that again. My heart does not belong here, and I realized that a very long time ago… I just couldn’t figure out why until I was there.
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These are some pretty serious things to say, but such is the power of epiphany. Think about the last time some benchracing, sticker jockey tried telling you how his clapped-out turd had a twin-turbo and “NOS” and ran 10 seconds in the quarter-mile. How did you know his story was bullshit? Was it because of the parts you installed on your own vehicle – or the experiences you’ve had using them?
I know some people might take Aaron’s comments as “anti-American” and get all butt-hurt. But that’s okay. They probably stopped reading a couple thousand words a go. This story is the 2014 GBXM|united Care of the Year because it’s a fellow gearhead who stepped out of his comfort zone and moved somewhere far away – and discovered something new and exciting about life in the process. It’s a reminder that we can all get caught up in the rat race, in the superficiality of new models, the latest mods, and keeping up with the Joneses.
Tomorrow, we start a brand new year. Instead of thinking about what we don’t want, Aaron’s story is a challenge to focus on what we DO want. Better health? More reliable daily driver? A job that doesn’t suck? More time with real, actual friends (in real life)? For 2015, let’s distill what we really want out of life down to its simplest form and consistently try moving toward whatever that is.
Oh yeah, and I highly recommend using some of that mod money to travel a bit. The world is full of gearheads like us. We help each other modify our machines. We can help each other modify our lives.