What lessons could you learn from a once-in-a-lifetime adventure?
In 2010, research scientist and entrepreneur Ran Zilca set out from his home in New York on a motorcycle, bound for California in search of the next chapter in his life. Along this soul-searching journey, he spent hundreds of hours in contemplation on the road, met with fellow travelers from all walks of life, and interviewed leading experts in research labs, spiritual centers, and temples all across the country. Six-thousand miles later, he returned home, sold his company, and moved to a different continent.
Ride of Your Life chronicles this transformative journey, sharing the collective wisdom Ran learned from one-on-one discussions with spiritual leaders and researchers, including Deepak Chopra, Phil Zimbardo, and Sonja Lyubomirsky.
**The book is available on KDP
Part I: Getting Lost
Day 0, September 18th: New York — The Moment of Truth
That’s it — the moment of truth is here. It’s 10:30 p.m. and tomorrow the Ride begins. The motorcycle is all packed, and my laptop is buried in one of the bags in the back. I’m writing this on my phone. The luggage is pretty excessive and I’m worried about the extra weight in the back. I guess I will have to ride carefully for the first few days. An hour ago my wife walked into the garage as I was struggling with bungee cords, trying to hold all the bags together tightly. Her eyes gave a quick scan of the bike, then the bags, and finally me, standing barefoot in my boxer shorts, staring at her with a helpless expression. She lingered for another second and with no expression just said, “You can’t go.”
“I know,” I said, “but I have to.”
It was clear that by this time, the whole thing seemed like a bad idea. Earlier this afternoon, my four-year-old son, Ori, sat on the front steps of our house, gazing at the street and asking “to be by myself because I’m worried about daddy going away.” That one I did not see coming. It broke my heart. By now, the kids are already sleeping, and my wife sits next to me on the living room couch. She sits quietly, pinned to the couch under the weight of her own silence. We both knew that I would be doing this, but now, in the drama of the night before, it feels like it came as a complete surprise. Perhaps the night before an adventure is always like this.
I must do this; there’s no other way. Slowly, fear turns to excitement, and adrenaline is starting to rush through my bloodstream. My thoughts start to roam to the open road. I am actually going to be doing this.
Oh my God.
Day 1, September 19th: York, PA — Challenges and Strength
Things never turn out the way you think. For months now, I’ve been picturing the first night on the road, but now, sitting at the motel room desk, I realize I was way off. Today’s events, my whereabouts, and my emotional state are all completely different than I had previously imagined. I miss my wife and my kids and I toy with the idea of surprising them at home tomorrow, but a flood of excitement and pride masks my remorse. I am starting to realize the sheer scale of this journey.
The day started with saying good-bye. The kids gave me a big hug and went to Sunday school. It was especially nice to get a long hug from my eleven-year-old girl. She’s already at an age when you can’t squeeze a good hug out of her. I said goodbye to the neighbors, got on the motorcycle, and my wife followed me in the family van until we reached a gas station near the Tappan Zee Bridge. We spent another hour or so together, hugged, said our goodbyes, and then I left. The moment of departure was so shocking, so unreal, that it was impossible to cry. I’ve never been away from my family for more than a week, and the entire thing just felt like it wasn’t happening.
During the first two hours, an unfamiliar feeling settles in my gut; a bland mix of panic, enthusiasm, regret, curiosity, and worry. It feels like I am the only one who’s lost. Everyone else on the road knows where they’re going. A guy on a yellow Honda Goldwing is going to meet his friends at a coffee shop. A family in a minivan is coming back home from a weekend getaway. A young couple in a red car is going to the city to hang out. I am the only one who doesn’t know where he’s headed. My throat shuts with anxiety, unable to contain the unexpected freedom. In the concrete lanes of I-78, I find myself becoming restless. I fidget in the seat and play with the music’s volume, rushing the motorcycle in the left lane to catch up with the speeding train of my thoughts.
The road goes on, and the hours pass, and I start scanning the road for opportunities: Who will I meet today? Where will I eat? Will I join a group of bikers for a while? The possibilities seem endless. Anticipating my first adventure, I follow a sign at the side of the highway and take the next exit to a local restaurant. In the parking lot, there is a group of bikers, getting their bikes ready to go. This is it; I think. I’ll park next to them. They will probably notice the large badge on the back of my jacket saying “Ride of Your Life” and engage me in conversation. Perhaps I’ll join them for the next few hours. I park next to the group, but they pay no attention to me. They continue to speak among themselves and I can’t think of anything to say. For a few moments, I stand next to the motorcycle and pretend to be checking it, hoping they’ll approach me. They don’t. Feeling childish and embarrassed, I get back on the bike and take off, heading again toward the highway.
Later on, I get off the interstate, and the world suddenly changes. On the side of Route 222, I see what I’ve been waiting for: endless corn fields and tall silos, the flatlands of Pennsylvania, a first glance into the real America. It is beautiful. My thoughts finally escape my mind. Everything vanishes apart from the soothing hum of the miles and the rolling pavement underneath the motorcycle’s tires. Only fifteen minutes go by before I decide to stop and take pictures. On the right, opposite a gas station, there’s an office building on a hill. Its parking lot looks like it would have the perfect view, and I turn into the driveway and ride up to it. The view is indeed perfect. Excited, I swing my leg over to get off the motorcycle, only to realize that I forgot to push down the kickstand. It’s too late. The motorcycle already leans left and its weight is pulling down. I hold on to the handlebars and try to pull it back up but to no avail. It continues to go down and falls gently on its side. I try to pick it back up, but it is too heavy. I stand and stare at it helplessly, lying on its side, with a little puddle of oil accumulating next to it, like it’s been shot. I try to lift it again, panting and grunting, but it is no use. It is simply too heavy. In a futile attempt to get help, I go down the hill and stand on the side of the road, waving my arms up and down. None of the cars stop or even slow down. After twenty minutes of waving, I finally give up and cross the road to the gas station, not sure what to do. Next to one of the pumps, I spot a big guy with colorful tattoos on his arms. I ask him for help and luckily for me, he agrees. We cross the road together and pull the bike back onto its feet. I push the kickstand down and thank him. “It’s my first day riding across the country,” I say apologetically. He shrugs and says: “Looks like it’s gonna be a rough ride.” He is the first person I have spoken with since I left home. I check the motorcycle and am relieved to find that there’s no damage except a loose nut holding the right mirror. For the first time ever, I use the toolbox under the seat. I pull out a wrench and tighten the mirror.
I feel proud.
Just before sunset, I come across the Wright’s Ferry Bridge, a ruler-straight beauty crossing the Susquehanna River. My first bridge. On the other side of the river, I find the Riverfront Bar & Lounge, a biker bar taken out of a movie scene. The windows are covered with dark curtains, and the air is filled with clouds of cigarette smoke that hover above poker and pool tables; the real deal. I ask for coffee to keep me awake. The bartender suggests Jell-O shots instead. I get a Diet Coke, drink it quickly, and leave. Perhaps, not the most exciting experience, but still, a biker bar on the first day. I am probably the nerdiest biker to have ever come here.
Later at night, I stop at the Best Western in York. Exhausted, frazzled, and sweaty, I carry the heavy bags on my shoulders to the room, passing by the hotel luggage cart several times without even noticing it. The buckles on the straps cannot hold the excess weight and they break. The bags fall off my shoulders. I have to make three trips to get them up to the room, carrying each bag in my arms like a baby. When I finish, I go back outside to clean the bike and check it. It’s already dark outside. The receptionist is standing outside the front doors, smoking a cigarette, right next to the sign that says, “thank you for not smoking.” Her face has the indifferent, robotic expression that people sometimes have at work. Earlier, when I checked in, she was smiling, but the tone of her voice disclosed the emptiness that I now see in her. Is that what happens to you if you get stuck for too long? I walk to the Lyndon Diner across US-30. The food tastes great and the service is pleasant and easy going. I made it through the first day. Everything’s fine.
Day 2, September 20th: Pennsylvania to Maryland — Attachment, Resilience, and the Power of Riding Aimlessly
The first day is behind me — a major milestone now conquered. Filled with confidence and self-assurance, I leap out of bed, ready for adventure. Today, I think to myself, I will arrange everything up front. No more surprises like yesterday. I start by following the routine I had originally planned: Thirty-minute walk, light breakfast, meditation, and then go to the motorcycle: check the air pressure, oil level, and brakes. Before taking off, I try to secure the bags again using bungee cords, but they simply won’t hold. The luggage remains unbalanced and wobbly. A solution needs to be found. Yesterday, I felt the weight of the bags shift from side to side at each curve, and it’s dangerous to continue this way. I ride to a local Auto Zone and ask for advice. They give me ratchet straps that can be fastened tightly each time I use them. I try them out and voila! The luggage stops moving around, solid as a rock. “Quality,” I flatter myself, “just like in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” Satisfied that all is going as planned, I proceed to the first item on today’s agenda: the Harley Davidson factory in York and from there on to the next item: Route 425. This back road is supposed to be my first local ride and was recommended by several motorcycling websites. My mood is high with anticipation as I navigate toward it, but strangely, as soon as I arrive, I am covered in a blanket of gloom. Something is wrong. But what is it? I continue to ride around and every now and then, stop to take pictures. The views are beautiful and the weather is inviting, but each time I maneuver the bike to stop and park I feel more and more depressed. I try to ignore it, but the feeling will not go away.
And then it occurs to me: too much planning. Instead of experiencing the road, I am trying to match it to my expectations and to document it with my camera; I am following a predetermined script made in the past and taking pictures for the sake of the future. The present moment completely disappeared. Realizing the mistake I made, I put the camera away and take a turn to a random side street, starting to ride aimlessly. Get lost. No destination and no plans. Suddenly, details surface from the scenery: fields, churches, schools, farms. An Amish buggy with three boys facing back at me, waving hello. The world is back. After a few hours of roaming, I stop at a gas station, find out where I am, and then head south toward Maryland. When traffic gets heavy, I take the next highway exit and let the road be my guide. Buddha said that the source of all human suffering is attachment, lack of flexibility, and the expectation that things remain the same. We desire permanence and become attached to our plans, not willing to accept that things always change. Starting tomorrow, I will embrace uncertainty. Allow the road to take me to new places. Come what may.
~Highlights of Amazon Reviews~
“His descriptions of his travels and thoughts are full of detail that make it easy to imagine yourself a silent passenger. They seemed to me especially relatable as I have traveled a few of the same routes, actual pavement but more significantly, the byways of one's mind.
Swift moving, introspective, and bright. This book played heavily on my already homesick feelings for mountain air and blazing sunsets over craggy outcroppings, and seriously stoked my desire to head out on the open road myself. Nay though, my own road trip will have to wait a while. My internal journey however is well under way, and the many insights in this book served as good fuel. Some I found I was already practicing, others were an entirely new perspective for me to consider, and a few I have set goals to personally implement more fully.”
Caroline Adams Miller, MAPP (author of Creating Your Best Life): “From the stories that my coaching clients share with me, I see how life offers a wealth of outstanding opportunities for those who answer the call of the road. Ran Zilca’s story provide a remarkable glance into the internal world of a man who decided to answer the call. His beautiful book will make you laugh, cry, reflect, and awaken your dreams’ inspiring you to answer your own call and go on the Ride of Your Life.”
Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D (author of Positivity and Love 2.0): “In this enjoyable read you’ll befriend Ran Zilca during his soul-searching life transformation and find yourself resonating with his fears, his yearnings, and his well-earned insights. A fresh offering within the positive psychology genre, beguilingly effective for its diary format”.
~Meet Ran Zilca~
Ran Zilca is a research scientist, technology entrepreneur, and certified personal coach, who pioneered the use of mobile devices to deliver programs of positive personal transformation.
With a combination of psychological research and computer science, Ran's companies develop innovative programs of personal growth and have worked closely with partners like Deepak Chopra and Stephen Covey. His research in engineering and psychology has been published in major scientific publications in the past 22 years, and his weekly posts on major blogs attract hundreds of thousands of readers each month.
Ran is a loving husband and father of three, a guitar player, and a biker. In the course of his work, he developed a step-by-step process of personal transformation and followed it in his life. The result was a 6,000 mile solo motorcycle ride across the country, a new book, the sale of his company, and a move to a different continent.
ICF-accredited version (providing CE credits) : Shorter, less expensive version : Even shorter, free version