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Comfort Kills

Today, the rain finally arrived with all of its might. I sit in the room and stare at it falling on the balcony window, trying to figure out whether to go out and to continue riding south. Do I trust myself to keep safe and avoid getting injured? What if I discover that I cannot handle the rain? What if the bag covers let water in and damage the computer and video equipment? I check the weather forecast again. It shows constant rain for the next three days. It doesn’t look like I have a choice. The only way to escape this rain is to ride away from it. I go out and start preparing: put the rain covers on the bags; strap the bags tightly with the ratchet straps; and wear the rain jacket, pants, and boots. Unlike yesterday, today is not a drill, and it feels comforting to be suited-up and protected. As I prepare the motorcycle for the road, hotel guests pass by and some of them stop to talk and share a story. They are curious about the lone biker from New York and are in no rush to leave in the rain. I stall for another hour and talk with some of them. When they leave and say goodbye, they wish me well and ask me to keep safe. Their faces are serious, and their request is an honest plea of concern, not a courtesy. I am starting to get more and more nervous.

The rain gets stronger and I have to get moving. I mount the bike and head out on the gravel road leading out of the hotel, grateful to be reaching solid pavement at the end of it. A million tiny raindrops fire needles into my thighs, piercing through the rain suit and the jeans. The downpour is so heavy that it feels like I am submerged, riding through solid screens of water. Everything feels different. The grip of the tires is weaker, the visibility is poor, and the weight in the back pushes things out of balance constantly.

Surprisingly though, water does not penetrate the clothes and I am dry inside. I focus all senses on the road, realizing that I can’t afford to miss a single pebble, puddle, or passing car. The effort takes up all of my attention, leaving no room for fear or worry, and by the time I reach the interstate, I am starting to adjust to the demands of the slippery road. The miles pass by and I gradually feel more confident. I slowly speed up to a safe sixty miles per hour and continue to ride steadily, constantly monitoring the state of the road, the state of traffic, and my own state of mind. The road goes on, drowning in wet, grey rain. I’m holding up, but the level of challenge is clearly above my level of riding skills.

A few hours later, the rain remits for a short while, and my head frees up to think. The thought of riding in the rain was distressing, but that is exactly why I feel so proud right now. This is what Barbara Fredrickson talked about when we met earlier this week: challenge and risk are cornerstones of happiness. In our society, we spent the previous Century in an attempt to relieve people of the challenges of life. Comfort has become a value, a dream, something to strive for. But we have mistaken comfort for happiness. Challenges, in fact, are the fuel for the ride of your life. They bring self-esteem, satisfaction, autonomy, and pride. To live means to sweat, push, fail, and then push even harder. To live means to empty the dishwasher with your kid, assemble a piece of furniture you bought, or plow through a difficult meeting at a job that you love. The confrontation of challenge and the embracing of risk are the essence of life itself. Comfort kills.