5 / The Last Three Months

Announcing, Naming, Publicity, Support & Stress

April, May and June passed in a blur of activity, highs and lows. Of utmost importance was announcing my intention publicly to Miami Shores Presbyterian Church, and choosing an official name for the journey which had not happened yet.

Reverends Dudley and Hallie had given their enthusiastic support but before my journey could be an officially commissioned church effort I would need to present my idea before the church Elders for it to be voted on.

The church’s Session gathered in the Library at MSPC for their monthly meeting in mid April. I am sure that the news had already reached their ears. I was invited to the meeting and nervously presented my idea. The most important question the Elders wanted to know was a detail I had overlooked in explaining– who would be paying for all of this?

I made it clear that I would be personally funding the whole journey. A vote was called for the journey to be an official MSPC endeavor and the vote passed unanimously.

One more step in the process completed, another sense of relief, and another rising dose of reality. The excitement continued to build. This was actually beginning to happen!

Hallie wisely suggested that the journey must have an official name and logo. I was so caught up in the thought of actually riding the motorcycle to a destination in northern Alaska that such an obvious notion hadn’t occurred to me. Hallie and I both thought including MSPC’s youth group in the naming process would give them a sense of excitement, involvement and importance. I hoped to give the honor of naming the journey to MSPC’s youth group. They enthusiastically provided a list of name ideas.

I had some strong feelings about the name myself. The word “Arctic,” being the final (slightly insane) destination had to be in the title. Whether the word “Dreams” or the word “Promise” would be in title was being discussed between Dr. Bruce Main and myself. Bruce felt that “Promise” was a strong word to include in the title since “promise” denotes commitment (to a dream, a hope or a life goal) and because that year was the 25th Anniversary of UrbanPromise. Bruce deferred to me– it was my journey and whether I would include the word “Dreams” or “Promise.” It was a touching, very kind and honorable gesture. I decided on the word “Dreams” which I felt that was more directly descriptive of what the journey was about. There were already many initiatives underway on behalf of UrbanPromise’s anniversary with the word “Promise” in the title so I felt it was okay to deviate from it, and because funds were being raised for other charities also.

In the modern age (and I speak from years of experience in the branding industry) no naming initiative is thorough without an Internet search for available domain names. There’s no point in devising a name that has a domain name already taken by another entity. The domain name was also a determining factor in the final name of the tour.

I finally decided on a name– “Arctic Ride For Dreams.”

On April 28th Hallie preached a sermon at Miami Shores Presbyterian Church. Her sermon focused on growing churches and visions. In the midst of the sermon Hallie officially announced to the MSPC congregation that, “Andrew Smith, or as I have been calling him, our crazy motorcycle guy, is going to ride his motorcyle from our church in Miami to the Arctic Circle and back. He’s going to do whatever you tell him to do along the way if you pledge to donate to an organization of your choosing. Our church will be the default benefactor of these donations.”

Now it all felt very official. Congregation members met me outside after the service to look at the route, write down their own dreams, begin to set me challenges and pledge donations.

The congregation of Miami Shores Presbyterian Church continued to be an enthusiastic support. Eyes were beginning to drift my way on Sunday’s at church– to the guy who was about to embark on a mad adventure from Miami to the Arctic Circle and back. People were kind, they offered advice and supportive words, they had questions and remarks of astonishment. To be honest, I thoroughly loved the attention.

Others were more involved in a hands-on manner. The MSPC Communications Committee, of which I was a member, rallied around with ideas for reaching out to the media along my route, they wrote a press release, they came up with ideas for a social media page, designed and programmed a whole website, and devised a system for keeping track of challenges that I would be asked to do. I want to recognize each of them here for their tireless support and effort: Will, Wally, Joaquin, Lisa, Kelly, David, Diane and Janet– thank you! Their energy, efforts and smiles made a huge difference in how the trip came together.

A significant amount of time went into deciding how funds would find their way to each organization. Discussions took place with Will from the Communications Committee, MSPC and with UrbanPromise. Will even arranged a lunch with a friend of his experienced in fundraising activities to give me more advice.

With MSPC fully behind me the journey become a team effort and begun to take on a life of it’s own.

Since there would be many charities involved it was decided that it would be best if people pledged money and then donated directly to the charity of their choice when the challenge they had set for me was completed. Direct donations took a lot of burden off my shoulders. I didn’t want to be responsible for managing the money raised– collecting it, distributing or being it’s ward. I felt that if donations were made directly to charities then the individuals donating the money would feel more comfortable that every cent of their donation was going to the charity of their choosing– no administrative costs would be taken out of their donation by my ride. I hoped that would hopefully instill confidence and bring in more donations.

In April and May more and more suggested charitable organizations were added to the Arctic Ride For Dreams website. More and more challenges came in, pledges to donate were made and people’s dreams were starting to be collected. 

The pace of organizing the details, meeting after meeting, decision after decision, became frenetic and non-stop. I was still working at my full-time job in advertising but my primary focus was now on the Arctic Ride For Dreams.

I couldn’t wait to break the news to my employers that I was embarking on a journey I had been waiting for so long for this. It was my intention as I rode around the United States and Canada to see what life in other cities was like and investigate cities that I would perhaps prefer to live in.

I hoped the Arctic Ride For Dreams would be be a major milestone in my life, one of the few moments I decided to follow my dream and throw caution to the wind. (The ride didn’t disappoint, it was exactly that.)

I would be quitting my job without knowing what would follow on afterwards. There could potentially be a period of extended unemployment afterwards, which was a daunting prospect having suffered through two years of unemployment in the last six.

It is said that when you plan a journey like this you must set a firm departure date or you might not set out at all. I was determined to leave. The date was set– June 30th and it was non-negotiable. As June 30th loomed closer, knowing that I would hand in my resignation at a decently paying job, the doubts began to creep in.

Was I really about to do this?

The positive energy of the people around me that were aware of my plan enveloped me. But would my determination and that positive energy be enough to see me through to the point of actually handing in my resignation?

We all use the term “a leap of faith,” this was certainly that. On one ocassion I mentioned to Hallie that this leap of faith felt more like the first step out of a plane door. And, as is her manner, Hallie responded with a smile and a glint in her eye, “Oh, we will push you out of the plane door!” I laughed but it meant a lot. Hallie had my back at every turn for which I will be forever grateful. She was supportive and that’s what I needed, especially from someone I respected so much. Hallie was always there to encourage. Likewise, so was MSPC’s Communications Committee, Reverend Dudley and the whole MSPC congregation. When you’re about to embark on a leap of faith it makes the leap much easier when you have support.

Knowing that Hallie was there to lovingly push me out of a plane door if I needed, it made walking into my office to hand in my resignation much easier. I wrote a one-page letter to my employer describing my intent.

In the letter I stated that I would be leaving the company to fulfill a dream, thanking them for my time with the company and that I didn’t know if this was a resignation or a request for a sabbatical.

At the end of April I met with the President and the COO of the advertising company I worked for. I explained that I was about to ride a motorcycle solo from Miami to the Arctic Circle and back on an interactive fundraising journey for charity. I tried to make it sound as exciting as possible. I desired support and donations from as many places as possible. My employer seemed suitably impressed and completetly shocked. I made it clear that this was non-negotiable. I was going on this journey.

The President’s reaction was to state (with a certain amount of panic) that they needed to find a replacement immediately. The COO took the news more in stride, more calmly. She smiled and thought about it, mostly silently. We didn’t discuss a resignation or a sabbatical. I simply informed them I would be leaving to embark on a journey.

Early the following week the three of us sat down again and they informed me that they would cover my workload while I was gone and hold my job for my return once the journey was complete. I was very pleasantly surprised.

Paolo Coehlo wrote in “The Alchemist”: “…when you follow your own personal legend the whole universe conspires to help you,” and God did. I told my employer I would consider the option of returning after the trip. Secretly, it was my hope that I would find a new place to live somewhere along the way.

                                                             ——–

I have a friend who works in radio. His name is Richard Ives. He works for WLRN, the local NPR affiliate in Miami. I had volunteered at the radio station for many years reading Esquire magazine to the blind and print impaired over a closed-broadcast.

Richard and I would spend some time each Monday evening chatting and catching up. I told Richard about my trip very early on. My girlfriend Evie and Richard were the first to know, and then Hallie.

Richard and I have always been there for each other as sounding boards. Richard was the first person to give me a challenge to complete on the Arctic Ride For Dreams. At the beginning of May, after I had handed in my notice at the office and the trip had become a distinct reality, Richard invited me to be a guest on the radio program that he produces, Topical Currents hosted by Joseph Cooper, to promote the Arctic Ride For Dreams.

I was determined that Hallie for MSPC and Ana Ojeda or Kristy Nuñez, Executive Directors of UrbanPromise Miami, would appear on the program along with me. Hallie nervously agreed. If Hallie was going to push me out of the plane door I was determined to push her out of the plane door onto public radio on behalf of MSPC. I told Hallie she was an important part of the Arctic Ride For Dreams and she must appear on the program. I was very touched that Hallie would step out of her comfort zone to appear on the program. Ana and Kristy’s schedules unfortunately precluded them from appearing.

The live, half-hour broadcast interview on Topical Currents was scheduled for June 27th, just 3 days before my departure. Hallie and myself would appear on the program.

As momentum grew there was so much to plan and organize. The prospect of national media attention for the Arctic Ride For Dreams began to be discussed. It made me very nervous. I felt a mixture of excitement and overwhelmed by the thought of what could potentially happen. I did not want the pressure of the country’s eyes upon me. More potential eyes on me added a burden. I was internally conflicted because I began to revel in the daydream of some possible national notoriety. I basked in the prospect of my name in lights. The thought thrilled me. The thought scared me. Sometimes I would let myself get carried away with daydreams and occasionally ARFD stopped being about giving back and doing “good” and began to be about me.

I was about to be taught a lesson.

                                                             ——–

Evie and I were sitting on the couch at home one evening towards the end of May. We had had baked salmon for dinner and were watching a movie curled up together when I began to experience painful stomach cramps. The movie watching stopped. Nausea and cold sweats washed over me in waves. The symptoms continued and kept me awake half the night. Food poisoning, I thought. The salmon hadn’t been baked all the way through properly. 

Two days later I was still suffering and we went to the local Urgent Care facility together. There’s nothing worse than feeling ill. Evie was a wonderful support there by my side through the nights and the Urgent Care facility.

The doctors took blood and ran tests. I waited a week in pain for the results. The symptoms of what I thought was food poisoning were lasting far too long. I became concerned. There was probably something else going on but the tests the doctors ran all returned “negative” so they began to consider diverticulitis.

Days on end I would sit in meetings at the office and experience nausea, pain and cold sweats. On one occasion I had to leave the office and spend the rest of the day lying in bed.

Over the following two weeks the doctors ran more tests to confirm a possible diagnosis of diverticulitis: an MRI scan, internal exams, and more blood tests. Medication was prescribed. All of the tests came back negative. Meanwhile the pain and symptoms continued.

My departure date was just around the corner.

I began to seriously consider that I might have to cancel the whole trip. I was forced to face the reality. I would not be able embark on the journey in the physical condition that I was in. I would not be able to ride a motorcycle suffering from pain, weakness and dizziness.

I began to pray, “Lord, I thought I was called to do this, it was my big dream. I am guilty of letting it all become about me and basking in the personal glory of it all. So if it’s your will that I am not supposed to go, if I am not humble enough to take this responsibility on, if you decide that the journey is to be taken away from me, then let it be so. I’m giving up the journey and I place it in your hands. Whatever your will is, whether I stay or go, it’s completely up to you at this point. There’s nothing I can do about it.”

I let the whole trip slip out of my hands. So close!

Just in case, I didn’t stop or give up on the preparations but they became slower and less frantic, more paced, still not knowing whether I would be well enough to ride out of town on June 30th or not. With that prayer and release of the journey back into God’s capable hands, I began to feel better.

Eventually the doctors decided that my problems probably weren’t diverticulitis. They prescribed medication for Irritable Bowel Syndrome instead, “Take two of these if you begin to experience pain.” I don’t like to take medication. In the beginning I took the pills and they did help but I quickly stopped taking them. Gradually the pain and symptoms were beginning to subside anyway.

My own diagnosis, in hindsight, was simply that I was suffering from the effects of stress. I have always been susceptible to it. It’s caused me problems in the past.

A single week way from departure I began to feel well enough to take on the journey. After a full month of experiencing the symptoms I began to believe that if I took things slowly on the motorcycle I would probably be able to at least start off and see how things progressed.

                                                             ——–

 Final preparations were underway.

Over the proceeding month I had gathered belongings in the corner of my bedroom to take on the trip with me– a neat little pile separated into clothes, bike accessories, camera accessories, camping equipment, and wet weather gear. The clothes I chose wouldn’t crease easily, they would fold up small, give me the capability of mix-and-match coordination, and they would be layerable. In the Florida heat I would need a lightweight, breathable single layer. In the cold of Alaska and Canada I would need to build up the layers to as many as required to survive the cooler temperatures for eight hours a day at 60 or 70 mph.

I went shopping for camping gear: a foldable frying pan and spatula, mini gas stove, eating utensils and a headlamp for the dark nights. I purchased a 3-gallon gasoline fuel container that was designed for attaching onto motorcycles and ATVs. I need the extra fuel in Alaska.

I packed everything and tried to place it on the motorcycle. Two leather “city” bags (not the typical metal touring panniers) would contain the camping gear, a toolkit, bungee cords and tie-down straps to secure the bike on the ferry in Alaska. A suitcase designed for motorcycles would contain all of my clothes and would be placed on the seat behind me.

The fuel container would sit on the small picnic rack. The rack was on the very back of the bike. Strapping the fuel container to the small rack gave me some concern. The container overhung the tailight by at least 6 inches. Cars would need to be a full car length away from me to be able to see my rear brake light. A tailing driver might be too close to notice that I had braked and run into the back of me. I asked a friendly local police officer before setting off and he assured me that I was “legal.” However I would I need to make sure at all times that I didn’t find myself in situations with a driver too close to the rear of the bike. In the wilderness of Alaska that’s not difficult to do. In citites it is.

On top of the fuel container I placed a waterproof motorcycling backpack that would easy access items: wet weather clothes, a sleeping bag, an inflatable pillow and inflatable mattress.

Tightly crammed in between the top of the leather panniers and the suitcase sitting on the passenger seat would be a tent in a waterproof bag and a camera tripod. I used bungee cords to strap them down to the bike, tighly enough that they wouldn’t move at all during eight hours of riding.

Packing the bike required standing in my garage during hot Miami evenings, sweating and piecing a puzzle together for four evenings before I was able to work out the packing arrangement on the bike that would fit, that would be secure enough and not throw the bike off balance, or cause too much weight on the rear that might lift up the front wheel when accelerating. There was only one arrangement that would work and only one way to strap the gear down with bungee cords so that items would remain in place. I practiced and practiced putting it all on the bike and taking it off again until I had memorized every placement and twist of turn of the bungee cords.

If I lost a bungee cord on the journey I would lose a piece of luggage so I bought extra bungee cords as replacements just in case. It seems silly that a single bungee cord can be so be so vital but each one was. Lose one and you’d lose the items it was securing. This was a lesson I had learned from the 2009 journey when I found myself and my ability to transport my luggage at the mercy of a very kind person who gave me an extra bungee cord to replace a lost one.

With the bike fully loaded I rode around my neighborhood taking the corners and bumps as fast as I could to see how the bike would handle. How far would the bike lean? Did the bike feel safe? Had all of my gear remained securely on the bike? Yes! Success!

I was ready to depart.

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By Andrew Hayward Smith © 2015 All Rights Reserved. Copyright Andrew Hayward Smith. No part of this manuscript may be reproduced without the author’s written consent.