Eat a little dirt, crush a little road… getting the sack can balance your reality check book.
He boomed into town on a Kawasaki KLR 650.
Dust swirled along the beachfront. Electricity crackled the off-season air and the unmistakable scent of men on adventure spiced up the saltbreeze off the sweaty Pacific.
Eric Lange put a boot to the sand, ripped off his helmet and grinned at me with ice-blue eyes. He’d just finished a 9-hour day at his new office: the road, and I knew I’d met a man who really loves his job.
Roaring up behind him were six riders including an American plastic surgeon, two CEOs and a dentist from Canada. They had cruised 160kms of the gorgeous Pan American Highway toward Peru on a guided motorbike tour through the high Andes to the tropical coast and were among the happiest-looking men alive!
Career dentist and family guy, Dr Andrew Hall, had a radiance that only natural sunlight, open road and premium organic mountain air can give a man. “What’s been the best part so far?” I asked later, as we all headed for the surf.
“”The guide, the route, the riding, the intensity, the freedom, the splendor, the beauty, the insanity of a thousand curves in one day of riding, the craziness of coming into cities at rush hour, the bliss of blasting along for kilometers after that in no traffic whatsoever.” he says. “I’m a new man.”
After 15 years building his business on a professional mission that “might make me rich, but nearly sucked me dry” – Dr Hall skipped work for this two-week tour in Latin America so he could “spend every day on an open road.”
“I don’t want to see a single between me and the world. I wanted dirt in my teeth and that old feeling of being free and strong in the wild.”
I’ve bumped into a pack of intrepid executives using the real world to recover from their real lives on a tailor-made tour with Eric’s company, RIDE Adventures. On radical itineraries through mountains, across Altiplano, jungle, snow and desert, in terms of real-life adventure, these are the kinds of trips where the rubber really meets the road.
Eric specializes, mostly, in high achievers with a hankering for the world, for adventure, recovery and freedom – much like he did, when he was one of them.
Offering guided trips or logistics across Latin America, USA, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and making reconnaissance for more, Eric, 39, travels over 50,000kms a year for the business – and that’s just on bikes!
Founder, director, guide and pioneer in his field, every RIDE Adventure is a reminder of how close he came to missing out on the life he had longed for back when he was a six-figure man in the ‘real world’.
For Eric, it was a disaster of life-shattering magnitude that saved him from ‘reality’ and delivered him a lifestyle beyond his wildest dreams.
It took more than three hours (and a few tears), as he told me how he went from a University-educated executive role with an American multi-national, “looking for that feeling of success”, but feeling halfway crushed by it all, with a 3-bedroom tricked-out house, bikes, a flash car and healthy bank balance, but a sense of what he called ‘dread’, to being … happy.
“I guess I didn’t love my job,” he reflects, “but I was very good at it. I was doing it for the money – to make more, pay for the house, get more stuff, because that’s what you do, isn’t it? You grow up, get an education, get a great job, buy a place, meet somebody, be stable, smart with money, and one day… you’ll feel like a success.”
But in March 2008, at 33, he got a call that went more or less like: “Sorry mate: you’re sacked.”
“Things were shaky in the world economy, people were holding tight to whatever security they had, so when I got notice that I was ‘terminated’ it was like a thunderbolt ripped through me,” he says. “I honestly couldn’t breathe.”
“I stayed on the line choked up, trying to convince the guy, to save my life. It was a very, very tough thing to accept. I had poured my heart into the company: lived where they wanted, skipped from airport to airport when they wanted, made my career the soul of my life for ten years.” The word that was being graffitied across his neo-cortex at the news was Betrayal.
So Eric did what thousands of men do every year in the increasingly competitive, sometimes ruthless world of business: he panicked.
“I saw an attorney: no joy. I told my parents: less joy, and that’s when some heavier than usual soul-searching began,” he smirks.
He went to visit a mate, and the mate said: ask yourself what you really want to do. “I mean, if you could do anything, anything at all – what would it look like?”
And Eric, suddenly ‘free’, came up with an answer he remembers word for word. “I want to be outdoors, travel everywhere, meet everyone.”
To which his mate said, “Hey, I’ve got a buddy with a job just like that!”
Eric got a 6-month gig with a tour outfit that gave him a taste of the life he imagined, but didn’t quite fit his numbers. And then he jumped. “I knew I had to look for something bigger than that, I knew it was going to be about motorbikes, tours, adventure, the world – and that it needed to pay, but not straight away. I wrote down what I needed: ‘the perfect bike, the perfect price; cash’.”
Through a series of freak coincidences, with his house rented, its contents mostly sold and a night spent sleeping on the floor, Eric says, “I rode off from my life on an orange KTM named Julius and I’ve been riding ever since, “ he grins, and orders me a mojito.
“I am from a conservative family, I can guarantee my parents weren’t sleeping much. I headed out into the world through Mexico with Julius, speaking no Spanish except this phrase; El país más peligroso del mundo (the world’s most dangerous country). People said I was crazy, that I’d be killed. But instead I was met at the border by police officer Antonio who loved the bike and shouted out ‘Welcome to Mexico!’
“Life just got better and better after that.”
Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Argentina, Chile, Patagonia and Bolivia have ‘happened’, as well as friendships, inspiration, know-how, streetsmarts, luck, opportunity, and eventually a vision took shape, stabilized, took root and blossomed into RideAdv.
The business is a rare bird in the adventure travel market, demands the education and skills that Eric honed at school and work, and returns freedom, travel, adventure, time with great people in breath-taking country and a very handsome salary… could that be what he calls success?
He stops to ponder. “The big question I have these days is: how do I live the longest I possibly can, because I Love My Life!”
Tomorrow, for example, Eric will work six hours online in a hammock, sustained by fruit pancakes. He will manage teams of partners and providers in 11 countries, as well as tending and growing the business, which has tripled per annum.
“It’s not about escaping work,” he says. “I love work! There is still uncertainty, change, issues, but I have a work-life balance that is about freedom and commitment, not about suffering at work and then having ‘a life’.
“What I learned is that it’s a big world out here, and whether you admit it or not, it’s full of great, happy people – opportunity, enjoyment, doors to open. Sometimes, whether you’re craving a taste of it, or if it ‘happens’ to you, the truth is that worst thing you can think of might be just what you always wanted”