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When the mental battle is even tougher than the physical one

Season 6: Project Alaska

15 May 2022

When you see me riding a motorcycle day in day out, for hours on end, and mostly over rough, rocky terrains, I think you can imagine that this kind of riding is physically demanding. And it certainly is, but to me, the mental part of solo adventuring on a motorcycle can even be more challenging. It can become a battle that you have to fight with yourself. When I look back on my motorcycle adventures so far, I can clearly remember the first time I was fighting a bigger mental battle than a physical one. 

My first major physical and mental battle

It was during Season 1 and I can still recall exactly how I felt during that experience. None of this experience I captured on camera, as I was simply not in the right mindset to muster up the courage to record myself. I was riding at a high altitude in Tajikistan and the physical conditions were certainly tough. At this point, I hadn't seen snow yet, but it was already extremely cold. I was not wearing the right motorcycle clothing for such low temperatures. In addition to that, the road was rough and terribly corrugated for kilometers on end. At that time, I didn't have the right motorcycle for riding those roads, nor did I have the right skills to ride these corrugations. All I could do was ride very slowly in order to stay upright. I ended up crawling over the corrugations at a pace of 5 kilometers per hour. At the same time, the ice-cold wind was hitting my face. I felt like I was not making any progress at all. 'What on earth am I doing here,' it echoed in my mind. 'Why did I ever think, it would be fun to travel around the world on a motorcycle?’

The longer I had to battle this road, the louder I began to shout to myself inside my helmet. Well shouting, it was more like screaming. Yelling out loud the exact thoughts that were in my head. 'WHAT AM I DOING HERE!!' I didn't even recognize myself, this was so out of character for me. It was the mental struggle that somehow had to be verbalized. Not that this kind of screaming helped at all. On the contrary, it made things worse. It worsened my state of mind and I struggled even more. I learned then and there that anger and frustration do not make your motorcycle go any faster, nor does it make your riding any easier.

This all happened a few days before I crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan. In that episode you could clearly see me struggling with the altitude, the cold, and the rough terrain.

My most recent major battle physically and mentally

Now, a few years later, I ended up in another situation where I had to face a tough physical and mental battle. It made me realize how much stronger I have become over the years. Not only when it comes to clocking kilometers on my bike, but also dealing with situations on a mental level. I know that I would not have been able to handle this recent situation as well as when it would have happened to me years ago. 

What happened? In Guatemala, in a jungle that is known to be full of jaguars, I got severely stuck in a terrible mud pit. Heck, I am convinced I even spotted a jaguar, shortly after I got stuck. I assumed they were not likely to attack me, but then again, I was a very easy target as I was practically a sitting duck with my motorcycle stuck in the mud. 

The possibility of jaguars aside, the struggle to get my motorcycle out of the mud was my main priority. And even though it took a huge physical effort to wrestle a 150-kilogram motorcycle from the mud pit, the mental struggle was even harder. I knew there was absolutely nobody as crazy as me to travel down here. The chance of an accidental person passing by that could help me, I estimated to be 0,01%. I calculated in my mind how far I was away from the main road, how long I'd have to walk to get there, and whether I would be able to find help to retrieve my bike before nightfall. Luckily, I was able to wrestle my bike from the mud pit and continued riding. On my way back out of the jungle, I got stuck again, in another mud pit. Again, I had to push, pull and lift my motorcycle to get it out of the mud pit. After each failed attempt, I had to talk out loud to myself saying: 'You got this,' 'You can do this,' 'You've faced harder challenges before,' and 'Keep trying, you WILL get out of this.' This time, it took four attempts before I got Alaska finally out of the mud pit. 

Be your own cheerleader

During the years, I have learned it is better to shout encouragements to yourself than to express the negative thoughts that are in your mind, as I had done in Tajikistan. When there is nobody around to talk some hope into you, you just have to become your own cheerleader. But convincing yourself that all is going to be fine, is not an easy task to do. And yet, it's the only way to get out of a terrible situation. Because once you give up mentally, it is going to be impossible to do the necessary work to get yourself out of that situation.

During moments like these, it is pointless to analyze how you could have prevented the situation you are in, or what you could have done differently. The situation has already happened! Better is to focus on getting out of there and learn from it. Grow your confidence and learn to trust your own capabilities and creativity to solve problems that may come to you unexpectedly. 

It's that type of confidence that will help you to stay calm, not panic, and just work your way through a tough situation. And that type of confidence only comes with experience, from battling through and overcoming physical and mental challenges. You have to go through it, in order to learn and grow. Avoiding it will never lead to mental growth. And I'm convinced that those skills will not only be an asset during motorcycle adventures, but will get you very far in life too!


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P.S. I forgot to mention Glacier National Park is also on that path, and I lived in Montana for years and can help with info on that area. Best, Ron

Ronman  | 

I don't know where to put this comment, I'll try here...Noraly, as you go thru the U.S., I suggest following the Rockies. You can avoid big cities, and there are lots more back roads. In my area (Santa Fe, est. 1610), there are three cultures (white, Native, Spanish), numerous Pueblos still being occupied, cliff dwellings with hip-deep paths through solid rock (go to the site the locals know, not the official park), and a caldera formed from a mountain that some think was once 10,000 meters high. North of here, you'll pass through the mecca of off-road riding, Moab, where thousands of off-roaders congregate. Or hug the mountains through Colorado. You'll miss Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland; in exchange getting the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and you can still swing by Olympic National Park if you want, or cut through Canada and Banff National Park on the way to Alaska. I can help with lodging in this area (contact me through RonPiano dot com). All the best.

Ronman  | 

Do you use any insect repellent? I would think the bugs would be wild in a wet jungle with your riding jacket off. Great job getting out of that mess, got tired just watching you?

Nortoneye  | 

You have expressed your thoughts so well! This would apply to a lot of situations...for example: anxiety over the pandemic. Such wise words!!! I am going to send this to my anxious daughter. She will benefit! Thank you!

CCh255  | 

S6 E71 and 72 have moved into my head and locked in the past few days, I even had to watch them both a second time a few days later. The first time my heart raced the entire time after the drums started... I've said this before and will say it again, you're the bravest person I've ever seen! When I feel the need for inspiration, after a stressful day, a hard day on the bike, or other challenges, I go to the channel and catchup on your latest adventures. You earned the right to ride your way, to walk it, push it, float it, and even to be the "Frying Clutchess"

RickFlowe  | 

I have really enjoyed your adventures. Since I know you will continue to put yourself in remote places where you can get stuck you might consider carrying something like this. It takes up some room on the bike but sure makes things easier. Most come in pairs. Just send the seconds one back home.

Portable Recovery Tracks

Obiwan  | 

Thank you so much to show us the wonders of America, I love every chapter you upload and always waiting for the next one, congrats!

If you love the paradises you found in Guatemala like Semuc Champey, you will be delighted with the ones in La Huasteca SLP and La Sierra Gorda in Queretaro Mexico, it’s a very natural rich zone in the middle of the country with a lot of waterfalls, Turquoise water rivers, fill of water caverns, natural holes and a beautiful landscapes, of course pretty good food, if you stop by here don’t forget to include these places to your itinerary, so if you like I can put in touch with local people to make easier your stay in that area, there’s an ecoturist hotel near Cd Valles that I’m sure you loved to stay in, it has a kind of natural cabins named “Boios” and it was builded in the middle of the jungle and riverside, with a pretty smooth combination and minimal nature invasion

If you are interested don’t hesitate to contact myself, with all the confidence no problem

Keep having a nice ride!

JC Hunter  | 

@Garydavidson: she gets herself in trouble sometimes but it's controled.
As she mentioned she thought about the hike back to where she might find help.
I'm also sure it crossed her mind to go back and made a reasonable choice with that in mind.
Knowing Noraly after all these adventures she doesn't take any risks for a film but for the sake of adventure, that's who she is.
Edit: and she has an Inreach for real emergencies.

Ray,  | 

@Garydavidson: she gets herself in trouble sometimes but it's controled.
As she mentioned she thought about the hike back to where she might find help.
I'm also sure it crossed her mind to go back and made a reasonable choice with that in mind.
Knowing Noraly after all these adventures she doesn't take any risks for a film but for the sake of adventure, that's who she is.

Ray,  | 

Dear Noraly.
Like many others, I watch your videos with avid interest and admire your strength of will to succeed in all you accomplish. Difficult times you manage to overcome because of this. Good luck in all your travels.
Best regards.

Impulse  | 

I learned to have a calm come over me...whenever the shyt hit the fan and I was driving 80 thousand pounds of rolling death(trucker). The FIRST thing you do in any situation is calm and takes a blink of an eye, but you need you to be calm and focused to get you thru your deal.You need you;you're all you've got.Just say, "CALM." Secondly, I had lots of gloves for all situations...some of my great gloves lasted for i'm not a neat freak, but you should always put clean hands in your gloves,otherwise you're just ramming goo and dirt in there, and its not coming out. Justathought. thx.

big city  | 

Noraly: you are a remarkable and intelligent woman: your story telling and filming is fantastic: but I probably speak for many. Please do not risk Life. and limb just for the story: Your next big county will be a challenge so please be safe. Always watching and living the with experience you.

Garydavidson  | 

Noraly, I'm an old white guy and as I check around with my friends, everyone is following you. Most now want to buy a bike and hit the trail! And all the wives think we are infatuated with a young biker chickie. But... the truth is expressed explicitly in your Mental Challenge blog. You are truly an extraordinary person. Frankly, sixty years ago when I was 20, I thought all women were like you. I was wrong. But they, each in their own endeavors, should be like you. Keep it up Noraly, hopefully you are teaching serious lessons to the women of the world. You are a real treasure and a great blessing.

Senor Steve  | 

For me, to analyze what I could have done to prevent a bad situation is an important part of the learning process. I'll always have a brief negative thoughts about a bad situation, but then let them go. Its being honest with myself. But, dwelling on the negative is unproductive and I'll just channel the mind and emotional energy into figuring out what resources are available, generating alternatives for resolution, then trying them.

There are mountain lions in the areas I hike often, but I've never seen one in years of hiking. They seem to know to better and avoid humans. I'd be more concerned by the smaller things like snakes and insect/parasite borne diseases.

Although I've done some adventure riding, not near as deep as you, for the most part, I see it like packing a tent and sleeping bag. I'd rather rent a room and ride a street bike in rural and remote areas.

Skip52  | 

That mud hole really sucked; as in it was a real pain in the behind and it literally sucked the bike down. I am used to struggling through such roads on a 4x4 quad but to tackle them on two wheels with less than ideal tires is a whole other "adventure". It is one thing when you find yourself having to roll up your sleeves in a situation but when you have took throw your shirt off because you are overheating you have entered another level of effort. Thanks for sharing "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" of adventure riding.

Thumper1  | 

I have been following closely your Guatemalan adventures, I might have suggested you visit the Great Site of El Mirador. I am not 100% they would let you ride there but I have undertaken 6 days in the jungles of Guatemala by foot. I completely understand the painstaking ride! The soil is soooo sticky I lost my boot sole. You are awesome!

Yar  | 

Noraly… You’ve got this.

Thomas B.  | 

I admire you Noraly, I would not do that. But that again my riding style and what I expect from riding is different from you. I enjoy riding just because of ride itself. Therefore I prefer smooth ride on paved roads. Something that is most likely boring for you. But you can find some good, curvy road where you can enjoy riding.
I wish you could see my video, but I´m affraid my editing skills are not that good that I can post it to youtube yet.
Anyway looking forward to your next amazing videos. Stay safe!

Miloš  | 

What really got to me in that high, frozen border crossing was the the reaction of the guard in the shack. The viewer could literally see the moment he realized what condition you were in, frozen through-and-through and struggling for oxygen. I always try to keep Buckaroo Bonzai’s (“Across the Eighth Dimension”) mantra top-of-mind: Wherever you go, there you are.” If nothing else, it helps lighten the mood when you are flummoxed, adrenaline level 11, and exhausted. In your case, the “there you are” refers to a highly competent, resourceful person. It’s a real joy watching your videos.

Bsmukler  | 

This is an excellent Blog Noraly! There are large parallels between what you are saying here and the training that elite SAS military troops receive. You do not know what you can achieve or where your real limits are because the mental block is always reached first. You are onto it now and you are much better prepared for the next challenge. I encourage you to widen your field of view if stuff like this happens again, there maybe something nearby to help with leverage. I carry a small, light but strong pulley set and length of 6mm paracord, just in case. I love your work!

Stu Ferrier  | 

Thank you for your excellent advice I agree. I hope you can get some better tires in Mexico or the US. That will certainly help. I received my stickers and necker and I am planning to head for Giant loop ride in Crane hot springs just southeast of Burns Oregon at the end of may for June 3-5 camp out. I am excited to do this because I have never gone to a company sponsored outing before and this will be my first long trip on my Honda CRF300L Rally. Say hello to Alaska for me and you two be safe out there.

recumbentman  | 

In the last episodes. At one moment after you try to pick up your motorcycle on the first attempt and fail. I saw your facial expression that you say to yourself (What am I doing here.) I've never seen your facial expression like that before. Can't wait to see the next episodes.

Jirawat T.  | 

As they say, actions speak louder than words. This is a great blog, thanks for it, but the videos of your trials in Tajikistan, Guatemala, the SA rally, and when you were trapped in a room in Peru for the lockdown show a strength of character that we can all learn from.

kurtfriedrich  | 

I admire your tenacity. My retirement plans didn't work so at 73 years old with some digestive/Anemia issues I struggle owning and operating my one man remodeling business. I however refuse to give in, without working I would have to give up all the fun stuff like skiing in the winter and motorcycling when warmer:). I don't have your courage and strength but you continue to be an encouragement to me, inspire me, entertain me. Thank you Big Time!

Mize  | 

Cannot wait for you to enter the United States and travel around ! i hope you go from sea to shining sea ❤️

Bradford  | 

Hi Noraly, you continue to amaze. Like you I have been stretching my bounds. Also like you I often have to pick my bike up, only not because of the conditions, I was going to say road conditions, but you don't often ride on what I would call roads. My Kawasaki Concours is almost 800 lbs loaded with 7 gallons of gas and my pair of 70L dry bags and I don't think Arnold Schwarzenegger could get my bike up once it's down. I do carry with me two 15ft (5 meter) ratchet tie down straps, using the ratchet I have been able to move my downed bike to better positions and even get a start on raising it. They are light weigh and pack really small, best of all they double as tie downs after I stop at the garage sales.

StevieWander  | 

Ever sailboat skipper has gone though their first gale, and discovered that you're only frightened, apprehensive, mad, and doubt your abilities and stamina once. The next storm may blow twice as strong with waves twice the height, but they now have the confidence and positive mental attitude to the handle the storm no matter how loud the wind howls, or high the waves break over the deck.
You are correct, it's your mental attitude and determination that makes you strong in any challenge you have faced. However, to the million of us who ride pillion, please weight the production against the risks. We're glad you made it back safely, but you should never be alone or unarmed on a remote jungle road in that condition that has jaguars in it.

Fixento  | 

Well you are an inspiration to us all and have actually helped me personally. When I recently got into a situation where it was definitely a mental/physical challenge on my big heavy adventure bike, I got very discouraged but then thought "what would Noraly do?" The answer was obvious so I simply adopted your positive cheerleader approach and all ended well. You are my hero and yes, I think you might be a little nuts, but in a very good way. Keep it up! Be safe! And thanks for the inspiration. You have no idea how it helped me out of a pretty bad jam in the middle of a rocky desert ravine with no-one to help for many miles.Thanks again!

DharmaWheeler  | 

I believe that we are shaped by the words that we choose to describe ourselves and our situations. I have spent a lifetime learning to be a bit gentler in how I talk to me and less of an alarmist in how I describe my circumstances. No better advice that I have received than "This too shall pass"....That being said there is something a bit freeing about occasionally screaming at the Cosmos.😉 Thank you for sharing your journey....

Basaltboy  | 

You once set out with a strong enthusiasm, a desire to conquer the world. Certainly you had the best preparation as well as equipment for which there were resources as well as know-how. However, all these little things have been a great strength! Everyone can somehow realize their dreams with great desire, achieving them. I wasn’t interested in motorcycling before your 1 season video. These trips have had a unique impact, I have a motorcycle, cb500x, just thanks to “itchy boots”. Drive that driver's license yet ittava get driving equipment, I force myself to travel.
Thanks to N.R.S.

Mikko  | 

At the first moment i thought it was a serious problem but just seconds later i knew everything was fine because otherwise you would not have been able to put the video online.
As a kid i was very insecure but over the years i got to know myself and that changed my whole mindset.
When do you say you can't do something? Right, when you never did it but how do you know that you can't do it? You never failed in it.
You first need to do something before you can say if you can or can't and if you can't it's most likely because you don't want to. Even physical limitations can be overcome with creativity. just think of the Mayan structures or the Egyptian pyramids.
Nobody is special or everybody is special, we are all the same. The things we end up doing is mostly the result of our upbringing and/or region where we come form but that is also changing because we get confronted with a big variety of things that wakes other interests in ourself.
We only need to bring ourself to step out of the comfort zone to embrace the new interests and do something with it, i'm doing it and i hope everybody else does too.

Ray,  | 

Learned about self-talk at a seminar a few years back. Seems that the sub-conscious does what it's told. The difference between "I can do this," and "I can't do it," turns to reality over and over in our lives. Then there's facing the unknown, where I believe we are at our best. In "SOS," honestly I hoped you'd turn around. When you didn't, and never once complained or doubted yourself, I was totally impressed. You are one gritty human being, and a role model for thousands. But here's my concern: How can you protect yourself from big cats, all the way to Alaska, and bear as well? I bet you're aware of and have accounted for possible encounters. Stay safe, have fun. Robert, Puget Sound

Lars48  | 

You are definetly right when you say this Kind of coping with challinging situations is Not only a good advice for motocycle travelling, it's the Heart of Buddism too!

Thomrider  | 

Hi Noraly. I thought it was worse when you lost your clutch in season 1.

Tom  | 

Noraly; thank you for your frank and open comments about your emotional battles during your trips. I have limited education in psychology however, I do know from experience (veteran) that, in almost every endeavour, there will be adversity that pushes emotional limits. Fighting against physical problems is tangible - the state of emotions is a different animal. Determination, perseverance, self discipline and the belief in oneself are personal attributes that lessen emotional stresses in adverse conditions. I have been following you from almost day one and I am convinced that you have all these. You talk and write about who you are and what you do and more importantly, you say why - this blog is an example. Writing (to yourself) is also a tool that counsellors will suggest to help people cope with emotional stresses. You are alone for hours on end which can be mentality disabling but you also engage with people every day which I believe balances overall. It is good to talk about one's mental health, especially with this group who understand where you're coming from. You have thousands of followers who believe in you so, you are truly never alone. What you are doing is not easy - I think you are coping very well, keep it up. I look forward to your continued adventure. Keep safe.

Drider  | 

You must be very happy that you chose a motorcycle that did not weigh that much. Imagine if you were driving a heavily loaded BMW, like the one Charly Sineman was driving. Other tires could also be an advantage but as you have written they were not available. Continue good luck on your journey
A. Ellingsgaard 🇩🇰

APEllingsgaard  | 

Noraly, you have come so far since Season 1. You are no long the psuedo-novice mototraveler. Your experiences have served you well. Remember no amount of reverse-planning or belittling yourself will undo a sticky situation. Breaking the problem down into small steps and solving them one at a time will get you to the desired conclusion. Your grit, determination and perseverance are admirable!
LarryE - TxBagman

TxBagman  | 

That boarder crossing was the first thing I thought of and also the one where you and Alaska was between two fences and stuck in mud using dead branches to get going again (to underground site) and not having to back track.
I'd drive fairly fast over wash boarded road to deliver fuel to ranchers. Bike and truck smooths them out somewhat.
Glad I looked here and found this new article. Very well written and good advice for all.

Mike - P.  | 

Don't forget the small velcro strap for the front brake lever....saves having to remove clothing !
Loved the analogy of a diamond being formed under pressure.
Mike Smith UK

Michael Smith  | 

I totally subscribe to that: There's no use to getting emotional when you need all your energy to solve problems you are in. Learn from the situation and adapt your plans and expectations in the future to what you've learnt.
And yes, that's a general skill for life.
May I just mention that I have learnt from part one of that escapade that I should ask you to include one or two Items more in your set of kit you have with you permanently? That is not that "you" as in the generalisation but you, Noraly! 😇
Travelling light is a good and proven concept, but when you lack means to help yourself out off bad situations, you travel under weight.
As your Acerbis hand guards have gotten your throttle stuck twice now, I think the tools to fix that problem are a must to carry with you. It's an allen key, if I'm not mistaken. Should be under 100 grams weight.
Around that horrible mud pit Alaska was trapped in were loads of small trees and bushes. Sources of material for improvised driveways. As you didn't have the tools to use them as such, you didn't waste your time on trying. The saws on Swiss army knifes or Leatherman-style multitools are a good start. Also there may be use for some kind of bolt cutter-style tool or gardening scissors. There may be a few more helpful items I can't think of right now. I guess a nice set of essential tools won't weigh over a Kilogram, it will give you tons of options for coping with such situations, though. Making pointy sticks for fencing of wild animals is only one of them, but a proven application of twig technology that was essential for mankind's rise. 🙃
I hope my suggestions make as much sense to you as they do to me!
Lots of love and hugs back at you and the lot reading this here! 🤗
…and with that I hear the unspoken call to take my smartarsery and go hug off with it, which I'll hapily do as the weather is good for once and I need to get out! 🤗

Zweispurmopped  | 

Hi Noraly, You have given out some great advice on the type of bike to travel with.
I wonder how many people with large bikes would have managed to wrestle their machine
out of some of the situations and ferry crossings you have had to endure.

Davidjeng  | 

As usual, you're spot on as I see it. Creativity and positivity makes a load of difference. Breaking up a huge problem into smaller pieces, that each on their own are easier to solve, and finding a good order to do it in.

The geochemist in you knows that diamonds form under immense pressure.

Jonas E  | 

Mental over physical is always the harder challenge, your words have put that challenge exactly how it should be in situations like that, be your own cheer leader, think positive thoughts, I can do this, I can do this.. then later you can be proud of winning that battle an increase your own confidence. This is exactly why you have so many followers as it encourages each and every one of us that almost anything is possible with a possitive attitude.

Freewheelin Franklin  | 

I remember you almost falling into the Kyrgyzstan border hut very well. I've watched that video a few times. It's good that Alaska is fairly lightweight you would have been in trouble with an heavier bike. Good choice of bike on your part. Loving the videos, they lighten my day. Dave.

Dave Marriott  | 

That was a brilliant episode shows what you can do if you are persistent.

daveyrb  | 
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