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The Ride of Your Life

By: Ran Zilca

Four years ago, my life was supposed to be perfect. On the professional front, I was a success story: a veteran of an elite technology unit in the Israeli army, recruited by the world’s largest private research lab, then turned hi-tech startup entrepreneur. On the personal front: happily married, three great kids, and a house in the suburbs. On the surface, I was living both the American dream and all that I have personally wished for.

Life was supposed to be perfect, but it wasn’t.

Under the surface, daily life was composed of a cautious walk between raindrops of emails, calls, meetings, and carpools. An attempt to stay dry in a torrent of enslaving, often-meaningless obligations. My accomplishments had come at the cost of invisible strings that tied me down. Decisions, big or small, were now dictated by the needs of my career and of my family: work on the weekend, wake up early for Sunday school, buy a house in a good school district, drive a minivan. Life was an infinite conveyer belt of tasks and constraints.

But as hard as it was to be busy, it was scarier to have time to think. In the rare times when I could decide where to go or what to do, I had no idea what I wanted. Yes, I wanted to spend time with my kids and with my wife, but beyond my identity as a husband and father, I didn’t really know who I was anymore. Underneath the layers of being a scientist, a musician, engineer, or businessman, my soul was hiding from me in a silent void.

Like all stories of personal transformation, it all began with a faint nagging ache that gradually grew into a pain. The inevitable feeling that something was seriously missing and had to be retrieved. Nights of reflection turned into weeks, and weeks into months, and at some point, things came to a boil. When they did, a suppressed childhood dream surfaced from the emotional chaos: I want to be a biker. I want to ride the open road, gripping chromed, raised handlebars and stretching forward leather biker boots. I want to ride from coast to coast, through the back roads, with no plans, no reservations, and no schedules. A motorcycle will be my channel to inner peace.

At that time, I had not even sat on a motorcycle before, so some work had to be done. I started pursuing this goal cautiously, one tiny step at a time. First, I took the Motorcycle Safety Course. I spent a weekend in a parking lot in Poughkeepsie trying to operate a motorcycle. I ended up falling down, injuring myself, and flunking the course. Then I went back, passed by a notch, got a tiny 250cc Yamaha, joined a local riding club, and traded it for a bigger motorcycle–a Yamaha V-Star 950. By the late days of spring in the following year, I was ready to go all the way: ride solo from New York to California and mark a big checkmark on my bucket list. My wife, who, in the meantime, had seen her husband transform from a groggy chimp back into a smiling human, supported the endeavor, and the project turned from a dream into a plan. I allocated a modest budget and started preparing to go on the road in the fall.

The plan was to ride alone, from New York to California, and spend all days and nights in solitary contemplation, gathering inspiration from the road and from the people I may meet along the way. It was a simple plan, but it was also a little risky: being away from my family for weeks, with little opportunity to process and discuss my thoughts could possibly be boring, perhaps even depressing. It could be great to take the opportunity to stop along the way and discuss the thoughts that emerge and to process them. Luckily for me, I work with some of the most famous experts whom a person could consult on a soul-searching journey: authors like Deepak Chopra, and prominent psychology researchers like Phil Zimbardo, James Pennebaker, and Sonja Lyubomirsky. I called them and asked if I could stop along the way to chat. They all agreed. Ride of Your Life turned from a personal journey into an opportunity to find some broader answers to the questions that people ask as their lives evolve. To marry the wisdom of the road with the professional take of experts, to form a guide to inner peace. In preparation for my meetings, I bought two pocket video cameras and two tripods and scheduled approximate dates to see the experts in Maryland, North Carolina, Texas, and California.

On Sunday, September 19, 2010, I took off and headed west, shocked and anxious to leave my family behind, not knowing where I’d be spending the night. In the five weeks that followed, I rode through mountains and valleys, forests and deserts, towns, cities, and oil rigs, in the rain and in sunshine. Six thousand miles later, I got back with answers and had regained my inner peace.
The Ride changed forever the lens through which I see the world and affected my life in several different ways: prior to leaving, I met in New York with the founders of a company called bLife. When I reached Los Angeles, I met with them again, ended up selling my company to them, and became bLife’s Chief Scientist. I also went on to study life coaching at The Institute for Life Coach Training, and now actively coach and teach life coaching courses. Two years after I returned, I decided to move with my family to Israel, and since then, I divide my time between the West Coast, the East Coast, and the Middle East. I not only found inner peace, but dare I say—enlightenment. Today, I’m a better husband, better dad, and a better professional. I just feel like a better human all around, and I experience daily life in a very different way.

Ride safe and ride on!

You can read a free chapter from Ran’s book Ride of Your Life here and ILCT will soon be offering his course, Meaningful Goal Pursuit – Go On The Ride of Your Life, as one of our self-directed courses.