Falling Uphill with Scott Stoll
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Plum Deluxe. Andy Hayes is the founder and creator of Plum Deluxe. He authors our award-winning weekly email newsletter, The Blend and curates our popular organic tea of the month club.
Today’s interview is with Scott Stoll, author of the book Falling Uphill, founder of the adventure travel community The Argonauts, and perpetual traveller. He’s currently cycling around the world. Yes, cycling – as in on a bicycle.
Could we start by introducing yourself?
I really dislike having to quantify who I am, partially because I am bored of wondering who I think I am and interested in what I might become. Isn’t that why we travel? To find out who we are. To re-create ourselves. To grow in ways unimaginable and previously believed to be impossible.
I understand that you chose your route just based mostly on the weather and the wind. Complete serendipity. How did that feel? I know that some people whose lives are ruled by making decisions prefer holidays where they don’t have to decide anything beyond choosing fish or chicken at dinner. Was something similar at work in your case?
Interesting question. It is a bizarre fact that one can travel around the world following a perpetual summer by crisscrossing the equator. So, for example, only at the speed of a bicycle can one travel from the tip of Anchorage Alaska to the the tail of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. A car would be too fast and walking too slow.
So, in a sense I did just follow the winds of fate; however, I did set an over-ambitious goal to bicycle the world and find happiness or die trying, so frequently I was racing the weather and visas. If I were to do it again, I would set no goals, because life has a way of opening doors for you. And too often I just rode past them with my head down.
On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve seen thousands of holidayers that turn their brain off for a month at a time. There are mini-Germanys and mini-Englands across the globe designed to anesthetize. I think this is a backlash to over-working in a synthetic environment. It’s useful to relax, but I don’t feel vacationing really provides a different point of view that reality is a frame of mind, and if people in Bangladesh can survive in such a dramatically different way, maybe our way of doing things isn’t the absolutely right way of doing things, and maybe if one doesn’t like their reality, they can literally change their mind. That’s one of my big lessons learned.
You once quoted In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” If your journey was into the proverbial woods, what did it have to teach you? You quote Thoreau often – would you consider him an idol or a muse or an inspiration?
I don’t like the word “idol”. I like to think of Thoreau and myself as the opposite iconoclasts.
I learned many lessons. For the first two years, my lessons were quite basic. How do I find water? What do I eat? Where do I sleep? Those kind of lessons, like Thoreau building a cabin on a pond in the woods, reset my frame of reality from the cultural illusions of materialism to a much more instinctual level. It gave me the opportunity to separate myself from society enough to see who I think I am, who I really am, and who I want to be.
You’ve told us about your top ten but what was your most inspirational experience?
As cliche as it might sound, despite or because it was the most ugly and most beautiful place, I found a grain of spiritual enlightenment in India’s foothills of the Himalayas. Here’s a short excerpt from my book, Falling Uphill:
I’m sitting on the balcony of an ashram. I watch the sunset over the Ganges River for 90 seconds. I count as a way of focusing my mind, otherwise, my thoughts spin out of control, and I might as well sit in my room at the ashram and stare at the wall. I cannot simply let go of my ego-importance and be one with the moment. Wind is billowing down the Himalayas and through the river gorge, surfacing the water in feathery ripples. Chanting from the ashrams fades in and out with the gusts as do the gongs of bells from a nearby temple as pilgrims attract the attention of their gods. I’m drowning myself from the inside out with coffee. I have a migraine from my self-conflict, which I call spiritual questing. For the past few days, I have: climbed mountains to worship the gods; been smeared with ash and colored powders; been sprinkled in holy water; worn half a holy coconut like a hat; chanted for world peace; eaten dirty sacraments of sugar and puffed rice; bounced up and down until I bruised my insides; bent myself into yogic shapes that, formerly, were inconceivable and made me ache for days; floated boats of marigolds, roses and candles down the river; and I attempted to cleanse my sins by swimming across the Ganges. (I only managed a few meters in the near-freezing water. I’m not even sure the river was considered holy at this point, but it’s clean compared to Varanasi where by Western standards it’s 300,000 times more polluted than considered safe, not to mention the feces and half-burned corpses floating past.) And, of course, I’ve donated heaps of money to God’s self-appointed representatives. All this in hopes of peace and enlightenment. But the only peace I found was stopping whatever torture—even sitting in silence—I was performing.
That is the angst-ridden moment that leads up to my revelation. And it seems I didn’t really mention taste or smell. Those are two senses that often get forgotten in writing, but India does smell like a potpourri of flowers, curry and feces and it often tastes the same.
[Andy’s Note: Again, India comes up again on our inspirational list. Not that I’m surprised.]
Why don’t you tell us about your book, Falling Uphill? Besides re-living your story and spiritual quest, what will readers be able to take away?
Let’s be honest, it’s a busy world, and people don’t have less and less time for books. So, I’ve spent years to write a book that I feel is both entertaining and enlightening and gives readers a chance not only re-live my journey but re-imagine it by adding all their life experiences on top of mine, and hopefully discovering many new things.
The top ten reasons to buy Falling Uphill.
Re-imagine the harrowing adventures…
- Thrown in Zimbabwe prison.
- Head-on collision with a motorcycle in northern Vietnam
- Caught in an African elephant stampede
- Dying of dehydration in the 120° Baja desert
- Mugged and beaten by armed robbers in Guatemala
- Held hostage in the Tomb of the Engineer in Giza, Cairo
- Visit the Wonders of the World: Machu Picchu, Victoria Falls, Pyramids of Egypt, the Parthenon, Uluru, and more
- Climbing to Mt. Everest Base Camp on a bicycle
- Interrogated as a suspected terrorist in Israel
- Threatened by poachers and a witch doctor with a magic crocodile.
And more reasons…
Re-live the moments of enlightenment… And re-discover the meaning of life…
- Hit rock bottom and discover the first step in really living your life.
- Learn how to “fall uphill” on a mountain pass in Mexico
- Re-experience the Big Bang of creation in every moment of life in Kentucky.
- Find the key to happiness living with the poorest of poor people all over the world.
- Stumble upon the true secret of life in the foothills of the Himalayas at the feet of an enlightened guru.
- Find out how to use your emotions like a sail to travel to faraway lands on a ferry to Zanzibar.
- Tame the lions of your mind on a bicycle safari in Africa
- Re-live the extreme culture shock of returning home, and discover how we are all programmed by our culture to be fearful and reactive
- Re-discover how to pass on the boons of your life like Olympic Torches of inspiration.
- Realize the journey through life never ends, and learn how to find an adventure in every moment and to see the world with eyes of wonder.
But wait there’s more.
- Books are signed and endorsed by the author.
- Get a beautiful 2-sided, 4-color inspirational bookmark.
- Easy to read short stories. Finish one or two on the train to work.
- If you don’t have time to read, listen to the audiobook while you multitask.
- Get an exclusive link to a surprise chapter.
- Looks great on the coffee table.
The #2 reason to read this book: I’m saving the biggest surprise for the book.
And the #1 reason to read this book: It actually happened. The adventures are real, not fantasy; the lessons learned and moments of enlightenment are real-life experiences, not theory or rumors or cut-and-paste from another book.
Get Your Copy
Want to find what that big surprise is in the book? Go and check it out. Then when you’ve finished, you can connect with Scott over at The Argonauts. Thanks, Scott for being such a gracious guest and for some really interesting tidbits.