Bike USA ad, full-page, 4-color newspaper ad. This is the ad that got Scott fired from his job as art director.
Bikes USA full-page, 4-color newspaper ad. This is the ad that got Scott fired from his job as an art director.

The advertisement that got me fired and “ruined” my life

And set the wheels in motion for a journey around the world on a bicycle

Actually, this post isn’t about the reason that I quit the corporate world as much as it is about a career-changing and life-changing event. This post also marks the passing of my 15th anniversary since I set my wheels in motion, and the 11th anniversary since I have returned home a different person inside and out.

Long story short: Above is a restored photo from the only existing printed piece of a full-color, full-page newspaper ad that is now yellowed, wrinkled and spotted. This advertisement actually won an award in the regional Addy contest and then went on to the Nationals. However, before that happened my boss used this as one of his primary reasons for firing me. He said that he had never seen a focus group tear apart an ad so much. In fact, he said that he had never seen an art director as bad as me. This happened on the Friday before New Year’s Eve, and he told me not to come back next year, meaning Monday. This event led to the incendiary moment which compelled me to ask, “If I could do anything, what would I do?” And if you know me, you know my answer was to ride a bicycle around the world and find the meaning of life and happiness or die trying. Well, I came close to dying several times, but I lived to write my best-selling, independent book Falling Uphill about my quest for happiness. And, you can relive this moment in the opening chapter.

A Life-Changing Event

For many years, this event was swept under the rug of my conscious mind as evidence that life was either tragically unfair or that I was truly a horrible artist — neither option was acceptable. But it must be true that hindsight is 20/20 and time is the healer of all wounds, because now I look back, and I see how this one moment was the cliché fork in the road that altered my path and changed every step I’ve taken since then. It has even changed my character and the thoughts I think. Ultimately it has led me to who I am now, which I’m pretty satisfied with. What a rare and powerful moment! (The philosopher in me wonders if every moment, every decision point, in my life is equally powerfully but just goes unnoticed.) Granted they were many other pivotal moments that helped make my trip come true, but this is the one that sticks out in my mind the most, because it fueled me with the determination for the years it took to prepare.

Possibly the Worst Picture of Myself Ever Taken

Scott Stoll. Day 1. Picture 2. Bicycle ride around the world.
This is a picture of me on the first day of my world tour. I found this shopping cart in the middle of nowhere and pretended I was shopping for jam. Notice the full jar of strawberry jam that I had brought with me. I also had a jar of peanut butter.

Here I am on day 1. September 6, 2001. This is the second picture I took during my trip. Dennis (the friend that started the journey with me) and I are just making our way up the hills out of the Bay Area when I found this grocery cart in the middle of nowhere. I thought it would be funny to enact that I had just gone grocery shopping. That is actually a glass jar of strawberry jam I had brought with me. (For the non-tourists, a glass jar is prohibitively heavy especially with a bad knee, but I was trying to save money and stuck every last thing in my panniers!) Also, notice how skinny-fat I am, and the knee brace I’m wearing to help the pain and clicking.

The reason I am posting this picture is because I look at this version of Scott Stoll, and I can barely recognize him. I can barely remember what it was like to think his thoughts or have his emotions. I do know that if I hadn’t been forced to use my knee and wear down the burr of bone and cartilage, I would still be fat and limping around. But the change may be due to more than just getting physically and emotionally healthy, I think that I activated a whole new set of genes (epigenetics is a fascinating new science) and even changed the chemistry in the way my brain works. Well, I’m rambling now. But there are a lot more thoughts about how the trip changed me and changed the world in the afterword of the upcoming Anniversary Edition of Falling Uphill, which was almost as hard as writing a whole new book.

When I left, I wasn’t sure that I’d make it home alive, and if I did, I was concerned that I would have ruined my career and earning potential to the point of no return, meaning no home, no car and none of the finer things in life. I also feared that I would be too old and sunburnt to attract any women. Below is the most recent picture of me not looking too worse for wear; fancy women seem to still fancy me; and, I’m living the high-life on a whiskey distillery tour in the beautiful heart of Kentucky and the thoroughbred horse ranches. I am even in charge of a wonderful garden and 3 cats, one that was a homeless vagrant like myself.

Scott Stoll at Woodford Reserve. Not looking too worse for wear.

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More stories about the making of Falling Uphill

US Embassy Buenos Aires folders

Return to Argentina

I was honored to return to Argentina as the Cultural Ambassador of the US Department of State. Read the overview and see the movies.


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