With a deep hissing sound, the glass door moves out a few inches before sliding to the right to let in the gentle morning breeze. The Chilean bus driver indicates with a friendly nod in his colorfully decorated rear-view mirror that we have arrived at the intersection we are looking for. While unloading our heavy backpacks, he asks us again if we really want to leave the bus here. We reassure him again that we will be fine. He shrugs his shoulders with a despairing look, before he lifts his enormous body back inside with astonishing ease. Through the closing door we can just see him merging with his comfortable seat as only bus drivers can do. As a goodbye kiss, the vehicle treats us to a thick cloud of black smoke and moments later we are surrounded only by vineyards, silence and an already burning morning sun. Every minute she makes it more clear to us that she is looking forward to today. In my imagination, the five imposing vultures circling above us are already looking forward to the feast to come.
After leaving the sleepy village of Pisco Elqui at dawn, we are now at a very quiet fork at about 1000m above sea level. The way forward consists of two dramatically different options:
- turn left (orange):
- Descend to the more urbanized area on the Pacific Ocean, from where we can continue our journey to the north of Chile,
- Well-maintained asphalt roads,
- Fairly frequent public transport,
- Stable, warm and dry climate.
- turn right (green):
- An ascent of 137km in the Andes, which will lead us to Argentina via the Paso Agua Negra (4780m). In comparison: in the European Alps, only the top of Mont Blanc surpasses the highest point of this route. Pretty intense.
- Mostly unpaved roads,
- No public transport: only about twenty cars a day undertake this route – weather permitting.
- Relatively unpredictable climate.
We lay our backpacks in the shade of an overgrown bush on the side of the road and exchange a smile. The piece of cardboard we found in the village that morning is brightly decorated with an ornate version of the word ‘ARGENTINA’.
With healthy tension, thumb at the ready and our gaze fixed on the western horizon, the waiting begins…
Rules in freedom
The above scene (to be continued) has been in the past for quite some time now. After traveling in South America, I set out to traverse Europe on my bicycle, an adventure that introduced me to the limits of life in many ways. One of the core ideas of the trip was that I didn’t have a plan or destination, but during the ride I did impose some rules/guidelines on myself:
- All the routes that I would cover by road had to be overcome by bike,
- I had no expectations:
- I didn’t expect outside help. If I needed help, it was of course no problem to ask,
- I didn’t expect to experience specific things or visit specific places,
- When help was offered, I tried to accept as often as possible,
- I avoided buying myself out of difficult situations,
- I avoided taking ‘the easy way’.
Gradually I found that this approach ensured that the experience was optimal for me. The attention that I did not pay to create and follow a fixed trajectory and schedule I could spend on the ‘here and now’: the people, places and events that appear on my path. Moreover, since surprises kept popping up, it would have taken a lot of energy and time to keep this hypothetical plan up-to-date and thus keep ‘control’ over my journey. Moreover, the spontaneity and tension of some of the adventures I experienced (the soul of the trip) cannot be planned in any way.
It is absurd to plan for a future which, when it comes to me, will find me “absent”, looking fixedly over its shoulder instead of into its faceAlan Watts
IkI sometimes wonder why I manage to travel this way, and why I’ve met very few people so far who approach it in a similar way. It doesn’t feel like I’m doing extreme things to me, but on the other hand, it’s not your standard beach holiday either. This kind of venture is certainly not for everyone, but people regularly tell me that they want to undertake similar adventures (or would have liked to), but that in the end it never happened. If I look at this question from the comfort-stretch-panic spectrum, I think I can understand on different levels why it didn’t feel (anymore) impossible for me to get started:
- I’m privileged to have seen quite a bit of the world, and from experience I’ve learned that more often than not ‘the well-known attractions’ leave me disappointed – mostly due to the artificial exploitation of places like this.
- Since I have a ‘good’ degree and also a lot of work experience in a domain where there will probably be opportunities in the coming years, I dont really have to worry about these kinds of themes.
- Apart from my bike, camera and guitar, I don’t own any property of (financial) value that needs to be maintained (and always has been), so money and material obligations are less of a concern.
- I now have quite a bit of experience with adventure travel and over the years my comfort zone has also expanded a lot, which of course has made it easier to relax in situations in which I would not have felt comfortable 10 years ago.
I try to be aware of this when sharing my view on these types of topics. When you climb a wall with a whole safety system that saves you in the event of a misstep, it’s easy to say that fear of heights is for nothing. But without that rope it’s a different matter of course.
In the same way, in recent years I’ve heard a lot of people say that a diploma is worth nothing these days. That’s easy to say if you have one hanging on your wall.
Another well-known saying is “money doesn’t buy happiness” (I agree, by the way). If you have to find new creative solutions every month just to pay the bills, I also understand that that statement can leave you frowning.
On a global level, the background situation in which I find myself is extremely privileged, but in Western Europe this is by no means unattainable for many people. So it seems that for a lot of people there are still some less visible barriers, and in the following paragraphs we will look for what those barriers look like and how they can be overcome.
The impact of the improbable
I became acquainted with some of the concepts that I want to explore in this context thanks to Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a Lebanese-American writer and statistician who earned his stripes in the financial world. He’s not afraid to challenge the establishment (I think he actually enjoys it intensely) and his expertise focuses on what we don’t know: randomness, probability and uncertainty. Sounds sexy, I know.
In Taleb’s second book “The Black Swan” (2007) he introduces the concept of “Black Swan”.
A Black Swan is an event that:
- Comes as a surprise to the observer because it seemed very unlikely and thus was not predicted,
- Has an enormous (positive or negative) impact,
- Is explained in retrospect by all kinds of signals that were missed in the predictions. Thus, according to the people making these statements, they could have been avoided or could have been announced with “better predictions.”
An example of such a Black Swan can be found at the end of this turkey’s apparently carefree life.
From the turkey’s perspective, you could call this a “Black Swan” with a rather negative effect.
I thought we were friends?Turkey
This type of improbable event has had a significant impact on world history over time, both positively and negatively. An anthology of some Black Swans on a somewhat larger scale:
- The rise of the internet,
- The September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City,
- De val van de Sovjetunie,
- The 2008 financial crisis,
- The discovery of the New World was a black swan for both Europeans and the native people,
- The discovery of actual black swans in Australia.
Also in everyday life very unexpected events (from your own perspective) can have an enormous impact:
- Coming home after a restaurant visit with an open window and an empty living room,
- Talking to someone on the train who happens to be looking for someone with your skills and who offers you a job,
- A car accident in your close circles with fatal outcome,
- … (Most of us can probably give personal examples of this kind of “surprise” with a big impact).
In his typical narrative and somewhat brutal style, Taleb tells us how sensitive we are to these kinds of unlikely events and what lessons we have (not) learned from this as a society. One of the main conclusions is that when we – like our friend ‘mister turkey’- assume that the future is a continuation of our observation of the past, we become very vulnerable to Black Swans.
He suggests not trying to predict the very improbable and unpredictable events. He believes it makes more sense to focus our attention on reducing the sensitivity of our systems to external shocks.
He starts his argument with the presentation of the concept of ‘fragile systems’: when a system is sensitive to external stress factors and variations and also usually experiences a negative impact from this, we speak of a fragile system. This type of system functions best when it has as little contact as possible with the uncertain outside world. As long as that remains the case, there seems to be no problem, but when the external fluctuations become stronger, major problems typically start to occur.
- An organization in which everyone has a very specific task that is decided from above has a very difficult time responding to sudden changes in society or in crisis situations.
- A child raised in a very sterile environment will often result in a greater susceptibility to all sorts of ailments.
- Memorizing answers to exam questions without understanding what they’re about may get you a good grade, but this kind of knowledge is of very little in the complex world outside the school walls.
- When someone connects his/her identity with an ideology without remaining critical of one’s own view, it becomes increasingly difficult to admit (or even consider) indications in the other direction. This can be a vicious circle, where the goal shifts from “the truth” to “my truth,” as only the latter outcome avoids personal pain.
When fragile systems are challenged by Black Swans, which cause a very sudden and violent external change, this often has a huge impact. Crystal glasses on a high and unstable cabinet are not very fond of children’s parties.
As mentioned earlier, it is impossible (and perhaps even absurd) to specifically prepare for all possible unlikely events. It is therefore more useful to look at how you can reduce fragility in case of (intense) external stress. Taleb classifies systems with limited sensitivity to external influences as “robust”, and indicates that increasing robustness is a classic strategy for dealing with uncertainty.
Here are some ways to put this into practice:
- The smaller and simpler a system is, the less unexpected effects and interactions and external shocks can occur. Moreover, it is easier to change the course of a small boat than that of a large oil tanker.
- Avoid hyper-efficiency: In fully optimized systems, as much as possible is done with as few resources as possible. As long as everything goes according to plan, there is no problem. However, once something goes wrong in one place, the problems will quickly spread and put the whole system at risk. In ideal circumstances, inefficient systems have slightly less yield, as there is often ‘unnecessary’ duplication of work. However, when a problem occurs in one component, this function can be silently taken over by an already existing process.
At first sight, this kind of approach is a pretty safe strategy to create internal stability within a system in an ever-changing world and society. No matter what happens outside, a robust system will experience very little impact. Unless things get really wild.
Taleb points out in his follow-up work Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder that we are walking into a logical trap here. The opposite of “systems that are broken by the impact of disorder” are not these robust systems that are immune to external chaos. There are also ‘systems that effectively improve under external pressure due to uncertain circumstances’: the opposite of ‘fragile’ is therefore not ‘robust’ but was dubbed by Taleb as ‘antifragile’.
In order to get to know the concept of ‘antifragility’ a little better, we will turn to classical mythology. In his quest for immortality, the Greek hero Hercules began his famous “Twelve Labors”. After outwitting the Nemean lion in his first assignment, King Eurystheus ordered him to face the Hydra of Lerna. This multi-headed murderous snake lived near Lake Lerna, a swamp area filled with poisonous fumes that also served as one of the gateways to the underworld.
Fortunately, our hero could endure something and after some searching he found the monster’s nest. He went into the confrontation in good spirits. Hercules was a master of the sword: cautiously yet confident he approached. When the Hydra accepted the invitation to attack, Hercules dodged the snake’s venomous bite with a graceful move. With a mighty swipe he took one of the monsters heads.
The Hydra unleashed a symphony of screams through its remaining heads, but Hercules was already contemplating the next attack that would bring him closer to his target. Suddenly he noticed something that gave him a lump in his throat: in the place where he had just inflicted a gaping wound, not one but two heads had now grown back. In other words, each attack made the monstrosity grow stronger.
Hercules would of course not be Hercules if he did not find a solution to this and he enlisted the help of his nephew Iolaus. After each beheading, Iolaus was instructed to cauterize the wound with a flaming torch so that no new heads could appear. After an infernal battle, the duo finally managed to slay the monster, bringing Hercules one step closer to immortality.
Lerna’s Hydra is the textbook example of an antifragile system: with every blow she takes, she gets stronger and stronger. A fragile version of the monster, on the other hand, would weaken with each decapitation, while a robust one, for example, would defend itself with a quasi-impenetrable shield. Even antifragile systems can eventually go down, but this legend nicely illustrates that that doesn’t happen when the external pressure is increased.
The concept of ‘Antifragility’ can also be illustrated with some social examples:
- During their career, most winter sports enthusiasts have regular encounters with the surface of the mountain. These blows sometimes cause a bruise or maybe even a broken wrist, but over time they also make sure that they ‘learn to fall’. When 2 snowboarders lose control at the same high speed, the one with the most falling experience will probably fare better.
- An entrepreneur who has gone through one or more bankruptcies will – if he/she has learned the necessary lessons of course – be better equipped for the next business adventure.
- When we train for a running race, we expose our bodies to external stress and inflict minor damage on ourselves. The day after we may feel a bit stiff, but once recovered from the effort we will be just that little bit stronger. Thanks to this repeated exposure to small challenges, we can grow and eventually reach our sporting goals in a comfortable way.
- The aviation sector is an example of an antifragile system made up of fragile components. When a serious problem occurs on an aircraft, it can have disastrous consequences for the passengers. However, an accident is also always a source of information that helps to increase the general safety of aviation.
- In constructive critical substantive discussions, ideas are criticized with the aim of strengthening them. The original idea can face a lot of criticism, but when the intention is to get closer to the truth, this critical view can distort the idea so that it becomes more and more substantiated. The idea here becomes more robust thanks to the antifragile critical debate.
In all the above examples, it is noticeable that the small shocks function as a ‘source of information’ that ensures that the system can become better and stronger. In the short term, these fluctuations may cause some damage, but in the long term they positively affect the resilience of the system. Without new challenges, systems will stop getting stronger. This means that in order to continue to improve in quality, they must remain open to external stress and new variations.
Looking for security
In Western society there is a great tendency to take volatility out of life, and very often this is done out of a pursuit of security and safety.
- Minor illnesses are often treated immediately with medication, while they would most likely pass with 2 days of rest
- Our law book is filled with thousands of small rules and additions. Our attention shifts from the spirit to the letter of the law, in which it is however impossible to include all scenarios.
- Monoculture in agriculture provides increased efficiency, but it also results in a higher vulnerability to all kinds of pests. Insects that are fond of a certain crop experience much less resistance here to move disastrously quickly and can often only be stopped with poison.
- A widely supported social ideal is that of a stable job, where you know, so to speak, what your next 20 years will look like: financially, location-related and substantive. However, when this company would go bankrupt in a major crisis, an employee with many years of loyal service finds that looking for creative solutions for a new income is a very big unknown.
In the animal kingdom, every species is looking for a comfortable situation in which to function best, and humans are no exception. Unique to humanity, however, is that we are the only species that can rationally plan for the future and thus tackle this “striving for stability” in a conscious way. Our consciousness allows us to form an image of ‘how it could be’. Based on everything we know, we then envision a trajectory towards this future perspective.
However, reality very rarely corresponds to this ideal. Our environment – the nature of which we are also a part – is not a static whole at all. Everything is in permanent flux, and every change in the system ‘Earth’ has an impact on other places in the cycle. In the same way, every event in our lives has an impact, possibly resulting in small and large changes. Science has, to some degree, built up an analytical understanding of how the individual components in nature work and how they affect each other, and it’s exciting to learn about the incredible ways in which everything is connected. However, the more we learn about the wonders of nature, the more it becomes clear that there are still many processes that we do not know or understand.
The ‘Earth’ system consists of a hyper-complex chain of interactions and small ‘shocks’ in all directions, since natural processes are actually a constant evolution towards (a never attainable) equilibrium. A highly simplified and hypothetical example:
- Internal processes in the Earth cause the Earth’s plates to move
- These tectonic plates come into contact, and this can cause mountain ranges to form
- Higher mountains mean that rivers will suddenly have to travel more altimeters over the same distance, so that the water will flow faster and therefore have more power to form valleys.
- In the higher mountains it will also be a bit colder on average and as every gardener knows, some species can handle this better. The vegetation will therefore look slightly different over time.
- Some animals will suddenly have less food, which is bad news from their perspective. But in this case, the rabbits are rubbing their paws: their buffet is expanding thanks to the new plant composition. This abundance of food allows the population to grow.
- Good news for the foxes who do like rabbit stew.
- After a few years, however, there is a cold winter and an extremely dry spring: The rabbits – which are now much more numerous – find it more difficult to find food and their numbers decrease somewhat.
- Fewer rabbits means bad news for the (weakest) foxes, and the number of foxes will also decrease.
- The following year there is a very mild winter, which allows the plants to grow much faster again. In addition, there are also fewer foxes..
- The rabbits like this new situation.
You could write several books about this kind of interaction, as every single event above will again have an impact on all kinds of processes via ‘feedback loops’. The core message, however, is that everything is connected.
(This video explains the concept of ‘feedback loops’ in about five minutes in a very clear way, and as a bonus it contains an orchestra of jungle animals).
These natural fluctuations may not have a positive effect on all individual parts of the system, but in the long run they ensure that the whole remains ‘healthy’ and even becomes stronger. Small fluctuations are opportunities for an ecosystem to ‘learn’.
It is – in my opinion – an illusion to believe that one day we will understand all of nature, and even more so that we will be able to control everything. And the latter is definitely not a bad thing, I think.
A multitude of interventions that we have undertaken as humans to control nature have had (unexpected) side effects in the complex ‘Earth system’, with sometimes catastrophic consequences for our environment and even for ourselves.
The concept of a system can of course be interpreted in many different ways. Above we discussed the example of an ecosystem, but you can also conceptually approach families, the business world and your own life and relationships with this view. What all these systems have in common is that they are constantly in motion and that small changes often have unexpected consequences.
The attentive reader sees a problem arising here: on the one hand we have an urge to control our lives, on the other hand we are part of an uncontrollable society and environment.
Until the middle of the last century (and still for many people today), religion played an important role in Western Europe. Despite all kinds of unexpected windfalls and setbacks, the life of a good Christian was rewarded with an eternal security. Moreover, the alternative outcome was also quite clear (and also fairly stable). I’m not going to comment on the sense or nonsense of this here, but if this is your belief, it also makes sense that you live your life with the aim of comfortably spending this eternal security. But since this point of absolute security has largely disappeared from a social point of view, our problem naturally resurfaces acutely.
Our problem with uncertainty
When you observe that great absolute certainty has disappeared, it brings with it an uneasy void that needs to be filled. However, Western society has also somewhat turned away from these kinds of questions after the detachment from the Church, and a very effective alternative path has emerged that frees us from these kinds of existential doubts: let’s go consuming!
Every advertisement you see shows you a glimpse of what your future might look like.
Every image of a supermodel is what you too could become, and this is something you should strive for. Fortunately, there are plenty of products available that help you change your appearance and mirror this ideal image as best as possible!
In addition to being a place to live, a house is increasingly an investment, something that can later be sold with added value. That added value can then be used for a larger home, which of course has to be filled with more stuff.
Instead of visiting other countries and cultures, we ‘do’ them. By paying an entrance ticket to a holy city, we are moving this place off our ever-growing todo list to our social media feeds.
I have no problem with the concept of entrepreneurship and trade, and I am anything but blind to the benefits that technological progress has brought us. Fortunately, at birth I was not condemned to an illiterate life on the barely self-sufficient farm of (the landlord of) my parents.
I am however convinced is that there may be something wrong with the cycle of ‘buying things you don’t really need’, often in combination with ‘a job that you don’t enjoy much’ to be able to live life to the fullest in your ‘free time’. (i.e. when you are not at work or when you are resting from work). Once we have arrived at the idealized vision of the future – ‘where life would be better’ – it is often not really what we are looking for, but fortunately we do not have to look far for a new vision of the future on the horizon and we have something to look forward to. It is perfectly possible that this kind of life is satisfying, of course I can’t look inside the minds of others, but I also can’t get rid of the feeling that it might be some kind of (unconscious) distraction strategy that helps us avoiding a moment of pause.
When we take the time to dig a little deeper into how we deal with this “new” existential uncertainty, there are a few different strategies we can follow. In ‘Wisdom of Insecurity’, Alan Watts describes that at first sight there appear to be two alternatives.
A first possibility is to consciously discover a new myth or to bring an already existing myth back to life. Since we can’t prove Eternal Life doesn’t exist, we might as well live our lives as if it did. It seems as if we have nothing to lose here, as it gives us a kind of certainty and we will never know how it will turn out in the end. But I think this kind of faith compares to the real thing like the monthly fire drill to a blazing fire on the first floor. You may act like it’s serious, but deep down you know you’re kidding yourself.
Another way of approaching the problem is a little more fatalistic. You are sure that life is completely meaningless: a journey from nothing to nothing. We do what we can and try to enjoy our time here as much as possible. Because who cares really?
However, he also describes a third, radically different option, which starts from the realization that we know nothing about eternity. From this fundamental uncertainty (neither belief in ‘something greater’ nor belief in ‘nothing greater’) we can view life as an exploration, looking at everything around us with an open mind. In the English language this is represented as the difference between ‘Belief’ and ‘Faith’ (trust). A person who believes is only open to ‘the truth’ when it matches his/her world view. Faith, on the other hand, is an unreserved opening of the mind to this “truth,” whatever it may be. It’s a leap into the unknown.
“Belief” clings. “Trust” lets go.
According to Watts, the only way to understand the mysteries of life lies in this last path. Life is constantly in flux and consists of a web of uncertainties. As long as you try to clamp down on this inherently moving reality, you cannot see its real beauty and meaning.
It will always result in disappointment when you try to catch the ripples of a river in a bucket. No current, no waves.
From my own experience, which is far from complete, I have noticed that this letting go can be quite scary, and goes against many of our learned behaviors. Just as social revolutions rarely produce the expected result, I also think that a sudden turnaround in your life does not necessarily turn out the way you expect it to. Everyone has the opportunity to change their lifestyle, but no one says they should. Moreover, nobody can determine how far you should go in this and what that should look like from the outside. There is neither a right path nor a right final destination.
In my case, this quest has taken on a very clear and profound outward shape during my cycling journey, but I have also met people who went through a similar inner trajectory from a much less dramatic setting. In addition, there are also people who are absolutely not involved in this kind of business and yet seem intensely happy.
That’s why I think it’s healthy – if this appeals to you – to gradually explore the concept and experience for yourself what the impact can be on your life. (Every bit helps)
I believe that Taleb’s concepts (which I introduced earlier in this text) can be a useful tool in this exploration. He takes as a starting point that we often use a ‘uniform’ approach in dealing with uncertainty, in which we treat all uncertainty in the same way. These singular strategies can come in several forms:
- Avoid all risks. From an evolutionary perspective, there is much to be said for this strategy. In our natural environment, with scarcity of food and a harsh environment, life was a lot more precarious and it made a lot of sense to always be on the lookout for dangers in the outside world. Our current society, however, has very little to do with the environment in which our behavior has evolved. In the relatively safe Western society, this strategy also means that you miss out on opportunities.
- Looking for risks: if you are always on this end of the spectrum, you expose yourself to great uncertainty. When this behavior turns out well, the rewards are often great. When things go wrong, however, you can also fall much deeper. This strategy can sometimes approach reckless behavior.
- Always taking average risks: Since calculating risk is very difficult in the hyper-complex world we live in, wrong estimates can have a much greater impact here. As a result, some risks can be a lot bigger than you think and a false sense of security is created.
These strategies yield systems that lie on the spectrum between ‘fragile’ and ‘robust’.
Taleb, who also turns out to be a weightlifter in his spare time, uses the image of a barbell to suggest an alternative approach.
The barbell illustrates a separation of two extremes, with the average receiving little attention. The two weights are not necessarily always the same weight, the most important observation is that there is a separation between the extremes. He proposes avoiding risks in some areas, while in others he is very willing to take risks. He argues in favor of taking as few ‘average risks’ as possible, because ‘a little risk’ in the event of a Black Swan can have catastrophic consequences.
When using the barbell strategy, you ensure on the one hand that a kind of certainty is built in: in these areas you avoid all risks, so that you can never completely go under. On the other hand, you start looking for uncertainty, because the most interesting possibilities often arise in the chaos. If things go wrong, you only suffer a small loss because the ‘certain part’ of the barbell strategy offers you the necessary safety. But if all goes well, this is the zone where the most interesting things happen.
The left side of the bar ensures that you don’t have to worry about your basic needs, allowing you to step into the chaos without fear and really open yourself up to the unknown.
And that’s where magic tends to happens.
This strategy does not have to be an immutable approach either. As discussed in “The Art of Beginning” , an approach that is very challenging at the moment may end up in your comfort zone sooner over time. Because of this you can decide to choose to make the left side of the barbell a little less heavy and so teach yourself to need a little less security.
For example, I’ve learned – through my legs – that when you have to strap all your gear to your bike (and then ‘have to’ drag that bike over imposing mountain ranges), you force yourself to think about the things you really need. By removing that luxury from your life, which is certainly not easy in the beginning, you learn a lot about the things that you really need to enjoy life. And the less you need, the less time and energy you have to spend to meet those needs. That released energy can then be focused on the wonders in the world, whatever they may be for you.
Less is more.
And that’s Freedom to me.
The rare cars that pass us under the Chilean morning sun greet us with the warmth we have already experienced across the country. Their destination always appears to be on this side of the Andes . Since the few cars crossing the mountains have to start the climb before 10am (to avoid ending up at a closed border crossing), we know that the chances of success are rather slim. However, our strategic position means that we don’t have to worry: within two hours another bus will pass by that can take us to the coast before the end of the day, where we can wash down our disappointment with a fresh Pisco Sour . For now, our only option is to wait and have faith.
Less than fifteen minutes after our arrival, we notice that the car that we greeted with our thumbs slowed down. The driver introduces himself with a broad smile as Javier.
Whether he is driving to Argentina? Si.
Whether he still has two spots left? Si.
Does he happen to go to San Juan – the place where our friend lives? Si.
From the far too cramped back seat of his red Fiat, we are treated to a ride through hallucinatory mountain landscapes that sometimes remind you of another planet.
In a breathtaking setting (at almost 5000 m altitude, you can take that quite literally) we cross the Argentine border and then we descend back to the steaming hot San Juan.
400 kilometers and eight hours after our departure between the Chilean vineyards, we approach San Juan, where we notice the local car race track on our left. It seems like there’s a lot going on today, and Javier tells us that the San Juan cycle race will arrive here in the late afternoon. My eyes immediately open wide, because a few days ago I read that Remco Evenepoel is here to win his first World Tour race. We say goodbye to Javier and make our way to the circuit under a leaden sun, where less than an hour later Zdenek Stybar manages to outwit the peloton with an ultimate effort. During the podium ceremony we see a familiar face in the press stand, and with a few Flemish shouts we manage to attract the attention of Renaat Schotte – a Flemish cycling journalist. He is obviously stunned to be recognized by the Argentine public, but greets us with a warm smile. An hour later we are in the car with Renaat, on our way to our hotel in the center of the city. The next day we would witness the first ‘important’ overall victory of our greatest cycling talent in a long time.
The way this all evolved I think is a perfect illustration of the barbell strategy in combination with a Black Swan. Our positioning on the split in Chile greatly reduced the risk of a bad outcome. On the other hand, we were open to ‘happiness’. Hitching a ride over the Andes was unlikely, but in the end it did happen and provided us with an unforgettable and unique journey. In San Juan we again took a small risk by leaving our car to the city center at the track, but here too little could really go wrong. And here too we succeeded in taking advantage of the opportunities to which we had opened ourselves.
Twice we looked for high uncertainty, while in both places our negative risk was limited. When the universe starts to cooperate at times like these, a lot is possible.
An antifragile day.