The Short Way Up.

I’m finaly going away for a long awaited proper vacation back home. I’ll be back in Italy for three weeks to hang out with old good friends (well, “my mates”) in Rome, and to enjoy the sea and sun in Tuscany.
By the end of August I’ll go back to London in my longest solo ride around Europe on the motorbike.
I’ll be travelling from Rome to London alone.
Italy, Switzerland, France, across the channell, and finally in England. It’s not an extremely long or complex trip, but I’m not used to drive the motorbike on long distances anymore, I will be alone, and the bike is now sporting something like 120.000 kilometers on its odometer, that means it is not properly “fresh” as it used to be.
But I’m really looking forward into it. I miss a proper motorbike journey, and I’d love to have it here, to explore a bit more of England… in the rainy week-ends.

During these last years I became accustomed to (un-necessary sometimes) long rides around europe.
Most of them by bike (spain, france, portugal, germany, etc) because it’s a real unique passion for me, but I also had my fair share of long trips by car/van/train.

And, as an Italian guy living in London, I became quite used to jump on the TGV that travels between London and Paris, as well as sleeping aboard the famous “Palatino” train, that travels during the night (13 hours) between Paris and Rome.

Why are you punishing yourself this way?
You might ask yourself. You are totally right.

Apart from travelling on the motorbike that, as I already said, it’s a passion, I tend to be just a tiny unconfortable when travelling with any mean of transport that has the ability to get off the ground, takeoff, get airborne, liftoff… whatever.
Making it simple: I don’t fly. Stop.
I am what some people call an aviophobic. Big times.

It started quite a few years ago, in 2000. It has never been like that for me. I used to travel (by plane) a lot.
I've been to the USA a few times, Seychelles, Cuba, Jamaica, France, Greece, UK and more... I travelled, and enjoyed it, aboard the beautiful Boeing 747 (my first flight was aboard Alitalia's "Sestrierre" 747), the smaller and noisy Dornier 228, I once flew over NYC aboard an old Sikorsky H-34 Helicopter (that was really fun) and many other fixed wings machines.

I love planes. One of the most incredible things human engineering ever created.
A few years ago I was in an air show in Italy and I had the chance to watch an Airbus 321 takeoff in front of me, while still standing on the grass next to the runway, less than 50 meters from it.
Apart for being deaf for the rest of the day, it was truly amazing.

Believe me. I love planes. Just don't put me into one!
I'll freak out. And I'm not kidding.

I know that travelling by plane is the safest way to travel (instead I still travel by bike quite a lot - phobias are totally illogical). I know quite a bit how planes works, what happens in the cabin, in the cockpit, how navigation works, I don't fear that the plane suddenly explodes or falls from the sky with no particular reason.
I just don't like to be closed (trapped?) in it. I just don't like not to be in control of the situation.
I don't fancy travelling by train (and I travel under the sea in the chanell tunnell quite often) or big ferry boats as well (and, as a kid, I basically grow up on a sailboat...) but I'm still able to handle that. I'm still able to control the panick attacks or the sickness that prevents me to fly, or prevented me to get in an airport or even think about flying until 4 years ago.

This sounds quite stupid (and eventually it is) to anyone who never suffered aviophobia, or other kinds of phobias. But it's how the human mind works, and how it actually limits your life.
Living in London for me is 18 hours, two train rides, and a shitload of money from Rome. It's basically like living in Sydney. It roughly takes me the same amount of time to get back home every time. And I'm probably unable to get back fast in case of an emergency.

I tried to work on me, on this problem. I, probably, have to try harder.
I've been in therapy for one year. This let me control the rising panic attacks, and to control myself in various situations: at the time I started therapy I was experiencing severe discomfort even on trains, and it happened to me to find myself extremely nervous in crowded cinemas a couple of times, something I'm able to control perfectly today.

I tried to fly again, roughly three years ago. And that was one of the most embarassing moments in my life, since I actually stopped a Rome to Milan Alitalia flight after the pushback, on it's route to the runway.
Yes, you got it right.

Let me explain.
I never wrote this anywhere on the web because it involved work-related issues, but a lot of time passed since, I think there's nothing wrong to write about it today.
Three years ago summer was approaching and I was going through a series of interviews at Honda Research & Development (Honda R&D for friends) back in Rome.
Just my family and two very close friends knew about it.
I had several interviews along a few months. Honda R&D was selecting a young designer to be trained and to be part of the Design Team, working on the materials, colors, and general styling of the R&D Italian branch, mostly scooters, the Honda Transalp and a few 600cc models including the Hornet (Honda CB600 abroad) and others that are styled in the italian labs.

Most of the interviews where with the management team. They wanted to be sure I totally understood I wasn't going to be a "Standard" Graphic Designer anymore, but I would have to focus on styling the actual prototypes developed by R&D.
For me that was a dream come true.

At the end of the summer, when they eventually decided to get me in the company, they asked me the usual questions about contracts, eventual family problems, and if it was ok for me to travel abroad or if I had any problems.

I still remember sitting at a huge wooden table in a white empty room into the Honda building facing six people, italians and japanese, feeling my face turning red, blue, green and every other color in the visible spectrum and telling them: "Yeah, no. No problem, really".

The two following weeks, waiting for the next meeting (signing the actual contract) were terrible.
I started getting sick just thinking about flying, so I decided to try it out, and joined a special course by Alitalia for people who are scared to fly (Lufthansa does a similar thing).
It was fun, I've even been into the Airbus 321 simulator in Fiumicino... the most amazing thing you can see in your life if you like flight simulators, but after three days on the final test: the actual flight, I failed.

That day I was wearing my Panic Inc tee that some of the other people in the course found it disturbingly funny... I remeber I exchanged a couple of emails with Steven Frank (whose blog post about aviophobia I'm unable to find) about it. I passed check in, jumped on the bus, reached the plane, climbed the stairs, fastened seat belts and watched the world through the small rounded window. It was almost the same as all the others times... they asked if it was ok, if it was ok to close the door.
I said yes.
It was fine.

I started to panic a few minutes later. I couldn't stop my mind, I couldn't control the panic rising.
I had to leave the plane. And I did.
They stopped the plane on its way to the runway, some other passengers complained, the door was magically opened and I reached the ground and started breathing again as the plane quickly left behind me.

I never had that job at Honda.
They knew I wasn't able to fly since another person from the same company was in the course with me.
I'm not sure my phobia was the actual reason (they called me back for another position in Frankfurt months later), but I'll never know for sure.

What I know is how my life is in som ways "crippled" because of this problem.
The limits I have or... better: the limits I still put myself.

During the years, I learnt how to stop easily newborn tiny phobias or other small "disturbs" every one of us suffers. You have to work on them the very same day you start realizing what it's happening in your mind.
I ignored my phobia too long and today is a (un)surmountable obstacle.

Do not set any limits for yourself.

In the (rare) case you are reading these last words, and you don't enjoy paricularly flying as well, you'll be glad to know that Lonenly Planet just published a book about flightless travelling. Go get it.