One of my favourite Richard Branson quotes is:
“Opportunities are like buses, there is always another one coming.”
Some talk of “opportunity knocking” or about “opening the door of opportunity”.
On this occasion opportunity presented itself to me in the form of an open gate.
July 4th is a big day here in the States – Independence Day – when the US celebrates its birth as a nation and the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain was signed in 1776. The day is marked with much patriotic flag waving and huge fireworks displays.
In Austin, Texas, the location for one of the bigger fireworks displays was at the newly constructed Formula 1 racetrack, the Circuit of the Americas, often referred to as COTA.
My partner Vanessa and I are currently travelling across Texas in an RV (Recreational Vehicle) – a large US-style motor home. We planned to park in one of the huge free carparks at the circuit and stay overnight after the concert and fireworks. We arrived early and parked with another RV in a completely empty parking lot. By 7pm the car park was packed with revellers heading to the show.
At 10pm when all was over, we simply returned home and watched from the window as people in cars lined up to leave. Thousands had turned up to watch the display, and it was a couple of hours before we had the carpark to ourselves again.
Travelling in an RV means that regular exercise is a little more of a challenge to find, as there isn’t always a local gym just down the road. We have bought a couple of bicycles which we carry on the ladder at the rear of our mobile home. I woke at 6am, leaving Vanessa to sleep, planning to cycle around the outside of the huge race track. Security is impressive at the circuit, with high fences around the whole area, and security cameras at every possible location.
I followed the road past the main entrance where crowds of thousands had enjoyed the previous evening’s show. There wasn’t a soul around. I wished I could ride my bike on the circuit rather than just around the outside, but the big gates were now firmly locked.
I continued my circumnavigation, peddling up the hill to the outside of Turn 1, the launch point for the previous night’s fireworks display. What’s this? A gate in the ring-of-steel fence was wide open. I looked around – still nobody else in sight anywhere.
I peddled through the gate, feeling the trepidation of trespass as I crossed the threshold. I was still only in the grassy viewing area outside the track, but a gap in the inner fence, obviously opened to access the firework launch platform, allowed me to enter the inner circle. Rounding a final obstacle, the crash barrier at the outside edge of the track, I found myself standing at the outside edge of Turn 1, the highest point on the course, the whole of the race track laid out below me.
The sun was just rising above the horizon, the morning was utterly still and slightly misty, and still there wasn’t a single other person anywhere in sight. “Well, what are you going to do now?” I wondered, grinning to myself as the answer was obvious.
I swept down the steep hill from Turn 1, peddling hard, changing up to a higher gear. I leaned into Turn 2, my wheels skimming close the red and white border of the track on the inside edge of the corner. Still peddling hard I aimed for the apex of Turn 3, trying to stay on what I imagined was the perfect racing line.
As the track flattened I continued pedalling as hard as I could but inevitably slowed down. Sticking to the perfect racing line became less important. The potential for discovery and possible arrest now entered my mind, and as I headed for Turns 4 and 5 I saw a vehicle heading in the other direction away across at the other side of the track.
I kept my head down and continued pedalling, hoping I hadn’t been spotted. I reached the hairpin at Turn 10 at the far end of the track and started heading back towards the grandstand in the distance. The turns came thick and fast as the course winds back and forth in front of the main spectator vantage points, then curves around the tall central tower. I was sure this would be where there would be a security guard, and my illicit lap of the track would be curtailed.
But I pedalled on, uninterrupted. Around Turns 19 and 20 then into the finish straight. I couldn’t help myself as I crossed the finish line – I let go of the handle bars, both hands in the air in triumphant victory salute. All I had to do was pass the starting grid and climb the steep hill back to Turn 1 to make my escape.
The markers at the outside edge of the track counted down the distance to the corner as I climbed the hill. 250 yards, 200, 150. The hill got steeper the closer I got to the turn, and at 100 yards I had to climb off the bike and push it up the last short section, huffing and puffing, now so close to getting out without being caught.
I exited the track where I had entered feeling elated. I had done a full lap of the track and was almost home free. I ducked through the gap in the inner fence and cycled across to the gate in the larger outer fence. Wait a minute. Was this the right gate? It was now closed and firmly locked with a heavy padlock. This was obviously where the driver of the vehicle I had seen earlier had been heading.
I was now a prisoner inside the compound.
What was I going to do? The thought of trying to find someone to let me out was very quickly discarded. There really was only one option – I was going to have to get both myself and the bike over the fence.
I spotted a fire hydrant near the gate, only about two feet from the fence. It had a flat rim near the top, and I found I could stand up precariously on top of it. I lifted the bike as high as I could and hoisted the back wheel up and over.
I manoeuvred the bike until I could hang it on the top of the fence by the front forks, and clambered up and over myself. The top was a line of sharp cut ends of thick wire, and I had to carefully climb over, being sure not to slip. I jumped down and quickly retrieved the bike, making a hasty departure, my heart hammering in my chest.
Back at the RV I told Vanessa it was about time to move swiftly on to our next destination.
The moral of the story:
Don’t be afraid to cycle through “The Open Gate of Opportunity”, but once through, enjoying the opportunity the open gate offers, make sure there isn’t a security guard locking it behind you!