Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Zen and the Art of Motorbike Madness

So much has happened since I left Harpswell less than ten days ago. So much to report on. I saw the sunrise over Angkor Wat, sailed on the Southeast Asian seas, lost my heart to a Norwegian boy and discovered the beauty of phosphorescent waters- just to name a few things. One thing that I just have to tell you about, however, was my adventure on the motorbike.

I had never ridden a motorbike before. Over the summer I was quite surprised to have survived biking through Beijing. The hostel didn't provide helmets and all I could think of for half the ride was how pissed my parents would be flying across the world to scrape my cranium off the Chinese sidewalk despite being helmet Nazis my entire life. But I figured I could either A. go or B. not go. I've always been a 'why not?' person and took my chances. Miraculously, I made it.

Historically I haven't been the best driver. At 18 I failed my driver's test with flying colors. I got a ticket for a nearly running over a police officer once. I have a hard time driving my mother after that time she politely notified me I was about to commit mass homicide by plowing down a titanic heard of businessmen in a downtown crosswalk. The divers seat pecking order in my family goes like this: Sister, Dad, Mom, Deceased Family Dog, Me. And after being lucky enough to have such a wonderful man in my life as Somnanag, my tuk tuk driver, being out of practice behind the wheel is something of an understatement.

But on a moto the driving stakes were higher. I had to learn and perfect an honest-to-God, no-protection, wind-in-your-hair motorbike. It was the only way to really explore Kampot, the sweet little riverside town that my friend and I were in, so I sent a little prayer to my battered helmet and trepidly saddled up onto my red and white puttering steed. After a few starts and stops away we went, over back country roads and between sunburned rice paddies. And Lord, did all God's creatures decide to pour out onto the road just at that moment. Motos ladened with grown men screamed by us while massive SUV's kicked up dirt and sand as they sped down the lanes. Even a horse cart carrying an entire family halted past, the wizened matriarch smiled at us with her jack-o-lantern grin. It was a struggle at first, I just couldn't find that illusive spot between glacier-melting and bat-out-of-hell. If my speedometer had worked I'm sure it would have looked liked a conductor waving his baton after downing a hefty speedball. But soon my dire urge to strap on an adult diaper faded and I found myself in the zen of motorbiking. The wind rushed by me and I even mastered a one-handed wave as we zipped by small children hollering at us from their play in the rice fields. My thoughts freed themselves to churn around peacefully in my mind and the muscles in my throttle hand memorized the motions. I even started to love the freedom of it. Everything was hunky dory- until we reached the village. We pulled into a small pagoda village guessing it was the one that touted a centuries-old temple tucked away in some caves. But we weren't the only ones there. A massive welcoming committee of village youngsters were poised to greet incoming foreigners. One tiny girl with a massive bicycle decided that it would be a great idea to bike next to me and drill me with questions. She peddled closer and closer to my moto and kept trying to ply me with inquiries. Not knowing where I was going, unsteady on the bike and horrified that I'd somehow end up with child pate on my wheels, I panicked. Somehow the ground came up at me so fast and the gravel inserts itself into my skin so quickly that I'm convinced that there was nothing between vertical and horizontal. The next thing I knew was the spinning of the moto's back wheel and the stinging dust in my eyes. The little girl was nowhere to been seen (I'm assuming she hightailed it) but I attracted the attention of a fair number of her cohort munchkins and curious monks. A kind traveler reached out of her tuk tuk to give me a wet wipe so I could tend to my scraped palms and knees. Something about the body shock or the breaths that I missed made the caves a less than spectacular sight. I dreaded getting back onto the bike, espeically with pained and bloody hands. But with grit I clinched my teeth and remounted for the trip back to our hostel. I tensed my entire body willing my dirty fingers to close themselves around the throttle; the engine revved again. And somehow, balancing between the tropical flowers and rice paddies, I managed to survive another bike ride.

1 comment:

E in Atlanta said...

I love it! (but i never mentioned your running over the curb when you came to pick me up...or that we 'suspect' you ran over the outdoor lighting! ok...maybe it WAS someone else.) But the description makes ME want to ride!!