Settling In

May 30, 2014

Puerto Escondido – San Cristobal

I came around a big wide bend on the toll way at a steady 140 kilometers per hour. Bam! The bike goes sideways, my heart stops.

I react instantly, instinctually, shifting all my weight to the right as the tires slide out from under me in the same direction, my body traveling over the pavement below like a ball player sliding into third on a steal. The bike rotates back, as it does the dry knobby bits on the tire’s other sidewall catch the pavement, the entire bike jumps, and a 900lbs meteor flying through the air. I land back on the tarmac, pointed down the road again but in a massive wobble. The bike moves violently underneath me like a raging bull bucking wildly with all its fury. Right left right left right. The brutality of the forces rips my feet off the pegs, with each gyration my shins slam on the engine casing. I hold on for dear life, doing everything to stay right side up as my steed bucks and throws beneath me. Time slows. My right arm is pinned on the brake, absolute concentration, a crash is imminent.

This is going to be bad, I know it is. Its ok, I’m not scared, I have no choice I’m collected, focused. All my concentration if funneled into minimizing the disaster. How much can I slow down, if I go over the handlebars how can I position myself to avoid shattering limbs or hitting my head? It’s moments like this I’m glad I’ve had so much experience falling at these speeds on skis. I’m slowing but the wobble is not subsiding. The road continues to bend. I’m now bearing down on a cement barrier and the mountainside it encases. I cannot turn and I know I will not stop in time. The visual of the crash plays like a movie in my head, helping me visualize the event before it occurs, preparing me for what is about to happen. I stay pegged on the brake, eight feet from the wall I let off, bail time, as I do, I catch traction, it straitens out. I can’t believe it, no crash. I’m so awake, so frenetic, so elated, adrenaline pulsing through my veins.

I collect myself; get my legs back under me. A deep breathe, relief yet exhilaration. Calm yet elation. I let out a few bellowing yelps that reverberate in my helmet. It’s as if I just stomped a huge line on my skis. I’m so stoked. Relief, excitement, I feel both wholly, simultaneously yet exclusively. 

I continue no stop, no inspection. “Mexican Black Ice”. I’d heard about it rather prophetically just the other day in Puerto Escondido, a fellow motorcyclist who went down. A giant oil slick left, invisibly to the eye, blended into the pavement, waiting in the brush to bite you.  After all the miles and all the trips this was the first close call. I’ve dropped bikes sure, toppled off at low speed, been thrown in sand or river rock. But this was the first potentially deadly high-speed crash. Predictably it occurs when least expected, like a pro skier breaking their arm in the lift line. There were no cars here, no kamikaze truck drivers, no crazy bends or crests or animals. Just a big, wide-open expanse of perfectly paved tarmac, the weather conditions ideal.

It’s not surprising really, not shocking, not even worrying. It is one of those things you just come to expect when traveling. You never know what the surprises will be, what forms they will take, but you know they will come to pass. I’ve now officially arrived at that point in the trip. The point where the unexpected becomes the expected, where weird becomes normal, where abnormality inexplicably morphs seamlessly into normality. I’ve settled in, I’m traveling now. I’m in it, here, present.

Almost crash your motorcycle at 140km? Bound to happen sometime. Bargain down a bracelet to ten percent of the initial asking price without exchanging any words, how else would you shop? Eat a quesadilla from a little old lady who fends off roving cats by incessantly spitting at them as she assembles your dinner, is there another way? Loose the road and end up riding alongside drug trafficking donkeys; you were expecting a caravan of Chevy Tahoes? Drink Champaign on the beach until you get dragged off to impromptu salsa lessons by two Mexican girls; was there a sign-up sheet to this dance class?

No, this is it; this is traveling, the experiences, friendships and opportunities for growth and exploration that shape you. Expecting the unexpected, giving your all to the present moment, to the person in front of you. Getting out and pushing, saying yes, going the extra mile, climbing higher, wringing every last drop out of life, then doing it all over again. I don’t know if normal exists, or if it does what form it takes, but I’m glad to be back on my little corner of “normality’