Somewhere between ignition and breaks, between right and left and can and can’t, my mind forgot it had hands, and my hands forgot I had a brain. Fifteen eternal, minted seconds hit like a monsoon, and I, a slow motion, wobbly octopus was too paralyzed to save myself from a motorbike sandwich.
My only goal was to ride a motorcycle in Pai, a small town in northern Thailand near the Myanmar border famed for its lush, panoramic landscapes, hydrothermal springs and pulsing creative culture. And motorbikes, of course; the one, true way to see it all.
They made it seem elementary, the locals. Young mothers carelessly breezing down hilly roads with an infant wrapped to her bosom, a toddler at her back and grandma, the unflinching caboose holding them all together.
Real-time and the pain begins, deep around the marrow of my bones to the punctured slab of salami that was once my skin. Three bikes, one on top of the other, sequester my left leg to the concrete barricade of our hotel parking lot.
My best friend, Devon, rushes to my aid, along with a jovial local familiar with scenes such as these. Bike accidents are common in Pai, a right of passage chiefly among tourists. I just didn’t think that would be me.
“Throw your ego over the wall,” read a mural in prophetic, neon paint when we first arrived in Thailand; a useful sentiment for our week-long adventure.
When it took three days for my backpack to arrive, I made peace with the clothes on my back, dampened with sweat and seawater. Yesterday, our driver missed his freeway exit and reversed for five, excruciating minutes against traffic. That time I made peace with death.
Somehow, though, we just kept smiling, and Thailand kept giving.
Reconciling this crash was harder. After an hour of icing, medicating and elevation, it was clear no bones were broken, just my courage and ego with sprains and bruises.
“Do you want to try again?” Devon asked, an encouraging sport.
“No, I can’t.” I hesitated. “But you should.”
She studied me. “Only if you ride behind me.”
I ran away from things that scared me before. If I kept running, I wouldn’t be here.
She was a natural; the machine an extension of her body. I cautiously wrapped my arms around her waist, and together we inhaled.
Traversing the cloistered, colorful streets while avoiding dogs and vendors, we were finally at the edge of the town center. An elderly man studied my bandaged leg while we waited at the stoplight. He nodded with a toothy grin and sent us on our way.