Motorbikes in Salento: Well, there’s no chance you could do this in America. First, we tried to rent mountain bikes, but there weren’t any left. Next, we thought about renting ATVs, but they were too expensive. So, we settled on motorbikes, which are basically just less obnoxious and less powerful motorcycles. I’ve never even been on a motorcycle, let alone driven one. In Colombia, this is not a problem.
The guy at the ATV rental walked us around the corner and whistled at a group of drunk Colombians, who greeted us with slurred enthusiasm. One of them asked how many motor bikes we were looking to rent and we said four. He had two available in a small garage and another two on the street. “Alright, we’re really doing this,” I thought.
He told us the price, said he’d take care of any mechanical damage but any physical damage was on us. We figured that was fair and paid him some of the money up front. No forms were signed. There was not even a mentioning of a form or a suggestion of a waiver. No questions about experience were broached. I didn’t even know how to work the thing.
The Colombian man started the bike for me and left. I looked at Ben and said “what am I doing here?” and he said “that’s the gas and that’s the break.” And so it went. I tested the thing out down the hill and struggled to find my balance. The Colombian man told me we are supposed to go the other way, but I wasn’t worried about where we were going yet. I needed to get a quick test drive in.
When I turned around at the bottom of the hill, I hit the gas too hard and drove the damn thing over the sidewalk and into the wall. The Colombian man came over and said “despacio, despacio” while showing me the gas on the handle. Slower it was. The three people I was with had all driven motorbikes before, and the most experienced one (a tour guide from Medellin) suggested I ride with someone else and learn how to drive on the way. The Colombian man insisted I’d be fine. Off we went.
I hit the gas slowly and found my balance up the hill, and suddenly I felt quite fine about the whole situation. We rode our way through town and then found the main way out, a winding mountain road with majestic views. We hit the gas and started flying around corners as I quickly learned how to use my body weight with the bike. All of a sudden I was having the time of my life. Then one of the bikes ran out of fuel. We had to call the guy to come help us out and he got there 20 or so minutes later. He gave us his bike and figured out the other one.
Then we made our way up a dirt road, unpaved and often on a steep grade. Some of it was windy, some of it was rocky, some of it was just rough for one reason or another. Somehow I made it up relatively unscathed. The new friend we were with said it was absolutely mental that I was driving these roads during my first time on a motorbike. I didn’t disagree.
I think I was fortunate in a few important aspects. I’ve driven for work for years, I have good balance, and I’m a quick learner. If I didn’t have all of those things going for me I may have met a less desirable outcome on that motorbike. Alas, I made it through with a big old Texas grin on my face. There’s a high level of satisfaction that runs through your soul when you achieve something you weren’t sure you could do.
A lot of us get complacent in our lives and forget to step out of our comfort bubbles. It doesn’t mean we have to do something crazy. You don’t have to drive a motorbike up the Colombian back roads or bicycle from Alaska to Argentina or hitchhike on a sailboat across the Atlantic in order to grow, but we should all remember how important it is to face something new that we are afraid of and just do it anyways.
Just because it’s scary doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Often, it’s the opposite. The thing we fear most is what holds the gold. Too many of us spend our lives kicking rocks.
I’ve met some people on this trip who have made my strides seem minuscule in comparison. I met a man in Medellin who really is riding his bicycle from Alaska to Argentina. He’s already made it most of the way. He looks a bit like a Viking warrior crossed with Jesus, naturally tall and broad with hair down to his lower back. He’s got a great sense of humor and a hell of a story.
He once had to go 500 miles with just one pedal on his bike. Another time he had to ride 1,000 miles in 8 days to meet his mom in Mexico. He once got a police escort in a Mexican city to a school where he spoke and suddenly was descended on by the students. He signed all sorts of things as if he was a celebrity, because to those kids he was.
I think he was deserving of that love more than most celebrities are. Not that anyone is undeserving of love, but some celebrities are real pieces of work. This guy is a genuine person doing something not only for himself but for charity. Something truly challenging and definitely out of the zone of comfort.
I met a French woman a couple days ago, tanned skin and stark black hair with a smile full of life and goofy glasses, who sailed across the Atlantic. When we asked her how, she said she hitch hiked. Confused, I asked for an explanation. She said she just went to the harbor, which she said in the cutest of French accents, and asked if anyone was going across the ocean.
Eventually, she found two guys sailing to Mexico and hopped on board for a multi-week journey across the entire Atlantic Ocean. She said she never slept more than three hours at a time since someone had to always be working the boat.
She also told us about how she never experienced such darkness. The nearest boat was 40 miles away on a cloudy night and no lights were on. “I felt like I was in space,” she said.
None of this seemed like a big deal to her and she struck me as someone who doesn’t spend any time second guessing herself. From the way she speaks to the way she looks to the way she is, she’s beautiful in the most unique way.
I’ve come across some truly inspirational people on this journey who have an unrivaled vibrancy for life. They’re more afraid of wasting a day than they are of any impending danger. Something I’ve learned is that you can never escape danger and you can never escape death. We’re always in danger of losing something as long as we have it.
We can sit at home and never leave, feeling like we’re safe, but we still have to battle our minds. Depression is dangerous. Bad habits are dangerous. Constantly feeling safe is dangerous. Living is dangerous, so we might as well live a life of conviction.
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