July 13th, 2014
My body is leaning as far forward as it can. My left hand is carefully pulling in and letting out the clutch while the engine roars in agony. This beast is being pushed harder than ever in its lifetime and is letting me know. My forehead is dripping with sweat from pure focus and concentration. Both of my arms are in a constant state of flex with no moment to rest. I don’t know how long I can keep on like this.
As quickly as I can, to not take my eyes off the road for too long, I glance at the scenery to my right. I take a millisecond to appreciate a breathtaking view of the lush mountains and deep valley below. Off in the distance is a pillar which looks a couple hundred years old poking out of the vegetation. It seems so out of place up in these mountains and I can’t imagine what it is for, nor how humans built a structure so tall, so long ago way up in these mountains.
After the millisecond of awe and wonder pass, I’m back to the reality of charging this rocky road. I’m surprised the bike can even handle such an intense road and I’ve already felt close to crashing several times. I’m basically driving over a bunch of big rocks, some the size of my head, that launch the front tire into the air and change my direction every few seconds. The bike is weighed down with so much gear in the back that I nearly flip backwards every time the front wheel gets launched by the miniature boulders. I keep getting thrown to one side of the road then to the other, being steered by the environment rather than doing the steering myself. Sometimes the road pushes me right to the edge of the cliff where there is a steep drop deep into the valley below.
If I would have known how the road would be I never would’ve attempted the climb. It started off a bit bumpy but slowly got steeper and rockier and now I’m at a point of no return. Even if I wanted to, gravity wouldn’t allow me to stop and take a break right now. The only thing I can do is press forward at the delicately balanced speed of keeping enough momentum and going slow enough to not get thrown off this cliff.
I come around a bend and the road flattens out a bit so I pull over. I get off and take advantage of the free milliseconds to appreciate the view more fully. I feel so vulnerable and alone in this huge landscape, unsure if I’ll make it safely to the top of this road. I’m a couple thousand miles from home and know nobody here. I ask myself what the heck I was thinking to come up here but quickly silence that pointless thought. I just need to concentrate on getting to the top and hope there is a different route to descend this mountain because going down is going to be a lot harder. I give myself a little pep talk, get pumped up and take off, upwards with hope towards uncertainty.
Within two minutes the bike is laying on its side with gas dripping out from the tank. I’m not even sure how it happened but I just lost control. I’m not shocked at all, in fact I’m surprised I made it this far without having fallen before. There is no point in trying to lift it up because I wouldn’t be able to, so I wait as the gas keeps dripping. Part of me is relieved for the time being to not have to be driving and stressing out about falling. The feeling of relief doesn’t last long as I watch the gas tank slowly emptying, knowing there will be no gas station anywhere on this mountain and that I still have to climb this next section of the road which seems to be getting only steeper.
A few minutes later a guy in a 4×4 truck pulls up and kindly helps me out. He doesn’t seem surprised to see a fallen motorcycle and I imagine that it is a common occurrence here. I get back on the bike as he supports the weight from behind. I don’t even have time to turn around and look him in the eye to thank him once I get going. I just shout “Gracias!” over the agonized engine roars while looking straight ahead.
Within thirty seconds, the bike is resting on the floor again. I had lost momentum and started rolling backward until I had to jump off as to not get any closer to the precipice. I look down the hill and the guy is already on his way up to help me. I feel bad and start apologizing but he just wants me to hurry up, so we lift it together and I take off again.
Not another thirty seconds pass until the beast decided to rest yet again. I don’t even apologize to the guy this time as he arrives annoyed and sweating. I know he just wants to get on his way and he probably thinks I’m so stupid for trying to go up this road in the first place. If he is thinking that, then he’s right. I had looked on my two-dimensional map before choosing this route and saw that this way was faster and thought I’d be saving time. There’s no point in looking backwards now so we get the bike up and I take off once more.
I stay focused and keep my momentum until the road flattens out finally. I can see the town from here and the rest of the road looks easy. I feel so relieved and within a few minutes I’m off the bike and in a new world: Real de Catorce, a hidden gem about 9,000 feet up in the mountains. I can’t believe this place is real, I feel like I’ve gone back in time or jumped into an old western flick. People riding ponies over cobblestone, quaint, little streets that wind all over the town like a labyrinth. I hear a church bell ring and look over to a steeple towering over the rustic buildings. I notice small cars parked along the streets and realize there must be an easier route out of this place if they made it here.
Now that I’m here, I’m glad to have taken the hard road. The difficulty of the journey literally is enhancing my perception of the world around me. I feel lucky to have been ignorant of the quality of that treacherous road. I’m thankful that the bike is still running and that I didn’t fall off of a cliff. How much more beautiful a place looks through triumphant eyes…