“But how many tattoos does he have?”
This was my mom’s second question after I told her I was taking a five-day motorcycle trip through Chile on the back of a guy’s motorcycle. Her first question? “What the hell are you thinking?”
It was December 24, 2017, and I was on month 11 of a yearlong trip around the world. A guy I kind of knew (as in, I was confident that he was not a serial killer, that things were fully platonic between us, and that, for what it’s worth, he had fewer tattoos than I do) offered me a seat on the back of his bike for a trip up the coast. To be clear, I had never been on a motorcycle before, nor did I have any interest in getting on one. The riskiness of the trip didn’t seem anything I needed to get anywhere near taking, but less than 24 hours after I received a “hey, want to come on a five-day motorcycle trip with me?” message on Facebook, I was holding on for dear life, cruising 65 miles an hour down the highway outside Santiago.
In order to understand how and why I spontaneously wound up on the back of a guy’s bike in the middle of South America (on Christmas Eve, no less), it’s probably worth explaining my headspace at the time: I was fresh off a breakup with the person I thought I’d spend my life with, and for the two months leading up to the trip, I felt as though I’d lost a piece of myself. I was doing all of the things you’re supposed to do to get over a heartbreak—journaling, going to therapy, working out, surrounding myself with positive people, trying new things—but none of it was making me feel better. So I decided to do something drastic.
I said yes to the motorcycle trip without thinking about it. Like, at all. In fact, my first sense of, “Huh, this might not have been the best idea?” only happened when we pulled onto the highway and I remembered, “Oh right—motorcycles are…pretty dangerous.” But I quickly learned, there’s not a whole lot to do when you’re sitting on the back of a motorcycle than hang out with your own thoughts…which isn’t great when those thoughts are limited to, “I miss my ex boyfriend,” “I’m cold and my butt hurts,” and “I am definitely going to die on the back of this bike, and my mom is going to be so mad at me.”
So for the two days, I listened to the same 15 breakup songs on loop (…for approximately 7 straight hours per day) while crying in my helmet and wondering if this not-even-slightly-baked plan had been a big mistake. But on day three, when we made it into the desert outside Coquimbo (aka off of the scary highway), my outlook started to shift.
As we drove through the middle of nowhere, my negative-thinking spiral gave way to appreciation for how beautiful everything was around me. Riding through the dunes, it felt like we may as well have been on Mars; we didn’t see a single other creature for four straight hours. I was blasting Third Eye Blind and taking in the incredible views of the vast nothingness stretching out for miles around me in every direction. I stopped being afraid, just let go (emotionally*—obviously not physically, because that would have been really freaking dumb), and let myself enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime experience of flying through the Chilean desert on the back of a motorcycle.
It’s hard to explain the shift, exactly, but by the time we made it to the coast at Valparaiso, I felt like a new person. Or rather, I felt like a refreshed version of my old self again…one who was far less afraid of saying “yes” to the idea of doing something that terrified me. There was no room in my brain for fear or sadness of trying to get over a breakup anymore, because a light bulb had gone off and made me realize there is far, far too much cool stuff to do and see and experience to waste time on all of that.
I’m hardly advising that everyone hop on the back of a motorcycle to solve their problems (I happened to get very lucky that my driver-friend was incredibly safe and responsible). But there is something empowering about making choices that scare the shit out of you—especially when the decision involves riding hundreds of miles outside your comfort zone at 60 miles an hour.
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