Blowout

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book Green Machine and the Mototaxi Junket. There’s more to see about it here.

 

A blast rang out behind us.

My eyes shot to Andrew. He had already turned to me. Our eyes met for a split second, confusion between us. Then we grabbed the back of the sofa and wrenched our bodies around.

Several car lengths back was a semi truck and trailer. Gray smoke poured from the trailer’s left side, from the wheels on the inside of the road. A blowout. In the smoke, a dark mass pulsed, in rhythm with the truck’s speed. The shredding tire was rolling off its rim and with each rotation of the wheel, the distended rubber flapped more wildly. Within the first ten turns of the wheel, the rubber came off, the driver not even having had a chance to slow down.

Andrew and I had been so focused behind us that we gave no thought to oncoming traffic. There hadn’t been any. But at the pinnacle of rubbery discharge, that precise instant the rim threw the tire, a motorcycle–traveling in the opposite direction–appeared.

The tattered tire was in motion, vicious and cyclonic. Its trajectory looked to intersect that of the motorcyclist. Did he have any idea what was about to happen? Smoke rolled out from under the trailer, distracting, obstructing. He wouldn’t know to look for a chunk of rubber flying for him. How could he know he would need to dodge one?

The paths intersected. The projectile was true to its target. The man was struck by the rubber.

At that exact moment, the motorcycle and its operator vanished into the trailer’s cloud of smoke.

“Holy shit!”

The rubber reappeared, spinning along the far side of the road, its momentum altered.

“What’s going on, guys?” Scott called back.

We ignored him. We didn’t have an answer. We were still waiting to see the outcome.

A break in the smoke. The motorcycle was still up, the operator’s feet still poised on the pegs while his hands had a death grip on the bars—he was caught in the dreaded wobble. The bike gyrated between his legs, too far left, too far right, too far left, too far right, like a spinning top about to topple.

A Shockingly Good Shower

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book Green Machine and the Mototaxi Junket. See more about it here.

 

Caliente: Spanish for “hot.” Though advertised as a hot shower, a more appropriate claim would have been agua no mucha fría, or “not so cold water.” Still, it was one of the best showers of my life.

That water–there was a reason it was only not-so-cold. Like most Peruvian hotels untouched by a mass of gringo tourists from the west, this one was not plumbed with hot water. But the showers had been retrofitted with a head that had an integrated heating element.

I had anticipated an immediate shower, so after I christened the toilet I had not been that thorough in my cleanup. My cheeks were rubbed raw, so I stepped into the shower extra filthy. I reached for the valve of salvation, the one that would cleanse me of my digestive system’s sins, but my hand was stilled. Not by the appearance of a messenger or some other holy apparition; not by divine intervention or some other remote will; but by a gray tube that ran out of the ceiling and into a small breaker box next to the shower’s plumbing. The box had been painted to the wall—not glued or screwed, but painted. And the small gauge wires with the loose wrap of electrical tape that emerged from the box–they disappeared into the shower head. Electricity and water mix right? Isn’t is just that sometimes people get the recipe wrong?

I turned the tap. If the flow was too slow, the circuit broke. So for five minutes, I alternated between adjusting the flow density and resetting the breaker. I bounced, rocked, and gyrated under the water’s thermal awkwardness, and twitched, pulsed, and ticked with the electric current that flowed through my fingers. But the water was too fast to be heated before it rained down. It did take the edge off though, and for those next five minutes I did work with my bar of soap.

The drain looked awful. Water spiraled and concentrated the filth: the dust of the road, my residual fecal debris, my general negativity and loathing, all down the drain. Salvation. I dried, then collapsed into bed.

Clutch Cables and Coasting

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book Green Machine and the Mototaxi Junket. See more about it here.

 

We pressed lower into the water shed, and things turned green. The color was provided by the grasses and shrubs; it wasn’t lush jungle, but it was a welcome change. Even more welcome were the mototaxis parked on the side of the road.

The flag of Scotland hung form the rear taxi. We parked behind it. The second taxi belonged to a British team. Our kilted friend strutted over to us and leaned against our mototaxi.

“How you boys doing?”

“Hanging in there,” Scott answered. “No major problems yet.”

“Yeah, their clutch cable gave out. It’s been quite the ordeal getting it back to working.” The taxi in question fired up. The other Junketeers backed away, tools in hands, covered in the grime of the road. The taxi took off down the road–a test drive.

Andrew asked, “Have you guys seen anyone else?”

“Apart from you blokes, just the Aussies. They came by not too long ago. Said they were headed for Bagua Grande tonight. That’s where we’re aiming too.”

“And us,” Scott said.

The mototaxi came back at us, the driver giving a thumbs up. The mototaxi pulled back into its spot and my stomach groaned.

“Well we’ve been going at it together. Really helped when that cable went. You boys wanna join…till we make Bagua Grande anyway?”

We gave a half understood glance to each other. Caravanning with Josh and Aaron had been great for their company, but worrying about two mototaxis wasn’t ideal. We weren’t about to take partial responsibility for three.

Scott stepped up. “We’ll join for a while. But if we get separated, let’s not worry about it.”

The Scotsman glanced over his shoulder. The other guys pushed their packed tools into their cargo racks.

“Let’s get going then!”

Scott started the engine and pulled onto the road, at the lead of our caravan. We gained some distance before the others pulled back onto the road, but we had them in sight. The road paralleled the river, tracing its northern bank. Across a bridge, the road climbed from the river and floodplain in search of the more interesting curves and subtle gyrations of the valley wall.

Within a mile of this change, the two other taxis caught up. Another mile, and they passed us. A third, and we had lost sight of them. Funny…and ironic. We had not committed to the caravan so we wouldn’t be weighed down. But now it was they who capitalized on that noncommittal clause. What was not funny was how easy it was for them to pass us. Both mototaxis had zipped by, no problem.

Of course, not all the taxis would have the same top speed. But back at Colan, during our grand depart, we had kept pace with everyone, including the Scots. Now they could blow by us. What had changed?

The dull red of the gear indicator’s electronic readout flicked through the gears faster than our single piston. The numbers jumped up on the descents, mimicking our speed. On the climbs, they dropped. Using a lower gear was fine, but wasn’t Scott using a gear lower than me on our climb over the pass? Or was I crazy? After ten more miles, it was undeniable: our engine’s RPMs were dropping. We were losing power.

I leaned toward Andrew. He leaned back.

“I think something’s wrong,” I shouted through the wind.

He pursed his lips, then nodded. We both sat back, unsure of what we could do.

The miles continued to roll under us, but at a decelerating rate. One hill betrayed our mototaxi’s secret though. There was a pause in the engine’s song as Scott dropped into second. Andrew and I looked at each other again. Third gear should have been sufficient. He leaned and shouted to Scott.

“Find a place to pull over.”

Some Dreams Are Bigger Than Others

I spent this past winter living in a ski town nestled in the Rocky Mountains. I accepted a low paying job and moved out there to experience the ski bum lifestyle. I’ve been skiing and snowboarding most of my life, and previously had never spent a whole winter in the midst of the mountains. That was what I wanted to do.

So I became a lifty. Yup, I was one of those under-appreciated, underpaid, and under-stimulated (see video for demonstration) attendants that stands in the freezing weather all day and that you’ll see saving someone’s life on occasion … though we don’t make a big deal of it.

After a few weeks of working on the mountain, I decided a second job would be a good idea. After all, my credit card was still feeling the effects of Peru and my stint as a Junketeer. And, with my crappy mountain wage, there was no way to alleviate those effects without some added income.

Fast forward a few months. I’m working between 65 and 80 hours a week. But I was still clinging to the idea of the ski bum. I would work four 16-17 hour days in a row. C’mon, a ski bum needs at least a three day weekend right? But when the town got busy, I would work about 80 hours in 5 days.

This started to take a toll on my body. I eventually was using one of my days off just to rest and catch up on sleep. Then another large portion of another day would go toward preparing my meals for the upcoming week, because I definitely didn’t have any time to cook once I was into my work week. Snowboarding was being put on the back burner.

A friend pointed this out to me. She I said I was working too much. She was right. I moved to this town at the top of the Rockies so I could snowboard all winter … and I was blowing that. Yet, it didn’t feel wrong to me.

My response to her was, “Some dreams are bigger than others.”

Yes, I did want to be a ski bum for a winter, but my real dream is to travel. That sometimes comes with some financial obligations. So yes, I was working too many hours. But I wasn’t working that many hours for the fun of it. It was for my grander aspirations of travel.

Not only that, but me working didn’t violate that bigger dream. I was traveling in a sense. I had relocated to a new town, a new state. I was experiencing a new culture. And I was meeting all kinds of interesting people.

At my second job alone, I worked with people from all over the United states plus people from Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, Brazil, and South Africa. I wasn’t going to get to know any of these people if I had spent all of my time snowboarding. So really, I was living my dream.

Dreams and goals are the best to have. But they might conflict occasionally, at which time you’ll need to decide which is more important to you. Which of you goals is the more desired goal? Which of your dreams is the bigger dream?

Well that’s convenient.

The following is an excerpt from my book The Divide. Find the ebook here.

I needed a break. I stopped at a convenience store for a drink. There were two guys inside, both Hispanic, one behind the counter, leaning on it, and one in front. We talked about the day’s heat and how they had been seeing cyclists since the racers came through.

“Yeah man, where is the rest of your group?”

“Oh it’s just me. I’m riding solo.” The two raised their eyebrows and glanced at each other. The guy behind the counter stood up. My brow furrowed in response to their movement. “What?”

“Well, it’s just that this isn’t the best road for bicycles. Not a lot of people around here care enough to share the road, you know? And on top of that you’re alone. This isn’t the best road for a white boy to be alone. You know what I’m saying?”

“Yeah, I hear you. Thanks for the heads up.”

“Yeah, when you get back on your bike I wouldn’t stop until you get to Cuba. That’s another 40 miles down the road.”

“What’s the road like? Flat at all?”

The clerk’s friend spoke up while he shook his head. “No, it’s all up and down. It’s not even the best road to drive because of all the hills. It’s probably worse on a bike.”

Awesome.

I was riding a prejudice, non-cyclist friendly road. Great detour. I finished my snack and grabbed another sports drink.

“Good luck out their, man.”

“Hey, thanks guys. I appreciate it.”