Monday, December 22, 2008

The Voice In My Head

(PICTURE: Hannah and I were one of only four people I saw who wore helmets.)
When I was a little kid I used to play on a boulder in our neighbor's backyard. That "boulder" I'm sure is no bigger than a Mini Cooper but as a kid it felt huge. Well, my father used to tell me not to play on the rock because I might get hurt. Being the young adventure seeker I was, I didn't listen to him and sure enough eventually fell of and had to get stitches above my left eye.

Probably since that day I've had a voice in my head -- my parents' voice. And well, I always hear the voice ("Be careful", "You can get hurt", "Is that safe", etc. etc.) I don't always listen to it. Traveling with my sister these last couple weeks I've been hearing that voice louder and clearer than ever...and reading it in email form: "Take care of your sister."

Well, the first time I chose to ignore the voice on this trip was when Hannah and I arrived on Ko Phanang. Being an experienced motorbike driver I decided Hannah and I should get a bike to explore the island. I made a compromise with the voice which was yelling at me, "DON'T DO IT!" The compromise was this: I'd get the bike but wouldn't allow Hannah to drive it. Hannah told me she wanted to try when we first got the bike but I said I wouldn't allow her. This is a girl who rented a bike when she lived in Belgium and only rode it one time because, "I can't ride on cobblestone."

Well, Hannah and I got a 125cc Honda Dream and took off for our bungalow. As we pulled out of the bike rental shop I immediately heard a strange noise coming from the motor. I decided to ignore it. A few seconds later I heard another noise -- a screetching from the brakes. I also ignored this too. What I couldn't ignore though were the GIGANTIC hills that we had to climb to get to our side of the moutain. Between Hannah, myself and our two backpacks, our bike had no chance of making it. Within the first ten minutes, Hannah had to get off the bike three times and walk up steep hills. Oh yeah, there was one other thing I couldn't avoid -- Hannah's bear hugs around my stomach. Hannah had never ridden a bike before and was pretty scared. I could tell exactly how scared by how hard she squeezed me...and man, she was squeezing pretty hard. After just a few minutes of fear she told me she didn't want to try and drive the bike anymore.

The problem with going up big hills is that you also have to go down big hills. After starting to go down a huge hill I realized that our brakes were really crappy. I heard that voice in my head and decided to pull over. I dropped Hannah off and rode alone back to the the bike shop we had gotten the Honda at. I complained to the owner and then went with him to the repair shop where two mechanics quickly did a maintenance check on the motorbike. After oiling the gears, tightening the brakes, putting more air in the tires and who knows what else, I took off again and picked Hannah up. I'd liked to say that the bike was good as new, but it really was still kind of crappy.

That said, Hannah LOVED the motorbike. Without the bike we would have been marooned on our isolated beach. With the bike we were able to expolore nearly the whole island (although had to quit a few explorations for lack of decent roads).
Two small funny anecdotes about the bike. In my 7 months of riding a bike in Vietnam I have run out of gas exactly ZERO times. In my three days of riding a bike in Thailand I ran out of gas TWO times...both while going up steep hills. Twice I had to leave Hannah on the side of the rode(by that point I had left her on the side of the road about six times) as I coasted back down to the bottom to get more gasoline.
The other funny story is this: When I first brought back the bike to the owner he told me it was my fault and I didn't know how to ride a motorbike. Well, when I brought the bike back on our last night I paid the owner's assistant money to drive me back to the other side of the island (again having left Hannah so she didn't have to ride the bike with me in the dark). After about two minutes the owner's assistant turned to me and said, "Bike is very bad." Two minutes later he dropped me off on the side of the road because the bike wasn't strong enough to get him and I up the hill.