Something to this pain

Perspectives from a series of unfortunate events.

Photo Stephane GodinJura Mountains, France

It crossed my mind once it started to rain, after I was drenched and cold and uncomfortable. That’s when it hit me, that there was something to this pain. I continued to drive, logging through words in my mind. "Each droplet, bullets to softened armor." The pellets were hitting that hard, making their cold mark, solid by way of moisture. I was pleased with myself but that was all I got.

When the day got worse I felt the hits, but kept the thought, “at the very least, something to write about.”

There is nothing like having nothing to write about.

I hadn't planned to drive the motorbike in the rain. Hadn't wanted to experience that ever again. But the storm was coming for a week and with the slight break, if I planned it out just right, I'd slip through unaffected.

The rain was torrential, horizontal, bullets to my soaked soft gear. I licked my lips in battle, tasted the cold, powering around bends, and into the valley. I took a breath, smelled the lake and the wet forest. Then the spark failed and the engine cut out. I got off the bike, puddles in my shoes, drenched and soaked and beginning to lose cool.

Something to write about.

I had driven right into the heart of it. I gave the bike a minute and tried again. Stood there on the side of the road, rain now vertical. I went through empty plans, clicking the starter over and over in denial, having already considered, on a Sunday in Europe, that there was no other option. I cursed the sky, punched my bag on the back seat, and pumped the starter again. Something gave way because there I was, down the road, back at it.

The terrifying thing wasn't the fall. That happened in an instant. I knew the back tire wasn't in great shape, I slowed because of that, but the wheel came out from under me and there I was drifting, placing my hand and knee, in instinct, to pavement.

The terrifying thing was an hour down the road, once I'd powered through whatever pain and annoyance, after the rain subsided, as I shifted up the hill, where the chain slipped, and I heard the sounds of metal chewing. When I was alone, shaken, unable to get to my destination without help from strangers.

I may have still been in shock, more heightened emotionally, but the kindness was what threw me.

Why did I hate that part of being human, raw and out of my control, encoded in individuality not needing help from anyone. I hadn't done well with that.

I hadn't liked the way I handled it. Didn't like the way fear felt on me. How I shook in the face of danger. To possibly be stuck on the side of the road, up in the woods on a hill, in the rain all night, without good use of a foreign language, covered in grease and flustered at my injury. But of course it's never as bad as we first think. I'd forgotten, at the very least, something to write about.

You know it's part of being on the road, some things out of your control. I felt that suddenly, trying to communicate in another language, all the difficulties of the day stacking up, while trying to stand in with some type of positive perspective. It had stopped raining. Wasn't I lucky.

I’m just not the most attractive, humble, acceptable version of myself when vulnerable. I’m an uncomfortable in shock version, wishing for it to end, overcompensating for when it doesn’t. Maybe. I don’t know. It’s possible everyone takes kindly to the guy on the side of road trying to fix his bike and I just don’t know how to accept it.

I’m not a biker, not with the correct gear, not with some preconceived idea of what being a biker is. Bikers in the countryside will lift a peace sign as they approach, like we’re all in some club, a two-wheeled anti four-wheeled vehicle club, maybe. But they don’t know me. They’re like "Yo, you’re cool" and I’m like "okay cool." Is this the club I’m in? Down the road I’m shaking my head thinking how foolish of them to accept me. Do they even know me. I’m not nearly one of them.

There was a gentleman who stopped on a walk with his wife and mother. They stayed for over an hour, asked one of the neighbors, helped to find the tools I needed, offering to give me a ride, leave the bike. I was embarrassed, as someone who rides, that I couldn’t make it to my destination, that I’d be a burden to others. As he was departing he asked where I was coming from, going. I explained my year of travel. I said, "Thank you for your help, appreciate your presence and support through this mess." He turned, said "I’m a biker." Noticing the gap, I jumped in. "I’m NOT a biker," I said, sarcasm untranslated. But when he had gone and I was alone at the side of the road again, I caught back an overwhelming emotion, for the entirety of all the events that went wrong all day and the reality I was in. I am not a biker, what was I doing out here?

There are groups of bikers that will zip by, 10 bikes in a shot. Park outside bars on the side of the road, chrome hanging out, smoking a cig, having a coffee, waiting out the rain. And I'm like, nope, not one of them. I wouldn't know what to do in that group. But okay cool. Until you realize the peace sign is because they've all been on the side of a lost country road, knowing how difficult it is to get to where you are going, when it's just you and two wheels and the proximity of dangers to pavement.

I had the thought, after the chain broke yet again, when I returned beaten back, and those incredibly kind neighbors took me in, allowed me to clean up in their kitchen, talking to me, when I was all nerves and broken language. I said, "I’m lucky I broke down here with your hospitality nearby, not way out in the mountain." It was the most obvious of things to say, but what are we supposed to do in the face of danger — look at the bright side, the other is obscured by danger.

It's a specific cliche, after the fall, the ability to see the silver lining.

I force myself to see the silver lining because it’s A. The better thing to look at, but B. Entirely out of positive diversion. Picking out the good bones while you break is the only acceptable way to be broken.

Of course it was great that the chain didn’t break while I was in more of the middle of nowhere, that the rain let up, that I hadn’t lost a limb or body, but why did I feel the need to clarify goods offered? As if in direct response to hardship humanity provides half priced silver linings. Why does it have to be a story to tell, something gained? And why do we only claw at the good comparison when we’re at the worst of it? Why is it so unattractive to scream.

What I noticed when the rain came and the difficulties started was that it’s not fun to drive through the hard parts. And it’s great when we can design our lives around not driving through the hard parts. No one said we had to take the hard-parts-road all the time. But we don’t always get to pick our days (of travel). And sometimes there are hard parts waiting for us, even if, at the very least, it was a story to tell.