I like to think I’m a semi-different person when I’m traveling. My inhibitions drop a little bit, I’m more open and willing to trying things that scare me, and I’m somewhat more adventurous.
This is how I ended up in a cave used by the ancient Maya for sacrifices, standing before a fully crystalized human skeleton.
This is how I ended up snorkeling around an island with a small school of barracuda in my line of vision. (Okay to be fair the barracuda were a surprise, but still I kind of kept my cool.)
Unfortunately, my fears do not disappear completely. Hence my subtle bike riding fear in Caye Caulker.
Caye Caulker is a tiny island off the coast of Belize, along the barrier reef (the second largest barrier reef in the world). There are very few cars and most people get around via foot, bike, or golf cart. Our hotel, Colinda Cobanas, included two bicycles with every room–helpful since the hotel was a good 15 minute ride south of town. Upon check-in (and realizing we were super hungry) it was time to take my bike on its maiden voyage to Syd’s for some chicken rice and beans.
Juan, the hotel manager, told us the easiest route was to ride along the beach and then cut over to Middle Street through the cemetery. I pictured a nice leisurely ride by the sea but instead I was promptly introduced to bike riding Belize style.
The ride started out smooth enough. Nice, firm sand. Flat, level, land. Palm trees, ocean breeze.
…Then John disappeared over a small ledge, balancing his bicycle down a makeshift plywood ramp maybe 1.5 feet wide.
This wooden ramp of doom (in actuality the drop was maybe 6 inches but when you haven’t been on a bike in over a decade…) was followed by a wooden bridge, a sharp left downhill turn, an immediate sloped right and then a casual ride through a cemetery where, you know, you might just fall on someone’s grave. The main road was full of dips and bumps in addition to more seasoned bike riders and speedy golf carts. So much for my peaceful ride.
On our ride back to the hotel, possibly more courageous due to the consumption of rum punch, I finally had the guts to attempt the wooden ramp of doom. And, while I may have silently been fearing for my life (because falling off your bike results in immediate death you know) for those terrifying two seconds, I actually had a lot of fun. Also, I miraculously did not fall. Beginner’s luck?
The next day, the wooden ramp of doom passage proved to be more complex due to the arrival of a half dead palm leaf hanging unfortunately right in the middle of the path and level with my head. Here’s one way to shake off morning grogginess: just ride a bicycle up a wooden ramp face first into a huge, dead palm leaf.
Overall, my bike riding technique was a combination of screeching to a halt with my feet on the ground, flailing my legs around as if that would actually help anything, trying not to fall off, and a weird tip toe technique in lieu of pedaling around tight corners. If all of the above failed, I just disembarked the bike completely and walked around difficult obstacles.
Riding bikes around the island with John is actually one of my fondest memories from the trip. Facing those mini-fears and getting comfortable on a bike again also reminded me that fear is a part of life. It’s always going to be with me no matter where I go, but it’s up to me whether or not I let it control my life and actions.
The cliche phrase “life begins outside your comfort zone” really is so true. Yes, you can get off the bike and walk down the slope and still make it to the other side. But you can also hold on, hope for the best, and find a little joy and fun as you coast through the unknown.