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I Never Wanted a Crotch Rocket



My husband says that having a pregnant wife is like riding on the back of a motorcycle—you give up control, replace it with trust, and hold on for dear life. He told me that after I declared that riding on the back of our rented motorcycle for a week in northern Thailand was an exercise in letting go.

Yes, we did put a small duffel, our beat-up Panamanian guitar and the two-and-a-half of us on a motorcycle for a weeklong road trip in Southeast Asia. Would most pregnant women decide this was a good idea? I don't know. 

I do know that on the second day of our trip, my Baby Center Pregnancy App popped up a notice entitled Should I travel pregnant? It instructed me to always check the seat belts in planes and automobiles to make sure they comfortably fit around the bump. I glanced up at the Honda Phantom gleaming in the sun. My seat consisted of a 5-inch-wide strip of plastic-covered plank—the same size as the baby growing inside of me. No handholds. No backrest. No seat belt. The only strap in sight was the frayed bungee that secured our meager belongings to the back. 

Let me be clear, here: I am not a motorcycle chick. I harbor no fantasies of riding crotch rockets around tight turns. I have been on the back of a bike only once before, during our honeymoon in Niue—a tiny island with one very flat road. 

Yet, somehow, it still seemed like a good idea to rent a bike for a week to see more remote reaches of Thailand. We were sitting in an air-conditioned guesthouse in Chiang Mai, sick of cities and ready for another adventure when the idea surfaced. Rob loves driving motor bikes. I like riding mountain bikes.  And you only live once.

Rob pored over maps and bike options, asking me repeatedly if I was sure I was okay with a motorcycle trip. He was worried, but also undeniably excited about zooming off into the sunset. It'd been a dull month for my adrenaline-junky husband. Totally okay, I replied. A car would be boring. A bus unbearable. Let's do it!

I realized within about 20 seconds that “comfort” does not coexist with “motorcycle,” particularly in Thailand. Not only do they drive on the left-hand side of the road here (read: the WRONG side), they drive very quickly. And without apparent concern for lanes, sidewalks or stoplights. Thailand also has high mountains, hairpin turns, no road signs in English, and large trucks overflowing with people/cabbage/pigs/hay/trash/metal objects. In short, it's terrifying.

For a control-freak like me, sitting on the back of a fast-moving, open-air vehicle on windy mountain roads felt like the ultimate test of patience. And sometimes like hell. The first day, I was too terrified to move any part of my body more than half an inch. If I tensed up, the bumps jarred me from tailbone to teeth. If I tried to backseat-drive by yelling through our thick helmets into the roar of engine and wind, I stressed out Rob, endangering us further.

Luckily, we had just finished a two-day meditation retreat, and I could employ some newly learned relaxation techniques. I started a mantra in my head: “Loose like jello, calm like Buddha.” It worked for whole seconds at a time. The second mantra worked a bit longer: “Pretend I'm 21 and immortal, not 33 and pregnant.”

I did relax, eventually. You know when I finally accepted my fate as a powerless pawn on the back of a death trap? When we passed a sleeping child. A child passed out against his dad's back, encircled in his mother's arms, as the family of three navigated the treacherous highway with no helmets on a bike smaller than ours. It put my fear into perspective, and helped me let some of it go.

The 800 kilometer Mae Hong Son motorcycle loop has over 2,000 turns. Most of them are hairpin. It climbs and then descends an astonishing 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) in 20 kilometers (12 miles)… several times. After that much practice with death-defying motorcycle moves, I became a backseat pro. By day three, I was filming short videos from my seat. By day five, I was standing up briefly in the stirrups to get blood in my butt.

We had planned to spend about five days on the road, but ended up riding for eight. Partly because I had to pee every 30 kilometers, which slowed us down. And partly because we had the luxury of lingering for intriguing experiences along the way: birding at Doi Inthanon National Park, the highest peak in Thailand. Fly fishing for mahseer in the River Yuam near Myanmar. Joining afternoon tai chi in a local park with elderly women wearing pink shirts. Playing guitar with Thai kids on the street.  Getting food poisoning in Mae Sariang.

I think, in the end, Rob and I were both right about the backseat of a motorcycle—it's an analogy for anything in life that feels out of our control. In that sense, perhaps our week on the Mae Hong Son loop was a mini-lesson for the parenting challenges to come. 

The motorcycle trip taught me to lean into the curves, breath through the bumps, and try to take in some scenery along the way. It taught me that the scary bits make you treasure the boring bits. It taught me that many things worth doing in life require helmets. It taught me that I am decidedly mortal, definitely not Buddha, and infinitely capable of letting go…as long as I hang on tight to Rob during the tough turns.

Check out all of Brianna's Mamalode pieces here!

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Categories: essays

Brianna Randall

Brianna Randall lives in Missoula, Montana where she toggles not-so-deftly between chasing her young son, running her own business, and fantasizing about sailing off to a deserted island (again). Her work has appeared in Scary Mommy, Outside, Backpacker, and several travel magazines.
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