I was so sure that if I ever attempted to drive a scooter/motorbike I would crash it. It’s not a matter of being uncoordinated, it’s more a matter of 1) not having ridden a bicycle since I was like 12 years old, meaning my confidence on bi-wheel modes of transportation is low, and 2) a general assumption that people driving any wheeled objects are eventually going to do something stupid and run me over.
Most importantly, I am totally a “deer-in-the-headlights” type of person. If a bicycle or skateboarder is headed my way, I freeze. Yep, I’m that girl. I am not proud of this fact and I actively think, “You’re an idiot! Move!” every time I find myself in these types of situations (which is A LOT, as my college town may very well be the biking capital of America), but for whatever reason that is almost always my reaction.
Southeast Asia is the land of motorbikes and riding one of these bad-boys is really the best way to see this region, so I knew at some point I would end up facing some of my biking fears.
Logan is a fairly confident rider, and we have rented scooters in the past, so I wasn’t too worried about being a passenger as he chauffeured me around Cambodia and Vietnam, but as an independent woman and sometimes solo-traveler I decided I needed to take the scooter by the handlebars and learn to ride all on my own. Everywhere you look in Southeast Asia everyone from grandmothers to pre-teens to entire families are getting around on these bi-wheeled contraptions. How hard could it be?
I decided to learn while in Pai, Thailand, as many travel bloggers (including Adventurous Kate and Kristen from Be My Travel Muse) have singled out this beautiful mountain town as being the place to learn to ride a scooter. Due to another recommendation I decided to rent from Aya travel agency because this is the only outfit in Pai that offers insurance on their rentals. I joined a group of backpackers headed to the hot springs outside of town and after a few test runs up and down an uncrowded street I put on a brave face, pretended not to be terrified, and pulled out onto the streets of Pai. And promptly crashed.
Okay, so not promptly, but within ten minutes, which is almost the same thing. My bike was a little wrecked (thank goodness I got insurance!), but Logan’s advice to abandon ship (or bike) if I felt like I was going down paid off and I managed to escape from the crash with only a little scratch on my ankle. A local guy came over to make sure I was okay and ended up fixing my bike for me. Thank you random Thai stranger!
I seriously considered giving up right then and there, but my pride forced me back onto the bike. I can do this. I can do this. I chanted in my head the whole ride. I was slow and very overly cautious, but I made it to the hot springs and back in one piece. Yay me!
The group I rode with my first day was pretty patient with me, but I felt pretty guilty about slowing them down, so the next day I headed off to a waterfall with a friend I had met in Chiang Mai. Having a one-on-one patient teacher quickly helped me learn and in no time at all I was zipping along the twisty roads backroads around town. I really felt like I was getting that hang of the whole scooter thing.
Despite feeling decently comfortable on abandoned roads where I only had to worry about myself and my own motorbike, I was still basically scared s**tless driving in town where I had to pay attention to other drivers. My deer-in-the-headlights persona kept rearing its ugly head and I really had to work hard at keeping myself calm while leaving and coming back to town. And I did a pretty good job of calming my nerves. Until I didn’t.
I crashed. Again. Into a restaurant.
Thankfully I didn’t run anybody over, which was a very real concern considering the reason I crashed boiled down to getting scared and throwing on the gas while simultaneously braking, all the while heading into oncoming traffic. This is why motorcycle licenses exist. So that idiots like me are kept off the road in order to ensure public safety.
Somehow the bike was fine and while my leg got pretty scraped and bruised I walked away with absolutely no real injuries. The only thing I broke was a pot. Which I paid 300 baht for.
So. Did I crash because I predicted I would? Did I accidentally will it into reality? Maybe. But one thing is for sure, I will not be driving another scooter anytime soon. No “getting back on the horse” here. I give up (for now).
The reality is tourists crash ALL THE TIME. Everywhere you look backpackers are sporting scooter injuries. Burns, scrapes, gouges. All poorly bandaged with gauze and tape bought at the 7/11. I am not saying this to deter anyone from riding a scooter, but I will say that just because the girl in the bunk next to you is planning a three day scooter ride through Vietnam does not mean you need to feel obligated to do the same. Know your limits, test your limits, but don’t be afraid to admit that your skills are just not developed enough to keep you, and those around you, safe.
Basically, don’t be stupid.
Someday I may get back on the drivers seat, but for now I am going back to the basics and re-learning how to ride a non-motorized bike. Honestly, I’ll probably crash that too.