I pitched the trip to my friends as a “bucket list” type of trip. Fly into San José, Costa Rica, rent dual-sport BMW touring motorcycles from Elephant Motorcycle Expeditions, and experience the country in a way that only riders can appreciate. I promised them it would be epic.
When I first mentioned the trip to my friend Mark, his eyes lit up. He is a cancer survivor who loves the adventure of the open road on a motorcycle, and Costa Rica is on his bucket list. His enthusiasm spurred me to set the trip in motion, but then a couple of months before the trip, Mark’s doctor discovered a tumor on his liver and he had to drop out to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatment. In spite of this, he encouraged the rest of us to go and embrace the adventure. He only asked that we keep him in the loop via text and email as we traveled so he could enjoy it vicariously.
Pura vida is the national slogan of the people of Costa Rica. Literally translated it means “pure life,” but in reality it means so much more. It is an expression about how they embrace the excitement and adventure of life. It symbolizes how they feel about the goodness of the earth and everything it provides us. It represents a sense of wonder found in the natural beauty of the forests, mountains, and beaches of their land. It symbolizes gratitude for what is, and hope for what is to come.
|Markito Flaquito at the beach|
The first night together in San José we discussed the schedule over dinner. The husbands would pick up the motorcycles and make their way through the mountains up to La Fortuna. The ladies would embark on their own adventure whitewater rafting on the Balsa River, and then we would meet at our hotel in the afternoon. In order to keep Mark involved in the fun, my wife, Britt, suggested that we fashion a photo of Mark after Flat Stanley and take pictures of him during the trip. We affectionately dubbed our traveling companion “Markito Flaquito” (little skinny Mark) and our adventure began.
After seeing the wives off on their own adventure, we picked our way through traffic and out of the city with the help of Henry, our motorcycle guide. We traveled through Alajuela and up to the waterfall of La Paz passing fields of coffee beans and traversing misty rainforest valleys. Each sweeping turn brought another breathtaking vista and the smell of tropical flowers. Each switchback filled us with the adventure of the open road. The chatter over our headsets included a lot of “wow” in the vocabulary. We took pictures of Markito Flaquito along the way and ended the day with our wives in the hot springs behind our hotel bubbling with excitement.
The next morning we went rappelling down waterfalls in the rainforest with Desafío Tours. We climbed on to the metal benches in the back of a truck and jostled our way up the rocky mountain road to the starting point. After a safety briefing and getting geared up, we hiked to the top of the canyon and began our rope-sliding adventure. One by one we traversed the waterfalls of the canyon dangling on ropes and scrambling through muddy pools. I was more afraid of slipping on the rocks than falling. By the time we finished the course and hiked back to the start, we were soaking wet and grinning from ear to ear.
After the ride, the ladies relaxed at the hot springs while the guys rode the north shore of Lake Arenal on Highway 142 which winds around the largest man-made lake in Costa Rica. At the end of the ride, we were meeting at the Tabacón hot springs restaurant for dinner and relaxation. Highway 142 has everything an adventure rider could want—curves, light traffic, and beautiful views. We made our way to The Macadamia Café at the northwest corner of the lake before turning around. Brian led on the way back, and with the sun going down and some water running over sections of the road, we slowed our pace on the return in spite of possibly being late for dinner.
I entered into a left-hand turn about thirty yards behind Brian focused on the road, but thinking about getting to dinner on time. By the time Brian told me that the road was slippery, I guess it was too late. The next thing I remember I was sliding across the asphalt.
My mind kicked into overdrive. How close are Greg and Scott? Far enough back not to be a problem. Was there any traffic in the other lane? No. Get away from the bike. Relax. Slide. Tumble. Stand up and get off the road. After sliding I popped up and scurried off the road as the bike slid into the muddy ditch on the opposite side of the road.
The headsets got busy. “Someone’s down! Someone’s down!” “Are you okay?” “Get your hazard lights on.” “No traffic.” “Brock are you hurt?”
“I’m okay,” I answered when I found my voice. “But my wife’s going to kill me.”
Somebody said, “Who says she has to know?”
As Greg and Scott helped me pull the bike back onto the road and cleaned the mud off, I said, “Well guys, I think this trip is over for me.”
They told me, “These bikes are pretty rugged. Let’s get it upright and I’ll bet it’s okay.”
After a quick inspection, we started it up and finished the ride to dinner. My mind raced as I replayed the accident searching for clues about why it happened. I wondered how I was going to tell my wife. I decided not to tell her until the trip was over. I didn’t want to ruin her vacation. The guys didn’t think I would make it through dinner without telling her what happened, but I focused on the fun we were having and managed to keep from spilling the beans.
I woke up in the middle of the night with my mind racing. I replayed the accident over and over again. What did I do wrong? Why did it happen? What was I doing riding motorcycles in Central America? What if I had been hurt or killed? What was I going to say when I told my wife? Should I continue riding? Fear lingered and kept me from sleeping.
Life never goes as we expect. We make plans for epic adventures and once-in-a-lifetime experiences in far away places, but the truth is that things seldom work out the way we plan them. With each day dawns a new mystery. Each moment teeming with life will develop on its own, in spite of our intentions and desires. Death looms on some unseen, and sometimes unexpected, horizon, but it is always there to remind us that our time here is finite. Yes, we should plan our future and work towards our goals, but we should make room for living, or dying, along the way. We should live a pura-vida life.
In addition to touring the Costa Rican countryside on motorcycles, each remaining day brought its own adventure—ziplining above the rainforest in the shadow of a volcano, watching crocodiles in the river, boogie boarding the warm surf of the Pacific, and walking along a secluded beach. Pablo, one of our drivers, even opened up his home and had us all over for dinner with his family. We snapped pictures of Markito Flaquito and sent them to our friend to lighten his spirit and let him know that we were thinking of him.
Every day of our trip was filled with adventure, friendship, and fun. Every evening was filled with good food and lively conversation. Perhaps because of the accident, or because of the calculated risks, or maybe because of our missing friend, the trip seemed full of life and longing for the excitement of the next day. We soaked it all in like the warm tropical sun at the beaches of Manuel Antonio. We relished in the beauty of nature that engulfed us. We marveled at our wonderful world as we watched the brilliant sunset over the Pacific Ocean.
On the second to last day we were gearing up for a couple’s ride and Britt noticed the scratches on the motorcycle. “Did you lay this bike down?” she asked.
I pursed my lips and took a deep breath, certain that she would be upset with me. “Yes, the other night on our way to Tabacón.” I told her the whole story and explained why I hadn’t told her. She took it all in quietly, asked a few questions, and then climbed on the back of the bike and rode with me all day.
Henry, our guide, picked us up the last day and took us down the coast before turning inland for San Isidro and northbound along the mountainous Highway 2 toward San José. We stopped near the highest elevation and watched the clouds drift over the elevated rainforest. “This is a dangerous highway,” explained Henry. “In the olden days, people traveled it with oxcarts and many died along the way. They nicknamed it Cerro de la Muerte (Hill of Death).”
We descended into San José and followed Henry through the chaotic city traffic and returned the bikes. Indeed, it was an epic, bucket-list type of trip, and I was glad that I had survived it, only losing my deductible on a rented motorcycle.
Pura vida—pure life—is a good expression to live by. Each day is a gift that we must unwrap in our own special way. Markito Flaquito reminded us to enjoy each moment and remember what a blessing it is to live. Fill every minute with a zest for life. Be grateful for the blessings and opportunities we have been given. Lift the spirits of those around you with optimism. Don’t let the certain specter of death keep you from living. Like my friend Mark, I choose to live every day with pura vida.