5 Life Lessons Learned from my Cheap Chinese Motorcycle

When we arrived in Lomé, Togo, the very first thing we did was go motorcycle shopping. After spending ten months in Freetown, Lomé’s paved beach road looked like nothing less than sweet liberty incarnate. I found my Sanya – a cheap Chinese brand you’ll hopefully never find yourself – and with it my inner sixteen-year-old, yearning for nothing more than my own wheels and a stretch of highway beneath them.

But as with any relationship, there are heartaches, burns, and broken bits to be fixed – motorcycle or no, that bike taught me a lot about how to live my life.

Here are five lessons about life and love that I learned from my fling with a little Chinese motorcycle:

1. Confidence is Good – Cockiness is Not

I’d had six months riding experience in the States and I figured that I knew all I needed to know. And having my friends along buying their own bikes, naturally, I had to prove myself (insecurity creeping in). I didn’t give myself any time to get acquainted with my new bike, and the result wasn’t good.

When you meet people (of the opposite gender in particular), confidence is probably the key element to wooing them, or at least befriending them quickly. This is something I suppose you can fake to some degree, but it comes naturally with knowing yourself and knowing where you stand. When you fake it, or when you incorrectly evaluate yourself, you get cocky. And when you get cocky, you screw up.

I took off without waiting around for any fanfare, wanting to beat my friends home like a total stud, and my bike ended up under the first taxi to cross my path. Granted I had the right-of-way, but he had the larger and significantly more murderous vehicular advantage. Scrapes on the hands. Adrenaline in the eardrums. Day one: don’t get cocky.

2. Life is Better Shared

One thing I loved doing was taking my bike out for late-night “Freedom Rides,” as we lovingly called them. We would just go, as soon as the bug bit us, and ride as fast as we could to the Ghanaian border and back. This was a fantastic way to work out angst, and to feel a bit of a rush right before the jaws of curfew clamped around our precious liberty.

Something I discovered, though, was that girls liked going on rides too. A lot. I had a few that pestered me endlessly until I gave them rides (one even gave me cake to convince me to take her), and what I discovered was that I preferred going on rides with them. In a way it was nothing special. It was simply the company, and the knowledge that I was giving joy to someone else for a brief moment.

It’s also really hard to show off by yourself.

3. It’s OK to Accept Trust

Then I started dating a girl, and naturally she rode on my bike with me a lot. The problem was that I believed if anyone was going to ride with me they should know the risks. She hated knowing the risks. She knew they were there, but she would have preferred to keep them as distant, intangible threats.

I learned eventually. Sometimes people are just going to trust you, and do what you do in the knowledge that you’re sharing a risk. When you take that position in someone’s life, it’s often best just to keep the nasty specifics to yourself and deal with them only if they happen. It’s ok, and often better, just to take someone’s life in your hands for a bit.

4. Take Responsibility for Your Fuckups

Speaking of which, I definitely crashed with this girl on my bike. Twice. In the same day. It wasn’t a fun time, in fact it makes for an amazing story, but all I’ll say right now is that a herd of goats and the Gate of no Return were involved. I hated myself for having wrecked with this girl on my bike. I knew our relationship was over, that she had trusted me and that I had betrayed that trust.

This was the worst feeling in the world, forget the road rash and the burn and the excruciating ride through the African bush that remained ahead of me. I had made a girl I cared about cry, and worse: I had made her feel unsafe. I was a douchebag filled with shit and marinating in bile. My pride was being strangled while dressed in the guise of my manliness.

However, to my surprise, because I took ownership of the situation (and probably because my actions had actually prevented a worse accident) she respected me all the more. Because I was willing to own up to my shortcomings, and I swallowed my pride as she rode on a local guy’s bike for a while to calm down, our relationship took a boost instead of a hit.

Conversely, as you can tell, my pride took a lot of hits. But it can certainly afford to suffer a little.

5. Scars Fade

Out of all the injuries I sustained, only one scar is still visible on my body. The road rash, the blisters, the cuts and the scrapes – they’re all gone. But even though some scars last longer than others, the lessons remain. As we heal, we grow into people we would never have been without them, and it’s my hope that we regret nothing. Even those stupid goats.

Damn those goats. I hadn’t thought about them in a while.

By Jay Swanson


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