Adventures In Motorcycling
on Solo Diaries (Indonesia), 22/Jun/2009 09:35, 34 days ago
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Muscle memory is a very cool thing. I remember, not too long ago, feeling very awkward on my motorcycle. I performed such amazing non-Indonesian tasks as signalling turns, staying in my lane, and even obeying traffic lights. Now that controlling my motorcycle is largely instinctual and I know its abilities and quirks, these things are, shall we say, less important.I will openly admit that one day last week, the boss lady wasn’t around and I left work a ½ hour early. Don’t tell anyone from Randstad :-). It was this ½ hour that contributed to a wacky adventure that only in hindsight can I look at with humour.I have been going to a local hotel gym regularly since I arrived in Solo. VSO strongly encourages volunteers to keep up physical activity in order to help maintain overall health, physical and mental. The fact that with my membership at this gym I also get access to the hotel’s vast, and for the most part, unused pool is a huge benefit. I have spent many an hour relaxing by that pool with a book. This gym was where I was headed when I left work early last week.When I came out of the gym, half an hour earlier than I would have otherwise, it was that weird space between day and night. It wasn’t quite dark, but was darker than it would normally have been because of the rain clouds that had gathered. (The rainy season was supposed to be over sometime in April but it is stubbornly hanging on.) There was a tiny bit of rain falling, but there were also patches of blue, so I determined it was nothing to be concerned about. I decided to detour, take a different route, and go do grocery shopping instead of going straight home. Mistake.When I came out of the grocery store (“HyperMart” – great name in my opinion) it was now fully dark and pouring rain – you could not see across the street. This is particularly intimidating when your only mode of transport is a motorcycle. I waited for it to let up at least a little but it wasn’t happening. After fifteen minutes I decided it was time to go; my ride home was (normally) only about 8 or 9 minutes to be honest. I ran to where my bike was parked, hung my grocery bags from the hook, fumbled with the key to get the seat up, and grabbed my poncho out of the storage bin.Everyone in Indonesia has a poncho; it’s standard uniform during the rainy season. My poncho is particularly huge for some reason, probably the result of my inexperience with knowing when I was being shafted by an over-eager sales clerk early in my Solo adventure. I finally got it on, put my helmet on over top and was on my way.It’s important to mention that Indonesian roads are in extremely rough shape. Potholes are gigantic – I would estimate that some of them are 5 or 6 inches deep, treacherous for a motorcycle in particular. People occasionally take matters into their own hands and try to fill the potholes with debris to smooth them out; you can find garbage, tiles, broken glass, rocks– any matter of material – in these potholes. When it rains, watch out – there is no drainage. All the rain that falls, onto trees, onto rooftops, onto everything, just ends up in the street, and can quickly become a deluge. The danger is two-fold: motorcycles do not have good traction when they are in 8 inches of water, and the rushing torrents conceal the potholes which can rapidly become small lakes. You have to proceed with extreme caution or you will lose control.I am often victim of Murphy’s Law, as anyone will tell you. So I don’t know why I should be surprised that when I was nearly home, moving along at a snail’s pace, my poncho caught in the rear wheel of the motorcycle. It pulled taught, choking me, and almost pulled me off the back of the motorcycle in the middle of traffic. Catch-22: had I been able to go faster, the momentum would likely have kept the poncho aloft and it would not have caught in the wheel, but if it did I would certainly have been pulled off the bike and dragged by it. I had to stop the bike, but rapidly realized that I was trapped – the ponchoaround my neck was cutting off my air and was too tight for me to remove it. I started to panic, and didn’t even think to put the bike in neutral, let alone shut it off. I was frantically pulling at the poncho in a vain attempt to release it and give myself breathing room but was only entwining itmore tightly in the chain. Cars and motorcycles were honking and moving around me, aware that I was in distress, but it was raining and… well… Indonesians don’t like rain (as a matter of fact, and in a non-related side note, rain can be a legitimate excuse for not going to work).Luckily I happened to stop in front of a salon that was closing for the night– the woman locking the door saw my predicament and ran inside to get some scissors to cut the poncho from the wheel so I could breathe. The water around me was up to my shins; the rain was still pouring down; traffic was still moving around me in either direction. The lady came out and started tofree me. By this point, some guys from the store next to the salon had come over to help as well – luckily I am a regular customer of this store so they recognized me. In a few minutes I was free, but the remnant of plastic from the poncho was so tight around the wheel that the bike was immobilized. The guys from the shop rocked the bike back and forth (I had finally turned it off after they helpfully reminded me that not only was it running but it was in gear!) and were finally able to release the plastic from the wheel.I walked the bike through the river to the front of the store, checked it out, and started it. My wonderful motorcycle started up as though nothing had happened. The guys playfully slapped me on the back. The woman from the salon smiled and handed me back my helmet. We decided together to cut off another foot or so from the rear of the poncho to prevent the same thing from happening again. I thanked them all profusely and was on my way. At the time I was terrified, but now I can look back at the incident positively. I don’t know if I was in any real danger, but regardless, I was saved by those people.It rained for the rest of that night. It rained again all day yesterday. Today is sunny– so far – and I haven’t seen the boss yet; maybe I’ll take off a ½ hour early tonight…