The Motorbike Incident: Giving Into Fear

I was initially very hesitant about renting a scooter/motorbike in Pai. The Thai drivers seemed crazy, I’ve never ridden a scooter before, and they also drive on the opposite side of the road. But after arriving in Pai and seeing so many people renting the scooters, it felt more like a possibility. And there was my friend Colleen again, sending me Instagram messages encouraging me to “rent a scooter and ride around Pai – it’s so fun! “ So I got up my nerve, I resolved that if she could rent a scooter and drive around, why couldn’t I? I wouldn’t be going anywhere that far, just to some sights around Pai. It would be a crazy experience, but something new to try. I convinced myself that I was more than capable of doing it. And I summoned up all of my confidence as I walked into one of the rental shops.

Note that I didn’t do any research on the rental shops in town, I just went in blindly to one that seemed popular and had a lot of bikes. This was Mistake Number 1.

Following a Canadian girl, I asserted that I also wanted to rent a scooter for the day. I was told to pick one and the first sign of my ill-preparedness was that I had no idea what the difference was between the 2 bikes being offered. The man at the shop asked, “Can you ride?” “Yes,” I said quickly, not wanting to give away that I had no idea what I was doing. I picked one like the Canadian girl had chosen, but mine in an unfortunate shade of pink and white. I then joined the girl at the helmet rack, still a bit nervous about what i was about to do. The helmets all fit awkwardly, I tried to find the best one considering I had no idea what I was doing and needed all the protection I could get.

The cost of the bike was 200 baht. They also asked for a 3,000 baht deposit. The 200 I had, the deposit I did not. I explained that I would return with cash, just had to go to the ATM across the street.

This was the first sign that I should have stopped. This was my chance to walk away, no looking back. If I didn’t come back with the cash, I wouldn’t have to rent. Or I could just change my mind and tell them no (because I’m pretty sure they had my ID so I couldn’t just leave).

Instead, I got the cash I needed and walked back to the shop. On my way, I saw the Canadian girl getting out onto the road. She looked a bit unsure, but then confidently joined the traffic. I pumped myself up. I could do this.

I felt like I was signing my life away as I signed the rental agreement. The scooter was waiting for me. It was all mine. I had no idea what I was doing. I asked the guy at the shop if he could just quickly show me a few things. He asked me again, “Can you ride?”

The doubt was setting in.

I don’t know why I was so set on acting like I knew what I was doing. Maybe it was pride. Maybe it was fear that they would tell me no, not to rent the bike if I was inexperienced. While that may have been solid advice, I didn’t want to hear it. I was convinced that I would be able to do it and didn’t want anyone to stop me.

He got me set up to go and I suddenly took off down the side street next to the rental shop. There weren’t many people on the street, fortunately, but I quickly scared myself. My heart was racing. I was a bit uneasy at first, but then found my balance. Controlling the speed, however, was a different story. I couldn’t seem to get it right. And everytime I wanted to just ease out of somewhere, I felt myself hurtling forward. This was not good.

I decided to take some time and practice on this side street before getting out on the road. There was another rental shop nearby and the owner was helping two American girls with quick lessons on their bikes. I decided to follow along a bit and use this space to get my bearings. The girls reassured me that I would get it, I’d be fine. I tried to mimic what they were learning in their lesson, hoping that it would be enough to keep me from getting killed out on the road. The shop owner giving them the lesson eyed me cautiously. The girls explained that the place I had rented from had terrible reviews – a 1.5/5 – and that I should be careful with the bike I was given. Now I was nervous. I felt stupid – why hadn’t I checked reviews before deciding to do this dumb thing? The last thing I needed was a shitty bike. And I definitely did not want to get scammed by the rental shop and be out my 3,000 baht.

just before I nearly injured myself (or someone else)

I tried not to worry about it and practiced a bit more. It was hot. I was sweating. I was nervous. What had I gotten myself into? Besides, I was wearing Tevas (whereas everyone else was wearing sneakers) – this was Mistake Number 2 or 3 or I had lost count.

However, after a few more rides up and down the street, I was feeling a lot better. I felt like I could go slowly and I had gotten used to turning around. Mostly I was afraid of other people on the streets, but I was feeling a bit more comfortable. Besides, I told myself, as I rode throughout the day, I would get more used to it and it would be easier.

As the American girls continued their lessons, I grabbed my phone and looked up directions to one of the first sights I planned to visit. It seemed straightforward enough and I tried to commit the basic route to memory. With my phone back in my bag, I decided to do just one last turn around and practice on the empty road before actually going out on the street for the day. As I turned around, however, I got the front wheel of the scooter stuck on a grate between the sidewalk and the road. The scooter wasn’t moving easily and I tried picking it up in the front to help get it free. This was not easy. The scooter was much heavier than a bicycle and I didn’t really manage to get it unstuck. The girls were nearby me doing their lesson and so I wanted to turn without getting too close to them. I tried to rev the engine a bit to help get the wheel unstuck, but what happened instead was that I lunged the scooter forward with way too much speed and nearly hit the other shop owner and one of the American girls.

I braked as quickly as I could, I could feel the terror in my face and saw it on the faces around me. All I could do was apologize profusely to everyone. I was shaking. I was terrified. What did I think I was doing?

The other shop owner tried to calm me down, got me off the bike, and offered to give me a lesson when he was done with the other two girls. I thanked him and took a seat, trying to calm down. I had cut my toe a little (the Tevas!) and was now worrying about how much worse I could potentially hurt myself taking this scooter out on the road.

For 100 baht this guy would give me a lesson. I nodded and grabbed a bill from my bag, kept it crumpled up in my hand while I chatted with the girls finishing their lesson. They had both ridden scooters before, they reassured me that I would be fine and the lesson would be helpful. In fact, everyone who was hanging around the rental shop (which apparently had better reviews than the place I had rented from), was trying to reassure me. But my confidence was gone. I was scared. And I was alone. What would happen if I was out in the middle of nowhere by myself and I freaked out again? Or nearly hit someone? The fun day of renting a scooter was quickly becoming less fun. And, as these other girls reminded me that if you didn’t feel confident on the scooter, it was not going to go well. Aside from the lesson, confidence was key.

I had none left. I felt shaky and scared and silly. I felt like everything in my body was telling me to stop, to return the bike, to find another way to explore the town that did not include driving a motorbike. Something in me was stubbornly refusing and that is what had nearly gotten me (or someone else) hurt.

And so I gave up. I thanked the shop owner for offering the lesson but would decline. He nodded in understanding. I walked the scooter back towards the corner where the other shop was. I told them I didn’t want the bike anymore. That I understood I wouldn’t be able to get my money back (despite having signed the rental agreement just an hour before). I walked away from the rental shop feeling for the first time in 4 months of travel like I wanted to cry.

I was embarrassed. I felt defeated. I couldn’t believe that I couldn’t do it. I had managed to talk myself into it only to waste 200 baht. But then again, 200 baht was better than hurting myself or someone else. And I knew that I had made the right choice. I had tried to rent the scooter and it was not meant to be. I had been so close to getting out on the road after looking up the directions. That last little practice turn I told myself to take was the sign I needed to stop myself from going further.

It is in those moments where I really start to feel when the universe is looking out for you, that there is some sort of protective force taking care of you (at least most of the time).

Still shaken and embarrassed, holding back tears, I walked to the restaurant next to the bus station and ordered the banana/coffee shake that I had the day prior. It was delicious and just the kind of thing I needed to feel a little better. And, turning around from the restaurant with my shake, I found a half day tour (leaving in 30 minutes) that was going to all of the places i had wanted to go on the scooter. I soon found my way into a songthaew with about 9 other girls and spent the afternoon with them exploring Pai. As I saw the roads we took to all of these sights, I was even more reassured in my decision to return the bike. These were some crazy hills and curves. I would have been freaking out! And because I joined this tour, I was able to meet some cool people and spend the afternoon with them rather than being all alone on a motorbike in Thailand freaking out all afternoon.

I often think it is good to lean into fear, not to let it stop you from trying something new. But there are also times when fear is there for a reason. And if you keep resisting it, fear will keep trying to send you little signs to stop or back off. At the moment, I felt a bit ashamed that I wasn’t able to master the motorbike (in less than an hour without a lesson – I need to be nicer to myself). Everyone made it seem so easy. Looking back, I am so glad I finally stopped resisting the fear – and I had a much better day because of it.


Read more about my Self Care Sabbatical and the other places I’ve visited! 


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