Nebaj, Guatemala 10 Nov 05
Odometer 12,672 m 20,394 km

The sound of rain falling on the thin tin roof woke me several times during the night. I stirred. If this keeps up, I drowsily mused, the route out of this remote mountain village could literally wash away in the darkness. Too tired to think it through and too defenseless to do anything about it, I drifted back to sleep.

The only route into Todos Santos Cuchumatan is a long and rough dirt road prone to massive mudslides, recent evidence of which was everywhere. So, it was with more than a little relief that the new day brought clearing skies. State of repair notwithstanding, I had to negotiate whatever the night had wrought in order to meet a friend in the distant village of Nebaj by midday. As the warm November sun began to dry the earth, my confidence grew.

Forty muddy miles later I was back on asphalt in the town of Chiantla and able to triple my speed east to Sacapulas. There, I gassed up and prepared for the final push onto our planned rendezvous point in Nebaj’s central park. I was running a bit behind, but road conditions were good and traffic sparse--it was time to let her rip.

I entered the next bend at a comfortable but hasty 60 miles per hour. El Viento carved a perfect turn through the serpentine path cut from the emerald forest as I accelerated somewhat to gain more traction and control.
down to the wire
Jeremiah chats with a local Guatemalan boy in Todo Santos Cuchumatan.
Abruptly, the joy ride ended.

The turn suddenly revealed an age-old trick employed by crooks the world over. It’s clean, simple, fast, and very effective at separating a motorcycle from the motorcyclist. If it weren’t so violent, it might even be deemed elegant.

It works something like this: Stretch a difficult to see wire at neck level across the road; dismount the rider; grab the spoils; disappear.

I bore down in a matter of seconds on the nearly invisible wire that stretched taught between two otherwise beautiful shade trees lining either side of the road. Instinctively, I leapt up to hammer down from fifth to fourth to third to second gear in rapid succession, enduring the high-pitched whine of my engine as its RPM’s redlined out of control.

Not enough.

I then slammed both my brakes simultaneously to lock up the tires and enter a skid. The more rubber on the road the better, I reasoned, if not for the resistance of my anti-lock brakes.
Though my speed was halved, the inertia was still too great. Physics teaches us that an object in motion will remain in motion until acted upon by an opposing force. That other force was about to take one of two forms: either the wire would shatter my windscreen and snap my mirror stems, causing me to lose all control and be launched from the bike into mid-air; or I would somehow maintain control long enough for my body to careen through the wire--slicing my head off.

Option two, with my decapitated noggin rolling away from the scene of the accident still safely ensconced in its helmet, seemed the less desirable outcome. Either way, I gave no thought to El Viento’s welfare or how this event might affect my Pan-American Odyssey; if I failed to survive the next few nanoseconds, nothing else mattered.


As suspected, the wire was precisely positioned at neck-level. Also as predicted, initial contact was made with the bike’s windscreen. What I failed to anticipate was what happened next.

As my head braced for its up close and personal view of
terra firma--with or without my body still connected--the wire stretched a little and then suddenly, silently snapped.

Indeed, nothing happened.
Nothing at all! The strand softly broke in two and fluttered to the ground.

Glancing quickly back over my shoulder in disbelief, still lunging forward with the bike’s momentum, I saw two young boys run from the base of one of the trees up into the hillside brush.

It was only then that I realized the “wire” was not a wire at all. It was actually a magnetic tape from a videocassette stretched across the road as a childhood prank--the sort of thing I did in my own misspent youth.

Hmm, maybe karma is for real. Maybe I had it coming.

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