Odyssey to Ushuaia by Andrés Carlstein

Odyssey to Ushuaia by Andrés Carlstein

Author:Andrés Carlstein
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Published: 2002-04-20T04:00:00+00:00


Zen and the Art of the Inelastic Collision

I LED AS WE RODE through the incredible Huascarán National Park, Peru, on our way to the ruins at Chavin. Peter and Robert were behind me somewhere, out of sight around some mountainous curve. Twenty-thousand-foot peaks, covered in snow, thrust out of the ground all around us. The sun pierced through my shield and sunglasses, and the road was a single lane of dirt and loose rocks. The path wound up through the mountains, above the frigid waters of a lake that reflected the flickering sunlight on the mountain walls as if from an enormous chandelier. The sides of the trail plunged thousands of feet to the valley below.

A feeling of serenity and calm overtook me as I motored through of one of the most pristine and peaceful places I’d ever seen. At over ten thousand feet, the dirt was as bright as brown can be, and canary-yellow wildflowers popped sporadically into view along the mountainside.

I was taking mental snapshots of the scenery as I rounded a corner, and with freeze-frame slowness, a clean, bright blue truck appeared in my path. I was dumbstruck. The truck was coming at me very fast and there was no time think. No turning. No stopping. No avoiding. My mind instantly processed my options. I didn’t rationalize my decision at the time, but I somehow knew I was going too fast to swerve on the loose dirt. I could instinctively sense that I would just slide and fall over, and possibly end up underneath the truck. I remember thinking, “Wow, I’m going to hit this truck, and all I can do is watch.” Reflexively, I grabbed a fistful of brakes and skidded toward the truck head-on. The truck’s driver was also braking hard. I felt the front end of my bike crunch against the grille just before I bounced off the truck’s hood and hit the ground on my side.

A truck. Oh shit. Wham. Just like that, the ordeal was over. Right before my front tire collided with the truck’s bumper, I sensed in my gut that I was going to be fine. That sensation removed all fear, and I was free to relax and experience the moment clearly. I was pure sensation as I moved in the thrall of forces beyond my control. I suddenly felt tranquility and deep understanding. Zen Buddhists call a moment like that satori, a brief time without thought, yet with complete understanding, clarity, and focus—a feeling of infinite space. The front tire hit, the forks bent, and my bike pivoted forward on the axle of its front wheel, smashing the fairing and headlight against the grille. I slid forward and my helmet and shoulder smacked against the hood. I recall a flash of the look on the faces of the two guys in the cab. Their mouths were open, eyes as big as fried eggs. I also noticed upon my very close visual inspection of the truck that it was not as clean as it first appeared.


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