Sometimes things get tough out on the road. Bus schedules get delayed, lodging is atrocious, the weather is bad, or tempers flare and moods go sour. That kind of funk can last for days or even weeks, but inevitably the travel gods seem to have a way of intervening just when you need them most. In our world, we call that “redemption" and, for us, it has come in all different forms. An unexpected hot shower after weeks of cold bucket rinses in grimy hostels, a stunning view after a grueling 5-day hike, or a friendly guesthouse owner who's also an aspiring microbrewer in need of volunteer taste testers.
One day, during a 4-day funk where Bird and I were no longer talking to each other for various reasons, redemption presented itself in the most unusual of ways. We were traveling in a pack of 5, it was late at night, and we were on our motorcycles en route from Hoi An to Nha Trang, pushing through the typical routine of stops, repairs, and debilitating treacherous terrain. Everybody was tired and it was quite dark, but we were determined to get to the next town, still another 20 km out. The distance always seemed like nothing, coming from the States where cars could zip across perfectly laid road in no time, but caravanning across uneven roads with poor visibility on 100-cc bikes that were heavily loaded down was nothing short of a feat. And the conditions somehow kept getting worse. Parts of the highway were under construction, which meant numerous lane changes, and the glare from oncoming semi-trucks was blinding, making it almost impossible to see. Yet, there we were, resolved by our stubbornness to power through and not show weakness to each other.
We pushed on, Bird shining a mag-lite over my left shoulder, illuminating the road ahead. She turned away briefly to scope out a potential spot to break for the night and when she turned back to the road, it shone clearly: a construction barricade. Right in the middle of the road was a wooden sign held up by metal poles studded in 2 concrete blocks and we were headed straight for it. With practically zero time to react, I quickly swerved to avoid it, but crashed into the end pole, sending us into a section of unfinished road. Struggling to regain control, we spilled to the ground and slid across a stretch of gravel, dirt, and oil.
My first reaction was: Is Bird okay? Are her legs under the bike? Is she bleeding? Fortunately, she was fine. Barely a scratch. Then I thought: I know I hit my knee pretty hard on the ground , yet I didn't feel any pain. Maybe the adrenaline was covering up the severity of my injury? But I was fine as well. Just a few scrapes on my arm and what I later figured was a dislocated knee cap that popped itself back into place. All things considered, we were pretty lucky.
We brushed ourselves off, collected our belongings, and rode ahead to find the nearest place that could accommodate us. We didn't need much and certainly didn't want to burden anyone either, but folks told us what we had already known. There weren't any inns or homestays for at least another 10 km and with the terrain and visibility so bad, we began to feel hopeless. In our search, we had spotted a home less than a minute up the road that seemed to double as a cafe during the day. Though it was closed for the night, there were several hammocks strewn across beams in front of the house. Desperately, we stopped in, knocked on the door, and explained our dilemma to the lady of the house and to our relief, she gladly offered us the hammocks as refuge for the evening.
After putting our bikes away and taking a minute to process what had just happened, Bird and I embraced each other in what was the first affectionate contact we'd had in days. For the next several minutes we just held each other, crying and gushing to each other how much we loved one another. Without having to say it, we forgave and forgot whatever nonsense we had been arguing about leading up to that moment. Nothing else mattered more than our safety and our being together. The rest of the night included a game of cards accompanied by a delightfully unexpected meal of noodles, Vietnamese coffee, and fresh coconuts. Bird sat by my side and helped clean up every last bit of debris out of my wounds. Settled in our hammocks, we fell asleep still firmly grasping one another’s hand.
Maybe it was a wake-up call, maybe it was just luck. Whatever it was, it made me realize just how appreciated I am and, far more so, how lucky I am for the love we have…and that is the best kind of redemption.