“If you don’t trust me, we’re all going down… Now everybody lean forward.”
“Do you want go to the river?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. No hesitation. No question.
“I just want to go swimming. I just want to hang out with no responsibilities,” he said. I nodded.
He called an hour later. “I’m on my way,” he said.
“Okay,” I said.
I rushed to change into my bathing suit, to shave my legs, to pack a grocery bag with the essentials. A bath towel, sunscreen, a full water bottle, and always chap stick. Fortunately I remembered at the last minute to throw in a set of keys.
“A friend of mine is going to come, too,” he told me. “Is that okay?”
“No problem,” I said, just glad to be invited along.
“We’re going to go on the motorcycle – all three of us. Have you been on a motorcycle for a long time before?” he asked, wary.
“Yeah, once,” I told him. “But it was much smaller than yours. I’ll be fine.”
Every time I got on the motorcycle he told me to watch out for the muffler. Every time I told him, “I know!” and I thought about the scar I’ll always have on the inside of my right calf, from the one time I did not watch out for the muffler.
I held my grocery bag on my lap with my left arm. My right arm stretched out into the wind. We raced down a hill then up a hill and into town to pick up his friend. I was relieved when I saw she also carried her essentials in a grocery bag. Nobody to impress here. Introductions were made and then we were quickly shoved up against each other on the motorcycle again (“Watch out for the muffler!”) and heading out of town.
If you’ve never whipped through the mountains as the third person on a motorcycle, comfortably squished up against someone you just met, I’d highly recommend it.
I’ve never ridden on a motorcycle going so fast. We whipped around curves and up and down hills with breathtaking views all around. Have you ever wanted to cry because something was so beautiful? That’s how these mountains make me feel. Overwhelmed with their beauty and the beauty of the One who formed them. I thought about Kurt Vonnegut and his words of wisdom. I thought about recognizing beauty when I see it and being thankful. I thought about proclaiming how nice life is.
We stopped on the side of the road and looked down into a shallow valley. “That’s the President’s house,” he said.
“Can you imagine?” I said, shaking my head, because I could not imagine living in that house, even part-time, looking out every window and finding breathtaking, tear-inducing views such as these.
After a while we turned off the paved road and onto a dirt one. The dirt was quite unstable in some areas, and that was the only time I was afraid. Still, we whipped down hills and zoomed up hills. Still, my grocery bag sat on my lap cradled by my left arm. Still, my right hand stretched wide to feel the air fly by. Still, my belly and my thighs pressed against my new friend sitting in front of me. Still, the mountains surrounded us.
Just before the river the road went down a steep hill to cross a stream and then immediately climbed back up. The gravel was loose, and as confident as he was, us girls knew we weren’t going to make it back up the hill and out of the stream with three of us on board. Since the two of them probably weighed the same as me, and since I was on the back, I got off and climbed the hill myself. Then we were there. Almost.
We left the bike and turned our backs so our guide could change into his bathing suit. We crossed the river via carefully chosen rocks and with carefully placed feet. We walked a short trail through the woods. It was so quiet there and the sun could barely get through the treetops. We took turns crawling under a barbed wire fence. We turned our backs again for my new friend to change into her bathing suit and then it was back on the rocks, back in the river. We walked down to the pool, to where it was deep enough to swim, deep enough to jump in off a small cliff, in fact, and waded in.
The icy waters would’ve been more refreshing if the sun were more persistent. Even still, it was nice to stand submerged to my waist, swatting and splashing off mosquitos. My friends were more bold. He climbed and jumped more than once. She eventually went under. I eventually went over to sit on the rocks, my bottom half submerged, to feel the water rushing over my legs and around me. The water doesn’t care that I’m here, I thought. I am not in the way. It just moves around me. I thought about where the water came from, where it was going, what it meant, what it had seen. I thought about the sun in the sky and how lovely it is when it shines through the clouds. I thought about the wonder of my life. That I could be here on a Sunday afternoon, virtually alone in the middle of a river in the mountains of the Dominican Republic.
After over an hour of enjoying the river, we dried off and started the journey back. Back on the rocks, back in the river. Back through the forest trail. Back on the rocks, back on the river. My feet were tired then. Sore from gripping and being poked. My ankles and calves were aching from mosquito bites and being scratched. Today they sting.
This time I started out on foot, knowing I would have to get off shortly if we had any chance of making it up out of that stream and up the hill. So I huffed and I puffed up the hill. I kept my eyes on my feet, not wanting to risk a twisted ankle, and I concentrated on breathing in and out, putting one foot in front of the other. I went down the hill and crossed the stream, stopping on the other side to dry my feet and my flip flops with my towel before starting up the next hill. This one was bigger, but I climbed it steadily. Then I stood at the top and breathed in and out while looking around.
My friends eventually made it up and I hopped on, but the steep inclines were not all behind us, there was still a big one to come, but we were all confident (more or less) that we could make it up. He told us, “You have to trust me. If you don’t trust me, we’re all going down.” He asked us each in turn, “Do you trust me?” “Yes,” I told him. And I did. “Now everybody lean forward,” he said and we did. Making it up that hill was a triumph so we stopped to celebrate. He picked us all flowers, big and yellow, from the side of the road.
The ride back was shorter, as it always seems to be, and I was sad when it was over. We were damp now, but squashed up against each other all the same, the wind whipping by us and around us, threatening to pull the flowers out of our hair. But the flower was resilient. Like me climbing that hill, like us leaning forward, like God forming the mountains, like water rushing over rocks, it held on, it persevered, it carried on. And it was nice.