September 17, 2016
(Mom, you’ll want to skip this one.)
The headlights of oncoming cars are a blur as we race down the center line of the autostrada (highway) from Sorrento to Napoli. I settle into the peculiar flow of this navigating traffic as we weave in and out.
Yellow lines, black sky, breathe in, breathe out.
Yellow lights, black tires, breathe in, breathe out.
Accelerate, brake. In. Out.
It’s just me (passenger-monkey) and my friend (driver-pilot). Fear hopped off this train hours ago, and I’ll tell you why.
È stata una giornata bellissima. It was a gorgeous day. Perfect. My friend met me with his vintage motorcycle at the Salerno train station (a half-hour train ride from Napoli), and we (along with seemingly every Italian ever on this last weekend of summer) set off for the Amalfi Coast.
The fresh wind in my face balanced the hot sun as we followed hairpin turns opening onto one dazzlingly beautiful vista after another. The hum (or, more accurately, roar) of the engine blended with the waves and the wind, and conversation was sparse. The sky turned to dusty rose, orange, teal as we rounded past Amalfi and up the Sorrentino coast at sunset.
I must have contemplated my death a hundred times that day.
I usually do when I travel as a motorcycle passenger, and I don’t think it’s morbid. There is a quality of zen to this process of that renders it uniquely compelling for me.
There’s the, “oh shit, this is dangerous” moment, followed by the, “there’s nothing I can do to change my vulnerability in this situation” realization, culminating in (temporary) total surrender to the inalterable fact of my own mortality.
Then a sudden acceleration and, “oh shit,” and we begin again. As the minutes or hours blur on, I slowly stop picturing the many gruesome ways in which this could end badly, my pulse slows, and my shoulders relax. Once that last ripple of fear smooths out, I ender a space of zen acceptance—it’s pretty blissful there.
If you’re thinking I sound nuts, allow me to ask you a question:
How often, in your day-to-day life, do you contemplate your own mortality?
If you’re a healthy, well-enough-off human, I’m guessing it’s not all that often. And yet, we are all mortal; we are all helplessly vulnerable to myriad risks. We all walk a fine line between life and death all the time.
We are all on a precipice.
That yellow double line of a Napoletano highway, framed by black sky and black asphalt, is only a metaphor, no more and no less terrifying than the reality we all face. Every day.
The magic of this motorcycle zen is not the “added risk.” Rather, it (and surely a thousand other activities) forces me to reckon with the transience always enveloping me—always enveloping us—and to breathe in, breathe out, and enjoy the view.
I took a video so you could catch a view, too!