Dirtbikes and rattlesnakes
By Kris Arndt
05th August 2012 12:00 AM
Time passes at Dadanawa ranch in Guyana, South America, in an abstract way. I have the feeling that I’ll get sucked into its workings and one day leave only to find that I am 50, not 31. Everything feels familiar but slides along a scale parallel to your own frame of references, a lost world of experience. It’s the remoteness of it, the subjugation of clock time by the laxity of the people who have not been regimented by First World routines.
“And why not?” wrote Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness. “The mind of man is capable of anything—because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future. What was there after all? Joy, fear, sorrow, devotion, valour, rage—Who can tell?”
“Get my Gun”. Walking back to the house I heard a rattling noise. My torch was dim, inadequate, but I saw three cats surrounding an object and instinctively knew what it was. “Uncle Duane! Rattle snake!” He came out of the door with a Ruger 22 Magnum in hand, walked up to it with a watchful swagger and shot it in the head. It was about to bite a cat. Duane, ranch manager of Dadanawa Cattle Ranch, has a long history with rattle snakes. He used to keep them as pets until he got bitten and was faced with the prospect of chopping his own finger off. (He still has his finger and managed to recover without much treatment). After the offending snake had been examined, gutted and fried up, its skin already half way to the tannery, he said, “I don’t know why I did that, I normally leave them alone.”
When we find ourselves on the edge of danger, our minds encompass a mixture of intense, conflicting emotions which turn to acton sometimes out of the ordinary. Certainly, joy collided with fear and a sense of resignation as I realised I could no longer control the dirt bike I was riding; I flew over the handlebars, my face making its inevitable trajectory towards the sandy highway.
My mind clung to the memory of the truck, carrying the people I was with, speeding into the gloaming horizon. Necessity is a great motivator and I leapt to my feet, slightly crooked though uninjured, and hit the switch which cuts off the engine. Grabbing the handle bars and twisting them for leverage I wrangled it to standing, thinking that if it was left on its side too long, the carburetor would get flooded with fuel and it wouldn’t start. I was alone on a deserted road with only a general idea of where I was and where I needed to go. Danger is the implicit element of adventure.
It’s not the first time I’d fallen off a bike but I am used to road bikes. There is nothing quite like speeding along good roads, avoiding the occasional bit of gravel, sweeping through corners close to the ground with poetry of movement and metal. On those long trips through the Pyreneese or the sunflower fields of southern france, I was with friends; between us we had helmets, amoured jackets, boots, kneepads, kevlar jeans, waterproofs, com systems, GPS, heated handle bars, camel packs, and enough camping gear for a small army of bikers.
My first encounter with a dirt bike here was as a passenger with a kamikaze Wapisiana man named Trevor. We raced through the gullies and sand pits of the savannah with just the bare essentials. When we arrived at a tricky bit like a creek crossing he would exclaim, “Oh no! No breaks!” Apart from breaks, we were missing helmets, jackets, gloves and shoes but we carried with us a feeling of unbridled freedom.
It’s only when things go wrong and you remember there is no medical assistance to be had for miles that you marvel at how close a relative stupidity is to bravery. Trevor found this out a few days later when he caught one of his fingers in the chain and had to travel for four hours to get to the nearest doctor. It didn’t take much time before he was riding again and Dadanawa, lost world, Guyanese Wild West stronghold, did its work and we all carried on amnestic but free.
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