A Crash Course in Chasing Smiles

Once again I will take you far from home. Perhaps not as far as can be but still quite a hop, skip and a jump.

There I was in the Riu Guanacaste Hotel on the western shores of Costa Rica. The sun was low on the horizon and the combination of the humidity outside our air conditioning inside made the windows fog up like a glass of ice water left at room temperature.

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Many of you know already that when I say “We” in this instance I am speaking of myself and the woman who woke next to me that morning, Rachel Perry. I watched her eyes; pupils wide with excitement of the adventure of the day.

We had an appointment to keep this morning. It was not a stately appointment or a meeting with a loved one. This appointment was one with a Costa Rican kid, no older than 20. He sat outside the grounds of our hotel waiting for us with three (3) motorcycles of the 4-wheel variety. In most common off-road circles these are known as quads. We had made arrangements to ride these quads into the jungle, through rivers and over mountains to make our way to a water-fall, deep off the beaten trail.  We were scheduled to feed monkeys and swim in the tropical waters.

We made our way passed the ever laden tables of the breakfast buffet. Each of us grabbed whatever could be shoved into our faces on the walk to our appointment and proceeded with said shoving.

Eventually we made it to where our good friend and his quads waited for us. Rachel crackled with a nervous energy as she looked at the monster 450 cc, semi-automatic, Honda Quads. (Don’t laugh for those in the know. I am going for excitement and adventure, I can’t call them tractors and keep with the tone of my story).

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Anyway, our guide gave little to no instruction which only included him letting us know that he would hold up his fingers in the appropriate gear we should be in and that the rain from the night before made the rivers impassable so we would be instead heading to a secluded beach. The fact that there would be no monkeys let Rachel down pretty hard, but the sound of a secluded beach brought her right back up. He proceeded to jump onto his vehicle and start it up with Rachel looking at me with that same nervous excitement, not really knowing what to do.

Our guide took off and Rachel and I jumped to follow, me holding up the rear behind her. The going was not very rough in the beginning. Green slopes passed us in a blur as we made our way down the road. Rachel performed admirably for her first time on a quad, she was steady in her pace and easy in her movements;  it was a pleasure to watch her ride.

Eventually we left the pavement and the road got rougher. Deep rivets ran down the road from the near constant rain, but Rachel handled all of it like a champion. We turned south towards the mountain and proceeded to slowly climb. I had my camera out taking one-handed video and pictures of Rachel and the nature around us.

That is when I made a mistake…

It was not a mistake that sent me tumbling head over heels as some of you know I have done before on a quad.

No, this mistake was exponentially worse.

I yelled ahead at Rachel to try to get a picture of her smiling face and in classic beginner fashion she turned to look back at me, caught a tire in one of those rivets and veered off to the left. She ran right into a ditch and smack into a cliff face; arms held out in front to protect her face as the rear tires rose behind her, pitching her forward.

That is when I made my second mistake. Once again not one that had me on my ass but one that was even worse.

Now I am used to my manual quad that I ride at home not one of these semi-auto things.

So I stopped immediately when I saw Rachel veering towards that ditch. I jumped off my bike and ran down to where Rachel’s bike was tossing her onto her face. To save her the pain I grabbed the rear end and forced it back on the ground saving her a face-plant. I know what you are thinking, “Damn Matt, that is some quick action and some fine heroics.” And I tell you what, you are right. Rachel was no worse for where and in the split second of us making eye contact I knew she was freaked but fine.

Here comes the result of that second mistake. I got off my bike and with Rachel’s well-being the only thing on my mind I failed to notice that my semi-automatic quad would not stall out and stand safely where I left it. Instead it had started to roll backwards down the hill, a potentially costly mistake as there was no telling the sorts of damage the bike would take if it tumbled.

A split second is all I had between looking Rachel in the eye and taking off in a mad sprint down the hill. I barely reached the bike before it caught too much momentum and managed to jump onto the seat and get it stopped and moving in the right direction.

I rode back to Rach and now that we had a long minute for a good breather, made sure she was ok. Like I said before, she was fine, shaken good but no real harm other than some sore wrists.

After brushing off the front of her bike and getting the ‘don’t tell anyone about this’ look from our young guide we proceeded forward, over the mountain to our secluded paradise.

The going stayed at the same difficulty level and, with a little more caution, we made it to our first destination with no more incident than a little rain.

That first destination was beautiful.

Like all of the Costa Rica we had so far experienced, the blue ocean stretched out to the horizon as our feet baked on the dark sand. The difference here was that we were alone. We changed into bathing-suits and jumped in the water. The cove was a little less protected than the one by our hotel so we were beaten with a few soft waves. A few were just big enough for me to get a halfway decent body surf session in. Rachel joined in for a few to my complete and utter joy.

After getting our fill of the water we hiked far out onto the tide pools to marvel at the wildlife to be found.

Before too long we headed back to the quads and our guide and saddled up for leg two of our adventure.

The going was similar to before but we did not have very far to travel this time.

We came to another beach, this one not secluded. In fact there was an amazing little cantina on the sand that Rachel and I would for sure visit but not before we got our fill of beach riding fun.

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I know few truths in the world but one important one is that I will remember that day for the rest of my life. We raced up and down the beach, getting small air off of the little rises and falls of the sand. I did donuts to the laughter of the woman I love.

We traversed a small creek and made a tiny if not extreme loop into the jungle that forced us both to 4-wheel it over a decent log. With a little coaching Rachel did all off it and then some. I could feel the sand in my smile as I watched her get more and more comfortable on the seat.

The sun was out and baking us when we made our way to the cantina. I sat there with Rachel and we drank tequila and Caronas, ate the best ceviche I have ever had in my life, and sat in perfect contentment together.

With a few drinks in our systems the ride home was a little more relaxed and also a little more fun. Now mom and dad, we weren’t drunk so some stop worrying about our well-being, just enough to be as comfortable as can be on those bikes.

We danced around each other the whole way back to our hotel; climbing mountains and laughing at each others antics.

And all the while winding our way back to our home away from home. Not to be too much of a romantic but home is wherever the heart is so technically we never left.

Be sure to check out more of our Costa Rica Trip here. No Gold but Plenty of Fish is a story about the day after this one. Another adventure in which Rachel and I leave land and take to the sea for some fishing and fun.


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