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The International Writers Magazine
: Adventure Cycling in Costa Rica
From Our Archives:
Baptized by the Rainforest
Marcie Pullman

Imagine a fresh new asphalt road. Add warm rain, thick mist, and sidelines of flowers so colorful and fragrant that your senses are stuck on the invitation to move forward and explore. You’re in the jungle. The road knows no flat, unless you count the bridges that brace the traveler from rivers. The sinews of this mountain twist up and turn down, like riding up the back of a sleeping Giant.

This is Costa Rica, where I am riding a bicycle 800 kilometers through primeval rainforest that is a dazzlingly fierce green. The main event is rain, and I’m here at the beginning of the rainy season (typically running May through November) to really take it in. A staggering five meters of rainfall drops annually in the mountains, which nourishes a packed house. Crowded along the roadside are leaves as large as elephant ears, trees and vines tower over the asphalt, and every mile brings me through constantly evolving bird and insect song.

I’m here to shed some of my own spoiled nature. To enter the forest on the same uninhibited level as the creatures that live here, and hopefully get to know these wildthings. Residents include the very majestic quetzal, sloth, jaguar, tapir, and armadillo, not to mention toucans, turtles, and mammoth blue morpho butterflies.

To understand what their habitat is like, I expose myself to it completely, with no protection save a warm place to sleep. I become a part of their world. Yet to do this, I have to be quieter than a tourist bus, and smell a lot friendlier. I carry a Gatorade bottle and I ride a front-suspension mountain bike with forty pounds of waterproofed gear on the back end. I ride all day long, from sun up to sundown and explore the jungle quietly road by road. Hill by hill. Drop by drop.

Each and every day of my three week journey, it rains. As faithfully as a nursing mother, big, hefty drops, plummet down from the sky, chasing every living creature into a quiet meditative whir. The animals hide mostly, except for the frogs, who hop all over the inner reaches of the forest. Few roads wind among the cloud forest, lowland jungle, active volcanoes and beaches of this magnificent country.

Jaco Raindrops knock down my back, falling into thick rivulets that flow along my hips and follow my legs to a continuous stream of water flying off of my knees. Water falls and falls and falls until it starts to bring the earth with it. Two inches of water moves steadily over the road, and shotgun rivers appear and rush across the path, testing my sense of balance.

This brings me to a very serious difference between me and the frogs that I am so intently living parallel to: they are cold-blooded, and don’t mind a refreshing rainfall. Yet even though the water falling outside is not much different from my body temperature inside, I am warm-blooded, so I must thermoregulate (control my temperature) actively. I have to ride harder and faster to keep my body at the exact right temperature.
Photo: Jaco Beach

Every time I stop (to chew on some papaya or check my brakes), my muscles fall silent, my heat generation stops as well, and I start to feel cold- it slips from my extremities inward, and a dull slowness with it. All told, I know what it feels like to be a frog, drenched, sticky, and cool. But I don’t dare stop riding.

So I continue. I grip my toes into my shoes, which are locked in pedals and churn with all my might, letting my frame settle into the comforting splashy wiz of riding.

One fine rainy morning I wake up in the surf town Jaco. I take a semi-famous local ride up eight kilometers of gravel to a giant waterfall. As I make it to the top, I have the shock of a lifetime. Four local teenage boys, on randomly assorted dredged up bicycles, are lined up at the top, waiting to race me down. This is local mujeres, ready for the ultimate rainy day action. The littlest boy has no brakes on his bike, yet he sits on it proudly, as if it were a red sports car. Soaked and grinning, we start yipping to commence the race downhill. My perfectly fitting gear can’t do a thing for me-these guys know this mountain road and ride like professionals. The littlest one is the best jocky. He descends into top speed in total freefall for 30 meters or so and then peels his back tire around to slow up, intermittently ripping a bellowing sound through the rain. Following downhill, gravity takes us to an unweighted, all-knowing place. A Baptism of togetherness with the rainforest. I’ve learned to love the feeling of being in the elements, what the beloved rainforest creatures experience their whole lives.

© Marcie Pullman November 2004

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