Night traffic in Hanoi, by Charlie Grosso

This is going to be easy. I mean, how hard could it be? Renting a motorbike while I’m tucked away in Hanoi for a self imposed writer’s residency seems like a sensible thing. I’m a good walker. I can walk pretty far, but how far do I really want to walk in 35ºC heat? I waltz into the motorbike shop to pick up the rental. She is pretty. 125cc fully automatic transmission, pale pearl with a sheen and a retro vibe.

There is no shortage of swagger whenever I take on something new, especially if that something new has a whiff of danger and a hint of ridiculous. Having driven a tiny manual transmission car (for the first time ever) across 1/3 of the world (much of it was off road or often, “you call this a road?” road), a 3-wheel tuk tuk through the length of India where at any moment I could be roadkill, trekked-camped extensively on four different continents often above 5000 meters, I dare say my adventure resume justify the bit of arrogance I brought with me to the shop.

This will be a cake walk!

I’m happy to report we made it all the way back to the apartment without getting lost, pulled over by the police or hitting any pedestrians, motorbikes, cars or pet roosters. Success all around… right?!

I park the bike, walk up stairs and sat down. Elevated heart rate, shortness of breath and the tiny hand tremor … telltale signs of an adrenaline rush complete with “OH. MY. GOD. HOLY F*CKING SHIT!”

Hold the phone. What happened to the swagger? You said this was going to be easy. Except the physiological symptoms says otherwise. Sure traffic in Vietnam is notorious, but it’s not any worst than any of the other insane place I’ve driven through. The bike is fully automatic. I don’t even need to worry about shifting gears. I’ve ridden on the back of motorbikes hundreds of times: speeding down the California coast on Highway 1, bumping through dirt roads with fist size rocks in demilitarized zones, even made out with a hot Dutchman (there were three of us on the motorcycle) while flying through the dark night of Kampala. Ridding on motorbikes is one of my favorite things.

There is a disconnect between what I know and what my body is telling me. I’m spooked enough to think for a second, maybe, just maybe, I will return the bike, walk and hail moto-taxi instead. I went to bed that night with the tiniest dread and fear because I need to do it all over again tomorrow.

I strap on my helmet and push the motorbike out. I turn on the ignition and take a deep breath. Just before I release the break and dive into traffic, I tell myself what I always say as I embrace the next challenge — if I can make it through this, there will be nothing I can’t do.