The two-week race was a blur of breakdowns, police encounters, briberies, hospitable Indonesians, collisions, and, above all, adventure. Röta loved to hate us. She broke down every other hour, but we fell in love each time she rose to the occasion, started up, and carried us over mountains, through jungles, and across the country – although, 2,000 km of the race was spent on the back of a truck.
The emotions overpowered as we approached the finish line. We rode atop the rickshaw, high fiving bus drivers with the open road ahead of us and miles of traffic trapped behind. I ripped off Röta’s doors, slammed a Bintang and beat my chest. I made eyes at all the gadis on motorbikes and settled in for a long night of celebrations. We were at it until well after the sun came up.
We did not finish first. I’m not certain that we even placed in the top ten. However, despite being towed by The Trident Thunderbolts across the finish line, despite breaking every last moving part on our rickshaw, and despite pausing for two days of convalescence on a volcanic lake, we were the only team to complete the race on time without ever having abandoned our ride. And that’s saying something.
It was with heavy hearts and aching heads that we bade farewell to our new friends. I realized something: it wasn’t the jungle, nor the beaches, volcanoes, cities, or booze that made Indonesia so delightful. It was the people, from Master Alex and his merry gang of fishing misfits, to Team Trident Thunderbolt, to the girls who all wanted a picture with me, to the stoned jungle guide diving at my crotch with a 14-inch knife.
Who am I kidding?
It was Röta. Beautiful Röta and the beautiful Bintangs we shared. It was the 5am underwear-clad joyride while fleeing a middle-aged prostitute. The downhill-with-sketchy-brakes slalom from Lake Toba to Medan. The nighttime roman candle jungle assault. The terrible back-to-back 26-hour hate-fests on truck beds. The illegal freeway police escort. The smiles and waves and shouts of “Hello mister!” as Röta voiced her throaty growl while cruising over potholes at a blistering 40 km/h. It was how, even in her darkest hour, Röta would rise from the very depths of total engine failure to love us once more and deliver us those final few kilometers. Oh Röta, anda wanita cantik.
I love Röta. I hate Röta. She haunts my dreams and stalks my waking hours. Even now I see her transmission in my computer screen and feel her carburetor on my keyboard. Sometimes, when I turn the lights on in a dark room, I swear I see her beautiful red frame dart around a corner and out of sight.
Goodbye, Röta. Goodbye, jungle. For God’s sake, dysentery, please say goodbye.
An abridged list of the 46 mechanical nightmares that occurred during the 14-day race:
- Three head gaskets blown.
- Axle stabilizer snapped in half.
- Clutch cable housing melted.
- Clutch cable snapped multiple times.
- Suspension broke. Twice.
- Rear right brakes shattered. On day one. No brakes at all for the next few days.
- Brake line burst. Twice.
- DIY horn was activated by scraping a wire against a screw.
- Muffler fell off. Hourly. We regularly added asbestos to the seal.
- Carburetor melted off.
- Driveshaft broke free, smashing chunks out of the engine block.
- Dashboard fell off.