It was the summer of my twelfth birthday.
I’d never look at a bicycle the same again.
My childhood friend, Robert, and his parents were visiting my family and I in Brazil. We hadn’t seen each other since we were seven, binging on Squeeze-Its and reenacting scenes from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies in our neighboring apartments in Boston, Massachusetts.
With a month-long visit to work with, my parents decided to take Robert and his family on a little tour of our usual ‘hangs’. The plan was to visit my dad’s family’s farm, which was about a 20-minute ride from Sao Paulo, stop by the beach in Guarujá for a few days, head up to the mountains of Campos do Jordao, and finally, end the trip at Angra Dos Reis, a secluded beach town south of Rio de Janeiro.
The drive over was a journey in itself. It took us five hours to get to the hotel, but when you touchdown in such a paradisaical place like Angra, you quickly shake off your car legs and get to making the most of everything there is to offer. For a twelve-year-old kid, that definitely wasn’t a problem.
Robert, my brother Ricardo and I rode on jet skis, took boat rides and played on the beach, but as the surrounding area was part of the Atlantic Forest, we were eventually tempted to go on a bike ride to a nearby waterfall.
It was overcast that day and a slight chill was in the air, but we (including our parents) set off on bikes along a paved road. Beyond the barbed wire fence that lined our path was nothing but endless grassy fields, populated here and there by cows. Eventually, we reached a steep upward slope and were, as instructed by the hotel guide, nearing our waterfall destination.
In that moment, however, it started to rain. It was a drizzle at first and we decided to go on, but soon enough, it turned into a full-on downpour.
When my mom mentioned that Ricardo had a tendency to develop bronchitis and declared his ride over, we all decided to head back. The waterfall would still be there tomorrow, after all. As we were biking back, we came upon the upward slope, which was now, of course, actually a very steep decline.
I was the first one down the hill. I didn’t think twice about it. I don’t think I realized the speed I’d reach. Suddenly, I was plummeting down this slope and, in a panic, couldn’t squeeze the breaks hard enough to slow down. What broke my fall at the bottom of the hill was a barbed wire fence.
Next thing I knew, my mom was beside me, helping me up, untangling my body from the fence. All of a sudden, the rainfall began to sting. I was wearing a Tweety (yes, the little yellow bird from Looney Tunes) shirt and there were bloody tears in equidistant parallel lines all the way down my body. Luckily, my face was at a gap. I was crying, but still hadn’t realized that, as I came down the hill at top speed, my brother watched it all happen. He ended up falling over to the side of the road and into a barbed wire fence there. Luckily, he was fine except for a few cuts and bruises.
I wanted nothing more than to go home, but my mom insisted: “Get back on the bike, ride it to the hotel. I don’t want you to be traumatized.” It was tough, and probably one of the hardest things I’d ever had to do, but I tried.
My mom still tells me it was one of the most terrifying moments of her life, to have to choose which of her children to help first. She regrets thinking I didn’t need stitches, because it left a pretty sizable scar on my arm.
But it kind of looks like an eagle and I like it. It’s a tattoo I didn’t ask for, but it’s a part of me now.
It took me awhile to get back on a bike again, and to be able to ride one comfortably on slopes, but I’m good now!