SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (VN) — We were railing around blind corners on the verge of disaster, brushing against the feathers of ragged chickens, the cusps of crumbling concrete houses and high curbs, and the creaky-wheeled beaters dawdling through the villages near Matina, Costa Rica.

We were barreling for home.

We had reached the flat, scorching final kilometers of La Ruta de los Conquistadores, a three-day mountain bike adventure from the Pacific coast — through the rain forest and high mountains, volcanoes and coffee plantations — to the Caribbean beaches on the far side of the country.

Suddenly, we came upon another stretch of rickety timber train trestle. The heart beat faster, the breathing settled rhythmically. The way home was on the other side, and this, well, this was what they called singletrack in Costa Rica. It was the last bridge of the day, the final exotic obstacle before the final push for Playa Bonita, the cove on the Caribbean where we would find the beachfront finish line.

I was on the wheel of Pua Mata, the women’s defending champion, and a self-proclaimed scaredy cat when it came to pouncing on each and every rotting timber above crocodile-infested, roiling rivers. She knew I was faster at placing foot after foot onto plank, railroad tie, bit of sheet metal, two-by-four, or scrap of wood that was quilted together to help us hover above the dangers below. I kindly obliged her offer to dart past.

And then I tripped over my own toes.

Turning sideways as I fell, my hips aligned perfectly with the orientation of the railroad ties, and I shot through until — with life-saving instinct — my wings expanded and my armpits stopped my fall, but not the bike from falling onto my head, my hands still clutching the top tube and left grip. I wouldn’t let go of this suitcase; this was valuable luggage.

“Ayuda! Ayuda! Help! Help!” screamed a police officer nearby. I was frozen above the muddy waters. How high? I didn’t look down. Let’s call it high enough. Crocodiles? Who cared, really, since if I fell I’d either die or wish I had.

What did Pua see? Her toes in front of her eyes, and not much else.

“I was so super focused on staring at my each and every step that all I saw was you hanging between the tracks, your bike on its side and the police officer calling for help because he was trying to get you up as soon as possible,” she said later.

Finally, the officer grabbed my bike, scolding me in Spanish for not being careful, or at least that’s what I gathered. I was free to use my hands again, and I climbed from my slot, grabbed my bike, bounded across the rest of the ties to safety, and never looked back. Unfazed, somehow. Pua came up beside me, I apologized embarrassedly, and the race was back on.

To the Caribbean!
Read more at http://velonews.competitor.com/LaRuta