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  • It was a sunny morning on a dusty highway in Western India on the day my life changed.

    I was riding a motorcycle northeast along the hot asphalt highway that cut a black strip across the sunburnt brown desert. My destination that morning was Bhuj, the town where I'd rented a vehicle and left to explore the surrounding countryside the week before. OK, it wasn't quite a motorcycle; actually, it was a 100cc scooter that could barely crack 40 kilometers on the speedometer, but she'd served me well, touring me around nearly 500 kilometers of hot asphalt up near the Great Rann of Kutch, on the southern border between India and Pakistan. I'd named her Atalanta, after the Greek goddess of the hunt.

    The night before, I'd slept in a dive hotel near the main street of the ship building town, Mandvi, and had got up early to beat the traffic back to the regional capital. I'd had breakfast at a roadside stall selling omelettes and followed the dusty road into the scrubby desert. I'd been lucky: traffic was light that morning, and my only competition for the tarmac was from red-chili laden carts pulled by one-humped camels. Atalanta swerved effortlessly around the beasts of burden as I twisted the throttle and sped off into the hinterland. It was already hot, and I could feel the sun bearing down on my exposed thighs below my cargo shorts. On my back, I wore a small backpack carrying a toothbrush, a change of t-shirt, and a digital SLR camera. On my feet, I wore a pair of cheap Chinese-made flip flops. On my head, luckily, I wore a black helmet with a broken clear plastic visor.

    The first time I'd ever rented a scooter was when I was a 20 year old travelling in Bali. I'd been goaded into renting a bike by the friend I'd arrived with. He claimed to have been experienced; I figured that it couldn't be different from riding a bicycle. We'd gone to a little rental shop, where I'd handed the owner my passport as a deposit in exchange for the key. I'd gone outside, started the bike, headed off down the road and immediately crashed into a row of motorcycles 20 meters away. I'd gotten up, wheeled the now-broken bike back to the shop, and exchanged a crisp US$100 bill for the return of my passport.

    I was about 45 minutes out of Mandvi as I began to pass through the mud huts and ramshackle concrete structures that marked the outskirts of a small town. Suddenly, from the bushes on my left, two dogs darted out onto the road, two blurs, brown and black, following closely on one another. They crossed my path at less than 15 feet. I panicked and grabbed both sets of my brakes as I tried to manuveur Atalanta around their trajectory. In this case, she wasn't nearly as responsive to my urgings. Her wheels seized, and she slid out prone along the motorway, leaving me splayed out on my side.

    I staggered to my feet, deeply in shock, but had the presence of mind to give myself a quick once over to assess the damage. I still had legs and arms, thankfully, but I'd scraped myself up pretty badly on nearly all of my exposed skin. The sight of the blood set me off, and all of a sudden the effort of trying to grasp my situation - alone, disconnected, linguistically limited, and injured - drained all my energy, and I sat and then lay on the radio shoulder, not really quite sure what to do next. Atalanta lay in the middle of the road, silent to my predicament.

    After a few minutes, a red two doored hatchback screeched to a halt and three men jumped out. Two of the men picked me up and deposited me in the car's backseat. Some communication ensued in broken English: they were taking me to the doctor, they said, and the third would follow on damaged but operational Atalanta. I wanted desperately to be in control, but I was in no position to give orders. As the car started off down the road, I burst into deep weeping in the backseat while the two men drove silently. It was an emotional breakdown, and also a kind of breakthrough.

    At the clinic, my wounds were cleaned up and bandaged as a mother and two young children watched curiously. Afterwards, I tentatively rode Atalanta back to Bhuj at camel speed. This time, the rental shop only wanted US$50 for damages. I paid without argument. This was during the middle of the second week of my second trip to India.
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