For my birthday a couple of years ago I went mountain biking alone in the British Virgin Islands. It was awesome…breathtaking views that stretched to infinity, small sights in nature that are easily overlooked, and that wild-and-free feeling of flying downhill in the wind, the kind you can only get from atop a bike. Incredible!
But I need to back up a bit…I was not exactly “alone” the whole time. From almost every stopping-to-take-a-picture perch, I could see the boys (my husband, son, and a friend) snorkeling way out on the reef, and I did just as much pushing uphill in the heat as I did riding downhill in the wind. It took a whole lot longer to get up that mountain than it did to come down.
I love biking. When I was little I inherited a bike from my sister and brother. We didn’t have the luxury of buying a little bike with training wheels and all those extras. So I had to learn on the 26-inch, old-fashioned bike with standard pedal brakes. My feet wouldn’t even reach the pedals except when they were in the “up” position. So I’d push hard with one foot and then do the same when the other pedal came around. I stood on a wooden crate to get on the bike and “stopped” at another one to get off. Sometimes this worked, sometimes not so well. Eventually, my timing got so good that I could slow the bike to a crawl and jump off just before it fell. Over the years I flew down hills, let go of the handlebars, stood on the seat, and collected many exhilarating moments — and scars.
Nowadays, no stunts — just thrilling moments…
Here’s looking from the hillside to Dead Chest Island. In that Golden Age of Pirates (1680-1725) this little rock out to sea was known as the spot where the notorious Blackbeard, after a mutiny, put 15 men ashore and left them — with only a bottle of rum.
Hence the song: “15 men on a dead man’s chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.”
Today, Dead Chest Island is an uninhabited national park, surrounded by reef and critters, stingrays and starfish, and pelicans that dive and scatter the schools of small fish.
This passage from the Atlantic into the Caribbean, the Sir Francis Drake Channel, in pirate days was called “Freebooters Gangway.” El Draque, as the Spanish called him, was buried at sea in a lead coffin. He was a privateer who rose to the rank of British Admiral and defeated the Spanish Armada.
“I can see for miles and miles and miles…” (The Who, ’67) Song lyrics pop into my head at appropriate times. The next time you find yourself humming, think about it — Why this song? Why now?
Nearby Norman Island is often called Treasure Island because of its association with Robert Lewis Stevenson’s classic story.
In the blue distance the smoky-looking island is Tortola. Near Road Town, a place called Trellis Bay once served as a base for Black Sam Bellamy, the Prince of Pirates. It’s written that he wore his long black hair tied with a satin bow and that he was seeking a fortune so he could marry a New England maiden. In a year’s time he captured 50 ships in this channel and took their cargo, but he later perished in a shipwreck.
Banana trees, seagrape, palm…bougainvillea spilling over rooftops and rocks…hibiscus blooming and it’s almost Christmas! Cacti grow out of cracks in the rocks…
One group of trees has huge white fruits with pimply skin. They look like oblong, white strawberries. (A few weeks later when I’m on a birdwatching hike in the Yucatan I run across the same tree, same ugly looking fruit. The guide says it’s a noni tree (Morinda citrifolia). I look it up. You can see it HERE.)
Heading downhill with the tradewinds blowing and the air full of flowers…that first glimpse of the sea, again…that moment…is worth all the effort of the climb.
We have a huge hill in our neighborhood where the kids love to ride their bikes. The ride only lasts for a few seconds, but it’s great. When my son biked down that hill in elementary school he said he felt like “the captain of the wind.” That’s about right! There’s nothing quite like it.