Ride or (Literally) Die: Motorbiking through East Bali


One sunny morning in Ubud, a badass, adventure-loving mama from Indianapolis struck up a conversation with me over breakfast, sharing her adventures of motorbiking across the country in search of a new home for her and her two sons. A gut-wrenching breakup propelled her to act on the "If all else fails, I'll move to Bali" instinct that always floated in the back of her mind, and she was on a solo journey to re-explore the place she'd fallen for years ago with the man that shattered her heart. Fresh watermelon shakes in hand, we learned more about each other's lives and poured over Marla's map, plotting a route through the rugged, twisting roads and emerald-green scenery of East Bali.

That evening at yoga, I found myself downward-dogging next to a fellow travel blogger named Phoebe from Wisconsin, her former roommate and best friend from Arizona State, Alex, and the sweetest Canadian called Anna who the girls met while traveling in Australia. We all vibed immediately and a few hours later, we were sipping Bintangs and listening to a local Indonesian punk band at one of Ubud's live music pubs.

Between dance breaks and chats with hippie expats, I told them about Marla's plan to lead us to the coastal town of Candidasa and onwards to one of Bali's most famous temples ~ Pura Lempuyang. Absolutely down for the thrill, we reluctantly pulled ourselves away to rest up for the impending adventure.


The following morning, with day bags packed, bikes rented and gas tanks full, we set out east from Ubud towards the coast.

Playing follow the leader behind Marla's expert navigation, we arrived at Blue Lagoon Beach in Padangbai in just over an hour. A sense of familiarity rolled over me as we pulled up, realizing it was the same port town Polly and I had left from to get to Gili Trawangan.

A quick swim and leg stretch later (motorbikes seriously kill your ass), we were off again.

Candidasa came up in a blur of shabby Indonesian towns, breezy coastal roads and green as far as the eye could see. It seemed we were the only foreigners to roll through the once lively tourism destination that was forgotten when overdevelopment spoiled the environment.

We zipped past the town and Marla turned off on an obscure dirt road, past children playing in front of tarped shanties and chickens pecking away at the shaded ground. As the trees cleared, we parked our bikes at the back of a hotel and stepped onto the white-sand beach for the most stunning sight.

Pastir Putih (White Sand Beach) is Candidasa's best-kept secret ~ a spot that's remained untouched from all the environmental damage. It was the perfect backdrop for a leisurely lunch in a cabana at the tranquil Puri Bagus Candidasa.


We could've stayed in that peaceful, stunning space forever, but we still had one stop to go: the stop I knew Marla needed to make most.

She made the trek to Pura Lempuyang ~ Bali's Temple of 1,000 Steps ~ with her ex years before, and although we debated going a different route, I could sense she needed to go back to bring it all full circle ~ for closure; to fully let go.

Pushing forward through the afternoon heat, we moved inland and upwards towards the mountaintop temple.


At the entrance, we were greeted by a smiling face that Marla instantly recognized. “Call me Wayan Bon Jovi!” the saronged man said, fitting us for sarongs of our own. Marla reminded him of the last time she was there and how she shared tea with him and his family.

His excitement for her return was palpable and he eagerly showed us the way to begin climbing the Temple of 1,000 Steps.


The afternoon sun was starting to set behind a wall of clouds, and we knew there was no way we would have time to climb all the way to the top. Instead, we listened to Wayan Bon Jovi as he explained the traditions of the Hindu temple and described how many people make the pilgrimage to worship at the sacred religious site.


I looked over to see that Marla had gone off on her own, sending her strength and loving-kindness in my mind. She looked so serene facing her past and succumbing to the all-knowing energy that brought us all to that very place. It was beautiful to be a part of her journey ~ even if only for a moment.

Clouds enveloped the sky, threatening us with rain, and just like that, the moment was over. We still had three hours of driving to do to make it back to Ubud and the sun started slowly creeping down at the same pace as the rain.

This is where the title of this post really starts to makes sense.

Our carefree drive of the morning was replaced by a tense, urgent race to the finish line. Heavy droplets smacked against our bare skin, while the brisk air covered us with goose bumps.


I still get an adrenaline rush thinking back to that drive ~ when the sun fully set and the rain crashed on in the darkness, the lights from the cars coming at us illuminating the way. How we kept in line with each other through that crazy stretch of road, I’ll never understand, as each of us sped into oncoming traffic one by one to inch around the vehicles standing in our way.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so afraid in my life. Maybe that one time I flipped myself upside down off the highway (another story for another time), but this was up there. But I’d also never felt so alive.


We were almost back when we got separated. Ubud signs were everywhere, but somewhere in the dark, we’d made a wrong turn and Marla and Phoebe were nowhere to be found. Alex, Anna and I cruised around aimlessly for a while trying to find our way, until finally a nice local offered to lead us back in the right direction.

We checked a few of our pre-discussed meeting places, but didn’t find our girls. In a last attempt, we decided to go back to Liyer House, where Marla and I were staying, and were so excited to see their shoes outside of her room.

After much-needed showers to warm up, we rewarded ourselves with a massive dinner and recounted our crazy day, still wired on the adrenaline of the ride. I could hardly believe I just met these strong, adventurous women only the day before. That one day together left me feeling like I’d known them forever: our ride or (literally) die crew.

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a booking through these links, you’ll give me a little extra dough to support endeavors like this at no extra cost to you. Booking.com is one of the top three sites I use to book accommodation while I travel. Check out my resources page to discover the others!