Three days before I found myself crouching on a toilet lid in a public bathroom in one of the world's most dangerous cities, I faced a different sort of catastrophe.


You know, as well as I, that there's a certain type of clothing with which you hold an extra-special relationship. It's a loyalty and a passion (maybe even a love, really) so deep and bonding that you can't let them go. Literally. You keep these clothes long beyond their expiration simply because they've been good to you.

They aren't your sexiest, necessarily. Sure, they may have looked good when you first bought them. Deep, metaphysical attractions often begin with a physical intimacy, after all. But now? They're scuffed and fraying and ripped. They're weathered and worn and baggy. But they're yours. And you're theirs. Until one of you departs this world forever.

As the snow melted and the flowers bloomed in the spring of my seventeenth year, my mother brought home a brand new pair of shorts for me. They were a deep navy blue, with gray stripes of decreasing thickness descending from the waistline down to mid-thigh, where matte, deep blue took charge to the knee. They were beautiful. Stunning. I wore them every weekend that summer. Barbecues? Weekend holidays? High school basement parties with out-of-town parents and warm Bud Light? There they were, snuggling my legs. I loved them and they loved me.

The next summer, there they were again. And the next, and the next and the next. For over a decade.

In the early summer of my twenty-eighth year, as I packed for the biggest expedition of my life, I had no choice. Sure, they were old - the blue had faded such that the contrast with the gray stripes had become nominal. In some places, the gray was maybe more pronounced, even. There was a stain from some long-forgotten mishap on the right hip. A slight tear in the back-left pocket. But I had a flight without a return ticket to a foreign land, and I needed to bring with me all the comfort and familiarity I could. And besides, these shorts were deeply loyal to me. How could I betray them by sidelining them on the most important adventure of my life?

In the bag they went.

Two months later, I sat starboard in a small dory powering through choppy Pacific waters on Colombia's western coast. It was a hot day - not a cloud in the sky - and I was sweating in the sweltering late-summer heat. But I was happy. Off the bow of the boat, a mother humpback whale nursed her newborn baby calf. How these things are considered babies baffling, really. The newborn was the size of a uHaul truck. The mother? An eighteen-wheeler. But they were docile and calm; friendly and good-natured. There was nothing to fear. And besides, I had my loyal shorts around my waist. They would protect me, wouldn't they?

Next to me sat two young women. Younger than I - in their early twenties, perhaps. They were Norwegian, if I recall correctly, and infused with all the beauty that bloodline has to offer. Long, straight blonde hair (straight even on this humid day on the Pacific). Piercing blue eyes. Charming smiles. They were stunning, like my shorts had been all those years ago. We'd gotten to know each other reasonably well; we stayed at the same small hostel in the jungle and had played cards together late into the evening for the few days prior. 

As we ran low on time and the boat turned back to shore, our engine lost power.

I'd grown accustomed to problems like this. Boat engines in Colombia cut out all the time. Sure, we were still a half-mile from shore. And sure, these waters were choppy and populated by territorial mother whales. But when our guide suggested we jump in the water while he fixed the engine, I didn't hesitate. Into the water I jumped, in a red life-jacket and my aging blue shorts.

Much to my chagrin, the two beautiful Norwegians stayed right there in the boat. I had hoped for a little playful flirtation and splashing, but... no such luck.

But it was fine! It was a beautiful day, I just saw whales for the first time in my life, and I was paddling around in the Colombian Pacific. Life was good! So I swam around with a few other sightseers as our guide hacked away at the engine. 

It was maybe ten minutes later when the engine roared back to life, our skipper waved us in, and I breaststroked the ten yards back to the boat.

And this - this moment right here - is when catastrophe struck. When my blue shorts decided their life was to end on this day, and their final act was to be the most treasonous, treacherous acts of betrayal a pair of shorts can commit.

As I grabbed the side of the boat, I made a decision: I wouldn't take the easy route, pulling my knee to the edge and crawling over the hull. No no. I would impress. I knew the two Norwegian ladies sat just across from where I was to land. What could be sexier than an adventurous American with a mess of tangled wet hair and a thin beard swinging back into the boat in one swoop after a paddle around the Colombian Pacific?

Nothing, I decided.

And so I wouldn't crawl back in. No, I would grab the hull with both hands and swing my left leg into the boat in one swift, coordinated motion.

And I did.

And my blue shorts - those aged by a decade and mostly gray now - must not have gotten the message. For they split, right down the crotch.

Not a small tear, mind you.

A gaping, wide gash from just below the waistband, all the way down my inner thigh. Five inches in length and open like the mouth of a cave.

And the rip wasn't silent. It was loud and piercing.

The pale faces of the two Norwegians turned beet red. Mine did, too.

The boat's motor cranked up loud and we faced no engine trouble again, and good thing, because it excused the heavy, mournful silence that lingered for the remainder of our journey. My loyal blue shorts were dead. And, in their final moment, they had betrayed me. After a decade of mutual love and respect.

I could never forgive them.

I tossed them in a garbage can at our hostel with a snarl, longing for the day I could forget their terrible intrusion into my life.


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Will Conway


Former political software guy. Now a traveler and adventurer, which isn't a job, and host of the @heybaggageclaim podcast, which really isn't either. Travel stories no one tells.