Friday, 13 January 2012

Oh, it's a hard road (especially when you hit it)

So I've got 3 days to do a 2 day ride, I assume I have 3 days, this was never really the overland adventure biking sequel, more accurately, just a tour, now a return, a total cop out, fun and familiar. Yes, I can hype the stats, 3 months on the road 8000 miles, but all I've been doing is riding round one country.

Today is super easy, I leave beautiful Campeche its tasteful discretion was most appealing, clean, quiet, understated and modestly adhering to its world heritage site status.

As I pack the bike a passing older gentleman gives me a look of gusto, strength, envy, yes I know, is anybody with their clothes on doing anything more enviable than I am right now?
My journey takes me along the turquoise ocean and white crystal sands of fishing villages, and then drifts inland into some hills and delicate twisties, I haven’t lean for a while this is fun.

I left the town with something I needed, a destination, dates and directions, I now have a date to be in Denver a date to be home a date for the book release. There is little to concern me, and as I ride this joyous road I consider the hospitality that waits for me in Veracruz, the friends, with my alcohol of choice (free and available) plus my favourite DVDs that my host who, with his limitless hospitality has arranged for me. I smile at the prospect and think about stopping to send him text. But when I do stop it’s to take a few photos under palms by calm inviting seas inhabited by lazy pelicans.

But I use the wrong light setting so that will have to be resigned to memory; it’s an easy ride, no traffic, right temperature, stimulating scenery and I speak into my voice recorder as I ride to relate the feeling, in hope of capturing it in my diary later.

But the afternoon brings a new and less favourable mood. The wind gets up the sea turns choppy and brown, the towns more industrial, an uncharacteristically unfriendly police check and extravagant tolls. I can’t seem to find a place for lunch, I pass Subways and other western food places but I'm on the coast, I want fish.

It’s hard to make myself stop, but its 3pm now, I'm hungry and agitated, the feel good feeling gone, along with the scenery and the quiet and variable road.
I stop where trucks are parked, I get the stare as I walk in, but that’s fine, I'm used to that. I order fish soup, everyone else is eating it, making a meal of it, slurping at the shrimp, crab and fish filled bowl, mopping up the liquid with warm tortillas. I have high hopes and help myself to a drink from the fridge; I keep my eyes on my map and look at a possible destination for tonight in my guide book. It’s disappointing, all swampy marsh land and mozzie infested. I’ll just camp at dusk I suppose. My food comes, chicken with chilli sauce, how the hell did that happen? I'm frustrated at my lack of understandable Spanish, I know what I wanted and what I ordered, why am I looking at chicken and chilli. If I look up, eyes are on me, other tables are getting large grilled fish on a plate with fresh vegetables. Bollocks. It’s an altogether miserable experience. But my tummy is full and I'm good to go again, one driver speaks to me, he too has a bike, that’s pretty much the extent of it.

I go back to my bike and head off, the sun has begun to change its light, I’m not ready to look for a camping place yet but the afternoon light is evident. I come to the inevitable speed bumps that the trucks and taxies take so slowly. I use the opportunity to overtake and wave a hand at the diner I spoke to as I pass his multiple axles bumping over the concrete humps in the road.
80kms, 50mph that’s all I'm doing, in an attempt to decrease my horrific fuel consumption and because I have time on my side.
It’s a fast flat road with an active hard shoulder for the slower travellers amongst us to use, rickshaws, bicycles, mopeds and failed adventurers veer over to its safety when bigger and faster appear in our mirrors. I know the score I've been here long enough now.
I have a little weave, my tyre in a groove no doubt; I don’t think I even break, not at first. But it’s not a weave its complete loss of control.

When I hear traffic reports on the radio, ‘the driver lost control of his vehicle’ I think ‘what shit’. You have a steering wheel or bars less than an arm’s length away, what’s to lose? In 30 years of riding experience I think I have quite good control, the bike is a part of me. But it was suddenly possessed; it veers into the lane of oncoming traffic. It won’t lean, it won’t steer. The car I was heading towards swerved violently into my lane to avoid me, but my bike grabs and goes back into my lane. I'm probably braking now.

I don’t know where it’s going, I don’t have control. This is it then, if he’s going as slow as me it will still be 100mph impact. I can’t control my bike, it’s all over the place, and then it’s down, hard, and so am I, the first thing that hits the road is my head, I roll and roll.
I'm on the wrong side of the road, I'm lying on my back, I just lay there. It’s one of those rare occasions when the bike is not my main concern. I'm burning I'm bleeding, am I broken? I lift my head, I don’t want to see what I'm seeing and put it back down. I'm not sure what I notice first.

My bike had flipped the panniers exploded, the contents across the road. My front tyre is off the rim. Is it safe to take off my helmet? What’s left of me? I take off my helmet its badly scratched, gauged from impact with the road. The traffic has stopped, people are all around. Lights are flashing, people are waving at traffic. I try to get up. I'm shaking, the biggest adrenalin rush I've ever had. What works, what’s broken what’s missing? Ouch, my shoulder, my knee, my inner thigh, my arm, my elbow but it all moves, it’s all connected; the pain most defiantly is still coming from those parts.

The driver in the car that was behind is an English translator. The trucker I spoke to is there too. They gather my positions off the road. The marmite and protein bars. All the things that are no longer neatly and methodically packed. I'm vulnerable, they are picking up my bike, I'm sitting up now, I point at the side stand, no it’s the wrong angel, I get up use my stall to wedge under the bike. I think I want to lie back down. I think I want to take control. The tyre is twisted off the rim and the tube or something is jammed under the break calliper, the aluminium rim has a worn flat spot. I was riding on the front rim with the brake locked on, I turn the ignition off.

Before much else happens I call my friend in Veracruz, in case whatever is keeping me going stops. I need someone I know to know where I am what happened. Now I am describing what happened and the ‘what if’s’ begin to dawn on me, what if the oncoming car wasn’t paying attention, what if it was a truck? I hand the phone to the other driver; I look at myself, I standing in the road, stopped traffic and bike debris all around. I pull down my combats right there, I reveal blood and gauged skin, grazed and abrade from the road, my padded and protective jacket is not scuffed but my elbows and shoulders are, how come? Nothing is broken just burnt and bleeding and the adrenalin pumps again. I'm shaking, I thought that was it, I thought I was dead for sure. Why didn’t I hit that car?

I think of less lucky friends I've had, no longer here, and with that thought what ever was holding me up lets go, I drop in a crouch to the ground and hold myself up with my hands on the road. I thought I was dead, I thought it was over right there on the road, from a stunning mornings ride to my demise, only my comments in my voice recorder as to a clue to my final thoughts.

Now I'm freaking out. The driver of the car behind who saw it all is named Arjumand he sits me down; he says he is going to perform riki on me. He tells me to place my hands on my legs out in front of me.
‘Breath in, hold it, breath out, 10 years has passed since this day’. His phone rings he’s distracted, actually I’m sitting on something prickly, I'm distracted. I get up; I’m hyper, tow truck, Red Cross, ambulance, where will I stay? My stuff is in piles at the side of the road. Is monklet ok? He is protected by the bark bashers, scratched and bent.

The screen is broken and hanging, the panniers totally bent out of shape. Both of them the bike must have flipped. Let’s get it on the centre stand. I look at the tyre and tube, twisted around the rim, I realize how lucky I am and the adrenalin pumps again. I’m now in a state of hyper manic.

All the places I've been, all the things I've done, I'm all alone, and I'm desperate, I'm vulnerable, but I'm surrounded by Samaritans I'm trying to gain control. Logic, lateral thinking, combined with fear, relief and distress all fight for prominence.
I get out my folder of most important things, passport, insurance, vehicle documents, credit card, my Mexican insurance has expired, I know that, I've been here to long, it doesn’t matter, its only me, I have medical insurance. But I lose interest in my documentation. I decide I need to dress my wombs, my first aid kit is laying on the road, I pull out dressings, swabs, gauze, and bandages, I open packages, no I can’t do this either. The tyre, let’s do the tyre. We take off the front wheel, yes I'm bleeding and I'm burning but I can do mechanics.
People are leaving now the traffic has resumed and passing too close, too fast. I'm pulled by the arm from the road, as a bus over takes a truck at my side. I didn’t even notice, I'm death proof now.

The valve has separated from the tube, is that the cause of the accident of a product of it?
But its ok I have a spare tube, I go get it out my other pannier, but come back with my waterproof over boots, that’s not a good sign, what’s my head doing? I go back and concentrate harder and find the tube. They are struggling with the tyre. And my single leaver.
‘Got any ideas?’ yes, I'm shaking and bleeding, I look at it, it’s fighting its self, rapped round the wheel, and surely it’s no good any more. Let’s release the pressure here. We get the tyre off the rim.

I still have my fingerless gloves on, they are not scuffed, my hands never touched the road. I was flung head first off my bike, all these years I have always said , gloves before helmet, we instinctively put out our hands to save us, and I never got a chance, head first into the road.
I'm thinking straighter now, getting my pump, putting air in the virgin tube before we put it on the wheel, seating the tyre in the sunken rim for more flexible leverage, getting my washing up liquid from a pile by my food to ease the tyre back on the rim. And it pops back on. Then an ambulance arrives,
‘Did you call one?’
They were just passing, decided to stop, 3 paramedics get out, one checks me for concussion, and he looks at my pupils.
‘What day is it?’
Blank look, I'm pretty sure Martes means Tuesday, I confirm in English ‘Tuesday’
He thinks about it ‘Oh yes it is’
I laugh; I punch his shoulder, ‘don’t fuck with me’
‘What country are you in?’
‘Mexico’ why don’t you understand Spanish?
‘Are you ok?’
‘I think so’
I go into the sweaty humid ambulance; my wombs are dressed whilst one of them wants my name for his clip board. Here I’ll write it, but my hands are shaking,
‘It’s over there on the ground in the blue folder’
Through tinted windows I watch 3 people go through my most precious passions. With trust, with honour, with compassion.

‘Thanks for stopping’, I'm filled with gratitude, I shake everyone’s hand, ‘thanks for your time, thanks for stopping, should you be somewhere?’ Apparently not.
My karma credits are being used, but the bank is paying on demand. An ambulance was just passing?
A translator was behind me? The trucker has a compressor on board?
Ok, now I'm bandaged, I think for free, the tyre now has air in, police have stopped, I supervise putting the wheel back on, the Speedo drive located, the disk between the pads.
I'm the only one with the strength to tighten the nut tight enough to a line the holes in the axel to take the split pin, adrenalin enhanced, I feel no pain, and I’m not sure how I will ever get this undone again. I hold a screwdriver to the rim and spin the wheel, it’s true, the police look on, I even pump the front break, and I’m so in control of this phase of the event.
I stick my bike together with duct tape and cable ties, lose parts are bungeed to distorted panniers. My number is taken, emails swapped. I thought that was it, my end, the bikes end the journeys end, but I live to ride another day, in fact I live to ride today.

It’s explained to me that the trucker is going to follow me to the next town to check I'm ok.
I would rather just take the time, to look over my bike, to assess the damage, to locate things properly, I'm not sure I'm ready to get back on the horse just yet, but it’s getting dark, I get on, I start it.
I ride and for 20kms, I have a bloody great Kenworth up my arse, pushing me faster than I care to go. My leg hurts, I get into town and stop to wave him good bye as he takes the bypass, and I stop at the first mozzie infested motel. Check in and get a call immediately it’s my friend in Veracruz, I tell him the story.
‘You got back on and rode it?’
‘Yeah, I'm a hard core mother fucker, mother fucker!’
I think there may still be some adrenalin left in me
‘We’ll put everything right when you get here, you'll need new tyres’
Yeah I suppose I will, I was hoping to squeeze 10,000 miles out of them, limp back to Denver, well I've got the limp, I want to squeeze more than 46 years out of my life, I guess I’ll replace the rubber.

I get a text from Arjumand, still concerned, still compassionate. He has a brother in the States, who knows no one there, he hopes he finds help like I got if he needs it.
Several things are dawning on me. My awareness at where I am and what I'm doing, how I'm not immortal, what good people the Mexicans are , I knew that already, it’s been the theme of the journey, how if I had to hit a road I would chose the same one again.
I get in the shower, find more damage,

I lie on the bed and take my special pink pills that I save for best, falling 20foot off a ladder, vasectomies, and bike accidents, this is best. I turn on the TV, Mission Impossible 2 the stunt bike chase scene, Tom Cruise, helmetless and in a wheelie, stoppie, donut, burnout gun fight, yeah whatever.

I close my eyes and get to live another day.
I don’t know the cause, I didn’t get to check the inside of the tyre, did the valve just separate? How can you possibly take precautions for such an event? Ride at 20mph? Not ride at all? I’ve leaned it so hard I've scraped pegs, on tight blind corners on mountain sheer drop roads, its fun, it’s the best fun, I can’t think about separating valves or bursting tyres when I do that, but I will be, at least for a while.
What do I believe in? Who do I prey to? Who do I thank? I simply believe when it’s your time, it’s your time. Nothing you can do about that. Just appreciate your time. I'm staying in better hotels now and eating steak; life’s too short to save.
I once saw a bumper sticker it said ‘who dies with the most toys wins’
I disagree, who dies with the most appreciation wins. It’s not about what you own and keep, it’s about recognizing what you don’t own and won’t have forever.

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