The Crash – 2
I wasn’t looking for adventure, just the highway. I left Yauri, half way between Cusco and Arequipa, with the idea that I would be in Arequipa in time for lunch. I had gotten off a nice paved road to spend the night in Yauri, and for the life of me could not find it again. Looking at the map I figured I would eventually join with it again, so I picked a road and started off.
I was on the high plains, and I mean HIGH: 4400m (14,500ft). It was an overcast day, with a bitter wind, made all the worse by the fact that I was riding. Even with my warm gloves and heated grips my hands were freezing within minutes. I rode along cursing the fact that I was not on pavement. Usually I seek out the back roads, the interesting twisties, but my legs were still sore from Machu Picchu and I just wanted to get to Arequipa, again, I wasn’t looking for any adventure.
I was freezing and in a crappy mood and the desolate highland landscape was not making it any better. I kept riding and riding, and still no pavement – just dust, gravel, dirt, ruts, and construction. I was in the middle of nowhere and the few and far between towns I passed barely had a dirt street let alone a place to eat. After a couple of hours, I saw a town large enough to maybe have a restaurant, so I pulled over. I found a little place, downed a thermos full of mate de coca, warmed up slightly, and got back on the road. The cold gripped me instantly again, and yet pavement was nowhere in sight. I needed to relax, I needed to accept it, and from time to time I did. But every time I ran into a construction stop the frustration came right back.
And then, on a perfectly flat gravel road, in the middle of nowhere, Georgia started to fishtail. I had no idea why, the gravel did not look deep at all, so I didn’t really even think of trying to move her over. It got bad in an instant and I saw myself flying off of her, so I had to make one of three (or so I thought) decisions: ease off the throttle, gently apply the rear brake, stand up and keep a constant throttle, or speed up a bit to try to stabilize. I chose the last and I chose wrong. The very next second I was whipped to the ground at about 90kph (55mph). I eventually stopped about 30-40ft away and Georgia stopped right next to me (thankfully not on top of me).
I can still see it, just like I can still see the moment Georgia slipped from under me on a mountain curve in Guatemala. I knew it was going to happen, I was almost ready for it, but the fall was so hard there was nothing I could do to control it and for the first time I actually hit my head. I always prided myself on being able to fall well (and considering I have never broken anything (tfu, tfu, tfu) maybe I still I can) and never letting my head hit the ground. But that all changed with my cracked helmet.
As I came to a stop I began to quickly analyze my condition. My head was throbbing, but the helmet was still on it and I could (barely) move my neck. Good. It took a few seconds but I got my arms and legs to move as well (again, barely). Good. Nothing severed, nothing broken, maybe a concussion, some lacerations, bruising, some inflammation, whiplash… the normal stuff. Good. But I still couldn’t get up. Everything hurt, everything was stiff. I could see Georgia out of the corner of my eye – she was on her side in the small ditch. Maybe she was leaking gas, but I couldn’t move. It was hard to breathe at the high altitude which made everything all the more difficult.
I eventually unsnapped my helmet, got to my feet and stumbled down the road to get my phone (which flew off), then stumbled back to get one of the bags that flew off, and the GoPro that snapped off my helmet at the point of impact 30ft away. I then stumbled back to Georgia and collapsed by her side.
A few minutes later someone actually drove by and stopped. In the following minutes a few more trucks drove by, no one stopped, and then it was deserted again. I couldn’t talk at first, I just moaned and pointed to my water bottle. One of the guys helped me up, I stumbled back to one of my bags, found a bottle of Aspirin, and swallowed 4. Of all the pain the head was the most debilitating and intense. We then unstrapped the bags and got Georgia on her rubbers.
The key was bent, so I got out a spare, pressed the starter and Georgia came to life! The front fender (or what was left of it) was bent 45 degrees to the right, most everything on the front end was smashed to bits though. But the wheel was in one piece and seemed more or less straight, so I figured I would ride her out. There was nothing else the guys could do so I thanked them and said they could go.
To the shame of all Peruvians, they asked me for a tip. I still can’t get over it. Forget the fact that they were only there for 5 minutes and only helped me lift up the bike (which is very easy for 3 people), that is not important. They stopped to help out a human being who had survived a crash, and they wanted money for it. I don’t care how poor you are, that is disgusting. I always stop to help people, and even if I use up things that I have that cost money I never ever, ever, even think of asking for anything. I’ve also been saved and helped by people just as poor as these guys, and when I offered something (mind you they have never asked), it was adamantly refused – always. I know what it’s like to be poor, but I could never even dream of asking someone for money for giving them a hand – I see it as a privilege to be there for another human being. Shame on them. And sadly this is a relatively accurate reflection on the poorer classes in Peru – but that’s for another time.
I had no choice but to pack Georgia up again and be on my way. It was a painfully slow process as I lifted one bag at a time onto the bike, stumbling back and forth from the little pile I had made. I don’t even know how long it took, I was dizzy and weak and running on auto-pilot. If only I were not sore from Machu Picchu, if only I was at a lower altitude so I could breathe… if only I had made a different decision when hitting that patch, if only I had asked more people about where the paved road was…
Every movement hurt, and my left hand was swollen from the impact which made shifting quite an effort. I managed to get my leg over the seat and set Georgia straight. She started right up again and I began the very long and very cold ride to Arequipa.
At first I kept her in first gear to make sure she could go straight without falling apart, but eventually got her going normally. The funny thing I noticed about the road I was on was the fact that there was no deep gravel anywhere else, just right in the line of my tire. Nice. It took a lot of effort to not pass out and to keep my eyes open and focused. Snowy peaks eventually appeared around me and the desolation became a little lovelier. Of course I could not enjoy it at this point, and could only focus on the road, the pain, and the cold.
I eventually did find the paved road, and cursed it and my maps. I stopped at a truck stop for a giant bowl of mutton soup to warm up. Every movement cost me, every moment of not lying down seemed like torture. But I could not give up, because I knew Georgia was doomed, and if I were to lay down I would not get up for days, so I had to make it to a friendly place.
It took another 4 hours to get to my host in Arequipa – 4 hours that I remember much less clearly than the moment I was slammed against the ground. But I made it. I don’t really know how Georgia or I made it, but we did. As I shut off her engine she dumped her coolant as the oil and gas boiled away – her sign that she got me to safety but that was as far as she was going without some serious TLC. We were both done I suppose, and so I took my turn and collapsed on the bed in a daze of frustration, confusion, and gratitude.