A week ago everything changed.
It was a beautiful, sunny day. We'd had a late start because Phil wasn't feeling very well. The first fourteen kilometres of highway outside of Chalhuanca twist through the mountains, alongside cliffs and rivers.
- View from the highway. Photo: Tom Brady
My heart nearly stopped when I came round the corner and saw the scene every motorcyclist hopes to never see. Phil's bike on its side with debris spread along the behind it, with Phil laying very still in the middle of the road meters further on.
A million thoughts flashed through my mind. I need to get there fast, I need to be careful, I don't know what made him crash, he's not moving, is he dead?
I didn't see the crash itself, Phil had taken off pretty quick, keeping up with Tom on his much lighter Suzuki DR650. I was cruising along behind with our new friend Jeremy, who raced motorcycles in France, and had spent some of the morning coaching me on taking corners with a smoother line.
I stopped on the side of the road, leaped off my bike and ran to Phil. His eyes were closed, but he was talking. Kelly had already picked herself up and was kneeling beside him. After establishing that he wasn't dead, I ran back to help Jeremy clear the road, and of course, as per our long standing agreement, to take a couple of pictures.
- Seconds earlier Phil was laying on the road where he's standing in the picture.
- Jugs after doing some acrobatics
- SO close to 100,000km. We think Jugs went upside-down at some point.
- Always wear your helmet. This could have been Phil's head! *TB
Everything happened pretty fast, and we were soon being driven to hospital by a couple of kind Peruvians. Jeremy stayed at the crash site with the bikes, Tom soon realised something had happened and came back. We were so fortunate to have Jeremy and Tom riding with us. They were superstars.
- Phil and Kelly show off their matching hip wounds. Photo: Tom Brady
Tom stayed with the bikes while Jeremy rode into town to get me. By this time our Peruvian rescuers had driven back to the crash site, loaded Jugs into their truck, and taken it with them to Cusco. We can't thank them enough for their help.
- Jugs gets a lift to Cusco. Photo: Tom Brady
Tom rushed ahead to make sure Phil's bike was unloaded alright, Phil and Kelly got on a bus, and Jeremy and I loaded all of the remnants from the crash onto our bikes (including Phil's topbox, the tent, Kelly's hoodie and other random items).
Our ride had moments of beauty but I was shaken, and it soon was dark.
- Jeremy, his bike Smiley, and a beautiful sunset on a terrible day.
Luckily we had installed one of our Sena intercom units on Jeremy's helmet, and so at least I had someone to talk to for that long ride towards Cusco. Jeremy's calm, reassuring presence kept me sane.
- Me and Jeremy, a few days after the crash
It was after sunset when Tom called me saying he had also just crashed.
My heart dropped. I should have told Phil to stay in bed that morning and I should never have encouraged Tom to ride ahead quickly and alone to Cusco. The self blame came on strong and hard.
Luckily Tom was okay, and his bike still ran. He handed the phone to the bus driver who was demanding money from him for the rock that ricocheted off Tom's bike into his bus. I explained to the driver that Tom would not be giving him any money, and that Tom would give him his Peruvian insurance details.
- The rocks that caused Tom to crash. Photo: Tom Brady
- Rock 1 - Suzi's Rim 0. Photo: Tom Brady
- Tom, luckily, was completely unhurt, the same cannot be said for Suzi's sidebag.
It was at this point that Jeremy and I decided that riding in the dark for another 130 kilometers to Cusco was a terrible idea. The “highway” descended into dirt sections many times, and there were several places along the way where rocks had slid off the cliff into the road. Decision to stop at the next hospedaje made, it was an hour, and 60km later that we eventually found one. We drove very slowly and carefully for that hour!
After all was said and done, the next day I found myself in Cusco, with Phil in surgery for a broken collarbone, and our plans in tatters.
I was consumed by conflicting emotions. Depression, shock, sadness, relief, gratitude, worry, anger, fear...
I was so glad that Phil and Kelly were okay, but also angry at Phil for being so stupid. How could he drive so fast with Kelly on the back? Hadn't he learnt his lesson when he crashed with me on the back in Alaska
? Could I trust him to make good decisions on the rest of the trip? Would he be more careful, wait until he is properly healed, make the right choices?
My faith in his ability to make good decisions and to look after himself and the people he is travelling with was lost.
I was also feeling very sorry for myself. I had wanted to be in Southern Chile with my friends for Christmas. Google tells me that recovery for broken ribs and collarbones takes 4-6 weeks meaning that it is very unlikely that we will have even left Bolivia by Christmas. Also I have been invited to sail to the Galapagos in February. This is an opportunity that I do not want to pass up. Before the crash, making it to Ushuaia in mid January was very feasible. Once again, making plans had created expectations that were now being crushed.
As the six days Phil was in hospital passed by, I slowly accepted that I may not make it to Ushuaia and be able to go sailing too. Kelly stayed in the extra bed in Phil's hospital room, leaving me alone to process everything – there were a lot of tears.
I questioned whether I even wanted to continue. This past week has been a bad one for our friends on the road. One of the Venezualan brothers we met in Lima was hit by a truck, ending his trip. The Australian couple who I met in a coffee shop in Solento (we will catch up on the blog and tell you all about the past couple of months soon) had their motorcycle stolen in Bariloche, Argentina
. Seven volcanoes erupted
around the world. We were lucky in comparison, Phil will heal and Jugs, while very beat up, still runs.
I moved into the Estrellita hostel, which is popular with motorcycle travellers.
- A lot of kindred spirits
I met Greg and Cathy from France. Cathy is recovering from a crash where she shattered her shoulder. She didn't start riding again for 4 months. Even with that, much worse, injury, they didn't give up and go home, they stayed in South America, and now they are back on the road.
- Cathy and Greg - her shoulder is recovering!
There is no way to know when Phil will be recovered enough to continue, or how much work it will take to get Jugs back on the road. I have been through a rollercoaster of emotions, and ended up deciding that I am just going to take things as they come. I would still like to see my friends in Chile, they are there until the 4th of January, but if I don't make it, that's okay.
I am still very much planning on embarking on my sailing adventure in February, and if that means I have to leave Cricket somewhere before we make it to Ushuaia, that's okay too. Life is an adventure, and stuff happens.
On Sunday, November 24th, 2013, Phil was discharged from hospital, Kelly flew back to Canada, Tom and Jeremy continued on their journey South to Bolivia and beyond, and we were adopted by Sandy and Sandra.
- Final picture before the gang disbanded. We miss you guys!
In response to Phil's post about the crash, an old collage friend, Rob, sent Phil an email saying that his parents and two younger siblings live near Cusco. I soon received a call from his mother Sandra inviting us to come stay with them while Phil recovers and fixes his bike. They run an NGO called DESEA
in the Sacred Valley.
Yesterday they drove into Cusco, loaded Phil and Jugs into their pick-up truck, and I followed them home on Cricket.
- Jugs' second truck ride in a week
- Our beautiful new home. Our bedroom is the balcony.
Once again, despite bad things happening, the world is looking after us. We really are extremely fortunate, and the overarching lesson I am taking away from the past week is to live in the moment. Be appreciative of the people around you, the generosity of friends and strangers, the support shown by everyone, the health, love and life that we all have. I'm trying not to worry about what's going to happen next. It's hasn't been easy, and I wouldn't wish this experience on anyone, but adventures aren't only filled with fun.
I am embracing the sadness, and I am confident that everything will work out in the end.
- The Sacred Valley is a lovely place to recover.