Today we had our first crash.
We are heading for the Chilean town of Puerto Montt on our fifth day since leaving San Martin de los Andes, and it is wet, wet, wet. As Marti Pellow so beautifully put it: ‘I feel it in fingers, I feel it in my toes…’ except, actually I don’t. Because I can’t really feel my fingers and toes anymore. I am instead just making circular motions with my thigh muscles in the hope that they drag my feet behind them. I am also steering and breaking ‘by sight’, as I can no longer feel whether or not my hands are in contact with the bars or brake levers.
With everything we own being sopping wet, we are forced to put yesterdays wet clothes back on for today’s ride. It’s not the most fun day on the bike, and so we choose to take a more direct route into town, via the main road.
Faye and I have just entered the very awkward situation of arriving at a highway toll-booth. The surprised attendant in his little booth-shack (who has boldly paired a hi-viz jacket with a floral shirt) waves us through without charge – largely because they haven’t developed a tariff for cyclists. We pull away from the booths and towards a sign which reads ‘Puerto Montt 2km’. We both whoop in delight and at the prospect of transporting our sodden shaking bodies to somewhere warm and dry. Zooming past the sign, we begin to go down a little hill. I’m travelling at around 20mph, and am midway through shouting at Faye:
‘Not far now, Fay…..’ when, BOOOOM! The front end of my bike drops suddenly. There is a loud crack as first the front, and then the rear wheel disappear down a pot hole the size (and shape) of Tasmania. My rear tyre emits a loud ‘Bang!’ and any speed I have accumulated on the downhill evaporates into thin air.
I feel as if I have just collided with a brick wall. I yelp and grasp the handlebars tightly, swerving left and right as the rear of my bike jackknifes and I try to remain upright. It is now that everything begins to unfold in slow motion…
I pull on the brakes hard, and manage to regain my balance, just before I hear a scream from behind me. I look over my shoulder to see Faye’s front wheel buckle and her slam forwards onto the concrete, arms outstretched to break her fall. I pull harder on my brakes, throw the bike down and run a few paces back to her. By this point she is lying in a crumpled heap. I can see that the hoods on her bike bars are bent and she and the bike frame are tangled up as one. She starts to move and clutches her right elbow, a look of pain etched on her face.
I escort her to the crash barrier at the side of the road and ask her sit her down. My Girl Guide first-aider brain swings into action. ‘She’s going to go into shock’ I tell myself. Faye keeps trying to get up and so I keep gently sitting her back down – I’m trying to work out just about bad this elbow injury is, so I start asking her questions, one of which of course is: ‘Are you alright?’
Now, anyone who knows Faye will know that one of her personality trademarks is that she is consistently concerned for the wellbeing of others. Evidently, when she goes into shock after a crash – this part of her mind goes into overdrive. The conversation now goes as follows:
Me: Faye, are you alright?
Faye: Are you alright?
Me: I’m fine, Faye, where does it hurt? Are you okay?
Faye: Are you alright?
Me: Yes, yes I’m fine. Is it your elbow?
Faye: You alright? (she tries to get up again)
Me: Faye. I’m fine. I stayed up. You’re injured – now just sit still will you?!
Faye at last stops for a moment and takes in a deep breath. ‘Sorry.’ She says. ‘I think I’m in shock.’
‘No sh*t Sherlock!’ I laugh back, relieved that she has now recognised that she is more hurt than I am.
Thankfully all Faye has are a few bruises and a bit of a mashed up bike – it could have been a lot worse. I set about repairing my exploded back tyre as Faye tries to bend her brake hoods back into place, and fifteen minutes later we are on our way again. There is a notable reduction in speed and a lack of talking as we wind our way silently through the city streets and to our accommodation. Needless to say we are now really looking forwards to a well earned day of rest.
Metres ascended on bikes so far: 73,601m