First thing in the morning we were off, not because we were desperate to get riding in the sub-zero temperatures, but because the restaurant had to open for breakfast and we were in the way. So, packed up, bikes positioned to catch the sun to help them warm up for starting, we were off. The guys towards the border and me to ride along it.
After a few km of riding I left the sandy gravel of the main road for a smaller road. It started out pretty good- mostly drying clay that was a fairly smooth and a pleasant ride.
Then I started to move up the valley and got into the hard gravel, which wasn’t bad to ride, but didn’t buck any mistakes- leave the line and you’d be in trouble.
Continuing down the empty road I eventually saw the dust cloud of an approaching truck. It appeared to be one of the large salt trucks and wasn’t moving too fast- no worries. As we got nearer, a 4×4 came out through the dust trying to pass the larger truck. The road could barely accommodate a bike crossing a truck, never mind 2 trucks! And the 4×4 was not backing off! I had to get out of the way, so I tried to jump berm.
I almost made it.
My front tire got through, but then my rear tire hit a large rock and bounced the bike high in the air, pushing the front tire down into the gravel. The tire locked, I flew off the bike… and the bike landed on me.
What follows is a point form list of what happened based on what I told the Bolivian park rangers. It’s quite a blur to me, so I thought that instead of cleaning it up, I’d leave it in it’s (more or less) original form.
-riding along a narrow gravel road when I see a truck coming up ahead.
-pull close to my side, plenty of room for me and the truck
-just as I’m getting to the truck, only doing about 50kph, I see a 4X4 trying to pass it through the dust.
-he is all the way on my side and all I can do is swerve off-road to get out of the way.
-my front tyre goes through the little pile of rock on the side of the road, but my rear hits a big rock, bucks up and buries the front in the sand, breaking 4 rear spokes.
-the front tyre locks, I fall, and then the bike falls on my leg, with my ankle ending up between a rock and the bike.
-I was able to get out from under the bike easily since the panniers and front made it easy to pivot.
-I knew I had hurt my ankle, but not how badly so I started to stand up and then put my weight on the ankle… And almost puked with the pain and sight of my ankle bending sideways.
-I got my sleeping bag out of my bag to help me keep warm (at about 5,000 meters in the Andes it was below zero with snow on the ground).
-After about 30 minutes of no traffic I decided that I needed to keep moving and get a plan together if no one else came down the road.
-Crawling on my hands and knees I took all the gear off the bike and then arranged some flat rocks under the front of the bike.
-on my hands and knees I was able to lift the bike a bit and then slide a piece of rock under it so it wouldn’t lower all the way back down.
-I did this with a couple of rocks until it was at an angle that I could lift it while only standing on one leg. It took about an hour just to do this.
-Since the side with the kick-stand was my bad leg side I had to arrange my panniers so they were wedged in the rocks and could hold the bike up when I left it.
-I lifted the bike on one leg, let it rest on the panniers, then climbed on it using my good leg.
-I then started the bike and kind of rolled off the panniers and onto the road.
-I then proceeded to enjoy about a 30km ride down the rocky gravel road, trying to keep my bad leg up and no put any weight on it.
-total from drop to main road and the little stop at the thermal waters was about 3.5-4 hours
-At the stop I met a french family on a tour who let me use their driver to go back and get my gear.
At this point I was back at the rest stop. The previously indifferent owners bent over backwards to help. Just as the Bolivian park rangers took my statement and radioed other rangers and the park entrances to be on the lookout for a 4×4 (pointless, but appreciated). Then my fun getting to a hospital started.
The owners of the restaurant radioed around to see what truckers were going to be crossing the border so I could wait by the road and try to catch a lift when they came by. So, basics in hand, I got into the cab and set off towards Chile, leaving my bike and most of my gear in the hands of the Bolivian rangers.
The ride was bumpy and unpleasant, but I was still able to enjoy the sunset when we stopped at the border.
At the border they called ahead to Chile, so once we got to the main road an ambulance was waiting. Thanking the truck driver (who refused any payment), I got into the ambulance and was hooked up to the normal monitoring gear. At first everything was beeping and buzzing just fine and the ambulance got underway at a quiet pace. Once the fact that I was safe and was out of danger seeped into my unconscious, the monitors went nuts- I was going into shock over 10 hours after my accident. The tech immediately gave me oxygen and an IV, the ambulance sped up and turned on its siren, and I felt my body start to shake… By the time I got to the St. Pedro medical station things had calmed down, but the doctor took one look at my leg and told me to head to Calama- the nearest city.
Being the ever thrifty, or cheap, Canadian I opted to take a taxi instead of an ambulance for the 100km ride. I’d gone most of a day without help, so why pay $320 for an ambulance when a taxi was only $80?
Once I arrived at the hospital and went through all the usual stuff, I got my x-ray.
Crap, three fractures. And one of them was bad enough that at 1am they called in a specialist who looked at it and scheduled surgery for 9am the next day.
After surgery my x-ray looked like this:
Airport security is going to be a lot more entertaining from now on I think!
And my leg looked like this (I couldn’t turn over to take a pic of the bad side):