August 14, 2004 GMT
I Lost My Helmet

In stunned silence and almost in slow motion I watched my helmet bounce off the top of the barrier and spin off into the valley below.


I was on my best Lima to Caraz run yet. My earliest start and fastest time. I'd already covered 200 of the 500km to Lima and it was only 12am. I needed to stop for wee number two and was looking for a suitable spot. As I rounded a corner I saw a crash barrier – perfect.

I leant the bike against it and took my helmet off. I usually put it on the ground but it was really dusty so I put it on top of one of my panniers. I finished my wee and turned around to get back on the bike.

As I turned something on my arm or jacket must have caught my helmet.

In stunned silence and almost in slow motion I watched my helmet bounce off the top of the barrier and spin off into the valley below.

The crash barrier was here for a reason. There was a sheer drop of some one hundred feet over the cliff. Consequently it didn't actually hit anything for quite a while until it smashed into the rocks below. It then continued to smash it's way down the rock scree.

I wished it would stop, but it didn't. There was nothing to hinder it's progress, nothing but bare rocks on a forty five degree slope. It seemed it had been falling for ages when it approached some scrub and bushes.

My hopes soared as I imagined it getting caught in the tangle of branches.

With yet another thud it hit a rock and bounced clean over the bushes onto more rocks below.

‘Ok, the next bushes then'.

It was really surreal watching my helmet plummet down the hill.

To my huge relief it was eventually stopped by some bushes. What was even better news was that I could see it.

I was still 300km from Lima . I thought briefly about riding back without it but I needed it to protect my eyes from the wind and to keep my head warm.

I could see it so I had to get it back.

In hindsight I should have used my GPS. I should have taken a sighting of the helmet and then all I'd need to do was walk up or down that course until I found it.

Quite straightforward really.

All I had to do now was go down and pick it up. It was just sitting there waiting for me.

I couldn't descend from where I was because it was too steep. In one of my brighter moves I swapped my motocross boots for my hiking ones and left my over trousers, and water on the bike.

It looked like there was a gully a few hundred metres back up the hill. It was steeper and more difficult than I thought. The ground was covered in loose rocks and dirt which were left when the road had first been made. They kept sliding away from under me. I tried to use the larger rocks but even the biggest ones moved unexpectedly.

This was not a good place to twist my ankle or break a leg.

I was still wearing my sweater and motorcycle jacket because I didn't want to leave my money and passport on my unattended bike.

It was hot and getting hotter under the midday sun. I took off my sweater and tied it round my waist.

I had no water having carefully left if behind.

I slipped several times as the scree just slid away from under my feet. I started crouching lower and using the branches to steady myself but they kept on snapping off.

After ten minutes or so I thought I had reached the right position but couldn't see my bike above me. There were two rock screes which fanned out down the slope.

I scrambled up, down and across both of the screes expecting to see my helmet at anytime. On several occasions my heart leapt as I saw it but every time it turned out to be yet another rock. I wished I'd had a fluorescent yellow helmet but it was a bit late for that.

After half an hour's searching my legs were getting really tired from the constant workout.

‘If I could see my helmet from my bike why couldn't I see my bike from down here?'

I realised I must be in the wrong place and went further down the hill. I swept both screes again. I was starting to get very thirsty and wanted to rest. I had been looking for nearly an hour and was beginning to think I should give up before I fell.

No one knew I was down here. The only clue to my whereabouts was my bike parked up above on the road. I started to think I had not made a wise decision trying to find it.

I looked up again and then saw my bike. I had definitely been too high before. It gave me renewed hope and so I started sweeping again.

I tried to picture where it had stopped but of course it looked completely different from down here.

It was no good. I kept on thinking I'd found it but every time it was just another rock. I couldn't stay here all afternoon, my legs were really aching and I was getting extremely thirsty.

I pushed through some more scrub and, as I did so, a branch catapulted back, caught my glasses frame and flicked them off. I felt a surge of panic and whizzed around to try and see where they landed. Without my glasses I was in deep trouble.

Luckily they only fell a few feet away where I could see the gold reflecting in the sunlight. Breathing a sigh of relief I bent down and put them back on.

I climbed a big rock to have a wider view.

Nothing.

That was it. I'd just have to give up and ride slowly back to Lima and buy another helmet.

Then a something told me to have one last look.

I was on the left of the first scree. Exactly where I didn't really think it was. I'd spent most of my time looking on the left of the other, larger scree.

I went further up the hill. Almost crawling to stop my self slipping or tripping over.

My heart leapt. There it was! – or was it a rock?

It was my helmet. I was elated.

I picked it up, threaded my arm through the visor hole and immediately started up the hill.

Looking up I could see I needed to track left to pick up the gully, but it was hard going.

My feet slipped even more going up than down and a few times I had to drop to my knees to stop sliding downhill. It was also getting steeper. This was not going well. I carried on for a few more minutes getting more and more tired.

I reached the gully and tried to go straight up it.

It was even worse. It was so steep I needed continual hand holds, but, with my left arm threaded through my helmet, it was really difficult to grab one and keep my balance. The rocks seemed to move even more under my feet going up than going down.

I climbed a few more metres and looked up. If anything it was getting even steeper. This was not a good idea.

I decided to stop trying to go up but go down instead. It would take longer but be far safer.

I looked into the bottom of the valley. There were fields. Fields meant people, people meant paths and paths meant a way back up to the road.

I carefully picked my way down the rocks and then slid down on my bum, saving my aching legs.

A small distance above the stream at the bottom I came across a small channel carrying water to the fields.

My spirits rose enormously when I saw it.

It was only about one foot wide and one foot deep but was full of refreshing water. I longed to sate my thirst but didn't even though my mouth felt like gravel and my lips were sticking together.

I followed it down the valley. After about ten minutes a path cut across it and started up the hill.

An hour later, exhausted, I reached the road and got a lift back to my bike.

All my stuff was exactly where I had left it. Nothing was missing.

I'll be puttting my helmet on the ground from now on.

Visit www.fowb.co.uk for more details on this and previous trips.

Posted by Jeremy Bullard at 11:56 PM GMT
 


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