I spent a couple of nights at La Junta as it was pissing with rain. Left and set off down the Carretera Austral for the 200km to Coihaique (or Coyhaique depending on whoīs spelling you see).
After about 50km I came round a bend (carefully on the loose scree) and there was a row of a dozen big trailies - 2 1150GSs, 4 F650GSs, a Transalp and a bunch of Yamaha XTs, together with a 4x4 pickup. It was a group of Dutch and Belgians doing an adventure trail holiday, on bikes hired in Santiago.
So, of course, I stopped, and we all did the Ooh Aah stuff. I asked if I might ride with them to Coihaique (hereinafter known as CQ) and they readily agreed. Just as well, really, as at one point there was a nice big muddy puddle and I succumbed to the inevitable (I have a very close relationship with muddy puddles, generally of the upside-down variety).
So we had a lovely ride to CQ, and there was a room available in their very nice hotel just the other side of the river from the town. At dinner and during the post-prandials I enquired whether, for a consideration, I might join them as that way I could ride the route it was not possible to do on my own. They voted unanimously in my favour so I became one of the group.
Next day (Friday) we set off for the border (about 30 miles), did the out-of-Chile thing, rode a mile up the track to Argentina and did the into-Argentina thing while scoffing buns and coffee (oh, the advantages of a backup truck).
After this the rule was to ride at our own speeds, but regroup every 30km, and the truck to be sweeper. The track was reasonable gravel track, but with heaped gravel in betwen the tyre tracks. It was also very windy as weīre now east of the Andes and on the Patagonian plain. I was running nicely at around 50mph; a gust of wind caught me and forced me on to one of the heaped gravel bits; the bike went into a bad weave which I couldnīt control, and of course slowing down is absolutely not an option. There then loomed a sort of stone parapet at the side of the road, and the bike was heading for it; I really couldnīt do anything about it so I hit it. I remember hearing my collarbone break, and then I was on my back on the ground facing back the way Iīd come and the bike was behind me. I was pretty scared at first as I couldnīt breathe - this was presumably because the punctured lung deflated suddenly and the other one was taken by surprise. But I
tried to breathe slowly and it got a bit better.
One of the Dutch (Ron, I think) ran over and asked if I was OK, so I said No. We established that my legs were OK, and Iīd already managed to open the front of my helmet (a System 4). They managed to get me to my feet, and gently remove my helmet as we were by then fairly sure my neck was OK as I could turn my head no problem.
They put me in the truck, and even found my specs which had flown off but not broken. Skip the truck driver took me back to the Argy border with Roberto the local guide on his 1150GS and did the exit stuff for me, then down the road back to the Chilean border where they got me out and sat me inside the office next to the stove. I was feeling pretty second-hand by then. Skip took my keys and Carnet and said heīd go back for the bike, get it out of Argentina and back into Chile for me. Meanwhile the Carabineros put me in their pickup and took me to the local clinic where a male nurse checked me over, inserted a drip and put me on oxygen. He very carefully listened all over with his stethoscope - there were all sorts of strange noises and he was clearly pretty worried. I gather from Francisco that they were considering sending the helicopter for me, but eventually a Paramedic ambulance came out from CQ and they brought me to the hospital here. Itīs the only one for over 600 miles. This whole thing took about 6 hours.
Once in the ER I was checked by Dr. Hernandez (Francisco) who speaks excellent English, so I was able to explain what happened and where I hurt. Had the usual X-rays and stuff, and they took me to a room and helped me get the rest of my bike kit off. I had to stay on the drip and oxygen overnight. They were checking everything once an hour, and I had to explain that my blood pressure is normally this low (110/60) although at one point it dropped to around 95/50 which is a bit low even for me.
On Saturday Francisco looked at me again and said he thought they could no nothing much more and that I was clearly pretty healthy and that they would discharge me. Thatīs when they discovered that I was in fact on my own (they thought I was part of the Dutch group). So Francisco said he wasnīt happy about me being alone in a hotel, rang his wife Fabiola, and insisted I come and stay with him.
So here I am with four broken ribs and a broken collarbone. They are all lovely people. I was even taken to a BBQ party on Saturday night. Fabiola has been brilliant, taking me round to do the necessary paperwork and see the orthopod (who says 4 not 3 broken ribs).
Last night the bike arrived back from the border courtesy of Patricio and his pickup (I had to go to a notary to do an authorisation), and this morning we went to the Customs office and retrieved the Carnet and the panniers and top box. Everything is there - even my bunch of keys. Itīs fantastic, and the Chileans have been so helpful. The Customs Director came and chatted to me about it all and asked if I was happy with their service; blimey, what do you think?
Iīve just sent Phil a few pix of the damage Iīve been able to photo so far - front wheel/disc is history, forks extremely bent; headlight intact, in fact most stuff intact, even indicators and plastic numberplate. The boxes have suffered a bit (see pix) but Patricio is convinced they are repairable.
When I get a chance Iīll do a full assessment, but for now itīs looking good.
Iīm completely overwhelmed by the messages and your willingness to help out; the only snag, of course, is that now I HAVE to finish this ride, donīt I? And I will if I possibly can.
Posted by Cynthia Milton at April 12, 2005 05:32 PM GMT