There is no worse feeling than riding around a corner and seeing your friend´s Motorbike lying sideways across the road and your friend lying in the ditch. I experienced this the day before yesterday in a remote part of northern Mexico after Ted went wide on a curve and hit loose gravel on the side of the road. The road was narrow and there was no shoulder, and therefore no safety margin. Hitting loose gravel while trying to lean hard into a curve caused Ted to loose control of the bike which slid out from under him. He was launched off the bike and sent rolling and skidding down the highway. I knew that he had been going about 100km/h, and I feared the worst.
I braked hard and rode around Ted´s downed motorcycle. By the time I had parked my bike off to the side of the road, Ted was sitting up. My first thought was thank God – he´s alive. My second thought was relief that he did not appear to have a cervical spine fracture.
I ran up to him asking him if he was alright. By now he was standing. He was able to talk, which was another good sign. His arm and shoulder were very sore, and he had tingling under his fingernails, but was otherwise uninjured apart from some minor road rash on his right knee. Later he would realize that his right ankle was tender and would not bear his weight without a lot of pain. But at the time his main concern was his right shoulder. He said that he had not hit his head, and his relatively intact helmet was intact apart from scratches. With his shirt off, there was no external sign of injury other than some redness around his right shoulder joint. He had a relatively full range of motion of his shoulder joint, although any movement was extremely painful. He was not completely coherent, but then who would be after such a shocking crash. For a moment he was light headed and had to quickly sit down.
Almost instantly a driver stopped to offer help. This was lucky because the road we were on had been practically devoid of other vehicles. In another stroke of good fortune, the driver (named Alan) spoke fluent english (which was rare in this part of Mexico). I told Alan that Ted needed an ambulance ride to the nearest hospital to get an X-Ray of his shoulder. He informed us that the nearest hospital was in Hermosillo, which was a 2 hour drive back the way we had come. There was no wireless network coverage where we were. Alan offered to drive back to the nearest town, about 50 km away, and phone for an ambulance. This was a generous offer, especially considering that the town was in the opposite direction from the way he had been travelling.
I thought it would be better to get Ted moving towards a hospital as fast as possible instead of waiting in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone coverage. I asked Alan if could give Ted a ride to the nearest town, and he immediately agreed. Tom and I picked Ted´s damaged bike up and moved it to the side of the road. We unloaded all of Ted´s gear into the back of Alan´s car. Alan set off for the town at high speed and Tom and I followed on our motorcycles.
When we got to the town, Alan had discovered that there was an ambulance there. We found the ambulance at the village police station (by station I mean house), but we could not find the driver. Alan found a little girl who said she knew where the ambulance driver was. Alan took the girl into his car and drove away in search of the driver. It was incredibly helpful to have Alan speak to the villagers. He was the only person there who spoke any English.
Meanwhile, a paramedic appeared to examine Ted. He briefly examined Ted´s upper limb and shoulder. He spoke no English, but we were still able to communicate what happened and where the pain was. He soon became more interested in our bikes and the story of our trip.
I wanted to get Ted into the ambulance and on his way to the hospital in Hermosillo. I was able to communicate this to the paramedic, who I thought could drive the Ambulance. It turned out that the paramedic was a student and was not allowed to drive the ambulance. So there was nothing to do but wait for Alan to get back, hopefully with the ambulance driver.
By now a couple of hours had elapsed since the crash. I was getting impatient, and Ted was in major discomfort (although he refused ibuprofen at the time). When it became clear that the paramedic student wasn´t going to do anything more, I immobilized Ted´s arm using a t-shirt folded up over his arm and safety pins to hold it in place wilderness medicine style.
Finally Alan returned with the Ambulance driver. Still, nothing was happening. It turned out that they were looking for the keys! Finally the ambulance had both a driver and a set of keys. I followed the ambulance to Hermosillo while Tom stayed behind to try and get a ride back to Ted´s bike to see if he could get it running.
I followed the ambulance to the General Hospital in Hermosillo. I parked my bike in the ambulance parking lot. After finding a spot behind a reception desk where I could store our things, I went to find Ted. I found him chatting with a first year medical student from the University of Arizona. She was in Hermosillo doing a summer elective. Ted needed me to take a form to the front of the hospital to pay for the X-ray before they would do it. He wanted me to phone his travel medical insurance company too. Unfortunately, there was no one working in the booth where you pay for X-rays. I kept getting told “un momento” from the attendant at the triage counter. I tried using the phones in the waiting room to call Ted’s insurance company collect. The operators would speak English after I asked “¿Habla Ingles?” but unfortunately the “line to Canada” was not working and I could not get through. I debated using my cell phone, but at that moment someone finally someone appeared in the booth. The cost of the X-ray was $10. A cell phone call would have been a lot more.
I returned with the stamped form so that Ted could get his X-ray. Apart from having to pay for services up front, the Mexican system is actually pretty efficient. It wasn´t long before a doctor came by with Ted´s X-Ray and told him there was nothing wrong with his shoulder. He wrote a prescription for an immobilizer (sling) and painkillers. I went outside to the pharmacy to get the sling and drugs, and brought them back inside the hospital so that the nurses could put it on. Putting on the sling turned out to be quite a gong show. Even with two of people working on it, it still took an amazingly long time. Ted was told he´d have to wear the sling for the next three weeks. The drugs and sling cost $62. There was also a $10 doctor consultation fee that we had to pay before leaving.
It was now after 9 PM. The crash had happened around 3:30 PM. We needed a place to stay for the night. We had spent the previous night in a motel just outside of Nogales in which each room had its´ own parking spot that could be closed off with a garage door. This was perfect for our motorcycles.
I asked the staff if there was a similar style of motel nearby. This got a lot of chuckles. It turns out that the motels with the garages are “love motels” where you pay for a few hours at a time. At least it makes sense why they phoned us at 5:00 AM the previous night – they were letting us know that our time was up. And here we thought they were extracting extra money from us when they charged us an extra $10 in the morning. Even though we left at 8:30 AM, we had still missed our “check out” time of 5:00 AM.
An ambulance driver overheard the hospital staff giving us directions to another such “love motel” (between chuckles) and intervened. He spoke no English, but he offered to drive Ted, free of charge, to motel that was a bit more upscale (yet still borracho). So Ted both arrived at and left the hospital in an ambulance.
Just as I was getting ready to follow an ambulance for the second time that, day Tom phoned. He wanted to know where we were. I couldn´t really tell him anything more than I was following an ambulance to some unknown hotel, although I thought it was near the airport. It turned out that the “love motel” had been near the airport, but the motel the ambulance driver chose was on the opposite side of the city.
Tom phoned back later after we had arrived. I gave him pretty bad directions because I didn´t really know where we were myself. I knew the names of the streets that formed the intersection outside the motel (San Sebastian). Tom ended up coming across one of the streets by chance and stumbling across the motel.
The good news was that Tom was riding Ted´s bike. It´s amazing that Ted walked away from the crash. It´s also amazing that his bike could actually be ridden. Tom had found a ride back out to Ted´s bike, and it had started. He rode it back to the village where the ambulance was. He had had to store his own bike in the village overnight. The Sheriff agreed to let him store it inside the police station. He had to ride it up some steps and around some corners, but the Kid did good.
I am grateful that Ted is alive and not seriously hurt. I´m not sure how often you can crash your motorcycle going >100km/h and walk away. We were extremely fortunate. Ted´s riding gear almost certainly saved him from more serious injury. His armoured jacket only tore in a couple of places and stayed nicely between him and the pavement throughout the entire crash. His gloves protected his hands. His lower body was well protected by the skid-resistant riding jeans he had fortuitiously bought a few days before in Tucson. His boots kept his ankles from directly contacting the pavement. His helmet ensured that he still has the same face he´s always had.
Ted´s bike will need some work (the left mirror was broken, the front fairing was damaged, the front fender was scratched & twisted, the odometer was crushed, etc.) but all these things can be fixed. A spinal cord or a brachial plexus would have been a much taller order.
When the crash happened, we had been on our way to Copper Canyon, which is in a remote area of Mexico’s northern highlands to the southeast of Hermosillo. It was an incredibly hot day (>40 degrees C), and we were looking forward to getting into the mountains and into some cooler air.
We had been told by a fellow adventure motorcycler, Mike (from Calgary riding a KLR650) that Copper Canyon absolutely cannot be missed on any trip through Mexico. Apparently it puts the Grand Canyon to shame, and there are no tourists because it´s in such a remote area. We had met Mike near the Grand Canyon. He was on his way back north after a trip through Mexico (he had asked his Mexican girlfriend to marry him, and she had said no ). On a previous trip Mike had ridden his KLR650 all the way to Tierra Del Fuego, which is at the very southern tip of Argentina.
Yesterday afternoon, Tom set out for Copper Canyon and ultimately Guatemala city on his own. He has to be in Guatemala city by the afternoon of June 22 to catch his flight and ship his motorcycle back to London. I wish the Kid luck. He´s a stubborn tosser at times, but a damn good kid and he will be missed. It will certainly be an adventure to travel 4000 km through Mexico and Guatemala alone.
Ted and I are still in Hermosillo. We will stay here as long as it takes to fix Ted´s bike (as much as we can with no place to buy parts) and for him to recuperate.