Six weeks ago I had the worst accident of my life, in one of the least-accessible locations. I was pushing my bike along a small trail when the ground collapsed beneath me. It happened in a flash – one second I was on the trail, the next I was falling 30 metres (100ft) with my bike, free-falling the last 7-8m (25ft) onto some rocks.
I tore some tendons in my hand and broke multiple ribs. Considering the huge impact, it’s incredible my injuries weren’t worse. There were no roads in this part of Peru, so it was five days before I could get proper medical attention.
This is the story of my crazy accident.
It took me a few seconds to register what the hell just happened. I was the straw that broke the camel’s back; my body weight caused a landslide, resulting in a 30 metre (100ft) fall from a very low-risk trail. I had somehow protected my head from impact all the way down and I could still feel my limbs. I gingerly got up from the creek bed and couldn’t believe how mobile I was. I moved my bags which were strewn all over the rocks to a place where they were no longer sitting in water. I then had to work out how I was going to get up to the trail with a non-functioning wrist, and a back which was slowly locking up thanks to the muscles protecting my injuries.
I left everything behind and started climbing my way up the creek. It was steep enough to climb like a large set of stairs. I jumped from boulder to boulder and finally made it to the base of a waterfall which was over 5m high. I somehow climbed up this vertical wall without using one of my arms – it’s amazing what the body is capable of when there’s no other way out.
I stumbled like a robot for a few kilometres to the nearest village and asked for help. The locals quickly turned from warm-welcome to holy-crap-this-guy-isn’t-in-a-good-way; after all, my shirt was torn to shreds, there was blood everywhere and I was covered in dirt. I collapsed in a heap and explained that I’d fallen off a cliff with my bike. My back was seizing up even more and my wrist was now immobile with swelling, but an army of people followed me back to retrieve my bike and gear. I couldn’t leave it where it was, as the afternoon’s monsoonal rainfall was imminent.
We found a good way to get down to the bike and an even better way to get all my gear out. The assisting kids each grabbed a piece of my luggage and we were now marching towards the nearby village. It was only now that I realised my bike was in a bad way, which should be expected after an impact from 30 metres. The front wheel was folded in, the forks were bent, the handlebar was snapped and all kind of bits hung off it. I didn’t even want to entertain what was going on inside my panniers.
About halfway to the village, and a dozen people were assembled who were shoving leaves in their mouths and chewing furiously. I was sat down and an elder poured water over my open cuts. She was then summoning people to spit the chewed-up green paste on all of my wounds (turns out they were coca leaves), rubbing it in deep. This is the traditional way to ward off infection. By now I was feeling faint and REALLY had to lay down as my back had almost turned to stone. It was another few kilometres of marching up a hill to a house which was finally accessible by three-wheel motorbike.
I was laid on a heap of blankets and was thankful that this was over for now. The family offered to get me to a nearby medical centre, but given the pain I was in, I couldn’t imagine anything worse than bumping along these tracks on the back of a trike. I asked if I could spend the night with them and they kindly agreed. They brought me plates full of rice and chickpeas and helped me into their icy-cold shower to change out of my bloody clothes and into something dry.
At 6am I was woken because a trike was waiting to take me to a nearby medical centre. I jumped in the back with all of my possessions and we were soon bumping along the insanely steep mountain roads. The trike operator made a cushion for me to sit on, but the shock travelling up my back was simply unbearable. I squatted to reduce the impact, however, after just a few kilometres I was in tears. I was already dreading the remaining 110km to the hospital and started planning a way to walk out of here!
The medical centre was as basic as you’d imagine, complete with muddy floors. A handful of random passers-by joined the nurses to hear the details of my accident. After some painkillers, a cream was getting rubbed into my wounds while my wrist and hand were getting aggressively poked and prodded to find out which bits were in the most pain. I didn’t dare tell them about my ribs.
The steep muddy roads were too much of a risk to ride with the current heavy rainfall, so it was a 4-day wait for a trike that could take me to hospital. In the meantime, I was invited out for every lunch and dinner, and for a whole day, I patrolled the town with the very friendly police officers. Nobody I spoke to had ever seen a foreigner in Bambamarca. For most children, I was the first foreigner they’d ever laid eyes on. Their stares couldn’t have been longer or more intense.
Alarm anxiety had hit. It was 1 AM and I could feel cortisol stimulating every part of my body. In just one hour I’d be in the back of a trike making the long journey to hospital. The trike was rumbling outside my room while my helper Oliver was gathering my every possession and dumping them into the single bed sized tray.
The full moon offered far more light than the dim, wavering headlight beam. My eyes were quickly able to adjust to the serene dark blues and greens of the endless mountains surrounding us. A sea of thick clouds had perfectly filled every valley 2000 metres below; we’d soon be visiting this damp, mystical world. The stillness, quiet and beauty of the nightscape were only interrupted by face-level spiderwebs… annnnd intense jolts that resulted in the audible cracking of my ribcage. I jammed my feet in the corners of the tray, single-handedly holding onto a safety rail and bracing myself with core muscles I didn’t even know existed. I kept my quads loose enough to absorb as many of the big hits as possible; it took every bit of my concentration to prevent them from cramping after suffering a leg death of a thousand squats.
The 20km/12mi journey to a nearby 4×4 track took four hours to complete. A few days prior I walked UP this trail, gaining almost 3000 vertical metres (10,000ft) in as many kilometres. So essentially, we were descending a trail that’s >20% for the most part. And there is almost zero margin for error when the rear wheels take up the full trail width. While the riders take all the precautions necessary, it was still terrifying being so close to the near-vertical embankment as the trike slid about in thick mud.
An aspiring World Rally Championship driver was waiting for us at the bottom of the mountain. Nine people piled into the only vehicle leaving for the city today. I wish there were more moments when the four wheels weren’t drifting; the game of ‘corners’ is much more fun when you don’t have hundreds of kilograms of bodies crushing your damaged rib cage. The smell of vomit permeated through the vehicle as plastic bags were filled and immediately discarded out of the windows into the pristine canyons outside. Seeing this disregard for the environment hurt more than all my ailments combined.
It may have taken 15 hours to cover just 291km, but I was now within spitting distance of a hospital in the beachside city of Trujillo.
Wondering what happens to a loaded touring bike when it falls from a great height?
My bike took a massive hit to the front. The wheel folded in, the fork bent and the handlebars snapped. After the initial front impact, the bike must have bounced and landed on the rear rack because that folded in too.
Most of my gear in the panniers actually held up very well. The biggest casualty was my camera which is now only turning on intermittently. Both the LCD and viewfinder have stopped working too, so even when the camera turns on I can’t use it! Otherwise, I just had to reshape my cooking pot and superglue a few plastic things bits and pieces back together.
After carefully examining the damage, I sent Koga a long list of replacement parts needed, and a few weeks later I was ready to rebuild the bike. It was a bit of a mission getting everything back together (wheel build, internal dynamo cable routing, fenders, steerer tube), but now that I’ve been riding for a few days, everything seems to be back to normal!
Below you’ll find a picture of me all super excited to be back on the road! Ecuador, I’m coming for you. 💪🏼