Fall at 3000 m

April 21, 2014

Janell lay there upside-down screaming for help, head resting on a concrete beam which ran along the bottom of the deep gutter, her legs sticking up the steep incline holding up 250kg of bike.  The bike was also upside-down with fuel pouring out of the breathing tube. Stuart quickly pulled his bike up and ran to her assistance.  He took the weight, enough for Janell to slip out from under the bike and then allow it to fall about 1.5m to the bottom of the gutter. Luckily there was no signs of injury, although Janell was in a bit of shock, holding her broken rear-view mirror and cursing Skyla who was the reason for the emergency stop.



The road was through the mountain pass to the north of Oaxaca, a lovely city we had spent the Easter weekend at getting involved in the festivities and visiting local ruins and craft towns. We had been expecting some paperwork to arrive and so waited 2 days longer then anticipated; this time of course is never wasted as there is always more to see. We did however have the added pressure of meeting up with Greg (Stu's brother) in Cancun about 1500km away, so with 3 days til this appointment, we decided we could no longer wait for the paperwork and had to get going. It occurred to us that a simple return flight for Janell would be all that would be required to solve our dilemma, a reminder that you need to keep thinking outside the box while travelling.

So we decided on the Wednesday morning to take off. We packed up the bikes and checked the mail one more time, which involved a trip into the town centre to a hotel the paperwork had been addressed to. It was after lunch by the time all this was done but we had been held up too long and needed to make some progress for the day. We punched the destination into the GPS and started on our way. The initial GPS route was going to take us well around the mountains which would add an extra 400km to the trip compared to the much shorter mountain pass. We realised this just as we entered the motorway and pulled over to rectify. Stuart manually changed the route to head over the mountain but since we had entered the motorway we would need to perform a u turn. Unfortunately the next opportunity to do this was 30km down the road, so roughly an hour later we returned to Oaxaca. By this stage we still hadn't had lunch, so decided to find somewhere to stop and recharge before heading off on what we knew would be a challenging road ahead.



Its now roughly 4pm getting back on the road after a late lunch and we quickly discovered that the streets of Oaxaca had become the site of a protest. Taxi's had blocked roads all over Oaxaca, for most parts we could squeeze through but in others areas there were police redirecting us and massive traffic jams. We followed the police directions as given and rode around the cars as far as we could but found the most concentrated blockage to be at the intersection with the main road out of town and over the mountain pass. The traffic was unbelievable, cars were lined up every which way only to be turning around and coming back. We squeezed through to the front, but found that the width of our bikes was too much to fit where most other bikes could. We only had to cross 6 lanes of traffic and we would be free, so we dismounted and looked for a way through. A taxi driver approached us and advised us on a possible way though, but it involved riding over the medium strip and with Janell only just reaching the ground on her tiptoes, was not an ideal situation. However, we had little choice, so over Stu's bike went and clear of the taxi blockade. He dismounted and came back to help Janell. Janell was very hesitant about proceeding, Stuart offered to ride over for her but she wanted to do it herself and there was no reason she shouldn't be able to, she was a good rider and it was only misguided lack of confidence that was stopping her. So with Stu standing alongside and a few of the taxi drivers ready to catch Janell if her bike were to fall, Janell went for it. She powered up and got her front tyre onto the medium strip. Now with the shorter distance to the medium strip she was able to get both feet firmly on the ground, she quickly attempted to get the rear wheel over, but lost traction as the tyre began to slip, before anyone could lend a hand, she rolled back just enough and let it rip. Up she went and over the other side without a problem and very much to her surprise, proof of just how far she had come as a rider of these bigger bikes in the past few months.



Up the mountain we headed, Oaxaca had been a pleasant 35C and we were riding without any liners in our pants or jackets. Heading up the mountain the weather quickly changed and the temperature dropped. Before long if was raining and our thermometer was reading 9C; we were all wet, cold and miserable. Now, Skyla being the little princess she is, wouldn't put up with discomfort for long before letting the whole world know. From within her tent Stu heard the most distressing sound, not being a sound he had heard before, he quickly let Janell know (she was riding in front) that he needed to stop to check on her. The roads were windlng and undulating, a safe spot was hard to find. Janell was getting anxious and decided to stop on a slight bend which seemed to have good visibility in both directions. The road was narrow with a cliff on the far side of the road and a deep gutter to the right. Janell pulled up as close to the edge as she deemed safe and put her foot down. Although sealed this section of road was covered in light gravel that was not clearly visible with the setting sun. Janell planted her foot and slipped on the loose surface and over she went, bike and all, down the steep slope and into the gutter, leading with her head which bounced on the concrete beam. The bike quickly following and came to rest being held up by Janell's inverted legs. Stuart at this point had a very important decision to make, run straight to her aid or grab the camera, not sure of Janell's true condition, he decided to get to her first, was this the right decision??

With Janell's safety assured, we set about getting the bike back on the road. Stuart's bike was still up on the road with hazard lights on, and within minutes a passing truck stopped to assist. Two men jumped out and among the four of us, we dragged Janell's bike back onto the road. Once on the road we turned the key and pressed the ignition, not expecting too much after what the bike had been through, but very much to our surprise the bike started first time. Stu threw around some ideas of how we could continue without Janell having to ride any more for the day but Janell being Janell jumped straight back on the bike and said "lets go, we have a lot of riding to do before Friday".

We stopped for coffee about half an hour later at the highest point on the pass, 3000m!! As we warmed up over a coffee and bread, Janell was laughing at the situation and what had happened. Some other drivers at the coffee shop gave us warning about the road we had just come along, we assured them that we were well aware of the dangers and were now heading in the other direction and they indicated it was not much better. As we left the coffee shop we took a quick walk over to a nearby lookout and it was as if we were in a cloud, a great spot for some photos before attempting the steep descent out of the mountains and towards the Gulf of Mexico.



The remainder of the ride was not without drama, we rode down very steep and windy slopes, rain, through thick fog where visibility was less then the width of the road and our speed was reduced to 10km/hr to remain safe. It got dark very soon after we left the coffee shop and partway down the mountain, in the middle of nowhere, there was a random man lying across the road on a bend. His eye's were looking straight at us as we passed, appearing conscious and seeing no signs of distress we continued, not wanting to be caught in some hijack or kidnapping. Around 9pm we eventually found a town and went looking for the nearest hotel. We had covered a little over 100km in 5 hours! We settled into a lovely hotel with hot water, a luxury in these parts, and Stu went for a walk to find food. That night we all slept very well, and even after the events of that day, were still able to rise for dawn on ANZAC day, possibly the only ones awake at that time but we still did our bit to commemorate.

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