Head On Collision in Mexico

Head On Collision in Mexico

November 26, 2015

Throughout the USA we had been using a forum thread called TentSpace on ADVrider.com to find hosts that would let us set up a tent in their yard for a few nights at no cost. The reality was, however, that we never once used our tent, the hosts were very welcoming and always had a spare bedroom for us and the girls to use. In San Francisco we stayed with Paige, a very experienced rider and very interesting person. She didn’t have a spare room, but she did have a 3-storey haunted house next door that was ours for a few days over Halloween. We spent a bit of time chatting with Paige and she convinced us to return to Mexico and ride the Baja peninsula. She even organised accommodation for us at the bottom if we made it, staying with her friend Chris in Los Barriles. Remaining always flexible and having such fond memories of Mexico we were easily persuaded.

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The ride down the 1700km highway was pretty uneventful except for some pre trials for the Baja1000 off-road motorsport race. We crashed a local bikers bike night and slept in their clubhouse, crossed distances between fuel stations that required us to have our extended range tanks filled, we camped by the beach, overate on fish tacos and embraced the Mexican culture once again. We didn’t rush, riding on average around 250km a day and a couple of times even staying put for the day to take in the moment.

Taking shelter at the Moto Clubs clubhouseStu and Shadow having a nap in the campsite hammock
Janell and Weeti taking in the view over the Sea of CortezParade through the main street in Mexico

We arrived at Los Barriles in the early afternoon and rocked up to Chris’ gate to find him relaxing in his hammock. He quickly came out to greet us and was fascinated by the fact that we really were travelling with our dogs. Chris gave us the tour of his oasis, there were Glamping style tents erected ready with inflated mattresses, a fully equipped kitchen, meditation area, showers, baths, a few reserved caravans and plenty more space for tents. As we had all our own camping equipment and Chris was expecting a lot of guests we decided we’d put up our own tent.

We stayed with Chris for a few days, swimming at the local beaches, riding up and down the coast, enjoying the local restaurants and their pools and watching as more and more people arrived in anticipation of Chris’ famous Thanksgiving dinner. Chris had all but begged us to stay around for the festivities, but given that we were still on a tight timeline to reach New York, were conscious that every day counted and so graciously declined. 

Two days before the dinner, with Thanksgiving preparations well on track, we packed away our tent and said our goodbyes. We were only riding 120km to La Paz to board an overnight ferry, which would take us to the Mexican mainland. We were out by 8am but our first stop was coffee. We really weren’t too motivated to get going, we met a guy called Kirk at the coffee shop and spoke to him for about an hour, but then we really had to leave. We hadn’t booked the ferry, so we wanted to arrive in La Paz early which would also allow us to fit in some sightseeing. About 10km up the road, Stu looked down at where his tank bag should be and realized it was missing, while packing he’d placed it on the table beside the bike and hadn’t picked it up, so back he rode to get it while Janell waited at the side of the road. When Stu got back and saw Janell waiting he asked why she’d pulled over and didn’t go on slowly allowing Stu to catch up, Janell replied “what if something happened?”

We reached the town of El Triumpo and decided to stop to fill our camelbaks, it was hot and we were going through water quickly. While there, three ladies asked to take photos of our motorbikes, we of course said yes, they each adored Weeti and Shadow who got a lot of attention. Carolyn (part Canadian) asked us our story and translated for the other 2 ladies, they loved the story of our girls and we could easily have talked all day, but we needed to get going and book our ferry, so we said our goodbyes and hit the road once again.

Mentally, Stuart had “checked out” as they say in the Navy, in his mind he was already in New York with the bikes packed up in the shipping container not expecting to see them for 3 months while they transited the Atlantic. But physically this reality was 6,000km away. Stuart was daydreaming about the next leg of the trip and was very complacent about his riding and packing as evident in leaving his tank bag behind. This phenomena is commonly referred to as border fever where travellers reduce concentration at the end of their journey and often end up in accidents. Stu was about to find out just how dangerous border fever can be.

About 10km on from El Triumpo, Stuart approached a blind curve a little fast while also not positioning himself correctly. Riding behind Janell, Stu drifted over the centerline as an oncoming car appeared from behind the rocky escarpment which had obscured his view. Stu had the time and ability to lean the bike further, tightening his turn, but instead his instinct kicked in and he aimed to come left of the car as he would if he were riding in Australia on the left hand side of the road. The oncoming car corrected in the same direction and a collision was imminent. Stu’s bike made contact with the car on its front right, peeling back the wheel arch panel and creating a razor sharp blade. The blade first slashed the radiator and then popped the right tank off its mount. With the tank removed and Stu’s legs spread in the process, the sharp metal shaft impaled Stuart’s groin. The bike was thrown against the guard rail where it came to a halt still up right.

The initial thought was that Stu had been thrown over the handlebars, but after closer examination, it would appear that he remained in his seat until the bike came to a stop and dismounted consciously. Stu walked around for a few seconds in great pain before dropping on the road next to the motorbike, at all times having the soothing and loving voice of Janell in his helmet over the Sena comms telling him that she was coming and to stay still, always talking so he knew she was there. This alone helped immensely with alleviating the trauma. From lying on the road, Stu looked up at Weeti who was looking down calmly but confused, Stu was so relieved that the accident had not affected her in any way.

Stu unbuttoned his riding pants and undid the fly, he lifted the elastic of his underwear and looked in to see a lot of blood and a clearly open wound and started to think the worst. As he did, a car travelling in the opposite direction stopped and the driver got out to attend to Stu, he immediately said he was a paramedic and would help. He checked Stu for broken bones, carefully removed his helmet and placed him in a neck brace but said the wound was best left alone until he reached the hospital. Carolyn was next to arrive, only moments later and helped with translating. She offered to take Weeti and Shadow to her home in La Paz so Janell could concentrate on the situation. An ambulance was quickly dispatched from El Triumpo and at the scene within minutes getting Stuart onto a stretcher and enroute to La Paz hospital.

The ride to the hospital was long, almost an hour. Stu was strapped to the stretcher in the back section completely isolated from the cab and wondered if there was any monitoring, he certainly hadn’t been hooked up to anything. He felt as if he could have bled out and the paramedics wouldn’t have known until they arrived at the hospital. But surely they had assessed the situation before loading him in and that his wounds would not have resulted in that kind of bleeding. Upon arrival a the doctor climbed into the ambulance, he said that before he accepted me he needed to be sure that I had insurance or alternative means of paying. He took my verbal assurance that payment wouldn’t be a problem and that even if our insurance didn’t pay up that our credit card limit was sufficient.

Once inside the hospital, Stu was attended to straight away with his riding gear removed intact and his underwear and t-shirt cut off. The removal of the underwear was extremely painful and no pain relief was offered. A nutritionist was called in to translate and told Stu that the doctor was about to spray a solution onto the wound that would cause a burning like sensation for about 20 seconds and then completely disappear. This was an understatement, the pain was indescribable and Stu screamed in agony as the solution was generously sprayed over the scrotum. As promised though, the pain subsided, then the doctor prepared a local anesthetic and made multiple injections around the wound (no idea why this couldn’t have happened first!!!). The doctor then prepared to stitch up the gashes on the scrotum and inner thigh. Even with the local anesthetic, each prick of the needle and pull of thread was felt and where pain was too much, the sprayed solution was again administered. It seemed as if the doctor was getting paid per stitch, Stu would think it must be over and again the doctor would thread the needle, this went on and on until he finally bandaged it up and placed Stu in an adult diaper.

Meanwhile, Janell was taking care of things at the crash site. The driver of the car was a local photographer. He was fine, no injuries, but very upset about his car and Stu's condition. He remained calm throughout which was such a blessing, the situation could easily have escalated into something ugly if he had decided to jump up and down and yell and scream.

About an hour after the incident, both Federal and Local police were all over the scene but not co-operating. Three Canadian friends that were staying with Chris just happened to drive past. They had changed their plans for the day and decided by chance to drive this way to do some sightseeing. As they approached the scene, they saw only the car and Stu’s unmistakable bike against the guard rail, they said they all got a lump in their throats as they imagined the worst. Before long they spotted Janell and stopped to help. Janell explained what had happened and that Stu was at the hospital. Lisa stayed with Janell while Zack and Patrick returned to El Triumpo to seek out a local friend called Link we’d only met the day before who could help coordinate the police. Link returned with Zack and Patrick to the scene and helped negotiate with the police and the driver. The Federal police took over which meant there would be no bribes involved. But they didn’t want to write a report, they were just happy for Janell to reach a settlement with the driver. The agreed amount for the damage to the car was US$500. Janell wanted to check the versions of events with Stu before accepting the drivers claim and so the police towed the bike back to La Paz as a guarantee until payment was made. After visiting Stu and everything was verified the cash payment was made and the bike released.

The car that Stu hit on the bendStu's motorbike where it stopped at the crash barrier

Word had made its way back to Chris and Ned, who were in Cabo, an hour on the other side of Los Barriles. On first hearing the news from Zack and Patrick, Link messaged a friend who lived near Chris, who in turn told Clair, the co-owner of Chris’ property, who told Jimmy and Brooke, who messaged Chris. By the time the message got to Chris it read something like “The Australian’s were in a head on collision and the news isn’t good!!”. This was a drastically exaggerated version of the reality. Chris and Ned dropped everything, leaving a full trolley cart at Home Depot, to drive two hours to the hospital, while Steve, Jimmy, Brooke and Winter made their own way from Los Barilles.

Although Stuart was extremely embarrassed about the incident, he was overwhelmed to have such good friends so close by. Everyone cycled through his hospital room two at a time to give their best wishes and offer everything they could to help. Chris arranged to stay the night in La Paz so that he would be there to drive the whole pack home the following day. Janell stayed the night with Carolyn who had a bed made up and sent photos of Weeti playing with her 5 dogs, all rescues. Steve, Ned and Dylan organized the return of Stu’s bike to Chris’s workshop located on the property and made an initial assessment of the damage.

Stuart had an X-ray of his neck and an ultrasound of his testicles to determine any damage. The X-ray returned all clear, but the ultrasound was inconclusive and so Stu was kept in overnight so that he could be monitored and another ultrasound could be conducted the next day when swelling and bleeding had subsided. Stuart slept about 2 hours that night, not due to pain, but something else, maybe the adrenalin, maybe the realisation that he had defied death and was extremely lucky to be sitting in hospital with such a minor injury. Sleep however, wouldn’t come easy for the next week.

Stu was released around 1pm the next day after the ultrasound was shown to be clear. Chris was waiting as promised and drove him and Weeti back to a comfortable house that had been arranged for his recovery while Janell and Shadow followed on her bike. Once settled in the house, we stayed put for the night.

The next day was the big Thanksgiving dinner that we had previously declined attendance but which fate had other plans. Janell helped set up in the morning with all the other guests while Stu rested in bed. Chris was expecting around 40 people this year and was clearly very excited. By the time the evening arrived the compound looked amazing. It was a wonderful night full of great conversation with travellers from all over, each friendly and engaging with great stories to share while modest about their achievements. It was such an honour to be present. The thankful message of the evening was that Stu was okay, cheers to that.

Chris's yard set up for ThanksgivingThanksgiving dinner

The very next day was a relaxing day at the beach, with a brief appearance of the outskirts of Hurricane Sandra but otherwise filled with paddle boarding and hanging in the hot tub. Stu sat and watched, just happy to be involved. That night the whole gang was together again to go out for dinner one last time before the early departures started. Ned had disappeared early in the afternoon saying he had some errands to run. When Ned returned, Stuart was surprised by a tap on the shoulder from Paige who had flown in from San Francisco. Stu was shocked and confused but so happy to see Paige again. Paige came bearing gifts, she handed Stu a box and he instantly knew what it was. He opened it to find a brand new radiator and fork seals, the very parts the guys had determined were needed as part of their assessment of the damage. The whole thing was so overwhelming, the arrangement everyone had made behind Stu and Janell’s back to get them up and running and on the road again and the efforts they went to were what dreams are made of. Truly beautiful people.

Stu in hospital high on painkillersNed and Dillan working on Stu's bike

Ned, Steve and Dylan coordinated the repairs and did a highly professional job and for the most part making it better than it was before the accident. But unfortunately a crack in the engine cover meant that the bike was leaking oil excessively. The bike would have to be trucked but at least the final repair would be easy once a new engine cover was obtained.

The recommendation from the doctor at the end of the week was that Stu not ride for at least 6 weeks, so getting the bike to New York to be shipped was no longer an option. Luckily the shipping company also had an office in California with the cost of shipping only $100 more per bike. A local trucking company could get the bike from La Paz to Tijuana while Stu flew and from there Janell could ride it the short distance to the shipping office while keeping an keen eye on the oil level. We found a 10 day one way car hire from California to New York for under $300 and thought that would be the perfect way to finish the US leg of our journey. So it was settled and for the most part went to plan.

Luckily we did have good insurance, well actually the cheapest we could find which covered motorcycle riding. It is very important to note that a lot of travel insurance providers will have in their Terms and Conditions that they don’t cover injuries resulting from a motorcycle accident or resulting from an accident on a motorcycle over a certain size, commonly over 250cc. So when we took out our policy we made sure to read these items, it's usually as simple as searching the document for the keyword “motorcycle” or “motorbike” and seeing what they say about them. If they are not covered it will be clear. Our insurance covered all the medical bills, 8 days accommodation while waiting for the final doctors checkup, Stu’s flight from La Paz to Tijuana and the hire car. All of these expenses required careful justification and evidence as well as ensuring that the costs were kept to a minimum, for example the doctors report and cheapest possible accommodation, flights and car hire. But even with this we did not expect the full claim to be repaid in full, but to their credit they didn’t question anything and simply transferred the money to our account. It would be worth noting that we used an Australian insurance company and it would seem that insurance in Australia is very well regulated yet somehow cheaper than what we know others to pay and what we’ve been able to find at least in the UK.

Thanksgiving will now be a holiday celebrated by The Pack Track as we reflect on the things we are truly thankful for, good friends and the ability to live an adventure.

Everyone at Thanksgiving

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