I will never forget the sensation of my helmet scraping against the asphalt, moments stretching on for infinities as that grinding overwhelms my ears and I slide completely beyond control. I recall in this time outside of time, with odd detachment, a recently naive me. Confidently contemplating my recent relatively low-speed crash on gravel, imagining how I would position myself to slide and so on. And now reality like a hammer to the head. Powerless, such violence all I can do is tumble like a ragdoll.
And then it ends. I lie stunned, a concrete ditch on the other side of the road barrier. I must have missed it by inches, if that. Lost is on her side puddling gasoline into the ditch, and with a groan I sit up to assess. Not again, I moan, as if this was somehow not entirely my fault. I try to start moving right away, but have to get my wind back first. The bike needs to be righted and the luggage removed from the road. I limp over to a box; there’s no ignoring my knee now – I went down on it again. Boxes dragged to the ditch, I right Lost and assess the damage once again. Pannier mounts are completely wrecked, will have to use straps. Handlebar twisted, and the gas line broke at the filter. Trying to repair the line, I discover I must have crushed my thumb under the bike, I can hardly use it. I fumble stubbornly and eventually the fuel line is fixed, filter discarded. It’s redundant anyway. I try the starter, and the engine turns but nothing happens. On the fourth try she roars to life, and at least one problem in my life is solved. Now for the other 99.
I am not going to get this bike out of the ditch myself. Cars have been nonchalantly passing by. I’m too tired to even indignantly wonder what kind of person rides past a motorcycle accident. A curve on a highway is a pretty short window of opportunity to assess the risk, I reflect. A guy in a pickup stops and makes my day, pushing the bike along the ditch so we’re not in the curve and then strapping everything together for me. I assure him I’ll be able to make it to town myself and promise to check in at the hospital. I mean it too – breathing is tight and painful; nothing feels good. Lost and I limp the remaining distance to Parral with our new friend patiently following from the rear until we crawl into town and the clinic, warily handling the curves. Parral is a bigger city and the hospital looks good, the doctors are quick and professional.
Medical assessment – Suck it up, no damage done. They clean my knee and wrap it in bandages, then give me a shot in the ass for the pain. Kicks like a mule, but soon blissful opiates allow me to defer the damage. The security guy brings me a soup with some avocado and tortillas, I ask him how much and he insists it is complimentary. The doctors echo the same when I ask what I owe for their service – so you know that Mexicans are something special, and we from Parral even moreso, one tells me.
For all the thrashing my body has been through, I suddenly feel great.
…And then I try to stand up. Oh well, it was good while it lasted.
I figure now is as good a time as any to make some progress, at least today I’m somewhat shielded from the pain. Before leaving I shuffle into an internet cafe to see if I can find a friend in Durango – it would be good to hook up with a couchsurf connection while my body stitches itself back together. Messages sent, I head out, stopping to inhale a whole bottle of water – turns out I was a little thirsty. Ready to leave, I realize with a crescending panic that I’m not wearing my camera bag. The internet cafe – but that was almost an hour ago… Dejectedly I ride back and find the place, having already said goodbye to my loyal companion and chronicler. I enter and ask the middle aged fellow managing the place if I by any chance left my camera bag here. “Oh, there’s a camera in there?” he asks, as he reaches under the desk and passes it over to me. Incredible. I immediately feel guilty for assuming these people would have run off with it at the first chance. It’s so easy to judge, and I am thankful for the opportunity to confront my prejudices as much as for not losing my camera. Okay, so maybe I’m a bit happier about the camera.
I pass the tower of the past and present on my way out of town. A symbol for change, reflect on the past, act in the present, create your future. The worst is always behind me.
Riding with a wounded knee. Time comes to stop and stretch it out, I hobble painfully off the bike, feeling everything crack open under the bandages. Coffee and a strangely sweet empanada in a humble but clean joint with red plastic chairs; three ladies attending the lonely breeze as it carries away the seconds of the day. I ask how much, but the eldest tells me not to worry about it and hands me a plasticized prayer card. Prayer to the Powerful Hand. The reverse instructs say to make your supplication and then read the prayer. I guess I must look like I was just in a motorcycle accident or something.
I’ve brought all this on myself and am already more than lucky to be able to still move, and somehow the good keeps on coming. I just reflect on how beautiful life can be and thank her profusely. Riding on, I rewind and rewatch to try and see just where I went wrong but it’s all so fast. I remember the loss of control on the gravel, and then sliding. I remember the railing coming too fast, too close, and then the scraping asphalt. The memories aren’t revealing anything that can be of use to me, and curves keep interrupting my thoughts. I tense involuntarily each time, slow down to bicycle pace until the road straightens. Time, I need time to heal inside and out.
A sweeter distraction comes in the form of a beauty pageant in the small town of Vaqueros, girls riding on top of trucks in skirts are just the distraction I need.
A local photographer befriends me and introduces me to the girls as he takes shots. I don’t stay late; no energy to chase these shy small town girls tonight. I go to my rest that night thankful – for kindnesses from strangers, for the adventure. I feel the throbbing in my leg, my unbroken leg, and go to sleep glad for soft landings and to be alive.