A momentous Incident

Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.   –  Mark Jenkins

This is the end of my trip

It has been silent for weeks now, without any updates on this blog but there were good reasons … Sometimes the blink of an eye is enough and the world around you appears in a different light. On July 9, in the Chinese province of Sichuan several tragic events occurred, all more or less at the same time.

It had been raining heavily on the days before and in the morning, a landslide blocked a tunnel. We were waiting for a couple of hours before leaving the hotel, trying to get through to Chengdu. We passed the blocked tunnel long before it was opened again for the regular traffic.

We were traveling in a small team of four: Jimmy – my roommate, BigJim from Wales, David from Australia and me. Two other motorcyclists of our team for China started already earlier this morning and the two 4×4 trucks in our group were still stuck in the traffic jam caused by the landslide. We passed several bridges and tunnels without any problems. Then it happened. Shortly after entering into a tube, Jimmy – who was riding first – slowed down. BigJim behind braked as well and I saw how his rear tire slipped sideways on some extremely greasy ground. I slowed my pace and looked in the rearview mirror. David was driving right behind me and I still noticed how his front wheel drifted, moving his bike into a sloping position … an instant later his bike was spinning on the ground, chasing in my direction.

Cautiously, we stopped our bikes and parked on the closed left lane. Then we run back to look after David. Under obvious pain he crawled to the side of the road. Halfway to where he was, we switched the still running engine of his motorcycle off, we blocked the lane and redirected the traffic to the left side. David was conscious, but in significant pain. He himself supposed that his right knee and his hip were broken.

It was David who started the blog last summer on www.horizonsunlimited.com to put a team together for the China leg. Laying on the side of the roadway in a tube in Sichuan he looked at me … and then stated: “This is the end of my trip”.

A number of vehicles drove past without someone stopping or offering help. Even as we actively tried to stop cars passing by, most of them dodged us. Eventually, a 4×4 stopped and we asked if someone was speaking English. A young girl in the back seat took her headphones out, we explained our situation and asked if they were on the way to Chengdu. When she said yes, we asked if they would get David to a good hospital. Under acute pain we managed to get him into the car, exchanged phone numbers and sent him off to Chengdu.

Since we entered China as a group and under strict conditions with our own vehicles, we also had to make sure that we will leave China towards Laos with all vehicles temporarily imported. However, for the moment we needed to find a way to get his bike out of the tunnel. While we were in search of a small truck, a police car passed the scene of accident. Yet, one should not believe that the Chinese police considered it necessary to stop or to offer assistance and support. This was probably not part of the instruction manual and therefore simple not part of their daily business.

Eventually a young Chinese guy with a little lorry stopped and was immediately ready to help us to move the bike out of the tunnel and towards Chengdu. While we were preparing the bike for loading, we suddenly heard tires squeaking and again a big bang … Another – apparently distracted – police patrol crashed into our barrier and completely destroyed one of those red barriers filled with water. Just picture this: A scene of an accident, four motorbikes parking in a highway tunnel, re-routed traffic, people running around and a police car crashing into the scene … At this stage I was expecting some serious questions and in fact, after the squad car was ready to move again, the car stopped right next to our place of lading. Surprisingly, the police was not interested in us. While they crashed into the barriers, a safety cone got trapped under their car and had to be removed from the under-tray. And then they were already gone …

Hours later, we learned that David urgently needed a hip replacement. We were still on the road but to speed up the process we already started to contact his insurance company in Australia. After his bike was stored somewhere safe we found ourself a place to stay and visited David in the evening in the hospital. He got a bed in the emergency room and since his situation and further proceedings were unclear, he was laying there with a dozen of other patients. Only a curtain separated him from other fellow sufferers. Seeing him there, I did know that he was facing a long night, a miserable long night. And as usual, communication with the hospital staff turned out to be difficult, since hardly anyone could be found with proper English skills.

We promised David to feed the insurance company with whatever was required and that we would be back in the hospital next morning …

We are there when you need us

What was not entirely clear to us at this time was the fact that the hospital stuff (including nurses) would only ensure medical care. After his broken hip was temporarily stabilized all they would care about was pain management. Nursing was not part of the deal and was usually left to the patient’s family. This went so far that the hospital staff was not even willing to empty his urine bottle next morning. How happy do you think he was when he saw us?

David was not in favor of getting the hip replacement done in Chengdu and since his medical care was simple based on a prescription of painkillers, we decided that he was better off with us at the hotel. Besides that, we all agreed to get him as fast as possible back to Australia. We investigated the flight options and it turned out that there was a weekly direct flight from Chengdu to Melbourne. The flight was scheduled for the next evening and we deluded ourself with the illusion we could coddle him up with painkillers and crutches to assure his air worthiness. After all it was probably more of wishful thinking and the attempt failed big time due to immense pain when he tried to take a few steps forward. We were stuck in China. David spent the next two nights with us in the hotel. At least the fact of being with us raised his mood considering his first night in the West China Hospital. However, after those days the insurance company wanted to see him back in the hospital. After all, this time he got his own room and a guy was hired for medical and health care.

We usually don’t mince our words when criticizing our own social systems and at times there might be good reasons for it. Nonetheless, in our society a lot of services are taken for granted these days and it is hardly noticed how great the provided service level actually is. Be that as it may, if you have to face the reality outside your comfort zone, if you get stuck in a serious situation without an easy way out, you might see things in a different light and despite all the shortcomings and conflicts in your systems, you might start appreciating the achievements of your society once again.

The days went by and our communication process with David’s insurance company would be qualified for a dazzling case study. His insurance had such a promising slogan: “We are there when you need us.” The reality looked slightly different … and although we were compiling all required documents including questionnaires on the day of the accident, hope and despair were comrades in an emotional roller coaster ride for seven days. After David had been tied to the bed for a week with a broken hip, the way out of his misery was defined. A small ambulance airplane fetched him in Chengdu and flew him to Bangkok where everything was prepared for his arrival and the urgently needed operation. During this week each of us has probably checked his own insurance policy with regards to repatriation coverage. By now, David is back in Australia and fortunately recovering.

On the day of the accident, there was still more to break. During the events of the day my phone and my notebook were so badly damaged that total failure combined with data loss was the result. Still, as much as the current events dimmed our mood – we were still the lucky ones. We just needed to see it! A day after the accident, we learned that one of the bridges we crossed, collapsed a few hours later, dragging six cars and their occupants along. The incident was all over the news.

Due to the loss of my notebook including all pictures my options to update the blog were pretty limited. My notebook started it’s own journey now and flew to Hong Kong, where my brother picked it up and took it back to Germany. Whether there’s is still something to recover, time will tell. An SSD (Solid State Drive) is indeed much less sensitive than a conventional hard drive, but I also realized that so far hardly anyone is able to read the data in case of damages.

Yet, there are still so many things to write about: In Kyrgyzstan machine guns were pointed at Kim and me. At 3,000 meters we were caught in a fierce ice rain and spent the night in nomadic yurts. We narrowly escaped a catastrophic crash in the mountains and on my way to the Chinese border, the landscape was redefined by a snowstorm. In China, we crossed the Taklamakan Desert and I realized that Chinese chicken dishes are anything but my favorites.

But more about all of this when it is certain that some of the data can be recovered …