So, as it turns out, I got in a little bit of trouble in Costa Rica all because I was trying to get some content for you, my loyal readers.
Well that, and the fact that I am an idiot.
Let me explain a bit. I’d flown from London to San Jose, Costa Rica on Thursday, looking forward to warm weather and a bit of exercise on a bicycle during my two-week tour with Exodus Travels. The trip hadn’t started off well on account of my absent-mindedness — I’d run around London a few days before to find a pair of padded bike shorts and forgot to pack them.
My streak of idiotness had just started. It lasted for almost two months and crossed the entire gamet, from personal to professional.
So, I was in Costa Rica, totally out of shape, hadn’t gotten on a bike in about six months or more, and didn’t have any padded bike shorts to cushion me and my semi-important parts during the long days of biking coming up over the next couple weeks.
Well, as it ended up, long days of biking for everyone else on the tour.
One thing I wanted to do on this particular trip was to start producing daily video diaries for YouTube and my Facebook Fan page. I’d been getting more and more into video and wanted to test my abilities by challenging myself to see if I could edit up a quick video every night of the tour.
My video diary the day before the tour started ended up being prophetic — though I think I was worried more about what could go wrong with my lack of bike shorts verses what ended up happening.
The First Morning
On the first morning, Britten, our Exodus group leader and guide, briefed the group on the day’s riding instructions and what we should all expect. He knew I was there to write about and take video of the tour and we had had a nice discussion about my travel blogging and his experiences in Central America over breakfast. As we walked outside to the bikes I turned to him and said, “Britten, I’m afraid I forgot my padded bike shorts in London, what are the chances we can find a pair for me somewhere here in Costa Rica?”
I expected a similar reply to the time that I was slipping on a wetsuit to go diving after a half year hiatus from the water. I put the suit on backwards and was fumbling around and the diving instructor looked at me with judgement in his eyes and said, “are we going to have any problems with you?”
Instead what I got from Britten was a breezy, “won’t be a problem. Today’s ride is really easy and short and if we can’t find some at the town we end up at tonight and I am 100% sure we can find you a pair the next day on the coast.”
No annoyance, no distain. I knew I was going to like him right then.
The bikes were all laid out on the grass outside the hotel after breakfast and we each got on our assigned bike and let Paul, the other guide (and also ace mechanic) make any adjustments that were needed. I filled up my water bottle, slipped on my helmet, and rode the bike back and forth a few times on the road outside the hotel making sure the seat was the right height. I was relieved I figured out how the gears worked without having to ask.
And Off We Go
We rode off directly from the hotel, crossed over a bridge and rode on some fairly flat and unassuming terrain for about a half hour. As I wanted to do a daily video diary, I needed some video content of my day. I’d taken some video of the briefing that morning and getting the adjustments done on the bikes on my cell phone and I figured I should shoot just a little bit of video as I rode through the countryside.
I’d bought a GoPro camera right before I left London, but wasn’t able to find the strap add-on that would allow me to attach it to my helmet. I thought I had at least charged it up the night before, but when I checked that morning, the battery was almost dead, so I figured for this first day I would just shoot a few clips with my phone.
We rode along and I pulled the phone out the first time, held the handle bar with my left hand and clicked on a few buttons on the screen to get the camera into video mode and start shooting. As I was doing it, I realized it was a lot harder to do all that than I thought and I actually thought to myself, “I don’t need to do this more than a couple times. Bad idea.”
I let it roll for a couple minutes, put it away and rode some more. We came up to a fork in the road and all stopped, so that Britten and Paul could survey how everyone was doing and have a quick water break, then we set off again. I pulled the phone out again as we went down a gentle incline and shot for another couple minutes and put it away. The scenery was very uneventful, but I figured I had enough footage to go along with the stuff I had from the morning, plus the stuff I would shoot at the end of the day, for a three minute video diary that night.
I don’t recall the reason I pulled the phone out a third time. I vaguely remember thinking that we were going through some area that was more visually stimulating than before and I remember pulling the phone out again to shoot it, but it is all still a haze, even as I write this today. The next thing I remember was:
“Michael do you know where you are?”
“Ummmm, not sure.”
“You are in Costa Rica on a bike tour with Exodus, do you remember that?”
Costa Rica? No, I was in London. What is this guy talking about?
Actually, come to think of it…. who is this guy???
My Biking Tour Was Over
I was in the back of a moving ambulance, lying face up on what felt like a sheet of metal. In fact, I am pretty sure it was a sheet of metal, since I was on a stretcher. I felt the neck brace holding me still as the ambulance bumped down the road as I stared up at this stranger through eyes that were almost swollen shut. My right arm and elbow were throbbing and during that thirty minute (or so it seemed, I really didn’t have much of a sense of time at the time) ride to the hospital and it started coming back to me.
I remembered I was in Costa Rica. I remembered the morning briefing. I remembered this guy in the ambulance was our group leader and I was on a bike tour. I remembered using my phone to do some video while I was riding the bike.
I didn’t remember anything about the crash. I still don’t today.
We got the hospital and most of the rest of the day was a blur. We were at the hospital for almost eight hours. Britten stayed with me the entire time. In between the infrequent visits by the nurses and doctors, we talked about everything. I think he knows more about my personal life than all but about a dozen people on the planet. I just appreciated the company and his efforts to keep my mind off things.
They stitched up three places in my face: right in my left eyebrow, right over my left eye and the bridge of my nose.
The first two weren’t too bad, but there isn’t a lot of extra skin in the nose region, so when the doctor pulled the wound shut to stitch it closed, I’m pretty sure I let out a loud yelp. OK, it was really a full throated scream.
I can’t say that was the only such occurrence in the next few weeks.
I’d obviously suffered a concussion and they did an MRI to make sure I didn’t have any brain damage. The good news on that front was that Britten translated the results as them saying “nothing more than you came in with.” Not sure how I should take that…
My right elbow was in a good bit of pain and Britten got them to do an X-ray of it. The doctor came back and said it was fractured. That was when I unloaded a series of F-bombs. Was I going to be able to work? To type? To use my camera?
The doctor said the fracture wasn’t a bad one and the good news was that I wouldn’t need a cast. They would fit me up with a sling and he actually wanted me to continue to try to use the arm, as much as I could given the pain, in order to keep the muscles working in there.
What You Learn in Situations Like This
The first thing I learned on this day was…. don’t be an idiot.
The accident was totally and completely my fault. I was a moron. Really nothing more to be said on that topic. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t peddle and video.
As Britten said at the next morning’s pre-ride briefing, after he summed up the day we had at the hospital: “So, on the topic of safe riding [as he looked over to me]. Ummmm… how about no one tries to photograph while riding today.”
The next day, the woman that was behind me at the time of the accident told me what happened from her point of view. I had the phone out in my right hand and was holding onto the handlebars with my left. The group went over some railroad tracks (given my fascination with trains, this might have been why I pulled the phone out to shoot in the first place) and I apparently didn’t hit the tracks at a solid 90 degree angle. The front wheel slightly turned and basically… I went straight over the handlebars and landed face first on the asphalt.
The second thing I learned was how much respect I had for the tour company, Exodus. You really can’t tell anything about the merits of a company or its employees when things are going well. When everyone is having a great time on the sailboat tour with great weather and calm seas, everyone is going to come back to shore singing their praises.
When something goes wrong, that is the time you can judge.
I have nothing but positive things to say about Exodus. I’m not sure what I would have done without their help, specifically Britten, but also later on Paul and even the driver of the follow-van that I ended up hanging out in for the next 4-5 days, until I finally had to leave the group.
Britten was a stalwart at the hospital. My Spanish is marginal, at best, and given the state I was in, I’m not sure I could have come up with more than about three words I could say or understand. Other than the doctor, no one else in the hospital spoke English. He translated for me and on more than a few occasions fought and argued with the staff to make sure I got the right medical care and that the bill in the end was correct. He talked me through things, listened to me ramble, and made jokes at appropriate moments to keep my spirits up.
I’m not sure how I would have managed those four or five days from the accident onward, without his help. I owe him a debt that I will likely never be able to repay.
One of the amusing fights/discussions he had at the hospital was about ice for the swelling on my face. While the medical care I got at the hospital really was pretty great (aside from one nurse throwing my right arm up on the metal plate for the X-rays, seemingly oblivious to the fact that if the arm required X-rays, it might not be a good idea to just toss it around), one thing that the hospital didn’t have was ice. MRI machine. X-Ray machine. Well qualified and trained doctors. Up-to-date computers for billing purposes.
And no ice.
The most humorous part of the day was about halfway through things, after I had the X-rays on my arm and was in the sling. I had to go to the bathroom and Britten sorted out where I needed to go and followed me there as I shuffled along slowly. As I got to the door, he had to open it up, because my arm at that point was pretty useless. As he opened the door, he asked me in a tone of voice that pleaded for the answer to me no:
“You think you’ll need any help in there?”
I laughed and told him that I’d manage somehow. And then I poked fun at him to the rest of the group for a few days for making the offer — though I did appreciate it.
This post has been a bit rambling. Well, it has been entirely rambling. Since that accident, which was on March 31st, a lot of things have happened to me and because of me in my life and I haven’t really been blogging that much as a result. I will be writing about some of it in the coming weeks, but I’m just glad to be back up and into the game.
For those of you that have been emailing me and messaging me about things — I truly and deeply appreciate it. A very good friend of mine has been telling me for months that I need to write more about my emotions and how I feel about things — to tell you more about what is going on in my life. It isn’t something I am comfortable with writing about at all, but I will make a small effort in that direction because I trust their opinion completely.
The last few months have been some of the toughest for me in a long time, at least for well over a decade. I felt lonely, frustrated, angry, self-pitying and more. It also has been two months that have helped open my eyes to my life, how I think and feel about things, and what I need to do for myself going forward.
Those of you that reached out in the last few months, even if just a quick Facebook message saying hello, really helped me through things. I’ve written before about the issue of long-term travel and loneliness and it doesn’t strike me very often, but I was really lonely there for a while.
You helped. A lot. Thank you.
And now, on to some pictures of me all messed up. I’ve always known that I wasn’t photogenic, but now I’ve got a solid excuse to think so.
One more photo… and this might not be one that you want to look at if you have just eaten or about to.
So, don’t scroll down if you can’t handle a bit of gore. Mother, this includes you!!
The photo down below was taken in the ambulance as we were going to the hospital. I’d woken up and was talking to Britten about the accident and things and in true blogger fashion, I asked him to take some photos of me in the ambulance and the hospital. I knew I was going to have to write about it and at the time, I really had no idea at all how bad I looked — I didn’t get to look into a mirror until the next day.
Apparently, my concussion had at least subsided to the point where I knew that I had to get some photos for a post. Blogging didn’t kill me, but the accident hadn’t knocked it out of my head either.
My tour, which did continue onward for a few more days in the follow-van, was sponsored by Exodus Travels. To be clear, Exodus brought me to Costa Rica and also gave me the tour for free, but they did not pay for my medical care, nor did they pay anything for me to write positively about them, even though I’d gotten injured on one of their tours. Nor did they ask me to not write about my accident and to be explicitly clear, they did not ask me to write anything in particular about my accident and the aftermath.
The content of this post is entirely my own.
Also entirely my own was the fault for my face plant. I hope scars really are sexy, because I now have a little one under my eye. When you see me next, lie to me and tell me it makes all the difference in the world.