For the life of me I cannot remember exactly how I tumbled down the road after I was hit. All I remember is coming to rest on the damp pavement along a quiet stretch of road in a small city called Guangnan, in Guangdong Province, China. What I do know is that I was hit from behind. But the exact form of travel or tumble eludes me.
It was 5:15pm, on November 11th. 11/11. Singles day in china. Which was fitting because I happen to have found myself alone, wet and broken, lying on my side in a half fetal position.
I needed to let someone know what just happened.
Reaching for my phone, which was attached to the trike now lying next to me, I felt the bones in my shoulder rearranging. This was accompanied a muffled sound radiating from the inside of my body. The sound of once solid bone now competing for limited space.
Via my Wechat app, I sent my exact location and the following message to Anny, my girlfriend, “I’ve just been in an accident! I think I got hit by a truck!”
It must have been quite a shock for her, as just 10 minutes earlier I had sent her a mundane message discussing where I was considering resting for the night.
I was in the process of riding from Guangzhou to Guilin. After ending a month pause in the coastal city of Shenzhen, I was excited about finally getting back on the road. I had already been traveling for 3 months from Ningbo 2000 km to the north. The next few weeks were all leading up to the approach of the Vietnamese border, marking the exit of China as I planned to begin winding down into Southeast Asia. My ultimate goal is a 100 Country, 5-year world cycle trip dubbed the “JaYoe World Tour”. A trip dedicated to travel, filming documentaries and living my life to the fullest extent possible. Up until now, I could not have asked for it to go much better. The freedom of moving into a new place every day or so, exposing myself to new people and places, recording the events in my life and combining them into small travel documentaries. It was all I could ask for.
But that’s not to say that every day of my journey was all positives. The day of the accident certainly wasn’t. In fact, the whole week had been pitting my optimism against the onslaught of dreary weather. Guangdong is wet when you compare it to the other provinces I have traveled thru, and I had been trying to push myself thru the weather with a smile on my face.
I think it was the mud more than anything that was getting me down. The fact that I did not have any fenders on the wheels of my trailer meant that, on wet days, all the grime from the road ended up on my back and the rear panniers of my trike. Conversely my trike’s rear wheel was flinging mud and grime from the road up onto my trailer. Up until this moment, I still had not figured out how to defend against this. I hadn’t really needed too; I was incredibly lucky up until then. Rains, when they came, were both light and refreshing, and often fell in convenient periods of rest. On most days that I knew rain was going to be a problem; I would simply extended the stay wherever I was, using the time to work on videos of update the blog.
When I woke up the morning of the accident, there was some standing water on the roads but the forecast looked good overall and I was optimistic. I had already lost a few days that week due to bad weather and I made a gut call to ride out early to see how far I could get.
I ate a small breakfast at the hotel, checked my gear, assembled the trike for the day, and was on the road by 7:45 am.
It was almost 8:30 am when the rains started, a light sprinkle. I took refuge under an elevated railway with some other Chinese on Ebikes, hoping to wait until the rain stopped. It let up only enough to trick me into starting my ride again, at which time the rain promptly started up again. It was the type of rain that was just light enough to feel guilty hiding from, so I decided to simply drive on no matter what.
As the morning wore on, the back of my neck and shoulders began to soak with the steady barrage of water and grime being thrown onto them from the trailer. My mood was beginning to sour and after about an hour, just to add insult to injury, a truck tire gave me the coup de grâce by sending a puddle flying up from the road directly into my face.
Taking a Break
I was not necessarily in the middle of nowhere… but where I was at the time was not hospitable. I was wishing for a gas station with a nice big overhang to relax under, but what I got was a shallow awning protecting one of the derelict businesses alongside the road.
But whatever… it was dry.
I started to take stock of my situation. As of yet, I had not put on my rain protection. I was under the morning’s assumption that the day was going to be relatively dry. But my panniers were taking on a lot of water and grime, and so was I. My trailer, which when dry sported a bright red nylon top cover, was now a brown mess of mud, grime, dirty water and grease. Where once it was taught and evenly stretched over my gear, the water had formed sagging pools, most certainly seeping their contents thru into my nicely packed contents inside.
I briefly considered doubling back. “It was still early”, I thought. I could ride back to the city from which I started, tuck in and wait a day or two more. It was still quite a distance in front of me before I would come to a city or village with a decent hotel, so if I continued there would be no respite for me until the end of the day.
But I was not one for going backwards.
Instead of turning back I decided to waterproof as much as I could and press on. I assembled the trike’s rain canopy, put on the pannier’s rain-covers and donned my bright orange rain jacket. As for the trailer, there was no waterproof solution, so instead I tried to balloon out some of the tents and waterproof gear inside, in an attempt to lift the trailer’s cover enough to keep any water from pooling, hopefully keeping its contents as dry as possible.
Back on the road.
It was extremely slow going. In order to keep the tires from flinging contents all over the place, I had to keep my speed under 7 kmh. This was grueling for me, as my average pace on these flat roads could easily be 20-25 or more. At this rate, I was not going to get far.
On a positive note, although the whole day was wet, it never “showered”. The rain cover and gear was keeping things overall dry, and this gave me an opportunity to reclaim some optimism.
It could be worse, it could always be worse.
The day’s ride had me pedaling thru village after village, separated by farmland and mountains. It made for a beautiful ride; the rain had everything wet and glowing the way rain does. I stopped on a couple of occasions to snap a short video or picture of the countryside, savoring the moment as I passed thru a place I would most likely never see again.
The road even began to dry up. Patches of white concrete started to peek out from the shimmering dark grey. I could finally pick up the pace. I could finally started putting some kilometers at my back.
At the 82 km mark, I started thinking about where I should bed down for the night. Ahead of me about 10km was a small city called Guangning. From my information, there were a couple of hotels there I think would be suitable. So I sent a message to Anny to check them out ahead of my arrival. The time was about 5:10. I know this because I rode past the first road sign I had seen with my destination, Guilin, marked on it. I always get excited when I am on a 4-500 km leg and see my destination’s name pop up on the side of the road. Even though it was many days away, it was still a “mini” accomplishment that indicated I was on the right path. The picture I took of the sign was taken at 5:10pm.
I was proud of myself. I had powered thru the weather, gotten closer to my ultimate destination for this leg of the journey, and still made a considerable distance for the day. Even so, I was also getting excited about the day coming to an end. And with only about 10 km between Guangning and I, it was less than an hour away.
About 5 minutes after taking that picture I was hit.
There was no warning. No breaks, no horn… nothing. Looking back at the trailer damage and the state of me and my trike I can only surmise that the truck slammed into the left rear corner of my trailer first, causing it to quite literally explode, sending my gear in all directions. The force of the impact transferred to the trike via the trailer hitch, propelling the trike, and me in it, forward. I must have had the tires of the trike turned slightly to the right, because the trike and I came to rest to the right side of what would have been the line the truck continued to travel. When the trailer jolted me forward, the force must have sent me tumbling about 10 meters along the road. At some point I must have ejected from the trike and struck the road before coming to a rest.
Had my tires been pointed to the left slightly, it may have been another story.
My Life Scattered
When I left on my trip, I made the decision to live my life on the road. There would be no turning back. It would be a fluid journey. That meant that my life had to be contained within the trike and the trailer I was pulling.
Moments after my accident, lying alongside my trike, I surveyed the contents of my life, now splayed out on the road like so many derailed railcars. It’s a strange sensation, being incapacitated but completely aware of the fact that although within eyeshot, all of the things that make you… you… are splayed out and vulnerable to the world.
It was at this moment that I started recording.
My life to that point had been a series of videos. Documentaries covering interesting happenings on the road. It seemed the only thing at that moment that I did in fact have control over, was how I captured this moment. It also offered me some security, as if covering my current situation in some way protected me. I recorded where I was, the state of the trike and the condition of what was left of the trailer up the road. I recorded the truck that hit me, stopped down the road 30 or so meters, and I recorded my self and my condition.
I was happy that the truck driver did in fact stop after hitting me. Had it been a hit and run, the situation would have instantly become more dire. I wish my chinese language skills were better. I could have talked to him. I could have asked him what he was thinking, why he could not see me or what he was doing. But I was in the Chinese countryside, and my feeble language skills were only strong enough to convey the fact that I was in pain, immobile, and that I needed someone to call the police for me. It was the driver that helped me make the call.
A small crowd was forming by the time the police arrived. I’m sure I was quite the spectacle. I imagined the locals throughout Guangning conversing over tea speaking the next morning. Talking about the LaoWai on his strange 5 wheeled contraption lying on the street outside the gas station the previous afternoon. The conversation would inevitably find its way to a discussions about how crazy foreigners are, and how they live dangerous lives, far away from their families and where they grew up.
As more locals wondered onto the scene, my worry began to rise.
“Zhe shi wode dong xi. Wo de dou dongxi!”, I was yelling to the crowd, trying to explain in rough Chinese that the things now laid out on the road like a unorganized street market were, in fact, the entirety of my possessions. And many of them were not cheap. Bringing with me all the necessary components to record a half decent documentary on the road, most of my gear was lightweight, cutting edge and therefore really expensive. Fortunately, before curiosity of the crowd peaked, the police and ambulance arrived on scene.
To the Rescue?
The lights and sounds of the police vehicles drew in even more gawkers, and I soon found myself the center and focus of a half dozen sets of eyes above me all intently focused on the immobilized bald white guy laying on the street.
As if I was in perfect health and enthusiastic to converse, I started to hear familiar questions from the crowd.
“What is this?” (referring to the trike)
“Where did you get it from?”
“Where are you from?”
“How much does that cost?”
Saving me from answering, the paramedics enter the scene and assess my situation.
At this time I would like to state that I am a trained EMT and Firefighter back in the USA. I have received education in the basic skills needed to assess a person at the scene of an accident. Back home we call it the ABC’s.
- Check consciousness
- Assess ability to take a deep breath
- Assess ability to speak in a full sentence – can the patient speak a full sentences, use phrases, single words, or not at all
- Assess if the airway is clear
- Look, listen and feel for the movement of air
- Assess the adequacy of the breathing process – is their sufficient rate and volume of air being moved?
- Assess work of breathing (patient effort versus efficacy)
- Listen to the chest (through Auscultation) and identify any variances of normal breathing. Normal breathing should sound like soft air movements; absent breath sounds is very bad; wheezes suggests bronchospasm; crackles and rales indicates pulmonary edema or infection.
- Examine for life- threatening hemorrhage
- Assess perfusion (level of consciousness, skin colour, pulse rate and blood pressure
- Assess the pulse manually – is it regular or irregular, what is the rate (15 seconds x 4), skin colour, temperature, central and peripheral cap refill.
Only after checking the ABC’s can you understand your patient’s basic condition.
When you come on the scene of a traffic accident in particular, you should almost always assume some sort of spinal injury.
At the scene of my accident, from what I can gather, the following steps were taken by the medics.
- Survey the scene. A box truck struck a strange looking bicycle, sending it and its occupant tumbling down the road.
- Approach the scene.
- Look down at the foreigner patient to assure the patient actually exists.
- Patient appears to be immobile; he gestures to his shoulder, indicating a problem. Patient also passes his phone to us. Chinese voice on the other side of the line explains that the patient is in distress and an injury has shattered bone in his shoulder.
- Do not touch the patient!
- Roll up the gurney next to patient, and ask the patient to get on.
- Patient attempts to move several times, but falls back to the ground in pain.
- Gather some of the crowd together in an attempt to awkwardly lift the patient onto the gurney, while he writhes in apparent discomfort and pain.
- Patient still alive.
Once I was on the gurney and was being pushed towards the open doors of the ambulance, I started to realize that I was about to enter an ambulance and be separated from all of my gear. My trike, my clothes, my cameras and equipment, my money, my identification, my computers and Passport, all of this was now lying vulnerable in the road surrounded by curious villagers.
A million stories started flashing thru my mind. “What if’s” of every shape and size, none of them coming to any good end for me.
“Stop! Stop! Stop! That is my stuff. That is my everything!” I screamed in Chinese to the Police standing nearby. “Please help me!”
I had enough sense to call Anny one more time before leaving the scene, and pass my phone out of the ambulance to the lead officer, allowing her to explain the extent of my trip and my situation which now lay scattered on the road. To my great relief, all was understood, and I pulled away from the scene of the accident a little relieved that my gear and in essence my “life” was going to be collected and taken to the police station immediately for safe keeping until I could figure out what to do with it.
Lying in the ambulance speeding to the hospital, dusk had given way to darkness, and I began to reflect on what just transpired.
Was my trip dealt a deathblow?
What will happen to me now?
I had fallen into a groove of living on the road, becoming comfortable with a transient life, but now what?
Will I have to give it all up because some careless driver didn’t see me?
How long will it take me to get back on my feet?
I was supposed to climb Mount Everest in March… what will become of that?
Damn… I was lucky.
All the preparation in the world cannot prepare you for a freak accident like this, and not knowing can be painful. But it also cannot consume you, and while barreling down the country road, I took a number of deep breaths and with them took in the reality of the situation. This was simply another fork in the road. It was a chance to reevaluate, learn and grow. Whatever the result of this, I vowed to come out better for it on the other side.
Honestly, what choice did I have?
Upon arrival at the hospital, I was wheeled from one place to another, receiving Xrays, CTs, Abdominal Screenings and MRIs. I was quite impressed with the actual state of the hospital and equipment. I was expecting much worse.
News of the injured foreigner soon spread, and visitors from unrelated departments in the hospital began “stopping by” to “covertly” take selfies with me meticulously place in the background. No one there could speak English, so a woman was called in to stand next to me for what I can only assume was translation help. I think she was related to one of the doctors, and her English skill was extremely poor. More or less she just stood next to me photographing me and posting pictures of me to her wechat.
But I was not left completely ignorant to what people were saying. Anny was extremely helpful, and through my phone she was able to keep me apprised of what they were checking on and what I was to expect. And as soon as I was at the hospital and she knew I was safe, she booked the first ticket out from Ningbo that night to come down and meet me early the next morning.
The driver of the truck that hit me also came with me to the hospital. He asked me if he could get me something to eat, and showed up later that evening with 3 sandwiches from the local fast food place. To be honest I began to feel sorry for him. It was obvious that he did not intend to hit me, but the damages he caused to my gear and I could be substantial and were going to have to be covered somehow. Hitting a foreigner in china is not a good omen at all.
I was not exactly worried about having any lack of support from the community. Not only were the police officers from the scene with me the entire night, but also word seemed to have spread thru Guangning. The Mayor even showed up with his entourage, to pay a visit to the surprise local celebrity that got hit by a truck in his fair city. Stopping by to pay his respects and give me his support, and of course to take a picture with me, he explained to the best of my understanding that he was sorry for what happened and would do anything in his power to help me.
When I finally got a chance to see the first X-ray, my assumptions were confirmed. My clavicle was broken into 3 pieces. Luckily that seemed to be the extent of the damage, and the rest of my shoulder was in one piece. But I was going to need surgery to secure the bone back together. Up until the accident, I was the picture of good health, with never having a broken bone or needed an invasive surgery. But that was bound to change.
Anny did not trust to have the surgery done outside of her hometown of Ningbo. She knew doctors there that had done successful surgeries for her family, and trusted them to repair the bone and help me recover close to where I had spent the majority of the last 5 years. Ningbo was my “home base”, where I lived as an expatriate during my time in china. I felt comfortable there, and confronted with the potential of a long recovery time, I agreed that having the surgery in Ningbo was the best idea.
Ningbo was also where I began my tour, and returning to Ningbo was a bitter pill to swallow. It was returning to the beginning, something that I vowed not to do. But extenuating circumstances made this the best option and I had to make an exception.
Anny arrived to the hospital around 4:00 am. She came with Kevin, an employee from our office. Kevin was going to stay in Guangning to make preparations for my gear and work with the authorities to file any reports. Having Kevin come and secure my things was a huge load off my shoulders, and helped me come to terms with abandoning my stuff while I tended to my injuries.
Returning to Ningbo, I was brought directly to Ningbo #2 Hospital. Within 3 days I had surgery placing 9 screws, 2 pins and a metal plate into my collarbone. Facing an extended recovery time, I had to come terms with a radical change in lifestyle. In the hospital for 2 weeks, in a sling for 3 months, and unable to have full range of motion for 6 months. The doctor recommended removing the hardware in my shoulder, which will happen in about 10 months, with another 2 months recovery after that.
I went from living the dream of cycling around the world, to the reality of limited mobility and stagnation. Everything had to be put on hold. My Mount Everest expedition had to be postponed a year, my newly acquired Vietnam visa will have to expire disused, and my forward progress had to come to a complete halt.
A year lost.
Assessing the damage
Kevin had all my gear shipped to my office in Ningbo, and as soon as I was mobile, I was able to take a look at everything. By a happy twist of fate, my camera gear survived unscathed. I can only surmise that the way I packed the trailer must have protected some of the sensitive equipment. My clothing bags must have acted as cushions, taking the brunt of the blow. And as a added positive, it seems that nothing was taken from the scene of the accident. The only thing missing was my Garmin ride computer, which must have thrown itself far enough away from the scene as to become lost forever. The trailer, on the other hand, was a total loss. Twisted and torqued, it was unsalvageable. Kevin left it in Guangning.
The trike itself is still an unknown. The trailer ripped away from the backend, and it did take a tumble. Some say I should scrap it and get a new one; others say it may be salvageable. Either way, it is one of the most important components of my journey and should be in the best possible condition in order to handle a world tour.
The Game Plan
But there has to be some positives all of this. Lessons must be learned and steps must be taken to get back on the road better equipped and prepared.
The way I see it, the only way I can see it, is that I have had a 3-month “trial tour” for my trip around the world. I have tested myself and learned how to live on the road. I have also made some mistakes, and can use this forced hiatus to do my best to correct those mistakes.
In a year, I will be ready to embark on the JaYoe World tour with a better understanding of the road that lays ahead of me. I’ll have upgraded gear to help me get thru the hard times, and the attitude necessary to make this trip better than ever.