Day 22 - Austria, Italy, Switzerland

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September 20th 2008
Published: September 22nd 2008
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Saturday 20th September

Motorcycle boots, ski boots and I should imagine women's boots. You take your right boot off with your left hand and left one off with your right hand. So here's a riddle, how the f*ck do you get your left boot off when the ankle is broken and heavily swollen if your right wrist is similarly broken and completely useless?

It would seem that the days that ended best were those that started badly. If the converse was to prove true then I was always going to end today calamitously.

I had a simply magical motorcycling day planned. Head south to the Italian border along the Brenner pass, cut over the Giovo pass to Merano over to the famous Stelvio pass towards Bormio, then cut back up through Switzerland over some lesser passes and then complete the loop back round to Igls. And the weather was superb - a sweat your rocks off when stationery 24° in Merano with an azure blue sky. And I only had the topbox for luggage - the woohoo'ometer was off the Richter. Climbed the Giovo pass - actually my favourite ride of the day. A parky, windy 4° at the top, just over 2km up, but a stunning ride. High alpine vistas and a dreamy twisting spaghetti like road. This was motorcycling at its best - and the bike was superb.

At the top of the pass I keyed the Stelvio pass into the GPS at about 2pm and was slightly disconcerted to note it was another 150km to Bormio - hmm this would be a long day.

The road in the foothills leading up to the Stelvio pass were awesome - flowing bends with a stunning glacier confronting you head on. The top was similarly breathtaking as well as breathtakingly cold, 3°. People were skiing up there for Christ's sake. The road was amazing, but only as a feat of engineering and crazy road building. Call me a blasphemer, but this the so heralded road of roads by the bike magazines was a pain in the arse to ride. I bemoaned the over hyping of ultra tight hairpins in Norway and nearly another 3000 miles and countless hairpins since has done nothing to change my mind. Like the Emperor's new clothes how could all the hundreds of bikers on this road really claim they enjoyed it? Maybe I am just a sh*t rider but other than the “phew I made it factor” on reaching the top I didn't get the fanatical obsession with riding around a vertical hairpin bend in 1st gear, hoping you wouldn't run wide. I met two lads from Cardiff when I was in Strasbourg whose trip was “to ride the Stelvio pass”. Why?!

Tribal Africa had the public circumcision (without anesthetic) ritual required to join manhood. Perhaps this was the biking world equivalent - you couldn't be a real biker unless you ascended the Stelvio pass. What a crock of...

The other side was a more reasonable descent and more enjoyable for it. Half way down the GPS had me turn off to Switzerland onto the Umbrail pass. The road of my undoing. Not a good road and further down it was just a gravel track complete with, “ooh my favourite”, more hairpins. I had local boy driving a minibus up my arse when I rounded a downhill bend on a loose'ish surface to cross a bridge. I wasn't going fast but I was blipping it through the gears on the straights to give me some distance.

At the last second I saw it and couldn't believe it. There was a f*cking wire like gate across the road - at that split second I thought it would cut me in half and I braked, well too hard I guess. Maybe ABS would have saved me, but I doubt it. The bike went down so fast and with me under it. I could only have been going 30 or 40 so shouldn't have sustained too much injury. But for some reason the centrestand dug into the surface and stopped the bike dead. I have no centrestand so I got flung out from under to over the top of the bike, tearing my left ankle with it. The whip like effect was akin to a mini highside and I was catapulted into the air, landing heavily on my right side, hand first - Jorge eat your heart out. I bounced onto my back (glad I was wearing a spine protector) and did a few somersaults down the road. Nice to watch, less to endure. My visors got ripped off and I came to a stop. I have only had one other spill when a van creamed me 6 years ago and I remembered then being surprised just how far you travel after saying your farewells to the bike. I had travelled not as far this time but in more spectacular fashion.

I am not trying to claim it was anything but my fault but the gate was lethal and if it were in the UK I would sue the local council. Whilst sorting myself out, every car and bike that passed braked hard to an unexpectedly rapid halt. It would only be a matter of time before it claimed another victim. Look at the photos and judge for yourself. The flimsy wire gate is clearly visible looking back up the road. But taken coming down the road from the side I approached, even when stationery and quite close, as for the photo, it is hard to make out - certainly if you didn't know it was there. Where was a warning sign even, as there was on the ascent? Note all the skid marks on the road approaching the gate. It was a disgrace. If I can find someone to write to, if only to get it changed for the next mug, I will.

Anyway local boy stopped and got the bike up for me - it was still running. More to the point it was almost tip top, the left hand plastic panel was cracked and needed replacing and, well err that was it. My Ninja would have been scattered far and wide - you couldn't fault the build quality.

I was limping badly, but I daren't take my boot off to assess the damage. My right wrist though I could see was broken and it was woefully weak. Arse. I was in the middle of nowhere and worse I was my farthest from the hotel. I knew then that my trip was over. Still I couldn't abandon the bike here - who knew when I could get it back. But it was a 2-3 hour ride.

My hand was practically useless but I found if I curled the fingers under the throttle then by lifting my arm I could control the revs. I couldn't pin it open wide, but I was hardly planning traffic-gap overtakes home. I could start the bike with my left hand. If I had to, I could brake with my fingers but relied more on the engine and rear brake. Indicating was not possible, neither was blipping the throttle on downshifts through the box. Changing gear with a bust foot was no picnic either. I used the leg to change gear as a single whole motion as I could not flex my ankle. Once above 2nd/3rd, this was fine if clumsy, but 1st to 2nd to 3rd ripped.

The other side of the bridge the road was unmade. Great. Thanks TomTom. When half way down the pass the wretched thing decided that, no it was quicker back the way I had come - I guess illustrating the half way point of the journey. I nearly through it off the mountain, but ignoring it for 10km it presently had me continue down. As I entered the relative safety of normal tarmac I spotted a garage. I dosed up on Ibuprofen, Paracetamol, Codeine and drank a glucose sports drink and ate a mars to assist with the shock. By now I could hardly walk.

I filled up and set off. Shortly after and to my horror I noted from the signs that I still had another pass to negotiate. I got off the bike to study the map. It was nearly 7pm, getting dark and cold. I was nervous. This, the Reissa (I think) pass, had been similarly signposted miles out together with the Stelvio pass. To me this meant it was probably as famous. If it were to be anything like the Stelvio pass I simply did not possess the throttle control or strength with my bust hand to negotiate it. Fortunately it was a tame, well for that read enjoyable under normal circumstances, road. A couple of sportsbikes whipped past me so fast it was akin to riding past a juggernaut. I could only manage about 60mph on the straights and poodled round bends. Anyway, I didn't know if there was a problem with the bike - what if the centrestand detached and lodged itself in the rear wheel. I shuddered at the thought.

Finally after 2 hours and with darkness upon me I hit the autobahn for the last 60km stretch to Innsbruck. Igls was only 10km further on from there. Easy street - leave her in top, no gear changing and limited throttle movement required. I was shivering cold.

Passing through the tunnels, was like being transported back to the heat of the day - one was at a balmy 27°, but all were in the 20s. Initially I welcomed their warmth, but quickly realised that as my hand and ankle heated up so did the pain and I came to prefer the anethetising cold. The TomTom electrical problems persisted, whereby you had to squeeze the cable up to the socket to get it to charge, so I spent most of the autobahn riding solely with my bust hand - the left hand holding the TomTom. This last hour of the journey was strangely the hardest. I just wanted to be there where I knew the excellent hotel manager would look after the bike and get me a taxi to hospital.

Finally I made it. I removed my kit (it took forever to get my left boot off), whacked some credit on my mobile, packed my documents, phone, eeePC and chargers and set off to hospital.

Two sets of X rays and a CT scan later and I had a cleanish break in my ankle (and another on my big toe!) but a more complex one in my wrist. Once set in plaster the heavily swollen ankle has not troubled me but the wrist causes continual pain. As the painkillers (a mix of intravenous and oral) subside so the pain increases. The cast on my leg may come off after 6 weeks, but the wrist is 3 months and needs re-X-raying in 10 days time as it may need an operation. I'd swap a simple break in my arm for my wrist any day.

They reset the wrist this morning (Sunday), which has helped slightly. Today I slept most of the day. The adrenaline kept me up most of the night and with that gone my body crashed. I felt pretty beaten up. Apart from the breaks my other wrist was also swollen and blue as was my right hip - my shoulders were sore and my back ached.

But worst of all is the heartache that my trip has been cruelly cut short. The Sahara, a lifelong fascination was not to be. Not this time anyway and I am completely gutted to instead be totally immobile for weeks on end in the UK....

Note: I have some pictures with me from the snappy, but the SLR is back at the hotel. I will re-publish when I have uploaded the photos.
I have just looked up on Google maps the Umbrail pass and you have to zoom very high for the mapping to recognise it, starting from Bormio.


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