Worst Case Scenario
by Cyndy Kelso
COLOMBIA ELEPHANT MOTO TOUR. DAY 6, FEBRUARY 27, 2017.
GEAR: KLIM Krios helmet, KLIM Induction Jacket, KLIM Badlands pants, Gaerne Oil Balanced boot.
Daylight was fading and we needed to get moving.
That morning our group of nine riders had left Barichara, Colombia, heading for the town of Sabana de Torres. Mauricio “Micho” Escobar, our tour leader, had promised that this would be some of the best riding Colombia had to offer -- twisty pavement and amazing dirt roads with excellent views. I was riding strong, standing tall on the foot pegs and feeling one with the bike.
In the afternoon we rode down a very steep, winding two-track that clung to the edge of the mountainside. At the bottom there was a power plant and we took a break there, as it was very hot and humid in the jungle. There had been several delays for bike repair, photo stops and a couple of falls. Now, as we began to ride along what was once a narrow gauge railroad, Micho said he did not think we’d get to our hotel before sunset.
Micho had also told us about 100-foot high bridges without rails crossing over the river. We quickly experienced the first few of these bridge crossings and I did great. I was living the dream of an adventure rider exploring a new and beautiful country. As the day wore on the sun had gone behind the mountains, but we had enough light to ride by. Suddenly one of the riders stopped the group and announced that he had a flat tire. It took a long time waiting around for the flat to be fixed. At one point, knowing it was getting late, I asked if I could ride on. I was told that it would be better for me to remain in the company of the group.
The flat tire was still being repaired when Micho asked Bill Dragoo to take the group and get going. This was some of the best riding I’d done -- smoothly negotiating rough, rocky, rutted roads and crazy little bridges with holes in them and only six-inch boards to ride across.
The light finally faded enough that I pulled over and told one of my rider buddies that it would be better for me to follow a tail light through the night as it was getting hard to see. Instead, the rider stayed behind me, lighting up the road with his headlights as well as my headlights doing the same. As some point Bill Dragoo took over as the person riding in the track next to me, but slightly behind, also sharing his headlight. He explained that I could set my own pace and would be clear of the thick dust kicked up by our tires. It was a dark jungle night and we kept going. Weird jungle noises were in the air, so strange to my ears. We rode on, over many bridges surfaced with old railroad rails and boards scavenged from the forest. I remained on the pegs which helped me see farther down the trail and I felt in control of the bike. I was looking forward to getting to the hotel and having dinner.
We came to another tall steel structured bridge and I started across. I’d gone over so many just fine that this one didn’t seem any different, but I was oh so wrong. I was almost to the other side when the old steel rails laid close and parallel to one another separated and my front tire had a big wobble. The bike just stopped, and I flew over the bars into the black of night. Falling through a hole in the edge of the bridge…down into the abyss. Later I learned that my front tire was wedged into a hole, the back half of the bike was still on the bridge and the bike was upright as though it had been parked that way on purpose.
I don’t remember landing. I found myself in the river and must have blacked out for a moment. I remember gasping for air and not getting any. It was pitch black and I was in water, fighting to breathe. My nose and mouth were full of mud and water. My face shield was suctioned shut and I had to lift up my wet, muddy arm to open it. It took what seemed forever to get the shield up, but when I did, water poured out and I took a deep breath. I needed to get the helmet off. I was able to take my gloves off and get to the chin strap. I unlatched the strap and pulled the helmet off. It was so dark I could not see anything. I was spitting out mud and silt. I was chest high in the water and my boots were full of water. I could feel I was next to a slippery, muddy bank, I had one arm on the bank and I could not believe what had just happened to me.
Suddenly I realized a man was next to me in the water. I later learned he was a local guy who had seen the accident from the other side. He was there holding my arm and keeping my head up out of the water. I looked up at the bridge. It was so far above. I could see light coming through the rails from headlights. I think it was 20 feet or so, I’m not sure. I could not comprehend I had just fallen from the bridge. Pretty soon Bill and other fellow riders made their way down from the bridge to the river. One of the riders got in the river beside me. Bill was using his cell phone to light up the area and telling everyone to give me a moment to evaluate my injuries. The rider next to me was Cid Dennis. Once they felt certain I had no serious injuries he told me to stand on him so I could get out of the water. My boots were so heavy with water I could barely lift my leg. Some of the riders made a human chain and Bill took my arm to help me over the edge. I was dazed and, as I stood on Cid’s leg, I let go of Bill’s hand and grabbed him by the boot. I told him to just drag me, which he did, and that got me up on the bank out of the river. I told Bill I just wanted to sit there for a second, but quickly realized that was a mistake because ants were crawling all over me. I said, “Get me up now!” I was spitting out mud and it was hard to talk. Bill asked if I could walk. I said yes. He and another rider helped me to the top of the road. My left arm was very painful, and it wasn’t until I was able to get my jacket off that I saw a huge hematoma swelling from my elbow to my wrist.
There were a lot of people around on the road by the bridge. Several locals had come out to see what was going on. My friends quickly laid their jackets down on the road and Bill helped me lie down. After making sure I was comfortable he said he needed help to get the bike off the bridge. Someone put two motorcycle helmets together and elevated my feet. As I lay there on the jungle road in the dark of night I saw a little boy standing over me. He was just staring at me with the biggest brown eyes. He had a look of concern and I said, “Hola.” He didn’t say anything, but he never left my side until his mama called him to go.
My friend Mark Hansen came over to me and gave me water to rinse my nose and mouth. He held my hand and stayed with me until the support truck arrived. I was helped into the front passenger seat of the truck. Everything still seemed so surreal. I was wet and covered in mud. I was still coughing up dirt, and plant matter. Hector Crispin was the support truck driver, and Susan Dragoo was in the back seat, as was Kevin Bleything, who had gotten in the truck earlier because of fatigue.
It was a long, dark, bumpy ride to Sabana De Torres and one of the hardest rides of my life. I felt every last rock and roll as the truck passed over ruts and potholes, crawling over mounds of dirt to avoid treacherous washouts in the steepest sections of this unmaintained jungle two-track 4X4 road. Hector is a kind and wonderful man who did his ultimate best to go slowly and take care that I didn’t get more banged up than I already was. My ribs and back hurt very badly, as did my very swollen left arm.
I have to say, if I had not been wearing all my gear I would surely have died. My Klim Krios helmet has deep scratches on the visor and on both the right and left sides of the helmet, evidently from striking the bridge structure where I fell through. It’s a lucky thing I was wearing my Klim Induction jacket, the D3O armor provided great protection. I had brought my Klim Badlands Pro jacket along and was wearing it most often, but at the power plant stop I changed into the Induction jacket because of the heat. I’m thankful I made the change instead of simply removing the Badlands Pro and riding in a jersey alone. The Induction jacket was much lighter and cooler but still offered the critical protection I needed. I was wearing the Klim Badlands pants, and other than a few bruises my legs were fine.
Once we reached the hotel at Sabana De Torres I was shown to my room. I slowly got undressed and took my helmet into the shower with me. It looked like a large muddy basketball. I watched the dirt flow down the drain as the water washed off the helmet and my bruised and very sore body. I got dressed and made my way to the lobby. Micho had bought hamburgers for Susan, Bill and I. I could only eat a small bite as I was coughing up dirt and green algae, or some type of river plant matter I had ingested. Micho got the hotel staff to take my Klim gear and hose it off and dry it, for which I was very thankful. I made my way back to my room for a long sore night on a hard hotel bed. I only had Ibuprofen for the pain, and as I laid in bed I thanked the Lord I was alive. Sometime in the middle of the night Susan came to check on me.
In the morning I got up and dressed. We walked to breakfast. It was hot and humid and I had no appetite. I was not to have an appetite for several more days. The accident was a shock to my system physically and mentally, but I rode in the support truck the rest of my trip in Colombia, thankful for being alive, for good friends, and for still being able to see a beautiful country. As a fellow rider put it, I had the most “Bad Ass” story a motorcycle rider could have and live to tell about. I look forward to more adventures and, as always, I will be wearing all my Klim gear. I truly believe it saved my life