When You Fall off Your Bike…

Around here no one speaks English. Not a word, not hello, not goodbye. Not north, not south, not hospital.

So when I crash my bike going around a corner through the sand that is the road it is hard to translate what we need. What needs to be done.

Bikes parked along the road.
Bikes parked along the road.

I remember seeing Jordan coming sprinting from his bike pulled over ahead to pull me out from under mine, I remember being in pain trying to get up. I don’t remember how everyone else got to me, but soon everyone is around. They get my bike out from the middle of the sand patch that stands for a road and slowly I try to drag myself up and to the edge. I can’t walk.

We understand the hand gestures from the family whose store is right next to the sandpit to carry me down the hill to their house. The guys, Jordan and Ian, loop two arms around me and I am half carried to a chair where they set me down and tell me to put my foot up. The woman starts spraying my cuts with hydrogen peroxide and the man dabs around my ankle with some green oil with Chinese symbols on the bottle.

It feels like the oil is helping but I can’t tell if that is in my head.

My head. My head is spinning and thick. From shock. It is hard to get words out but I also don’t need so many words to get across what I need. I point to a spot on my ankle, I try turning it different ways. I attempt to curl my toes. I can curl my toes, I can’t move the ankle though. I can’t stand up on it. It hurts and it hurts, and there are some things that cross language barriers, and one of those is that I need to get to a hospital. I don’t fully understand what happens around me as it does. I drink the water I am supposed to slowly. I try to stop crying. I keep crying, because the pain really won’t go away. It keeps coming back in waves to replenish the supply of tears coming down.

We need to go to a hospital.

Views of the ocean from the road.
Views of the ocean from the road.

The drive today was beautiful. The scenery was amazing. The roads were incredible. Well, until they weren’t. We drove through the mountains and across rivers and wetlands. We slowed down for trucks and for tractors and for small towns that we would drive through with their groups of children running along the road to shout at us hello. We drove through all the colors you could imagine. Oranges and purples and blues making up the mountains in the distance, Greys and browns and yellow ochre dotting the ground with trees and bushes and little white flowers to accent it all. The speed was exhilarating, the sun was shining down and it was the perfect day and the perfect place to drive.

It was so perfect until it wasn’t.

The roads switched between beautifully paved ones racing through the scenery, past the mountains and the rivers and wetlands, to small ones filled with potholes and rocks. Ones still in the middle of being constructed, and ones that were still gravel or rocks. Or sand. Ones that weren’t roads at all, but connected the real roads together, and helped to map the course between the small towns and the larger towns and the different colors dotting the skyline.

The mountains, the rivers.
The mountains, the rivers.

Soon I am brought to a Vietnamese hospital. It is bare, so bare, but there is a nurse there who speaks some English, and she walks with me to the x-rays where they take pictures of my ankle. They try to take x-rays of my knee, too, which is wrapped in napkins from where the woman had treated it, but I tell them that it is fine, just bruised and cut, and that what really needs to be looked at is my ankle.  He takes the x-rays, looks at them, convinces me that it is not broken, and after some haggling I pay them 100,000 dong (~$5) and get my ankle wrapped, and my cuts cleaned up. I am lifted onto the back of a motorbike, and we go to a hotel for the night. There is no way we are making it to Nha Trang today, and it is debatable if I will even keep driving south.

I want to keep driving, though.

It is already day three of our drive. It was supposed to take two days to drive from Hoi An to Nha Trang, but with all of the stops we have made, including two hospital visits (mine plus another cover-up hospital visit when Jordan got into a smaller accident with a local), and some falls (Kateryna in sand, too, Ian and Joe when they ran into each other while stopping) and lots of stops for photos, it is taking what now looks like four days to get to our immediate destination.

Kateryna and me, pre-falls
Kateryna and me, pre-falls
Post-falls: Kateryna with her scraped up knee, me with my knee and sprained ankle (and hospital wheel chair)
Post-falls: Kateryna with her scraped up knee, me with my cut up knee and sprained ankle (and hospital wheel chair)

 

 

 

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So in the morning I get up, I try to put weight on my foot, and I find I can limp along. It hurts, but if I take some drugs and bear through it I figure I should be fine to drive. I don’t use my feet to drive my bike, after all, so I figure there should be no reason for me not to keep biking. I also know that if I don’t get back on my bike in this town then I will stay scared of driving. And I don’t want to be scared of driving. So I go for a test drive in a circle, prove to Kateryna that I am able to drive, and we go.

Getting back on the bike is easy, and it is also difficult. Starting it initially is scary. I don’t completely trust my hands and my legs to do what I need them to. I don’t trust my balance, and I don’t trust my mind to keep my bike steady. On the good roads, though, I feel fine. It is not difficult, it is fun, it is almost as fun as it was before. But soon we hit the bad roads, the ones that are still in the middle of being paved, and the large patches of gravel. All the things that need to be negotiated. The roads that bump along and scare me. Those are harder to navigate because I doubt myself on them. I keep remembering that I fell once on rough terrain, so what is keeping me from falling again? It is hard to stay steady, and it is hard to go fast.

Kateryna tells me multiple times that it is just not going to work if I keep going this slowly. The boys wont wait up, the whole group wont be able to wait up. Something is going to change, and that is going to have to be my speed.

And so, slowly, I start getting myself to go faster. It is scary: it is scary going over the rough patches, and it hurts, too, when my bike bumps against my ankle. I am slightly less sure of my handling of the bike around turns and sharp corners, and I am worried I am going to make a stupid mistake.

I do make mistakes. I go through potholes I could have avoided, I stay in a spot of the lane I didn’t need to. It takes a little bit for me to hold all the pieces of driving together in my mind in the same way I was doing before. But I am driving, and that is what matters to me. It hurts, in my ankle, and when I bend my knee, but I am going. And I force my bike up to high speeds again, like I was doing before, and I make the turns safely again, like I was doing before, and little by little we make our way to our destination, to Nha Trang. And slowly slowly my cuts and my sprained ankle are doing better and better to heal.

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2 thoughts on “When You Fall off Your Bike…”

  1. Jenna,
    This might sound like a cliche but I did truly feel your pain and fear. And am thrilled that you were able to get back on the bike and go back to traveling. I thank whatever gods may be (although of course I don’t believe there are any) that you have concerned people to travel with.
    With love and concern,
    Peter

    1. Oh Jenna that is (as always) such a beautifully written description of such a scary and painful experience. I’m glad to hear from your mom that you’re on the mend. Love your writing and photography and glad your travels will resume once you get patched up!

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