INTO THE VOID.
I woke up the next morning feeling rejuvenated, fresh and ready to hit the road. I dug out my fancy, unused LED headlight from the depths of my bag and offered it to my host as a gift. He was so stoked, I could see it in his eyes. That headlight would have ended up dusty lost in a draw back home, I expect he still uses it daily. He gave me a bottle of water and snacks for the road, then I jumped back on the steed and rode out into the wild for round 2.
The first hour of riding was pure bliss and pure FUN! It was like a World Championship enduro course.. Steep, first gear hill climbs, sweeping descents, river crossings, high speed open whooped out straights, braking bumps, sand sections, loamy soil, rock sections, natural berms, ruts, the odd cheeky jump… All framed by tall tropical trees, lush green vegetation, bright flowers, blue skies...
It was heaven,
until I started running low on petrol.
The fuel level in my motorcycle correlated with the anxiety level in my body. It was almost as if the float bowls in the carburettor swung some strange balance on my psyche. Low on petrol, high on anxiety... It all started to creep up on me again.
I hadn’t seen a soul in the last hour of riding and was burning through my fuel. Riding along at one stage I pinched myself cause it felt like I was watching a movie of someone else. I could observe my mind shifting between emotions, but I had no real control over what I was feeling, my consciousness was reacting to the adventure as it came to me...
“THAT IS STUNNING, LOOK AT THAT! GOD DAMN LIFE IS GOOD. ISN'T LIFE GOOD FRASER? isn't life just bloody amazing right now?? Look at this place! i'M IN THE MIDDLE OF BLOODY THAILAND RIDING A DIRT BIKE IN THE TROPICS, YEeeeeEEEEeeeeeeOW! BUT, YOU'RE ABOUT TO RUN OUT OF FUEL DICK HEAD. HOW FAR IS IT TO PUSH IT TO THE NEXT village? i'd be so screwed if i crashed out here. this is so stupid. i swear i'm riding in circles. IM HUNGRY. i need water, petrol, sugar... oh god, where on earth am i?''
I spent the whole day riding in this state.
I absolutely loved it and I fucking hated it.
I felt alive and free.
I felt totally insane.
Through out the day, there 3 or 4 more tiny ‘jungle hamlets' that would cross my path. Each time I found one, I'd pull in to buy fuel in 1 litre glass bottles. The gaps between the villages varied from 30-90 minutes of demanding riding, each time I departed from the safety of one village, I had no idea of the distance to the next one. Could have been 100 yards or a 100 miles... Each time I came to a fork in the trail, I took a complete punt at which direction to ride. Every decision felt like a step deeper into the maze.
After 6 hours of this madness, I spotted a figure in the distance on the side of the trail. He had a hunting rifle slung over his shoulder, and thankfully a big grin on his face. He also had a cock in a cage.
Through a series of hand gestures and badly pronounced “CHANG MAI, CHANG MAI”, I persuaded this hunter to guide me out of the jungle and I tailed him for another 30 minutes eating his dust. He led me to a more used gravel road, pointed me in the right direction and said farewell.
The road surface was a mixture of hardcore, dusty rubble and sand with a hard pack base. It was easy riding compared to the last two days of technical trails, but the slippery surface demanded your attention. It felt like a freeway compared to the Jungle and it felt like I was finally back on the map.
My ego was revelling in this victory. I'd ridden into the jungle, ridden into a situation way out of my comfort zone and made it out the other side. I was screaming into the air. STOKED! I felt tested, proud, invincible... I was already smelling the roses and they smelt pretty damn sweet in that warm air.
And then it happened, like clockwork.
No one is invincible on the road.
I was coming into a left-hander at around 35 mph and BOOM!
I broke traction, the rear wheel swapped out and I was pitched into a full on power slide.
When I felt it first swap, I wasn't too worried, I thought I had it under control and for a very brief moment I did. I managed to control a couple of swaps doing my best Villopoto impression, then I ran out of talent. The real wheel swapped out over the edge of my control.. It bit and in a split, violent second had me high sided and flying through the air.
I entered that strange slow motion moment we all know too well. I can remember somehow seeing the engine casing to my left of my head and thinking I shouldn't be able to see that.. BANG! I smashed into the ground, straight down onto my right knee and then proceeded to rag doll onto the gravel. I could feel the rough, sharp, dry surface grinding through my flesh, through my knee... My body felt like it wanted to slide to a halt, but I forced myself into a roll before tumbling to an abrupt halt. I watched the bike cartwheel in a cloud of dust down the road, then I looked around at the vast jungle and waited 3 long seconds for the first wave of pain to arrive.
In that moment I felt so vulnerable.
There was no one coming to help.
Life went on in the jungle as I didn't exist.
Then came the pain.
It started soaring from my knee, like a form of physical white noise screaming through my whole body. The main point of impact was the tender section just under your knee cap, if you roll your finger down over your knee cap, (do it now!). You'll feel right where your knee cap ends, feel that tender section between your knee cap and shin, the bit doctors tap softly to test your reflexes (aka, your patella tendon)...
Now imagine your doctor replaces that cute little white stick with a heavy, iron crow bar and he takes big swing and strikes that sweet spot with the sharp hook of the bar. Imagine that particular type of piercing pain. Thats the only way I can describe it. Searing, white, hot, pain.
My hand felt like it had been slammed in a car door. I hadn't broken any fingers, but my knuckle was shredded and bleeding heavily. I could feel the warmth of my blood running coarsely through my fingers pissing red into the green jungle foliage. I could smell iron. It smelt like the dissection class at school.
The last thing I wanted to do was to go into shock out there, so I took a deep breath and tried to assess the injuries calmly. I broke my knee cap a few years prior and in the crash I’d ground a deep hole into the same knee, about the size of a 50p coin and 3-4 mm deep. My first fear was that I'd re-cracked or bent the metal work thats in there...
I could bend my knee, check.
I could bare weight on it, check.
Straight leg press, check.
Despite the pain, I knew I was physically “OK”.
"It's just soft tissue damage, its just blood.. nothing serious, nothing broken, your ligaments are fine. ignore the pain. it wont kill you. its fine. you're fine. you got very lucky."
One in three road accidents happen within a mile from home. When you're in your comfort zone and you've let your guard down...
I high sided and ate shit one mile away from the smooth concrete main road I'd been searching for all day.
I still had a 120 miles to back to Chang Mai. In the beaming sunshine at 50mph it didn't take long for my jeans to graft and bake themselves into the wound, I was constantly tearing my jeans away as they attempted to form a strange denim skin graft scab. It sucked and it HURT, but at least the roads were smooth and the sign posts were in English.
That crash changed the last month of my trip. There would be no more motorcycles adventures . I spent a couple of weeks in Bangkok dealing with multiple disgusting infections in my knee. Then I wound out the trip healing on an island near Cambodia. By the time I made it back to England I could walk without a limp, I had a new scar where my infected flesh creator once was and I flew home with no regrets.
Don't get me wrong; it was absolutely a STUPID, irresponsible decision to make that left hand turn into the jungle. I know it was idiotic. But if I’d made that sensible U turn and come back the next morning, would I have had that enlightening, peaceful experience in the jungle that I now carry with me for life? Would the food have tasted so good if my stomach was full? Would I have been so deeply grateful to have a roof over my head if I'd packed my tent? Would my mind have explored all those rich, exciting and extreme emotions if I knew where I was going? Would I have been violently hit and killed by a drunk truck driver whilst making that sensible U turn back onto the main road?
I'm grateful I took that turn,
I'm glad I never looked back.
Written by Fraser Byrne
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