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Crashing Motorcycles

Tim's Blog Entry

30 Aug 2009

Crashing Motorcycles

This trip is the most amazing traveling I have yet done in my life. Most of you who know my bro David and I, know we are very laid back, easy going peeps. It takes a lot to rile us or even get us to react. We don't live in fear of worst case scenarios or what ifs. It may not be the best attributes to have here as bad stuff going down is quite possible. So where do we draw the line?

I possibly should have last week in Gulu, Uganda at the Invisible Children (IC) compound. The previous day we were touring some of the IC project schools and sites. David and I with driver on one boda boda or motorbike taxi and our guides on the other. Ok, these bikes are small 125cc janky rigs not designed to hold that much weight, however do regularly.

So we get a puncture after our first school and as we wait for the “mechanic” to patch the hole, I notice the inter tube has possibly a dozen other patches. I'm slightly apprehensive but not worried climbing back on the thing and continuing on. Not a single kilometer later the tire explodes with a loud pop on a roughly eroded section of the hard packed dirt road. We start drifting to the right so all three of us instinctively lean left and the bike slams down.

David and I were foolishly wearing filppies and when we tried to get a foot down, our unprotected feet were dragged before we were thrown clear. I tumbled down the road a bit and stopped laying on my camera backpack holding both a video camera and the dslr still camera. I heard a crunch and my first reaction was we lost a camera. The boda driver was checking on me to see if I was injured but all I could do was rip opened the camera bag and start shooting on both cameras. Both worked so I dug deeper and found a crushed plastic tape case. I was relieved to know we were all ok enough not to have permanent damage and no equipment loss.

Can you believe the driver wanted to charge us for the distance he had already carried us before the crash? Piss off buddy! So dripping blood from our stinging road rash, we walked the remaining distance to tell our tale to the other guys. I chalked the experience up to adventure until we were ready to depart the school and visit the next project. As we are waiting for another boda boda to arrive, I start to have my first sense of fear. I say nothing. The journey is our longest of the day and on a concrete road with lots of other traffic. My pain is increasing every minute and I am too scared. I close my eyes and only want to be back in the rat hole of a hotel.

Once back, I realized that Africa up to that point had been a safe place. Hakuna matata, no worries. I had not once felt scared or stalked and all the warnings I had received seemed to be advice of situations to be aware of. “Handle yourself accordingly.” I won't go into mob justice here but just know it is safer here then anywhere else I have traveled including America. Simply don't go out at night to avoid the drunks and don't go into war zones.

I could not shake this new fear of motorcycles welling inside me. Though travel on them here is unavoidable, I did not want to get back on. And I have one back home. So I just decided I would never again double up with another person and try to quit being a worrier. I am not suited for it.

The next morning, we take our own boda to the IC compound and find it to be the same price, as the rate is per person, not per bike which would make more sense. The plan today, we are to visit sponsored students on the back of an IC dirtbike with an IC mentor. A super cool program with some super cool people mentoring but I had apprehension riding with this dude.

Now IC is amazing with the implementation of their funds and about 87% of donations go directly to causes and only 13% to logistics like salaries and dirt bikes. This is unprecedented in NGO's (non governmental org's) like this. Let me again simply say this bike was janky. I had an hour to think about it and say no but in the end decided that there was no way I was gonna miss this experience. We were to drive 54km to just one students house. It had rained all night but I had no idea the sloppy condition of the road.

After only the first few kilometers, I was regretting my decision but just closed my eyes and held on tight. We got a puncture halfway but it was a slow leak and not dangerous. We were repaired and back on the road after a rest break and great conversation getting to know each other better. This is not so bad I was thinking. Just keep on keeping on. We turned off the road 50km later and I was only slightly sore. We entered a windey foot path not designed to be ridden and the sun had not yet dried the gloppy black soil. The mentor/driver swerved to avoid a camouflaged stump that would have surly caught my leg and ripped me off the bike. Instead we went down and I drug my opened wounds through the mud and rolled till I again landed on my poor cameras.

We were seriously within sight of the huts we were visiting and the kids came running not to help but only to stare. I became instantly pissed off which is a rare emotion for me but I did not let it show through as to offend my hosts. In the interview they said I was the only white person to ever visit and likely the only that ever would. The mentor did paperwork while I ate a very strange meal but I wanted to go, actually, just get the hell outta there. A huge shame I realize now.

We finally did go even though it felt rude to leave so soon. I wanted to stay longer but more important was to clean my mud packed wound before infection or tetanus could set in. My foot was throbbing with pain and my head was spinning with worry. Then the rear tire went flat again. Too much weight and a shabby patch job on the first puncture. As we waited in the shade, flies were swarming my dirty, opened wound.

When we were back on the road, we would be very late and the driver was flying way faster then on the way out. I noticed the speedometer going over 80km per hr. The roads had dried a bit and seemed less slippery but I was holding on in sheer terror.

I have never in my life felt so scared and worried as I did now. I had horrible images and thoughts running through my head of a possible crash at any second. But still I kept my mouth shut and just hoped to make it back soon. An hour later we arrived and my bro asked “where were you? Did something happen?” Out of displaced anger I could have hit him, or I missed him so much I could have hugged him. We said our goodbyes and got outta there. At first walking but the pain was so great that I hesitantly opted for a boda boda.

Back at our room, I had the cook boil some water so I could soak my wound to loosen the now dried African earth that was crammed inside. I had no painkillers, just some punk rock, a Manchester United match in the background and a pint of Nile Special. David then went to work scrubbing and scraping the chunks till only a pink fleshy wound was showing. I was actually relieved and feeling much better. Lucky I was sent with a tube of triple antibiotic and slathered the hole of missing flesh before passing out into a deep sleep.

With almost a week passed, and with infection staved off, I have had time to think about my emotional reactions on those days. I have regretted those feelings of anger and blame. I don't like those thoughts and am glad I choose to live my life mostly without. The fear and terror are something I understand less. Was it lack of safety for me to feel that way or was it a weakness slash cowerdness? Probably a mix of both but I have not yet decided how I want to change because of it.

So it may be hard to understand but the crashes have me thinking about how much I love and miss my motorcycle back home even though a few days ago I had vowed to sell it. Anyone interested?


Your insite is amazing, but I still think you are completely insane!! Keep up with the blogs, notify on twitter that they are here. David should write more as well, his perspective would be a nice addition. I didn't think to check this site until just now, glad I was able to find out more info about your condition. Don't lose your cavalier attitude, it's what makes you you, but please be safe.

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"Give A Damn? is a feature length documentary about an idealist activist who convinces one of his best friends, who doesn't give a damn about the poor, to go to Africa and live on $1.25 a day."