It was a little surreal. A week off work to ride our bikes from New Plymouth to Napier. A total of 465 km’s via the Forgotten Highway and the Taihape-Napier Road. Some gruelling roads, huge hills, unsealed sections and beautiful scenery. We were going to camp along the way, stopping wherever we found suitable places to pitch tents. We were carrying everything we needed in pannier bags or in a touring trailer. All this to raise money for Cancer research. This was going to be a great adventure.
In February 2012, it was hard to believe we were actually going. I had been ninety percent packed since Monday and finished the last of it on the day when I finished work. I was hugely grateful my boss had said I could leave early on a Friday. The last couple of days had not gone exactly to plan. The night before had been a late one at my son’s camp bonfire, so I had put off the packing. I had bought a flavoured milk that morning that wasn’t quite right and was affecting my stomach a bit. Finally, an old back injury was starting to twinge and make some movements a bit awkward. I just put a smile on and went ahead with the plan. Just when we went to leave I found my front tyre was flat and it was a brand new tube! So I fished out an old patched one, but that was leaking too! Aaarrgghhh!
Chris, my friend and ‘adventure cyclist buddy’, ran over to the bike shop located handily over the road from my house and grabbed a new tube. It wasn’t long before the tyres were inflated and the touring trailer was hitched. I was ready to go. Just the goodbyes to my wife, daughter and son and it was a week on the road for me.
We rode down the drive and I mentally checked how the bike felt. The trailer felt a little different from my training rides, but I thought nothing of it as I rode, putting it down to a bit of extra weight and I would get used to it. Turning onto Mangorei Rd, with Chris tailing me, I just flicked on the MP3 and plodded up the incline impatient to be out of New Plymouth.
I had only just had my bike serviced and I felt it was reacting a little differently than usual, it was taking me time to adjust to the gear changes, but again I would get used to it. Looking ahead near the top of Mangorei Rd, I saw my mother and uncle had passed us and were waiting for us to come by, filming the beginning of our great expedition. I smiled, waved and carried on going. The top of Mangorei Rd marked the outskirts of New Plymouth residential area and we were now crossing into rural area dominated mostly by interspersed farms. From here the traffic was faster and the shoulder of the roads were narrower and had a chipseal surface (sprayed hot bitumen, or cold bitumen emulsion, with crushed stone, known as ‘chips’, rolled into the surface. The ‘chips’ in chipseal are small, sharp-edged rocks). As we turned onto State Highway 3 I looked at Chris and said “you ready?” We both grinned. The Burgess Hill was approaching and we were about to descend. Burgess Park Hill is only about 900m but drops 40m in elevation. Not huge, but with the weight on the bikes we would need to be careful.
In previous training rides, I had been able to go speeds of about 70 km an hour downhill before I felt a need to use the brakes while towing the trailer, but I was still adjusting to the new feel with the extra weight so I mentally decided to not go faster than 50 km an hour. At the top of the hill I pulled over as my front light fell apart, I managed to catch it and stow it in my bags before it got broken, thinking I’d repair it later. Off we went down the hill. My speed started to creep up and before I knew it I was going 58 km an hour using my brakes, so I applied a bit more pressure. I must have been approximately 20 to 30 meters from the bridge at the bottom when my trailer shuddered and began to wobble with the speed. I was breaking to stay below 50 km and the trailer set the bike into a massive wobble, handlebars weaving back and forth as I tried to regain control. But it was too late, the trailer jack-knifed and the bike was going down with me on it!
Chris and I had been joking around, saying that some of the roads would be like falling onto a cheese grater. This was one of those roads, and all that went through my mind as I hit the ground on my left side was “Cheese grater! Cheese grater! Cheese grater!”
I am a little unsure as to the exact way I landed. Chris says he saw me go down on the left still holding the handlebars. This would account for me losing the skin all the way up my left arm and left knee and leg and for my watch being scratched. I’m not sure how I managed to rip a hole in the palm of my right hand and get a massive blister on the heel of the same hand though. I do know my head never hit the ground and that seconds after impact I was up and darting off the road before any traffic that couldn’t stop in time ran me over. Unfortunately Chris, whose brakes had locked up trying not to hit me, had swerved towards the side of road to avoid me, instead clipped me as I got up. Turning to look for traffic and seeing approximately 10 cars backed up, Chris and I jumped out and got my bike off the road. I noticed that my trailer had gone under the bike, so I can only assume the weight of the trailer had pushed the back-end up as I went down and then carried the trailer under the bike to a stand still.
I sat on the road barrier and caught my breath while the traffic started again. My arm was starting to really sting as the shock started to settle. One person stopped to ask if we needed help or a lift. I thanked him, but said no, and from Chris’s phone (as Vodafone didn’t get coverage there, Telecom did) called Bonnie, my wife, saying I needed to be picked up with my bike. She was worried, but when I said I was ok, but come get me, she didn’t push further. I found my chocolate and ate while I drank all of my sports drink to help with the shock. My arm was burning. The sun felt too hot on the raw flesh.
We moved my bike and trailer onto the other side of the barrier and up to Burgess Park car park to wait. As I sat there I was determined not to let it affect me, that I would continue the ride. Chris looked at the wound as he was searching through his first aid kit, he said “That’s pretty serious. That could get infected”. He rinsed the arm off with eye wash which stung a little but was bearable. I was adamant I was going to continue, but as he repeated himself I took another look and I had to agree.
We waited around for about 20 minutes, wondering if everything was ok, after all they only had to come 6 km’s to get me. They finally showed up. Fiona (Chris’ wife) and Bonnie had left straight away only to realise there was no room with the kids in the car; they had to turn around and leave them with my mum. When they arrived, I was taken to A&E, while Chris waited until another friend, Chris Watson, came to pick up my bike for me, and then headed on to Stratford once more. I asked Bonnie to rinse my arm with fresh water, but by now I couldn’t handle it for more than a few seconds before it felt like hundreds of needles jabbing into me. We left then, Chris waiting for my bike to be collected.It was some serious ‘gravel rash’. My trip was over already. I had done a grand total of 6 km’s. Chris looked gutted, he had seen it all, and knew, no matter how optimistic we were trying to be, that he was going to have to either quit or go alone. We both knew he’d continue, there was too much pressure to do otherwise, with the sponsorship and newspaper articles. I yelled at the top of my voice out to the river and the world “FUUUUCCCKKK!!”
In the car I started to feel pretty crap with a melancholy setting in, and the pain was really registering now too. We got Fiona to drop us off expecting a long wait in A&E. We walked in and up to the Triage Window. A nurse asked if she could help and I stuck my arm rigidly through the window for her to view. She looked at me with a wooden expression and said, “Yup, that will hurt. What do you want us to do about it? Do you want to wait hours or go home and clean it yourself in the shower?” I was a little taken aback at her manner. I asked if it was the sort of thing that I should look after myself or whether I needed to see someone. She said yes, in a tone of voice that made me feel like I was overreacting like I’d got a little boo-boo on my pinky. Bonnie was livid, I was in shock and didn’t care at the time. We called Fiona up to turn around and pick us up again. We must have been in there for no more than 7 minutes.
We got dropped off home and decided it was best that my son stay with mum while we cleaned my arm, didn’t think it was worth the risk of freaking him out. Which as it turns out was a good idea. I stripped down awkwardly with Bonnie’s help and got in the main bathroom shower. We ran the shower head, which handily was able to detach from the wall, made the temperature lukewarm and not too powerful. I was scared, I remembered how the bottle water felt, I had a feeling this was going to be worse.
Oh, that was an understatement! I screamed out every time the water touched me. Millions of tiny needles were stabbing over and over into my raw flesh. Bonnie was distraught as she didn’t want to hurt me, so I took the shower head myself so I had control and blame for my suffering. It was at this point someone was peering through the bathroom window asking if we were ok. The neighbour having heard my scream had jumped the fence to investigate. We set him at ease and he jumped back home shaking his head sympathetically.
Now the nurse had said to make sure we wash all the dirt out of the wound and just water running over it was not enough. We got a clean face cloth and Bonnie went to help. There was no way I was letting anyone else do this though, I took the cloth and gritted my teeth. I was terrified, I knew that each touch was going to set all the raw exposed nerve endings on fire. But it had to be done. I jabbed the cloth down hard and scrubbed firmly for about 5 seconds which was all I could handle. I repeated this about 10 times making sure I cleaned the whole graze. I was in so much pain. One last rinse and I was collapsed on the shower floor panting with exhaustion.
We had been given a sticky roll of bandage and were told to put it directly on the wound. This seemed so wrong and the first strip hurt a lot when the adhesive made contact. We called a nurse friend who said we should go to Medicross Emergency Doctors. This is the horrible part; the final kick while I was down. The Doctor had a look and said a nurse would sort it for me. She used a numbing agent and gently cleaned it thoroughly all the while looking horrified at what I had been advised to do.
She covered my grazes with a thick layer of burn cream that felt so good! Then she carefully bandaged me up. All that pain I had put myself through on the advice of a Triage Nurse that couldn’t be bothered!
I was bound up and feeling so much better even if I couldn’t move my arm properly. I was instructed to go back every two days to get dressings changed and the service I received was amazing!I later made a complaint stating that all the Triage nurse had to do was advise me there was a long wait, but that if I didn’t want to, the alternative would be to go to Medicross and get it looked at quickly and correctly. I would have done that immediately. But no, instead she made me feel stupid and told me I should do it myself.