GL014: Black Camel Down

November 2nd, 2016

Time Machine

As you may have noticed, this blog is not entirely chronological. Whenever we have something important to report, we kickstart the time machine and transport you back to the present. After that, normal backlogged blogging service will be resumed.

So forget Turkey for a minute and join us in Pakistan on November 2nd. Yes, we’ve made it all the way down here.

‘Ooh, another military coup like in Turkey?’, I hear you say? ‘A lockdown of the capital by the opposition?’ No, none of that (yet).

Theory and Practice

Here’s one more spoiler: a not-so-badly fractured collar bone. My collar bone. Otherwise I am fine and so is Petra.

This happens when a driver steers his car onto the Grand Trunk Road right in front of me in the town of Gujranwala, 70km (45mi) north of Lahore. I see it happen and brake. And then I notice that the slipperiness of the asphalt in that spot beats the badly worn asphalt of Athens hands down. And that a Shinko E700 front tire is not something Valentino Rossi would want to use at the end of the long straight of the Mugello race track.

That means that the front wheel loses traction, locks and the bike loses its self-balancing properties. That’s the physics lecture in a nutshell. Concretely it goes like this:

Screech! Aaaah! BANG!

and faster than you could read that. I know to expect a locking front wheel and to release the pressure on the brake lever in that case, but that is only theory today. I don’t get a chance to release brake pressure before the front wheel is out of control and my right shoulder hits the asphalt. And no, the Black Camel has no anti lock brake system (ABS). Petra demonstrates how to put hers to good use and manages to stay upright and stop. Later she’ll tell me that her ABS had a lot of trouble to keep the wheels from locking and that the brake distance was very long. See slippery asphalt.

I would have liked ABS on the Yamaha and there are newer Ténéré models with ABS fitted, but it can’t be switched off as far as I know. This is not good on a bumpy downhill off-road track where it will keep opening the brakes because the wheels lock a lot. See clean underwear.

Deer in the Headlights

After the big bang the fun isn’t over yet. There is still some speed to get rid off. My right side bag is doing a good job and so is the right hand protector as we slide along, but not enough to prevent the bike from hitting the car that has cut me off and is now standing in my lane. Why didn’t the driver just drive on? Why didn’t he see me when driving onto the road but manages to notice me and stop in my lane and stare at me? There is not even enough time to ask these questions between BANG! and CRUMPLE!.

CRUMPLE! is nature’s way of shedding the last bit of speed by bending the bike’s front fairing towards me when it hits the car’s rear fender. I never hit the car myself. Physics experiment completed.

Despite Petra’s worried commands to stay down, I get up within seconds and convert adrenaline into shouting with the driver as the main audience. He’s still looking like a deer in the headlights. I walk to the back of the car to get his license plate. All I see is a black broken piece of plastic with no letters or numbers on it. When I see this I run to the front of the car and memorize his plate. Ask me again in 60 years fROM now.

Three in a Crowd

Meanwhile Petra has arrived at the scene and tells me again to stop running around. I tell her I’m fine. Stubborn bastard, me. I ask her to take photos of the scene, the car and driver. He has gotten out meanwhile and I think I recognize ‘Sorry Sorry’ this side of my ear plugs. She manages to take photos before dozens of locals enter the scene. We’re usually the attraction in town when driving through normally on our unusual bikes, let alone when having an accident.

I turn to the bike now. It’s on its right side with a big dent in the headlight protector and the whole front is at a funny angle. I’m not laughing though. We need to get the bike off the road because there is a lot of traffic coming from behind and passing us on both sides.

The topcase has come off somehow and is still kept together with the tires we’ve been carrying since Kyrgyzstan. We try to block out the crowd that is now gathering quickly and the meanwhile congested traffic. Within two minutes the luggage is off and the Black Camel on its wheels with the help of Petra and some bystanders. Someone hands me my helmet visor which must have come off in the crash. I hadn’t even noticed that yet.

Three men step forward from the crowd and offer their help moving the luggage to the roadside in between a few dozen people. The police and an ambulance arrive. One of the three men is a doctor and checks my shoulder by bending my arm in various directions. I am not screaming with pain and there are no bones pointing in unusual directions so I think I am fine, just bruised. Thankfully, the ambulance can return empty. We wear good-quality motorcycle gear all the time because we never know when we’re going to need it. I am absolutely sure that the gear has severely limited the injuries. There is no damage to be found on the clothing, except for a ripped jacket pocket.

Petra, Omer and I push the bike into a car repair shop across the street. Yes, that means we need to cross four lanes of hectic Grand Trunk Road traffic again. The bike can’t be steered properly because the bent front is restricting movement of the (also bent) handlebars. Nauman from the repair shop assures that the bike can stay with him for a while.

All our luggage is still there. Nobody abused the opportunity to take something and run off with it. And I’m not surprised: We have met only respectful, friendly, helpful and hospitable people in Pakistan ever since we crossed the Khunjerab Pass up north.

My luggage, including two rear tires, fits on the back seat of a police car but I get into a second police car for more comfort. A policeman offers to ride Petra’s bike to the police station but she refuses. She came all the way here over 14.000km (8,700mi), through 16 countries with bad roads and dangerous traffic so she’ll probably manage the next few kilometers by herself. The policeman looks a bit disappointed to see the opportunity of riding a 650cc BMW vanish in thin exhaust fumes.

We cordially thank the three men, get a card from one of them: Omer. It is wonderful when people take the effort and time to help you when you need it most. Thank you, guys!

Behind LED Bars

Petra and I agree that it is important to get a proper police report filed first and that I get my shoulder checked later in a hospital. We are taken to police barracks first. My data are noted down but we soon learn that this is not an official police station so we have to move again. They first take us back to the accident scene to have a look at the bike and then bring us to the Gujranwala police station.

I am supposed to give a written explanation of the accident and a report of the damage. This is then carefully typed into the police computer, printed, signed and stamped. The driver that caused the accident has left the scene. I expected him to be obliged to follow the police to the station and give his version of the story, but things don’t work here like they work in Switzerland. And that’s fine too. We’ve got his license plate number and photo so I’m not afraid they’ll never find him again. The police assures that they will search for him and give us the number of the inspector in charge.

It’s 4:45pm now and that means we’ve got half an hour until sunset and the twilight period is quite short down here. We have to decide whether we’ll stay in Gujranwala or go to the much bigger city of Lahore, which is 75km away. Despite the fact that we’d rather not ride in the dark, we decide to go to Lahore. There is a bigger choice of better hotels and hospitals there and it saves us one extra move tomorrow. We get a taxi arranged and gather our luggage under the eyes of three prison inmates behind bars.

We show the taxi driver Petra’s LED bar and make sure he understands that he should drive in such a way that this bright light should remain in his mirror most of the time.

You might wonder what is so difficult about driving in the dark and our preference to avoid this situation. If you live in the West and have never experienced being in traffic here, let me explain. There are very few streetlights if at all. Cars, scooters, buses, minibuses, loose cattle, trucks, motorized two-stroke rickshaws, stray dogs, cyclists, beggars, horse carts, pedestrians and parked wheelchair riders are all sharing the streets, many of them without lights. The drivers and riders don’t use lanes — it’s a big piece of asphalt shared by all. There are road works too, with bumpy off-road bits and puddles of water, where some drivers will seriously attempt to overtake you. Even outside of these road works, the air is polluted and dusty. There has been a permanent foggy haze in the last days.

Small motorcycles whizz by left and right, their riders making last-second decisions to avoid collisions. Turn signals and mirrors seem to be rarely used. It’s more like a reactive scheme where drivers make a move and others warn by honking horns and high-beam signaling. Left-side driving here doesn’t seem to be the law, I think it’s more like a suggestion. It happens many times that we get oncoming traffic on lanes that are supposed to be meant for traffic in one direction. Yes, also in the dark and by scooter riders without headlights. Some people say that India is even more challenging, so we have something to look forward to.

I don’t want to judge the way the traffic is here. We have chosen to be here. Let me go as far in judging as calling it ‘adventurous’. Riding in traffic like this is the dark is obviously not without risk, even at full mental concentration at the end of a long and tiring day, without a proper lunch. This is exhausting and I really feel for Petra as she courageously plunges into this hectic traffic. She has no navigation system with maps of Pakistan so we really shouldn’t lose her. I can follow her by using the car’s left door mirror and use it 298 times on our ride to Lahore. Petra is a heroine, doing all this for me after such a tiring day.

After more than two hours, we enter Lahore from the west and have to drive through the old part of the city first. There are more unpaved roads to negotiate and the traffic is more dense than ever. To add to the challenge, our driver doesn’t seem to have a good idea where our hotel is, which I find out after he makes some strange routing decisions. Thankfully I have off-line maps prepared on my phone so I can guide him to our destination.

Chicken Karahi

The luggage is taken care of by the hotel’s personnel and Petra can park her bike behind the fence. We have dinner first. We’re both really hungry and don’t want to skip dinner also to get X-rays taken immediately. It’s been seven hours since my shoulder hit the ground and the pain has been getting progressively worse after the initial adrenaline shot has worn off. I need my left hand to move my right arm to minimize the pain around my collar bone. I hope no ligament has been torn or a piece of bone chipped.

Our hotel arranges a driver to take us to hospital. We ask around a bit and grasp the system of paying for every small thing first and then getting the diagnosis, treatment or medication. I have to convince the X-ray operator to take the photos today and we’re done in 3 minutes. There appears to be a fracture in my right collar bone. The bone itself is in its original position so that’s good news.

Overwhelming Involvement

We get an appointment with a surgeon the next day who confirms the fracture and orders me to take 4 to 6 weeks of rest with my arm in a sling. I get some medication too to make the bone grow together quicker and some pain killers which I am initially too stubborn to take.

Of course, we are not too happy about what happened to me and the bike, but what unfolds this day is truly wonderful. I am contacted by so many different people who are worried and offer their help. Nauman from the car repair shop, his boss Sunny, Muhamad from Karachi whom we met in Sost, Tayyab from the police in Gujranwala and Omer from the accident scene. Through around-the-world motorcycle travelers Leonie and Peter, who have quite a few contacts with motorcycle clubs in Pakistan, we get in touch with Faheem Rao, Salman Hameed, Abdul Manan and Mukaram Tareen, who are members of a large motorcycle community called the Cross Route Club. They promote motorcycle travel beyond the city limits of one’s home town.

The members of the Cross Route Club insist to visit us and see how we’re doing. With a few phone calls, a transport of my bike is organized. While I am doing my best to type this blog entry with only a left hand, one club member in Gujranwala and two from Lahore pick up my bike with a small van and get it to Lahore where we can assess the damage later. Fantastic!

We don’t think we have enough words to express our immense gratitude for so much unconditional involvement, kindness, support and immediate good-spirited conversation, to all of those mentioned above. We have the feeling that we’ve become a part of the motorcycle family from one day to the next. It’s almost worth having an accident for.

Scary Country

So if you’re reading this from behind your White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino Blended Coffee somewhere in the West and you think that Pakistan is a scary terrorists’ nest far away that should be avoided at all cost, I recommend you read the previous section instead of watching the evening news. Although Petra and I would also think twice about having a jolly roadside picnic in more dangerous areas of this country, Pakistan has positively surprised us in so many ways. It is the friendliness, curiosity and hospitality of the Pakistani (and the stunning nature of the mountainous areas) that make it worth a visit. Inform yourself about the situation and take the plunge. You won’t regret it.