We’ve spent the past three days in the stunning city of Luang Prabang. During our ride here from Vientiane we were in the mountains at elevations high enough to feel cool, but now we’re back to asking each other “Are you feeling hot?” and then laughing hysterically because we look something like this:
One of the reasons Luang Prabang is so beautiful is that it is almost completely made up of historic French Colonial architecture. It is a nice change to be in a city that completely lacks billboards, neon signs, cement highrises, and luxury resort hotels. All the shops and guesthouses have been built into they city’s original refurbished buildings.
The city also has quite a few ancient Buddhist wats which are full of brand new novice monks at this time of year. They walk through the city streets for the alms ceremony each morning, and then the disobedient monks hang out in the internet cafes in the evenings when they’re supposed to be meditating. There is a lot of controversy over the fact that all the tourists flocking to Luang Prabang could be corrupting some parts the religious lifestyle; for his part, Jamie gets mad at me if I walk too closely to a monk on the sidewalk. They are supposed to keep their distance from women!
The city borders the Mekong river. It is beautiful at sunset:
Now for the details of the crash. I read tons of books and blogs about cycle tourists before we left on this trip and if any of them got into an accident that resulted in pain they were either super-humanly able to ignore it, or glossed over it in their journals. Maybe that’s just a part of the trip you don’t want to remember in detail. Either way, I’m not going to gloss it over - you get to hear all about it right here, right now. Jamie says that’s because I’m a whiney person by nature; my brothers would probably agree. I roll my eyes to that!
We were cruising down the pass at somewhere around 20-25 km/hr when I locked up my front tire on the slippery pavement and crashed. It was extremely frightening which I think is mostly attributable to: the speed at which we were traveling, the quickness with which the accident happened, the fact that we were on mountain roads with no shoulder and sheer drops of 1000 ft, and the feeling of total loss of control. I hit the ground and skidded for a ways, Jamie collided directly with me and somehow actually flipped over me, and the main thing I remember seeing were the bananas strapped to the back of his bike rushing towards my face. I really wish we had a video of the crash so I could see what happened!
Both my knees were thoroughly scraped and bruised; same for both elbows. My left hip is road rashed and has a giant bruise surrounding the raw area. Every knuckle of every toe also got all the skin scraped off - I guess that’s what you get for having really bony feet. I have a line-shaped bruise on my butt which I assume is from some part of a bicycle frame. I hit my head on the ground pretty hard, but my faithful helmet completely prevented any injury there. The foam in Jamie’s helmet actually cracked during the crash. I don’t remember landing on my wrist at all; I’m not sure how I managed to injure it. When I woke up the next morning I felt like I’d been hit by a bus - everything on me hurt including parts that showed no sign of hitting the ground. I have been taking lots of ibuprofen; we officially used up the supply we brought with us and had to restock yesterday!
All this happened only 6 km into our 50km day. We were literally in the middle of nowhere and had to pick up and keep riding. It was terrifying for me because I was practically riding my bike one-handed and didn’t have enough control over it to feel comfortable. After the second crash of the day, which thankfully took place in slow motion on a 10% grade, we started walking our bikes on the downhills. This made for a long and tedious day - not fun at all.
One of the worst things about having open sores on a ride like this is the flies. They are like sharks - they can sense one tiny drop of blood from miles and miles away. As soon as we would stop to eat or drink I would have nasty little flies sucking away at all my wounds. I was worried they were going to try to lay their nasty little eggs on me so I never rested and focused all my energy on swatting them away!
As for my wrist, things are not looking good. Today is the fourth day since the accident and it hasn’t improved much at all. Medical care is basically nonexistent in Laos, so tomorrow we’re going to start looking into getting back to Bangkok where I can visit a doctor and get my wrist x-rayed. If it is actually broken Jamie has decided that my new nickname has to be Bird Bones (I once broke my elbow by falling off my bike at a complete standstill). Once we know the state of my bird bones we will figure out the next part of our route. We were originally going to ride north from here into China. We might skip that now. Other destinations under consideration are Eastern Europe, Northern India, and possibly South America in the fall if we can find tickets that aren’t too outrageous.
Overall this incident has been pretty depressing for both of us. We had all our plans figured out nicely including visas, Chinese maps, routes, etc. Now everything is up in the air because we’re not sure how long my arm will take to recover and where it will make the most sense to go at that point. Heading back to Bangkok is also psychologically difficult because we’re backtracking for the first time on this trip. Life sucks when you fall off your bike!