Chapter 27: Bikepacking the Altravesur-Hospital to the UK

Updated: Mar 11

17th June to 3rd July 2019

In the arid plains of the Sierra de Cazorla, I had fallen heavily from my bike, and was somewhat dazed. The first thing I knew that I'd fallen was that I could hear myself screaming and grunting, I'd winded myself, something I'd done a few times when having fallen over the handlebars, but never this heavily. I'd fallen face first onto the rocky camino. My left arm was in great pain.

Assessing the situation, my Gorilla cage, that holds luggage onto the bike fork had fell off into the wheel and stopped the bike dead. I think the bike somersaulted with me still on it for the first part of the fall.

I took my fleece out of my rucksack and made a sling for my left arm. Every movement, of my other arm, when I breathed, got up, coughed or walked, created great pain in my left arm and my chest, and where the ribs joins my armpit.

I couldn’t believe it; I knew this would be curtains for my Altravesur ride. I was trying not to panic; I knew other areas hurt but only my arm and chest were bad. I could walk and use my right arm, being right-handed, that was a bonus.

The Gorilla cage was tangled between the forks and the wheel, I managed to get it out, by emptying the contents. I had food, water and shelter, everything I needed to be stranded for a day or two if needs be.

I thought there was little hope of a vehicle passing by so decided to make my way to the village, thinking it was only around five kilometres away. I tried pushing my bike, but with one hand and unable to get my rucksack back on, I only got ten metres or so, then I dropped it.

By then I realised that I had gone into shock, I was in a cold sweat and dizzy. I returned back to the shade of the bush and laid down for a while. I wasn’t thinking straight but knew not to panic. The lens of my GoPro was smashed, but it still turned on, so I recorded my ramblings. I could have sworn it was on when I crashed, but there’s no footage. It helped, talking to my GoPro, it kept me thinking and calm.

I decided I’d strip the luggage from my bike and put it in the holdall that I carry with me, exactly for an incident like this. It took some time with one hand. I hid Bay in a bush and tried to walk, with the heavy holdall and my heavy rucksack, it didn’t work, I could only manage a few steps before I had to put them down. Thinking back, I should have emptied my bags of everything but food, water and shelter, it would have been easier to walk with less weight.

I continued to walk slowly, I’m not really sure what happened, perhaps I fell asleep, eventually a truck came along, from the direction I was going. I stopped it by walking in the middle of the camino, two men, Domingo the driver and Antonio the passenger, were in it. Their face when they saw the state of me was a picture, I’d cut my face and was covered in dust. They put my bags and me on the back seat, and they drove further back into the plateau. They explained that it was their sheep I’d seen earlier, and they wanted to go to their navé to do some jobs, that would only take a few minutes. After they’d done their work we set off for the village, it was probably around 5pm by now.

On our way back down the camino, we were trying to find my bike, but couldn’t see it anywhere, luckily I’d thought whilst walking that I may not be able to find the bush again, so took a photo of the general area, after showing that to Antonio, he figured out which bush my bike was behind, and put it in the back of the pickup. Jeez, what a vulnerable situation I was in, I’m not a very trusting person, but had to fully trust that Domingo and Antonio were good guys, and that’s what they turned out to be. It was painful, Domingo drove slower and slower to try and make it comfortable for me but I could feel every stone and slight undulation. They kept saying ‘not much longer on the camino’ and the surfaced road was soon, but it seemed to take forever! I don’t know which village we went to or how long it took, they took me to a clinic and waited around until I was in good hands. I was put in a wheelchair, my arm still in my fashioned-up sling, and taken inside.

In Spain, medics won’t tend to you unless you have your EHIC card, mine had run out around ten days before, I ordered a new one before my trip, but it hadn’t arrived in time to bring with me. Luckily, very luckily, only two days before I’d phoned my mate Paul, whose house the card went to, and asked him to send me a photo of the new card, I saved it to my cloud.

Domingo and Antonio left, once I’d been admitted. I’m not actually sure that Antonio’s name is Antonio, it may be Juan-Antonio? It kind of got too late to ask. He was lovely and returned to the clinic around 9pm to check on me. How sweet.

The phone I’d been using when I crashed was smashed to pieces back and front. I think that is what damaged my ribs near my armpit. I had two other phones, long story! So it was possible to access the photo of my new EHIC card, and they were happy with that.

First thing that was done and looking back it probably wasn’t the best thing for the pain, they took my jumper-sling off and put my arm by my side and wound a bandage around my arm and body, so I couldn’t move it. It hurt a lot, them doing that, and now it hurt to sit down as obviously I couldn’t bend my arm! So I had to go on a trolley. Luckily, they’d given me some pain medication, and it started to kick in.

It’s always been a problem when hospitals try to find a vein in my arm, this time was no exception, four different nurses and doctors tried in four different places, poking about, eventually thinking they’d succeeded, only for me to have to tell them my arm was swelling up, they didn’t have a vein at all! So another load of poking about, resulting in success yay!

After being triaged at the cottage hospital I was taken on an hour and a half’s ambulance ride to a hospital, Sierra de Segura, south west of the Sierra de Cazorla. The driver was so very careful over the speed humps, I soon drifted off and must have slept most of the journey, arriving at the hospital just before midnight.

My doctors name was Angel, he spoke some English which helped but I’m sure somethings got lost in translation as I don’t think they understood just how hard I’d fallen or how ill I felt. When he asked where it hurt, after having strong medication, and probably being concussed, I just held my shoulder, so they only x-rayed my shoulder. But there was so much more hurting; shoulder blade, lower arm, elbow, wrist.

Typing this one-handed five weeks on, I’m thinking at least one bone in my lower arm is fractured, but don’t know, as the hospital only x-rayed my shoulder and elbow in Spain, and they did the same when I got to the UK hospital yesterday.

Back in the Spanish hospital, on taking the temporary bandage off, which was very painful, I had a massive passing-out episode, and the same happened when I was x-rayed. My arm was fractured, the Humerus, at the shoulder end, around the neck of the big bulge on the end. A proximal humerus fracture or broken shoulder, to use the common term.

In all this time I hadn’t been allowed a drink of water or anything to eat, in case I needed an operation. After the x-ray they still wasn’t sure if it needed surgery. But the doctor let me have some water.

Angel asked if I’d hit my head, I said definitely not, and at that time I didn’t think I had. What I haven’t mentioned is that I didn’t have my helmet on when I crashed, I’d been alternating my helmet with my Panama hat, it was on and off, constantly and I’d forgotten, as I know it’s important. But when pushing up hills, I need the sun protection, that the helmet doesn’t give me. He wasn’t too chuffed when I said I didn’t have my helmet on. Anyway, he clearly knew I was mistaken about not hitting my head, he poked my cheekbone and said does this hurt – Yes, then poked my brow bone and said does this hurt – Yes ooops! I just didn’t remember hitting it because I was probably momentarily knocked out. I had a big graze/cut on my chin too, so it was clear I hit my head!

It was a modern hospital, well laid out with nice staff. It’s a scary feeling, there was around five doctors and nurses attending to me at first, and they could be putting you on any medication, you just have to trust they’re doing the right thing.

Once on the ward, a private room, I had two lovely young female nurses looking after me, they decided I needed an additional cannula put in, which filled me with dread, they debated for a while as to where to put it, I told them all the positions that had already been tried. This nurse was shit-hot, she got a vein straight off!

I was given morphine intravenously and don’t remember anything until morning, except the nurses waking me to say their shift was over.

The doctor came to see me at around 11am and said I could be discharged; I was a bit disappointed as I didn’t feel in any fit state to go. I was dizzy, overheating, confused, tired and in pain. My whole arm and shoulder were swollen and bruised. I asked the male nurse, that was looking after me, an exact time I had to go, he said by 8pm, which was music to my ears.

I’d think about finding a hotel later, now I needed to sleep. On waking, I thought about what to do, and decided it would be best to leave my stuff with Domingo and make my way to the nearest airport. Murcia looked the nearest, three hours away, but the nurse guy thought Madrid, which was much further away, he didn’t realise there’s flights to the UK from Murcia. This was a bit of a rash decision, but I was in no fit state to worry about it further. The nurse managed to book me a taxi, 300 euros!

The taxi arrived around 7pm, I really was in pain with every movement, even though it was a modern Mercedes, no matter how slow he went, it was painful. There were many speed bumps to get out of the pueblo, the driver went as slow as is possible but still it hurt!

The taxi driver wasn’t very trusting, and nearly fainted when he saw the state of me! I only had 240 euros cash on me, so took me straight to a cashpoint to get the rest of his cash!

He was a bit grumpy, and kept asking where I wanted to go, the hospital had told him to take me to the airport. I told him to go to Murcia town, and I’d let him know the exact address once I’d got 4G and managed to book a hotel. I booked a good quality hotel in Murcia town centre, the Hesperia.

The taxi driver was grumpy again when he had to negotiate some narrow streets. For his grumpiness he got sod all tip!

So I checked in to this rather high-end hotel, hair all over the place, cut face, black eye, arm in a sling under my dirty cycling jersey, dusty shorts and mucky trainers, feeling like a tramp, thinking they are going to look down on me here. But no, the manager came out to see me, arranged for my bags to be taken to my room, and he couldn’t have been kinder. I've given the hotel more than one glowing review, I was so touched how well they treated me.

I’d booked two nights here, it was the luxury I needed to get rested and to get over the accident. It was around 10:30pm by now, a café was just starting to close next door to the hotel, but the guy served me, my first cup of tea for nearly two days. This café became my regular place to eat, the two guys running it were so kind, they cut my food up for me and made my tea just how I liked it.

The next morning, and no longer on the morphine, all the aches and pains were coming out. I was still feeling rough but was on a mission to get some clothes and hygiene products, all mine was in my Rollpackers, several hours away at Domingo’s. I managed to get the clothes, toothpaste etc that I needed, but struggled with my prescriptions at the Farmacia, they said they hadn’t been filled in properly. I started crying, something that happened a lot that day, I think it was the medication I was on. The lady in the farmacia found a pharmacist that spoke English, she said I could buy the drugs I needed, Ibuprofen and Paracetamol and Tramadol, they only cost about six euros, so it wasn’t the end of the world.

I decided that I wasn’t well enough to fly home, so looked for somewhere cheaper to stay. I’d have loved to stay at the Hesperia but it was 65 euros a night. I booked the first bed and breakfast that looked suitable, for ten nights, thinking that I’d be better by then. The rest of the day I slept. The next morning, Thursday, I went out and bought a suitcase, then took a 20 euro taxi ride to the Murcia suburb of La Alberca. The taxi dropping me at number 30, on the wrong street but the kind teenager at that house walked my suitcase to the correct street for me, how lovely, again.It was on an urbanisation, I thought it would be a bit average, but I was pleasantly surprised when Encarna opened the door. It was perfect, she was lovely, her house was lovely, spacious and clean. I knew we’d get on from the get-go. She quickly showed me around, then had to return to work. Encarna spoke no English at all, which was good for my Spanish, but she spoke so fast, I often had to ask her to slow down. If that failed, Encarna was a whizz on Google translate!

I’d been exchanging messages with my friend Ruth, in the UK. She thought it best that I retrieve my bike and belongings and fly home with them, rather than have the expense of having to go back sometime. And she offered to come and help me, I wanted her too, but I hate being a burden, she insisted, and I was glad she did. Ruth had some plans for the next few days, so she booked a flight for the following Tuesday.

Encarna, a carer by profession, was amazing. She gave me free rein in her house, and often invited me to eat with her. She ate healthily, cooking Gazpacho and other Spanish dishes from scratch. I loved her food. On Saturday she took me out to an outdoor market in a nearby town, where she bought a trolley load of vegetables, in preparation for another cook-up!

Encarna’s house was 20 years old but at the end of her street a new shopping complex had been built, with a supermarket, so I could get things I needed there. There was also a small town centre with shops and restaurants too, within a ten-minute walk.On the Sunday, Encarna’s friend Paz came over for lunch. Paz spoke quite good English, but I tried my best to speak as much Spanish as I could as I didn’t want Encarna to feel left out! We had a lovely day, ending with us all having a siesta before Paz left at 6pm.

On Monday we had a bit of a drama, I was sitting on the front terrace in the evening, when Encarna was off to an evening appointment at the podiatrist. As she started to pull away, I noticed a big puddle of what I thought was water, under her car, so shouted out to her. She stopped to have a look and realised it was diesel. I looked under her car, the fuel was gushing out of the pipe. Encarna is unflappable, she called the tow truck and cancelled her appointment, without the slightest hint of annoyance!

Many of the neighbours came out to help clear up the spilt fuel, that was running into the gutter and was halfway across the road, Encarna ran to the shop and bought kitty litter to soak up the diesel, ingenious!

By now, it was a week from my accident, my upper arm swelling had started to go down and the rainbow of bruising was coming out, a bright purpley blue at this time.

My lower arm was concerning me, it was still very swollen still and as badly bruised as the upper arm, as well as cut on my elbow. I’m pretty sure there is a fracture in my lower arm, but the Spanish, and subsequently the UK hospital didn’t x-ray it. Five weeks on as I type this, the lower arm is still very sore, and still bruised. Argh, I’ll just leave it, it’s only going to be a fracture if anything, so it’ll heal. Annoying though, why doctors don’t listen to you properly.

The grazes on my face soon healed, but my eye socket was going through the rainbow colours as well. By now, I could walk at a normal pace and ride in a car without my arm hurting, well unless there were any jerky movements that is!

Ruth arrived by taxi late on Tuesday evening, I’d bought fresh pasta and a readymade sauce, Encarna prepared some vegetables and we all sat down to eat around 10pm. Ruth had no Spanish when she arrived, she has some now! Her and Encarna conversed via Google translate!

I’d booked a Berlingo type hire van, for Ruth to collect late Wednesday afternoon, so we got a taxi to the Murcia Enterprise office, where, giggle giggle, Macarena served us, she got the joke, in fact rolled her eyes when she told us her name and waited for the dance moves. She was so professional, it was easy, but the van turned out to be a bigger one than I’d booked and brand spanking new!

Ruth had never driven on the right-hand side of the road before. Even with Google maps I couldn’t find the right way home, we went up and down the highway several times! Ruth was not only getting used to a left hooker, but also the strange road junctions of Murcia, a bit like the Coventry ring road, where you get on and off the same slip road, scary!

On the Thursday we were to go and collect Bay and my things from Domingo. I was wracking my brain as to what present I could buy Domingo and Antonio, to thank them for being so very kind. In the end deciding I would get them a card each and put fifty euros in it, so they could buy what they wanted. We walked into La Alberca town that evening and got some cards and had a lovely meal on the terrace at Restaurante Victoria, on the town square, it was exceptionally good, by the way.

We made our way back to the Sierra de Cazorla on Thursday, Domingo had asked we meet him at Restaurante Escobar in his home pueblo of La Matea. The drive from Murcia was across some large plateaus, flanked in the distance by hills most of the time. Then we started climbing the mountains. Ruth wasn’t that keen on being on the switch-backed mountain road, at the side of large drops, with no barrier, but we had no incidents and made good time, it only took around two hours.

It was nice to be back in the mountains again, with some great views from the passenger seat!We met Domingo at the restaurant, he was drinking with several chums, so we sat at another table and had some lunch. There was no point in joining them, we wouldn’t understand what was being said and it would be awkward.We couldn’t work out why it was so busy at the restaurant, out on the terrace, on the next table was around four or five people, with more and more people joining them, in party mood, ending up with fifteen or so.

The ladies all in their finery, as Spanish women do. It turns out that in La Matea it’s a four-day fiesta.We waited until Domingo was ready to go and get my stuff. And not really understanding what was going on, we crossed the road to go to our hire van, the next thing I see is the keys to it in Domingo’s hand. There was no way I was going to let him drive it, he wasn’t insured, and he’d been drinking, so I had to tactfully say that only Ruth was insured and that she must drive. I felt awful, as he’s a fun guy.