This guest post was kindly contributed by Dan Byers.
It was terribly hot, and I was already fatigued. I had no food for dinner and was dead tired before I had even arrived. The place was Salina Cruz, Oaxaca State in Mexico and it was early in July 2018. I had left home in Ohio less than two months earlier, on a planned one-year motorcycle journey from Ohio to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, the Southern-most tip of South America and a destination for many moto-overlanders who choose that continent for their travels. I was an experienced motorcyclist, but had never before traveled for more than three weeks continuously. I was pushing my envelope daily as far as hours in the saddle and miles traveled. I was 57 years old and in decent health for my age (I thought).
I had just checked into my Airbnb apartment and, after a brief introduction to Teresa (the woman who owned the property) and her Son Freddy, I decided to set out on foot to the nearby street markets in search of food to cook. My apartment had a nice attached kitchen and I was down to a few cans of tuna and a few packages of ramen because of a recent run a camping continuous nights that consumed my food supplies for the most part. The area of Salina Cruz I was in was very hilly, typical of port cities along the Southern Oaxaca coastline. Just getting to the apartment on my bike had been challenging. Partly because of the incline of each street, and also because of my inexperience riding a fully-loaded bike on such terrain, which led to constant worry as I rode up and down the steep cobblestones looking for the correct street and address. I was also always worried about leaving my bike parked alone while I walked around when arriving in unknown cities. Salina Cruz was to be my last stop in Mexico before crossing into Guatemaula, so I had paid for a week’s stay and was looking forward to a new bed, strong air-conditioning and a place to relax and prepare for the onslaught of border crossings that awaited me in Central America. Also weighing heavy on my mind was a time-deadline to meet the famous German sailboat the Stahlratte in Carti Panama that was to take me and my DR650 “Sunny” to Cartegena Colombia where I would continue South. That worry alone was causing undue stress.
So after unpacking my clothes and other gear to my room, I changed from my riding suit into shorts and a t-shirt and set out on foot from the apartment. Immediately the discomfort from walking downhill on steep streets combined with my lack of energy had me sapped. The 1L bottle of water I was carrying was gone withing a few blocks and I still felt pretty terrible. Entering the market area, I was somewhat relieved that most of the streets were closed off, and large red and orange tarps hung across the streets overhead, providing much-needed shade. I do remember sitting down to get my heart rate under control. I also remember looking hard for something cold to drink, and shying away from the multitude of open-buckets of ice-filled drinks that the locals were eagerly drinking, for fear (and worry) of consuming pathogens that might make me ill. Street after street I walked and tried to buy a small amount of chicken to cook for dinner (looking back now, I passed by many taco stands where, now, in hindsight, I would have gladly stopped and scarfed down a half dozen). None of the stands would sell me a small amount of chicken, and I didn’t want to carry in the sun several kilos of raw chicken around with me un-refrigerated. I bought several packages of raw vegetables, some apples, and some cooked pork that I figured I could re-heat and add to the veggies and make some stew. And then, like a shining beacon, I saw a stand selling grapes. Huge, luscious golden grapes being sold in large bags. They looked so good that I had to have them! By now, worried that the sun was setting, and worried that I would be out on the streets of Mexico after dark, I decided to head back to the apartment.
Within only a few minutes, I again had to sit down as I was really exhausted and now climbing up the steep hills I had previously descended. Sitting there, and still not seeing anywhere to purchase more water, those grapes sure started looking good. But wait! Aren’t you supposed to wash fruit off in Mexico before consuming? That’s what I was told. That’s what I had thought. But no. First one grape, then a second. Then, before I knew it the entire bag was gone. About that time I arrived back at the apartment and climbed the steep stairs to my room. Turned the A/C to maximum and started to boil some water to put in the freezer for drinking. I also at that time really started feeling badly. I went ahead and made the stew, but barely had the energy to eat any. I climbed into bed and passed out.
When I awoke, I was soaked in sweat and felt like I had a high fever. I could barely move. I drank some of the water and took some ibuprofen and went back to bed. A few hours later, Teresa knocked on my door and asked me if I was OK because she hadn’t seen me all day. I told her of my condition. She sent Freddy to the Farmacia and he quickly came back with a round of antibiotics. I took one and again passed out. It was the last thing I remember.
The next day I didn’t wake up. The next night I still didn’t wake up. At around 1am Teresa sent Freddy up to check on me, again because they hadn’t seen me all day, and all the lights were on in the apartment. Freddy found me passed out on the floor of the apartment, mostly naked (this is what I know from Teresa and Freddy telling me the details). Freddy called his friend and together they carried me down the steep staircase and placed me in Teresa’s Honda Civic, and they proceeded to take me to the area hospital. I woke up 18 hours later in the ICU, with multiple IV’s running from each arm. I was terrified! I didn’t know what really had happened, nor where I really was. To make matters worse, my Spanish skills were very poor and my iPhone (with Google Translate) as well as my wallet and passport were not with me! As soon as they knew I was awake, I was surrounded by a series of serious-looking Doctors who were all obviously very concerned, and spoke no English! I gathered that they wanted details on who I was, how I would pay, and whether I would approve immediate emergency surgery to remove a section of my lower colon. X-rays and CT scan pictures were produced, showing me that an infection in my lower colon had ruptured and caused sepsis, allowing infection to spread throughout my abdominal cavity. I was told I had come within a few hours of death. Wow. Now the worries kicked in full time. I was in tears and unable to form clear thoughts I was so weak. Luckily, a nurse from a nearby clinic who spoke perfect English had heard of my plight and volunteered to come by each day at the end of her shift to help me cope. Lidia (the nurse’s name) was a Godsend and helped me not only calm down, but she also was able to convince the hospital to allow Teresa to act as my Mother. She then was able to visit and bring me my things, which, for a while helped calm me down. I was worried about allowing any surgery to be done to me in Mexico, and worried about whether this was the end of my grand journey or even possibly my life! As I hadn’t posted on my blog on ADV rider for days, I was able to contact my Son Spencer and he went online and let people know what was happening to me.
I stayed there for over three weeks, being fed a constant stream of different antibiotics intravenously while several of their specialists argued about whether they could save my colon. It literally came down to less than 2mm. If the size of the rupture was just 2 mm larger, the colon would have to come out. After two weeks, there was progress on healing, and they agreed to allow me to leave eventually, under the agreement that I would stay another several weeks under the care of a specialist in San Miguel de Allende, where I also had friends living, so I had a place to stay. That specialist finally agreed to let me continue riding back towards home, but warned that I needed several procedures done within the next six months in order to avoid further risk. I eventually made it back to Ohio in late October, and made plans for having the follow-up work done. (I eventually flew back to Mexico and had the procedures done there before flying back to Ohio)
All this seems so long ago now. The follow-up work went well. I was given the green light to travel again. I sold more of my things and raised enough money to where I thought I would be able to try again for Ushuaia, which I did, leaving for the second time in May of 2018. Now, in May of 2020, here I am, stranded on my bike in Brazil for two months and counting, because of border closures due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. I made it to Ushuaia! I’ve ridden most of South America! I have seen fantastic things and met more wonderful people than I can remember! And, best of all, have stayed relatively healthy along the way.
Now, with the Pandemic gripping Brazil in it’s horrible fist and the death count rising rapidly here, I am once again gripped with worry. Worry about getting my motorcycle back to the US. Worry about how in the WORLD I will be able to ride through all those borders again, with each country responding to this virus differently. Worried about abandoning my bike and just flying home (there are still passenger flights from Brazil to the US each week) Worry, worry, worry. What do I do? What have I done? Have I done the right things so far? Will I do the right things in the future? On and on it goes lately, regardless of the idyllic surroundings here on the beach in Praia do Estaleriro.
Here’s what I have learned. And as cliche’d as it sounds, the things I work on every single day to remember.
It is not healthy to worry about things you cannot control. I’m doing my best to shelter in place and limit my exposure to others. I can’t control when the borders will re-open. Nor can I control whether I can find a way of shipping my bike home, allowing me to fly home. So my worries about this virus have been quelled in this manner.
If you’ve decided to travel extensively on your motorcycle, prior planning and preparation can help eliminate a LOT of your worries as well. My capabilities of riding well off-road for instance are FAR greater now than they were when I initially left. Road conditions that used to have me quivering (deep sand, loose rock, deep water crossings) no longer phase me. I really should have been more proficient at that type of riding before I left for the first time. Crazy off road stuff I saw in Mexico that had my stomach in knots hardly cause a raised eyebrow for me now!
Get past procrastinations! Each moment you spend worrying and killing that needed energy often leads to procrastination. That time (and energy) is much better spent actually tackling the task(s) that are right in front of you waiting to be conquered! Make sure your gear is in good shape, compare the challenge in front of you to others you have surmounted and dive in! You’ll shock yourself at your own capabilities in short order.
Keep a journal! My blog here on ADV serves more than just keeping followers informed of my progress and current location and condition. It also serves me well at venting and throwing ideas out there to the public and to myself, and it’s very cathartic! I cannot stress this enough. The moral support I have received here as well as my Facebook page has helped me get through many many times of trouble since I left!
Try to flip your feelings on their head! Taking the negative thoughts and immediately trying to see the positive works wonders. It’s not always easy. Traveling for long periods on the road (especially solo) isn’t all wine and roses. But if you can recognize feelings of doubt and worry early enough, your brain can more easily process the challenge and (at least for me) often just the glimmer of good that pops through the haze is enough to turn those dark thoughts into something you can take pride in and revel in for the rest of your life. These aren’t just memories I’m creating. They are parts of a mental road map that allows me to navigate yet-unknown roadblocks that otherwise can quickly throw a monkey-wrench into the entire affair.
Relaxation is also immensely helpful in reducing worry. For me it has been an opportunity to work on my meditation. Whether you’re into TM or, like me, just methodology to clear the mind, has, at times, been undeniably valuable to help reduce the mental clutter that leads to worry. Yoga I am sure would be wonderful too, but my body isn’t what it used to be and chronic sciatic pain prohibits me now from being flexible enough for that, but I’m sure it could be used as a powerful relaxation method.
And lastly for me has been talking. Whether it’s a video chat with my Son or Father, or messaging with dear friends, just communicating with others you care about can also help alleviate your fears and trepidations. Anyone that knows me knows I love to talk, and when you’re alone on a trip for extended periods, sometimes even short conversations can help. If you’re proficient with the local language, even conversations with people you meet along the way can be of great help.
I hope this helps some of you that might be afraid to travel to gain the confidence to overcome your own worries, and realize that there is a wonderful world out there waiting for you to discover on two wheels. I also hope that these borders open up again shortly so that I can continue this wonderful journey. Adios and gracias!