03 June 2008

Trouble!

June 2—450 km--Rode from Ulan Ude to Irkutsk, only about 450 km, but it was a very very long day. My little group (TJ, Stuart, and me) started out a bit late today, because our breakfast was served very slowly, then we had to wait for Radar, who was trying to fix his bike, then we stopped for pix at the giant Lenin head in the main square in Ulan Ude:

Anyway, today for a change we were not the first group. We finally got on the road and had ridden 100 clicks or so and were approaching Lake Baikal when we saw a bunch of cars stopped on the road; looked like an accident scene.

As we got closer I was horrified to see what looked like a smashed pannier (aluminum motorcycle saddle bag) lying in the middle of the road, and knew that one of our group had been in an accident! Closer still still, and I could see Henry (who had been riding with the Duke & Duchess ahead of us) lying motionless on the side of the road, with his motorcycle lying on its side in the oncoming lane. This looked bad; I prepared myself that Henry could be dead.

I parked, jumped off the bike and approached the Duchess, who had been riding with the person involved in the crash and who was now speaking on her cell phone with Sasha, our Russian handler. I spoke with a bystanders, an ambulance had already been called, so there wasn't much I could do at the moment. Finally I walked over to Henry, and was very glad to find that while his eyes were closed, he was conscious and alert; apparently his shoulder hurt, but he seemed to have the use of all of this limbs, which was great news!

I was soon approached by the Russian driver who had apparently hit Henry from behind, who was quite tense and claimed that the accident had been Henry's fault (because he swerved in front of him and then slammed on the brakes) and that he wanted compensation for the damage to his car. He was not the friendliest sort, but his two passengers, a young woman and older man, were quite nice and did what they could to assist Henry. The driver was a young guy and seemed awfully stressed.

Here's the aftermath of the accident:

Soon a doctor passing by in his car was on the scene, and he diagnosed the injury as a seperated shouder, which could have been much worse. He rigged up a sling and then set off again down the road. Right about then the police showed up, and the ambulance shortly thereafter. Our group leader asked me if I could accompany the rider to the hospital while Sasha stayed with the police at the crash scene. The “ambulance” was basically an empty van with a stretcher in it, so we put Henry in the van, I hopped on my bike, and we set off for the hospital, which was about 30 kilometers down the road in the town of Babushkin, right on the shores of Lake Baikal.

The hospital was a dilapidated brick building on the shores of Lake Baikal. We took Henry back to the x-ray room, which looked like something out of Frankenstein's laboratory, and the nurse warned me to get the hell out of the room---and the adjoining hall—before the x-ray. The x-ray confirmed the road-side diagnosis of a seperated shoulder, and then we had to wait a few hours for the doctor to arrive from the clinic. In the meantime, the nurses cleaned up and dressed the wounds:

(Sorry, got a little artsy with the photo editor there, but cool effects, yeah?)

Meanwhile the police showed up and wanted to question Henry about the circumstances of the accident. It seemed that the police had done a pretty thorough job at the crash site, because when the rider described his recollection of the accident, the police chief politely pointed out that his recollection didn't make sense given the physical evidence (skid marks, damaged pannier, damage to car). Eventually Henry admitted that he couldn't argue with the police chief's logic, and he signed a statement describing this version of events (I was translating and also signed as translator). The police said that the car driver was at fault because he was following too closely behind Henry's motorcycle.

After the police left Henry and I went to a different building to wait for the doctor. After a while some of the other group members arrived, but they just hung out in the courtyard and didn't come up...after a while I noticed that they were all gone and found that they had all gone to lunch! I thought it was odd that none of them went up to check on Henry (or me), but whatever. Finally they came back from lunch, but still no one came up...at last Henry had been treated (seperated shoulder put back in place, cast installed), and we descended. We then learned that because of the accident, the local police chief insisted on escorting our group to the border of his jurisdiction, so we had to ride in convoy, just like in China—what a pain!

So we rode in convoy along the beautiful shore of Lake Baikal, where I had hoped to do some exploring and hang out on the beach, but I couldn't stop. We had to ride right by lots of cool-looking little roads that led down to the lake. A real disappointment, because spending some quality time on a beach on Lake Baikal was one of the things I really wanted to do on the trip.We finally got to the border of Irkutsk region, but by then I didn't see any really promising roads to explore, and it was getting late, so I just stayed on the main road and got a single picture of Lake Baikal:

I had pulled ahead of the group when we stopped riding in convoy, and when I stopped to take the pictures, I thought how nice it was to be traveling in a group, because the group members behind you were always there in case you had trouble. Just then the rest of the group, still riding in convoy, zoomed by me, including the chase van, which was supposed to be the last vehicle. As they passed, each rider gave the "thumbs up" sign which meant everything was OK, as did the driver of the support van. So much for support from the group!

I was stopped by the police twice on the way into Irkutsk. One guy just wanted to know where I was from, very friendly, recommended the local fish delicacies, and during our chat he hip shot radar-gunned passing cars, making funny faces as he did so. At the next stop, apparently I was supposed to stop at some kind of railroad crossing, but the cop pulled over about ten other cars for the same thing. The cop told us to pull up to the station a couple hundred meters up the road. I did so, caught a different cop's eye, pointed down the road, and he waved me on...so far so good with the Russian police!

I didn't get in until about 9, and then had arranged to meet with one of our former general directors in Irkutsk. He came by, chatted for about five minutes, then left. Kind of weird...

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