Back in Coyhaique after our holiday in Santiago with passports, bikes and bodies intact, it was time to return to the Austral. Despite our recent woes we were raring to go on the final leg of the road that had become our nemesis. A mere 600km of dirt track (with 3 lake crossings at specific times due to limited ferry activity) lay between us and a stroll back over to Argentina.
If it were a task set by the bald chap on the Crystal Maze, it would have been both a ´physical´ and ´mental´ challenge. It wasn´t, but as our cycling guide recommended 10 days and we had allocated only 5 (to ensure we made the most efficient ferry crossings) we knew it would be reasonably tough - but still totally realistic. As we all know, cycling guides are written by old men with beards, for old men with beards. We don't even have moustaches now.
We set off through the stunning array of lakes, mountains and glaciers to which we have become accustomed, making good progress. Even the weather had begun to brighten up. This was fun. By the end of day 3 we had reached Cochrane, where Owen spent part of his time with Raleigh International.
Day 4 was even better, as we made light work of the initial stages of the 120km to Puerto Yungay, through some of the most beautiful wilderness imaginable. 110km soon passed by and by 6pm we were feeling totally content, sitting by the side of the road having a drink and congratulating one another on a fine day´s work.
And then it turned.......
Within a kilometre, the heavens had opened, a humongous climb appeared before us and a signpost added another 20km to Yungay. Moral dropped but we soldiered on up the mountain, traversing the many switch backs to the top.
Keen to push on, Jonny led the descent down the other side. As the winds continued to increase, so did the gradient and the instability of the terrain. He was soon in trouble, struggling to keep control of his bike and it was not long before the road turned left and he didn't. Jonny flew off the edge of the mountain which revealed a 10 metre drop off a cliff.
The impact was huge. He knew at once he was in trouble, unable to move his legs. With the light fading we needed to get help. Having done all he could to make Jonny as comfortable and warm as possible, Owen cycled off towards Yungay - a couple of hours further south. Fortunately, within 10 minutes he met a couple of campers who were able to drive him into town. On arrival, his heart sank as Yungay was nothing more than a ferry terminal and military outpost.
There wasn't even a pub open to have a few ¨looseners¨ before he launched the rescue operation. So, the military were alerted and with uncontrollable whooping, high fives and air punches they were delighted to finally have something to do. This truly must be one of the most remote military postings globally. None the less, they radioed the nearest hospital back in Cochrane (130km up the road) who immediately dispatched the ambulance / van down the dirt track to our rescue.
Meanwhile, the half cut military debarcle had arrived to assess the damage as Jonny slipped in and out of consciousness. He soon awoke though as they ruthlessly manhandled his feared broken back onto a metal board and up to the roadside. Having handed him a paracetamol to cope with his broken body, he knew that pain would no longer be a concern. It was now just a matter of sitting and waiting (and screaming
and passing out). Tick followed tock. The military entertained themselves with their rather boy scoutish antics. Tents were erected and fires built to keep us warm as they continued to get more boozed.
At 1 a.m., six hours later, the ambulance arrived. The previous treat of a paracetemol was soon overshadowed by two shots of morphine. The thought of becoming a heroine addict instantly appealed. Still unaware of the extent of the damage, we bumped and jolted back up to Cochrane arriving at the hospital three hours later. The hospital may as well have been someone's house, but x-rays were taken and the news told.
Jonny´s thighbone had smashed through his pelvis, which had also been fractured in nine places. His pubis bone had split into two halves, two vertebrae were fractured and half of his blood had been lost through internal bleeding. Oh my God, this doctors last patient had a cough. It was going to take more than a lap of the pitch to jog this one off.
Three hours later we were in the air flying by private jet to Coyhaique, where we had been four days earlier. Here, the hospital at least looked like a hospital. Some people even wore white coats. A thousand dollars upfront and he was in the operating theatre. An hour later, he was out again with the news that his condition was too severe for them to cope with.
Back on another plane, we were heading to Santiago. 48 hours after the accident had occurred we arrived at Clinica Las Condes (Tel 0056 22104000 room 461). The leg was still dislocated and as time passed by, the risk of the bone dying increased - meaning a hip replacement. We await that news.
Jonny is now lying in bed looking and feeling like half man, half machine with 6 metal pins protruding from his pelvis. Truth be told, it has been a bad week but things are definitely looking up. The main operation has been done successfully and so Owen has flown back down to Yungay to complete his now solo journey to Cape Horn in true Corinthian spirit.
I have been lucky and it has opened my eyes to the fragility of life. I nearly died, and would have done if it wasn't for the people who were around me, especially Owen, who sorted me out. I´ll buy you a pint when we get home, then we are quits. Thank you. I also want to thank the numerous people here and at home - especially the hospitals and PwC - who are helping me get back on my feet.
Here´s to the next few months ...... And good luck Owen in getting to Cape Horn.