On January 7, 2020, I was going about 60 km down a hill in a remote part of Australia when I got the speed wobbles (also called a death wobble) where the bicycle starts to violently shake back and forth. That is about all I remember because after that I lost consciousness. Apparently, I flew over my bicycle on my head (yes, I was wearing a helmet) and slid on my face breaking my four front teeth. My partner was ahead of me. He said I started screaming as I was flying. He turned around to watch me sliding. I do not remember anything until about half an hour later when four strangers were standing over me. I was air lifted to the hospital.
EVENTS LEADING UP TO THE ACCIDENT:
In October 2018, I began a cycle trip around the world. I chose to use my savings for this journey hoping that I would figure out a way to support myself along the way. I made a website, blog, vlog, and Instagram. I assumed that if I shared my story with the world surely someone would want to sponsor me or even film the journey. Note: I am not a very good self promoter and I did not reach out to any filmmakers or sponsors. I did do an interview, write an article, and appeared on the Tough Girl Podcast where I shared my story.
Now, more than a year later, I have not yet figured out how to make money. I do not have a sponsor. A film has not been made about me. And I only have 260ish followers on Instagram.
But what an adventure I have had—cycling from Bangkok, through Southern Myanmar, back into southern Thailand, Malaysia, Sumatra, Singapore, 14 Indonesian islands, Timor Leste, and Australia. Almost 15,000 km.
After cycling through the islands of Indonesia for nearly 8 months, I arrived in Timor Leste, the eastern part of Timor that declared independence from Timor in 2002. While Indonesia was incredibly populated and touched by humanity (cleared for farming) nearly everywhere we went, Timor Leste had a different feeling. There were remote mountain roads with pristine forest spotted with small rural villages. Due to the recent rains, the extreme dry and therefore, brown conditions we had experienced the last many months made the entire landscape come alive. Finally some green! The discrepancy between the few rich investors and the rest of the population was acute. This is a very poor culture, living extremely primitively —mostly in bamboo, wood, and metal shacks. They grow their own food, and live an extremely simple lifestyle. The children joyously gather in groups to play outside with anything they can find. And when we ride by they nearly cannot believe it and yell “malai, malai.”
One reason to take the detour to Timor Leste was to go to Atauro, a small island 40 km from the larger island known for its coral reefs. When we arrived in Dili, the capital of Leste and the city from which to access Artauro, we learned that there was a public ferry once a week to Atauro but it would not be leaving that week. How would we get there? I am on a budget and hiring a private boat was not an option. We asked many locals but no one could give us an alternative. Finally, it was suggested that we might be able to get a local fishing boat to take us. We would need to be there at 7am. When we arrived, there were several small fishing boats. The folks gathered there were locals—apparently this is to primitive an adventure for most Westerners. I found a boat to agree to take us. We waded through the smelly, polluted water littered with plastic and helped load our bicycles, bags, and additionally supplies that the fisherman were taking to the island. When the boat finally left 2 hours later, we were loaded with about 20 people and approximately 1,000 pounds of supplies. Jammed onto a platform covered with a plastic tarp for shade, surrounded by smokers in the extreme heat, we headed off. After about 4 hours we made it to our destination. There are only a handful of hotels on the island, mostly huts made of bamboo and wood. The long adventure to this island was definitely worth it. The coral reef, extending 2 km just off the shore is like nothing I have ever seen. It is one continuous medley of corals with all the colors of the rainbow. On the negative side, the evidence of overfishing is apparent and while there used to be sharks (not the dangerous kind) they were killed for their fins. This does not take away from the majestic reef that I spent hours each day exploring.
The fishing boat back to Dili left at 2am. In the dark early morning hours, we road our bicycles the 6km down the dirt road to the “harbor.” And it was dark!
There was a risk, we knew, that the boats would not be there because it was the day after Christmas and there were a lot of storms in the area. When we arrived, we could see the boats through the dark, found a fisherman to agree to take us, and then waited while they loaded the boat. The ride in the starry night was cool and pleasant; less people and less supplies going back. We arrived back at 5am.
Now for the tough part. We needed to find a ride to Australia. Committed to cycling, ferries, and sailboats, flying was not an option—at least not until this point. The problem was that Timor Leste is just not a popular place to travel. They only receive 7,000 tourists each year. Plus, we were just at the end of the sailing season because cyclone season was beginning. There was only one sailboat in the harbor and it was going the other direction (and under repair). In the end we broke all our rules and decided to fly to Australia. Darwin.
The hospitality that we received in Darwin was unprecedented. Even before we arrived, I had reached out to the Tough Girl Tribe (and others) to see if anyone had any good ideas how to get to Darwin. One woman, a Darwin doctor and adventurer, reached out to help with many different ideas. I was so impressed by her kindness, that we met in a little cafe when I arrived in Darwin. She continued to be helpful throughout my time in Darwin.
In the same little cafe, we met Ellen, a Darwin transplant working at the cafe and fellow cyclist. She was inspired by our story and wanted to know if she could follow us. I gave her my card with email and Instagram and did not think much about it. Two days later, I received an email from her partner inviting Rene and I over for dinner so we could share more about our journey. We met and bonded immediately. They provided me with additional equipment that I would need for the remote ride from Darwin to Brisbane—where I needed to be 7 weeks later to catch my plane to America.
Because the route was so remote with limited access to food and water, our bicycles needed to be calibrated for the rigorous trip. We knew we were heading into extreme temperatures during the hottest time of the year. Gratefully, we stumbled on probably the best mechanic in Darwin, Mark Mannering. He spent hours with our bicycles preparing them for the trip. In fact, I went back four or five times with small things to be added or adjusted. Over those couple days, we built up a sweet relationship with the guys at the shop. I joked when I left them on Friday that I would see them again on Monday (because I kept saying goodbye and returning).
However, after several days of preparation, we headed out Sunday morning. After finally getting out of the city, we found ourselves alone on the quiet, well paved road and green landscape due to the recent rains. It felt so good to be on the road again. Midway, the rain start. It poured down on us. The lightening and thunder happened nearly at the same time—the lightening was close! We agreed to stay on our bicycles and not let our feet touch the ground with the assumption that our rubber tires would save us from the lightening. Finally, we made it to a roadhouse—common on the outback roads and includes a gas station, restaurant, convenience store, and sometimes primitive lodging and camping. This one had a small room for us and a fantastic meal. Rene kept saying “I love Australia.” We were happy for the remote landscape and good food.
The next morning we headed out to Litchfield National Park where there should be a fantastic waterfall and camping. We arrived in the pouring rain, starving. Luckily Rene made it there earlier than me, right before the cafe closed and bought us a lot of well needed food. We ate and made our way to the waterfall, the rain had settled a bit.
It was just as beautiful and pristine as described. Since we were the only campers, we were the last ones in the pools and the first ones in in the morning. We stayed in the pools until nearly sunset, then went back to set up the tent and prepare dinner. Kangaroos pranced around us and we even got a pretty phenomenal bat show.
In the morning, we hiked to the top of the falls, skinny dipped in the pools, and then packed up to leave. We were heading to Florence Falls another gorgeous pool with a waterfall.
Our long journey to Australia was worth it. We were finally in a beautiful remote area, camping, preparing our own food, and so grateful to the experience.
After preparing some noodles to fuel up, we left Florence Falls for the 69 km ride to Batchelor where there should be a fantastic butterfly farm. Most of our 3,600 km ride was pretty flat. But there is a well known hill just after Florence.
It was on that famous hill (which I only learned about after the accident), I crashed. An ambulance was called but they chose to take me via helicopter due to potential brain and spinal injury.
In the end, my injuries were mostly on my head, four broken teeth and a pretty beat up face including a huge lip gauge, a lot of road rash and a black eye.
The travel insurance covered the hospital visit but not the airlift ($3,800) or dental (approximately $7,000) which will include several trips to Thailand to complete.
I flew to Thailand pretty soon after the accident because I know the care is very good there and also less expensive. After consulting several dentists, I learned that I needed one tooth to be pulled, one implant, and three crowns which will necessitate several trips back to Thailand for the repairs. Thousands of dollars.
I am not the type to reach out and ask for help. To me it sounds needy and I am just not very good at receiving gifts. So when a friend suggested I set up a Go Fund Me site. Despite my inner resistance, I created a site. The kindness and generosity of friends and strangers is pretty amazing. As I write this, I have about 1/7 of the funds. It is not easy to reach out and ask for help. It feels weak and vulnerable. But when people respond with such sweetness and kindness, it feels worth it. Plus, the stress of the financial burden lessens —which also feels good.
I am scared to get back on the bicycle. More specifically, I am scared to go down hills. But I will get back on. And I will go down lots of hills. And I will regain my confidence. This journey is too important to me.