Its a funny thing, planning, and the way different people go about it. Do you simply form a rough plan and sort out the details on the fly, or plan and schedule things down to the hour or minute, having all your i’s dotted and t’s crossed? Do you book those plane tickets months in advance in the hope of saving some money, or leave it until later in the hope that cheap seats pop up in the last weeks before your trip begins?
Sometimes it really doesn’t matter how you plan, how much, or how little of an itinerary you’ve got planned out, sometimes nothing goes to plan. Here’s a tale of one such adventure (which is now at its mid point) and while it’s not the worst travel story around it’s certainly a frustrating one.
With TP training in full effect, and being in the form of my life, feeling solid on the bike and confident for a solid attack on TP, things took a bit of a turn for the worse. While racing the Dawn 2 Dusk downhill event in Rotorua (11 hours, relay style in 2 person team, as many laps down the hill as possible) I had raced all day, feeling strong and solid, Mike Northcott (my team mate) and I were sitting well up in the standings, when I embarked on the last lap of the day, just on dusk. Dropping into the forest everyone around wished they’d put their night lights on, myself included. It was darker than expected so I took the same line I’d ridden most of the day, down the main downhill track, through ‘the river’ trail and onto the base area. Coming into the ‘river gap’ something was feeling a bit off on my bike as I hit the holes coming in; no biggie, still plenty of speed to clear the jump as I’d done multiple times through the day. This time though something went haywire, with the back of the bike kicking up off the lip, I took a huge OTB, landing on my head, folding myself forwards into a ball. Intense pain halfway down my back and a couple of minutes laying silently in the dark bush, I decided I was ok enough, just very sore, and trickled my way down the track to the finish line. I later discovered the internals of my shock has imploded, possibly causing the crash or contributing to it by having zero rebound damping.
That’s when the problems started. Thinking I was ok, I took a couple of weeks of rest and physio, after which I was feeling almost back to normal. Back to training and riding then, no major harm done. Boy was I wrong, a few days later I was near crippled with Sciatic nerve pain right down my right leg, putting a major stop to anything physical. Back to physio. After a couple more sessions and things getting worse, not better, I headed to the local sports doctor to get to the bottom of the issues.
A few X-rays later it was plainly obvious that when I thought I’d done damage at the Dawn 2 Dusk race, I had. A partially compressed vertebrae and a slightly herniated disk (probably from getting back on the bike too soon after the crash). Being six weeks after the initial crash, the doctor wasn’t worried about my spine at all, mentioning it was now healed and the only issue was to get the disc sorted; phew, one problem evaded. I was due to leave NZ four days after this new diagnosis, and knowing I had a few weeks on the road and holiday before I next would be on the bike it was a case of waiting it out, doing what activity I could, basically just walking and some light exercises, and hope that things came right enough to continue with TP as planned, even if it was going to be a case of finishing rather than competing as well as possible.
Arriving at Auckland airport with some time to spare we waltzed into the short check-in line for a flight to San Francisco where we’d spend three days checking out the sights. With such limited time going to be spent in the one city, we laid a solid plan to ensure we’d get to see and do all the things we wanted to do with limited time. Reaching the front of the queue, up to the check-in counter, bike box weighed, baggage weighed, all good. “You don’t appear to have an ESTA.” “A what?” We’d completely forgotten to get the Visa waiver for the US, meaning we couldn’t board the flight until we had that approved. Not a biggie, a quick trip to the travel agent 50 metres from the counter would see these sorted in a matter of minutes. Gemma’s (that’s the wife) ESTA approved immediately so we proceeded to submit my form. ‘Pending’ was the result. “No matter” everyone said, it should just take a few minutes, and with plenty of time before our flight was to leave it should be a non-issue.
After multiple checks in the system, phone calls to US consulates, various people who “may be able to help”, our travel agent, and everyone saying “we’ve never seen anyone not be approved immediately”. After a tense few hours waiting for ‘pending’ to become ‘approved’ all was lost and within minutes of our plane taking off, bound for foreign shores, we cancelled our tickets. In most scenarios this wouldn’t be a great deal, simply rebook that leg of the trip a day or so later (once the ESTA clears) and all would be back on track.
It would seem with Americas Cup racing going on, all flights to San Fran were booked out, with the nearest possible flight almost a week later. While the ESTA should be approved well before then, there was no guarantee, and we’d have missed our connecting flights into Europe. Missing our flight and being unable to get to SF, we were informed by the agent that this effectively cancels all other legs of our trip, including the flight home from Paris via Tokyo, mid October, ridiculous. We were basically stuck with no flights to get to any of the destinations we’d planned to get to and booked accommodation at.
After a late night on the phone with travel agents, we managed to find a flight which meant missing SF but getting to Frankfurt as planned for a couple of days, then back on schedule for a few weeks, but lose a three day stopover in Tokyo on the way home to NZ, not a huge deal but disappointing to miss out on two legs of the trip.
All was back on track, albeit a slightly different one than initially planned. Checking in for our flight to Frankfurt via HK we were informed it was running a little late but we should still make the connection on to Frankfurt. All good, or so we thought. Again a spanner was thrown in the works, and the flight was delayed some five hours, meaning our connection to Frankfurt was gone. A night in the airport hotel thanks to Cathay Pacific (which was actually quite decent) and we were on a flight to Frankfurt having missed the first of two nights of accommodation we’d booked.
Arriving in Frankfurt we were left with only a day to explore, in a bit of a jetlagged haze but it was interesting nonetheless. Amazing to see so many bikes on the roads, ridden by anyone and everyone. Back on track the following day, and on to Croatia for a solid week of chilling, checking out the sights and working on getting my back to a level where I could comfortably get around. A few days in Split, Korcula and Dubrovnik, an overnight ferry to Bari, Italy, a train to Rome to see the sights, pick up a rental car and drive north to were I’m currently holed up, in the small town of Poppi, just out of Florence.
My back is back to normal now, the nerve pain is almost gone and Ive spent three days on the bike, exploring the hills and tracks in the area. After a serious lack of activity and a limp resulting from the nerve issues, my right leg has faded to a shadow of its former self, lacking the spark that was once there. I’m somewhat deflated after putting in the hard yards early on to ensure I was on pace for “being as good as I could be” at TP but still stoked to be hitting ‘Camp Zero’ next Saturday and getting stuck into some great riding, catching up with friends and making some new ones.
Awesome diary about a less than great situation.That’s travelling.
Hang in there Lester, we all seen you bounce back more than once.
Confucius say “Cat coated in jam still land on it’s feet”