Weds 30th September to Wednesday 21st October
When we returned from the White Rim Trail neither me nor my bike were in good working order.
My bike hadn’t been making the best of noises before we’d ridden it, and afterwards it sounded horrific. Ed diagnosed it as cam chain slap, and as I still had the original Chinese one in there after over 20,000 miles he decided to replace it with an original Honda one.
We also discovered that the rubber bung on the end of the cam chain tensioner was hanging on for dear life, so he replaced that too.
The bung was the easy bit, but Ed had to work out how to fit the cam chain without having to take the engine apart. I wasn’t there for the procedure but I was rather impressed with how he managed to do it. Using a metal coat hangar and a fair bit of skill, he managed to remove the old cam chain and fit the new one in less than an hour, with the engine completely intact. If only it had been that easy to fix me…
I only dropped my bike three times on the White Rim Trail, but it was after picking it up the third time, in sand, buzzing with adrenaline and eager to get it up that I did myself a mischief. I didn’t use the correct form and put too much force through my lower spine instead of my legs, feeling a twinge in my lower back. It was just a niggle thankfully, and I was able to get back on the bike and keep riding. With hindsight I should have slowed right down and taken it really easy over the rock and bumps, but as it felt fine I soon forgot that I’d even done it. Easy to do so with so many other things for your mind to be occupied with. It was the next day that I felt the full effects of what I’d done. I’d herniated a disc in my lumbar spine and it was pinching the sciatic nerve, and I knew this because it’s happened before. I’ve had an an existing disc injury for the last 8 years now. It first happened in kickboxing, and has recurred around 5 times since then. The first time I did it I couldn’t even stand, as the nerve was so badly pinched that my back and muscles went instantly weak. This time I could stand but I couldn’t walk unless it was at a snail’s pace, I couldn’t sit for more than minutes at a time, and if I laid in the wrong position for too long I really paid for it. Any sudden jolts were agony, and I spent a week in the hostel gingerly moving around and trying to get comfortable. It always gets worse before it gets better, and towards the end of the week I was starting to see an improvement.
While I was hostel bound, Ed ended up having enough fun for the both of us. Michael who had met us on the White Rim got in touch as he’d rented a side by side and wanted to take us out. Seeing as I was in pain just from sitting down, I decided that being bounced around in a side by side probably wasn’t the best of ideas, and sent Ed off on his own to have some guy time. Mike took him up to the sand flats recreation area and they had a brilliant morning playing on the sandstone domes known as Hell’s Revenge.
Ed absolutely loved it, and was left with a much better impression of side by sides; they’re fun and fast! Some of the routes were ridiculous, and I was impressed with Mike’s driving skills being able to navigate them.
After discovering that the sandstone was the grippiest thing known to man, Ed decided to tackle the Slickrock trail on his 90 the next day. It was something that we’d planned to do before we got to Moab, and I knew I was going to be missing out on something good. However when Ed called to tell me that he’d met a guy called Taylor who was making a television series and had been filming him all day, I couldn’t believe it. ‘Seriously?! I’ve missed out on that?!’
The funny thing was though if I hadn’t hurt my back then we would have ridden the Slickrock Trail days before, and would have missed Taylor all together. Every cloud and all that. We’d already planned to have dinner with Michael that night, and invited Taylor along too. It was a good bike and travel based evening, and was lovely to see Michael again before he headed back home to Georgia. He also very kindly paid for the meal, and gave us a carrier bag full of Canadian money that he couldn’t be bothered to change up!
Ed absolutely loved riding on the Slickrock trail, and found that his skills had improved greatly even after just one day. He decided to go back the following day, but this time with a friend in the form of Lukas, an Austrian round the world rider with perfect English, wit and charm. He had a Dakar ready KTM that he’d picked up in Mongolia of all places, and had been riding with Lyndon Poskitt of Dakar fame for the first 6 months of his trip.
He was a really great guy, and him and Ed spent the whole day playing on the trail, filming each other and making others laugh at the sight of a full rally spec KTM 690 and a clapped out Honda 90 doing the same technical sections. Very funny.
I was also pleased that we were still at the hostel as we got to meet a fellow Englishman by the name of Will. He’d never ridden off road before and was tackling the TAT solo on a CRF250L. Although he admitted that he had ridden on the highway for parts to make up time and was taking some of the ‘easy’ (which are still quite difficult) routes, I was still impressed.
I was also further impressed when he cooked us dinner and homemade apple crumble and custard, English style. I hadn’t had a proper apple crumble for nearly a year and a half and ended up having two helpings as it was so damn good. So after that I had a bit of a soft spot for Will. He was such an honest and genuine guy, and I really liked him for that, and for his apple crumble and custard of course! Lukas also got to join us despite having left that morning to ride the unofficial TAT section towards LA. He’d ended up in a mess of rocks and boulders, the area had flooded and his poor bike had taken quite the battering. He returned with a destroyed sump guard and two squashed exhaust pipes. Poor bugger. Still he took it well and we got to spend some more time with him which was a pleasure.
It felt like my back was finally on the mend, and I knew what exercises and stretches I needed to do from previous trips to physical therapists, but during a trip to town the following day I made one wrong move and it was aggravated again. On the bright side while Ed’s bike was parked up a kind soul left us this…
…so we decided to put it towards a support belt, which helped a lot, and we also managed to find a free place to stay with a firm bed and a hot tub. That was thanks to a wonderful couple called Chris and Rick, who had replied to a post asking for somewhere to stay, allowing us to stay in their vacation home a few miles from town. The hostel cost was really starting to add up and I was incredibly thankful for our own place to recover and recoup, especially as they had the hot tub to soak my muscles and get some warmth in to the area.
Things were looking up until shortly after moving in to the house I suddenly developed really bad sciatica in my left hip area, for no apparent reason. I’d been really careful with moving around and I couldn’t work out why it had suddenly come on. It was on and off but mainly on and I just couldn’t shake it; whenever I did think it had finally gone it would reappear with full force, and equal disappointment. I’ve learnt from my mum not to go over the past and think things like ‘I wish I hadn’t…’ or ‘If only I’d…’, as you can’t change the past and it doesn’t do you any good doing so, so despite the setbacks and disappointment I did my best to stay positive and look to the future
It wasn’t just me though. There were two of us on the trip and I was concerned about keeping Ed waiting for so long, it wasn’t fair on him. He’d reached the limit of his bike’s capabilities on Slickrock and I was worried that he was going to run out of things to do. If I was on my own it wouldn’t be such an issue. I’d just wait all the time I needed to get better then continue. I couldn’t expect Ed to wait much longer, even though I knew he would even if he didn’t want to. Luckily for the both of us though Ed managed to find a new toy to play with in the form of a 1974 Honda TL125, for $475.
It was a lovely little bike, really cute, and Ed had a great time out playing on the trails. He improved his skills even further on Slickrock, then went and tackled some of the other trails in the area.
He rode Black Mesa, Poison Spider, Hell’s revenge, Fins and Things, and managed to scare himself on the rather challenging Rockstacker and Jacson’s Trail, which by the way he advises not to attempt. It’s very rare for Ed to get scared on a bike and tell people not to ride a trail, so that says a lot!
I was pleased that Ed had something to do, it didn’t make me feel so guilty and so much of a burden, plus he was actually really enjoying himself. Although he felt sad for me when I said that my back wasn’t improving, he said he was actually quite pleased (in a non-mean way) as he could keep playing on the trails on his new little bike.
As time went on though with no improvement, the reality of the situation started to dawn on me, or at least I became willing to actually acknowledge it, and it really got me down. I know that things could be worse, it could be broken, but your problems are your own after all. I desperately wanted to finish the TAT, and I really wanted to finish it together, but the chances of doing so were disappearing before my eyes.
It was on my birthday that I explained to Ed that I felt like I was in denial about my injury. I thought it would get better and I could continue, but I knew that it would still be delicate even after the pain had eventually gone. I’d need to get all my muscles strong again, which takes time, and it would only take a violent wobble in sand or a quick foot down and it could recur, and next time it could in the darkest depths of Nevada with no help in sight. To be honest I was gutted. I was planning on going back to England anyway for a month after the TAT, but now it was looking like I would have to miss the rest of the TAT and ride to Los Angeles on my own, catching the next available flight back home. Ed understandably wanted to finish the TAT, and I wasn’t about to tell him that he couldn’t, I wasn’t willing to take that opportunity away from him. I really didn’t want it to end like this, so abruptly, and that was the bit that got me down the most. It didn’t feel right, and Ed agreed. Although he wanted to finish the TAT he also didn’t want to leave me behind, and as he loves me he also didn’t like to see me down. And that’s when he got thinking. While he couldn’t do anything about my back he realised that he could do something about my bike, and that’s when I heard those famous words… ‘I’ve got an idea’.
While Ed was working on making my bike more stable, I decided that I needed someone to work on my back. Unable to get an appointment with a physiotherapist or osteopath for at least a week, they gave me the number of the local chiropractor who saw me the following day on the 14th of October. I thankfully didn’t have sciatica on the morning of the appointment, which meant I was a lot more relaxed and willing for them to be let loose on my spine without fear of doing further damage. After lots of cracking and popping I left a bit looser and straighter, and the sciatica in my hip hasn’t returned since. It appeared that the inflammation had begun to go down and the disc was starting to heal, which is why the pain and soreness in my lower back had diminished, but the recent sciatica was caused by a misalignment in my spine and hips, with my right Sacroiliac joint being tight. My body had taken quite a battering on the TAT, not surprising seeing as we only have leading link suspension on the front, and every involuntary dismount wouldn’t have helped matters either. What also hadn’t helped was that I hadn’t been doing my regular core exercises and resistance and strength training that I used to do at home, and over time the combination of everything eventually caught up with me.
So that’s where we’re at right now. We’ve been in Moab just over a month now, one week waiting for my head gasket and three weeks plus waiting for my back to get better. When it seemed like all was lost and my adventure on the TAT was coming to a sudden and abrupt end, my wonderful hero Ed March stepped up to the table (oh and the chiropractor). All will be revealed in the next post. It’s taken a lot of hours and Ed March wizardry to do it, but he said it’s totally worth it. Plus he took it out for a test ride the other day and said a vehicle has never made him smile so much! And in the meantime I’ve been busy writing and doing my exercises every day to strengthen my back and core.
Where there’s a will there’s a way. Fingers crossed all goes well and I can continue all the way to the ocean, and if it doesn’t and I can’t then I’ll be safe and happy in the knowledge that we did everything we could. I can deal with it then. One of Ed’s friends has also VERY kindly offered to come and collect me and my vehicle if it doesn’t work out, so that’s good to know!
Watch this space people… shit’s about to get interesting!!