I was overjoyed to leave Negritos. I had counted down the hours until my release. Besides the discomfort of the hospedaje there were also only two restaurants in town that were only open for lunch. They were located next to each other and served the identical lunch menu. There was also no store in town for buying supplies so I was limited to buying cookies and snacks from the little bodegas along the main calle.
With the wind at my back I rode quickly out of town and started back on the 11km through the dusty hills for Talara. There was a big climb up to Talara and then I rode the oil trucker’s route back west and back across the burning fields of trash and feces to the Pan American Highway. I had ridden 25km and would have 80km of riding through the desert into a part headwind, part crosswind to the city of Sullana.
It was sun-baked scrub and mostly flat to start. I had a lot of water with me and took my first break at 50km in, the halfway point of my ride. Then, as I passed small shack, four dogs came tearing out behind me barking. I up-shifted and the chase began.
The big one darted in front of me and I swerved to avoid hitting him and coming back alongside me on the drive train side he went for my leg. I pulled my leg off the pedal and he went for it again and I lifted it higher. But now I wasn’t pedaling. I couldn’t outrun him. Then the big one went for the next best thing and bit my front pannier and with my center of gravity too high the front wheel twisted as he pulled at the pannier and I felt the bike go and I was down, sliding headfirst across the asphalt, the bike under me.
I got up cursing and furious and the dogs ran off. My right elbow was torn up and I immediately feared the worst: I had re-broken the elbow. I was out in the desert with 50km yet to ride. But worse yet I needed two good arms to take apart and pack the bike and then how would I carry two heavy bike boxes with a broken arm?
I pulled the bike off the road and checked it out. The chain had come off and the front panniers needed adjustment but everything else was okay. I flexed my fist and it felt alright, but I knew from experience that it would be 30 minutes at least before the pain of a broken elbow would appear. Then I would lose mobility in the elbow and it would swell up, drawing the elbow up into a stiff bent position, and the arm would be useless.
I cleaned off the blood and wiped at the wounds. I also saw my knee was torn up as well as my shorts with some road rash on my hip. I got back on the bike and rode. I was furious. Of all the luck. On my second to last day riding too and after so many kilometers and close calls. If I had a gun I would have gone back and executed that dog.
The Pan American became rolling country and I was riding it fast and strong with that strange feeling of exuberance that comes after a crash. But I knew that would end soon and I would feel weaker than before. A crash did not ever strengthen a man. I continued to test the elbow by extending it and found I had lost no mobility. I began to think I had at worst only a minor fracture, perhaps no fracture at all. It was true I had crashed on an oily stretch of asphalt and perhaps the oil had eased my fall, allowing me to slide more easily on the pavement. I rode on hoping the elbow would be alright.
The country changed suddenly to green. The area had been irrigated and there were fields of rice and palm trees dotted the horizon against the dusty hills. Then there was a string of little pueblos and soon after I was in Sullana. It had been more than two hours now since the crash and I could bend the elbow. I could extend it fully. It could not have been broken.
A policeman gave me directions for Calle Grau and after stopping at three hospedajes I found a pleasant one painted a bright orange. The girl showed me an area to lock up my bike and I saw another touring bike outfitted with racks. I asked and she told me there was a Canadian cyclist staying there also.
Since I had no first aid kit (another of my mysterious gear losses) I figured I had a couple of reasons to knock on his door. His name was Mike and he hated Peru just as much as I did, maybe more. He had tried to skip it entirely and go to Chile and Argentina but the airline in Guayaquil had no room for his bike. His ticket they refused to refund. He then tried to go by bus from Piura but as he was about to board they said there was no room for a bicycle. That ticket was refunded to him. Now he would ride in the mountains of Peru until December and then fly back to Ontario.
We ate a dinner of goat stew and tamales and talked about his tree planting job in northern Canada. He has worked only three months per year the last ten years and makes $25,000 planting trees. You are paid by the tree and if you are serious, and can plant many of them, it can be quite lucrative. The timber forests were recently decimated by an Asian beetle and there is much replanting to be done. It seemed like excellent work and more reliable in terms of pay than salmon seasons which can be good or bad. He explained I could work in British Colombia planting and then go to Alaska for the salmon.
We said goodnight and talked about riding the 40km to Piura the following day. We would meet in the morning and see. Piura was a dump though too, he said. He was heading back south now and then west up into the mountains. He hoped Peru would be better in the mountains but he was not optimistic. I borrowed his anti-septic cream and went back to my room to tend to my wounds. The elbow was swollen but bent without pain. I felt very lucky.