(Written by Gary Morsch)
Well, it’s been a pretty wild week, to say the least. I’ve decided to take the time to write, so you all would have the full story, and not just be hearing the rumors. So here’s the scoop on why I’m not with David & Gerald.
It started in El Salvador, where I took a curve too fast, probably 50-60 mph, and flew off the road, across a culvert and crashed into a bunch of brush. Luckily, I laid the bike down before sliding off the road, which slowed me down enough that I didn’t have any serious injuries. However, I scraped the left side of my body in several places. The worst is an elbow injury that really should have been sutured, but I didn’t want to take the time. So, I have been taking antibiotics and dressing the wound daily. For all you medical folks, I’ve decided to let it heal by secondary intention! The body is pretty amazing, isn’t it? But, just in case, I’m going to see an orthopedist or trauma surgeon when I get back. It wouldn’t surprise me if they decided to take me to surgery to debride and clean and close the hole I have in my elbow. No bone involvement, as far as I can tell, and minimal swelling or redness. I also have a nasty abrasion on my left hip. It’s healing slowly, with no signs of infection, and has finally scabbed over.
Enough of my medical woes! I’m actually feeling great. What’s worse than a few bruises and scrapes are the long days on the motorcycle. You end the day exhausted and sore. But a shower and sleep does wonderful things, so I’m perky and rarin’ to go this morning!
So why am I a day behind Gerald Smith and Dave Clouse, you ask? The SPOT (satellite tracking device) is with them, not me. However, Graham figured out how to use the “find me” application on my iPhone, so he’s been tracking me the last day or so and giving me good advice!
At any rate, when I crashed, I tore my jeans and underwear, which resulted in my pocket getting torn, too. I usually keep my passport in a separate document pouch when traveling. So, after my crash in El Salvador, we made the border crossing into Guatemala, without problems. That night, we checked into the Casa Santo Domingo in Antigua, Guatemala. This is without doubt the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever stayed in. Not because it’s fancy, which it is. But it’s a 16th century convent, and is literally a living museum. Gerald took photos, and you’ve got to see this place to appreciate it. It’s just magical!
Anyway, at check in, I got my passport out of my document bag, and gave it to them. They handed it back, and I didn’t want to take the time to put it back in my backpack. So I stuck it in my jeans pocket. That was the big mistake. When I got to my room, the first thing I wanted to do was take off my dirty, bloody jeans and underwear and take a shower, and clean my wounds. I emptied my pockets; except my passport had slipped down through the hole into my pants leg, which was covered with blood, etc., and it stuck to the inside of my jeans. I took off my jeans and almost threw them away, but then decided to take them home for a souvenir. I stuffed them in a bag of dirty laundry. Lucky I didn’t throw away the jeans, since my passport was inside them.
We had a fabulous meal in the hotel outdoor restaurant, celebrating my crash survival; stayed the night and were up early in the morning to leave. We stopped by the town square to visit the church there. When we left the church I rode through a small park intending to circle back around and catch the guys on the way out of town. That is where we got split up. The guys waited for me on the edge of town, however I went on ahead thinking we would catch up down the road. I also wanted to do two extra things (just smell’in the roses as I like to say!), so I expected I could catch up with them later that night at the next hotel stop.
My first detour was to visit the new MNU/Heart to Heart clinic that we had just dedicated about 10 days earlier, in Patanatic, Guatemala. I had promised the mayor and school principal that I’d come back through on my Harley; so I did, and I’m glad I stopped. However, this detour cost me about 3-4 hours.
The next detour I wanted to take was to stop and visit Blake and Amy (Hamilton) Nelson, who teach in Xela (which is its Mayan name, but in Spanish is Quetzaltenangos). Little did I know this was another 2 hour detour. By the time I met them in the McDonald’s parking lot in Xela, it was getting dark, so I gave up on the idea of catching Gerald and Dave and took Blake and Amy for pizza. We had a terrific time laughing about old times (remember our trip with Dean and Blake to Kosovo, and the plane that lost an engine?). I’d also gone through the FOCUS program with Amy, and consider her a good friend. It was getting late, so I decided to spend the night at their apartment.
I was up early trying to gain a couple of hours on the advance team. I finally met up with Gerald and Dave at the border crossing into Mexico. They had just finished the 2 hour ordeal and I was just getting started, so I told them to go on, and I’d catch up by that evening! As I was checking into the immigration to get my passport stamped, I realized my passport was not in my document bag! I searched every pocket in my luggage, except for my bag of dirty clothes. I mean, why would anyone put their passport in a laundry bag? I’m fairly organized, and the whole trip I’ve put everything in the same place. But no passport could be found.
So I had to make a quick decision. The immigration officials said I needed to drive back to Guatemala City to the US Embassy and get a new passport. That would cost me an additional 2-3 days. Or, I thought, I could use my military ID and powers of persuasion and try to get through the border. Which I did. I knew I was risking a lot of problems as I traveled. Gerald and Dave had emailed me and told me they were being constantly stopped and asked to show passport and Mexico bike registration. In fact, Mexico is the strictest of all the countries we’ve visited. But I wanted to get home, so I said to myself, “Self, you can do this. You speak just enough Spanish, you have an official US Army military ID that says you’re a Colonel. You can do this!” So, in error, I decided to enter Mexico illegally. Yes, I was an illegal immigrant. I now know how illegal Mexicans feel in the US – worried every day that the police or someone is going to discover that they don’t have the necessary papers.
So without stopping for the officials, I drove through the border into Mexico. Gerald is the navigator, and has a GPS on his bike, so I was used to just following him. He had given me directions at the border for the roads ahead, and where we should plan to meet. However, now I was on my own. Jorge Coromac, who is Guatemalan and works for H2H, had emailed me and suggested I take the route to Arriaga, stay there the night, and then head north to Mexico City, etc. So that’s the route I took. Gerald and Dave had received route instructions from a great supporter of our trip, the Werner Trucking Company, a huge Mexico/US trucking company (the largest trucking company in Mexico). They had suggested to Gerald that they take the eastern route. At Tuxtla Gutierrez, I went south and west, and Gerald & David went north and east. I got to Arriaga, checked into a Mayan hotel, named Ik-Tuman, and emailed Gerald and Dave where I was, and learned where they were. They were near the Gulf of Mexico, I was near the Pacific ocean. I told them I’d try to catch up with them the next day closer to Mexico City. By the way, a large Nazarene Church was around the corner from my hotel, and I stopped in for the end of prayer meeting.
The next morning was GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS. First the GOOD NEWS: The next morning I decided to look through everything with a fine-toothed comb for my passport, and voila’; I emptied my laundry bag, pulled out every piece of clothing one at a time. When I got to my jeans, I looked in every pocket, discovered the hole and then checked the legs. THERE IT WAS! My beautiful passport was scraped and dirty and sticky and smelly, but it was still MY PASSPORT! I literally got on my knees and GRACIAS A DIOS! At least I’d be legal (sort of… still no Mexico immigration entry stamp), but my bike would still be illegal. I knew, with some difficulty, I could talk my way into the USA with a passport and military ID, even without bike papers. Now I just needed to make sure I evaded the vehicle checkpoints. I was ready to hit the road again. I emailed Gerald and Dave and said I’d try to catch them again that day. They were about 5-6 hours ahead of me by now.
THE BAD NEWS: When I tried to follow my Google map instructions, coupled with the confusing and inconsistent Mexican signage system, I got on the right toll road, but went the wrong direction. I was heading south and west, rather than north and east. But the sun seemed to be on my right, so I thought I was probably OK. I knew how many miles I needed to drive on the toll road to find my exit. So I drove about a hundred miles, and started looking for the exit. NOTHING! I stopped for gas, and the locals were clueless as to where I was trying to go. I turned on my iPhone Google map, and realized I had gone a hundred miles in the wrong direction, but was now only 65 miles from Guatemala, although heading for a different border crossing than we originally crossed!
Again, time for a quick decision. Do I turn my bike around and make up the 2 hours and still try to catch the guys? In the meantime, the guys had emailed that they were being stopped all the time and asked to produce both stamped passports and Mexican bike registration papers. So I said to myself, “Self, you may have made a BIG mistake crossing into Mexico the first time illegally. You’re only an hour from Guatemala. Why not take advantage of your wrong turn and go back to the border and start over and get it right? After all, you have a passport now!” In fact, I was thanking God that perhaps this was not a mistake, but that this was what I needed to do after all.
So I turned lemons into lemonade. Drove on to the border. Of course I couldn’t stop at the Mexican side, because I was in Mexico illegally. So I blew through the Mexican border, drove quickly into Guatemala, again evading the police and checkpoint at the border. But I made it— I was now legal in Guatemala. As far as they knew, I’d never left, and Mexico never knew I’d been there! (Kids – I don’t recommend trying this at home!)
So I started the 2-3 hour border crossing adventure, this time with all the right paperwork, and MY PASSPORT! YIPPEE! Although, I knew by this time I’d never catch Gerald and Dave, but everything would be fine now that I was legal, and all I needed to do was drive back to the USA like any normal, legal person!
I finished at the Guatemala border in Tapachula abut 4 PM. I was now about 12 hours behind the others. I retraced my route back to Arriaga, getting there by nightfall, but didn’t have the heart to check back into the same hotel. I just felt I had to make a little progress. So I decided to drive to the next big town and find a hotel. Well, good luck finding a hotel in that part of the country. I drove and drove, 9 PM, Midnight, 2 AM, and all I came across were little towns with roads lined by scores of trucks; with ladies-of-the-night getting in and out of the truck cabs. In fact, I almost ran over one of them when I stopped for gas!
Finally, about 3 AM, I had reached the toll road that Gerald and Dave had taken that morning! I found a hotel about 4 AM, and slept till 8 AM. Got up, ate a breakfast of Pringles and water, repaired a couple of things on my bike that had bent or broken in the crash, and hit the road again about 10 AM. Now I was on the suggested Werner Trucking route, though still about 8 hours behind the others.
I drove all day, and, guess what, I was asked to pull over only once at a military checkpoint. Maybe traveling solo makes you less suspicious. And they even obliged by allowing me to take a group photo of them with my bike!
Well, last night I made it to San Juan del Rio, where the team had stayed the night before. I found a nice Colonial-style old hotel right down on the main square of this beautiful little town. It’s now Saturday morning. The church bells are ringing, so I’ll stop in the Cathedral and say a prayer, thanking God for LA VIDA! I’ve stopped at a church or cathedral every day since my crash on March 28th, and said a quick prayer of thanksgiving for sparing my life. Really, the crash was much worse than it looked in the pictures. There was a big concrete culvert, 3 feet deep and 3 feet wide, right on the edge of the road. My bike hit something and caused it to fly over it into the brush. I ended up in the culvert, but alive and relatively unscathed!
So today, Saturday, I’m still a day behind Gerald and Dave. They made it across the border late last night in Laredo, so they’re in the US! I should be there tonight. Don’t know if I’ll make it to Austin tonight to see Erin, Chris, Eloise, and Duke, but should make Austin at least by Sunday. I may stop at Fort Hood and check into the military ER and have them check me. Since I’m now on orders for Germany in May, I’m already on Active Duty insurance. I might even end up spending the night in the Officer’s Quarters. Then on to OKC to see Graham and Brittany (Sunday night or Monday), and then to KC and HOME (Monday night or Tuesday)!
The end is in sight! I can see the finish line. I’m going to bring my old, beaten up, bent up, torn up, muddy Harley home by Monday or Tuesday. This has absolutely been the ride-of-a-lifetime, and one I’m glad I did. But if I knew in advance what all would transpire with Brad’s and Doug’s and my accidents, and the grueling days of riding, I’m not sure I would have taken this on. This had been the very hardest thing I’ve ever taken on. Makes my combat tour in Iraq look like a walk in the park! But it’s nearly done, so “I’m going with the flow”!