Cuenca to Loja isn’t that far- slightly more than 200km, but with some quite tough climbing along the way. Almost as hard was the weather- I didn’t go very far the first day, but the strong winds and rain that appeared during the night were a feature for most of the way.

I was kindly offered a place to camp in Susudel- a disused cafe (no more than a concrete box) – but a perfect place to hang my hammock and dry out my tent. A few kilometres of steep descent to the river before I was greeted once again with a long steep ascent and a strong headwind, both of which made for slow progress.

After a hard day of rain and wind, I stopped overnight in Saraguro- this time with a bed and hot shower- before the last few kilometres to Loja.
I had a little too much faith in the gradient profile I generated from the map- what appeared as a short climb at the end was an extra 800 metres or so I wasn’t expecting.

A short distance from the final descent to Loja, I paused to attach my tail-light. Suddenly, standing right next to me was the two-metre frame of Armin – another panamericanista hailing from Germany – who had been following the same road with rather more speed than me. Once i had composed myself and picked up my bike, we agreed to push on in the gathering darkness and trade stories in Loja.

A few kilometres further on, the glittering sprawl of Loja revealed herself- a welcome sight indeed. Twelve kilometres or more of empty highway stretched out in front all the way down – no more climbing today.

The road surface was excellent, and we tore down the hill.. it turned to be far from uneventful, however. Around ten kilometres or so from the centre of Loja, the bolt holding my front luggage rack on sheared off.

A few weeks previously (in Ibarra), I cycled into a large pothole. My wheel was fine, but the ‘lowrider’ design of my front rack holds the panniers quite close to the ground, and the right hand one hit the tarmac hard. I bent the rack back into shape- it wasn’t ever as good as it had been, but seemed fine. It didn’t occur to me that the restraining bolt might be damaged or subjected to excessive stress.

Coasting downhill at about 60km/h towards Loja, the right hand pannier and rack frame brushed the spokes of my front wheel- the broken bolt now allowing the whole side of the rack to swing freely. I braked as hard as I dared, but with a ‘system weight’ (bike+luggage+Andy) of 130-140kg, stopping doesn’t happen instantly.
Part of the right-hand luggage rack was dragged right through the wheel, and round the axle one the other side two and a half times.. after that though, it would roll no further, and I went over the handlebars.
Armin, having met me perhaps only half an hour previously, dealt with the resulting scene of destruction with admirable calmness and stoicism.. after ensuring I wasn’t severely hurt, helped me move my scattered baggage and bicycle to the side of the road. I was the first cyclist he’d met in a month travelling in the same direction- unfortunate that I should all but self-destruct so soon after us meeting.

We were eventually able to flag down a pickup truck that gave us a lift to the edge of town.

My luggage rack is an unrecognisable pile of twisted metal. My fork is twisted, and my front brake disc well beyond repair. Enough spokes are bent that I suspect the front wheel will need to be rebuilt completely.
Yesterday, after moving ourselves and kit (not a trivial undertaking..) To a more central hotel, explaining what had happened to a bemused bike mechanic, and arranging for some much needed laundering of clothing, I had to admit to the increasingly obvious- I was more than just bruised.

I’ve never had to explain myself in a foreign A&E before, but it turned out not to be that difficult.. the problem wasn’t especially subtle. I think the contortions I went through to remove my t-shirt told the doctor what he needed to know. Examination and an x-ray confirmed that my collarbone is indeed broken, about an inch from where it meets my left shoulder. It’s a clean break, but with enough displacement that I won’t be cycling for a bit.

By the time I made it back, Simon from Stuttgart had also arrived- the three of us had dinner, and I was able to relate the whole episode in cheerful terms (I don’t know what they gave me, but they filled the syringe with two ampoules of it). As ever, there was trading of stories shared and separate.

We celebrated Simon’s 29th birthday this morning with sticky cake, before Armin answered the call of the road and headed for Peru. I would have liked to have tried to keep up, but neither my bicycle or my person are in any fit state just yet.

What now? I don’t know. Hopefully I’ll get my bike back tomorrow, so I may be able to wheel it and my luggage around .. so I can travel by bus at least, and recuperate somewhere. I won’t be cycling for a few weeks, though I am not yet defeated..

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