“Goodbye Stumpjumper” is not what I thought at the time but is what I thought after a few weeks. With more shame than whenever.
I struggled and battled with a flat rear tyre and fought. And fought on until the lights went out and I collapsed under a tiny tree with enough shade to cover my upper body. I was so god-effing tired that I could not think and I closed my eyes in an uncomfortable position on a dry foresaking island in the upper Cambodian Mekong. Goodbye Stumpjumper. Goodbye me.
Drifting in and out of consciousness. Stupid, dehydrated, fucked up, this is it mate, accept. Gone too far this time.
Two people walk past me. I have not seen anyone in 2 days and two Khmers appear from this dry and arid scrub and look at me with fear in their eyes. They do not want contact. Peasant man and wife. I am so extremely thirsty that I can’t get sound from my mouth. I hold up my right hand and ask for water. Water? Their reply is a run. They dash into the scrub, shake their hands and run away! Run away. Yes, they did.
My desperation takes on a new depth. Being abandoned by locals is the pits. I drift away and a few hours later I wake up, its 2pm, and I hear the sound of an engine. A scooter distant but distinct. The sounds drifts off. I schlooze back into the world when suddenly I hear and see a scooter stopping in front of me.
Situation: I am lying with the lower half of my back against a thin tree with some shade. The track in front of me is of bull dust quality loose sand. River sand. 10 centimetres thick. Somehow I have managed to push Stumpjumper on slick tires through this shit. He is half up against another small tree in the blazing heat. I can’t care too much about my mate. I have got enough on my plate.
The scooterman stops and gets off his machine. He comes to me and puts his hands on my shoulder. I try to talk but no sound comes from my lips. I can’t speak. He takes a step to Stumpjumper and looks at him. Takes the panniers off it and puts one on the back of his scooter. Not a word is spoken. He takes the other pannier off and puts it on top of the other one and straps it up. I make a move with my hand for water and he says he has none. He helps me up. I can’t get up. My weight wants to be in the sand, nowhere else. But he pushes and pulls me up and lifts my right leg up on to the bike. I am sitting and am able to pull my left leg in. His bags are pushed in between the handle bars and him. His crotch on the tank. We are ready to go. I can’t believe my luck. I am saved. He gets off the bike again and I am sitting there as a lame duck. He walks to Stumpjumper and with sign language and gestures he indicates that Stumpjumper needs to be looked after. He finds my lock and it is open. He puts it around my wheel and frame and turns the digits.
We leave. I glance at Stumpjumper but can feel little sympathy for my friend. I have to get out of this place quick smart. We leave. Another 1.5 hour ride and we arrive in the village where I will be massaged, washed, loved and cared for.
Three days after my return to Kratie, I walk from my hotel to the CRDT office. I heard Stumpjumper has been retrieved and brought back to the mainland. I talk to the people in the office and find Stumpjumper, unharmed under a huge carport. I pay for the retrieval and ride back to my hotel. Still feverish.
Two days later I continue my journey North to Laos and ultimately back into Vietnam. I love my bike and he performs well. Sweet revenge for a sweet machine. He made me suffer when I battled the rough roads up into the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Good on him.
I don’t know the name of the scooterman who saved my life. It should not be too hard to find out who he is when I return to the island at the end of this year.