Thirty-nine years ago, I began my collection of protective gear. I started with a helmet, which promptly proved its value when I did an unintentional headstand on a large pyramid-shaped rock. A while later, I started wearing calf-high linemans' boots instead of hiking boots or sneakers. I followed that brilliant triumph with denim coveralls (no kidding!) with factory-installed knee and hip pads. Later, I moved up to tear-off goggles, hockey-style shoulder pads, real motocross gloves, High Point racing boots, early Malcolm Smith racing pants and armored jacket, and racing gloves.
The thing that I discovered about real riding gear is that the more of it I owned, the more experimental I became on the track and trail. That might sound like I was only taking extra risks, but I was also experimenting with my riding style, control techniques, and exploring the connection between myself and my motorcycle and doing it with less fear. Fear is not a useful component of a learning environment. The more we are afraid, the more conservative we become, the fewer options we have when exposed to hazards, and the less we learn from riding experiences. My protective gear allowed me the luxury of feeling confident in moments where I'd previously felt exposed to danger. On the practical side, when those "educational moments" turned into a crash, the gear did its job and protected me from serious injury. If today's chest protection had been around in the 1970s, I'd have probably managed to avoid broken ribs and busted collarbones.
All this brings me to a new kind of protection I used on a trip to Alaska in 2007. While studying what others had experienced in Alaska and on adventure tours, I stumbled on an article about a serious deficiency in medical insurance. Mainly, most US medical insurance providers only cover basic doctor visits in the 50 states and rarely pay for medical evacuation from remote areas. Most policies don't reimburse you for emergency medical expenses outside of the US. Since evacuation can cost as much as $50,000 and there appears to be no upper limit to hospital bills, an adventure tour could be a lot more of a financial adventure than most of us can stand. The more I learned about the crap we call "medical insurance," the more I realized I needed additional protection from a bankrupting accident and visit to a hospital; US or Canadian. That comforting Canadian national medical system doesn't apply to non-taxpaying, non-residents. Everyone else has to pay for a visit to a Canadian hospital and those unprotected visits aren't much cheaper in Canada than they are in the US.
There is a type of insurance that appears to be designed for adventure touring; it is called "Emergency Medical Evacuation Insurance," also known as "Supplemental Medical Coverage for Travelers." This kind of policy can provide coverage for emergency evacuation to the nearest medical facility. It will pay your "reasonable travel" expenses for a spouse or caregiver who may need to come to where you are hospitalized until you can travel home. When you are ready to travel again, the insurance will pay for the cost of returning home.
I ended up going with MEDEX (http://www.medexassist.com/), but there are several companies providing various levels of coverage for a variety of costs. Some other possibilities are:
- MedJetAssist http://www.medjet.com/
- SkyMed http://www.skymed.com/
- AeroMedical http://www.travelinsuranceservices.com/
- IMGlobal http://www.imglobal.com/
The next year, when I rode from home to the tip of Nova Scotia, I bought another 30 day policy for that trip. The price wasn't much different than it had been the previous year. To the surprise of everyone who knows me, I didn't have a single moment of excitement on that trip. There aren't a lot of interesting dirt roads out east, though.
When friends and family tell you that you are crazy for riding your bike from Timbuktu to Bolivia, you might have to concede that point. But you don't have to be stupid. You can armor up to minimize the damage when things go wrong and you can be prepared to deal with all sorts of disasters and distractions. "Emergency Medical Evacuation Insurance" is one more way you can put some padding between yourself and catastrophe.