My existence on this earth that Sunday morning. In a flash, it was almost over.
Before I knew what was happening, my entire world was upended and I was sliding down the pavement under an oncoming car. My bike, wrecked. There’s not much more I can say about those critical few moments because, I just don’t know. This is what I remember:
I left my house around 2pm to go get some carb cleaner. You see, I had this finicky type generator that I had been neglecting all year and with winter not so far away I thought this Sunday morning would be a good time to get the oil changed and clean out the air filter and carburetor. I spent most of the morning working on that and when I finally realized I needed to go to the store, I got cleaned up, put on my gear like I do for every ride, and set out. It was a beautiful afternoon. Aside from the usual trouble spots, the roads were surprisingly not crowded and I enjoyed a spirited ride down one of my favorite cut throughs. Point A to Point B, all as planned. Just like every ride.
With the carb cleaner acquired, standing in the Pep Boys parking lot, I put the can in my pack and my helmet on. Out of the corner of my eye I watched a husband and wife ride by on matching Harleys not wearing helmets, or any sort of protective clothing. Shorts, flip flops and a prayer. I shook my head and let out a quiet snort of derision as I snapped the strap closed and started the engine. I could never understand how people can be so lax about their safety. I suppose they think it will never happen to them.
But I digress.
The plan for the rest of the day was to get the carb cleaned out, run a 10k in preparation for the Half this weekend and then have my parents over for dinner. You could say I had a pretty solid Sunday lined up.
Most of the way home was quiet. I reached the main road through town which was predictably packed with people visiting the apple orchards and farm stands. I always expect the worst from these folks and I’m usually not surprised. I navigated through the confusion and made my way up to the one stop light in town. I stopped at the light for a little longer than normal, presumably adjusting something, and then rolled through the intersection.
What happened next isn’t entirely clear. There was a car in front of me and the speed seemed normal for the road. Not too fast, not too slow. The last thing I clearly remember is riding up the steep hill just a couple minutes from home.
Then, it was kind of like floating in a dream, only it was more like a nightmare. I saw things happening and I thought, “Man that would really suck if it were real.” What I saw were flashes of my accident.
The car in my lane way too late.
“Oh Shit.” Grabbing a fistful of brake.
Hitting the ground.
On my feet screaming at the driver to call 911.
My bike visibly damaged, laying on its side on the side of the road.
Finally, reality started to piece back together as I lay on the side of the road. The first thing I remember feeling was a woman holding my right hand.
“I’m alive,” I heard myself say. It sounded like a question. And then, “My wife is gonna be pissed.”
“No she’s not,” the woman said, “she’s going to be happy you’re alive.”
That’s right because, I am still alive.
Then, as though she was never there at all, this mystery woman (read ‘witness’ to those without a concussion) was gone and I was placed into the capable hands of the local first responders. From my stretcher, I saw a lot of faces with a lot of different names. I spoke to the police, fire and emt crews that came out, all of whom helped me piece together the last thirty tumultuous minutes of my life.
After giving out my emergency contact information, I watched one of the firefighters call my wife. I can not adequately describe how awful that felt. She’d had to deal with so much. It wasn’t fair that she should have to get that call.
“I’m alive.” I said again. Making sure it was real.
“Yeah buddy, you’re alive,” one of the faces said, “and you’re pretty lucky.”
Later that night in the emergency room, the police officer that responded to the scene, called my wife to fill her in on what happened. He told her that the driver said he “thought he had time” to cut in front of me, initiated his turn and when he saw he couldn’t make it, he stopped, right in front of me. Before hanging up, the officer also told her that her husband was “tough as nails,” because apparently, after sliding up to my chest under the car, I pulled myself out. I have no memory of this.
Tough as nails.
If I ever wanted to be described as something to someone, it would be like that. I know it was all reflex and instinct but I’d like to think that there must have been some part of me refusing to accept death as an option that forced me to get out from under that car. After the fact I feel pretty proud of that survival instinct, although I’m not sure I can take credit for it. I stared death square in the face that afternoon and somehow managed to walk away. My injuries, relatively minor: a little road rash on my left knee and some other bruises and abrasions. I am battered and sore, but I am not dead. Lucky is right.
A little over a week later, I finally worked up the nerve to go see my Bonneville before it got towed away. I wanted to say goodbye. I suppose that may sound silly to some, but I suspect other riders might understand. At any rate, we got to the garage too late in the afternoon and they had closed for the day. My wife called the next day and found it had been towed earlier that morning. My heart sank as I overheard the conversation, but as she said, maybe it’s best to remember the adventures and not how it was after the crash. She is, as always, quite right. In life, my 2014 Triumph Bonneville was an amazing motorcycle. In the 16 months and 5500 miles that I had it, it took me on some pretty epic adventures. I shall miss it terribly.
And now for the sixty-four million dollar question. Will I ride again? The truth is that, for me, riding motorcycles is probably over. As much as I loved motorcycling, and the person I’ve become as a result of those experiences, after looking at the fear and shock on the faces of my family, it’s hard to do decide to go back to something that would possibly put them through that again. They all indulged my desire to ride and had faith that my planning and preparedness would protect me if the worst should happen, and I am grateful for that. Most importantly, now a few years later, I have a little man to think about and I can’t have him growing up without a dad because a pizza delivery guy got impatient. I loved riding, but there’s really no contest there.
Helmet: Shoei Neotec with Sena Bluetooth Communicator
Jacket: Dianese Crono Textile with Back Protector
Gloves: First Gear Rush Mesh
Pants: Scorpion Covert Jeans
Boots: Alpinestars Oscar Monty
Backpack: 5.11 Tactical Rush 12
Individually these items all did their jobs and saved my life. Before my accident, and now more than ever, I am a vocal advocate for riding with the appropriate gear. Life is far too short and too precious to take unnecessary risks. That’s not to say we shouldn’t participate in things that might be dangerous. We should just show the proper amount of respect.
All the gear, all the time. No exceptions.