Thursday, March 02, 2006

Sooner or Later..

"Sooner or later, streetlife's gonna' get ya!"

That used to be a mantra I repeated too many times to count. Whenever I would run across some young man in trouble with The Law he would hear my words. It got so that my fellow officers took to calling me "Gunnar". Sort of a redneck play on the "gonna" part of my statement. Those of us who choose to ride in all conditions find that, sooner or later, we draw short straw.

I've poked my toes in the water about this incident. I seem to flirt with telling it but then back off. I've decided it's time to share the story of my one and only "crash on the street". Not my first crash at all, certainly. I've hit the ground hard on the dirt and crashed a few times on race tracks. In all the 32 years I've ridden on the streets there's only been one time the bike was not rubber side down. Have I been that good, that skilled? Have I been just lucky? I would hope it's been a combination of both. Some people say they would rather be lucky than good any time. I figure why limit myself? Why not try for the best of both?

The reason for the telling isn't to share a sad tale. I read somewhere recently that you should never tell other people your problems. 80% of them don't care and the other 20% are glad you have them. This is not any sort of therapy for me to "get it off my chest". It just seemed the right time to tell. On "The Baron" Tiff made a comment that the best strategy is to plan not to crash in the first place. Protective gear is a last resort. That makes sense. It's a policy I adhere to personally. Mostly it works. What was that quote about "the best laid plans of mice and men"? Something to do with that writer guy, John Steinbeck, wasn't it?

This is about a time when the best plans of mine were thwarted by someone else who made a plan and didn't bother to tell me about it. My backup plan of wearing good protective gear saved me from worse consequences. This was also a time that shows in adversity the best often shines through. Sometimes it's only during adversity that you see this "best". Funny, isn't it?

For me this time was August 11, 2004. Recent enough to be real and long enough to be a distant memory. The picture is of an intersection just like any other. It is one I see almost every morning on my way to the office. About 7:30 in the morning. Two left turn lanes. I am first in line on the left side. A man in a black Mitsubishi SUV is first in line on the right side. I'm on the ST with my Hi-Viz 'stich jacket and black roadcrafter pants. Full face helmet. Good motorcycle boots. I flip my visor up to get some fresh air. It's a partly cloudy day. There has been some dew this morning. The man in the SUV looks at me and we nod at each other. A pleasant greeting between folks sharing the road. Things change when the light turns green.

We both start off. Out of the corner of my eye I see the SUV get closer. The man is crossing directly into my lane instead of following his own lane around. I am already slightly ahead as I have the inside curve. I look farther ahead, press harder on the left grip, and twist the throttle. As there's a car in the center median moving that direction is not possible. I am too far ahead of the SUV for braking to be effective. Not that I could do so, anyway. The bike is leaned and there is no room to straighten up for hard braking. So throttle it is. Try to get as far out of the way as possible. The front bumper of the SUV hits hard on the right saddlebag and then swings away. The impact moves the back of the bike over. The rear wheel slides over a man-hole cover which is wet with the dew. The rear tire breaks loose under throttle and the back of the bike starts out to the right. I try to correct but events have been set in motion that relegate me to passenger status. The bike hooks up as quickly as it broke loose. The ST high-sides. It hits heavily on its right side. I'm launched. Amazing for such low speeds.
I'm not sure how the driver could actually nod at me and still run into me. Maybe he was confused about the way the lanes worked. I never got to talk to him. He was cited and sent on his way.

My next few memories are hazy. I sort of remember looking up at the ambulance ceiling. Some guy is asking me what day it is. I think I guessed one day off. The EMT shows me my helmet. Hospital emergency room. Cat scan. All I remember of that is a big flash of light and humming. Turns out I've had my bell rung really hard. The ambulance crew brought my helmet with me to show the folks at ER. The worst damage is five broken bones in my right hand. Two in the wrist and two in the bones in the back of the hand. The thumb is broken clear apart down by the joint where it joins my hand. The X-ray people made me open my hand out flat so they could get a good picture. That was a little tough, you know. Later I looked at my helmet. The helmet had hit about where my left jawbone was and slid. My 'stich had abrasions on the left shoulder pad. I have no idea how my right hand got broken so badly. I've healed. This is not about my injuries directly.

These are the good things that came out of this. Two motor officers responded. Two men who I know and consider friends.

They know my background and my status as an instructor. In fact, I had helped with some training they had gone through a couple years previously. These guys made sure my bike was treated properly when picked up and taken to the tow lot. The EMT had put my helmet in the ambulance. The rest of my gear was "somewhere". I got out of the ER in a couple hours. The ambulance crew had ascertained where my office was and dropped stuff off there. The EMT's had carefully removed my 'stich. No cutting stuff off. Well, they did cut my helmet strap to discourage me from using it again. My lunch box, thermos, watch, all of it was waiting for me. I found out where the crew was based and thanked them well.

Ron, the guy who schedules all the instructor assignments borrowed a truck and brought one of our bike trailers down. It was at least an hour down. We retrieved my bike and took it right to my house. The Director of our safety program himself came to the house to help us unload the bike. My great Irish friend, Patrick, came by a few days later and rode the bike 30 miles North to Salem Honda for repairs. The bike shop did an OUTSTANDING job of repair. They were fussy and went above and beyond for me.

Some really fine people stepped up to stand by me. I like to say that my own stood by me. It is a lucky thing to be a part of a group like this. It is a comforting thing. My rule to live by is "what goes around comes around". It felt great when it came back.

Things are called accidents because they aren't planned. No matter what we do sometimes things find us. I am living testimony to what I tell my students. You just never know. You don't have time to call "Time out! Let me go home and get my good gear and try it again". What you bring to the party is what you dance with. Always wear your good gear. I have looked out on so many warm days and thought of the jeans and t-shirt thing. I have always shrugged into the gear. You never know. I shudder to think how my lovely face would have looked had it been my skin instead of a full face helmet grinding on the asphalt.

Sooner or later, street life's gonna get ya. I prefer to go out and meet it full on instead of hiding under the bed!


Bill Sommers said...

Dan, I thought I'd drop a note to you because we share a little more in common in the fact that we are both in the Pacific Northwest. In common, I mean compared to Gary and Steve in the colder part of the country. I enjoy all three of the blogs that you guys post and look forward to not only the good info, but the motivation that I get from the blogs.
I live in Port Angeles WA, just a good ride north on hwy 101. So we end up with a lot of the same weather systems and conditions to ride in.
Like I said, this is just a note of apprieciation for a good blog.

Steve Williams said...

Excellent reminder Dan of the responsibility we have when we ride. Wearing protective clothing just makes sense. In the "scooter world" I see people riding unprotected or half protected---flip flops, half helmets, no gloves, etc. The scooter "style" can mean some dangerous cultural practices. Since I'm not real stylish I've been able to gear up. I know some riders hate having to deal with all the clothes, especially running short errands. It takes time to take everything off. I've started keeping helmet and everything on when I know I will only be a few minuters. I went into the bank the other day and as I walked in I thought "They think I'm here to rob the place." They all know my bumblebee riding jacket though so everything was fine.

I've been looking at some riding pants with knee protection. I've been riding with blue jeans but my wife wants me to get some protective pants so I have started looking. Not sure what to get.

I'll be riding out in a few minutes in the 23 degree greyness. Snow flurries called for but I don't expect anything on the ground. And I will be riding with as much physical protection as I can.

irondad said...

Welcome aboard! Thanks for the kind words. I always appreciate it when someone at least lets me know they are reading. Keeps me motivated to continue to make an effort at some sort of quality!
You're right. We face the same kind of weather. Each region has its own wintertime trials, doesn't it?

good luck on your early morning ride. It's 5:10 AM on Saturday. I will be riding in the cold and wet on my way to do another instructor update. They say that most accidents happen within 25 miles of home. I say that's a dangerous place, you should move! It's always on the short jaunts that folks want to skip out on gear. One thing that works for me when out doing errands is a modular flip up helmet. I still have the full face protection but can flip it up instead of taking it off a bunch of times. Saw your note about Kim wanting you to have armored pants. Gotta love her. If you don't spring for the Aerostich stuff which is, admittedly, a little expensive ( but well worth it ) I see of lot of folks with Joe Rocket or Tourmaster stuff which seems to be good stuff.

Take care, both of you,

Mad said...

Kevlar lined jeans! I love mine. If I'm around and about town I don't want heavy armoured trousers on but I've crashed in ordinary jeans and it ain't pretty. So I make a compromise: no armour but the best anti-abrasion gear money can buy. I'm sure someone over there must sell 'em. Try a google search on "Draggin jeans" they're Aussie but they may import. Of course if I have any intention of doing more than pootling around I will have my leathers or textile armour on.

Dan that's a quite a crash! I never want to know what it's like to go over the high side, I've tried the lowside and that was quite painful enough. What was the guy thinking? I've had them look at me and pull out but never had 'em nod before they tried to assassinate me! Amazing support you received, I was fortunate enough to get similar levels of care when I had my bad crash. All the people who helped me turned out to be bikers lol.

Gary Charpentier said...

Hey Dan,

That is THE nightmare scenario, isn't it? Stuck between cages with nowhere to go? I'm so glad you escaped with such minor injuries.

I developed my skills the hard way. Push to the limit, crash. Push to the new limit, crash again.

I've got to say, I respect your ability to see the edge before you go over. I'm able to do that now, but it took a lot of practice and pain to get here.

Ride well,

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Anonymous said...

Good morning, Dan.

I just found your blog this evening and have been enjoying the browse. This isn't exactly about your accident, but more about having protective gear - as much, as good, and as bright as you can afford.

I just responded to Steve over on his blog, but thought I could put in a couple good words here, too.

First: is a terrific thing! I don't have money for spiff protective gear (other than a helmet, which came out of the tax refund; I like my brain more of less the way it is), but got a wonderful jacket through that site. It's about 50% reflective fabric, and I added a strip of 2" Scotchlite across the back, too.

Second: I'd been riding in jeans, too. I, too, wanted more protection, but a) can't afford it yet and b) they don't make gear for tall, rounded women.

So I bought mens jeans to fit my hips, took in the waist about a foot, and put "replacement" knee & hip pads from Aerostich inside.

With some fabric glue & velcro, I have several pair of riding pants and can move the pads among them as they need to be washed. The pads were around $45, the jeans (used, from Ebay) maybe another $20.

I hope that these ideas can help others in similar low-on-money situations! When I can afford to have a custom Stich made, it's going to be a nightmare of high-viz with orange (or maybe black) ballistics. Will look absolutely charming with my red helmet, I'm sure... ::grin::

~ Krysta AT uwm DOT edu