Monday, October 8, 2007

it finally happens

And so, it finally happened. I finally went down hard. The pavement was clean and smooth. I was riding down Blood Mountain in a routine little right turn I had driven a dozen times before. I was exiting the turn comfortably at about 40mph, and the bike just hit the pavement. The first thing I noticed was this sudden grinding noise. It sounded like I drug my foot peg, but it was actually the handlebar. I was already down. The second thing I noticed was my head hitting the road. To this moment, I have no real idea what caused that crash, but I remember every detail of it. I don't list all this to be morbid or to elicit sympathy; I detail it to make a point, that I got through this okay and will probably get through it again one day.


The last time we spoke, I had just watched three people in beanies and t-shirts bleed all over a gently sweeping curve in the highway. The irony is not lost on me. My bike went about 75 feet on a rear peg, a frame slider, and a handlebar, trailing a single black skid mark down the hill. There's a new scuff on the clutch cover. The rest of the bike is fine, as fine as my 2mph parking lot mishaps have left it, anyway. I traveled about 50 feet, riding that skid mark like some sort of weird runway. I slid, barrel-rolled, flew a little, then rolled some more. Sprained my hand, which will probably be this nice bronze color by the weekend. Everything else was basically painless. I'm stiff and a little bruised around the shoulder I landed on.

I only bring these things up because I learn something from them along the way. My loving wife tried to reassure me that learning how true "accidents" and surprises can catch you despite your preparation and skill is still worthwhile. Problem is, I already knew that. This didn't teach me that particular truism; it rubbed my face in it. I have a downhill curve and a 45mph speed limit between my apartment and the nearest stoplight. I can't go for a slice of pizza without braving three times as many road hazards as this trip and Atlanta's aggressive midtown traffic. That realization is just annoying now that I've actually fallen.

The other thing to learn here is that I can survive a get-off. It actually didn't even hurt. My leathers have these internal pads along the thighs and shoulders and Kevlar armor around all the joints. Every one of those pads is scuffed now. I have one small scratch on my arm, I believe from the Kevlar inside the sleeve. My boots ground so hard that one of the laces tore, but my feet are fine.
There's no reason to ride without real protective gear, which is not sunglasses and POW patches. I inspected the bike, had some Gatorade, and walked the site for about 20min, then rode the 100mi home to ice my hand. I was still in the mountains, mind you, behind 30mi of curves like the one I had just failed.
Every veteran rider I've shared this story with has been down at least once, most of them with one freak accident fall that never presented them an explanation or a lesson. I know two experienced, skilled riders who have broken their necks and had vertebrae surgically fused. They still ride and love it. Two days after my fall, a woman in her sixties slid her cruiser off that same road and down a ridge to her death. My wife met up with a rider who witnessed the crash, and he was devastated by it. I would not diminish the terrible tragedy of her death by speaking of it casually, but I have lived in dread of sliding my bike because of stories just like these. The material cost, the potential physical harm, the notion of being a projectile. That dread of the unknown is behind me now. The bike handled it. I handled it. I know exactly how bad it was this particular time. Every veteran rider I know has gotten up from one slide with scratches and bruises, having released that dread to transform into respect. I will probably even go through it again one day, though I hope it's not soon.