Yesterday I went for my first ride in ten days. It wasn’t the greatest ride but it accomplished its purpose: to be back on the motorcycle. And now I’m ready to tell you why I haven’t been able to ride until now.
Last week while in a sandy parking lot, I hit an unexpectedly deep patch of sand. I lost traction and “crossed my wheels.” For the non-riders, this is when your rear and front wheel point in opposite directions, e.g. your front wheel is turning to the left but your rear wheel is pointing right. motocross riders use this technique to take fast turns in what is essentially a controlled fall that they pull out of in the last second. I was not trying to cross my wheels nor was there the slightest control of it once it started. That brief moment abruptly slowed down and I can still see it like that when I replay it: when the traction dropped, I felt the bike’s forward momentum transfer into a bike flip and then a sudden dead drop of me and the 620 lbs motorcycle. My left side hit the ground and I learned just what a little more than a quarter ton of dead weight feels like when it follows you into the ground. It was not fast, it was not sharp, it was a truly deep and dull thud, like tipping over on a tricycle with a small MAC truck right behind it. I’ve had enough bicycle crashes to know that I would not simply be walking this one off. In fact, I’m grateful for all the crashes I’ve had over the years because they allowed me to stay calm.
And then, the humor element mercifully entered the picture: a small group of what turned out to be biker chicks were standing about a 100 ft way and rushed over to me. Little g sent his angels to help me. “Don’t move! How hurt are you? Let’s get this bike off of him. Come on!” There they were, my tough-ass angels lifting my motorcycle ever so carefully off me. Then one woman looked at me, then my motorcycle, then me again and said exactly what I was thinking: “Your bike looks okay, Oh, there is a scratch here but they can buff that right out. Yeah, they can buff that out just fine.” The other women nodded in agreement and almost in chorus, “Oh yeah, that can buff that right out.” Everyone one laughed because we all knew in that moment that we shared this ridiculous belief motorcyclists share: I’m laying there on the ground with a likely cracked ribbed and the immediate concern was if there was damage to the motorcycle and how to fix it. And what I absolutely needed to hear, true or not, was, “Your bike is fine. That scratch can be buffed right out.” This is who most diehard motorcyclists are. We spend a small fortune on our machine, lovingly maintain it as if it was a fighter jet, and then with each ride pour our heart and soul into it until it glows with emotional luminosity for us. When we look at our bike, we see something beyond what everyone else sees. We see our other limb. To us, our motorcycle’s well-being — and yes, our motorcycle is alive to us — is more important than us laying in a sandy parking lot with a freak’in cracked rib.
One matronly woman took me to a nearby bench while the others lifted my bike up and got it on it’s kickstand. “Should we call an ambulance?” No, I didn’t think it was that bad. The real problem was that I was an hour from home and needed to decide how I would be getting there. Could I ride? Adrenaline is a wonderful thing. I walked around for a few mins, then mounted the bike with my angels nearby and determined that, despite the pain I was in, I could ride home. So off I went with everyone waving. I never got their names and I deeply regret that. I would like to tell them how this all turned out and to thank them for their kindness. People can be so very decent in such moments and they deserve to know that such acts are not taken for granted.
Once I was riding again, I felt okay. Well, sorta. I was in pain with ever breath. I knew I had to keep things simple. I made sure I could start and stop safely and that I could hold the bike up at stop lights. All that checked out. The experience of pain is something you can learn to manage. Previous crashes also gave me the confidence to objectively assess the situation: this would not be a pleasant hour riding home but I could do it without endangering myself or others. After 30 minutes, a surreal feeling came over me. I’ve been here before as well: I was in shock. I knew it would soon pass but the best thing to do was pull over for a while and let that happen. I found a fast food restaurant and decided to rest and have something to eat. It was a busy location and time and the activity made me agitated. I doubt anyone could tell how irritable I felt, so best to stay calm and find a quiet place to sit and eat. After having a full lunch, I felt better. I went back to my motorcycle, mounted it, and quickly had to lay it down because I let it lean a little too much and felt a burst of pain. Laying it down went perfectly, which was a relief. Then another act of kindness ensued: a man who saw all this stopped his small truck and came over, “Do you need help?” I explained I had just been in a crash and was having trouble managing the bike’s weight. He then did something which was very hard for me to acknowledge to myself. He lifted the motorcycle with one arm back to its upright position. In that moment, I saw just how hurt I was and that I no longer have the strength of my youth (the fellow looked to be about 30). He kindly stood by and watched as I rode off. The remainder of the ride was uneventful. I rode slowly, always putting down both legs when I needed to stop and generally was Miss Marple riding home.
When I arrived home, my wife was out walking the dogs. This gave me some time to clean up and decide how I would “introduce” her to what happened. I got into the shower and let the warm water run over me for a good long time. At one point, knowing I was alone, I began to shout one word over and over. You know, that wonderful word especially enamored by Brooklynites. Such a perfect word in such situations, one can understand why it has no less than 20 separate entries in the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest known from 1598 by J. Florio: “Fottitore, a iaper, a sarder, a swiver, a fucker, an occupier.” And so a most heartfelt thank you to all the people in the late 16th century who began using this most expressive of words so that one day 400 years later I could stand in my shower in Sarasota and compulsively shout it at the top of my lungs.
My monosyllabic performance over, I managed to dry off and get dressed despite the growing pain. When my wife and the dogs returned, I looked as if nothing had happened. It’s always best to tell someone you’ve been hurt when you look unhurt since it mitigates the fear we all feel when suddenly hearing someone we know has been injured. In that moment we want to know the event has happened and they are okay now. And this is why you are hearing about this now and not last week. I saw nothing to be gained by telling you about the crash last week when I was still in considerable pain and you were unable to see me basically looking okay. You might imagine my condition worse than it was. Today, however, I can tell you I’ve been to a medical clinic, confirmed my rib is bruised but not broken, and the prescribed medications have considerably lessened my pain. Most importantly, I wanted to tell you I’ve been able to ride again. Injuries such as these can take four to six weeks to fully heal but, as yesterday showed, I can do most activities with little pain. What I still cannot do is lift anything more than five lbs with my left arm or get in and out of chairs without pain. An added twist for me is that, as a lefty, it’s hard to resist the use of my dominate arm. All in all, I’m ten days into a full recovery.
I spent a good deal of time researching what turns out to be a common crash and spoken with several experienced riders about it so that I could understand in detail what happened and what, if anything, could have done to prevent it. I will be posting my findings in the essay section soon for those interested in reading more. This is an important post-crash exercise all riders should do. I hope the riders out there will take the time to read it and provide me with feedback and suggestions. For now let me leave you with a photo of the gas tank so you can see the extent of “we can buff that right out.” The photo is also is a good metaphor for the impact of this crash to my Motorcyclist Self. The real question, however, is not if you can buff the scratches out or not. The real question we should be asking ourselves is, Should we buff out all visual traces of the significant experiences in our life simply because we can?
May You Always Enjoy The Ride