$#it Happens

October 1 2009

In this space I have always generally shied away from writing anything to do with crashing. I walk under ladders with wild abandon, get out of bed left foot first, and have my path crossed regularly by not one but two black cats. Despite being far from superstitious, I always thought it best to not write about motorcycle mishaps, lest it bring some undesirable brand of mojo my way.

After this summer however, there was no denying that shit sometimes just happens. With years passing among my regular riding mates without anything more serious than an errant sidestand or sand/grass dump, recently three good friends had close calls with the reaper within a space of several weeks. With a combined total of around 80-years on the road, all were well-seasoned experienced riders.

Two of these incidents involved just bike and rider, specifically large bikes and mid-corner bumps. In the first crash, rider and bike landed well off the road, fortuitously in soft marshy ground. This minimized damage to both, though along with some road rash there was heavy bruising to both body and pride, the latter by admission of the rider himself. In the second similar incident less speed kept both bike and rider from leaving the road surface completely, again fortune was smiling as said road bordered a 50+ foot ravine. In both of these cases there were no other vehicles directly involved in the bike’s going down, unlike the third occurrence.

A close friend who I’ve been riding with for well over 20-years was traveling home on a clear dry Sunday afternoon, approaching an intersection at approximately 30 km/h. Though told much better in the first person, most anyone with riding experience should be chilled by what followed. A car sitting on the shoulder pulled out abruptly as my friend was passing by, effectively ‘T-boning’ the bike just past the mid-point between axles, if laws of modern physics hold true. To paraphrase my friend himself, were it not for his ‘cat-like reflexes’ his leg would have been severed at the knee where the car bumper slammed the bike. Instead, after lifting his leg in that split second, the bike spun in nearly two complete rotations, while launching 310 lbs. of friend several metres into the air.

One may wonder where the fortunate aspect of this event lies, and it demonstrates, in my opinion, the relative nature of what we consider good fortune. My buddy had landed face down in the opposite lane and indeed suffered injury. The traffic light at the intersection he was approaching was red and had it been green, the oncoming lane would have been full of traffic on this Sunday afternoon, and I will leave the rest to your imagination with the exception of one additional detail. The driver of the car was allegedly impaired to the point of being barely able to speak or walk.

There are often what we consider ‘external factors’ in situations like this, or we think, for example, had something happened a split second sooner or later how things would have turned out differently. A drunk driver we have no control over; no amount of precaution could prevent the possibility of that danger, right? Whereas a mid-corner bump or sandy patch is something we can be consciously aware of and react to, right? (insert long thoughtful pause here)

I think not. The world that grows drunk drivers is the same world that grows mid-corner frost heaves. It is also the same world that grows the rider thinking a particular thought at a particular instant, with that thought influencing brake, throttle, attention or inattention to either or both. In each of the incidents described here, that well-worn refrain can be, and was applied, ‘it could have been worse.’ Indeed. Whenever I hear this I am reminded of an ancient Chinese parable. I won’t include it here for fear of being pestered by Chuang Tzu’s ancestors for royalties or copyright infringement, but will direct interested Googler’s to ‘The Story of the Taoist Farmer’.

Notions of chance, fate, destiny, luck, freewill, ad nauseum are pervasive throughout human history and culture, including motorcycle culture. I say ride a green bike, buy a bike who’s previous owner has died. Wear a full-face, wear a beanie, wear no helmet, go out on Friday the 13th (though that last one is already popular with many bikers in this neck of the woods…) It doesn’t matter. That drunk driver will always be there, right along with that thought that distracted you at precisely the wrong time. Shit will happen.

It is with quiet solace that I didn’t lose any friends this summer, and I can report that all are in various states of recovering, riding, or still intent on riding. I’m hopeful that this will be that last I can report of such things for the foreseeable future.

After all, these things happen in threes..


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