Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Call Me Lucky

I had been looking forward to Memorial Day Weekend for months. Sasquatch Music Festival was a big reason for my excitement, but the closer this weekend came, the more I realized I had too much work to do for my teaching program, coupled with job searching for the Fall. Last week, I decided to sell my Sunday ticket and just make a long Saturday day trip on the motorcycle to the Gorge and back.

In hindsight, that was a mistake.

I left fashionably late on Saturday morning, around 11:30am. I wanted to see Vince Mira, who played at noon and does covers of Johnny Cash, but after him I didn't really want to see anybody until 4:30pm. I decided to leave later and make the day a little shorter, to keep me awake on the ride home.

There was quite a bit of Memorial Day Weekend traffic on the drive. When I-90 is stop-and-go in the middle of nowhere, there is either a snowstorm or it is Memorial Day Weekend. There was actually plenty of snow up at the pass, which I wasn't very excited to see on my motorcycle.

At milepost 93, the back tire on my motorcycle burst. I was going 70mph at the time, and the POP when my tire burst scared the life out of me. The back tire started to drift slightly to the left and right, and I wasn't sure what happened. Luckily, I was just coming up to an offramp, and I made it safely to the end of the offramp. Milepost 93 on I-90, otherwise known as: the middle of nowhere.

I had no idea what to do, so I called my parents. My mom was home, and offered to look up gas stations or towing operations around the area. She was not having much luck, when 15 minutes after the tire blew a pickup truck drove by. The man waved at me and I waved back and walked over to his truck.

"Need some air?" he asked.

He reversed up to my bike, then got out and we inspected my completely flat back tire. We couldn't see any holes until I slid the motorcycle back a foot and he said, "Whoa! Air's not going to help you." he said.

The hole in my tire was about a quarter wide and maybe six inches long. He asked what my plan was, and I said I had no plan, other than calling a tow company or gas stations around the area (there was nothing at this exit). He told me to hold on a minute, while he called his brother.

When he got off the phone, he said, "Well, my brother is out in the woods, but let me go grab his trailer and tow you into town. I'm heading into Ellensburg to change a tire anyways."

I couldn't believe my good fortune. First, I didn't die from blowing a tire while going 70mph on a motorcycle, and second, I go from having absolutely no idea what to do, to getting a lift (with my moto!) into town.

Fifteen minutes later, we were on our way. We chatted for the 15 minute ride on the way into town. Me about my life, him about his. He is 60 years old and has 13 grandchildren. Some are worthless and into drugs, another is studying to become a minister, a few are in the military, and one is also starting her teaching career.

He dropped me off at the Suzuki dealership and service store, and once we figured out that the shop could put on a new tire, he was on his way. We finally introduced ourselves, and now "Lifesaver Louis" is in my cell phone.

The only mechanic in the shop said it'd be an hour or two, so I headed over to KFC for some lunch, still counting my blessings and wondering how I would tell this story to my friends and family. Two hours later, he rolled out my bike from the shop with a brand new back tire at a cost of $250. He said the accident was preventable, and that my rear tire was beyond shot when it blew--I probably should have changed it out thousands of miles ago (I hit 13k miles while going over the pass). He cautioned me that the new tire would be a little bit slick, and not to lean into my turns too hard for the first 100 miles.

I hopped on my motorcycle, started it up, and eased out onto the road. I noticed that where the clutch catches seemed to be off a bit while I slowly turned out of the dealership onto a side road. I pulled up to the stop sign, remembering to take my turns easy. I pulled out, turned left onto Main Street, and when I shifted into 2nd gear, going about 10mph, I lost it.

I honestly don't know exactly what happened. I think what happened is that I was so used to having the clutch catch halfway, that I anticipated it catching, and it didn't, so when I let the clutch out the rest of the way, the bike jerked forwards--while I was in the middle of a turn. The back end of the bike fish-tailed to the right, then to the left, then to the right again and flung me off forward, in front of the bike and onto the asphalt of Main Street.

My first thought was to make sure the bike didn't slide on top of me, so I flailed backwards to push or kick the bike in case it kept coming towards me. It didn't, and it laid on its left side with some shrapnel underneath. In that shrapnel was the left foot peg. I felt noxious.

The cars on the road were stopped, drivers and passengers had their doors open, mouthing words to me, but I couldn't hear them. My iPod was blaring music into my ears, but I'm not sure if I would have heard them without my iPod. I stared at passenger in one of the cars for five seconds, in shock. I couldn't believe that this just happened, after my flat tire going 70mph just hours earlier. I couldn't believe that my only two experiences at motorcycle dealerships involve my bike going down, at 10mph or less, minutes after leaving the shops.

A cop with its sirens on appeared in less than a minute (I think), and I quickly flipped off my iPod, with my helmet still on.

"Are you okay?" he asked, as I stood over the somewhat mangled motorcycle, in the middle of Main Street.

"Yeah." I responded.

"Hurt anywhere?"

"No."

"Let's get this bike out of the road."

He and I lifted the bike and I rolled it out of the road, and it seemed to me to have some alignment issues--I had to steer it slightly to the right to make it go straight.

"So, can you tell me what happened here?" asked one of the cops, of which there were now three.

"I... I was just at that shop. I had a flat tire. Got changed. I pulled out from that side street. He said it would be slick. I turned left. I can't believe I crashed." I spit out.

"Was it just you? Did any car cut you off?"

"Just me."

"Do you feel okay? Should we call the paramedics?"

"I feel okay." I said. My left hip hurt, as did my groin. Also, my right elbow felt scraped up.

A fourth cop had arrived, and one of the first cops to arrive at the scene had walked down the street 40ft and asked, "is this water bottle yours?"

I shook my head yes. Apparently, the water bottle that was in the side pooka of my backpack had been flung 40ft down the street (and I shared the water bottle with my class today as part of my story).

When I took my helmet off, my vision went completely blurry. It was strange. I haven't had my vision go blurry in years--it happened somewhat often in Sacramento, when it was really hot outside and I would stand up suddenly. Seconds after my helmet came off, I got incredibly woozy, and stumbled to shade near the side of a building. On my stumbling way I overheard, "Call the paramedics."

I sat down in the shade and felt better. My vision returned, and I could hear the ambulance siren from my right a few seconds later. A minute later I looked to my left, saw four cops, and three cop cars. I looked to my right and saw an ambulance and two paramedics. I looked down and still couldn't believe what happened.

The paramedics checked me out and everything was alright. They made me sign a waiver, saying that I refused an ambulance trip to the hospital. The cops got my license and registration and insurance, then left me alone with my mangled bike. The service mechanic had come over at one point and asked if I was alright and what happened. I told him, and the next time I looked over to him, he was gone.

I rolled the bike perpendicular to Main Street, aiming for the side road next to the motorcycle shop. The bike started up on the first try, and I flicked the bike into first gear without a left foot peg, which felt incredibly weird. I waited for a very long gap in traffic, and made it back to the service shop.

For the second time that day, I had no idea what to do. I checked out the bike and found the center stand was now bashed to the right, scraping both the chain and the back tire. The clutch lever was bent way forwards, making it difficult to shift. The left foot peg was in my sweatshirt pouch. And the foot-shifter was bent into the bike, making it hard to flick.

I asked the mechanic what could be done, and he said, "Not much. We don't have the parts here, so I'd guess the soonest you'd be out of here on that bike is Tuesday" (it was Saturday).

I called my mom back. I had called her from KFC, saying that everything was alright. She couldn't believe the new addition to the story. She offered to drive out to get me (a four-hour round-trip drive). Before we hung up, I saw that the mechanic was out working on my bike. I told my mom to hold on and wait for another call before she started driving out to get me.

The mechanic was wiring back on my left foot peg.

"I think I can fit this foot peg back on, so you can drive this thing out of here today. I can use a saws-all to cut out the center stand, if you don't care about it."

"Yeah, that sounds great to me, thanks again." I said.

"No problem."



He cut a dozen pieces of wire and somehow managed to attach the foot peg back onto the bike. Then he managed to disassemble the exhaust pipes on both sides of the back of my bike, to unhinge the center stand, without having to cut it off. Fifteen minutes later, he said that is as much as he can do. I asked him about the bent shifter and clutch, and he said if he or I tried to bend them back, they would likely break.

I called my mom back and discussed my options. I was scared to ride the bike, both because I just crashed it, and because the alignment seemed off.

I decided to ride the bike around town a bit, being overly cautious about turning. The bike seemed to ride alright, and after getting it up to 3rd gear on a back road with a 35mph speed limit, I pulled up to a stop sign, shut the motor off, and called my mom, telling her I was still planning on going to the concert--which was now only 30 minutes away (as opposed to the two-hour trip home).

Once I got on the freeway, it was smooth sailing until the exit, down-shifting, and turning. The two cars behind me were probably wondering why the guy on the motorcycle was moving like a slug on the off ramp. I let them pass once I made the turn. The road from I-90 to the Gorge Amphitheater is a 50mph road with twisties, that would have been a blast to ride on my motorcycle normally, but every turn scared me shitless. About halfway along the road, I felt a sharp twinge in my right armpit. I didn't really know what happened, because my arm or armpit didn't hurt at all during the crash, or on the 30 minute bike ride from Ellensburg. My armpit stung, like a bee sting. I couldn't tell if a rock came up and hit me, or what.

I didn't arrive to the Gorge until 6pm. When I parked the motorcycle in the parking lot, and turned off the motor, I felt a sense of relief. Once I got off my bike, I heard a buzzing. I leaned down to my bike to see where it was coming from, then noticed my right sweatshirt sleeve. A bee was in my sweatshirt. I flung off my helmet and sweatshirt. The bee flew off, and my armpit was starting to swell.

I couldn't help but laugh. All alone, in the middle of the grassy parking lot at the gorge. The relief I felt was for safely arriving at the gorge and being able to relax for the next four hours to great music. In the back of my mind, was the fact that I would be driving the motorcycle home that night. I wanted to get my mind off of motorcycle riding, and went to call mclarich, because I knew he was at the concert, but apparently I never uploaded his number into my cell phone.

I called a couple other people I knew in attendance, but did not meet up with any of them. Instead, I spent most of the evening lying in the grass, listening to amazing music and trying to make sense of everything that had happened. Do I still want to ride a motorcycle? Is it worth the risk?

After thinking about those questions for the last few days, I do want to keep riding a motorcycle, but I don't think it is worth the risk. And that confuses me.

I should have left the concert earlier than I did. I wasn't too thrilled about seeing the Yeah Yeah Yeah's, although I can see their appeal. I was looking forward to the Kings of Leon, but after waiting an extra 90 minutes that could have been spent on the road, I wasn't impressed. They seemed like a boy band, but instead of poppy music, it was good music.

I left the concert in the middle of "Sex on Fire", along with a steady stream of other concert-goers that had had enough for one day. On my ride out of the parking lot, one of the attendants gave me the "WHEELIE!!!" motion... yeah right. I'm not going to lie, the ride home sucked. The lack of visibility, improper alignment, gusting winds and temperature in the 30s at the pass made the trip rough. I was scared, but luckily being scared kept me completely awake and aware on the drive home.

Twenty miles from Seattle, and only two miles from having the highway lined with lights, I had to slow down for flashing lights up ahead. A roll-over accident in the left lane. The car was totaled and paramedics and a fire truck were already there.

I had to stop twice to warm up on the drive home, which just consisted of me stopping at an off ramp, keeping the motorcycle going, and walking and shaking out my shivers. I made it home and couldn't get to sleep I was so cold and full of jitters. I hopped in the hot tub, warmed up, and fell asleep. For my last lucky of the day, I woke up and stumbled downstairs into bed, and instantly fell asleep again.

I tried to take a picture of my black and blue left-ass-cheek, but it didn't come out, sorry Waffles.

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5 Comments:

Blogger DrChako said...

That's a helluva story. Glad you're okay.

Every time I think about getting a bike I hear a story like this or see another tragedy in the ER. Accidents on bikes are inevitable. In fact, the two times I laid a bike down were both at less than 5 MPH. Both times hurt like hell - mentally and physically.

But I still want to ride.

-DrC

9:19 PM  
Blogger The Wife said...

Don't scare me like that! Anymore!

10:12 PM  
Blogger SirFWALGMan said...

Donk, glad your ok.

7:01 AM  
Blogger TenMile said...

Okay. Hello, Lucky.

Seriously, given your activities you have been lucky to wait this long to find out bullet proof is kids stuff.

Glad you're still around to feel the bee sting.

6:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tend to side with your thoughts..."Do I still want to ride a motorcycle? Is it worth the risk?". I just laid my bike down five days ago going 45 MPH. Guess I'm a little lucky as well, minor scrapes and bruises. One friend said I rolled about forty feet. Which brings me to the reason for my comment. Are you still riding? Is it worth it? Are you still thinking that same thought we both had "I can't believe I just did that!"? I related to your story in many ways and thought I would pick your brain. Thanks for the story.

8:20 AM  

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