I'm posting this in hopes that it may help prevent someone falling into the same trap I did.
I'll post the second half soon which includes reflections and outcome decisions of the events.
I had become dangerous and I didn't realize it. Until July 10th 2015 when I went down on my motorcycle on I-70 in the Rocky Mountains at freeway speeds. Unhappy with my job, unable to adjust to the new state I moved to and all its unfamiliarity, unhappy with the small amount of time I was able to spend with my family. Unhappy with not seeing any of my closest friends for 2 years. It culminated into the most serendipitous, ironic & life changing event of my lifetime.
MY SAFETY CENTERED RIDING STYLE:
I fantasized about riding a motorcycle since I was 13. I lived vicariously through my aunt and uncle's motorcycle adventures. I got my license sometime around 23. I wrecked my friends uninsured motorcycle the first time I went out on my own to twisty roads, the day after I got my license. Her helmet and good old Ohio rain saved my life, but that's another story. As a result, I became obsessed with motorcycle safety and could not afford my own bike for quite a while later as I reimbursed her for her totaled ZX6R. (What was I thinking?!) Anyway, I read a LOT of books and researched a LOT of gear. I ended up with Motoport Mesh Kevlar over-pants with upgraded armor, a Vanson leather jacket with CE back protector, shoulder and elbow pads. I wore Hellfire structure/wildland certified firefighting boots (they worked well) and an Arai Vector 2 helmet. Also, I always wore gloves. I can remember reading about losing 2 pints of blood through the palms of your hands and I was convinced. I bought the gear before I bought the bike, because it was that important to me.
I spent countless hours at the safety course at the beginnings and endings of long rides on my 2008 Harley Fat Bob. Yeah, that was my first bike. Rode 12,000 miles in 8 months. Got it used from said Uncle. I could pull a u-turn on it within two parking spaces. I rode through rain, snow and wind (no lightening, no ice were my rules). My theory was that it's better to ride in inclement weather on familiar roads and understand how the bike handles in preparation for those surprise moments on longer rides. It worked. I always watched my mirrors at stoplights, stopped far enough behind the vehicle in front of me and pointed toward an escape route at every light. I avoided countless SMIDSY'S using the SMIDSY MANEUVER and I can't even add up the times someone tried to rear end me and just flat out run into me that I avoided due to my defensive vigilance. I dug it, it was part of the fun. My hyper-alert state wasn't exhausting, it was one way I got my thrills from riding. I felt like I knew what every driver around me might do better than they did. I was good at it. Instead of getting mad every time someone tried to merge into me, I congratulated myself and felt proud I'd avoided another “accident.” I was diligent to never cross a double yellow, or a solid white line for that matter. I think a big reason I loved motorcycling was that having to pay attention to road conditions, animals, other drivers, etc. forced me to focus on the moment, and took my mind off all the crap I'd been dealing with in my day to day life. Until 7/10/2015 that is.
IGNORING THE WRITING ON THE WALL:
I just got off of my 24 hour shift working 911 as a paramedic at 0600 on a Friday morning. I had ridden my 2012 Suzuki DL650 to work the previous morning and had all my work gear packed on the back of the bike in a 40liter dry bag. I was feeling stressed out and frustrated. I hated my job. HATE-ED IT. In fact I had put applications out the prior month for jobs in hospitals with no real idea where to go from where I was. I just knew I really, really hated my job and had to make a change because I was swiftly becoming a jerk.
I'd had 4 hours of sleep... a blessing in the world of EMS. In the past, this meant a motorcycle ride was in order. Moderate paced rides focusing on control and smooth lines through the canyons of the Rockies proved to be good therapy in the past. You know, in line with The Pace.
This time, I wanted to see the Western Slope. The Western Slope was described to me as “something you'll love.” You see, I had a rough transition to Denver, Colorado from Columbus, Ohio and I was desperately searching for reasons to fall in love with the state, justify my move & feel excited about where I was all over again.
When I moved to Colorado, the 3 year relationship I moved there for ended 3 months after my arrival. I lost my job 6 months after the move, (One I left a full time career at a fire department for). Three of my grandparents died that year, and I was now living with my brother, sister-in-law and nephew after being on my own for 7 years prior. Don't get me wrong, it could always be worse and the time spent living with my brother and his family is priceless and holds many of my favorite lifetime memories. What I didn't realize from that time was that incrementally, day after day, I was coping less and less effectively with all of the stress. I was becoming more and more volatile.
THROWING IT ALL AWAY:
So off I go, pissed off and angry. I didn't have all day, I was supposed to get back home by that afternoon for an evening flight to Wisconsin for my girlfriends grandmother's funeral. You read that right. Mable was 96 and though I never got to meet her, my girlfriend (who I credit largely with keeping me from the clutches of depression through my recent trials) sent her a CD of her singing and playing guitar. One of the tracks we had sung together on a lark and it turned out to be one Mable requested often. In fact, at one point, she thought she'd met me. I like that thought. I continue to think that we met on a much deeper plane of existence than most individuals have the pleasure of experiencing. Regardless, indirectly, her life has had a large impact on mine.
I made it to Copper Mountain. I had run out of time and needed to start heading back towards Denver. I was riding aggressively, passing cars in situations I would have never thought about passing 3 months prior or even at the beginning of my ride that morning. Part of me knew it, but every time I did something like that, I just got angrier. My motorcycle had become a tool of rage, a conduit for it. Rather than riding lessening my anger and frustrations, it was feeding it. Every car in front of me sub-consciously became an obstacle, an asshole, a manifestation of my problems in automobile form. Each pass was me conquering something I hadn't conquered in my life. I was no longer focusing on the road and those around me like I had so many times in the past. I was angry... VERY ANGRY. I was focused on what was directly in front of me, the mental equivalent of looking at your front tire instead of through the next turn.
I remember clearly being in the left hand lane of 3 lane I-70 on a sharp, decreasing-radius right turn (something I had tackled many times in my past with no problem.) I honestly don't remember the events directly before this, but my brain suddenly said “UH-OH.” I mean “UH-OH” just popped into my head because it was apparent that the line I was riding was going to put me into the approaching jersey barrier (concrete barrier) at an approximate 45 degree angle, sending me directly into oncoming freeway traffic, or down the Rockies, depending on how far I would have flown through the air. I instinctively turned my head to the right to look through the turn, and leaned lower than I've ever leaned on a bike before with no time to re-position my ass. This probably all happened in about 2 seconds. There was a generic thud, then a loud grinding sound. I don't even know when I separated from the bike.
HUMAN HOCKEY PUCK:
This is the best way I can describe it.
Sliding,rolling,sliding,rolling,sliding,rolling,sl iding,rolling,rolling,rolling, sliding.... I moved along the jersey barrier like a hockey puck along the corner side boards of an ice rink. The stream of thought in my head during the rolling and sliding was as follows,
“I'm going to get hit by a car, where am I on the road? You gotta get off the road as soon as you can... I'm going to get hit by a car... I hope I don't get hit by a car... Holy shit, that's a solid yellow line, at least I'm still near the edge of the road, or am I on the other side of the road. Wait, what side of that yellow line am I on? You gotta get off the road as soon as you can. You gotta get up as soon as you can, you're more than likely going to get hit by a car. This is an emergency. You cannot be laying down in the middle of I-70 on a blind turn. I probably won't survive getting hit by a car. I hope when I get up I don't get hit by a car. SURVIVAL= GETTING OUT OF THE ROAD AND NOT GETTING HIT BY A CAR... there is nothing I can do right now to better my situation.”
The sensory input simultaneously going on with the above thought process was roughly as follows.
Asphalt flying past my visor at incredible speed, brief blue sky, asphalt flying past my visor at incredible speed with occasional solid yellow line, brief blue sky, asphalt flying past my visor at incredible speed, blue sky not moving.
thud, then scraping, lots of scraping. Sounds of cars driving by.
THE RIDICULOUS OUTCOME
I stop moving, I look to my right, I am in a 3' shoulder on the left side of the highway against the Jersey Barrier. I'm out of traffic. There is a truck with it's hazards on in the left lane close enough to the start of the turn that nobody is driving around the turn in the left lane. My bike is about 50 yards behind me in the left 1/3rd of the left lane lying on it's side, looking remarkably intact. I stand up with that grunt you get when you're punched in the stomach and lose air. It hasn't happened to me in 22 years and this time there is no pain involved, just the sounds. I don't even have trouble breathing and I am in no pain. I walk back towards my bike, coordinate and help 2 other bystanders move it into the 3' shoulder along the barrier because now my focus is making sure no one else gets hurt. “You hit some gravel or something?” one of them asks. I just said I didn't know what happened. I look across the road and I shit-you-not there is a truck with an empty motorcycle trailer opened with a welcoming fellow rider greeting me on the other side of the road. I want to cross the highway but know better than to run across 3 lanes of freeway traffic. I walk away from the turn probably 150-200 yards and once I see no one is coming after waiting what seemed like forever, I have plenty of time to cross. I did not lose consciousness. My left hip feels wet and that scares me because I'm a Paramedic and I know wet=blood. The amazing gentleman with the motorcycle trailer is heading to Denver and offers to give me and my bike a lift to my home. An ambulance pulls up, I get my jacket and over-pants off. Dirt, it's mud and road grime that went down my pants from sliding so much. No blood. I'm spitting out mud and gravel, it's in my teeth. No blood. The highway patrol comes and goes, no citation. I refuse transport by ambulance after getting down to my underwear and letting them do an assessment. They're OK. with it after doing further assessment and asking me what my game plan is. I call my girlfriend, preface the conversation with I'm absolutely O.K. I tell her I wrecked my bike and I want to refuse transport. She knows the scenario and talks to the EMS. After they finish talking with her, I tell the EMS the gentleman with the trailer seems like a straight shooter and that I'll ride home with him and then be with my girlfriend the rest of the day. I remember I have a funeral to go to tomorrow. I sign the refusal paperwork, load my bike into the nice man's trailer, square things away with the cops which was surprisingly uneventful and I'm now on an unforgettable ride to Denver with Mr. G.
The EMS and Highway Patrol all told me they've never seen anyone in a motorcycle wreck walk away from that turn.
To be continued:
TAIL BETWEEN MY LEGS:
So there I stand, on the side of I-70, walking back to the highway patrol, still spitting dirt out of my teeth expecting my ticket. “I’m not going to issue a citation; your bike doesn’t look that bad and nobody was hurt.” All the paperwork is taken care of and I set all of my gear in the trailer of Mr. G, who has expertly loaded my bike and strapped it down while I was talking with the EMS. One of the first feelings I felt was humiliation. In fact, I remember standing on the side of the road when I first jumped up from sliding, and a passer-by honked. It was a truck that I recalled seeing as a target just 10 minutes prior. I wasn’t mad or irritated by the honk. We’ve all been there, watching some jerk weave in and out of traffic, secretly wishing for karma to catch up with them. I’m sure to that person I was just the jerk who got what he deserved. Meanwhile, I was too happy with the outcome to care. I was happy to be alive, and ashamed of my actions. I was so ashamed I wasn’t even defensive. As far as I’m concerned, I lost control. I think all of you reading this would agree that I lost control. Where exactly that control was lost, well, that may be a little more subjective.
MOTORCYCLES, MYSTICS, MAYHEM AND MR. G.
Mr. G was a tall man, 6’5’ at least, blonde hair and black sunglasses. He is a model California Native in my eyes. He moved with purpose, even his efficiency and actions on the side of I-70 were so spot on I never questioned his motives. I mean, seriously, how many times are we told not to get into cars with strangers growing up? So I jump into the passenger seat of Mr. G’s 1 ton pickup with its saddle leather seats and gorgeous enclosed motorcycle trailer in tow. His colors are hanging off the hanger in the rear driver side seat. I ask where he was heading, he said Denver to pick up an early 2000’s Indian he bought, hence the empty trailer. He states “When I saw you pop up, I knew I had to stop.” Something about the way he said that made me think he wasn’t sure I was going to get up from that accident. I told him where I lived and he agreed to take me there, “No Problem.” I thanked him about a billion times…
He told me about the Indian he’s picking up and how he came across it. It was your typical musing on a mutual passion that happens when two motorcyclists start talking about motorcycles. We talked extensively; it was about a 45 minute drive. His other bike was a Harley, and I talked about my first bike. Once my pupils began to normalize and the epinephrine began wearing off, I asked if he had ever been in a motorcycle accident.
“I was in a really bad accident in my 20’s.” He begins speaking, and the most notable thing to me is his normal conversational tone. Mr. G was never preachy, condescending, accusatory, judgmental or lecturing. In fact, he doesn’t even touch topics like motorcycle safety unless I ask him directly. He proceeds to tell me of his accident while wearing no safety gear. He obviously made it through the ordeal just fine. “I hired a mystic to interpret it for me.” If I could raise one eyebrow like Dwayne Johnson at that point, I would have. “She’s in her 80’s now, I still see her. I don’t know what your position on such things is, but I can get you in touch with her if you like.” I ask him what she told him. “I remember seeing a man on the tailgate of a truck on the other side of the road. I just remember thinking it was a really odd spot for someone to be stopped because there was absolutely nothing around there. She said he was a guardian angel waiting for me.” I don’t know how many of you have been in a near death experience, and I suppose that’s what Mr. G and I had both experienced. After a near death experience you’re willing to re-evaluate your entire belief system in 1 day even though it may have taken many rotations around the sun to establish.
I ask Mr. G if he kept riding immediately after. “Oh yeah, I had to ride the bike to the next city, I rode immediately after that and never stopped.” Finally, I gathered the guts and asked him if he had any advice for me.
In the most calm, non-judgmental, matter-of-fact tone he stated, “Slow down… … … It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” I’d heard the cliché many times before, but somehow this time it seemed so much more poignant. Destination=The Grave, Destination=Spot on the Map, Destination=Personal, Career, Relationship goals, etc. Journey = life, Journey = roadside America, Journey = time, Journey = what happens when you’re busy making plans, etc. Mr G. then states “You know, share your story. Send it in to the rags & keep that helmet in your garage to keep the way you’re feeling now fresh in your mind. Also, expect a really big hug from your girlfriend when you get home.”
WILL TOW FOR GATORADE:
We arrive at my place and I ride the bike to my garage and throw my gear next to it, I haven’t had a chance to inspect it yet. I ask if Mr. G if he wants to step inside, and he requests use of the facilities. I try to cut him a check because I know he has saved me an astronomical tow bill. He adamantly refuses payment. “If I accept money than it’s not a favor, it’s not worth anything.” I offer him a few Gatorades which he does accept. I get his full name (which I’ll never forget) and thank him about a billion more times. My girlfriend arrives as he is heading out the door. They introduce each other and Mr. G is on his way to pick up his Indian. My girlfriend slowly wraps her arms under mine, head pressed deep into my chest and begins sobbing.
THE WARNING SIGNS WERE THERE:
As Mr. G drove off, my girlfriend asked what happened. Playing the event back in my mind all I could collect was that I was riding more recklessly than I ever had in the past. It wasn’t until at least a month later that I was able to piece together the complete series of events. I told her I wasn’t riding like myself and she says something that stabs me deep in the gut. “You know, the last couple times I rode with you, I wasn’t having as much fun. I was more scared.” My heart sunk to my feet. What if she had been on the bike with me?! I’d like to think I would never have ridden like that with her on the back of the bike but after this wreck I wasn't so sure. I had even made sure she had full riding gear when we went on rides together. My first response was, why didn’t you tell me?! You should never have stayed on the bike if you were scared! “I did tell you” she said. “I told you I was nervous and that you were taking turns faster than you usually do and you brushed it off.” My heart sunk even deeper with that huge empty guilty feeling you feel as a young child when you let your parents down. I realized that there had been warning signs leading up to the events of the day. I also realized that I had no business being on the bike the last 2 months. I thanked my lucky stars that nobody was hurt. Had my girlfriend been hurt or worse as a result of careless riding, I would never be able to forgive myself. It would weigh on me like nothing else I can imagine. I felt ashamed. I apologized about as many times as I thanked Mr. G. “Don’t worry about it, I’m just glad you’re here” she says. We talked about it and made our way over to my gear in the garage.
“MY GEAR FINALLY PAID FOR ITSELF”
For the next hour I inspected my gear and we reflected on it. Both of us being in EMS made for some interesting insights. She was incredibly patient during this time of reflection for me. I recall washing the mud off my helmet looking at the scratches on the visor and thinking about my face on the ground instead of the helmet. Strangely, the thing that shook me the most was the knuckles of my gloves. There was at least a ¼” ground off them. I remember the reason I even made sure I wore gloves was because of a riding proficiency book I read years ago stated you could lose 2 pints of blood out of road-rash palms. Without those gloves, this would have been a very serious and handicapping injury due to how much I use my hands. The thought of my bare knuckles scraping across the ground the way my gloves did gives me shivers. I'd probably be going through physical therapy and surgeries for months. I don't discount the impact the other gear I was wearing had on my subsequent well being, gloves just are something a lot of people ride without, as well as riding pants. Even those with helmets. Anyway, every time I found new damage to a piece of gear, it hit home. Pictures below.
I took the visor and side plates off, there were scratches on it and a lot of dirt and rocks between it and the helmet itself.
The rear spoiler was ripped off the helmet from the accident. Just as it was designed to do.
That's a lot of knuckle scraped away
These are the mesh kevlar overpants from Motoport
That small hole in the right butt cheek is where my gigantic bruise was.
Another similar tear on the calf of the pants.
Note the holes worn in the arms.
I'll miss this jacket. It was my first.
I took a shower before getting ready for my flight to Wisconsin and noticed a gigantic bruise on my ass. (Note the tear in the Kevlar pant on the right ass cheek, that's where the bruise was... I wonder what may have been embedded in there had I not had them on.) I packed my bags and my girlfriend and I headed to the airport. En route I asked my girlfriend if I should call my parents and my brother and let them know. I knew I should, but I was ashamed and didn't really want to. She simply said “Yes.” I called them both and I received a warranted amount of scolding as well as many “We're just glad you're o.k.” My brother knew exactly where I went down and said something along the lines of “That's why they have race tracks, man.” All of them knew how much trouble I had been having the last few months with stress from my current job and knew I had already made steps to change jobs. In fact, at the point I turned around before heading back down the mountain, I had stopped and made a phone call confirming my orientation dates for a new job I was to start in 3 weeks.
ANOTHER STORY, ANOTHER MOTORCYCLE WRECK:
I slept the whole flight. Her father picked us up and we had a 45 minute drive to the house where we were staying. En route to the house, we ended up telling him about the incident. He made a comment along the lines of “Oh, wow.” He told a story of him riding with his friends back in the 70's as a novice rider. He told of how he was on a buddy's bike riding all out just trying to keep up with his friends and ended up missing a turn and riding down an embankment. He told of them coming back and helping him get the bike out of the ditch and riding the rest of the day with a broken sissy bar. I was frank and honest in telling the story, just like now. His final response was, “Well, once we get out of the car lets not talk about this anymore for the rest of the trip.” His logic was sound. It was my girlfriends mothers mother who had passed away. It would be a lot for her to process at one time. Besides, the week was about honoring and celebrating Mable's life. Talk of my accident would have just taken away from that.
I can't tell you how blessed I feel to have such understanding people surrounding me in my life. Had this happened to me without such an amazing support system, I don't know how I would have handled it. The sympathetic and understanding nature of all those that I divulged my embarrassing behaviors to were so much more productive in my healing than a barrage of scolding and belittling.
MY BOND WITH MABLE:
The funeral was the day after we arrived. I woke up, unable to sit up straight in bed due to the pain in my chest. The second day is always worse than the first. I was stoved up pretty good, but no one could tell as long as they didn't ask me to do a sit-up. I got dressed and we headed off to the funeral. It was a beautiful service; my girlfriend sang Amazing Grace, and her father gave a great and memorable eulogy. At one point he stated “We all wondered why she stuck around so long” (She was 96 and had many afflictions in her later years including blindness and the inability to walk, but she never completely lost her wits.) He stated that she once asked a clergyman “Father, I don't know why I'm still here.” That hit home for me. As selfish as it may seem, I felt like maybe she had held on so long to help me learn the lesson from my accident the day before. While we had never met, Mable was convinced that we had, and had a vivid image of me cradling my girlfriend in my arms, “Taking care of her.” Maybe she stuck around so long so that I could learn how important it was to be there for the ones I love. I don't know. All I can say is I felt a deep, deep connection to this woman who I never met and those that praised her and talked of her so lovingly. I always will.
I had a wonderful visit in Wisconsin. Meeting my girlfriend's family was fantastic and full of great memories and lovely celebrations of Mable and her positive effect on everyone. I woke up every morning at 0500 and joined her other grandparents in birding from the kitchen bar. It was good to be back in the Midwest. I still had not been able to completely assimilate into Colorado, largely due to my own road blocks. I'm sure a lot of it had to do with leaving a solid, comfortable career in Ohio and losing the relationship I quit it for. There was a part of me, a very real and important part of me that wanted to give Colorado a fair chance, but I just hadn't been able to make peace with leaving 30 years of everything behind. There was a part of me that didn't understand that I was being stubborn and holding on to a past that I could never get back. I wasn't moving forward.
THE FINAL LESSON:
When we got back into Denver, I immediately began getting snappy and angry again. I mean just walking off of the plane my attitude had changed. My girlfriend started crying on the drive from the airport. I asked her what was wrong. “It's like someone flipped a switch when you were in Wisconsin. You were setting your alarm and waking up before it went off at 0500 to look at birds, for crying out loud! I've never seen you that happy. I just wish you could be that happy here.” I realized at this point that this entire experience from “Uh-Oh” to where we were now was a wake-up-call. Not just for riding my motorcycle, but a wake-up-call for my life and my attitude towards it. I concluded that my anger was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once I had this epiphany, I started to look at Colorado as a land of opportunities and excitement. Instead of my old attitude of “I never wanted to come here to begin with,” it was now “I'm happy to be here!”
This whole thing was an epiphany for me: not the healthiest way to come to an epiphany, and if you find yourself taking similar risks as I did leading up to my accident, reach out. If you don't have an amazing support group that you can talk to that will accept you understandingly, seek help elsewhere. If that's a group, professional help, a forum, anywhere. There is no shame in it. Had I the clarity of mind to realize just how dangerous my actions were and how self destructive my behavior was becoming, I certainly would have sought help and put the bike away long before this catastrophe.
WHERE'S THE BIKE?
The bike is being repaired now, as all the damage is cosmetic (per the shop). I am certainly going to continue riding, I'm just not sure how soon and how often. The requirements for me to get back on the bike have certainly changed. There will be a mental checklist as well as a physical checklist, like an emotional TLOC. I have no fear of riding, strange as that may seem. I don't think I'll commute anymore. I do believe that if I were to go right back out there immediately, it would be like playing motorcycle roulette. While I feel better and happier, I'm going to wait for long term results to prove that I am level headed and disciplined enough to keep my cool. I do this in my truck for now. Every time I'm driving my truck, I tell myself before I move that the rush is getting out the door of my house at the right time and there is nothing on the road that I can do to speed up my arrival at my destination. This has made me a much happier driver and human being at home, at work, and on the road.
TAKING BACK CONTROL:
I bought a mountain bike to help me bond with the great state of Colorado and get in some much needed exercise. The bike trails are amazing here. I've been riding for the past 2 months and already I'm healthier and happier than I have been since I moved here. My level of physical activity since moving 2 years ago had been lower than ever in my life and I am looking forward to becoming even healthier (mentally and physically). I have changed jobs and I'm taking prerequisites to get into nursing school and am excited about my future once more. Every morning when I wake up It's with appreciation and excitement for what I'm doing. I suppose what I'm really trying to say is that I have made several changes and taken action to do things I've always wanted to. As a result, I am much happier and enjoying my time in Colorado instead of stewing and begrudgingly meeting every day thinking I'm stuck. All of this is confirmed by my girlfriend, so you don't have to take my word for it.
I guess the takeaway for me from this whole ordeal is a cliché. The message? Do whatever you have to do to keep moving forward and achieve happiness in your life. If you feel stagnant or unhappy, do something about it. No matter how small a change it may be, or what the risks might be, it could be the tipping point to place you on a more positive track. No matter how hopeless or few your options seem, lift your chin and place your gaze on the future. Otherwise, focusing on the negative and what might have been may bury you. Also, when you ride, if you find yourself doing things you normally don't... stop, give pause and reflect on why that really is. If you do...
Your motorcycle may just save your life.
In more ways than one.
P.S. I have no residual injuries or deficits from the accident. All healed up nicely.