The Year of Living Dangerously
OK, so the tale of the RX-7 wreck didn't quite satisfy you. You may want to know about the other wrecks that I had in the following eleven month period. It was the Year of Living Dangerously. The last wreck that you'll read about ended my interest in motorcycling for good (well, almost...). You just reach a point in life where you lose interest, and you walk away. Cars and bikes and planes and boats should be hobbies, not ball and chains, not religions, and not lifestyles. It should be a sport that you enjoy, not a prison sentence you are committed to. The ability to walk away at any time and resume your interest at a later date is the beauty of enjoying power sports, provided that you can walk away and that you can return. Not everyone who quits the sport does so voluntarily, and not everyone gets out alive. That was the point that I reached, total dissatisfaction and zero entertainment value with what I was throwing my body around through.
If you've read how Cindy and I met, you already know that the two of us survived a really bad motorcycle accident in Meridian. She and I were riding my '93 Honda VFR750F back to my apartment when a old man in a old pickup truck ran a stop light and took us off the bike. The bike was smashed, steam rollered flat by the '76 Chevy C-10 pickup truck (with a camper shell to give it extra mass!) and Cindy and I walked away with nothing but some strawberries and a few bruises.
That was October 1994.
Fast forward to three weeks after I flipped and rolled my '84 RX-7. I'm borrowing my dad's car, a '86 Mercury Grand Marquis, with a 302 and low gears (the dealer did some work on the rear end, and instead of fixing the rear end, they just put a new one in, with lower gears, so the speedometer was off by 10mph and the car sucked gas like we owned our own oil well. Ford... Quality is job none!). Since I was traveling a lot for the MDOT, Cindy and I decided that she should drive the gas guzzling Ford and I drive her car, a fuel efficient 2.5 liter in-line four Tech-4 powered, four door Buick Skylark. Either of the two cars were hardly what I was used to in performance or ride comfort. So, there I was, driving a Buick 'family car', borrowing another 'family car', until I could get another sports car to replace the RX-7 that I had lost.
On the morning of November 6th, 1997, I was going to work. I left my house on East Baylis Chapel Drive, and turned down Enon Road, a long winding road which leads to Highway 98 where I could catch that into Hattiesburg and the District Office.
Deer season was still going on. One of those things you don't realize until after the fact, or after something happens to make you understand that because something else is going on around you, you could very well be affected.
So, there I was, getting to the office early, traveling down Enon Road. Coming out of a corner and into a descending straightaway, I saw a green Ford Ranger pickup truck approaching me on the two lane. I was doing about 45mph and just passing a nice rustic house with a old barn near the road. There was a flash of brown, and my brain registered what my eyes had just flashed to it.
A good sized, 7 point Buck had just leaped out from beside the barn, running like mad, and it was either going to hit my car or the oncoming Ford truck. As fate would have it, the Buck decided to commit suicide against the front end of my wife's '91 Buick Skylark. Buck, Buick, only one letter difference and that letter is "I" and boy was I mad. Funny how my wife pointed that out to me. There was an awful impact and the deer went flying off the front end of my little Buick. I slammed on brakes at the same time that the Ford Ranger slammed on brakes in the other lane. I had hit the deer so hard that I threw it into the oncoming lane of traffic, off the road, sent it sliding out of control (around and around, like a top, feet flailing) down a gully and then saw its back get wrapped (the wrong way) around the base of a tree trunk. It vanished after that and I threw the car into park, jolted by adrenaline (the whole thing had taken about three seconds, and even now I was just starting to realize what had happened), I opened my door to see what the damage was.
The door wouldn't open!
Strange. I hit the deer with the front end, why won't my door open?
So, I pushed the door, and felt it wobble back and forth, like it was dented and moving on warped hinges. I pushed harder, and the door creaked open with the sound of protesting metal. I got out, shut the door, and found the impact had torn up the front nose of the Buick, smashed out the left turn signal, broken the bracket stabilizing the left composite headlight (which now freely wobbled in its cavity), and had jammed the left fender so far back, that it overlapped the driver's door. I calmly reached down and picked up the few big pieces from the impact, and then noticed that the deer was nowhere in sight. I had hit it hard on the rear legs, so I knew it was hurt. My wife's car is a little Buick, but it was still going 45mph and at that speed, even a 'little' Buick is going to send whatever it hits to a visit to the hurt locker.
So, the driver of the Ford Ranger, later discovered to be my neighbor down the street, came rushing up, explaining that she had seen the deer and there was nothing to be done about it. I nodded. She explained that the deer were crazy, what with mating season and the hunters in the woods. I nodded, realized that I was going to be late for work, and then I started tracking down the deer.
I found it about fifty feet into the woods near the road. The Ford driver and I watched it from the road as it managed to drag itself a little bit further. I think both of its legs were broken. I felt sorry for it, it was dying. I mean, who takes a deer to the vet and pays the bill to have it fixed? No, I thought, a bullet was just easier. I had a rifle in the trunk, so I went to get it out when my neighbor started asking me questions like "Do you want it?" and "Are you going to keep it?"
She wanted to know if I was going to keep the deer. Her husband was a big deer hunter, and they could use the meat. I could have the skin if I wanted to. I wasn't really believing this, (my wife says I'm a city boy, but when we hit dogs in the city, we never got into an argument over who was going to keep the dead body!). I told her I just didn't want the deer to suffer. It was hurt, scared witless, alone, and dying. And there I was, about to administer the coup de grace, and here this woman was asking me for last rights to the meat.
Go ahead, I told her. She said she was going to go get her husband and he would take care of the deer. I nodded, took one last look at the dying animal, and then got back into my car and drove on to work. Later that day, I reported the accident to my insurance company and the estimate for the damage was in excess of $1800.
So, I had flipped my RX-7 and now the 'city boy' of the family had killed his first deer, and a 7 point Buck at that! Wow. Kind of anti-climatic. A bullet would have been cheaper! My wife calls her car the "silver bullet", and I guess that's what it was. So far, I had killed my first deer, and as luck would have it, I was one of the few people at MDOT who had already bagged a Buck during the hunting season. I just used a different type of weapon, and I didn't even try.
Moving ahead a few months to March 15, 1998, and the beginning of Spring Break. I took a few days off of work to be with Cindy while she was out, just so we could spend some time together, something we don't get to do often with our work schedules. I had asked for Monday through Wednesday off, a long weekend, but because I was on the road out of the office, I hadn't received confirmation that my leave had been granted.
Monday morning, I rode my '95 Ninja ZX-6R to work. It was Spring Break, in Mississippi the warm weather was back, and it was a good day to ride. I rode to work, did a few small tasks, and then my boss asked me what I was doing there? I told him I didn't know if I had the days off, and he said get gone. So I did, right after Julian called me and we decided to meet at Krystals for lunch.
After lunch, Julian and I said our good-byes and I went back to the office. I had one more thing to do before I could go home to three days of vacation. I maneuvered my Ninja through traffic, and into the turn lane merging onto Highway 49 north. The light turned green, protected green, and the white Ford pickup truck in front of me started to accelerate. I moved in behind him. Halfway through the turn, I noticed that one of the MDOT road crews had closed the left lane of the highway, and was flagging traffic to merge right. I assumed that the Ford truck driver in front of me saw the merging flagman (never assume with a Ford driver. If they're stupid enough to buy a Ford, they probably don't need to be behind the wheel ...). I started to lean my bike to the right to maneuver into the right lane and merge right. I glanced over my shoulder, starting the maneuver, when I saw one of the things that I really hate; a dreaded soccer mom in a minivan. Talking to her kids, not paying any attention at all to traffic, and totally ignoring the YIELD sign for traffic coming off of Hardy Street to merge with traffic already on Highway 49. Yep. Lamar county tag on the mini-van. So, I'm already into the lean when the Ford driver in front of me finally realizes that two car lengths in front of him, he's going to run into some heavy construction equipment. Does this intellectual move over into the right lane like he should?
He slams on brakes and jerks his head to the right to see if he can get over, four car lengths in front of me!
Suddenly, I'm looking at high-siding over the rear bumper of a Ford pickup, or getting run over by a Lamar county soccer mom who still isn't paying me any attention or worrying about the problem that she has just caused.
I grab my binders, front and back, and with the instant that the rotors grab, I realize with a sickening feeling that my forks are turned! Well, I immediately go into a tank slapper and scissor down to the pavement and low-side off the bike, sliding along at 30 mph as I see my bike come to a rest three car lengths behind me. I stop in the middle of the pavement of a busy highway, look up, and realize that I am laying under the back of the Ford truck. I look up and see the spare tire cover and the fuel tank and the rear axle and I think to myself; "This just is not a smurfy position to be in."
I quickly removed my fallen bike from traffic, got an accident report, and was able to ride my injured Ninja back home. The exhaust was scraped pretty bad, the side panel would need to be replaced, ditto for the right brake lever, right side turn signal (smashed to pieces), and right side mirror. The front cowl had taken a hard hit and the right side 'elbow' of the nose of the cowl had been sanded down to nothing. All in all, about $3600 worth of cosmetic damage.
I was not happy. I was wearing my Hein Gerrike "Ninja" jacket, my Fieldsheer Kevlar Gloves, and my HJC helmet. No damage there, but the right arm of my Ninja jacket suffered some road rash, and I received a nice second degree friction burn through the body armor to my elbow. Figure that, the sliding heated up the leather so much, that it baked my skin off. I searched the leather everywhere I could, and couldn't find one hole or tear in it at all. Remember folks, always wear your safety equipment! I can't stress this enough!
I rode back to the office, got out the first aid kit, and began treating my wounds. Nobody could believe what had happened, least of all me. I had owned my Ninja for two and a half years and never dropped it once. Now I was looking at major cosmetic surgery to get it back together again. I spent the rest of the week wearing shorts and having my leg wrapped in bandages and salve. Not a fun way to spend Spring Break with your wife, but her tender administrations to my wounds were nice.
Fast forward to May 15, 1998. It's Friday. My Ninja has been reassembled. It's factory brand new, with the exception of some little extras like a carbon fiber tree cover and gauge cluster cover. Oh, and the wicked as hell Yoshimura RS-3 stainless steel racing exhaust system installed by yours truly. Sounds very, very nice, not loud like your average Harley, but mellow, strong, powerful. There's a big difference between being loud and annoying and being fast and powerful. While the bike was torn down, I also put in a Factory jet kit to match the pipe and an ignition advancer which really woke up the throttle response of the Ninja.
So, I'm coming into Hattiesburg on my Ninja. I'm being careful, I've just got the bike back together two weeks ago (coming to grips with the accident, what did I do wrong, what could I have done to avoid it, etc. made me postpone putting the bike back together. I wanted to understand what had happened before I just hopped on it and rode again. I wanted to learn something from my mistake...). Now, near the MDOT district headquarters, we have a service road. Where the Highway 49 turns onto the service road, service road traffic has to stop coming and going, as traffic entering the service road from the highway has the right of way.
Most people ignore the twin stop signs and consider them yield signs instead, just crossing from service road to highway, often without looking.
So, here I am, turning into the service road from the highway, slowing down, down shift my 6 speed, hit my blinker, and slow into the turn off lane. I see two black guys in a dropped down Mitsubishi Gallant, stereo cranked loud, and they are rapidly approaching the stop sign. They won't stop, I think, knowing the average idiots in traffic, and just knowing that people on the service road, if they stop, never look behind them to see if anyone is parallel to them in the highway exit, and who has right of way, and who is about to cut across their front bumper. They just don't do it. That's because most people can't multi-process. If they do decide to stop at the stop sign, they never check any other direction. They stop, then pull out into the path of exiting traffic so that they can get onto the highway.
I'm looking at these two guys, jamming out to the latest rap tragedy at sound levels so high, I can understand the words over my Yoshimura exhaust and through my HJC helmet! I notice that the car's front end dips down, a sign of deceleration and load bearing on the frame. I think to myself, these guys are actually going to stop! Wow! Some intellectuals after all! What a breath of fresh air to actually be able to have the right of way for once the way I'm supposed to have it.
The driver even looks over at me as he's slowing down and nods. He gives me the 'Deeammm! Look at that bike!" look, and I nod back to him, just to let him know that I've seen him as well.
The Mitsubishi is slowing down now, it's almost at the stop sign, and it's going about five miles an hour. I start to make my right turn when this guy does something that I never thought another human being would ever do. He floors the Mitsubishi, jerking hard to the left. He clears the stop sign, cuts right across my path of travel less than two bike lengths in front of me, and laughs at me the whole time he's doing it, head cocked back against the seat back head rest, laughing as he's looking at me! I slam on brakes, but my forks are turned again, into the lean, and I get a sickening feeling of deja vu. Yeah, tank slapper and scissored again. The forks preload and then unload. The bike goes down, on the left side (sparing my new repairs on the right side and my new Yoshi race header) and goes down hard. My cell phone is thrown from its windshield clip and shatters the display of the phone. I go sprawling, but I manage to roll and come up standing facing the wrong way. I turn in time to see the Mitsubishi roaring off down the highway at full acceleration, and one thought enters my mind as I watch him round the curve near Hattiesburg Cycles.
That guy did that on purpose.
I got so mad, that I decided to chase him down, get his tag number, and call the cops. That was a hit and run, only he missed! How could anyone do something like that? I ran over to my fallen Ninja and hefted, it came up easy, I was that charged with adrenaline. I was prepared to hop on it, light the fire, and ride after him to get his tag information.
As the Ninja came up, I noticed the dark spreading patch of liquid on the pavement below it. Engine oil! I stood there, visions of a twisted, fused engine rocked me! I held the Ninja upright and looked down at the left side. There, where the starter / generator case is exposed outside the cowl, there was a puncture to the metal guard. Oil was pouring out of the engine and I watched it all drain out. I was just standing there, holding my dead Ninja up by the handlebars as I watched all of my synthetic oil drain out onto the asphalt. I looked back over my shoulder and said some things to the departed driver that I know God and I will have to talk over one day. That person tried to hit me, if it hadn't been for my riding skills, the one foot of space between his front bumper and my front tire wouldn't have been there. I would have been on the hood of his car, rolling over as he sped away!
I walked my Ninja fifty feet straight ahead into a construction parking lot and parked it.
I then walked three hundred feet to my office and called the police.
Another $1800 worth of damage to the bike. Thank God for insurance. And thank God that I hadn't even been hurt this time! I had managed to roll correctly and even came up, like some kind of action hero, in a crouched stance, ready to move. However, I had come out of the thrown roll in the wrong direction, and when I managed to turn around to see my assailants, they were too far away for me to read their tag.
Insurance took care of the bike. My cell phone insurance took care of the damaged cell phone.
It would be three months before I finally got around to swinging wrenches again on my Ninja. The desire was ebbing. I was tired of wrecks. The RX-7, the Buick, and now two wrecks in three months on my Ninja. It really was starting to irritate and depress me.
That night, Cindy and I brought my trailer into Hattiesburg and loaded up the Ninja in the parking lot. Julian and Cindy came to help me. As I was loading my Ninja, I heard a familiar, sickening crash of plastic on pavement.
Julian had dropped his Ninja in the parking lot. I rushed over to help him right it up, he had been on an incline and had misjudged where he put his foot to get off of it. Common mistake, still it hit home with me more. There, in that one little stretch of highway and service road, in the last six hours, two Ninjas had fallen to the pavement. It was almost too much to believe.
Man, Karma was just really going down the toilet. His bike had a few little scratches, but it was the whole thing put together in perspective.
I hauled the Ninja home and parked it. I had the insurance money, but it just sat there in my account. I left the Ninja unrepaired, unrunning, its engine dry as a bone for lack of oil. I went ahead and took the insurance money and ordered all of the parts to repair the Ninja (I do my own work). When I got the parts, I still didn't want to touch it. It just sat there in the carport. I just didn't want to ride it. I kept going over and over in my mind what had happened to me. How could I have avoided it? Why would someone whom I didn't even know want to run me down? So, my Ninja sat there in the garage, dead.
For one long month of personal introspection.
And then a huge storm rolled through the area, spawning micro tornadoes, hail damage, high speed damaging winds, and lots of rain. This was June 2, 1998. Power was out for almost three days in some areas, Runnelstown, MS was almost wiped off the face of the Earth, and in my parents neighborhood, it looked like a scene from the movie "Twister". Trees were sheered off at a height of twenty-five feet up and tree tops were dropped down into the tops of the roofs of houses. Trees were down everywhere.
I remember that night well. Cindy and I had just finished a movie with Chris and Sarah Waddle, our pastor and his wife, and were heading out to Columbia, traveling back home. Now, from the parking lot of Turtle Creek Mall, we could hear the thunder and see the lightning in the distance. It was moving in fast! Cindy and I returned home and had to pull over near Canebreak several times, just because the sheer amount of rain on the windshield was more than the wipers, set to high, could remove in order to drive safely. And this was at 10mph on the highway where the speed limit was 65mph! I have never seen rain that hard before.
Cindy and I return home, and the weather continues to worsen. We gather our emergency supplies, and I get a call from my brother in law, who is in the Civil Defense. He tells us that there is a tornado on the ground in Columbia and we need to get out! I go outside, jeans and a t-shirt, it is raining so hard, that by the time I'm five feet out of the carport, I'm drenched. I start clearing out my car of computer supplies, etc. in anticipation of having to evacuate the area really fast. I make room for cats, dog, and Cindy and I. Cindy has parked her car next to the carport, on the grass, in the shade of two huge oak trees that have been there for decades. Really nice shade trees in the Spring and Summer.
So, there I've cleared out the car, and I run back inside, grab a towel, and tell her that if we have to make a run for it, we can. About that time, the wind outside the house picks up from 10 decibels to over 80 decibels. It's an undulating banshee-like wail that chills our blood. I'm about to throw Cindy to the floor when it suddenly stops. I tell her we are leaving right then! My parents have called me and told me to get to Hattiesburg to stay with them. The only problem is that the brunt of this gigantic, horrific storm is now between Columbia and Hattiesburg and its moving with a vengeance, wrecking everything in its path, coming in at fifty feet off the ground and shearing off the tops of any trees taller than that. This is a demonic storm of unimaginable magnitude. It was like being caught in a hurricane, only there had been no warning!
I run back outside just as the power goes off. I check the car one more time, we are leaving! I know what a tornado sounds like, and what just roared by the house was pretty close enough to that sound for me to know that the older house we were renting wouldn't last a second in a twister's funnel. I check the car again, load in a few things, and I'm heading back into the carport. Lightning flashes and Cindy says something that chills my blood.
"There's a tree on my car!"
I turn around, soaking, dripping, and stare out into the night. Her car is just thirty feet away, but it's so dark and storming so hard, that I can't see anything. Then lightning flashes again, and I see that from the front windshield of her car to the front bumper is buried under the top of one of the old oak trees! It's fallen and smashed her car, and the top of it has covered the parked Ninja as well. I cuss, and run out to her car. I fight my way through the foliage and limbs of the fallen tree and manage to barely open her door and crawl inside her car. I key up the lights and look at the roof, windshield, it's all intact! OK. I throw my keys into the ignition and start the engine. It starts up, so maybe it's not smashed under a ton of dead wood. I put the car into reverse and pull it out. It doesn't want to move. I dig in for traction, rock the car, and then give it some more gas. The front end of the car breaks out from under the tree and pulls loose a few limbs as well.
I park her car in front of our house and hop out. Lightning shows that her front bumper is barely attached to her car, her grille is gone, and so are most of her turn signal lenses. Great! I cuss some more. The Ninja is still buried under the top of the tree, almost covered under leaves and branches.
Well, there goes another trip for Cindy's car to the repair shop. Like Cindy says, her car is tough! Not even Bambi or the Mighty Oak could kill it!
Fast Forward to July, 1998.
I have rebuilt the Ninja, just in time for Julian to have to borrow it for a while. That's fine. I'm not really back into riding that much. Julian has moved to Meridian to co-op at Burlington, and his bike is needing a new rear tire very badly. I take him my Ninja during one of my trips to the Quitman project office. We do lunch, I unload my Ninja, load his Ninja up, hand him the keys to my bike and get his bike back to the dealer to get the new rear tire shod.
Julian has my bike for two weeks while the local Kawasaki dealer (who rather sell ATVs and watercraft than work on a sport bike that he sold to Julian) works through his backlog to get Julian's tire on. So, I've repaired my bike after the May 15th accident, it's now July, and I haven't ridden MY bike since the last accident.
I get my bike back from Julian in late July. We trade Ninjas, and I enter my Ninja in a local motorcycle / auto show. I take second place in the performance category. I'm starting to feel a little better about the Ninja, starting to get my confidence back. I ride it into Columbia several times, little short trips, building up my riding confidence. Nothing jumps out in front of me, nobody tries to run me over, and no trees fall on top of me. Maybe my bad luck is over.
Julian comes down from Meridian one weekend, and wants to go riding. I'm not sure. He wants to go performance riding, hanging corners, riding fast, etc. on a local thrill / kill strip called Highway 587. Red Bluff Road has claimed a few biker's lives, but they were stupid. Julian and I may not work the brakes too much in the corners, but we keep it at or only slightly above the speed limit on the straight away.
He begs me to go riding. I don't know. I really don't feel like riding my Ninja, just a feeling deep down that day, call it a gut feeling, Cindy calls it instinct, sixth sense. Julian begs some more because he hasn't ridden with anyone in a long time, and it's been months since he and I sloshed our liquids from side to side on some curves. Cindy tells me to either ride the Ninja or sell it. She's tired of us paying for the bike and it not doing anything but sitting in the carport taking up space. I tell her I'll go riding with Julian. If I don't feel confident after my ride, I'll sell the Ninja and walk away from bikes for awhile.
She's happy at my decision.
She leaves to go to her parents house, and Julian and I prepare for our ride. It's been over two and a half months since I last rode my Ninja, and Cindy and I are in the process of moving out of our house, so I can't find my riding gloves. Julian says just wear your fingerless gloves. I start to, but quickly decide against it. I prefer to wear all of my safety equipment when I ride. Julian is getting impatient. Something just doesn't feel right. Something is gnawing at me, my danger sense is tingling.... Julian says grab a denim jacket, my fingerless driving gloves and let's hit the road. Common sense tells me to find all of my real safety gear, not the crap poser stuff.
Julian has fired up his Ninja and is letting it idle, warming up. I turn off my Ninja, and go back in the house. I get the keys to my car and go out and check the trunk. After rooting around toner cartridges and computer manuals, I find my Kevlar reinforced Fieldsheer gloves and don my Hein Gerrick Ninja leather jacket.
I feel somewhat better, still a little strange, but better. There's this nagging feeling...
Julian and I head out. My Ninja needs gas, and so does his. We fill up at Big K in Columbia, high test, and my danger feeling is getting stronger. I look around, what is my karma trying to tell me. I pass it off as just the jitters of having not ridden for so long. We reset our odometers and head out to Highway 587. Red Bluff Road. Forty miles of left-right-left-straightaway-right-left-straightaway style two lane.
I'm starting to feel good. I'm slowly getting my confidence back, but I can tell that I'm riding no where near the edge of the envelope that I'm used to riding at. I'm back to riding my Ninja like I was an 80 year old grandma. Julian says I'm doing everything right, and I'm riding better than I normally do. I just can't believe him, it doesn't feel like it used to. Everything is strange right now. The trees are the wrong color. The road looks weird, no turn is familiar, no sounds from the engine or feeling from the suspension is talking to me like it used to. The whole thing is like it's out of focus. Not sharp, not clear, yet still we ride on. I swear the world was sepia colored that day. We are going to ride to Monticello, get a Route 44 sweet tea from the local Sonic, sit, talk about our bikes, and then ride back to Columbia in the opposite direction we came, doing the route in reverse. That's always the way we do things, it's about a two hour ride.
So, why does today have such a different, grim feeling?
I pass it off to not having ridden for over two months and also to my new and very strong fear of wrecking. I go into the sharp corners easily. Once I blip the throttle on a long, wide straightaway and hit triple digits. No problem from the bike, everything is tight, the signals are right. I back it back down, listening to the engine, feeling the suspension. It's not there. Something is wrong, it's either me, the bike, or something, but something is out of the ordinary.
My sixth sense is smothering me with a cloak of gloom but I can't put my finger on it at all.
We pass one of the largest snakes I've ever seen, stretched out in the road. I lift my legs out of habit, in case of a random reflex strike, but Julian says that my passing shockwave rolls the snake several times. It's already dead. The world grows a little darker in tone.
We are halfway to Monticello, just entering into Lawrence county. I wouldn't say we were more than a mile past the Lawrence county limit sign. There was a nice curve, I'm feeling really weird now, my sixth sense is pounding away at me, so I go into the curve gracefully, slowly, far slower than any of the other curves for no other reason than something up ahead is going to happen, I know it. I start to prepare for it, but not knowing what is going to happen, you can't prepare fully for everything. I work the front and back brakes gently, and exit the curve nicely, in an experienced style. Long straightaway ahead, long enough to top the Ninja out to 13 grand and 157mph and ride that way for a few seconds and then bring it back down. It's there, but I don't do it. It's not our style to redline our bikes, we prefer to hang corners instead of blast around the countryside at wide open throttle.
It's just a long straight away, two or more miles, and all sepia colored in my mind's eye. Nothing on either side but some old hunting roads, game trails, and some rock strewn drainage ditches. I exit the turn, right the bike up straight, and ease into the throttle, the needle slowly edges past 65mph and on to 70mph, I'm babying the throttle, rolling it gently with my palm. I'm in third gear, listening to the exhaust note from the Yoshimura pipe, scanning the road in front of me and to each side. The dire feeling is so strong it is almost overbearing.
Is whatever going to happen, is it going to happen to me, or to Julian? I've taught him how to ride, but he still only has about two years of experience on sport bikes, that's why I lead when we sport tour and we've worked out hand signals, turn signals, and brake signals to indicate how the road changes and which way to go, etc. I scout the road ahead and work the signals out, he reads the signals and adjusts for any changes in the road up ahead of him. We're a team when we ride, we're not competitors.
That damn eerie feeling is right there, a solid pillion ghost on the back of the bike with me, screaming at me something I can't understand, it's right on top of me now, smothering me. It's got to be going to happen to Julian! The ghost is screaming at me, whatever it is, it is going to happen right here, right now, the feeling is that strong.
I glance in the rearview and then turn my head to buddy check Julian, to make sure that he's made it out of the corner fine. He has, he's cleared the corner at a higher speed than I left it, righted his Ninja, and is on the straight away. I move my eyeballs from my right side mirror back to the road ahead. In the distance between the right side mirror and the road ahead, I spot a large flash of brown, moving out of the woods on an intercept angle.
A full grown deer!
Not again. I'm really starting to hate fucking deer. A deer is running out of the woods to my right! I'm going to hit it, no doubt about that. Half a second or less to impact, and nothing I can do. Leaning won't avoid the impact, brakes won't avoid the impact, speed won't save me. It's dead on any way you look at it. I go totally calm and the world goes back to full color, the sepia veil lifts away from around me.
So this is it? The grim feeling? I'm going to hit a full grown deer at 70mph on a bike and check out of this life for good? What a boring end to an otherwise exciting life. How banal...
I don't even touch the brakes, but suddenly, everything is right in the world. I get this final, eerie sense of calm, and I will myself to go slack on the bike, willing to let whatever physics I am about to undergo impart my vectors freely. Most people will try to hold onto a bike when they are going to hit something but I know better. I will let the impact shape my trajectory, I will roll with the impact, I will not hold onto the bike and follow it down.
Impact! Deer into Ninja or Ninja into deer. Whatever the coordination of the physics was, the result was the same.
There is this split second that will live with me for the rest of my life. Something that will haunt me in the early hours of waking up, or at odd times at night before I go to bed, or when I wake up in the middle of the night. Every motorcycle rider will experience it one day, the sickening sound of metal against flesh, of plastic giving way, of glass shattering, of pieces of bike being ripped off. Of your world coming to a screaming, screeching halt amid a storm of plastic shavings and sparks.
I don't know the physics of the impact, just to tell you that one minute I was upright at 70mph on my Ninja, the next I was cart wheeling head over heels, sliding along the pavement. In my flipping, I saw my bike behind me. I feared that my bike would flip end over end and land on top of me, or that 400 pounds of Kawasaki Ninja would come screaming into me. The last thing you want to do when you own a Ninja is to wear it for a hat.
When I rolled the second time, I saw my bike go sliding past me, heading down the oncoming lane of the highway, sparks showering from my Yoshimura pipe as the asphalt works to sand it away.
My next roll brought me into the headlights of Julian and his ZX-7R Ninja riding up behind me, a bike much heavier than my ZX-6R. I thought to myself:
"Great! I hit a deer, live through that. I hit the pavement, live through that. My bike just barely misses me, but now Julian is going to run me over. Oh, but God has a sense of humor."
Julian, a really good rider that I taught well, managed to avoid the three pieces of debris that suddenly presented themselves directly in his path of travel: me, my Ninja, and the deer, all doing their own macabre dance along the asphalt. I came to a stop, actually sitting up with my legs spread out in front of me in a V. My helmet was at an odd angle, my Ray Bans were crunched down over my nose, and I was breathing powdered helmet shavings. My ride along the pavement had sanded the side of my helmet, ripped off the chin vent, and wrecked the visor completely. Now, if I had been one of those fools who rode a Harley and thought that head protection should consist of a German war helmet or a do-rag bandanna, I would probably be dead now of massive head injuries.
I saw Julian's Ninja come to a very rapid, but controlled stop just about fifteen feet in front of me. Damn, the kid had style. My body was in adrenaline overload, but like the time I wrecked the RX-7, I was calm. The first clear, ordered thoughts began to appear in my brain. Five seconds after I had stopped rolling and sliding the first thought was- you are alive!
The second thought was- you are in the middle of a busy highway, right outside of a curve. Someone coming around the curve may not see you, and if they do, they may not have time to stop.
First order of business- get off your ass and get out of the road!
I reached over and found that my arm was numb. I moved my right arm, and a sharp pain surged through my body. I looked down at my HG Ninja jacket and saw a bulge under my right breast, near my shoulder. Dislocated shoulder, probably. It had popped out and I was going to have to snap it back in if I was going to be worth anything.
I took a deep breath, knowing that this was going to hurt and hurt bad. I decided to slam my left arm into the bone, moving it back into place, and I would do so on the count of three. I took a deep breath and started counting. One. Two. I fooled myself and whacked the bone into place on the count of two instead of the agreed upon count of three. I may not forgive myself, it hurt that bad, but the sudden surprise of going on two instead of three seemed to take some of the pain away. My arm tingled, and I found that I could support myself on my right hand now, without using too many four letter words. My whole body was tingling. I looked down at my legs, since I was moving stuff above my waist, I wasn't seriously hurt. I tried to reach up with my left hand and my still numb right hand and take off my helmet. I couldn't really see straight, since I had shaved helmet dust in my eyes, my Ray Bans were smashed flat against my face (not broken!), and the helmet was at an odd angle. I figured that my trouble breathing was quite simple, I had just had the wind knocked out of me.
Julian came running up and I looked up at him.
"Help me get my helmet off." I told him, sighing as the overall seriousness of the situation began to creep into the subprocessing centers of my brain. You know, the parts where your brain is concerned that you've had a wreck, but the subprocessing parts are concerned with how bad off you are and what's the damage.
"You could have neck or head injuries!" Julian said, squatting down and looking at me. I think the sight of my helmet on crooked must have really frosted his blood.
"I don't have head or neck injuries now help me get this Goddamn helmet off!" I shouted as I threw my head side to side, front to back to show him my neck was fine and that my head was still attached.
I needed air, and the helmet was suddenly very claustrophobic.
Julian helped me take my helmet off and it fell to the pavement, wobbled, and rolled to the side of the highway. I started to stand, ended up crawling on all fours for the first few feet, staggered to a kneeling position and then hauled myself up, hobbling a few steps until I could synchronize all my limbs into something that didn't look so spastic. I looked down at my leg. The right leg, same leg that was damaged in the March 15th wreck, was home to a new set of third degree road rash burns. I felt the blood running down my leg and matting in my leg hair and my sock. My sneaker was ruined, shredded, but my foot was unhurt. My jeans were ripped open from above the knee to above my ankle, but only my knee and the skin around it had sustained injuries. I learned a long time ago how to come off a motorcycle, I guess when you can't think, your instincts take over and that is what saved me from a lot worse injuries.
My Kevlar reinforced gloves were worn through in several areas, but my hands and skin were intact. My leather jacket was torn at the shoulder (where I later determined that I first hit the pavement, shoulder first, then head and helmet, smashing the helmet and sanding parts of it smooth), and horribly scratched. You could see the naked cowhide underneath, but fortunately, it had given up its material to save my skin, and my leg was the only injury.
I walked over to the ditch, turned quickly around, almost knocking Julian down in the process, and stamped off toward my bike.
"Where is it!?" I shouted. "Where the HELL is it?!"
Julian, mistaking what I was asking, pointed over toward my Ninja, laying on its right side, in the middle of the road, amid lots of plastic pieces. The lights were still on, the generator still running, but the fuel feed had died shortly after impact, and so the engine had shut off.
"Your bike is over there." he said.
"No! Where. Is. The. Deer?!" I stated, starting to feel my leg hurting. This was going to be the worst case of road rash I had yet had, I could feel that.
Julian pointed to the ditch.
"You hit it so hard, like a pool ball! You hit the deer, you went one way, the 6R went the other, and you threw the deer back off the road and into the ditch!"
You go figure the physics of *that* impact. I wish Julian had a video camera on his bike. It would be interesting to watch. So, I walk over to the ditch, and sure enough, there is a full grown doe, laying there on her left side, facing back the way that we were coming, and I look at her rib cage. It isn't moving. Her eyes are wide open, but she's not blinking.
"Dead." I mutter.
I know I should be like the deer, but I'm not. Julian looks down at the deer at the bottom of the rock strewn ditch.
"Well it wasn't a second ago!" he says, moving closer and looking down at the deer.
"A second ago, when I was getting off my bike, it was thrashing all around the underbrush in the ditch."
I wince, the pain in my leg is getting worse, the bleeding is starting to clot, but some of the nerve endings that I've scraped off on the road, well, their neighbors are finally missing them and reporting this much to my Central Nervous System. The nerve lines relaying this information from my leg to nerve central are almost overloading. I shake my leg and survey the damage, the skid marks, the point of impact, and how far I've come. Looking at the accident from the other side, still in this life and kicking, it chills the soul how close I came to closing out my account.
I shake my head to clear the fog from my brain, and Julian and I go and move my wrecked, smashed bike out of the highway and onto the shoulder of the road. I look down into the shoulder and realize that we were riding on a road with a gully on either side. A rock strewn stream filled gully with lots of big trunk trees nearby. One wrong calculation on God's part, and it would have been me laying down there, bashed against the big rocks and broken trees, instead of that deer.
I shuddered and a cold chill snaked up my spine. The feeling of foreboding was gone now, replaced with something else I couldn't identify, something that felt like ... release.
I used Julian's cell phone to call for assistance, and then I called my in-laws house. I got Larry, my wife's father, and explained it to him. He called my wife, and together, they brought out a full size pickup truck and some boards. Two Lawrence County deputy sheriffs, a Mississippi Highway Patrol officer and a Game Warden all responded to the call, but it was 45 minutes after the wreck, and if I had been seriously injured, I would have never have survived until help could have found us...
Thank you, God!
We were waiting on the cavalry to arrive, and Julian just sat there, shaking his head. I was sitting on what was left of my helmet, good now only as a impromptu perch for my tired ass.
"I can not believe your luck." Julian said.
"Yeah. Just lucky." I replied, happy to be alive when I should be dead.
"No." Julian said. "You have had really bad luck. You must have pissed off a voodoo witch down in New Orleans to have this kind of bad luck."
No. I thought. That all depends on how you define bad luck. Sure, I had just lost my motorcycle, for good, that much was evident by looking at the damage, but I still had my life. Not a bad trade. Julian sat there, distressed and depressed. Victim shock. I needed to snap him out of it.
"Well, that's that." I told him, realizing that I would never ride another motorcycle again. Seventeen years of riding and lots of memories, but if this was any indication, I had better get out while I still could.
"You are not going to repair it?!?!" Julian asked, looking up at my smashed Ninja.
"Nope." I said, confidence building the more I thought about it. "Look at it! It's twatted up beyond repair!"
Today had been the final test. If I had made it to Monticello without incident, if my confidence was secure, I would have kept the bike and kept riding. But I mean, here I was, on a do or die last ride to decide the fate of my future in motorcycling, and God throws a deer out of the woods and tackles me?! No. Sorry. I think I get the message. I'm wiser now. Julian will just have to find a new riding partner. I'm hanging my gear up for good. The excitement is gone, the thrill is gone. There's something else taking its place.
That and I'm tired of going to work wearing shorts and my right leg in bandages.
Julian knew that I was serious and he was depressed. We had so many good times riding Ninjas together, being seen everywhere with bikes with the same color scheme, it was sad. It was like the break up of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I felt it too as I looked at the smashed remains of my Ninja. The odometer read 38 miles. 38 miles since I had filled up the Ninja ZX-6R for the last time with 93 octane. 38 miles, the last 38 miles the Ninja would ever make under its own power.
The transmission was smashed, stuck in gear, the clutch didn't work, levers were broken, the exhaust was history, the side panel was ripped and barely held on, the turn signals were gone, the mirror was broken off, windscreen smashed, front cowl smashed, ram air vents crushed, forks scraped, and the headlight was broken. There was deer blood and hair, matted in the cracks in the fairing and I reached down, patting the gas tank. I almost felt a tear rise up. Must have been helmet dust in my eye, I'm too jaded to ever cry over a piece of hardware.
I had to do something to break Julian out of his mood. I thought, hey! This is a moment in the history of my life! Here I am, I've just hit a deer at 70mph with my favorite power toy, I've killed the deer, wrecked my Ninja ZX-6R, thrashed myself silly on the pavement, ruined my favorite leather jacket, toasted a pair of gloves, and totally destroyed a helmet that I spent a year looking for and you know what? I'm still standing here! That deer is down in the ditch, dead, and I'm alive! Something great needed to be said and it had to fit in with my character. Words popped into my mind, and I smiled. Yes, Black Echo was going to leave the sport in style and here's how I did just that.
"Was it cool?" I asked, stretching muscles that had suddenly started to ache.
Julian looked up at me, puzzled.
"Huh?" he asked.
"The deer hit." I stated. "When I hit it, was it cool looking?"
Julian and I had long been fans of Performance Bikes magazine, a British mag which specializes in showing the worst wrecks that people walk away from. I had just twatted my bike, and now I realized that I was in a moment that Julian and I had always sighed and shook our heads over when we found the latest copy of PB.
Julian smiled a little and stood up, brushing off his pants from where he had been sitting.
"Yeah! I mean, now that you are standing there, talking to me and you are OK, yeah, it was pretty cool!"
Some people would go out of the game in a body bag. Some would just sell their bikes and forget about it. Not me, I had to have a flashy exit.
"I saw the deer, and you didn't even put on brakes, you just went ahead and hit it. There was no room for you to maneuver, and you just went calm." Julian said. "You hit the deer and it was like a pool ball. Pa-kow, right off the road and into the ditch. I almost wrecked my bike!"
I looked at him funny.
"Why did you almost wreck. I tried to leave you plenty space to maneuver between me and my bike." I said good naturedly.
"Yes, but when I saw you fall off your bike, I almost stepped off my bike to help you. Then I realized that I had better stop my bike first before I got off of it."
We had a good laugh at that.
Thirty minutes later, the cavalry arrived, and amid much discussion on just how luck a SOB I really was, we got all the paper work filled out, and the Game Warden pronounced the deer dead. Duh.
I knew that Cindy and her father were going to be here shortly, and I told the deputies that if my wife got out of the truck and started anything, that I formally requested to be put into protective custody and locked into the back of their patrol car so that Cindy could not get to me! They laughed, but when she and her father pulled up, one of the deputies asked me if I wanted to get in the car now or wait.
Cindy was very upset, and rightfully so. She had thought to bring along a wash rag, and other first aid supplies including a spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide. I was leaning against my wrecked Ninja while Cindy used my Gerber E-Z Out serrated lockblade (remember, the one from the RX-7 accident? I never go anywhere without a great knife) to cut my jeans leg off, making me have a pair of jeans that looked half like a normal pair of jeans, and the right side had been 'daisy duked'. The highway patrolman came over and offered me an antiseptic. He said he used it when he had to handle drugs or possible AIDS cases and biohazards. Some blue gel, he said I would come to know Jesus real quick when that gel hit the bare skin. I declined, and the Game Warden finished with his paper work. About this time, Cindy started misting my leg with hydrogen peroxide and scraping out the rocks and grit in the wound with a damp washcloth.
The Game Warden winced and shook his head. I gritted my teeth and dug my fingers into the seat of the destroyed Ninja.
"Ouch!" the Game Warden said. "I know *that* hurts!"
I nodded and looked away as my wonderful wife cleaned the loose skin and debris from my wounded leg. She seemed to be taking some kind of perverse joy in the situation, maybe her way of punishing me for what I was putting her through at the moment. Man, the burns were bad. Deep too. I had bled a lot more than I thought. No arteries, or such, but when you remove eight or more square inches of skin, you're going to bleed. And hurt.
Julian and the others managed to get my Ninja loaded in the back of Larry's truck and laid it down on its side. Dead. At rest. It, like my RX-7, had given its life in order to save mine. Is there any wonder why I'm so devoted to my toys and machines? I helped tie it down for its last ride home.
Damn dust in my eye, that's what it was. I'm too jaded to ever cry.
Everyone was pulling away from the accident scene now, returning to life as normal as it could be now. I was using Cindy as a crutch and hobbling over to Larry's truck. Julian was riding on back to our home, but I could tell that he would be searching the sides of the woods now for any more deer. I didn't envy his ride back, not after knowing what had just happened to me.
Cindy was helping me hobble over to the truck when the Game Warden drove up next to us and stopped. He rolled down the passenger window and asked if I was going to be OK. I looked down into the teary eyes of my wife and I nodded. I was going to be fine. The Game Warden nodded and started to roll up the window again, then stopped. He turned to me and said.
"Now, aren't you glad that Mississippi doesn't have any moose?"
I laughed. That's the best thing about a sense of humor.
It can't be damaged in a wreck.
And that is the Year of Living Dangerously or twelve months that sucked.
I could also add the story about a woman at work who's cousin is paralyzed now because he hit a dump truck on his sport bike, a dump truck that had pulled out into his lane of travel on a blind curve. Or about how the day after my wreck, the doctor that I went to in order to get a post-crash exam told me of a Harley rider, who, just two weeks before my accident had hit a deer on Highway 49 south. The Harley rider, who had been riding Harleys for 30 years, hit the deer and flipped his bike. It landed on his head and snapped his spine. He's paralyzed now. That chilled my blood. That could have been me...
However, the real event that sealed the end of my riding for some time to come was the death of John Myers, another motorcycle rider and a top fuel drag bike rider. He lost control of his bike when he swerved to miss a opossum and wrapped himself around a guard post on a road railing. He died several hours later of internal injuries. Me, I hit a full grown deer and walked away from it. Even though I was a great rider, I was an amateur compared to John Myers.
How lucky was I? Incredibly, extremely, impossibly lucky. God loves me, yes, He does because I make Him laugh. I'm more religious now. I'm not interested in riding anymore, and I've found myself eyeing deer hunting season with a little more anticipation. Next year, I think I'll use bullets instead of vehicles. Cheaper that way. And safer. At least it'll be safer for me...
The deer had better look out.
I've got a score to settle and the patience of Job.