|Jeffrey Harris ~ Raleigh, NC ~ Class of 2006|
Today was beautiful. Carolina Blue Sky full of fluffy clouds and the promise of spring with temperatures reaching 68 degrees. These are my favorite seasons of the year to cruise the NC country roads on my RT. Protective gear is not to warm and -if my headset is working I can listen to my favorite tunes from the late sixty's and early seventies. You know -The Band, Leon Russell, John Prine, Janis Joplin and an occasional defiant guitar lick from Hendrix. I have much gratitude that I didn't go the way of Janis and Jimmy and today I celebrate 23 years of sober experience.
I have been riding for (grimace) 40 years. At the age of 54 two wheelers are as much in my blood as the Honda 50 Super Sport of my brothers was in 1965.
So today was special...I rode to an event to pick up a symbol of staying alcohol free, received the love of great friends and then headed off down the highway with my MP3 blasting inside my helmet. I had promised to bring my wife Carol a coffee while she worked in the local emergency room so I picked up a few shots of espresso and headed down SR 215 for Smithfield. Nothing aggressive, head on the swivel and an occasional high speed sweeper.
Carol was delighted with the coffee and we chatted a while before I headed home at dusk. On the way home, ,my headphones stopped working and after fiddling with them a while I gave up and stuffed my new Droid and headset into the fairings glove box. My thought was that it was probably better to not be distracted now anyway since I was headed into the sun and needed to keep an eye out for driveway alligators -those pesky folks that pull to the end of the drive way, stop; glance sunward first, toast their retina and then look in your direction just before pulling right out in front of you (sorry sir, didn't see ya).
Having made it through the most blinding part of the ride I headed North on route 50 and relaxed, knowing I would be home to feed my puppies in just a few moments. There was nothing unusual about the road conditions, it was a beautiful night and the oncoming traffic was sparse.
About a mile from my house I noticed a late model Buick heading toward me in the oncoming lane. No erratic behavior, just another lucky Joe like me on his way home to his family. My speed was about 60 or so and I guess his was the same....that is until he abruptly braked, hit his left turn signal and pulled onto his street right in front of me. I would say the entire event occurred in less than three seconds.
I remember having three thoughts: 1) this is the classic car vs. motorcycle collision; 2) This will either hurt a lot or more than likely I will die since the closing velocity of our vehicles is at least 80 mph , his car weighs 3000 pounds and my BMW weighs 700. Seemed amazing how fast the calculations ran through my head: f=mass X the square of acceleration. 3) my third thought as I glanced at the drivers eyes: It is too late to lay the bike down; I am not running into that ditch and I somehow have to maneuver quickly in front of the car to avoid it.
In slow motion now: My right wrist twisted the throttle, my right shoulder pushed hard on the right handle grip, my eyes fixed on a one tire wide path between the car and the ditch. Then it was over, I did not hit the car, I did not ride into the ditch and I was still alive.
I slowed down to a stop on the side of the road and looked behind me. The Buick had turned onto its street and stopped also. I cautiously reversed direction and experienced initial anger, then a sudden gratitude and forgiveness for my 'almost executioner'. As I pulled up alongside the driver a horrified man about the same age as myself unrolled his window: I think he expected me to be a raging biker based on the fear on his face.
I lifted my shield and made eye contact with my fellow innocent soul. The gentleman said (you can hear it coming can't you):" I am so sorry, I wasn't trying to cut you off. I just didn't see you "(regardless of the size of my bike and bright halogens). I said "Sir, I would like to ask you to please keep your attention on the road and head on the swivel for us motorcyclists are everywhere and the catastrophe we just avoided is the classic case for a motorcyclist fatality. Had we collided, I would be dead and you and my widow would have to deal with the inevitable regret and pain. It was not your fault sir, you are probably tired and I forgive you." I then said:"God bless you and may we both learn from this". The driver returned my blessing and we parted company.
So why am I able to write this now as opposed to being in an emergency room as workers try to maintain my airway and infuse enough volume into my circulatory system to keep me from arresting. An as they gave it their best, why are they not placing the dreaded call to my wife as they clean my corpse for her to come and identify.
Well, here is my analysis:
· First, I believe in a higher power so I think some angels were in play here.
· Second, several years ago I participated in an advanced riding course taught by one of a few police officers in the US who trained to European standards. This man: Mark Brown http://www.motomark1.com/; told me that I was a motorcycle driver, not a rider. He said if you are along for a ride, you are simply a passenger on the vehicle and really not under control. He also said that a skilled rider is a tactician and should be able to use a combination of control forces, clutch and throttle maneuvering, transmission gear changes and braking to place his vehicle wherever he wants it to be within a few inches: Regardless of the situation or perceived emotional pressure. He also said that motorcyclists die because of improper safety gear, alcohol consumption and inability to maneuver their machine. Regardless of the humbling experience (after all I had been riding for 35 years and thought I knew it all), I noticed that Mr. Mark was 1) still alive, 2) had been riding for hundreds of thousands of miles and 3) had to be a good guy since he had the same bike that I did.
For the last several years after listening and learning from my version of a motorcycling YODA; I have been practicing precision control maneuvers. Everything from emergency stops from 60 mph plus, to sudden avoidance maneuvers which combine the application of all motorcycle controls and body posture at the same time. Actually, it is a lot of fun and although I am way too old to race, it has given me a real appreciation for the skill of top racing professionals . The guys that go blasting by me on I 40 riding their super nitrous powered extended rear fork, hotly painted Suzuki on the rear wheel at 100 mph look marvelous in their matching leathers and helmets. Usually though, I wonder if I can remember my paramedic training from 1980 in case I come across a severe closed head injury and fractured femur a mile or so up the road. Seems to happen a lot around here.
So that's my story and I am sticking to it. I will continue to ride, try to pass on what I learn, trust that there is no alternative to formal training regardless of how tough and macho or machete you are, thank my higher power for his grace and protection and the likes of skilled educators like Mark Brown.
Thanks Mark......I think you saved one today.