Posted by: silverback | 2010/08/16

dangerous games

i had a rough weekend. a friend of mine crashed her motorcycle pretty damn hard while following me & her boyfriend up one of these mountain roads yesterday. she’s still alive & breathing; she’s going to heal completely, but it was a heart-wrenching and frightening hour or so until she was carted off in an ambulance.

there’s no cell phone coverage in many of the remote places around here where the roads get good. it’s not close to civilization, to emergency services, to neighbors who can make a call. i had to jump back on my motorcycle and race back down the hill to the nearest place with people – but still no cell coverage – and ask total strangers for help out of a situation we had gotten ourselves into, albeit unintentionally. meanwhile, my friend lay bleeding in a ditch, concussed and with other wounds indeterminable by just looking at her.

i never think i might be that person – a quirk of my egotistical nature, i suppose. i have always taken for granted that i would be the one who escapes mortality, so to speak. i nearly drowned once when i was 12 or 13, after jumping out of the boat mid-lake, with no PFD. i was snatched out of the water at the second i had given up, by some random guy winning a catamaran race on the lake. he was mad that he had to slow down and pull my dumb, drowning ass out of the water; he still won the race. my main relief at the time was that mom & dad would never find out. i thanked the stranger profusely.

throughout my early driving years, i wrecked at least seven cars – some of them more than once. i was never so much as scratched. when i was 18, i rode my first motorcycle up underneath an oncoming Ford F250, and again walked away with naught but a scrape on my left shoulder. more recently, i wrecked a shifter kart in competition at 70-80 mph, barrel-rolling through the runoff area, and broke a collarbone. all these escapes have not made me more cautious. i have another friend who is fond of saying something to the effect of, “I’m not going to sit around on my couch all day because I’m afraid to die.” i feel like i may take this to an extreme. i try to use good judgement, to wear all the protective gear, to leave a few cents on the table instead of using the whole dollar. sometimes, though, i’d just rather LIVE.

last summer, on my birthday, i was leading another ride on a different backroad in the middle of some other nowhere, and another rider went down. i had just met the guy that day, and he was on my back wheel all day, which frankly was unusual for me. i tell people up front, “i’m an idiot. don’t try to follow me – i know these roads, and i admittedly go too fast.” we ran through a sandy patch late in the day. i saw it, threw a foot out to signal the chat in the road, and carried on. he wasn’t close enough behind me that time to see the universal signal for “crap in the road here,” and highsided right into the creek. he was fine, and the bike was OK enough to ride home after we extricated it from the creek. bullet dodged.

yesterday not so much. the girl was riding really well – smooth, on the right lines, and i had actually dialled it back a good amount to escort my newfound friends, from the flatlands of South Carolina, around on some really beautiful twisty roads. we came out of a left-hand corner, and by all the evidence we have, she managed to highside her little 45hp parallel-twin on the exit of the corner.

she came down from way up high, straight onto her helmet’s chin bar, hard enough to break her nose and two teeth out. she also got a serious laceration at her hipbone, where it tried to cut her open from the inside. when i got back to the scene after noticing i’d lost the trailing headlights, she was limp in the ditch. her boyfriend was clutching her, yelling her name, trying to get her to come to, and it did not look good. i saw the bike laying in the middle of the road, signs of it having slid up the middle of the road, and signs of her sliding into the ditch at good speed. there was blood on her helmet & near her head in the ditch.

as i got my helmet off, she started to regain consciousness, just wailing at first, then she began to flail around, trying to get up, trying to get her helmet off. these are the things we are not supposed to let injured riders do. we both tried to get her to remain still, but attempting to restrain her made her flail all the more so. she obviously wanted her helmet off in a bad way, so we gently unfastened the strap and removed it. i could see immediately that she was missing teeth, and that was probably hurting enough to make her moan and wail. i grabbed my phone to dial 911, but there was no service. once i was sure she was probably going to live, i hopped back on my bike & went screaming back down to the last bit of civilization we had passed. time slowed to a crawl as i enlisted people to help – to drive on down the four or five miles to the nearest fire station, to try their own cell phones just in case somebody had a better receiver, to tell the woman claiming to be a nurse how far back up the road she had to go. these are the times i thank God for my military service. they taught me to think straight when all the shit hits the fan, and i am ever grateful to all the supervisors and shipmates i ever had in the Navy, for all the stupid drills and casualty walkthroughs.

we got her out. she’s alive, in one piece by the grace of God. she’s home safe now, and the wounds will heal. but i came again face to face with mortality. and i do note the fact that i still didn’t say “my mortality.” i hate to see anybody get hurt. i hate to hear of riders going down, even more to be present when they do. this was my first occasion of seeing firsthand a serious injury as the result of somebody doing this thing that i love – out of which i always get so much release and catharsis. it was frightening, but not enough to make me stay inside on the couch.

"nah - it's not a race..."

as i write this, my race bike is sitting at work in the midst of being prepped for a day at Road Atlanta this weekend. i’ll pull on my leathers, my back protector, my boots, gloves, and helmet. once invincible, will repeatedly hurl myself around the race course as fast as i dare, occasionally a tiny bit faster. we won’t talk about the inherent danger, the insanity, the risks involved. instead, we’ll talk of daring passes, of knocking off tenths of seconds, of the visceral thrill of dragging a knee on the pavement up through Turn One at a buck-twenty.

hopefully, we’ll end the day with talk of doing it again soon.



  1. Allright that is just creepy now knowing how RA went for you…. Damn Fred. You probably know me well enough to guess that I will never sit on the couch in fear either, but I do feel compelled to point out that you have a beautiful wife and son who are pretty damned attached to you as well… Maybe we could directly splice the thought of them to that twitchy wrist of yours so as to dial it back that 2mph when it counts….? Glad the girl made it……

  2. Hope she is ok and all healed up riding again.
    Just now catching up on the las year of teh blog. Feel privliged that you considered me to be on your back wheel that day (unless that was someone else that highsided into a creek)…
    Looking back on it hat was probably the most fun and memorable day of riding I have ever had, most expensive too but well worth it!

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