So I almost died today.
To put that into proper context, I almost died on my motorcycle this morning while riding to work.
It was an absolutely gorgeous morning. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and not a hint of rain in the forecast. Summers in Maine are short. My ride to work is only 15 miles or so, but in the summertime it is an enjoyable part of my day to get on the bike and take a ride first thing in the morning.
As I mentioned we live in the country, so there is almost no traffic on our road. It’s a beautiful rural road, with good pavement and trees on both sides. The road was dry and the sun was shining – perfect weather for riding the bike. Our road is not straight, but bends and rolls around and over the natural geography of the land. Typical of roads that have been there since they were dirt and horses made up the only traffic.
At one particular point on our road as I ride to work, there is a bit of a curve that happens to come just as you get to a small hill. Halfway down the other side of the small hill is a hidden drive on the right. I was cruising along at perhaps 45-ish mph, when just as I crested this small hill I saw one of those large “crew cab” type pickups with the long bed pulling out of the hidden drive in my path.
As often happens at moments like this, time slowed way down for me. The first thing I registered was that the truck was just beginning to pull out and block my lane. I presume my brain then did some sort of lighting fast physics calculations, because the next thing I became positively aware of was that there was no way I was going to be able to stop in time, and I was probably going to hit the truck. The second thing I noticed (which actually sealed the first observation for me) was that the driver of the truck was not even looking in my direction.
I knew in that instant what he had done. He had looked left first (up the hill towards the direction I was coming from) and not seen me yet, then had looked right and seen nothing either. Then he just pulled out. He never looked left a second time to be sure it was still clear. This is something that was ingrained into me by my drivers-ed teacher about a million years ago: “Look left, look right, look left again”. He had not done this simple thing, and as a result he was not even looking in my direction. His head was turned to the right as he pulled out and he had no idea I was even coming.
At times like this a lot of things come into play. Everything gets compacted into one moment in time.
I know that I squeezed the front brake hard, and stomped on the rear brake at the same time. Simultaneously I was frantically working my high beam/low beam switch to get his attention. This of course was a wasted effort (as I mentioned, he was not looking at me). Working the headlight was driven by pure instinct, as I have always been in the habit of using my high beam switch to ensure other motorists see me at intersections and such. I even remember a passing thought that flashing my high beams was not going to do me any good, but I did it anyway. I also at the same time found my horn with my left thumb.
At that moment I was thankful for a decision I had made years before. When I first bought this bike (a 2006 Kawasaki Nomad 1600 I call Stryker that has taken me back and forth across this great country several times), I did not like the pathetic little factory horn it came with. I upgraded the horn right away to a very loud air horn that sounds a little like an 18-wheeler bearing down on you.
Back to our moment in time.
By now, things (as they often do) had started to go from bad to worse. Despite attempting to apply roughly equal pressure to both front and rear brakes, I clearly had hit the rear brake harder than the front. The next thing that happened was that I felt the rear tire break loose as I began to skid towards the truck.
At this point the truck’s driver had heard my horn and whipped his head in my direction. The little mathematician in my head had re-worked all the calculations, and despite some improvement in that my speed was decreasing rapidly, the truck was still in my path, and a collision was still imminent.
Now I have always prescribed to a particular theory when it comes to riding motorcycles. It can be applied to life in general, but it is specifically true about bikers. It goes like this: You are born with two buckets. One empty bucket of Experience (big “E”) and one full bucket of Luck. The trick is to fill the Experience bucket before the Luck bucket runs out. I have been riding motorcycles for more than 20 years now, and I like to think that my Experience bucket is pretty full. Today, I used that to my advantage, and was able to control the skid I was in. Rather than laying the bike down I used my hips to swing the Big Boy back underneath me and stay on two wheels. Still skidding towards the truck, but on two wheels.
In that split-second, the driver (having heard my horn and finally noticing the tragedy that was about to occur) got on his gas pedal, and moved the truck more quickly out onto the road. Once again the mathematician in my head went to work. I might just make it. I got off the rear brake to stop the skid, and yanked Stryker hard to the right. It was then that I realized there was literally no shoulder on that stretch of road. If I went any farther to the right, I would be down in a ditch and colliding with trees.
It’s crunch time. The truck is moving slowly from my right to my left, my speed is down to probably 25-30, and I am approaching the intersection of truck and bike. Just as Stryker and the truck would have had to occupy the same space, the truck cleared to my left, and I managed to squeeze Stryker through the gap between his rear bumper and the edge of the pavement with perhaps an inch to spare. Maybe less.
And then it was over.
I was clear, the truck was gone, and I was back to cruising down a quiet country road. Just like that. How quickly things can go south! As I rode along, willing my heart to travel back down from my throat to my chest where it belongs, I thought about what had just happened. I was glad it had turned out all right of course, but I was also cognizant of two things: 1) My experience had certainly played a part in my ability to survive the event, and 2) There is no question that I still have a little bit of luck in my Luck bucket.
I have ridden all over this county – to Oregon and back, Colorado and back, Wisconsin… the list goes on. Thousands and thousands of miles on two wheels. I even crashed a bike once and totaled it. Learned a lot from that. After all of that time however, it’s really nice to know there is still a little bit of luck when you need it.