She took the bullet for me.

That's what I thought, looking at her for the first time after the crash. Her headlight was smashed in and twisted, with chunks of tree embedded in the shell, and the right side of the handlebars was twisted up and back at a decidedly gruesome angle. The exhaust system was crushed flat in places, and the highway pegs and mounting bars were practically flattened against the engine. The gas tank was crushed in several places.

It was chilling to look at, and it took me right back to the moment of the crash, trying to piece together the mechanics of those few lightning-fast seconds that could've killed or maimed me, but instead left me shaken, but otherwise okay, with a bike that just got an unsightly facelift. She had taken the worst of it, absorbing most of the energy of my bike crashing into - well, between - two trees, and radically changed my impression of motorcycle accidents. One of the things they drill into you is that you have no protection but your gear - true, except for those lucky cases where the bike is the first thing to hit, and you somehow manage to stay astride. The twisted and bent metal of her front half saved me from hitting those trees, and those bent handlebards could've easily been my face, if things had worked out a little differently. I did a mental inventory, thanking her for every component that had did its part to kill some of the speed - the handlebars, first and foremost, and the windshield, which kept a lot of tree debris out of my face before it shattered; the mirrors, the highway pegs, the exhaust pipes, the fork, frame, and front wheel, which lodged firmly between the two trees. I said a little mental thank-you to each part, running my hands lightly over her wounds, and promising to repair her, and ride again.

It was a classic I-should've-known-better; I should've known better than to ride when I hadn't gotten enough sleep; when I knew that I was just a little too brain fogged, and not concentrating well; and perhaps most of all, when I'd been sitting on a sick feeling of dread for the last three days whenever I thought of riding. And, in fact, I knew better, but just didn't *do* better. It's oh so much easier to be aware of something than it is to actually do something about it, it seems. *sigh*

I'd promised a friend from a list that I'd meet him on Saturday morning and we'd go riding. I'd been having trouble getting to sleep by a decent hour for weeks, but, determined to get in some riding before the weather became too unbearably hot and humid, I'd suggested 9am. Leaving me with about five, and perhaps only four, hours of sleep, after a week of already being somehwat sleep-deprived. I got to the cafe' and waited - turns out he'd slept in, and got in about 40 minutes later (all the while I thought, "hey, I could've been sleeping..."). We chatted over breakfast about this and that, and got onto the topic of riding while too tired, and how dangerous it can be. And somehow, it didn't quite hit home, even as I told him how I failed one of my MSF tests due to being overtired, dehydrated, and spending all day in the sun, and he told me of how his wife now had a new knee (or was that ankle?) because of a bike getting dropped after a long day of riding.

We set out for what I knew would be a long and pretty challenging ride, even though I had travelled some of the way before...

to be continued....

[A few weeks have passed, and a death in the family... now I can return to write more...]

... but not as far as the proposed route - to Mason, near to Lansing. I was ostensibly on call that weekend, and needed to stay within an hour's drive of home, and this was pushing it, in yet another way. Breakfast hadn't sat well with me - greasy diner food rarely does - and that feeling of mild unease didn't leave, even as we chatted an joked in the parking lot. And it was heating up, and awful humid under all that leather.

I realized that I just wasn't feeling great; unlike my usual rides, where I was exhilarated and everything was in brilliant, crystal-clear focus, my brain felt much like the weather that day - overcast, just a little too hot and humid to be comfortable, and hazy. As we headed out on Miller towards Huron River Drive, one of my favorite roads, my stomach began to sink, and I started to have the first of several feelings of "maybe I should just turn back, today isn't a good day to ride" sorts of feelings.

I got my first jolt of adrenaline on a spot that usually worried me, but I hadn't really had problems with before - Miller has a fairly sharp right turn, then a left on a steep and short downhill stretch dead-ending at Huron River Drive amongst a fair bit of gravel. I slipped a bit as I came to a stop, and almost panicked and dropped the bike.

I recovered, though, and as Dan sped off (he's of the "I'll wait for you at the next turn off" variety), I started to warm up to the familiar curves of Huron River Drive. It had always been a favorite "drive and think" road for me, and I started to relax and think maybe I'd just been psyching myself out.

We headed past Dexter to N. Territorial, then to Hankerd, which always made me nervous. My first experience with it was in hearing a friend mention that there had recently been a rash of motorcycle fatalities on Hankerd. It's a very pretty, paved, twisty road, probably the best of the twisties near Ann Arbor, but like many country roads, it has a lot of old gravel roads that dump out into it, and have a tendency to leave lots of gravel in corners and on the roadside. In short, it's a road that makes my heart pound a little faster.

I caught up with Dan at the intersection in Gregory, and I was a little scared. At this point, I was thinking that turning back might not be a bad idea - after all, we probably weren't half the way to Mason, and I was soon to be venturing out on roads that I wasn't even familiar with. For some fool reason, though, I didn't. Pride, maybe; after all, I had just met Dan, and I didn't want to spoil the days plans. Seriously, though, it was probably as much a function of timing; we paused at the stop sign long enough to collect ourselves, and then hung a left onto M-106, to Stockbridge.

I'd think I'd actually just been out to Stockbridge (or was it Gregory?) a few days prior, with Erik, for lunch, so I was at least somewhat familiar with the road. Obviously, though, not familiar enough.

There were a fair number of sharper turns on M-106, mainly mini-intersections with smaller gravel roads. A recent ex- of mine had hit gravel in a turn when he was riding some twisties at night in southeast Ohio, and gone flying, then pavement surfing, and it had left an indelible mark on my brain. Gravel was one of my weak points, and suddenly it seemed there was gravel everywhere, even when there wasn't.

I hit a corner, going a little bit too fast - I think I was expecting a sweeping, smooth curve, and it turned out to be more of a 90 degree intersection, and then saw the gravel. I felt my rear wheel slide a bit, and panicked (but luckily managed to avoid either hitting the brakes, the clutch, or the throttle), and cut wide - way wide, over the double yellow line, but managed to press and lean and get back into my lane, but I was shaken. I knew full well that had there been another vehicle in that opposing lane, I could've been in some very serious trouble, and in my mind I lashed out at my idiocy for not slowing sooner, looking farther around the corner, and keeping my head.

And suddenly I was in the next turn, and saw - in my mind - gravel. I tried to focus, looking through the curve to my exit point, but, as I told the emergency rescuers later, "something spooked me" and some insane instinct forced my eyes to look ahead - straight ahead - at the trees at the opposite side of the road. Even as my eyes moved from the exit point I knew I needed to look at, my brain was screaming "DON'T! LOOK WHERE YOU WANT TO GO! LOOK WHERE YOU WANT TO GO!", and suddenly the road surface was softer, green grass, then SMACK! And a brief, probably thankful, moment of blackness at the moment of impact...

Just enough for me to wake up screaming, trapped, unable to move my legs, and terrified. I'd never broken bones before, and wasn't sure what it felt like, but the searing pain in my left leg felt awful suspicious. My screams stopped for a moment, I think, and I realized I could feel my left foot, and although painfully, barely wiggle my toes. I was amazed. My leg probably wasn't broken.

But I was still trapped. I had managed to somehow hit squarely between two smallish (but still quite substantial) trees, smashing the front end of the bike and wedging it between the trees. And my left leg was held in a deathgrip between the smashed fuel tank and one of the tree's trunks. Circulation was already stopped, and it was starting to fall asleep.

And I was also completely invisible from the road.

I resumed screaming, in earnest. I surprised myself with just how many decibles I could muster, and how many octaves my voice leapt. No pride now, just sheer terror. A moment or two later, I realized that my back and neck appeared okay and I struggled to take off my full-face helmet so my voice could better carry.

One car passed. Windows rolled up, air conditioning on, most likely. Damn hot and muggy Michigan summers, I thought. Two cars passed. Three. I remembered that my cell phone had been in the small bag strapped to my windshield, and I turned to look for it, but quickly saw that the windshield had shattered into a thousand pieces, and the bag was nowhere I could reach.

More screaming, and now it barely feels like it's coming from me. I'm starting to slump backwards, when I see a minivan start to pass the roadside, and slow down. I begin screaming even louder, and the minivan rolls around the corner, slows, and does a U-turn, in what seems like sickening slow motion. It crawls back up the road, obviously not sure where I am, or what's happened.

A man gets out of the car, and tells a small child to stay inside. I scream, and he manages to triangulate on me. He calls 9-1-1. I promise him my undying gratitude.

Somewhere in there, another man shows up, with a small saw. I think he's a local farmer, neighbor. They crawl into the brush to look closer, and we all agree that the tree to my right - the one that's on the opposite side of the gas tank from my trapped left leg - needs to be cut down. But it's at least 5 or 6 inches in diameter, and that tiny saw... well, they try to saw at it, and I scream a bit, as it moves the gas tank against my other leg. So we wait for what seems like an eternity, as I get real familiar with what the various stages of loss of circulation feel like, and believe me, after it goes dead, it gets uncomfortably live again, with more time.

A red truck - probably a volunteer fireman - shows up. First thing he realizes is that they need a chainsaw, and it's in the other truck. My heart sinks. From now on, I'll know the importance of specifying that I need a chainsaw, when I call 9-1-1....

to be continued....

[another week or so, and about $200 of an anticipated $250 in parts later...]

The EMTs are wonderful, really. One woman, a rider, lets me slump against her as they try to pry the tree away, and they invite - ah, encourage? - it doesn't sound right - me to scream, if I need to. I begin to discover that, once a limb has gone dead numb from lack of circulation, it later reaches another phase of hurt, and another, and another...

Finally, my saviour-with-a-chainsaw appears. I discover that having a chainsaw operated inches from your leg is almost as terrifying as hitting a tree on a motorcycle, but I manage not to panic, and they manage not to saw my leg off. Whew. Somewhere in here, Dan shows up (probably only 20 or so minutes had passed when he arrived) - he'd been waiting for me at the next turnoff, and then got to wondering. Poor Dan, he didn't know what he was getting into.

The female EMT (the rider) then says they'll have to cut off my leather riding pants - "I know this'll hurt more than the accident," she says, and she comments that my insurance will probably pay for them. I think to myself, "yeah, it would've, if I'd opted for collision/full coverage, rather than the PL/PD cheapo option." But for an 18-year-old bike, it wouldn't have made sense to get collision. Oh well, I'm not sure I'll ever want to ride again, so I don't put up any protest at all.

Since my left leg is still highly questionable, they slide me onto a stretcher and into the ambulance. Dan kindly picks up some of the pieces - my jacket, which I'd shucked since I'd been in a cold sweat, the contents of my saddlebags, and the little windshield-mounted bag that had held my cell phone, pager, and glasses. (I make a mental note to not store essential items mounted on the windshield; if the cell hadn't been in the windshield-bag, I'd have been able to call 9-1-1 myself).

In the ambulance on the way to Chelsea Community Hospital, I chat and joke with the EMTs. We all express amazement that I'm in such good shape, given the circumstances, and they express gratitude for me wearing my gear. (They'd seen some more gruesome accidents lately with squidly types wearing tshirts and shorts) I'm amazed to find out that they're volunteers - wow, I'm impressed. One of them is on something like a 20 hour shift. That's dedication. I thank them profusely.

Halfway there, we realize that the siren and lights are still on - someone forgot to turn them off, and we realize why we'd been making such good time. They decide to leave them on, as the EMT up front jokingly complains that she's never driven with them on.

Once we get there, I'm amazed with Chelsea's efficiency - nothing like the University of Michigan Hospital where I used to work, and had been to several times as a patient. I'm wheeled directly into a room (they'd radioed ahead to make arrangements), and see a nurse within minutes, and a doctor within about a half hour. Lots of x-rays, and I discover that I can walk, painfully. Dan comes in after the x-rays and we chat briefly, before I let him know that it's okay for him to leave, if he wants to. I collapse into sleep for a while - crashing is pretty tiring.

The doc comes back and the news is good - no broken bones that he can see, though there's still the chance of hairline fractures that might show up later on. He pokes and prods me, tells me I can expect to be *real* sore for a while, gives me a 'script for tylenol with codeine, and sends me on my way.

My dear friend Erik comes and fetches me, and doesn't even chastise me too heavily. He also brought some loose clothes, a book, and some arnica lotion for me, the kind soul - I'd drenched my shirt with sweat, and my pants were quite obviously unwearable, and I'd been really not looking forward to going out in a hospital gown. We swing by the scene of the accident to look for my helmet, but it wasn't there, and I look at the roadway. Almost no gravel at all in the corner - I must've imagined it.

I'm pretty quiet on the road home; I don't think I'll want to ride again, but Erik manages to get me talking - I'd made a few calls before he arrived, and found out that they bike had been towed, and Erik offers to help get it. He suggests that the damage may not be as bad as I think, but I shrug it off. I don't think I should be riding, I say to myself. I'm just not cut out for it, and I'm not safe enough. And, underneath that, I'm just too aware of how dangerous it really is, and - as everyone had been telling me all day - how incredibly lucky I was.

Days passed, and my thoughts mellow - I start to wonder about the bike, and consider riding again. Erik and I went out and got it with a friend's truck, and even though it looks pretty gruesome to me, he thinks it's fixable. I post to a few lists I'm on about the crash and get a lot of support and empathy, and slowly, I start to want to ride again. I missed it, and I want to learn and get better. Erik soothes me, telling me that nearly every new rider has this experience, including several riders I know that I hadn't been aware of.

I'm still getting over the injuries, mild as they were, and still working with folks to figure out if the bike's fixable or not, but I'm committed to getting back on the horse and riding. I'm also still working through the crash mentally and emotionally, and some days I feel like I'll never get back on. But most of the time, I'm looking forward to it. One day last week, just as it was turning to twilight and the air was sweet with late-summer, cool and breezy, I was overcome with wanting to ride, more than anything else in the world.

And I will.

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