WHY I CRASHED
I have known for some time that I would have to write this letter, but have been putting it off for a number of reasons. Maybe because I am still a bit embarrassed about having the accident in the first place. Ok, here goes.....
I have had lots of time to contemplate over the events that took place up to the point that I went sliding down the road (and into the ditch), and I am amazed how similar it is to aircraft accidents I have studied. A series of problems occurred that had any one of them not happened, the accident would not have taken place. But the events built upon each other until the inevitable happened.
The first thing that happened was that I caught the flu the week before the rally and was still recovering from the effects of it the day I went down. I had been feeling tired all day and had no business riding a bicycle, much less a motorcycle. The second thing that contributed was the fact that it was something like 98 or 99 degrees that day, and the humidity was fairly high as well. Not good riding weather, and not very conducive to wearing full riding gear either. And to add further complication was the fact that I was fairly excited (nervous) about the rally and since I was the "host", I had a lot of things on my mind, other than my riding. Now lets mix in some more problems, even though we already have enough. Lets add the fact that I was riding at just before sunset (in hopes it would be cooler) and that is just when the deer start to move. And to make matter worse we were riding on the "Deal Gap" of Arkansas (Hwy. 341 over Push Mountain- I think it is actually superior to Deals Gap, but that's another story.) Over the course of the first three miles or so I saw at least four deer near the road.
But that's not all. Far from it. One of the most important contributors to the accident was me, and the way I was riding that afternoon. For several years now I have felt like my riding skills were becoming better and better. I have taken the MSF ERC course and have logged thousands of miles during daily commuting in heavy metropolitan traffic, and weekend pleasure rides on twist back roads and long distance rides through several states. Why, I even taught a safety seminar at the rally the day before I went down. Imagine that! I guess I felt about as confident as any rider could. I hadn't had a motorcycle accident in over 14 years, and felt as if I was in complete control when on the bike. I had also begun working on my cornering skills, and over the past 5years or so I had gradually ratcheted up my entrance speed to the point that I was going around corners with the bike in full tilt on a routine basis. And I had increased my lean angle to just prior to the point that things (footpegs/centerstand) begin to drag. Along with the increase in my lean angle, I had been increasing my overall speed for several years. It started out that I just needed a little speed to get that adrenaline rush, but as the years went by it was taking more and more speed for me to get that same feeling. It had become like heroin, and each time I needed a little more. Along the way I had become de-sensitized to speed in general. 90mph didn't really even feel fast anymore. I didn't really feel like I was going fast until I got well over 120. Faster and faster she goes. Add in a few afternoons of watching SpeedVision and the Isle of Man TT races to the mix. Does any of this sound familiar?
And then there is the "testosterone" factor. I can recall actually thinking that I was going to show my riding partner how much my cornering skills had improved since the last time we had ridden together, which had been over a year ago. Pretty stupid, huh?
Well, it took the accident to wake me up, but as I look back on it I now realize that had it not happened in Arkansas at the National, it would have happened somewhere else. I was headed down the road of disaster and destruction as fast as I could get there. It was really only a matter of time before I reached my destination. I had long since lost the joy of motorcycling and never really went for a relaxing ride at a casual pace. Every ride was a challenge and I would seek out the most twisty roads I could find and then ride them as fast as I possibly could, pushing myself as close to the edge of the envelope as I could stand it. Especially in the turns. So is it any wonder I lost it in a turn, deer or not? I had been setting myself up for this accident for several years. I was riding on the street like I was on a racetrack. I could have had an accident on any number of corners had another car come from the other direction at the wrong time, or a deer in a corner, or gravel in the road, or even a big bump or pothole. I had left myself no room for error. My speed in most of the corners was so high that if anything didn't go just right, I was going down. Had I entered that corner on Push Mountain 20 or 30mph slower the accident never would have happened. It wouldn't even have been a close call.
So now the question comes up whether to ride again or not, and this is where I have some real difficulty. It is not that I am afraid of deer, or other drivers, or road obstacles. No, what I am really afraid of is myself. I am not sure I can control myself on a motorcycle. I fear that after I get back on and start riding again, that in a couple years or so the memory of the accident will have faded and my confidence will be re-built and I will again start increasing my speed, and building on my previous cornering skills. Sure I will be a bit wiser, but I am afraid of the temptation and thrill of speed and I am not sure I can resist it's intoxicating draw. But the other side of the coin is that not riding again will probably be even more difficult.
I have always been attracted to dangerous sports, and I scuba dive, sky dive, bungee jump, and have even flown jet fighter aircraft. I can't tell you how many times I have tempted fate and gotten away with it. It just seems that speed and danger (testosterone?) are in my blood, and I am not sure I can ever get them out. Speed and thrills are some of the things that attracted me to motorcycling in the first place. Furthermore, motorcycling has provided me with more pleasure than any other hobby I have tried, as I can do it any day I want, by simply walking to my garage and going for a ride. (If I had a hanger and an F-16 outside it might be a different story, but I don't.)
Now that I am getting older, I am beginning to re-evaluate my priorities, and one of them is getting another year older. Maybe what I need is a sabbatical for a year or so and then go out and buy Gold Wing, or (cringe) a cruiser type bike. Fred Harmon