Friday, August 05, 2011

The Motorcycle Accident

OK, so here's what happened....

It was a bit after 9am and I begin my journey to work. I ride my Harley to work every day, as long as it isn't raining or isn't below 36-degrees outside. These recent years in Central Texas, that pretty much means every day!

Now, I've been riding for over two years. My bike of preference is a Harley Davidson. I own two—the 2004 Sportster that I literally ride every day to work, and the 2007 Fatboy which takes me on my long journeys on the weekends. Two years ago was not my first time on a bike. I began riding shortly after I turned 21. My first bike was a Suzuki GN400—a pretty big one-cylinder engine that had lots of front end pep but petered out at speeds above 70 mph. I used to ride that bike more recreationally than anything else, but I did have some adventures with it riding from Davis to San Francisco.

During one of my rides to San Francisco, I was coming up Van Ness just leaving the Ghiradelli Square area and turned right on to Bay Street. Between Bay and Franklin, some asshole in a VW pulled right out in front of me. He did not hit me, but I had no choice but to swerve hard to the left and I laid it down. Luckily, there were no cars in the left lane as I made the swerve. All the cars stopped around me, but the VW kept going. When I picked up the bike, I noticed a few damaged parts. My left leg was scratched up, my jeans torn, my helmet scraped. But I also knew I had to get home that night. So, I picked everything up, dusted myself off, and headed home via the Golden Gate Bridge. Needless to say, riding a scraped up bike with shaky knees and still in a bit of shock was something else. But I got back on the bike—and I would learn that this is the key to getting over a bike wreck if you're ever going to ride again.

So, move 30 years forward to yesterday....

About one block away from my house, I see a garbage truck parked on the left side of the road. This is normal on garbage day—it's parked somewhere as the garbage men are throwing the garbage in the back of the truck. Knowing there are garbagemen in the area, I slow down as I head near the truck. This singular fact is one reason that I'm not so hurt today.

Things now go very fast....

As I begin to pass the garbage truck—basically parallel with the driver's door—I see a garbage can fly out from the left to the right (right into my driving path). It's right there in front of me. With miliseconds to react, I ride through the garbage can. I feel my bike wobble about three times as I try to get it back stable—left, right, then left. On the right wobble, I go down.

I can see the whole event right now in my mind in technacolor. Except in my mind it seems like it was at night, though in reality it was during the early morning and the sun is up.

I feel myself and the bike go down, and as everything stops, I hear voices around me. I know I'm in a bit of shock because I know I'm down but everything seems a bit surreal. I'm thinking “wow, I've just had a bike accident.” The bike has pinned my right leg as it lies flat against it. I look up, I see the bike, and I begin to see three people coming to my aid. One of them is the garbage man who threw the garbage can. The other two are the driver of the garbage truck and a resident in the neighborhood who saw the whole thing because he was standing outside his house.

It's funny how people come to your aid in a bike accident. They first come to see if you're ok. Now this is “ok,” but my leg is pinned on top of my leg. I yell out “Can you take the bike off my leg?” With this, the three men lift the bike off of my leg. It's at this time that I begin rolling around the blacktop and start laughing....

For being such a careful motorcyclist, I never imagined or would have anticipated a garbage can flying across the street from behind a garbage truck....

I finally settle down and begin to view the damage. I notice my left jean leg is opened wide up. My knee is cut, and there are lacerations on my left calf. Not bad, I think to myself. I am surprised, but I wasn't going that fast. I notice blood coming from my elbow, though. I can't really see how bad that is. The neighbor who witnessed the accident tells me that it looks pretty deep. I take his word for it. The garbage man who threw the can is all shook up (more than me) and saying “Oh God, I know I'm gonna lose my job.”

I look at my bike, now parked on its kickstand. The right side isn't too messed up, but I love this bike. The damage to the bike really hurts me more than my own body damage. Brake cable is broken, the brake pedal has been driven into my engine casing, my pipes are pretty scratched up, and my windshield is damaged and scraped. The brake pedal and my right leg pretty much saved the bike. As I looked at the “scene” this morning on my walk, I noticed the deep gashes the bike made in the asphalt as it went down. I will say one thing—Harley makes a pretty strong bike. Nothing broke off, and though much is damaged and will need replacing, the bike saved further damage to my leg and arm.

The rest of the morning is filled with police and EMT sirens, police interviews among all the witnesses, EMT care in the ambulance (they did not take me to the emergency room by my choice), and a few calls to the insurance companies. Once I get the police report number, and after I get my claim number from my insurance company, I am pretty much ready to head back home. I've called Susan and told her that I was in an accident, but that was so long ago that she thinks I must be ok, the incident was minor, and I've gone to work.

The neighbor who witnessed the accident is going to follow me home to make sure I make it. I successfully start the Harley up, turn it around, and head back home. I have no rear brake, it feels weird to ride without the right front peg (it has been significantly bent up), but it rides fine and I get it home and in to the garage. I walk into the house and once Susan sees me she gets this scared look on her face. “Oh My God! I didn't think you were hurt!” She sees my leg and elbow, and we head into the bathroom for care beyond what the EMT's were able to provide. Once patched up by Nurse Susan, I begin what seems like already a way-too-long process of communication with Waste Management's insurance company.

I have since secured the service of an attorney, and I visited my doctor (not the ER) to get a better idea of how hurt I am. Again, nothing major, and the soreness in my shoulder, neck and knee will be with me for a few more days. I can handle that. My elbow still doesn't look “right” so I probably will go back to the doctor on Monday to see what else needs to be done with it.

I survived this accident. But certain things were reinforced by this event. First, never ride without a helmet. Yes, I've done it before, and yes I rationalize that I'll be OK because I'm a safe rider. But you can't anticipate some of the stupid things that happen around you, and if I wasn't wearing a helmet I would have taken a gash to the forehead above the right eye (as evidenced by the damage to my helmet in that area). Second, never ride without good pants. If I had leathers on, I probably wouldn't have had any damage to my leg. Third, ride with gloves. My right glove took some damage, and I can only imagine what my hand would look like if they weren't on. Hamburger palms comes to mind.... Finally, long sleeves would have helped protect the arms. My arms were uncovered since I had my long-sleeve denim shirt rolled up, and my elbow was unprotected from the fall.

All in all, I was lucky. I wasn't going too fast and still got hurt. Going faster, reacting in a different way, falling closer to the concrete sidewalk—all of this could have made the situation worse. I did the only thing I felt “comfortable doing”--ride through the garbage can. I guess I would do the same next time if it was an animal, human, or something else smaller than my bike. Otherwise, I'll swerve if I have time enough to think.

It's all good :)