Day 1: Crash At 80 MPH

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Day 1 of riding was February 14.  Heading north out of Ushuaia, Route 3 took us through the beautiful jagged mountains at the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego.  Intermittent showers were actually pleasant, and a few minutes of light hail even tapped delightfully on our helmets.

By the 100-mile mark we were in gently rolling hills.  Sunshine.  Blue skies.  White clouds.  No wind.  Smooth, dry road.  We stopped to adjust one of the bikes’ packs because they were tilting to one side.  Safety first.  Straps, ropes, and bungees solved that, and we were back on our way, cruising along at 70 mph.

1-Crash-sceneAfter several miles of being last in line I pulled into the passing lane to change positions. That’s when I ran off the road at 80 mph, with my bike wobbling wildly and my rain cover flapping.

Apparently I hadn’t re-tied my own bags properly after retrieving some rope during our “pit stop.”  And to be honest, my bike was overloaded.  To be even more honest, I didn’t react as I should have.  I knew what to do: apply steady, even pressure on the handlebars and guide the bike to safety with my eyes.  But instead I fixated on the road’s shoulder and ditch, both covered with deep, loose gravel. Things happened very quickly . . . and in extreme slow motion.

1-Radio-smashedI’m told the crash was quite spectacular.  The bike left a swerving 50-yard tire trail along the shoulder and down into the drainage ditch.  I remember every moment of trying to “keep the rubber side down.”  But hitting a high spot, the bike and I went airborne.  When we came down, we parted company.  As I rolled and slid along the ground, the bike bounced crazily, flipping over in the air at 25-foot intervals (easy to measure later by deep indentations in the gravel).  At one point the 900-pound bike almost reconnected with me, but instead flew just over my head.

I am also told that even as the bike was coming to a stop, I sat up, raised both arms, and yelled, “I’m fine.”  Amazingly, I was.  I had only a bruised shoulder and hip, plus a swollen right hand – which has since returned to normal.

1-PArts-on-the-roadBike parts and belongings were scattered over 30 yards: windshield and faring fragments, seat, radio, bags, ropes, etc.  My beautiful bike was dented and scratched, with the back fender smashed to one side.  But it also turned out that the bags, windshield, and fenders had absorbed much of the impact of the bike’s bounces.  When we righted the bike, it actually started.  And when I rolled it up onto the road, it ran pretty well.  With the help of copious amounts of duct tape, we got the seat back on and some of the parts secured – and headed for the next town.  Then the next.  And then the next.

The team graciously divided my gear among them and carried it for the next day or two until we found ways to reattach it piece by piece and get some much-needed repairs made (see SM Moto blog 2/16/11).

1-The-bike-startedThere are probably several lessons in all this – and I’m sure my friends back home will want to suggest some to me.  But for now, there’s one I want to share with whomever is reading this.  It’s a lesson I learned in a serious motorcycle accident 8 years ago and got reinforced in this one.  It’s this:  Each day is a gift.  Treasure each day and be thankful you have it to share with the family and friends around you.

Day 1 of riding was February 14.  Valentine’s Day.  At a few minutes after midnight – just as Valentine’s Day was beginning – I received a text from my wife, Laura.  It said, “I love you.”  At the end of that day I texted back “I love you more than you realize.”

Note:  This blog is finally being posted a week and 1500 miles after the fact: enough time and distance to put it in perspective.  Since I escaped without injury and wanted to have time to put this little episode in perspective, I asked the team to delay telling wives – or anyone else what had happened.  I got them to promise me they would “hold the news” until I was ready to share it.  After all, starting Day 1 with this story, even though it turned out well, would cause undue concern.  With Doug’s accident and injuries requiring immediate disclosure, the time to share what happened on Day 1 became obvious. 

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