Monday, January 28, 2019

My First Motorcycle Wreck



When I first started blogging again, I was focusing on my sobriety journey. Now that I have over 4 months under my belt and don’t constantly think about it, I realized I have so many more things to say. While I still will report on my journey to stay sober, I want to write about other things as well.
It’s been about a year since I rode on a motorcycle for the very first time. One thing bikers will tell you is that it’s not if you drop your bike, but when. The same is true for having a wreck of some type – not if, but when. I knew this going in. It’s a dangerous hobby, even if you are the greatest, safest rider out there. Big pot holes, distracted car drivers, debris on the road, giant rock haulers are all out to get me. Straddling a gas tank while maneuvering through 80 mph traffic and balancing on two wheels is dangerous.

I always wear a helmet, gloves, long pants, and close-toed shoes even from the first time I hopped on the back of my husband’s bike. For a few months riding as passenger, I only wore a half helmet and sometimes only a tank top if it was hot. It was after two close friends had pretty serious wrecks last year that I decided to take it further. I bought Kevlar riding pants, an armored jacket, armored riding boots, and a full face helmet. I ALWAYS wore all of it. In the summer, I had a mesh armored jacket and told myself if I was too hot, I should just skip the ride.

Technically, this wasn’t my first wreck. Several months ago, we were out riding and switched bikes before we rode back home. When my husband pulled into the driveway, the throttle on his bike (that I was riding) stuck, and I lurched forward into the back of him, tapping the back of my bike he was on. It barely knocked over the bike, and he landed on his feet. Neither of the bikes nor he was injured at all.

Fast forward to a little over three weeks ago. My husband and I had ridden to a motorcycle show in downtown Dallas, about an hour ride through heavy Interstate traffic. When we left in the morning, it was quite cold, so my layers and armored gear were welcome. While we wandered around the convention center during the day, though, it had warmed up significantly and was 65 degrees. We planned to ride to lunch just a few miles away still in downtown, so both of us opted to leave our armored jackets in our saddle bags and just ride with our long-sleeve t-shirts on.
Navigating busy downtown streets, I was in the lead as I usually am (my husband jokes that he gets lost in his own closet, so I generally lead when we ride). We were on a very busy two-lane street. We were in the right lane and needed to merge left to prepare for a left turn about half mile ahead. Instead of watching the car right in front, I was looking in the distance toward our next turn. I saw quick brake lights as the line of cars ahead stopped quickly and instinctively did what they tell you not to do in motorcycle school. I grabbed a handful of front brake.

For those not familiar with motorcycles, the brake for the front wheel is on the right grip of the handlebar, and the brake for the rear wheel is a pedal on the right side. Proper braking involves gently squeezing the front brake while gently pressing the rear brake. About 70% of the bike’s braking power is in the front brake; however, and many riders use just the front brake much of the time. That works fine as long as braking is steady and gently. Still, it’s a bad habit many riders get into. If you don’t practice using both brakes, you’re much less likely to use both brakes in a quick stop or emergency. If you just grab that front brake, like I did, the tire can lock up and cause a skid. Which it did. I saw brake lights well ahead of us instead of right in front and reacted by grabbing the front brake. My bike lurched right, then lurched left before falling on its side and sliding maybe 15 feet. My husband, just a few feet and to the right behind me tried to figure out which way I was falling so he could swerve the opposite and avoid running over me. His quick swerving action kept him from barreling over my head, but it ultimately caused his bike to fall and slide, too. Both of us jumped up almost immediately, running toward each other to see if we were both OK.

It’s something you always hear from survivors of any type of wreck – everything moved in slow motion. Though the wreck happened in maybe 15 seconds, in my mind it took hours. I saw the brakes ahead. I grabbed the brake, I skidded slowly left then right then left again, and felt the bike falling. I bounced off the cement and slowly turned my head to see his Harley barreling toward my face. Then I saw him falling, too, soooo slowly. Somehow my leg didn’t end up pinned underneath the bike, and I felt like I leapt up from the ground to see if he was OK.

We were extremely fortunate in a number of ways. The car behind us braked fast and avoided hitting us. My husband didn’t hit or run over me. Another biker was nearby, stopped and ran over to help both of us pick up our bikes and make sure we weren’t seriously injured. We quickly walked the bikes to the curb and began to take inventory. Both bikes have engine guards and leather saddle bags, which prevented much physical damage. My front right turn signal was ground down and dangling off the handlebars (though it still worked), and there is a small scrape on my windshield and pipes. My husband’s saddle bag ties were ripped off the support, and there is only a tiny little scrape on his.
Physically, I had a small hole in the knee of my Kevlar pants, but not a scrape on my leg at all. Remember the decision to not wear our jackets, though? I had a hole in the elbow of my t-shirt and a nasty 4 inches of road rash on my right forearm. He fell in the opposite direction and had an almost identical bit of road rash on his left forearm. After we confirmed nothing was broken and the bikes weren’t leaking any fluid, we slowly and cautiously rode to a Chinese buffet to eat and take further inventory. We both washed our scrapes and took turns bandaging each other’s arms and managed to eat, still in quite a daze. We still had about an hour of ride time to get back home. We ate, stopped to gas up, donned our full jackets and gear, and opted for a slower route on backroads instead of barreling down the highway.

When we got home, we both realized we didn’t really remember eating. I imagine we were slightly in shock from it all. After showering and changing clothes, we made a pot of coffee and spent much of the evening in a daze from it all.

All in all, it was a slow speed wreck with very little damage, but I learned a lot from the experience. Never again will I decide to leave off my armored jacket “just because it’s a short ride”. Every time I have ridden since that day, I have been practicing using both brakes even for slow speed stops.
I can tell you one thing: road rash HURTS. It doesn’t look like much to scrape off a few layers of skin, but the first few nights, the pain would wake me up at night. Finally, three weeks later, I have a soft pink 4-inch layer of new skin. It is still tender, but I am no longer in pain. Sometimes the new growth is itchy. I still have a huge bruise across my upper thigh, but it’s finally fading out.
My husband, on the other hand, noticed a spot on his arm an inch or two away from the road rash about a week and a half ago. He thought it was a spider bite, but it was getting angrier and redder. When we were out running errands, his entire arm and hand swelled. He went to the doctor last Monday and was given antibiotics. The doctor called back Thursday morning and told him the swab came back as MRSA. Drug-resistant staph. MRSA can hospitalize people for weeks on IV antibiotics sometimes. That, and it’s highly contagious. They called in a much stronger prescription, and I set about doing a deep clean of the house – washing sheets and towels, wiping down surfaces, and scrubbing. I still had a raw, open wound on my own arm, so was vigilant to wash and cover it often. Fortunately, he went back to the doc this morning and got the all clear to return to work. The drugs were working to knock it out.

We don’t know if the MRSA had anything to do with the wreck, of course. It could have been a coincidence. Opening a long wound in his arm, though, certainly could have invited those nasty staph bugs into his system.

Overall, we are very fortunate and very thankful. While full head-to-toe gear cannot protect from the most serious of accidents, it certainly did its job to prevent further road rash on my legs. If we had both just put our jackets back on, we likely would not have both had ugly, painful road rash. Maybe he wouldn’t have developed a drug-resistant staph infection.

Either way, we are fine. The bikes are fine. While I was a little nervous the next time I rode, I DID get back in that saddle as soon as I could. We both have ridden several times since that day.
And we are both a little more cautious and a little more vigilant about gearing up.

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