Throughout the Spring and early Summer of 2014, I spent my spare time practicing riding my Honda around the neighborhood. I had a full-face helmet, riding gloves, an armored jacket, heavy jeans and riding boots – having all the right equipment was important to me. I also watched a lot of videos and spent time on discussion boards learning about the bike’s controls, safe riding habits and what to look out for when riding (hint: cars). I knew that my wife was nervous about the motorcycle, and I wanted to make sure that she knew I was practicing safe skills.
I had signed up for a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) Basic Rider course. The MSF is all about learning to ride safely, and they have courses from beginner all the way through mastering advanced riding skills. My course was a couple months away, so I researched as much as I could, and limited my riding to just going around the neighborhood, and working on skills in the local elementary school parking lot.
As I practiced, I got a little more confident in keeping the bike upright, starting, stopping and turning. I didn’t go out of the neighborhood, but I felt like it was going well, and looked forward to making my status ‘official’ by qualifying for my motorcycle endorsement. I talked to some friends who had sport bikes who gave me a hard time for ‘just’ riding a Honda Rebel 250, but that didn’t bother me much. I was happy just to be learning.
July 9, 2004 – It was a beautiful summer day. The sun was shining, and we didn’t quite have the typical Washington humidity, so it was a beautiful day to ride. My wife was visiting her parents down in North Carolina, and I gave our nanny tickets to see Sting at a nearby concert. It was my Mom’s birthday. I got home just as the nanny was leaving for the concert. She had started a video for the kids, ages 6 and 9, so they didn’t even notice that I came home.
I had just enough time to take the bike or a practice spin around the block and work on some skills in the nearby elementary school parking lot. I was only going to be gone for a few minutes…then we’d all go get dinner. I put on all my gear, started up the bike, and headed towards the Oak Hill Elementary parking lot. It was a Friday, and everybody had gone home for the weekend, so it was perfect or getting in some practice.
I was only going to be gone for a few minutes – I figured I’d do one last acceleration run and hard stop before heading back to get the kids. I revved the engine at one end, and took off across the parking lot. Looking back, It was pretty irresponsible. While I’m sure lots of parents have plopped their kids in front of a video to run to the store, and while the kids knew to go next door in an emergency, 6 and 9 are pretty young ages. I thought everything was OK to run out, because I was sure I was just going to be right back.
I put on my gloves and jacket, made sure my riding boots were secure, and fastened my helmet. I turned the key and started the motorcycle with just one kick, and slowly backed it out of the garage, turned around in the driveway, and rolled out into the street, giving the kids a little salute as I headed down the street towards the school parking lot. Once I got to the school, I rode around the lot a few times, working on some basic skills. I did some starts and stops, some S-turns, and a couple accelerations runs before going back to Figure 8’s, and working on both right and left turns.
While I try to anticipate problems that might occur, the fact is that unexpected things happen. I know I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking I can handle anything that’s thrown at me, but truth is, I hadn’t had any major bad things happen to me. Sure, I had a couple broken bones as a kid, and got hit by a car (by running out into the street at age 6), but fortunately, all I got from that was a bruise on my rear end (from the car, not from my Mom when she found out I was OK). I had a couple fender benders when I was younger, and got rear ended a few times….but by and large, I thought of my self as a “safe” operator of motor vehicles.
At the school, I wanted to work on some stops, so I would accelerate across the lot, and brake hard to make sure I knew how to stop quickly, just in case I had to in real traffic. About 3/4 of the way across, I hit a patch of sand, and started to lose my balance. If you’re right handed, you tend to steady yourself with that hand. When I felt myself losing balance, I gripped the handlebar, which happened to also be the place for the throttle. I instinctively grabbed the throttle and gripped it hard….which made me shoot forward as the bike accelerated across the parking lot. Things happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to react. Instead of letting go of the throttle, or hitting the brakes….I headed right for the edge of of the lot.
Now, if I had hit one foot to the right or left, I would have ridden up on to the curb, over the handlebars, and into the grass. I would have been embarrassed, and maybe a little scratched up, with some wounded pride to boot. Instead, the bike’s wheel hit the center of a storm drain, which was 12″ high and a blunt edge, instead of a rounded edge, like the rest of the curb.
As I screamed across the parking lot, I literally froze. It seemed to take forever, but in reality, was just a second or two. I was headed for the end of the parking lot, and I got target fixation on the tree at the end of the lot. I didn’t seem to be able to hit the clutch or brake, and kept picking up speed. Before I could react, the bike hit the curb, coming to a dead stop.
I happened to still be traveling at the speed that the bike WAS going….so instead of stopping, I kept going. When the bike hit the curb and stopped, I got launched into the air.
The bike bounced up, and I came off of it, and hit the edge of the curb.
I came to rest on the pavement, and the bike came to rest against a nearby tree, with the engine still running. I could hear the ending rumbling, and all I could think to say was literally cartoon swearing…because it really hurt and I’d been conditioned not to swear around the kids. All I knew was that it hurt….a lot…but I couldn’t figure out exactly what was hurting.
I started to lift my helmet to assess what had happened, then dropped my head….
…and things just went black.