Three weeks ago, I crashed. I entered a sharp curve that narrowed beyond my reach and missed the opportunity to compensate by leaning harder. Although I escaped the lethal guardrail, my front fork faced the shoulder and I ended up contacting the dirt. The bike and I went flying.
Since earning my license in 2016, many motorcycle riders morbidly assured me it’ll happen eventually, “Everyone crashes sooner or later. You will, too.” I hated listening to them because I was taking safety measures that none of them did. Yet despite my education, alertness, sobriety and wholly protective gear, I made a mistake and ended up with two broken ribs and multiple bruises, including a blow to my abdomen that transitioned through many earthy-shades. I had never seen such a massive hematoma before. Overall, however, I suffered minor injuries and a good scare.
So what happened?
By the end of April, we began exploring northern Georgia; an area famous—or infamous—for its epic motorcycle rides such as The Dragon’s Tail, The Gauntlet, The Moonshiner, The Cherohala Skyway and more. All are unusually twisty roads that lure motorcycle riders from all over the United States. For many, it’s a thrill; racing, knee dragging, falling under the spellbinding effects of centrifugal force. For some, it’s where the road ends. For good.
That morning we made plans with a friendly local—whom we met a day before—to review his favorite motorcycle rides in the area. Tom was the friendliest stranger imaginable, and an avid motorcycle rider. We shared a cup of coffee and watched his fingers trace a road map that illustrated the best routes the state has to offer. Incidentally, Tom warned us of the winding roads, jokingly pointing out that many reckless riders “stop to take dirt samples,” and how we can find spare parts in the ditch, should we need any. We laughed at his creative remarks, loving his light-hearted attitude, and returned to the map, wondering where should we start. To our delight, Tom offered to guide us through The Gauntlet later that day. I was thrilled. Unfortunately, we never made it.
Around noon we climbed our bikes, and headed north toward the best day ever. We tracked the meandering highway for ten exhilarating minutes, treasuring every second, unaware of the trouble ahead. Like most days, I was in front, slowing in and throttling out of corners again, and again, and again, and ag . . . I felt smooth and slick, and the process seemed redundant and automatic. Rhythmic.
In truth, however, the mountain was far from redundant, and the curves varied considerably in shape and slope. Worse, many curves narrowed or widened beyond sight, amplifying the risk.
In one such corner the combination of curve and incline demanded a lean tight enough to scuff my boot on the road. I was startled to discover I pushed against the limits of my motorcycle, and warned myself against leaning too far.
Two corners later, I arrived at another apex with comparable velocity but with reduced confidence. I kept thinking, “don’t lean too much”, and began drawing wide and dangerously close to the guardrail. Stunned, I leaned the bike harder and finished the curve. But the road continued to narrow. I screeched.
I wish I could say it was one of those sweet crashes you find on YouTube, when the rider ends up on his feet. But when my rear tire contacted the dirt at ≈35mph , the motorcycle reacted violently. My bike flipped and flung me to the ground, and then whirled over me, blowing dust and dirt everywhere. I turned over on my back.
Laying in the middle of the road, my eyes fixated on the flawless blue sky, I suffered a sense of dread I’d never experienced before. I couldn’t help but wonder whether I was dying or ruined forever. I couldn’t feel my body.
Seconds later, Colin’s face was there, talking to me, asking me things. But all I could think of was how afraid I was, so I kept letting him know I was afraid.
Colin dragged me to safety, supporting my head and neck. Then he tried to open my visor; I suddenly woke up from the haze, “don’t touch the helmet.” I raised my hands to hold it in place and realized I wasn’t paralyzed after all. Colin kept asking me to talk but I was speechless. I mean, what’s a girl to say? I grew up sitting in front of a Packard Bell Pentium computer. At best, I fell off my seat.
Colin unzipped my jacket and swept my body in search for blood, a sign of pain— anything that might indicate an emergency. I was fine. “Call an ambulance…”
Colin fumbled his pockets for his cell phone as a passing vehicle approached. Responding to his hand-signals, the driver pulled over and rushed to the scene. Colin instructed the driver to call 911 and direct traffic, while he continued to talk and evaluate my condition. Within minutes, more drivers stopped and offered assistance, and suddenly I was laying on my back, regaining my senses, and surrounded by kind hearted strangers. Pain began rising from my hip and shoulder, but all I could do was wait. I waited for 20 minutes for the ambulance to navigate the same “exhilarating” curves that I had an hour earlier.
Eventually the EMTs arrived. Now, with my helmet removed and left arm and neck restrained, I was finally allowed to stand up. With help, I leaned forward and saw Tom smiling, “I see you decided to take a dirt sample today!” I burst into tears.
Everyone was so worried, “it must hurt so much!” I continued to bawl, unable to speak. Colin shook his head, “nah, she’s just embarrassed, that’s all.” I nodded, heavy tears rushing down my cheeks, “I… I’m…I’mmmm soooooo embarassedddd…” Everyone responded in perfect unison, “you have nothing to be embarrassed about!” I couldn’t help it, only a few hours earlier I thought it was the funniest joke and now I was it. Now Tom, an expert rider, knew I, too, took a dirt sample.
I laid on the stretcher and we headed south to Gainesville, leaving everyone behind. On the way to the hospital, one of my responders, Laura, noticed my somber expression and offered me morphine (or something) but it wasn’t the pain. “What if I never find the courage to get back on the road?”. Laura smiled and brushed away my anxieties with stories about her life as an EMT, firefighter, natural-disaster responder and a mother. A real life Wonder Woman. For the next 45 minutes I forgot about the crash.
When we finally arrived at the hospital, my world once again turned hectic. They lowered me from the ambulance with as much civility as possible, and transported me to a bed–my domain for the next five hours. I overheard Laura explain to the staff what had happened, and shortly after met my Doctor. He asked many questions and they proceeded to remove my motorcycle boots and pants with a dumbfounding authority. Unfortunately, removing waterproof KLIM pants can be tricky… I insisted that I could help. They finally gave up and allowed me to demonstrate the technique. Soon after, I was in a gown, laying half naked and feeling kinda stupid.
At that point, the staff suspected I broke either my left collarbone or scapula. Either way, I was stuck in a neck brace until we confirmed my cervical vertebrae weren’t screwed as well.
Some time between the portable X-Ray machine and the CT (canal-of-terror), Colin showed up. I was sooo happy to see him I started crying, then smiling, then telling him everything.
(While I was having fun at the Northeast Georgia Hospital, Colin was busy recovering our motorcycles, answering to authorities and gathering essentials from our trailer for his girl, the ADV Baby).
After my blood tests, EKG, X-Ray and individual CT scans of my head, neck, torso, and hips—just another day in America—my Doc was back. Colin and I looked at him stir crazy. First, he walked toward me and removed my neck brace (what a relief!) and then proceeded to review the surreal CT-scans revealing everything within my upper half. After showing off my organs and jokingly mentioning to Colin that I appear gassy… he opened a close-up of my shoulder and pointed out my two broken ribs. DAUM. I looked at Colin smiling, “I’ve never broken anything before.”
And right then, I was free to go.
As I stepped back into the trailer after a long ride home, it seemed almost strange that everything was where we left it when we departed that afternoon. It was all the same, yet we were different. We’ve never come back from a motorcycle ride in a car, I’ve never returned home without my bike parked by my side. It felt like a dream.
We sat down by the dining table barely believing what surreal shit we went through. I can’t tell Colin’s story, but let me just say the man saw me crash, and it took ten miserable seconds before he knew that I wasn’t dead.
What’s more, as Colin continued relaying his version of the events, I found out that sporadically along the highway are small white wooden memorial crosses, and my curve—as we now call it—had four.
Slowly we turned quiet and contemplative, and I started thinking about my motorcycle, wondering where it was, whether it still worked.
“I need you to take me to see my bike.”
Colin was a bit surprised by my request, but he was delighted to oblige. We got back in the Toyota and returned to the mountain. Sitting in my disposable hospital pants, I watched the road twist and turn and wondered what the day would have been like, had I not met the dirt.
We entered Desoto Falls, a nearby campground where Colin had temporarily parked the motorcycle. The truck’s headlights pierced through the pitch-black parking lot and I finally saw it. There it was, my bike, in a now empty parking lot; broken and bruised, but still working—just like me.
I approached my bike and felt nothing but love. I told Colin I was going to try and sit on the bike for a moment. Then I said, fuck it, might as well raise it up and feel the handle bars. Oh hell, let’s start the thing and hear it purr…
I was ready to go.
Thank you so much Tom, Colleen and Tommy. It’s magical to see how strangers can turn into the closest of friends in the face of adversity. I will never forget our time together, sharing stories, meals, and lots of love. Tom, I cannot thank you enough for your kindness; for helping resurrect my bike and for making my broken ribs hurt with laughter. I cannot wait to see all of you again.
Also, thank you officer Jones for assisting Colin with our motorcycles, displaying extraordinary kindness and patience. Thank you Laura for talking me through our long ride to the hospital — You are an inspiration. And finally, to the five other strangers who took a break from their lives to help a motorcycle girl in trouble – Thank you.
In January of 2018, Colin and I attended a emergency life-saver (ELS) course by XSA international, taught by lead instructor Chris Stoehner. Thanks to our experiences in ELS, we were both able to navigate that horrible situation.