You Go Where You Look

Remember this from your MSF class or other basic motorcycling class that you may have taken?  I have heard the instructor in my head many times reminding me that the bike will go where I look.  I’ve also tested that lesson and proved it’s true – oh no, I don’t want to hit that pothole and WHAM!  Yes, I was focused on it and I went right into it.

Lately I have been wondering if this concept also applies to life.  If I am too focused on what happened in the past, where am I going?  Likely no where that I want to be.  As the calendar year comes to a close, I dare to think about next year’s riding season and dream of where I might go.  I think about what it might feel like to plan for and take off on a multi day trip again.  I wonder about how I would handle that and if I’m going to be up for it.

As the days grow shorter and cooler, I always look forward to spring.  I tolerate winter and sometimes even that’s a stretch.  I don’t enjoy the snow, I simply deal with it.  One way of coping when the snow starts to fly is planning for summer fun.  I’m not ready to commit to a specific plan for next summer yet, but I am at least allowing myself the space to think about what it may look like.  My hope is that will help me in making it a reality next year.  Will I indeed go where I look?  I sure hope so!

D30 Armor Lessons

D what you may be asking?  D30 armor – the armor that is in my Klim jacket and pants.  It’s probably in other brands of gear too, but since I am no expert, I don’t want to assume or lead anyone astray.

After my accident in Alaska I had to think about my gear and what needed to be replaced.  My helmet was obviously destroyed, but my jacket and pants are just dirty and grass stained  I have not found any holes or tears in either piece.  Then a friend asked me about the armor in the gear – are we supposed to replace it after a crash?

I looked online and found various opinions.  I finally went straight to Klim and asked them, since they are the experts on their gear  What I learned is that the D30 armor is designed to withstand multiple impacts.  Unlike the padding in helmets, which takes one impact and must be replaced, D30 armor bounces back.  Now I know and can go on wearing my Klim gear with full confidence that it will protect me should this happen again.  Obviously I hope this never happens again, but I don’t believe in tempting fate and taking a chance with my life.

Speaking of gear – I had looked at my helmet a few days after the accident and while obviously damaged, I didn’t think it was terrible.  Last weekend my riding partner asked to see it and I took it out of the bag again.  As I did, I noticed that the chin bar piece of the helmet no longer closed.  In fact, it is now far out of alignment.  I was shocked!  Of course, I have already replaced the helmet and wouldn’t consider wearing it, but I didn’t fully realize initially just how damaged it is.  That was a reality check!

I hope that everyone wears ATGATT (all the gear, all the time) when they ride.  Please check your armor and ask the manufacturer about it’s safety if you have had an impact.  Make sure it’s in good repair so that if you should need it,  it can do it’s very best to protect you!

I am still on the road to recovery, and it’s longer than I’d like, but I am learning.  Last week I gained the ability to look over my right shoulder again.  Hopefully turning my head over my left shoulder will follow soon.

The new helmet is slowly breaking in and my bluetooth communication device is installed on it.  I also have replaced the RAM mount that holds my phone when I’m on the bike.  I never take calls or texts, but I do use my phone for navigation and especially for music.

Be safe out there!

Alaska – The Finale

I have decided to sum up the rest of my days in Alaska in this one post.  Since I was now traveling by rental car, the experience was not the same.  However, this was the best part of the trip from a scenic perspective and I don’t want to lose that.

The plan for the day after the crash was for me to meet the group at the hotel in Valdez.  On my travels from Palmer via Highway 1, I saw the Matanusk Glacier which the group would visit again the next day.  I  was stunned by the peaks that were visible as I neared my turn off on Highway 4.  I thought I had taken photos with my phone of them but they seem to be missing.  So, you’ll just have to trust me that the views are fantastic!

This drive was about four hours and I mostly remember it as stopping as I needed to for stretching and water.  My cell phone battery was dying as I navigated and the charging port in the car didn’t work, so it was lucky for me to encounter one of the ladies I had ridden with at a construction stop.  I had a chance to say hello to her before the pilot car lead us through the area and then we caught up on the other side.  It was such a relief to be able to follow her since she had the group’s directions and stops for the day!

It wasn’t long before we found the rest of the group and had a chance to see some glaciers and waterfalls on our way into Valdez.  I was so relieved when we arrived at the hotel since I’d had barely any sleep in the past 2 days.  I grabbed some food at a nearby grocery store and was in bed by 8 PM! It’s too bad I was so tired and in pain because what I saw of Valdez, I absolutely loved!

The next morning was my birthday and I woke up feeling as though I’d been hit by a truck!  I was expecting this, having worked in the insurance industry for 10 years in my younger days.  I knew that 2 days after the accident is when you finally feel all the damage.  One of the other ladies on the tour was at a breakfast place near the harbor and I managed to drive there to meet her.  After some coffee, breakfast and ibuprofen I felt like I would function and we walked around Valdez for a few minutes.  I saw enough to know that I certainly want to return one day and finish the trip I started!

Our destination for that day was a hotel in Sutton.  It was strange for me, driving a car behind the bikes and at the first construction zone we were separated as they went up front with the pilot car.  I had the GPS directions so I was able to follow along to each stop along the way.  This day was mainly retracing my drive from the day before, but it was still nice to see the sights.

The hotel in Sutton may be my favorite of the entire trip.  It has beautiful fields of flowers surrounding it and a sense of calm and peace that I was so in need of during those last couple days.  I was sad to leave it the next day knowing that we were on our way back to Anchorage.

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Beautiful view in Sutton

 

One of the coolest experiences of the trip happened at our last stop before everyone turned their bikes in.  We stopped at a lake that we’d visited at the beginning and had some lunch and a chance to relax.  As I was sitting at the picnic table pondering what was next for me, I looked down and saw a penny!  During the entire trip I had been asking my dad to send me a penny and none had shown up.  After the crash I was feeling very disappointed and like this trip had just been a bad idea – then the bright penny showed up to remind me that he is always with me.  Always.

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My penny!

I started to feel very disconnected from the group when I joined them in Valdez and that feeling continued for the rest of my time in Alaska.  Even before the accident I had decided this would be my last tour on a motorcycle unless it’s a small group I personally know.  I enjoy the camaraderie of  riding and supporting each other, helping each other when needed and celebrating the great miles together.  I simply didn’t experience that with this group, despite being open to and hoping that would occur.

I would like to return to Alaska at some point, but it will be a trip that I design and plan.  Maybe I’ll go solo or with one or two trusted friends.  Even before the accident I felt like this trip was not at all what I had expected.  There are no regrets, because I learned a great deal about myself and know where my training needs to focus next.  I also saw parts of a beautiful state that I’d never experienced before and will carry those memories for a long time.  But now I know for certain that groups like this are not for me!

I have spent the last three weeks healing mind, body and soul.  The good news is that I see progress every day and am encouraged that I’ll be back on a bike yet this season.  Hopefully there is little to no hidden anxiety waiting for me, but I can’t really know yet.  So far, I haven’t been able to physically endure helmet shopping due to neck injuries, so riding at this point is still out of the question.

As always, thanks for taking the time to stop by and read.  I’m looking forward to sharing more of my journey with you all soon!

 

Alaska – The Crash

After we checked into our lodgings near Paxson, the plan was for those interested to do a few miles on an “easy dirt road” to Maclaren Summit, which has a nice mountain view.  I’m no expert dirt biker, but have done enough dirt roads that I feel comfortable standing on the pegs and navigating them.  I don’t get crazy with my speed and maneuvering, but I don’t panic either.

We headed out from our lodging and soon were on the unpaved section of the Denali Highway.  I was the fourth out of five riders and the front three quickly left me behind.  I was used to this by this point and knew that it was important for me to ride my own ride, at whatever pace I feel comfortable.  There wasn’t much car traffic so I knew I wasn’t holding up a line of people by simply going the speed limit.  A couple times I thought about stopping to turn around and head back.  I couldn’t see the group ahead of me and the person behind me was long gone from my sight too.  I finally decided I was going to crest this last hill and turn around; that’s when I spotted the other three bikes parked at the summit

The last rider in our group arrived shortly after and seemed unhappy about having been left, as I was. We took in the views, took some photos and even had a prairie dog come see what we were all about.  Pretty soon the rider who arrived last headed back since she felt she was the slowest of the group.  Shortly after that two others took off, leaving myself and one other rider.  We headed back pretty closely behind the first group but I never saw them again.

I estimate that we were about half way back when I came upon an RV that was traveling awfully slow in front of me.  I checked for oncoming traffic and seeing none decided to pass the RV on the left. Next thing I know, the RV is coming closer and closer to me until I was at the far left edge of the road and the RV is right there too!  I admit that I panicked knowing I was about to be hit I probably grabbed the brakes hard.  That’s a bad idea on dirt and gravel because the front end went into a wobble.  The last thing I remember is thinking “oh **** this is bad, now what do I do?!”

Apparently I flew quite a distance from the bike and landed face down, unconscious.  The rider behind me came to my aid as did at least one other person.  The RV continued on as if nothing happened, so I have to assume they never saw me.  Since the rest of my group was so far ahead they had no idea anything had happened.  There went the possibility to capture the RV’s license plate!   An ambulance was called and a medical helicopter, plus Alaska state patrol.  Since we were so remote, it was at least 2 hours before they all reached me.  I am very fortunate that more folks stopped to assist and they were able to use a ladder to carry me up the embankment I landed on while I waited.  It had been getting cold pretty quickly on that hill.

Trying to fly

I landed pretty far from the bike – these ladies are on either side of me as I lay on the ground.

I remember bits of conversations while I laid there.  I remember the kindness of total strangers who offered up blankets to keep me warm and those who kept me talking and awake as I likely had a concussion.  I also remember my tour guide saying she was going with me to the hospital.  Another call from her boss conveyed that would not be happening and that I needed to figure it out on my own.  Maybe it was the head injury or the emotions of the whole experience, but I felt scared and overwhelmed.  I was already confused, I didn’t know what was going on and now I was going to have to navigate this on my own too.  As it turned out, there was barely room in the helicopter for me, my camera bag and one packing cube of clothes, so there was no way she could have gone anyhow.

One person that stopped to “help” sticks out as being decidely not helpful.  As I lay there on the ground obviously in pain, this person came over to me and said “you know they’re going to cut your gear off at the hospital, right?”  I couldn’t help but notice the sneer in the facial expression and the tone of voice.  I may have had a concussion, but I’m still aware!  I next heard one of the EMTs tell that individual to leave.  I’m not sure why they thought poking me about having my gear cut off was necessary, but they did.  Now it strikes me as a very cruel and strange thing to say to someone.  I suppose some people just despise motorcyclists.

Soon I heard a helicopter in the distance and the EMTs made sure I was covered with a blanket so I didn’t sustain further injuries as the helicopter tried to land on the gravel road.  Dirt and gravel went flying from the rotors and the photos show quite a dust storm! The pilot didn’t like what she saw there and took the helicopter back up and moved a bit further away.  After the EMTs from the helicopter checked me out,  started an IV and traded my helmet for a neck brace, I was loaded into the regular ambulance and driven a short distance to the helicopter.  The people taking care of me said it would feel very strange to be loaded into the helicopter, like I was going to fall to one side, but they assured me I was safe and they had it under control.  I’m glad they warned me because as I lay on what felt like a very narrow support, I was convinced that I was about to slide off and land on the road again.

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Helicopter 1st landing attempt

Thankfully the helicopter ride was uneventful, at least for me.  I was flown a couple hours away to the ER in Palmer, Alaska.  I heard the hand off from the helicopter EMT to the trauma team and remember him saying they had to give me something because my vital signs took a turn for the worse.  The trauma team was very careful, but efficient with removing my gear and no scissors were necessary!  After checking me over, the doctor sent me for a CT scan to see what was broken or damaged.  Until the scans came back there was not much they or I could do.  I couldn’t even get up to use the bathroom!

Around 2 AM the CT scans came back and the ER doc came in to say he had no idea how I was alive, let alone escaped this crash with nothing broken.  He was sure something had been overlooked and proceeded to check my hands and feet again to be sure.  He then told me that my Klim riding gear and my Shoei helmet had saved my life!  I think at that point, I just broke down in tears of gratitude.  Again.  Since the rest of my group was hours away and it was after 2 AM, the ER staff let me stay there for the rest of the night.  The nurse even brought me some food, water and a Coke since it had been over 12 hours since I’d eaten.  I’d never spent the night in the hospital before, but I can tell you there is very little sleeping in a trauma center!  By then I was just grateful that I didn’t have to figure out where to go at 2 AM in a city and state I was not at all familiar with.

Around 6:30 the next morning as the staff was preparing to end their shifts, one of the nurses brought me some coffee, took off all the monitoring devices and helped me pack up my things so I could leave.  I had no plan about where to go or what to do next.  I was obviously not able to ride and the bike was hours away anyhow.  I didn’t yet know that the bike was damaged enough it couldn’t be ridden anyway.  I looked into flying home early and it was over $1,000 to change my ticket.  I enlisted a friend to help me find a hotel in Palmer so I could get some sleep, but none were available until after 3 PM.  Calling some rental car agencies turned up nothing either.  I truly thought I was going to be stranded in the hospital lobby until I could get a flight home the next day!

A couple of hours later someone suggested an app that allows people to rent out their own cars.  I checked and found one that was near my location, but was not available until the afternoon.  I completed the reservation and then on a whim sent the owner a message and asked that he contact me if by chance the car became available sooner.  As luck  would have it, it was available soon after.  I wasn’t even sure if I could or should be driving, but in that moment, I just wanted out of the damn hospital.  I was exhausted and hungry, but I needed a plan for the day that didn’t involve trying to sleep in the hospital waiting room!  I picked up the car that morning and started the journey to Valdez to catch up with my group.  I’ll write about the rest of the trip in another blog post.

It has now been 18 days since the accident.  The bruises are slowly fading.  The muscles are slowly healing.   When I was healed enough, I saw my massage therapist and acupuncturist to work on realigning and releasing muscle tension.  There is improvement but nothing is normal yet, so the journey will continue.  Next week I am seeing a chiropractor to see how far out of alignment my bones are and what can be done to remedy that.

A couple of well intentioned people have suggested that I stop riding after this experience.  I can tell you that most certainly will NOT happen.  I have discussed with my riding partner what the plan is once my body has healed.  I will return to riding in my time, at my pace.  I trust my riding partner implicitly and I know that he will push me just a little as I am ready to be pushed.  I also know that if I have a melt down, he’ll be there to support me and help me find my love of riding again.  While I hope that I never have another accident, I know that life is not without risk.  I am so exceptionally grateful to be here, I can’t say that enough times.

Alaska – Day 6

Chena Hot Springs to Paxson – approx. 240 miles

As we left Chena Hot Springs, the blue skies quickly gave way to rain clouds, again.  After riding all day to Fairbanks in rain, I felt like I was pretty prepared.  Little did I know that this day would bring rain like I have never experienced before!

Our first stop of the day was at North Pole and a group visit with a Santa Claus that darn near made me believe again.  He was quite jovial and had an answer for each of our endless questions about his flying altitude, where are the reindeer and does he wear a helmet and protective gear!  At first I felt a little silly going to see Santa at my age, but I have to admit, it was a fun stop.

We also encountered our first real road construction this day and were waved to the front since there was a pilot car.  I don’t recall ever experiencing this before, but apparently the road construction folks in Alaska want motorcycles at the front so that the pilot car can see if a bike goes down and assist them.  We rode a long stretch of dirt behind the pilot car with most of us standing on the pegs for stability and control.  It wasn’t difficult riding, it was just different and for me, it was good to be on the dirt again, using those skills I don’t use often.

After we left North Pole, the skies opened up and we experienced rain such as I have rarely even driven in, let alone ridden in.  I was very grateful for my goretex gear and have to say that it help up admirably!  We had a planned lunch stop at a picnic area near a lake which is probably amazing on a sunny day.  On this day with the torrential rain coming down, we all took cover under the eaves of the building that contained the outhouses!

We decided to press on to our next gas stop in Delta Junction and see if the rain would let up so we weren’t also eating lunch in the rain.  As luck would have it, there was a laundromat right next to our gas stop!  I have never seen so many biker ladies pile into a laundromat so enthusiastically before.  We all dried our riding jackets and other layers to get some relief from the cold.  We even became the topic of a couple photos with all the bikes parked outside, surely people wondering what could we be doing?  We had lunch right there in the laundromat while everything dried – no fancy lunch stops for this bunch and I know that I was just thrilled to have warm clothing again!

The afternoon was wearing on me and then we came to a pull out to gather the group together again.  As I turned left into the parking area, I noticed the view and my jaw literally dropped!  I could barely park my bike I was so excited to capture this view.  At the same time, my tour leader saw the joy and amazement on my face and captured an incredible shot of me!  At last, I felt like I was seeing Alaska!

We stopped one last time at a scenic overlook and our tour leader reminded us that this was likely our last spot for cell phone service for about 24 hours.  We were that remote and I was excited about it!

Once we arrived at our lodgings and unloaded our bags from the chase truck, most of us headed out for a little dirt riding on the Denali Highway.  It was about 15 miles out to a scenic overlook and we wanted to check that out and be back in time for dinner.

In that moment, I had no idea what lie ahead for me.  It’s going to take me a while to write the post about it, so I am going to say simply that I am ok.  I’ll save the rest for the next post.  Please, bear with me as I work through the emotions that seem to leap to the surface as I describe what happened on that gravel road . . .

Thanks for reading!

Alaska – Day 5

Fairbanks to Chena Hot Springs – 212 miles

After the downpour of rain on our way into Fairbanks and that entire evening, it was so nice to wake up to clear blue skies and sunshine.  We only had 60 miles to go to our next hotel stop, but there were a few side trips planned for this day!

First we rode over to the Large Animal Research Station and learned about musk ox and reindeer!  I had no idea this could be so interesting and the guide that we had was very personable and super knowledgeable about these animals, their habits and their history.  While we were there it suddenly started to rain very hard and thankfully there was a shelter for everyone to duck into.  I thought we had gotten the rain out of our system the day before but I guess not.  Thankfully this didn’t last long and the sun returned quickly!

Our next stop was the Alaska pipeline which was actually kind of cool to see.  I imagined it to be much larger than it is, so that was a surprise for me.  I was also fascinated by the informational signs that told about the history and how the pipeline is maintained.  This is definitely something you won’t see in the lower 48!

After that, we still had time to burn so we took a detour to a nice, twisty paved road for some fun riding.  This was the first time that the group started to split up a bit where the faster riders took off on their own.  I’ve been struggling with how to write about this and finally decided that I’m going with my perspective and not speculate on what others were thinking.  I don’t want to be unfair to them and I honestly don’t know what other people thought about this day.

For me, this was an uncomfortable 50+ miles of mostly being alone in Alaska on a road I am not at all familiar with.  I overheard one rider say to another that the two of them had been doing 100 mph for a while on that road; I believe the speed limit was 65, but I know it was not more than 75.  I know I was doing in the 70-80 mph range and when I felt unsafe, I slowed myself down to where I felt more in control.  I have always been taught that everyone needs to “ride their own ride” and I reminded myself of that many times that day.  It reinforced, again, that I’m done with group riding.  If I’m going to be alone, then I’m going to be alone.

After a gas stop and the group coming back together we headed down the last road that would take us to Chena Hot Springs for the evening.  This road, we’d been warned, had damage and places where the road would dip and heave due to road construction and freezing temperatures that cause the asphalt to buckle.  Once we were on that road, where there were no turn offs to get lost on, everyone was able to take off on their own if they wished.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why this bothered me and I have realized that I prefer group riding where we look out for one another and the group stays together.  I felt very alone in an unfamiliar place and I was not as comfortable with it as I’d like to think I would be.

Once we checked into our hotel and got unpacked a little it was time for dinner.  The resort was quite nice and I wish I had more energy left from the day; I would have liked to spend some time enjoying the hot springs.  As it was, I could barely keep my eyes open and this introvert was tired of people for the day.  I went back to my room after dinner and was asleep before 9 PM.  It turns out that extra sleep would come in handy because while I couldn’t have known it, the next day was going to be long and eventful.

 

Alaska – Day 4

Talkeetna to Fairbanks – 270 miles

Have I ever mentioned that I dislike riding in the rain?  Well, this may have been the day that cured me of that.  Actually, I used to find riding in the rain a bit scary.  Over the course of this summer, and especially this trip, I have had little choice but to push through the fear and keep moving forward.  Maybe that’s been the best thing for me.

As we left Talkeetna the skies were cloudy and before we were out of the city, it was raining.  I keep a riding journal about my trips and on this day I said “I was most surprised when it wasn’t raining.”  That’s the best description I can give you!  We rode past Denali which I was so excited to see but we were surrounded by fog.

I didn’t take a single photo on this day because it was just rain and fog all day and I decided it just wasn’t worth it.  We spent a little time at the Denali National Park visitor’s center and had lunch plus learned a bit about the history.  I also hit up their sticker section so I can add another one to my bike.  I have decided my rule on bike stickers is that I have to have ridden in that place, whether on a rental or with my Sassy.  I have friends who are more strict and will only place stickers where they have been with their bikes, but I decided this works for me.  What’s your take on this or does it even matter to you?  I’m always curious to hear what other folks have decided!

Our tour guide told us that this first part of the trip was the most boring.  I tend to agree with that now that I have finished the trip.  I promise you that the posts become much more interesting from here on it.  I would even go so far as to say that there is something coming you won’t expect.  I certainly didn’t . . . until next time, thanks for reading!