Questions To Ask

Recently this question came up in a group of riding friends and I thought I’d share it with you all.  My main goal here has been information sharing and I think this certainly fits.  We talked about questions you would ask before signing up on a motorcycle tour or joining a new riding group.

We all bring our past experiences to any group situation and with that comes our assumptions and expectations.  Assumptions about how a group will ride (or not ride) and interact.  But everyone brings their own assumptions and expectations to the situation.  What are the chances they all mesh?  Highly unlikely I’d guess!

Ask about riding order – is there one?  Does it change?  Is there a designated sweep?  Is that always the same person?  What about safety – do people ride side by side or staggered or something else?  Is it acceptable to pass another rider? If so, under what circumstances? Does each rider keep the one behind them in view?  What about if there is a mechanical breakdown or an accident?  Does the whole group stay together until it’s resolved or is the affected rider on their own to sort it out?  Or something else, such as the group will wait an hour, or until help arrives?  If it turns out that this group isn’t for you, are you comfortable riding the rest of the trip (or day) on your own?  Also, what is the protocol if you do decide to ride with a certain group and then choose to head off on your own?  Is there a group leader to notify?  If not, I would think seriously about this group because how will they know if you left or if you got into trouble!

Asking these questions ahead of time and listening carefully to the answers should give you a good understanding of the group you’re considering.  If you hear something that makes you uncomfortable, ask more questions or think carefully about proceeding.  Each group has it’s own way of being together and not all will be a fit for every rider!  I believe strongly in ride your own ride, but I also like to know what I can (or cannot) expect from the rest of the group for before I head out with them.

Most of all, be safe & keep the shiny side up!

A Year of Contrasts

I had been thinking about my year end post and what I wanted to write when I took a break and headed to Pinterest for a little mindless looking around.  I was surprised to find a “pin” that perfectly summed up my thoughts.  It says: “2019 – a weird year because I was somehow living my best life and my worst life at the same time”.  I don’t know who wrote this but I wish it was me, because it is the perfect way to describe my 2019.

Sometimes the contrasts seemed to collide head on.  I had a 3rd and final job interview scheduled and had to delay because I caught the flu!  When I later landed that job, I took a few days off in between and we had a “bomb cyclone” snow storm that stranded me at home for a few days.  Probably the biggest one of all – I managed to book my dream motorcycling trip to Alaska and then had an accident that could have take my life . . . two days before my birthday.

I confess to waking up in pain some mornings and wondering why this is necessary.  Why am I still here if all I am going to experience is pain, day in and day out?  Because there are also days like this, when the pain is gone, the sun is shining and the skies are an unbelievable shade of blue.  Days when I feel like I can accomplish anything! Because there are more lessons to learn, to teach and to share.  More adventures to have and to learn from.  My life has value.  And meaning.  It took me several weeks (months?) after the accident to realize that but the moment I did, and said it out loud, my perspective changed.  I still can’t say it without tearing up, but that simply reminds me that I have important work to do.

As in years past, I have kept my gratitude jar going.  Yes, some weeks it is difficult to find something to put in there.  But I do it anyway, even if the only thing I can come up with is I’m grateful to still be here.  Because as long as I’m here, there is always, always room for improvement.  Life can turn on a dime as the saying goes, but that also means it can improve in a blink too.  I am looking forward to the very end of December when I’ll pull all the papers out of my gratitude jar and spend some time reflecting on 2019.  I hope that  I can come to appreciate the contrasts and the depth they bring to my life.  

 

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!

Pillion’s Perspective

It has been over three years since I’ve been a pillion on anyone’s bike.  If I have my way, it will be at least three more before it ever happens again too!  I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t enjoy it and now I can confirm that is, indeed, true.

Last weekend I took my first ever ride on the back of my riding partner’s bike.  Before anyone gets the wrong idea, let me say it had nothing to with a lack of trust in him.   He is a great rider and someone I trust completely.  What was bothering me about it, though, took a while to sort out.

There is something about not being on my own bike, and in charge of my own fate that makes me uncomfortable now.  Or maybe I’m a bit of a control freak.  Ok, there, I said it!  Even though our journey was brief, it took everything in me to sit still and not complain the entire time.  That would have been terribly rude of me as he was doing me a favor in letting me ride on the back.

If I am completely honest, I also found it a bit boring.  I don’t have to worry about traffic and in fact, it could be distracting for someone else to be looking around to see if the way is clear.  Just sit there, don’t any make unexpected moves and behave!  Where is the fun in that?  Other than in hanging out with my friend of course, but I don’t need to ride pillion to accomplish that.

I know of a few folks who only ride pillion and say they really enjoy it.  I’m hoping that the next time I run into one of them, they can explain it to me, because clearly, I have some thing still to learn.

 

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!

New Helmet!

Isn’t it funny how life works out sometimes?  I’ve had my black Shoei helmet since I started riding again in 2014 or 2015, whatever it was.  I remember going to figure out which brand was going to work best for my head shape.  The color was not something I thought a lot about.  I remember before my accident saying that when I decided to replace my helmet, I was going with either a white one or high viz to give better visibility   to drivers.

Obviously I wasn’t expecting the accident and I would have gladly just paid for a replacement helmet and avoided all the other stuff.  But here I am nearly 4 weeks later and finally able to do some helmet shopping.  I tried earlier but as soon as I put one on my head,  my neck was screaming in pain!  At least I had the chance to discuss the different options with the sales people at my favorite gear store.  So much has changed since I bought my last helmet.

Yesterday I was finally feeling pretty good and very little pain.  I do feel a little stiffness but nothing compared to even a few days ago.  All the work I have been doing to recover is paying off.  So I made a trip to the gear store to see how my head and neck would feel about wearing a helmet now.  I also wanted some expert assistance in sizing to ensure I am in the appropriate size!

This time I went with a full face instead of a modular style helmet.  I liked the convenience of a modular, but after my accident, I am obsessed with safety!  The Shoei models seem to fit my head well, so I stayed with them again.  I also noticed that the ventilation system has changed and while I haven’t ridden in this one yet, I am hopeful it will be a little cooler.  Maybe the coolest feature I found is that since there is no built in sun visor, another option is needed in sunny Colorado.  The sales people showed me a visor with the transitions technology that adjusts to the light and darkens in bright sunlight.  We took it outside to test it and I was impressed!

This afternoon I am wearing my new helmet around the house for extended periods to make sure it doesn’t have any pressure points on my head.  So far, so good!  I’m excited to be making progress towards being back on my bike.  I had grand ideas of maybe taking the bike for a short ride over this holiday weekend, but my recovery so far has been a series one step forward and one or two steps back.  I woke up this morning feeling stiff so have decided I’m not going to rush things.  As hard as it is to wait, I want to be sure my body is ready for riding so I don’t set my recovery back by pushing too hard.

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Helmet selfie! 🙂

I used to balk at the price of helmets and all the safety gear, but since my accident, I gladly just hand over the money.  My life is worth way more than what this stuff costs and I’ll never complain again.  Instead, I am grateful to be here to replace my helmet and ride another day!

 

 

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.