Which One Are You?
It was the weekend of my airman leadership school graduation, and I was ready to celebrate my accomplishment on some windy turns up in the New Mexico mountains. I got in touch with a friend, and invited her to grab her bike and enjoy the ride with me--her experience unknown to me.
On the day of the ride, I inspected my bike thoroughly--as I always do, but this time was even more important since it was the first long ride of the year. After finding no flaws, I put on my standard riding gear: jeans, my leather motorcycle jacket, a pair of Chuck Taylor high-tops, leather riding gloves and my Department of Transportation-approved motorcycle helmet.
After riding to our meetup spot, my initial jitters of riding for the first time in a while slowly numbed down, yet I could still feel them. My friend and I talked about our game plan and determined which roads we were going to ride and who was going to lead. My mentality was to let her lead, since this was her first ride in over a year, and I didn't know how much more of an experienced rider she was.
We began our ride into the mountains at a leisurely but decent pace. There were a few points where she would get a little ahead of me and I'd catch up, but nothing crazy. From the main highway, we turned onto a smaller highway--our designated "crazy turns" road that we wanted to ride. As we turned onto the road, my friend changed performance levels as she took off well ahead of me. This was the moment I realized I was going to have to ride outside my normal experience level in order to keep up with her.
Foolishly, I took off and attempted to keep up with her. I started taking turns more and more aggressively as my nerves increased more and more, knowing how dangerous this was. In turns with a speed limit of 15, I was going 40. In 25 mph turns, I was going 55. At any point, I should have realized the risks I was taking to keep up with a much more experienced rider and slowed down to a pace better suited for me. Eventually, I turned a corner and immediately saw the sign for the next turn at 15 mph--I was going 60.
It was at that moment that I realized I was not going to make it through the turn without dropping my bike. I slowed down as much as I could without locking up my tires in order to decrease my speed as much as possible before wrecking it. After getting down to 50 mph, I turned into the turn and managed to get about halfway around the corner when I went over the outside line, and my tires lost traction on the gravel. My bike low-sided, which meant it fell into the direction I was turning, and before I knew it, I hit the pavement, then boulders, then rocks, then came to a stop 30 feet off the road in a ravine.
After laying there for a minute, I realized I had not endured any life-threatening injuries. I managed to move around a little bit to get myself off the rock I was laying on, and thankfully, a minute or two later, my riding partner showed up and called 911.
Luckily, I had worn all my gear because my gloves were shredded down completely--but my hands were untouched. My helmet had a gigantic crack in it where my head smashed into a boulder, but I did not feel any sort of head injury. The only thing to come out of this catastrophic crash was some serious road rash to my knees, which required over a month of medical treatment.
I have taken the accident to heart, and share my experience with every motorcycle rider I meet. I emphasize the necessity of always riding with a partner or at least telling someone when and where you're going to ride. I tell them how I wouldn't be here today had it not been for all the gear I had worn. I tell riders no matter how short the ride, to always wear all their gear, all the time. A life lesson was instilled in me that day that I share wisely with those around me. Without doing all the things we were taught in safety courses, I wouldn't be here today.
BY STAFF SGT. ZACHARY B. SNIDER