CHESTER, VT – If you’ve ever wondered how you made it to adulthood without being squashed like a bug, if you ever saw your life flash in front of you, if you ever had a scare so intense that you couldn’t stop your hands from shaking with the adrenaline afterwards, then you’ll relate to these two-wheeled misadventures from the past.
Yes, it is a wonder that I’ve made it this far, and it may be the death of me yet, but somehow motorcycling is in my blood, and after 48 seasons I’m not likely to completely give it up despite many close calls.
Remember the first time you went down? I’ll never forget it. I was on a twisty dirt road called the Oxbow that runs around the base of Kent’s Ledge on the south side of South Royalton, VT. The road connects South Royalton with East Barnard. Back in 1970, it wasn’t traveled all that much. I was a freshly-minted rider on a two-stroke Bridgestone pushing a good deal harder than I should have. With virtually no warning the motorcycle came out from under me. Thank heavens for instinct. My hands went out to break the fall and, fortunately, I was wearing heavy leather lumber-jack style gloves. My hands hit and I slid along the dirt but my body really slammed the hard-packed surface with intensity, knocking the wind out of me. I lay there in the silence of that beautiful forested road trying to catch my breath, grateful for the gloves and completely confused about what happened. I still can’t recreate enough of that accident to understand what really occurred. That’s one of the things about having any kind of a mishap on a motorcycle. The mind wants to know what caused it so you can damned well do your best not to let it happen again.
Same road, less than a mile from that first mishap the track breaks into bright sunshine as you cross an overpass above I-89. Just as I hit the bridge I felt something hit my chest, realizing that it was some kind of bug I backed off the throttle. That’s when I felt the stinging all over my chest. It took everything I had to ride the bike to a stop without going down. Once off the motorcycle, I slapped the offending bee until the stinging ceased. I was glad that I held onto the handlebars until stopped and actually had the presence of mind to put the kickstand down. Yes, it could have been a good deal more than five bee stings on the chest.
Different motorcycle some 20 years later, I was on Route 12 headed north between Woodstock and Barnard, VT past a couple of big dairy farms when a bee slipped between the chin bar and clear visor of my full-face Bell helmet, hitting my cheek and falling down onto the elastic terry-cloth neck gaiter. I reached up and stretched the gaiter open and the bee fell down inside my shirt, stinging my chest as I rode the bike to a stop in the breakdown lane. It was pretty much a repeat of the earlier incident.
However, one of the scarier bug hits was a massive Virginian June bug that slid along the slipstream above my BMW’s windshield and smacked my forehead with the force of a small rock at speed, rocking me back and nearly taking me off the bike at well over 60 miles per hour. The hit certainly muddled my thinking, but I was able to shake it off and continue along in the middle of our tight little pack.
Later on the same trip, on the famed Blue Ridge Parkway with its amazing twists and turns, I had the closest call of my life and I remember the mistakes I made that day like it happened last week. I was following Bob Young who was riding a K-Bike with a sidecar. We were clearly riding at our personal ten tenths when we overcooked it a little going into a right-hander. I thought we had plenty of room to correct our trajectory when a massive motorhome changed all the variables. To Bob’s everlasting credit he braked in a straight line until he nearly impacted the fiberglass flank of that rolling ranch house and then hauled the bike with amazing force back across the lane to safety. All I did was mimic his maneuver. We stopped at a scenic pull-off a couple of minutes later and we were both still shaking. The adrenaline hit was probably the most intense hormonal reactions I’d ever experienced.
I could go on because the more you ride the more close calls you’ve experienced. Hearing fender benders all around me in Memphis rush hour traffic, wind gusts that nearly took me off a bridge in Nova Scotia, and more. I managed to control my bodily functions in those situations but I honestly don’t know how on a couple of them.