Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Soft Shell vs. Hard Shell

The other day I promised to tell this story (or set of stories) , so here goes

Soft Shell:

When I was young and living in LA, somehow I gravitated to motorcycles. Both my Mom and Grandmother supported this, provided I always wear a helmet. I agreed.

Though I had previously been unconcious numorous times for non-motorcycle reasons, I thought that I was unbreakable. Chalk that up to testosterone and youth, I guess.

One fine warm day (Feb 28, 1984) I headed off to Long Beach City College. I had a bunch on my mind, the most pressing involved how to drop a bunch of classes I wasn't doing well in (I didn't always show up). The sun beating down felt great, so I bungied my helmet along with the nearly unused textbooks on the rear seat of my 900F Honda and took off toward Los Coyotes diagonal via Ximeno Ave (not that the street names matter). I loved that growling song that my aftermarket exhaust made; man that was loud. I saw myself as an incarnation of Joe Bitchin, and with the helmet off I was not anonymous. Everyone could see that it was really Wade that was so cool. What an idiot I was.

I made it two blocks. Going about 40 miles per hour up the street, I had nothing on my head but lots on my mind. I saw an oncoming silver 1981 Mazda Rx7 start to turn left into a driveway for the supermarket parking lot. HEY! The car was turning right into my path. Well, that woke me up in an instant.

I dropped down a gear and rolled on the throttle as fast as I could. The road was starting to curve to the left just a tad there; I remember pushing harder on the inside handlebar to maintain the bikes turn as the speed rapidly increased. That second passed like an hour. I almost made it.

As the front bumper struck the back of the rear wheel (behind the swingarm), I was suddenly just along for the ride. I don't remember much after the initial instant of shaken-ragdoll impact. I didn't see the chain rip off my shoe or the kickstand go through the center of my left foot. I didn't see the bike cartwheel into the wall. I didn't hear the police or the fire department arrive. I was in and out for a while. What I do remember feels like my memories of being a toddler; short, disconnected and vague. It was like I was a bystander as well as the guy laying there.

I remember paramedics discussing whether life flight was a necessity. In the end they took me to the hospital that was but a mile away.

I remember at some point, someone uttered, "I don't know if he is going to make it."

I remember that my eyes didn't work.

I remember pain in my head so severe that it just felt frozen.

I remember shaking.

I was lucky to have lived. I spent a week in the hospital, much of it in the ICU. The most notable long term effects from that accident are marked hearing loss in my left ear, visible gravel in my left ear, and a skull shape that was dramatically and instantly changed. I can still feel the indentation where the curb left its mark. The bony prominance above my right eye (my brow) protrudes more than it did the day before. I have TMJ (Jaw) pain, I get migraines, and there are parts of my tongue and face that I can't feel anymore.

Within 3 months, I had bought another bike. I guess I felt a little Nitsche about the whole thing. Scars I could live with, but I wasn't dead even though it seemed I should be. I felt like Superman. As a result of the accident, however, I did become religious about wearing the proper gear and wearing the gear properly.

Hard Shell:

I got into canyon riding. I read all the books (especially by Keith Code) about how to make bikes go fast. Whenever I got a chance I would head down the freeway to San Juan Capistrano and ride to Elsinore and back. Without regard to the speed limit, I would better my times regularly. I thought I looked cool hanging off the inside of the bike in sharp fast turns. I actually touched my knee to the ground once, though I hadn't fallen off.

On October 21st of 1984 at about noon, I had just finished one such trek. My mind and heart were still racing when I got back to the I-5 freeway, so I took a few minutes to mellow out in a gas station parking lot.

Still wearing a good helmet, leather riding jacket, gloves, boots and heavy jeans, I headed for home. I don't know if I turned my brain off, but it was certainly not running as effectively as moments before. I was going to go sedately home. I didn't expect anything to happen.

As I accelerated to 65 down the onramp from highway 74 onto NB I-5, I got the surprise of my life. It was as if a truck had beamed in (Star Trek style) right in front of me. A truck had run out of gas and had tried to get out of traffic before stopping. It crossed the solid lines heading for the shoulder. It then crossed me.

This time, I tried the brakes. There was an 18 foot skidmark (according to CHP) and then under I went. What a strange experience. Ragdoll again, but some unusual bumps and thumps.
Before getting spit out the other side, the bike had taken out the trucks driveshaft and somehow carved a deep gash in my groin. The bike was almost torn in half.

When I got to the hospital, some of the thumps and bumps were on my mind. I couldn't figure out what those feelings were. I had the nurse pass me my helmet. Upon inspection, there was a patch of skidmark on the lower left back of my Full Faced Arai helmet. HOLY CRAP! Suddenly the joggling made sense, and I started to cry (see, I'm not so cool after all). The truck had tried to run over my head long enough to leave a skid mark. I don't know which offered more protection in this case, the hard shell or the helmet's tendency to shoot out like a watermelon seed when top pressure was applied. I suspect it was some of both, but the latter explains why my body was spinning when I came out the far side.


Maybe I'm not invincible? True. More importantly, I have lived through serious motorcyle accidents from two perspectives; without a helmet and with a full faced helmet.

When people choose to ride bikes, they also choose to accept possible negative consequences from crashing. I rode for ten more years after that, and always chose the hard shell.
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At Wed Jan 11, 04:55:00 AM, Blogger Gavriel said...

Hey, I have gravel from the same street in my own body. In my case, it's in my knee. And I was just walking across the street, not drag racing. But its the same thing. Someday, in the distant future, archeologists will stumble across two ancient graves separated by thousands of miles, and will discover little bits of gravel inside that test to have come from the very same road. And they will scratch their heads in puzzlement, if their helmets leave enough room for their fingers.

At Wed Jan 11, 04:57:00 AM, Blogger Gavriel said...

Tags look better by the way. One more improvement for you:

When you have a two word tag, you need the + in place of the space in the url/address part, but the part inside the tag can have the space, so it looks nice in presentation.

And in case I didn't mention it in my previous, too-clever comment, that was a very nice piece of writing.


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