This post is about my friend John and the accident he was part of when his BMW motorcycle hit the side of a garbage truck one morning on the way to work. This happened a long time ago now --- in October of 2007. The circumstances of the crash don’t matter.
Physically the accident was a tragedy. John suffered severe trauma to his right leg as a result of the collision and after 14 months of surgical and medical combat a life threatening infection led to an amputation. He's now moving towards acquiring his first prosthetic leg.
A simple question comes to me from time to time as I think about John and his journey. He has remained pretty optimistic most of the time and seems to plan ahead to new adventures. It would be easy to take another path in this situation.
What would I do if I was involved in an accident?
A recent ride home from work. I’m traveling 50 mph in the right-hand lane of a four-lane road. A silver Dodge minivan is slowly passing me on the left. Ahead and to my right at a stop sign is an SUV waiting for a chance to cross both lanes and turn left to head back into town. My eyes scan the road ahead, the van to my left, the front wheels of the SUV. My head is calculating options. The SUV driver is watching the approaching traffic waiting for the precise moment to move their foot from the brake to the accelerator. I can see their face, their eyes. We are all involved in a complex dance of behavior, choices and decisions. Options fade quickly as we reach the point of no return. The moment when there are no options should anyone fail to do their part. It’s a moments like these that I think about my friend John.
I don’t think about motorcycle or scooter accidents a lot. I know they can happen and I know that risk can be managed to a great extent. Responsibility falls squarely on my shoulders in taking and managing them.
Back to my question. What would I do if I were in a bad accident? I’ve talked to others who have given up riding after a near miss let alone a collision. Would I do that? There really is no way to tell for sure what I would do but I have to say John’s experience has been instructional in a way I would not have thought back when it first began.
John Rides Again
John was not a recreational rider. Riding was part of his life and who he is. He wrestled with the question himself and yesterday boarded a plane for Florida to pick up a motorcycle and ride it back to Pennsylvania. That’s quite a ride for the first ride after an accident, minus one leg, and no prosthetic leg yet. I talked with John last week and he told me that all the amputee support groups and counselors advise he continue on with his life like nothing happened.
His decision did not sit well with everyone. His minister said in a letter that John shared that his decision to ride again amounted to nothing more than a big “fuck you” to everyone who cared about him through these past months. I asked John what his wife thought about a new motorcycle (she is an MSF instructor) and he told me that she said he would be one with the bike by the time he got home. John took that as an affirmative response.
In case you are wondering what motorcycle he is going to get and how he is going to manage it sans right leg it is a 1983 BMW R100 RS with a sidecar. A big ugly side car. But as John said to me one big enough to hold his wheelchair.
He had a friend make him something that will allow him to operate the foot brake with what's left of his leg. Looks like something a BMW rider would think of.
On Tuesday morning he is planning to begin his trip north with trips to Deals Gap and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I would not be surprised if he changes his plans and makes the first ride another Iron Butt Ride. He’s done two now I think. Those BMW riders are, what’s the word, CRAZY, yeah, that’s it.
But again, the question: Would I ride again after a serious accident? I would like to think I would. I think riding occupies a place in my life that is important in a manner that probably only other riders might understand. I don’t dwell on this but I have been thinking of it lately. I don’t believe that accidents are inevitable or even likely. I believe a lot of risk can be managed to make riding safer.
Anyways, I wanted to share what I thought was a courageous decision on John’s part amidst a bad situation. But he seems to have found his rhythm again.
Join me in wishing him good luck and safe riding.