Charlie Thompson | Colorado
Fourteen days into a 3-week motorcycling vacation, disaster struck. Or more correctly, I struck a deer. I’m going to share this story in the hope that others will learn from my experience.
My fiancée and I had enjoyed nine days on the road exploring the Maine Coast, Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton Island and the famous Cabot Trail. On July 6, 2014, Diane flew home from Bangor, Maine. I continued my ride back to Colorado on my 2001 Honda Gold Wing, pulling a Uni-Go trailer. To make the ride home more interesting I decided to cut across New England and avoid Interstates as much as possible. This photo shows where the deer collision occurred. On Monday July 7th, as I approached Rutland, Vermont a line of heavy rain storms moved in. I waited out the rain at a country store. At about 2:00 PM, I left Rutland, headed west on US-4. This road is a 2-lane limited access highway. For a brief moment I looked down at my speedometer and set the cruise control for the posted speed limit of 65 mph. As I looked up. WHAM! I hit the deer before I realized what had happened. All I saw was a deer head in my windshield. I hit the buck in the head and shoulder area. If I had seen him before the impact, perhaps I may have been able to swerve around him. That split second to check my speedo was all the time it took for the deer to leap from the vegetation, over the guard rail and into my path of travel. The impact caused the handlebars to be ripped from my hands and my body to be thrown forward and right. The bike veered left into the passing lane and fell onto its right side. At this point I was thinking to myself, “Let’s hope all this riding gear works.” My bike and I slid on the pavement for a while and then down the embankment. When I came to a stop, I was lying on my back and my bike was a little farther down the hill. First thing that entered my mind was, “am I on the road and am I going to get run over?” My helmet shield and glasses were fogged up but I could make out green stuff all around me. (“Whew, I’m off the road!”) I pulled my helmet and gloves off and started to survey my body parts. A guy, following in a car behind me, had stopped and ran down the hill yelling to me, “Oh my God! Are you okay? That was horrible! I thought you would be dead!” By then the pain in my right leg was becoming very noticeable. I looked down at my lower leg and discovered it was bent about 45 degrees to the right and twisted 90 degrees. In an attempt to lighten the moment I asked, “Do ya think it’s broken?” The guy said, “It’s broken!” Fortunately, we did not see any blood, so at least it wasn’t a compound fracture. Soon the state police and an ambulance arrived. It was a short ride back to the hospital.
I was in heavy pain. The EMTs started me on morphine at the crash site. It was quite a challenge for them to get me on a back board, up the wet slippery hill and into the ambulance.
At the hospital I was CAT scanned and x-rayed. No internal injuries! I had a cut knee, a broken rib and a few bruises. (I later learned that I had torn the rotator cuff in my right shoulder as well.) Surgery, to straighten my leg, was scheduled for the next day.
Here is something to think about for you solo travelers. When you crash, far from home, you are all alone. This was a very scary incident for me. I called my fiancée and she got on a plane that afternoon and was at my bedside about 02:30 AM the following morning. Diane is amazing! And I thank God she was not on the bike when I crashed.
The Rutland Hospital orthopedic surgeon was excellent and I now have a titanium rod in my leg. I laid in the hospital for three more days waiting for the pain and swelling to go down. It didn’t. Dilaudid is a very effective pain medication, but it gave me nightmares and crazy sweats. (I only used the Dilaudid till I got home to Colorado, as I did not like the side effects.)
I was discharged from the hospital on July 11th and Diane loaded me into the back seat of a small SUV to get me to Connecticut where we returned her rental car. OMG that was a PAINFUL ride! Now we had to make a decision. Fly home or rent an SUV and drive? I could not use a walker for more than 30’ without bouts of perspiration, throbbing pain and swelling recurring in my right leg. My shoulder and rib injuries ruled out crutches. There was no way I could get on a plane, as a wheelchair was too wide for an airplane aisle. Nor could I sit for 4-5 hours in an airplane seat.
We rested two more days in a hotel and decided to drive, the rationale being that I could keep my leg elevated and we could take our time as needed. The 2,000-mile drive home took us four days. My hero, Diane, did it all.
To add insult to injury, my crash had pitched me into a patch of poison sumac, which developed into a miserable rash. We had to make a trip to an urgent care center and get a prescription to fight the rash.
Lesson 1) Protective riding gear saves skin and lives. I was wearing an Arai helmet, mesh armored gloves, Olympia GT Air jacket, Air Glide pants over shorts, and heavy leather hunting boots. The helmet took a good hit to the chin-bar and temple area. No helmet = dead Charlie. Open face helmet = ugly looking Charlie. I continue to be a fan of full-face helmets.
Lesson 2) When you crash a long way from home, it’s very expensive and time consuming to return home. Your bike insurance does not cover it. Next riding season I will be investing in “MedjetAssist” insurance. Progressive Insurance totaled my bike, reimbursed me for my gear and let me keep the the trailer. They were very fair.
Lesson 3) Skill may not save you. I am a very experienced and skilled rider. I also teach motorcycle safety classes. I don’t think there was anything I could have done to avoid the crash. It happened too suddenly. If I had seen him sooner, maybe… I will never know.
Lesson 4) If you ride a lot (20,000 miles per year in my case), you greatly increase your chances of an animal collision. I have had several close calls in the last few years and sometimes I think in the back of my mind, “It’s only a matter of time.”
Lesson 5) Have disability insurance. I will miss at least 12 weeks of work. Thankfully I have excellent medical and disability insurance through my employer. Lastly, this stupid deer didn’t play by the rules! Deer are only supposed to ambush you at dawn or dusk. Consensus is that the critters were stirred up by the line of storms passing through the area that day. Hey, stupid deer, its 2:00 PM, stay off the road! (Damn ‘giant’ forest rats!)
Editor’s note: Here in Las Vegas we have deer up at Mount Charleston National Park. I have passed by many at night. They seem to respond to noise in the normal human range, and bright lights. That area by the upper lodge is where they came by the road. It is a slow speed area which I reduce even more at night and run all my lights. You see them a few feet off the road waiting. Animals are unpredictable, moving the deer crossing sign does not make them move to another location like a crosswalk. Charlie did everything right, and most of all due to his armor and support system he survived to ride again. ATGATT.