Story by Juan Dho
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published the June 2021 edition of the MSTA Florida Chapter newsletter, The Florida Gator Tale. The story has been edited to match the MSTA website’s style.
After recently describing a couple of my bike-related get-offs to a friend, their response was, “You must be a cat! You know … nine lives.” And that got me thinking — how many close calls have I had over the years?
Let’s see … .
#1. My first close call was in the early 1970s. I wheelied a dirt bike for the first time — straight into a pine tree! Talk about an idiotic, rookie mistake! The bars came right up to my chest, and I was just elated. Even when I saw the tree, I didn’t want to back off. What I wanted to do is wheelie around it, but I didn’t know how. And then, how do you hit the brake pedal when the bike is standing up vertically?
Fortunately, the little engine ran out of rpms in a low gear, ending the wheelie just before impact. That gave me a solid springboard from which to leap hard to the right. Even still, my left arm struck the tree sending me into a spread-eagle, horizontal spin. Boy was that arm sore for a few days.
#2. The second incident was in early 1974. I was on the same Yamaha 125 Enduro, now with new forks. While in an unhurried sweeper in the woods, I was struck head-on by another, larger motorcycle approaching in my tire track. The vegetation along the trail entirely masked our approaches, and our left-side engine cases collided!
This one knocked me out and shattered my left humerus, which took three operations and a year to mend. I swore off motorcycling for 12 years. For a long time after that, just the thought of riding made my knees shake. I vowed that if I ever got hit again, I would be on the larger bike.
#3. I was riding south on a divided four-lane street one afternoon in the late 1990s, doing the 45-mph speed limit in the left lane. I had pulled even with a slower car when another car pulled out of a side street from the right intending to cross the wide median and turn north. But instead of pulling into the median, she stopped right in front of me to wait on northbound traffic to clear. Lordy!
I laid hard on my brakes and was repeatedly screaming at her to get out of the way. My Kawasaki Vulcan Classic’s tires were all but smoking but not locked up. Just as I got it stopped about a foot shy of her rear quarter panel, she pulled into the median. I was exhaling a sigh of relief when I heard tires squealing from behind me. The impact knocked the bike and me well forward. Fortunately, I instinctively clung hard to the bars to keep from being flung back into the car.
#4. One September in the late 2000s, I joined a small group of riders at a southeast STAR rally in Dillard, Ga., for a back roads romp. It was in the afternoon and our route had taken us into South Carolina. I was riding No. 2 in the stagger. We had turned onto a recently re-tarred two-lane with warning signs about loose stones.
We continued the ride at a moderate pace through several curves — left and right — with no issues. Then, on an easy right-hander, my front tire suddenly washed out and down I went! A car coming the other way avoided me and the bike as we slid across the road towards it. I obviously didn’t detect the loose stones. When I got home, an eye exam was followed by cataract surgeries.
#5. During fall 2013, I rode my new Triumph Trophy SE on a cross-country trip to the far northwest. After a hotel stop at Baker City, Oregon, I headed east on Oregon Highway 86 toward Oxbow Dam. I was looking forward to a jet boat ride up the Snake River into Hells Canyon, which separates Oregon and Idaho.
The highway followed the edge of the Powder River. The pavement was wide and in great shape with gravel berms maybe 12 feet wide. Tall, brown hills rose up on either side of the river valley with no vegetation on them — just brown soil or rock. It was eerily strange.
About a half hour into the ride, I was riding a long left-hand sweeper doing a relaxed 55 mph and was just astonished that I could see the left-hander transition into a right-hander way out in the distance. And then way out ahead of me (maybe a mile) at about 2 o’clock, I could even see the exit of that gentle sweeper as the road bent back to the left! The visuals were stunning and truly epic in scale. I had never seen anything like that before. It was total sensual overload.
And then suddenly, I felt the front tire get onto a different surface. Refocusing, I was into the berm and angling toward the drop-off to the river below! No time or traction to stop or make a normal turn. So, I gassed it to, hopefully, get the rear end to come around enough to power away from the drop-off.
Although I have no recollection of going over the edge, I believe both tires went over in unison. Otherwise, I would have flown well out over the drop-off. I felt a sharp slap on my left chest, then I just sat on the edge of the seat (away from the steep bank), lightly applied the brakes and rode that sucker about 40 feet down a thick layer of loose stones to the berm’s bottom next to the river. In retrospect, I think the tires kicked out as I momentarily went airborne slamming my left side into the bank. The force was enough to break the clavicle and crack a few ribs – explaining the “slap”.
#6. One afternoon in 2014, I hopped on my Triumph Tiger 1050 and headed north into Volusia County, Florida. It was a hot and humid day and after an hour and a half, I was tired, and my mouth was dry. On U.S. Route 1 in New Smyrna, I got distracted by railway activity west of the road and when I realized that traffic around me was slowing, I looked forward only to see a cargo van stopped at a red light right in front of me. N-o-o!
I hit the brakes but was too close. My front tire hit the van’s bumper and I went into, what seemed like, an ultra-slow-motion roll. My butt very slowly rotated vertically so that my back hit flatly on the back of the van with a thud – butt up and head down. From there, I bounced away from the truck and somehow landed on my butt in the middle of the street.
I’ve often wondered how it was possible for time to seemingly slow down like that, and how I managed to rotate to absolutely the best possible orientation to mitigate the impact – as if an external force was guiding me. It defies explanation.
#7. The latest incident occurred a few years ago during a spring rally in Helen, Ga. Some friends and I left the little hamlet of Suches and headed east on Georgia Highway 180. It was a great ride and the road got twistier as we got closer to the famed U.S. Route 129. I was leading on my BMW GS and humming along at a decent clip. We came around a blind right-hand curve leading quickly to an abrupt left turn onto a narrow bridge, which crossed a small stream.
I was startled to see a car on the bridge, and it looked as if we would all get to that abrupt turn at the same time. I kept expecting the car to slow but it didn’t and, unfortunately, neither did I. It forced a delayed turn-in and, therefore, a much sharper turn than originally intended. And that put me scarily close to the edge of the road where I was tracking through a buildup of loose dirt and debris right next to a very threatening guardrail.
It was a mortal battle to maintain control and stay off that darn railing. When I finally got stabilized enough to steer away from it, the back end broke loose. I braked but came slowly around putting me and the bike’s left side on the road. Hitting the railing — or car — would not have been good.
There have been other incidents, but none even approaching the life-threatening potential of these. So, if it’s true about cats having nine lives, well then, there just might be a couple more left in this old tomcat. Not that I believe in myths, mind you.
I hope readers will profit from these accounts by considering what was done right, what could have been done better and what shouldn’t have even been attempted — and then apply that knowledge to your own riding.
Please … just be safe out there!
Author’s Note: The only insurance claim that I ever submitted for the above was for the OR wreck. Still, the intent of the pen name is to stay off insurance company radars.