Ten years ago I rolled a fifteen passenger van full of Forensic students backwards down a small canyon outside of Casper, Wyoming. We were on our way to a regional tournament and in the thirteenth hour of driving came over a ridge to the leeward side of Casper Valley into a whiteout snow storm. The road was ice and I dared not touch the brakes, took it out of overdrive instead, but that was enough to break the rear end loose, swing us into oncoming traffic, into a curb that flipped the van onto its top, corkscrewing our way down the hill backwards. It all happened in such slow motion that everyone was upright and buckled in and braced for impact.
We had just eaten at the world’s worst JB’s in Rawlins. The van came to a rest on its driver’s side and suspended above me by her seat belt riding shotgun was Rachel. In that awesome quiet that follows any chaos of a motor vehicle accident she said, “We can’t be dead. That couldn’t have been our last meal.”
And she was right. Everyone was okay save for one student who complained of neck pain and myself, banged up and bleeding a bit when my window blew out, and I had a bit of neck pain as well.
The neck pain turned to something a bit more severe. I went through physical therapy and later everything from chiropractic to acupuncture, with little faith in either. By 2003 it was debilitating, effecting my left arm. Three epidurals, though and a significant shift in making better decisions, and the pain abated.
It was about that same time I bought a machine I had lusted after since I first saw one five years previous, a bullet bike, 1100 cc’s and more horse power and torque than any constraint of sanity should allow, a Honda CBR XX 1100 Blackbird. It was on this bike that I developed one of the few vices I’d admit to, the vice of speed.
It was also on this bike that I developed a wanderlust, of love of the road and the adventures it lead to. Some of which you can see here. Every mile spent in the seat of this incredible machine wove life into my being. Any time I needed zen, all I had to do was twist the throttle and find it at 145 miles per hour. You think of only one thing at speed, nothing else matters.
I had the goal to put a knee down on the Blackbird after I attended a sportbike course or two at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. To remind of this daily I have tattooed on the curve of my throttle hand from the first knuckle of my index finger to the first joint of my thumb, “carpe angulara,” seize the curve. It means much more to me than hitting apexes, but the inherent challenge of doing so is certainly akin to seizing learning curves or dealing with curve balls.
In addition to the Blackbird I bought a Honda Valkyrie Interstate, a ride to give us a touring riding position, much more comfortable for two, for long tours we’d planned for the rest of the vacant days we could ride. It was a beautiful machine, as much an enigma to motorcycles as the Blackbird, both rare and incredibly powerful.
Our first journey on the Valkyrie was an eight hundred mile loop through Utah taking us up and down the Grand Staircase. The last day of the ride the rear tire let go at 60 miles per hour, and while we managed to keep that fully loaded, two-up, heavy ride upright, the proximity of the bike to the edge of a shear drop off was enough to get me to face the risks I was taking. I’ve written about this before, a poem that thumbs my nose to the reaper. I could feel the scythe this time, though, closer than ever before, and that voice of reasoning started the argument with that other voice of passion in my head, that perhaps I should be seizing curves of a less risky nature.
So, I sold the Valkyrie, reasoning winning out, though the passion still grasped the Blackbird. I bought in its stead a boat, pretty innocuous, that, something recreational the whole family could use and enjoy. On its inaugural voyage on Lake Powell over last Labor Day weekend I managed to destroy the outdrive, stranding it and my family at Dangling Rope. I hitched a ride back to Wahweap where I rented another boat to navigate back to and tow our disabled craft the next morning. It was late afternoon Sunday and strong winds had kicked up seven foot wakes, slamming my rented boat onto choppy water, pounding my neck as I stood to navigate for an hour and half. I made it back to Dangling Rope, and the pain I had suffered years ago had returned with a vengeance.
I put it off, thinking I had somehow hurt my arm by holding on too tight, giving no thought to my neck injury. The pain got so intense that I finally saw a doctor. An exam and an MRI later and I’ve been grounded. My spinal cord is inundated to a point if I have any further neck trauma I risk paralysis, Christopher Reeve paralysis. He had the same condition when he was thrown from his horse.
Guess I’d better avoid horseback riding. Even more to my chagrin, I have to avoid motorcycles. Makes me sad to even write that. I sold to the Blackbird to a trusted friend and rider, removing temptation from my garage, but leaving a freedom-shaped hole in my soul. If that sounds silly to you, you’ve probably never been on a motorcycle.
Thank goodness I still have Mary Ann. Carpe angulara.