This is a guest post by Miles-By-Motorcycle.com member Mike Leggieri. (a.k.a. mjlfjr)
Mike is a retired Army officer who now serves as a medical research director for the Department of Defense. Hes an avid motorcyclist who loves long-distance riding. Mike lives in Frederick, MD.
I wrote this article in January, 2013, six months after an accident abruptly ended my first cross country motorcycle trip. Writing it was my attempt to close out an unpleasant chapter in my motorcycling life and to share lessons learned that I hoped would be of some benefit to others who share my passion for motorcycling. I am grateful to Yermo and Miles-by-Motorcycle.com for allowing me to share this article with you.
Mike Leggieri, self-proclaimed Master of Motorcycling Madness and Mayhem
The Rest of the Story
I hate doing things, half-assed, as my father was fond of saying, so Ive decided to write a final entry to close out this episode of the great adventures of M4. So, here I am on a cold January day, six months after my long-planned, cross-country motorcycle trip came to an abrupt end on a picture perfect day in Utah, attempting to recollect the events leading up to and immediately following my crash. Ill warn you now that I view the process of writing this closing chapter as therapy and a very important part of my psychological recovery. Picture that great GEICO commercial where retired Marine drill instructor R. Lee Ermey plays a therapist listening to a patient whos describing his fear of the color yellow. Now, imagine that you are the gruff drill instructor and Im the meek patient. If you dont mind taking part in this therapy session, keep reading, but please dont throw a box of tissues at me or call me a crybaby!
The Day Before the End
Day 4: Limon, CO, to Grand Junction, CO (441 miles)
Before I get to the part about the crash on Day 5, Ill fill you in on what happened on Day 4. I actually wrote a detailed entry about Day 4 on the morning of Day 5, but I encountered a hotel internet SNAFU when I tried to upload it from my iPad to my blog, and I ended up losing the whole damned thing. Its too bad really, because it was by far my most brilliant entry to date, at least I think so, and no one will ever be able to prove otherwise. So, what follows is the abbreviated version of Day 4 based on my best recollection from my aging brain.
I left Limon around 8 am and headed southwest to Colorado Springs. The weather was perfect, with clear, blue skies and mild temperatures. However, aside from some beautiful fields of flowers along the way, the scenery between Limon and Colorado Springs wasnt really that great. I was even less impressed with Colorado Springs, mostly because of traffic congestion that reminded me too much of the traffic congestion back home. As soon as I cleared the congestion in Colorado Springs, things started looking up. Rt. 115, southwest of Colorado Springs, near Cheyenne Mountain and Fort Carson, was a perfect motorcycling road, with lots of sweeping turns and beautiful scenery. I worked my way southwest on Rt. 115, then west on Hwy 50, then north on Rt. 24 to I-70, near Vail. This entire segment was beautiful, and certainly worth doing again someday.
(Fields of Flowers near Colorado Springs)
At an elevation of 10,000 feet, near Vail, the temperature dropped and I encountered sleet. I told you earlier that Im a fair weather rider who doesnt like riding in the rain. As you can probably imagine, I hate riding through snow, sleet, or freezing rain even worse! Lucky for me, the sleet didnt last long and it turned out to be a non-issue, although I did experience a few white knuckles. The thing I remember most about the area near Vail, is that it reminded me of the worst tourist areas of the Pocono Mountains where I grew up: very unimpressive.
The most memorable part of this day was a stretch of I-70 northeast of Grand Junction that was truly spectacular. I dont generally use the word spectacular to describe an interstate highway, but this stretch of I-70 was just that. It was a beautiful highway with broad, sweeping curves winding along a river that carved its way through a canyon, and there wasnt much traffic to speak of. It was what Mary Poppins would describe as, practically perfect in every way.
The day ended in Grand Junction with a sense of child-like excitement and anticipation for what I would experience in the days ahead. I couldnt wait to ride my favorite roads in Utah, Nevada, and California. The best was yet to come!
(I-70 West of Vail, CO)
An Abrupt End
Day 5: Grand Junction, CO, to a Highway Construction Zone Somewhere West of Green River, UT (120 miles)
This is the part that gets difficult to write about, so get ready to throw that box of tissues at me. I left Grand Junction around 8 am and headed west on I-70. It was another perfect day, with clear blue skies, clean dry air, and mild temperatures. It was the kind of day that motorcyclists dream about. I felt a tremendous sense of excitement as I crossed the Utah border. Finally, I was riding my own, beloved VFR in a beautiful place where I had ridden rented sportbikes so many times before. I actually had the same sense of excitement that I used to feel when I rode my dirt bike on the endless trails in the Pocono Mountains of my childhood.
Like so much of Utah, the eastern part of the state has spectacular scenery. There were lots of places along I-70 to stop and enjoy the scenery, and I took advantage of every one of them. I wasnt making good time, but I was having the time of my life and enjoying every second of the journey, just as it should be with every motorcycle ride. I remember stopping briefly in Green River to fill my tank and buy some water and snacks for the days ride.
(Beautiful View from I-70 in Eastern Utah)
Just west of Green River, I encountered three, inactive highway construction zones. By inactive, I mean there were no flashing lights and no construction workers in sight. The speed limit on this segment of I-70 is 75, and the posted speed limits in the construction zones was 65. I was very careful to watch my speed, both in and around the construction zones, because I didnt want to ruin a perfectly good day of riding with a speeding ticket. I passed through the first two construction zones without incident. The lane closures and speed limits in both zones were clearly marked. I observed the speed limit and lane closure warning signs, and went on my merry way, enjoying the scenery and the ride.
(Beautiful View Just Minutes from the Crash Site)
I was traveling in the left lane when I approached the third construction zone. Like the first two, this one was also posted with two signs well in advance of the construction area. One sign read, Highway Construction Next 10 MilesLeft Lane Closed, and the other read, Speed Limit 65 in Construction Zone. As I approached this construction zone, I slowed to 65, checked my side mirrors to confirm that no one was behind me, briefly looked over my right shoulder to confirm that no one was approaching me in the right lane, and signaled my intention to move into the right lane. Unlike the previous two construction zones, I didnt encounter any orange barrels gradually channeling traffic from the closed lane into the open lane well in advance of the actual construction area. This proved to be a disaster in the making.
(The Last Photo of My VFR Minutes before the Crash)
As I made my move toward the right lane, I suddenly realized that I was already in the closed lane where the road surface had been removed in preparation for a new layer of asphalt. I slowed a bit more and continued to move toward the right lane. What I didnt realize was that the right lane was covered in new asphalt that was several inches higher than the left lane. I finally realized this a split second after my front tire made contact with the raised surface of the right lane.
In an instant, my bike and I were smashing down on the highway and sliding to a rest about fifty feet away, my bike sliding well ahead of me. My right shoulder took the brunt of the impact, followed by my head. I remember the darkness inside my helmet as I slid face first on the new asphalt. I also remember feelings of being stunned and of shear terror, all the while thinking to myself, this cant be happening to me! My first instinct after I stopped sliding was to jump to my feet and pretend this nasty little event never happened. I didnt bother to look behind me to see if there were any vehicles approaching, which would have been a much wiser first instinct. Fortunately, there were no vehicles anywhere in sight. In fact, the first vehicle to arrive on the scene didnt arrive until several minutes after the crash.
After jumping to my feet and confirming that I was still alive and in one piece, I began to run toward my bike, thinking that I would simply pick it up, hop on, and pretend nothing bad happened. It was much like the time I fell from a step ladder on my front porch, somersaulted over some bushes, and landed on my back in the front yard. My first instinct was to jump to my feet and look to see if any of my neighbors had just seen me play out an episode of the Three Stooges! Never mind that I could have broken my neck, its all about avoiding the embarrassment! As I approached my bike I began to see parts of it scattered along the highway, a mirror here, a foot peg there, and bits of fairing everywhere. Thats when I knew this trip was over. Its also when I first began to feel intense pain in my right shoulder and ribs, and a feeling of being unable to catch my breath.
The first vehicle to arrive on the scene a few minutes later was a road construction truck with two construction workers. The two construction workers led me off the highway, pushed my bike out of the way of oncoming traffic, and called an ambulance. They kept asking me if I was alright, and I kept repeating the mantra, I cant believe this just happened to me!
An ambulance and a Utah state trooper arrived about 20 minutes later. I remember the state trooper kneeling down next to me and reassuring me that I hadnt done anything wrong. He also told me that he was a fellow motorcycle rider and he understood how badly I felt about crashing. The EMTs loaded me into the ambulance and drove me to Castleview Hospital in Price, Utah, an hour and two shots of morphine away.
Protection, Protection, Protection!
(Me and My Riding Gear)
Clearly, my protective gear saved my life. I was wearing an Arai full-face helmet, ballistic nylon jacket and pants with armor, gloves, and sturdy leather riding boots which were all heavily damaged by the impact and slide. My injuries included a complex fracture of my right clavicle, four bruised ribs, a lung contusion, fractured left thumb, and a few abrasions on my right knee and right shoulder. Months later, when the physical therapist was reviewing my medical record with me, he showed me the radiologists notes describing my four, displaced rib fractures, not bruises. I felt vindicated after nearly four months of whining about the agonizing pain near my bruised ribs. Since the accident, Ive had surgery to repair my clavicle and physical therapy to regain the full range of motion and strength in my right arm and shoulder.
Ive never been inclined to ride a motorcycle without wearing appropriate protective gear, but if I had been, I wouldnt be now! Im convinced that without the protective gear I was wearing, I probably wouldnt have survived this easily survivable crash. Did I mention that my VFR was a total loss? Well, it was, but I lived to tell about it!
(My Repaired Right Clavicle)
So, what I have I learned from this ordeal? First, I learned that there may be some truth in the old biker adage that I hate so much: Its not if youre going down, its when youre going down. By the way, I still hate this adage.
(Amtrak Station in Helper, Utah)
I also learned that for the most part, this world is filled with truly good, caring, and decent people. I am forever grateful to everyone I encountered after this accident, including the road construction workers, state trooper, and EMTs who aided me at the scene, the physicians, nurses, and technicians at Castleview Hospital who cared for me in the hours and days after the accident, the extraordinarily kind Director of Emergency Services at Castleview who drove me in his personal vehicle to the Amtrak station in Helper, UT, for my train ride to Salt Lake City and flight back to Maryland, the orthopedic surgeon in Frederick, MD, who repaired my clavicle and prescribed some really great narcotics, and the physical therapy staff of the Barquist Army Health Clinic at Fort Detrick, MD, who helped me fully recover from my physical injuries.
Most important of all, I came to fully appreciate just how much my wonderful wife and kids love and care for me, even when I do something stupid like crashing my motorcycle. I am blessed and truly undeserving of such unconditional love.
(Linda and Me)
In the darkest days, weeks, and months following my accident, I often lamented that I would never experience the joy of motorcycle riding again. Im happy to say that with the help and encouragement of my family and friends, those dark days have passed. I will ride again, and perhaps even complete that cross-country trip that Ive always dreamed of. In fact, plans are already well underway to buy a 2013 Yamaha FJR1300 and all new protective gear.
This Chapter Ends and Another Begins
Finally, after nearly six months I have come to the end of this chapter in the life and times of M4. If you made it to the end with me, I sincerely thank you for enduring my therapy session without throwing a box of tissues at me, or calling me a crybaby! The next chapter promises to be even more exciting, but less painful. I hope you will share the excitement with me.
Happy and Safe Riding to All!
I followed through with my plan to buy a new bike and complete a cross country trip. In February, I bought a 2013 Yamaha FJR1300, and in September, I completed a cross country trip from Frederick, MD, to Lone Pine, CA, covering just under 6,000 miles in 12 days. I plan to write about this trip in the coming weeks. Its great to be back on a bike!
You can read more about Mike's travels at his blog: Master of Motorcycling Madness and Mayhem.
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