It was another one of those gorgeous summer Indiana days .. June 29, 2000 to be exact .. when a dear friend of mine, Brad .. a true “brother” at heart .. rolled into my driveway in Yorktown. He had a sweet new Ultra Classic that he parked next to Bosco .. and they made a nice looking pair of Iron Horses sparkling in the morning sunshine. We’d often let them run side by side as we enjoyed the freedom of the highway and Indiana’s “no helmet law”.
We’ve all had a taste of that blind curve .. it’s a part of life .. and you just have to learn to deal with it.
An interesting note regarding my friend .. Brad was a wounded, decorated Viet Nam Marine veteran who still suffered from shoulder shrapnel he’d received in Nam. When he returned from his tour, I was still hospitalized from the accident I described in my first adventure .. entitled “Survival“. How ironic, that my future wife-to-be had dated Brad and introduced us while I was still “incarcerated” in the hospital .. as I called it. One look into each other’s eyes and we immediately found that common denominator that linked our Souls forever .. we had each faced “death” and survived.
Not long after I was finally released from that painfully long incarceration .. Brad and I moved in together .. and thus began a series of “adventures” that could compete with any HBO mini-series you’ve ever seen. His brothers and sister soon became “my” family .. and his Mother & Father couldn’t have become closer if they adopted me. But one of the most incredible memories of our time together was the fact that Brad’s shoulder injury prompted it to dislocate itself at any given time. Though excruciatingly painful .. I watched him “pop” it back into place as readily as cracking your knuckles .. there was a trick to it. He refused to undergo any further surgeries.
Twenty years later .. and with each of us having survived devastating divorces .. our lives crossed paths more often than the last few years. Brad had built choppers and was an excellent motorcycle rider and mechanic .. but had sold his bike business. One of our most enjoyable rides .. and anyone else who rides in Central Indiana, is the curvy six-mile stretch of Hwy 32 between Daleville and Yorktown. Three of the seven curves are actually called “dead man’s curve” .. with each having a lengthy accident and fatality history to verify their titles.
From my close friend’s (Fred Stevens) insurance business near the only stoplight in downtown Daleville to only the stoplight at “the Mouse” in downtown Yorktown .. the twists and turns are some of the most exhilarating you’ll ever experience on two wheels .. especially at midnight. Fred’s place used to be called “the Bronco Inn” .. where my mother and father used to hang out in high school .. and I helped him remodel it years earlier after he bought the place. The old brick and mortar still carries the history of day’s gone bye. And “the Mouse” still displays memorabilia from my bike travels that I presented to it’s once long time owner, Bobby Stahl.
Unfortunately, the morning Brad stopped by, he was drunk as a skunk .. and he was on his way to an Indianapolis Harley dealer to pick up parts. Not only was Brad now suffering from the effects of the Agent Orange he was subjected to in Viet Nam .. evidenced by the number of times I’d driven him the hour-long ride to a VA hospital in Indy while he seized uncontrollably in my car .. but also he’d received permanent nerve damage to his right arm after an altercation we were involved in one night at the Oasis, a favorite watering hole in Muncie.
The nerve damage had left his hand paralyzed and minimal movement in his arm. But here’s a die-hard biker who would tape his hand to the throttle and ride anyway .. eliminating the use of his front brake. There was no talking him out of riding to Indy that day .. so I decided to lead the way and hope I could keep him out of trouble. I just couldn’t sober him up enough I guess. No sooner than we weaved through the first few turns and I had just rounded a sweeping left .. I came upon “Snailman”, who was all but stopped in the middle of the road as he gradually crept into a “T” road on my right.
This was at the beginning of the first “dead man’s curve” and I could see a number of vehicles heading into the curve from the opposite direction .. led by a white GMC van. Snailman was about three feet from the double yellow centerlines .. and my first thought was to just go around him and cross the centerlines. Secondly, I considered squeezing between him and the centerlines and continue into the curve .. but lastly, I decided to just stop to the left of his rear end and wait until he crawled around the corner .. staying completely “legal” and not crossing into oncoming traffic.
The van was soon about two or three car lengths ahead .. coming straight at us but clearly on his side of the road. All I heard next was a screeching tire .. and if you’ve ever heard that sound, your adrenalin suddenly starts pumping .. especially if you’ve ever been involved in a bodily injury accident. Brad had come out of the last curve too hot before realizing I was stopped and his only reaction was to stomp on his rear brake .. it was his skidding that gave me that shot of adrenalin.
The next thing I remember was being hit so perfectly from behind it was like someone was playing croquet with my bike and had placed their ball directly behind me before whacking me into oblivion. I was hit so hard I came back on the throttle and did a “hole-shot” directly into the van. Fortunately, that driver saw it happening and swerved at the very last minute .. just in time to only hit me on the left knee as my handlebars and bike grazed the complete side of his van as I throttled past him. As my handlebars were turned “left” as we grazed the van .. as soon as the van passed me I shot directly to my left right in front of the next oncoming car .. barely missing it.
Bosco and I did a nose-dive into the ditch .. flipped once .. and my head and shoulder slammed a tree, dislocating it. My right knee had caved in Bosco’s tank .. and he ended up lying beside me still screaming at full throttle, it seemed. Despite the immediate and intense pain .. I shut him down and assessed the damage to my knee .. where the pain was indescribable. Instinctively, I knew my shoulder was out of place and I performed the magic Brad trick and popped it right back. That pain was absolutely nothing compared to my knee.
As I grabbed my knee .. I felt what was like a “hole” .. and then I felt what seemed like my wallet up at my waist below my belt. I knew it was my kneecap .. so I tried to push it back down my leg .. thinking I could put it back where it belonged .. and I’d be fine. How wrong can one man be on any given day? The choices I’d made that day were nothing less than agonizing .. and I had to lie there for about 45 minutes before an ambulance arrived.
The ride to the hospital was insane .. as the traffic was backed up in both directions as far as I could see. Little did I know how many of my friends were actually in that line of traffic coming out of Daleville .. not knowing who was lying in the ditch ahead. When I was finally placed into a spot in the ER .. and I was doing my very best to “zone out” and take my mind away from the excruciating pain, despite my uncontrollable shaking .. some idiot State Trooper kept trying to take my “statement” and ascertain what had actually happened. Sorry .. but all I had to scream at him was “get the fuck out and leave me alone .. can’t you see I’m in pain here?”
I had a ruptured patella and ACL tendon, distended shoulder from the dislocation, scraped head, cracked ribs and numerous bruises. After multiple surgeries and miraculous work by Dr. Gregory Hellwarth, my kneecap is now held in place by crylon cords anchored to my femur and tibia passing directly through holes drilled in the patella. I still have a ruptured ACL .. and they want to do a cadaver transplant .. but I’ve decided I’ve had enough surgeries for now. Where I used to just hurt with every other step .. I now hurt with each and every step. Just little reminders every time I saddle up.
Well .. I’ll bet you didn’t see that coming did you? I didn’t either at the time .. and that’s one of the thoughts I’m planting with this “adventure”. When I first shocked you with what I call “blood, guts, gore, hair, teeth & eyeballs” in my initial “Survival” adventure .. several of you wondered if we were trying to get you to sell your bikes and stop riding. Not by any means at all. Obviously, I can take a hit yet still maintain my passion for riding. But little did I know during this hospitalization that my automated morphine drip machine would malfunction and I would literally OD in the wee hours of the morning. If it wasn’t for seeing my daughter, Cari, in that other realm of existence I revisited during that “near death experience” I wouldn’t be here today .. and maybe you wouldn’t get this message.
The point is .. the riding season is upon us. Every rider needs to take their time and gradually get comfortable with dodging traffic and avoiding the multitude of idiots who are talking on cell phones and caring less about your life. Re-familiarizing yourself with the twists and turns you’ve grown accustomed to is vital to your survival. Blind curves, hidden drives, wet roads and shadows are only a few methods “your” road in life can lead to a lifetime of agony.
As you know .. when I ride I ponder .. and I contemplate the many parallels I discover. Lies, deceit, betrayal, abandonment .. aren’t these all “wrecks” many of us have had to endure? We’ve all had a taste of that blind curve .. it’s a part of life .. and you just have to learn to deal with it. Some of those injuries never truly heal though .. and the scars we wear are but reminders of that rocky road .. warning signs to keep us alert the next time we find ourselves on a similar yet unfamiliar road.
In a way, our friendships and relationships are actually “wrecks” waiting to happen .. and the older one gets the more wisdom we apply to avoid that pain. After all .. isn’t life just a matter of continuous pain management? Pain seems to be our most revered “teacher” .. and those lessons learned from such methods seem to be the ones we remember most.
If we compare our relationships to our bikes .. as long as we are diligent enough to keep them lubed and serviced .. new shoes when the occasion warrants .. and constantly paying enough attention to the road to avoid missing the sudden curve, or that other “vehicle” that came out of nowhere and caused us to crash & burn .. we just might be lucky enough to reach that final destination.
Those of us who still don’t know what that “destination” is .. have just learned to enjoy the journey .. as that “is” life .. with all it’s twists and turns, brick walls, or that occasional drop into an abyss where we wonder where the bottom is. But just as often in life .. it will probably be your “friend” .. or your trusted Iron Horse that you’ll ride out of that darkness .. through the fog and rain .. and eventually into the sunshine once again.
Your lapse in good judgment while riding doesn’t just affect you .. but maybe your passenger whose life is in your hands .. or anyone who may fall within the “domino effect” of your actions. Drinking & riding .. jacking with a stereo, GPS or cigarette lighter .. a cup holder .. is it worth the pain and suffering you may inflict .. is it worth dying for? You’ll never forget missing that turn .. or whatever negligent mistake you made to cause such damage. So just remember .. even when you think you’re doing the right thing .. you still might end up in the ditch in a whole lot of pain and your life changed forever …
Brad struggled with guilt for years .. and even though he didn’t go down after that accident or suffer a single scrape that day .. I knew his real scar was not as visible as his war wounds, yet more deep and painful .. and just as debilitating. But to this day .. one of our favorite memories as brothers was when I would take my son, Zac, out to Brad’s farm to fish in his pond. In the end .. your true friends will always be there .. no matter what.
Forgiveness is a powerful medicine. Especially when relationships and friendships are at stake. You may never fully recover .. and the scars and pain may be eternal reminders of better days .. but you’re still alive. And for those of us who never really get over our mistakes … we ride.
Until next time .. ride smart, ride safe .. pay attention and watch the signs …
and the Adventure continues …