The day I nearly lost my leg
Reading a blog entry on HarleyThoughts.com about a gruesome incident reminded me the day I came within inches of losing my right leg.
It was 1980. It was late on a Summer Saturday afternoon. I was 20 years old, full of the dumbass fearlessness that so often accompanies youth. I was riding a 1969 Harley Shovelhead. I accelerated quickly from an intersection on a busy main drag, leaving the rest of the cars behind. I wasn't racing, but I was moving along faster than the rest of traffic. I wasn't wearing a helmet—this was long before California eliminated that choice.
Up ahead, a late-70's full-size American car pulls a left turn in front of me from the opposite direction, apparently trying to enter the parking lot of a popular Italian restaurant. No problem, I think to myself. He's got plenty of time to enter the parking lot before I get to where he is.
Ah! If only things were that simple! The cage driver comes to a dead stop just before entering the driveway. He's not blocked by anything. He just stops. And looks at me. Watches me as I approach at 40 MPH. The entire lane is now blocked.
Now, this wouldn't have been a problem, except that the brakes on my bike weren't the greatest in the world. Completing the nightmare: I can't go around him, because there is a six-inch high wide concrete center island blocking my escape to the left. I don't want to swerve to the right side, because he may start moving forward again, and I'll be in a bigger mess.
Jamming on the brakes, trying to bring the speed down while moving as far to the left as I can, I approach the car. There's about 18 inches between the back bumper of the car and the center island, and I try to squeeze through. I'm still doing about 15 MPH as I pass by the car. The corner of the car's rear bumper neatly shears off my Hog's right rear shock absorber. Diving over the bars, I go down for a tumble, rolling along the center island. I come to rest some thirty feet beyond the impact site.
To my surprise, I'm relatively unhurt, besides minor road rash on my arm. I look back, and see that my Hog has nearly removed the rear bumper from the offending car.
The police show up quickly. An ambulance arrives. I'm in decent shape, but they want to make sure I don't have any major unseen injuries and they don't want to miss an opportunity to lecture me on motorcycle safety. I'm whisked away to a nearby emergency room. Nothing wrong besides the gravel in my arm.
Later, when I read the police accident report, I found out that the car's driver was drunk, well over the then-generous legal limit. I'll never know why he stopped and just stared at me. I really don't care, anyway. I learned a valuable lesson. People do really strange things. You can't always predict what they will do. You will be caught by surprise.
So you see, I count my blessings that I did not lose the use of my leg. To this day, I can still close my eyes and see, with crystal clarity, the bumper of the car passing within mere inches of my right leg. I still have the tattered leather jacket that bears silent witness to my stupidity and carelessness that day.
Motorcycling is an unforgiving activity. Mistakes (regardless of who makes them) can cost you dearly. Please: pay attention. Watch the road. Don't get distracted. Your life, the lives of others, and the peace of mind of your loved ones depend on it.