We Survived!

How two people lived through an accident by staying safe.

It started before the checkbook came out to purchase our first Gold Wing: my co-rider demanded that a helmet would be worn every time the bike was started — every time. Whether that trip entailed a short trip to the hardware store or on a response to the ambulance (I am a paramedic by training) — every time.

Two words agreed upon and we had our first Gold Wing. As we became involved in GWRRA, we began to learn more about gear and training. Leather jackets were added, then over-the-ankle boots, Kevlar-lined pants and, finally, full-fingered gloves. The leather jackets and boots were purchased at local farm supply store to fit our budget.

We entered the GWRRA Rider Education Program by signing up for Level I. Soon we attended the Iowa Safety Weekend and moved right through Level II and into Level III. About that time we had been named as our Chapter’s Couple of the Year, so the more patches on the vest the better, right?

Though we already had 25,000 safe miles, we had to wait one year to move up to Level IV. We received our Master Tour Rider patches the same afternoon we became Chapter Directors. Throughout this journey, we took every opportunity to attend seminars by Rider Education, Leadership Training, Membership Enhancement, as well as Officer Certification and Horizons.

Some may view educational offerings as repetitive, informative, or some maybe even as boring. We view it as reinforcement of previously learned knowledge. Little did we know that our now 60,000 safe miles would be put on hold by a completely unexpected 100 yards.

The decisions began on an unseasonably cool Sunday morning as we prepared to leave the motel with fellow Chapter Members. The first was to wear our leather jackets rather than our vented ones. We were completing a weeklong trip and generally travel with both options due to unknown weather conditions. We were the lead bike in our group of three with the lone trike acting as our drag. Off we went for a good day of riding in Wisconsin.

Once out of town, the four-lane divided highway speed limit was posted as 65 mph. As we increased our speed, my co-rider reminded me that we had two others behind us (she certainly was paying attention during those co-rider and Road Captain seminars). Sixty-six proved to be a little fast for everyone, so once back in formation, we locked the cruise in at 64 mph. There was a little chatter on Channel 4 as we traveled west, but it seemed like a normal day riding with friends.

Suddenly, bright red tail lamps were all I could see in the windshield. The right-hand lane we were in was braking hard and drifting toward the narrow asphalt shoulder. Not knowing what was ahead, and with the left lane going faster than 65 mph, our option was to play follow the leader with those in the right-hand lane. We began our emergency stop procedures as we’d been taught in our Experienced Rider Courses.

With no time to mention what was going on ahead of us to my co-rider through our intercom, or over the CB to the group behind us, the priority became getting the bike slowed, possibly to a full stop, on our escape route from the left track toward the shoulder. I knew there was a much higher chance of getting the bike slowed on the asphalt if we indeed needed to go wider and out into the grass shoulder or the ditch beyond. Sue remembers feeling the emergency braking, glancing over my right shoulder, and seeing the brake lights and knew we were heading toward the shoulder. She remembered her job was to hold on, stay upright and tuck in.

In a conversation recently with another Gold Wing crash survivor, we mostly discussed two things:

1. The lack of time to think, just time to react with training and experience.

2. How many other things go through your mind during those few seconds.

Just about the time I thought we had slowed to a point that all was going to be well, the vehicle ahead of us made the decision they needed a little more room to their right. That diversion put them directly into the space we had in mind as our escape route.

I remember our front wheel hitting the back right corner of the trailer ahead of us. That impact snapped the handlebars hard to the left (which was likely when my five ribs fractured, bruised the underlying lung and started the collapse of my left lung). I remember looking down through the cowl and thinking, “I don’t have enough room or speed to pull this back up.” And then, we’re sliding down the highway on our left side. Again the training comes in: stay with the bike, it will help protect you.

Slowing … slowing … I can’t hold on anymore …

Our Gold Wing went about 20-30 feet farther after I let go, with a slight curve to the left.

But where is Sue? Now the true panic set in.

I was able to sit up and turn enough to see her laying face up on the roadway — not moving. She had come off the bike before me and reportedly tumbled to a stop. Thankfully, other riders and drivers in the righthand lane had been able to stop, and fellow Chapter Members were already at her side. She’ll tell you that was her training again: “Lay still and wait for help to come to you.” I guess my 33 years in husband training did an override on that lesson for me, as I tried to make it back to her side — tried being the operative word.

Between friends assuring me that she was talking to them and the inability to breathe sufficiently, I had to settle for being able to see her and get updates from our fellow Chapter Members. 911 was called. Deputies arrived. Fire trucks. First one, then the second ambulance. We were transported separately to the local trauma center. Then, well, then things get a little sketchy in my mind. (This is very likely due to the pain medications being dumped into my IV.) Throughout the experience I kept saying, “Don’t throw my safety gear away. Make sure we get it back!”

Once the safety gear was removed, tests, x-rays and CT scans completed, it was determined that Sue was quite bruised, but nothing broken. Besides the broken ribs and lung bruising, I suffered fractures to two vertebrae in my neck.

As I write this, six weeks have now passed. Sue’s bruises have mostly healed. She still uses a brace to support and strengthen her left wrist. My ribs and lung have largely healed, but the neck brace continues (likely for the next four to six weeks) 24 hours every day. While Sue has just started back teaching, I will be off work until the neck brace is removed and pain medications discontinued.

But, we survived! A large portion of the reason for that survival we attribute to our practice of “All the gear, all the time,” as well as the training seminars and Experienced Rider Course made available to us by GWRRA. That, and our motorcycle of choice, the Gold Wing, was built to protect us.

Oh, and about that Gold Wing? I told people I was a little busy to be looking at the speedometer, but I believe we had it slowed from 64 mph down to 25- 30 mph prior to the impact. When a fellow Chapter Member who had been riding behind us helped move the bike (after being asked to help by law enforcement), he learned it was in second gear. He told us later how well we’d kept the bike upright as we proceeded during the emergency stop. Some of her plastic parts have been scratched and scuffed, and a couple pieces were broken, but her rescuers said she started right up and was driven onto the ambulance that was sent for her. She’s currently in the shop getting a makeover and will be shined up and ready to go. By the time her picture comes up on the GWRRA Region E calendar in May 2015, we hope to be on the road again with our new helmet and gear heading to the Iowa ERC or ARC training course.

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