Our intrepid round-the-world motorbike adventurer reflects on some of her more memorable accidents…
I am no stranger to motorcycle accidents. When you get your license on a Saturday and head for Turkey on a Monday, some would even say you’re asking for it. My first motorcycle accident was on that trip, but not at the beginning as I would have expected. It was on a mountain road about 300 kilometres outside of Istanbul. I had had my license for about two months at that point, but in those two months I put 7000 kilometres on my bike.
I remember thinking that those kilometres meant I was now an experienced rider and could keep up with the German, and so on that twisty little mountain pass I gunned it. The feeling was exhilarating – that is, until I hit a patch of gravel in a curve, spun out of control and left half my knee on the side of the road.
The best part of the tale was that…the white bits were cartilage and not bone.
I was lucky in many ways. The handlebar hit my face, but I had a full helmet on so I got to keep my teeth. My arm was bruised to the bone, but I had protection inside my jacket, so other than pain it was fine. My knee, however, had no protection. I remember looking down and seeing white and red and a hole where my knee should have been. I remember pulling off my pants and lying there with a sickness in my stomach that was as much from fear as pain. It all had a surreal edge, like where you think you will wake up shortly, and that it can’t really be the case that you’re on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere losing blood. Miraculously, a car appeared about five minutes later – the only car we had seen that day. They brought me to a hospital, and the best part of the tale was that an X-ray revealed the white bits were cartilage and not bone. Ten days later I was back on the bike, albeit painfully, and was headed towards Greece.
My second accident was in Iceland, only this time I wasn’t the driver: we were seated double and I was the rider. The German’s bike had earlier that day picked up a nail and had blown on the side of the road. The tube was shredded, so we both jumped on my bike to go get a new tube. All I remember from that accident was the bike started to fishtail and I thought “Thank God he’s the one driving and not me.” Then it all went black and I woke up 40 minutes later on the side of the road playing the “what happened?” game. Turns out my bike had also picked up a screw, only this time it wasn’t on a dirt road but a paved one, and so I got a nice concussion out of it. Three days in hospital, and then we were out and preparing to finish our Iceland adventure.
My third accident was on our second day in Mongolia, when I decided to fly my bike off the side of a mountain. We’d gone slightly off the proper “road” and we were on what was little better than a hiking path. The sad part is that we’d already gotten through the most difficult section of the path and were on our way down from the mountain, a mere 10 kilometres away from our destination. I hit a pile of mud, and it threw me towards the drop off and a giant rock. My two thoughts were “I don’t want to go off the side of this mountain,” followed immediately thereafter by “I do NOT want to hit that rock.”
The thing about riding motorcycles however, is that whatever you look at, you ride towards. That is why in the middle of a field with only one sad and lonely tree in it, the motorcycle rider manages to wrap themselves around it. In the split second that I stared at these two unpleasant things I had already slid off the narrow path. I hit the gas in hopes of clearing the rock.
In retrospect, hitting the gas as you’re hurtling toward the edge of a mountain is, perhaps, not the most logical of split-second decisions. In my defense we had been riding in sand the entire day, and in sand, if the bike slides then ‘giving gas’ is your only chance of keeping the bike upright. A day of conditioning kicked in and as a result I found myself sailing into the great blue yonder.
In retrospect, hitting the gas as you’re hurtling toward the edge of a mountain is, perhaps, not the most logical of split-second decisions.
Thankfully this was Mongolia, and mountains are old and sloping. I was airborne for only a few seconds before I came crashing down. During lift-off, the idea also struck me to let go of the bike, and so we sailed in slightly different directions. And in a most amazing stroke of luck, I landed on pure grass, and not on one of the giant rocks which could have snapped me in any one of many uncomfortable ways.
As I lay there out of breath and in pain, I felt around my body for things that might be sticking out that should be sticking in. I was fine. Standing up I found myself thinking that Mongolia must be the most beautiful place in the world to crash. It was spectacular. My bike was worse for the wear, but like me the damage was only superficial. Her front (my bike is named Betty – she’s a girl) was all smashed in: she would never look as nice as before, but she ran. In fact she more than ran: other than the superficial damage to the front, there was nothing wrong with her. And other than me being shaken up, there was nothing wrong with me either. It’s times like these that you thank the motorcycle deities profusely, and swear that the next time you come across someone in trouble, you’ll face whatever risks it takes to help them. Lesson learned.
My mother would say the lesson would be to not ride, but that is a very black-and-white way of looking at motorcycle safety. Then again, as she is my mother she is forgiven. But one thing that motorcycle travel has taught me is that while you have to minimize the risks, life is dangerous. Crossing the street is dangerous, but we continue to do so. Two of these accidents were directly my fault, but what happened in Iceland was just a freak accident. And freak accidents happen everywhere, every day, not just on bikes.