Life and Death on the Open Road
We’ve all seen them, the dead bodies at the side of the road. Deer, raccoons, skunks and other animals that zigged when they should have zagged, that made a fatal decision to run across the road at the exact instant when thousands of pounds of metal was rolling towards them at a speed they couldn’t comprehend. Their deaths are not recorded, no statistics added up and tallied, they’re just gone. One moment everything was fine and then nothing.
This morning I came as close as I’ve ever come in my life to that same crucial moment. Had I moved later I might not be writing this. Today was day 7, the last day of a fantastic road trip and I found myself on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. My buddy, Michael and I had just spent 6 days riding our motorcycles over some of the best roads we’d been on since we began making these annual trips 12 years ago. We rode everything from fast open highways to extremely tight, twisty technical riding through incredible roller coaster roads and then had plenty of gravel roads over hidden mountain passes and along forest services roads. It had been an amazing trip, riding hard all day, camping at night then getting up and doing it again the next day.
On the last day Michael needed to be back in Vancouver sooner than me so we parted ways early and I headed off for my own way back. Around 10:00 I was outside Raymond, Washington on a long open stretch of road and pulled over to look at my map. No cars in sight, I parked on the paved shoulder and put the bike on its side stand to have a moment to study. While looking at the map I noticed a white delivery truck in my rear view mirror approaching me. I continued what I was doing but kept tabs on the truck as it approached. With no other cars in sight, and plenty of room for it to go past I wasn’t concerned. Then I saw it was running along the white line marking the shoulder of the road and crossing over it.
Now everything happened in a moment. There was no time to get scared. I could see the tire as it moved out of its lane and skimmed the edge of the shoulder. I had no time to move but I could stand the bike up off the side stand and I leaned away from the road. Attached to the crash bar around my bike’s engine I had mounted folding highway pegs for this trip and they were pulled down, extending about four inches outside of the edge of the bike’s profile. As I leaned away from the road the truck roared past me and scraped the end of the highway peg. I couldn’t believe it had come that close. Another inch or two closer and it would’ve hit the peg and likely spun the bike throwing me into the side of the moving truck either killing me or certainly maiming me severely. I screamed ‘Fuck’ and then was speechless by what had just happened. Had I not leaned the bike away the truck would have likely hit me. I had zigged when I should have.
The truck barreled on down the road and I was left shaken but unharmed. I started the engine and followed the truck into Raymond and eventually into a parking lot where I stopped and got off the bike to confront the driver. I started yelling at the man who through his bad driving had come so close to hitting me. He had no idea but when I showed him the mark on the peg he was shocked and kept apologizing. He kept saying sorry and I kept yelling at him. In the end my anger ran its course, I couldn’t change what had happened, maybe I made him a more careful driver and saved someone else. He was an older, overweight man with a hound dog face who should have been a better driver.
I got back on my bike and left him. I rode down the highway and then pulled over. The adrenaline rush was over and I was feeling shaky and a bit overwhelmed by what had just happened. I couldn’t help myself but I felt I needed to reach out and send some messages. I felt I had to tell some people important to me that I loved them. Life is so very precious and it can disappear so quickly. I’ve crashed a motorcycle before, I’ve had dangerous falls skiing and done numerous questionable adventures but I’ve never come so close to being killed. I spent a lot of the rest of the ride home thinking about mortality and what an instance can do to suddenly take it all away.
When I was yelling at the driver I said ‘you almost took my life away’, and with the saddest, remorseful eyes he said nothing more but put his hand on my shoulder, trying with this gesture to convince me further of how sorry he was. It wasn’t malicious, it was dangerously bad driving but I knew he had not meant for it to happen.
Those animals we see lying on the road never got any apology. I couldn’t stay mad at him. For whatever reason the two inches that would change my life were given back to me and I was spared. I know bad things happen all the time and it is sad but all I can do is believe today was my lucky day. I can never forget how very close I came and hopefully can find inspiration and purpose from my good fortune.