Monday, August 10, 2009

Stay in your lane

September 22, 2008 - Monday

This past weekend was one of those happenings that'll make for stories and proof of experience in a month or two, but right now has me strung about as tight as a second octave C-string on a harp.
The weather forecast for Saturday was lovely - possibly one of the last good biking days of the year. At 0900 hours Florian and I had shooting; at 1100 hours I was to meet Roger, Fabian and Remo in Frenkendorf. From there we'd go on a short (three or four hour) Black Forest run.
The day before, Friday, I'd picked up my new half-year lenses, which I'm now testing before my optician orders me a final set. It's wonderful to be able to walk the dog and see the individual blades of grass, dewdrops, needles on conifers or ears of corn at a distance of more that 20 feet. My right eye won't ever see completely; something inside is ruined. But still, these stronger half-year lenses let me see properly again.
It showed in my shooting. I did two B-targets and a Military. The Bs were so-so; that's a tough target to shoot at anyway, and the light wasn't great. I got 344 out of 400 on the Military, though, which for me is really good. That made me happy.
After cleaning my gun, it was 1000 hours before I left the range. On the way home, as I was driving through the 30 km/h zone above the Catholic church, I had a premonition, wondering if something would go wrong today, and knowing that even if I was foreseeing a problem I would go on the drive anyway.
I should have left home at 1000 hours; as soon as I got back I quickly put away my shooting gear, slipped into my leathers, and headed across the Albis to the Autobahn. At the last minute I decided to take my backpack along, with a first-aid kit and something to read in it, just in case. Thank God for small blessings.
I was approaching the exit to Liestal, and it was quarter after 1100 hours, when I felt my cell phone ring. I knew that would Roger, wondering where I was, so I didn't stop to refuel before finding the Café Sommer where we'd agreed to meet.
Roger's unmistakable skyblue Lady (I found out that the nickname for Triumph is Lady; like Suzukis are Sugis and Buells are Bulls) was sitting outside, together with Fabian's black 1050. Remo's metallic blue 1050 with the tribal decals was in the shade to the right. I parked the Beastie behind Roger's machine, pulled off my helmet and gloves and went inside.
We exchanged greetings, I apologized for being late and said I'd like to refuel before we left, they paid their tab and off we went, three roaring Triumph 1050s and a grumbling Buell. Roger led, followed by Fabian, while Remo took up the rear. We kept that formation until, well, circumstance forced a change.
We had to ride the Autobahn a bit, until we reached the border. The tour started with long curves, which was perfect because that way I could get used to the United driving style again. It's surprising, how easy and safe it is to drive fast when you can follow another's lead. Just look where you want to drive, and that's where you'll go. The weather was sunny, traffic wasn't too bad, and the roads were fairly good (not too much bitumen). It was perfect.
Until we reached the mountain stretch above Marzell. Roger and Fabian took off. They knew this route; I followed, driving my own speed. A ways up the mountain, in a flat and straight stretch, the two Triumphs were driving slowly, waiting for me and Remo to catch up. I joined them, and our tempo became slower and slower as we waited for Remo to arrive. The car I passed drove by us, two speeding motorcycles, another car... By that time we knew something must have happened. We all turned and drove back down the mountain.
We drove through curves that I thought for sure Remo must have been behind me, but we found him at least 2 km from where we'd stopped and waited. He was sitting next to the road in the grass, cell phone against his ear. His Triumph stood next to him.
We parked our bikes a bit lower down in a dirt patch. Fabian rolled Remo's 1050 off the road into the gravel inside the curve, and we found out what happened.
In the middle of the left curve was a bitumen smear, about one and half feet long and six inches thick. Remo had hit it; and by time he noticed, his front tire had slid away. He drove full speed into the mountainside.
His Triumph had lost every protruding part on the right side. There would be no more driving it that day. Remo himself was okay with the exception of his knee, which he'd banged pretty badly. But his leathers had preserved him from the worst.
I looked at his poor bike and thought, "Thank you, Lord, for not letting that happen to me."
He organized a rescue by ADAC, and rolled down the mountain to meet them in Marzell. We wished him the best and drove on.
This time, I was right behind Roger, with Fabian behind me. I wished Fabian would pass; he was a much better driver than me and I felt like I was blocking him. We'd driven several dozen kilometers before we reached another mountain stretch, above Präg, where he finally passed me and he and Roger took off.
I still had them in sight, but kept to my own tempo, driving what I knew I could handle.
Not five minutes after Fabian passed me I came into a left curve. Because of a vertical rock wall, I couldn't see around it. I was in my lane, leaning in, about as far right as I could be, doing 60 or 80 - I rarely check my speedometer - when a little blue Peugeot came around the corner, two wheels in my lane.
I had my foot on the back brake and slowed down a bit, but I had to straighten or I'd have hit that son of a monkey. And since I was that far right, so as to take the curve properly, straightening ran me into the strip of dirt between the end of the blacktop and the guardrail. I saw the dirt and grass; a split second later the Beastie had smashed into the rail.
I was thrown off and under the the guard rail, down the mountainside about four feet. My right boot, tight-fit leather with a zipper closure, was ripped off. I caught myself; my first reaction was three furious curses; my second, "God, why did You let that happen?"
My right foot hurt terribly; my left side was banged and my right leg had been twisted, but I didn't notice most of that until later. I crawled back up to road, gasping, enraged and starting to feel the bruises.
I reached the edge of the road; just then a young man filled my vision. I looked over. He was BMW driver, and he took my hand and helped me through, under the guard rail.
He asked me how was, if I knew where I was, whether anything hurt, and carefully took of my helmet. I answered his questions, still breathing hard, staring at the Beastie.
It was lying with its back tire to me. I only realized hours later that that meant the whole maschine had been spun when it hit the guard rail. The back light was still burning.
I told the young man I wanted to know what all was broken on my bike. I know, it seems like a stupid thing to be worried about now, but I could have cared less about me. I was okay. I was already wondering how long it would take for the Beast to be operational again, and how much it would cost.
He shook his head and looked at me as if I were crazy. "The bike is broken."
By that time, a car had stopped and the people in it set up a warning triangle a bit farther down the road.
Two motorcyclists, one driving a white Triumph, came down the mountain and stopped. The all discussed something together; I was still staring at the Beastie as I sat at the edge of the road, knees curled in, too shocked to cry though I was beginning to feel like I wanted to.
The Triumph driver drove back up the mountain, and I gathered there was no cell phone reception right there on the road. I heard that they wanted to get a doctor, but I didn't care about anything except my machine just then.
Fabian and Roger arrived then. Fabian hurried over and looked at me, asking how I was, and what happened. At the same time, the young man with the BMW heaved up the Beastie,turned off the engine at my request, and leaned it against the guard rail a bit farther down.
I told Fabian that I'd been run off the road, and he exploded.
Evidently it had been a string of three cars, led by the blue Peugeot, that were coming down the mountain. They'd already been in the opposite lane when Roger and Fabian drove by, but because that was in a straighter stretch the guys were able to avoid a collision. Most car drivers get scared and swerve into their own lane when they realized there's actually oncoming traffic. But these guys, or at least the Peugeot, decided it was still okay to claim extra space in the curve.
I don't know if he saw what happened to me, but the other two must have, and they didn't stop. Fabian was furious.
I saw the Beastie was standing and got to my feet. I'd pulled on my boot by this time; I was doing a lot in a sort of haze. Somebody must have helped me up, and I limped over to my bike.
I think the first thing I noticed was that all the paint had been chipped off my front fender, and it was its original black again.
The brake handle was completely gone; the clutch was twisted up. The fork has two three-inch scrapes on it. There are a lot of scratches on the left side of the fly screen. The left air intake has a dent in it. The gear shifter assembly was compeltely broken off; and I'd need new foot peg. Both Rizoma grips are ruined; the mirror broke off too but stayed intact. The Termignoni is unscathed. The back seat cover has a scrape on it; there are a few small scratches on the side of the airbox cover. The left seat strut is scratched. But the back wheel strut is fine. From what I saw, the damage is all repairable. Obviously my mech will have to check whether the frame is bent; most likely I'd need a new handlebar. If the frame is bent... Well, that's coming later.
With all the concerned people who were doing so much to help, Roger and Fabian standing next to me, I accepted this turn in events and my head cleared a bit.
I stayed next to the Beastie, studying it, while Roger calmed me down a bit and explained what we'd do. An ambulance and a doctor arrived; the thought briefly crossed my mind that this was going to cost me a fortune.
The doctor would check up on me; Fabian would roll the Beast down to the Hotel Hirschen in Präg, where it could be picked up. Did I have any way to get it home?
Thank God, I did have an option for that. Uncle Andy has a trailer for motorcycles. Maybe, God willing, he could drive out here and get me and my bike.
I couldn't drive with Roger or Fabian because their bikes were one-seaters, like mine. But there was a solution for that too.
The doctor and the ambulance were there, and the doctor, a volunteer in his fifties, very matter-of-fact and professional, asked me to come into the ambulance so he could check me.
When I hit the ground, the zipper that attaches my jacket to my pants had torn apart, and we couldn't get the two apart. (Yesterday with patience I got the zipper back the way it's supposed to me. I've only had that combo for a few months; it's already looking beat up, but I don't want to spend another 1100.- on a new one right now.) Luckily the doctor had a pulsemeter in his car that he could use; otherwise he said we would have had to cut open the jacket. (God forbid! This cost me enough.)
My pulse was fine; I hadn't lost consciousness at all, and I could touch my nose with either forefinger when he asked me to. He asked where I hurt, and I said my right foot was a bit sore. He checked it for breaks; then he helped me get my boots back on.
He said he'd drive me up to Bernau, about 2.5 km away, and I could wait at the Hotel Bergblick until my pickup was organized. Roger and Fabian would join me there. Basically his and the ambulance's help wouldn't cost me at all. Oh, thank God.
Some of the helpers has already dispersed. I thanked the ones I could, got into the doctor's VW with my backpack and helmet and drove the short distance with him.
He told me about how he had a sport similarly dangerous to mine, hang-gliding, and accidents from that could be as ugly as those of motorcyclists. He told me how the whole rescue setup for these mountain stretches was purely volunteer, and that they operated off of donations. I found out that Fabian donated 100 franks to the Bergwacht for driving him back up the mountain after he rolled my Beastie back down to Präg. (He refused to let me reimburse him for it.)
We soon reached the Bergblick, a beautiful hotel with a view of the valley and mountains and clear blue sky. The doctor, whose name I can't remember, said that whenever I was back in the area and had some time we should eat there, because the food was excellent (!). He gave me into the care of the boss there and went on his way.
I sank into a chair in the corner of the balcony from where I could watch the road. They gave me a glass of coke, which I downed gratefully.
Then I gave Mom a call. I told her I was fine, and the Beastie was okay; I needed her to call me back. (I pay for phone calls either way when I'm outside of Switzerland, but I pay less when I get called.)
She did, and I told her I'd been run off the road and the Beastie couldn't be driven. She took it very well; I was half-expecting her to forbid me from ever going within 100 feet of a motorcycle again after that. I asked her to ask Florian to call Andy and see if he could come pick me up.
Soon after Roger and Fabian arrived, together with a police car. While the policeman was taking down my personal information, I got a call from home. Florian said Andy was willing to drive out there and pick me up, they just needed to know where I was. I got the zip code from the policeman, and Florian said they'd be on their way. My relief was immense.
I'll be getting a bill for that guard rail that the Beastie knocked out, but my insurance will pay for that. It's the least they can do; after Blesi convinced me to stay with partial coverage a few months ago, I can pay for the damage on the bike myself. Such is life.
The police didn't stay long. Fabian and Roger ordered coffees and stayed with me a while. It would take Andy and Florian at least two hours to reach me; obviously they weren't going to stay that whole time. They weren't going to finish the tour, though, either. After those two accidents, they'd be going straight home.
Roger judged my damage cost at six or seven thousand franks. I so hope he's off. If that's the case, though, and the frame is bent, there's still a solution. Yesterday I talked with Kevin, who told nico about my accident. Nico said that if the repairs cost more than 5000.-, he'd sell me his tuned XB12. And I admit, I'm already getting excited with the proposition of driving around a 12er. Transfer the airbrush parts and I'll have my Beastie again.
But I'm not making any plans in that direction now, not until my mechanic calls. Any minute now... I slept really badly last night, dreaming my mech told me the Beastie was basically totalled. I just want to know what the facts are, what can be repaired, or can't, what I need to do...
But anyway, back to Saturday. Roger and Fabian stayed with me for half an hour or so. We discussed various things about bikes, expecially Roger's project of rebuilding a six cylinder Triumph Rocket into a bike that looks like a cruiser but'll still outrun any racing machine in the Black Forest. I actually laughed, imagining the look on a Gixxer-driver's face when this fat Rocket speeds by him, foxtails swinging from the handlebars, luggage racks and leather bags, the driver wearing Harley-esque leathers. Roger says he should have the bike next month, if all goes well. That'll make for some fun drives.
I was feeling better, psychologically, when we said our goodbyes and Fabian and Roger headed home. I thanked them for their help, and Roger told me to buck up; he knew I was sad about my machine, but it would run again.
I was thankful I'd brought along something to read. I got my gun magazine, took my backpack and helmet and went out to the parking lot, where I could watch the road for Andy's big Durango. I sat down for a while, until my right foot refused to take that position anymore. Then I stood up, put the magazine away since I wasn't getting too much out of it anyway, and watched an oldtimer convention with 50s Mercedes, Fiats, MGs and Lancias roll in. The boss of the convention parked his car next to where I stood, noticed my gear and asked if everything was okay.
I must say, I may hate all the Germans we have coming into Switzerland, taking our jobs and refusing to learn Swiss, but in their own country, they sure are wonderfully kind people.
Andy and Florian arrived around 1700 hours, and I guided them down to Präg, where my poor Beastie stood.
We delivered the Buell directly to the mechanic's (who I'd called earlier and told them what happened and asked them to assess the damage on Monday) and were home by 2000 hours. I'm going to pay for the gas that Andy used; I don't know how else to thank him for making that trip for me. Sure, he's my godfather, but sometimes I feel guilty for being so lucky and blessed, as if some day it'll all be required of me again.
I found a message from Roger, hoping I'd gotten home all right, and reminding me to look forward, not back, and that the Beast would drive again.
I exchanged several messages with him and Remo. Remo says economically speaking he might be getting a replacement for his Triumph, instead of fixing it up. That Saturday wasn't a good day for United, but it could have been much worse. So much worse. This is called gaining life experience by the bucketfull. Thank God for good people.
Now when is my mech going to call?

There I discovered the true meaning of heartbreak. After the couple weeks it took me to get over my shock...

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