by Victor Wanchena
It was a normal summer evening. The rain from earlier in the day had let up, but the road was still damp. I was headed home via my normal route; the route I’ve been taking for over ten years. I approached a freeway ramp; one that connects one freeway to another. The ramp looked a little glossy from the rain, so I reduced my speed a little, tipped into the corner and…
I awoke to a flashlight in my eyes. I was happy it was an EMT shining a light in my eyes, not Jesus; I was alive. In an instant the details of what had just occurred came rushing back. As I leaned into the corner, the bike began to slide to the left. Instinctually, I steered into the slide and remained upright. Unfortunately, the road was curving to the right and I was quickly running out of road. The bike drifted further left and I was now on the dirt shoulder. The rain had softened the dirt and my bike danced around wildly as I hung on, white-knuckled. I tried to steer back toward the road and thought I was going to make it. But the bike and my skills were overmatched by the terrain. It pitched violently to the left, high-siding, and throwing me clear. My last memory, prior to impact, is being in the air looking down at my bike. Then, nothing.
I don’t remember much about the trip to the hospital. After eight hours in the ER, I was admitted with a list of injuries that included four broken ribs, a lacerated spleen and heavy internal bleeding. Not good. On the bright side, I didn’t need surgery and would make a full recovery. The doctors credited my riding gear, including helmet, with saving my life. I landed head first and after seeing my helmet, I agree.
I spent the next few nights in the hospital going stir-crazy. I had plenty of visitors during the day, but the nights were long as the pain was pretty intense. I replayed the accident in my head a thousand times. What did I do wrong? How should I have reacted differently? I always arrived at the same conclusion: I wasn’t paying attention.
My ride home isn’t particularly exciting. I have been commuting to work using the same route for over ten years. I knew every inch of those roads. And with the extreme familiarity came complacency. I didn’t really look through the corner like I should have. I looked and saw the same corner I’ve seen for many years. Translation: I looked but didn’t see. That was my sin; something I can’t blame on anyone else. I made assumptions and paid the price.
I’m still not sure why my bike started to slide. I assume the rain that day had washed some dirt onto the road. I’m not sure of that, but it makes sense with the terrain and the conditions. Regardless of that, my simple warning to other riders is don’t become complacent. It’s an easy trap to fall into, and the consequences can be serious. I was over-riding the conditions. The available traction wasn’t enough for the speed I entered the corner. I hope the lesson I learned, the hard way, can serve as a reminder to all of us that safe riding requires vigilance.