Rock-Hard Lesson


Rock-Hard Lesson

rte 78

          (rte 78)

It’s embarrassing and humbling to learn, or relearn, after over 40 years of motorcycling, fundamental lessons of safety and competence. Alas: I am embarrassed and humbled to relate the following account of my maiden voyage on the new BMW.
Thursday began in Gallup, NM, an armpit of a depression-era stopping point for weary travelers working their way to California to escape the desperate poverty of the dust bowl. Strung out along the vestigial Mother Road, and paralleled by a stunningly busy railroad yard, the seedy motels and junk food restaurants flank muffler shops and other edge of town businesses plugging along amid the din of screeching wheels and air horns from the constant rail traffic.
We’d spent the night in the Desert Skies motel, a worn-out low-end fleabag joint run, of course, by Indians with only a rudimentary command of the English language. In the morning, on the way to breakfast Gary’s Norton stopped running, and in a grocery store parking lot he replaced the electronic ignition with a spare that he had brought along.

from Bob
          (Coronado Trail)

What with this delay, we didn’t leave Gallup until about 10:30 am, and we headed south through the Zuni Indian reservation, then west into Arizona to pick up rt. 191 north of St. Johns. We took 191 (the Coronado Trail) south and around Alpine began to enjoy the nonstop twisties that make this famous road a popular motorcycling destination. Great fun, though many of the curves had worrisome patches of loose gravel that kept us alert. And the 7 year old tires on my BMW were worn and hard, so I was careful not to explore their meager limits.

from Bob

Skirting the huge copper mine north of Clifton, we found ourselves in 100-degree heat, and once out of the forest we were exposed to the unrelenting sun. At Clifton we headed east on rt. 78 back into New Mexico. This is another fun road, but it crosses rolling, open country and offers mostly fast sweepers rather than the tight, technical turns we’d been negotiating for 100 miles on the Coronado Trail. Less challenging riding, equally fun. About 20 miles into this leg, and maybe 200 miles into the day, I crested a rise in the middle of a long left-hand sweeper. On the downhill side, parked just off the edge of the road on the outside of the curve, was a big car – a Ford Crown Victoria or Mercury Marquis - in dark gray. It looked for all the world like a state police car, which of course attracted my attention. There were no visible markings, but as I approached the turn (and the car) I kept looking at it to verify that it was not The Man.
Fatigued, overheated and dehydrated, it’s clear in retrospect that my mental acuity and my response times were compromised. At the time, though, I was not consciously aware of this and in my dulled mental state, I fixated on the Big Gray Car.
By the time I looked back to the road it was too late. I was just about to leave the pavement on the outside of the curve, and hit the brakes just about the time my front wheel reached the dirt. I tried to ride it out, but after a bumpy moment the world turned upside down and it was all over.
Jim and Ernie were there as I shook the cobwebs out of my head, and they lifted the bike upright. About this time Gary crested the rise, saw the confusion at the side of the road and demonstrated the classic panic reaction, standing hard on the rear brake. He left about twenty feet of solid black skidmark on the pavement before leaving the road between us and the parked car. He laid the bike over and slid in, backing the bike into a rocky ditch just shy of a barbed wire fence.

Gary's Skidmark

          (Gary's Skidmark)

Again Jim and Ernie were put to work lifting a bike up, and between us we were able to lift and push it out of the rocks and up to the level dirt shoulder. Taking inventory, we found that both bikes and riders had sustained only superficial damage, and soon we were dusted off and on our way to the night’s destination of Glenwood, NM.
So here’s the moral of the story: Fatigue, heat and dehydration are a rider’s enemies. The prudent rider will stop, get off the bike and find a shady place to take off the heavy gear, drink lots of cold water, maybe even take a nap before getting back on the motorcycle. Riding is fun. But even four decades of riding experience won’t keep you out of harm’s way if you ignore signs that your concentration is flagging.


Gary's Wounds
          (Gary's wounds)

RC Herman
Crestone, CO May 2009