Friday, July 18, 2014 – Just one year and one day after my crash, I headed off to Minnesota with friends to do the 2nd Leg Memorial Run. I now have my own bike and I am on the mend in more ways than just physical. My friend Bill Gade, Owner of Tour on Two, Inc., planned our route to Minnesota and Mary Schmidt, whom I met in the hospital; planned our ride route for Saturday. For me it was kind of weird to be the “follow” vehicle when my friends were all on motorcycles. However, it wasn’t all bad and Bill said I did a good job of clearing the lanes for the bikes. Usually I pull my rig alone but it was sort of cool being able to talk to Bill on the CB. After a long day of travel, we unloaded my bike and then headed to town for dinner. It was nice little place with decent pizza, but when you love Chicago pizza nothing is quite as good.
Saturday was an amazing day!! The 2nd Leg Memorial Run was something that other folks wanted to do and I thought if they supported me that much, then Why Not? When I arrived at the meet spot, I was in shock to see how many folks had come out. Most of these folks were Facebook followers, a few I knew pretty well, and a few I met only a couple of times. Nonetheless, it was humbling to accept such support from these people. Mary had planned an awesome ride with just a couple of stops before we made our way to a late lunch.
The ride began not far from my crash site and it was a beautiful clear day. As we passed the Welcome to Minnesota sign, I was suddenly very aware that this path would never be the same for me. I had gone to the crash site with young Anthony in March but it was in a car, from the other direction and everything was buried in snow. As we went through the first couple of curves I grew anxious. Mary began to slow as the silos came into sight. I told the others that I would give the Grim Reaper the universal Bite Me symbol when we passed so they would know the curve. Going into that curve on this day gave me chills, I flipped the symbol and my heart sank into my stomach. My eyes teared-up and I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why am I here?” By all intent and purposes, I should not have survived that crash. Am I here to do something better, or am I here so that young Anthony has a better chance at life versus jail? I have no idea, but as I tried to clear my eyes for safety sake, I just asked God to guide me, help me do what’s right, and to keep me safe.
In a couple of miles, the anxiety dulled a bit but our first stop was just down the road. It all flooded back to me when my friends came around me and began sharing hugs. Their love and support is insurmountable to my recovery. There are plenty of folks out there that scoff at what I used to do and what I now do. The people that support me are the ones that lift me up and get me through. It is a daily struggle to do what I do, both physically and mentally. Quite frankly the mental parts get me more often than the physical. I have learned to adapt to my prosthetic leg but there are many things I simply cannot do or I have to do in a way so different that it too bothers me mentally. Considering I live alone most of the time, my brain gets carried away and I often wonder if I’m doing the right thing, the safe thing, the smart thing… To me, it’s the only thing (for now). For me, it is the chance to bury that which happened TO ME, and live for what happens IN ME. Many many folks cannot understand this because they cannot fathom selling everything they own and setting off to be a gypsy on a motorcycle. Well thank goodness for that, because we still need smart people in smart positions to make this world go ‘round.
For me, it is the chance to say, “I tried.” Just like when I left the first time, my only failure is not trying. I resolve that I will not likely live a gypsy life for the rest of my days, but while I am young enough and healthy enough (*insert quirky laugh*), I intend to continue to live my dream. My rig provides me shelter and comforts and my motorcycle provides me peace. Both of which provide me a lot more work and effort, a lot more challenge, and a lot more fear. I always take folks a certain amount of health fear is good and I am slowly converting my fear to be healthy again.
I have a few very special friends that I confide in when the demons strike and those people know just how much I need and love them. After the 2nd Leg Memorial Run, I made my way ‘home’ and had no choice but to remember just how blessed I am.
During my remaining days in Minnesota, I got the chance to have my new friend Forrest go along with Mary and I to get a new wheel chock for my bike and Menard’s for some supplies. It was an errand day for me and they agreed to ride along. Forrest visited my trailer and I got to learn about his Coast Guard career. I shared stories of my Father’s service and how it was to grow up in that environment. Mary, Jen, Sammie, and Najma visited my trailer for a barbecue and some girl time.
I was also very pleased that I got to see my Uncle Todd; well he’s not blood but several of my childhood years on the Navy base in Charleston SC were spent with Todd and his family. They adopted me and have been supports all along. Uncle Todd told me that he was shocked to learn of my crash some weeks after it. We had exchanged messages on Facebook just prior and since he’s not far from St. Paul, I had intended to visit him. Like many folks, he’s on Facebook to keep up with this kids and friends, but he’s not on it constantly, so he was sad that he had not been able to see me in the hospital. We shared most current family news and recounted some funny things from my childhood. I got to learn a little about Ms. Julie and her family as well.
The day before I left, young Anthony and I met at “our curve”, where we put the keys to my old Sportster on the tree in the ditch. His Mom, Sandy and sister came along and took the pictures.
We then went over to a local place called, Loggers for dinner. Anthony’s Dad was there waiting for us and gave me a huge tight hug. During dinner we shared stories and laughed. Like any other family, I could relate to these folks. Their son/brother did not set out that fateful day to kill anybody or injure anybody; no more than my son sets out each day to do such things. That family was extremely grateful to me and that was a weird thing for me. Anthony had ridden with me to the restaurant and I told him at one point that I still get mad at him and swear at him when things are difficult. He can’t exactly understand that anger because it’s not happening to him, but he cares very much for me and he is in all capacity sorry for his poor choice that day.
It is hard for me to write exactly how it feels to sit down at the dinner table with the man that nearly killed me and certainly left me maimed; add to that his family, the people that would mourn his loss if the shoe were on the other foot. What I got from these people was gratitude and caring. Gratitude… for what? Gratitude that I didn’t die and leave Anthony to serve jail time; that wasn’t my doing. The gratitude belongs to God, not me. People often ask me how I can forgive Anthony and the simple answer is, “I’ve done plenty of stupid things; I got lucky and never hurt anybody too bad.” That is the truth; and it is just that simple. I don’t think my crash was karma because I certainly never did anything to deserve my fate. I think perhaps it was simply an accident born from somebody else’s haste and poor choice. Been there…
The following day I was to head off to Anamosa, IA to the National Motorcycle Museum to see my friend Bean’res bike that is on display. However, the morning started off not so great. The wheel chock installed was done so backwards and upon trying to unbolt it from the trailer frame, I couldn’t fix it myself. The cheap bolts had stripped heads from the install and I simply didn’t have the strength to force them. I was lucky to have two camping neighbors that took over. They had to Saws-All the bolts off and install new ones. So I guess I shouldn’t have felt so bad. But all the same, it spawned a pity party that continued through the day. I had chosen a very beautiful route to get to Anamosa and as I traveled the path, I saw many excellent places which held potential to pitch a tent and hide out like I used to do. I was hurt that I had to pull my rig and not be on two wheels, and when I got gas ($75 a tank) I questioned how long I could do this.
Once I finally reached my camp in Monticello, IA I began the task of setting up. Yet again, I needed help. I was unable to get my bike out of the new / better chock. The wheel lock bar was too much, my shoulder and leg wouldn’t cooperate and I asked a passer-by to assist. The husband and wife obliged and when they had left, I just wept. I shouldn’t be doing this, if I can’t do it myself. I felt wildly crippled despite my independence. I realize it will get better over time and perhaps I set off too soon. But now, it is what it is and I have to make the best of it. Living in the trailer has been going since Easter but only in the week prior have I had to deal with the motorcycle portion of this journey. That is getting better slowly.
Riding the motorcycle is no problem at all. My reflexes and knowledge are all intact. I do have to purvey a parking lot before choosing a spot because my lack of ankle does not take kindly to gravel. I do find myself scanning far more than before. And for my own ease I park such that I can go forward more often that backward. The Heritage Softail that I purchased is actually an amazing fit and though she’s heavier than my Sporty it handles much better.
I woke up the next morning and decided that it was going to be a productive and good day. I had no cell reception at camp so I loaded up my laptop and peripherals much like I used to do and I went to town to work. I packed a lunch and took a large thermos of water because it was rather warm. I sat at a high school park area and worked for a couple of hours before my laptop battery died. I then made my way into Anamosa and continued to work from a McDonalds. I struck it rich; the girl accidently made the wrong beverage and I was the spoiled customer that got a free Caramel Frappe. SCORE!! When work was done, I went to Wal-Mart and got some grocery items and a RedBox movie. Lone Survivor was a very well made movie, but the military / war theme kind of hit home and made me sad when I saw the “real” men of Red Wing Seal Team at the end. To all those that served us and continue to serve us, thank you and God bless.
The next day was rainy and gloomy until about 3pm. I had to unhitch the truck to go into town to get cell service in order to record ROAD Lines with my friend/musician/movie maker, Mike Anthony Jones. The radio show went well and I am looking forward to not only his new album of female motorcyclist songs, but also his next movie. I returned Lone Survivor and had a coupon in my email from the day prior. Score… I rented Non Stop for only $0.48. During the early evening I heard from my friend Glenn and we met me dinner as he was passing through the area on his way to South Dakota. He came by briefly to see my Hillbilly Hilton and then he geared up to continue his travels.
When I returned to my camp, I had new neighbors and Mike introduced himself indicating his family would be along shortly. They are locals. The grandkids wanted to go camping and Mike likes to test out the RV before he and Cheryl go out for their vacation. They really live less than a mile from their camp. While I rolled my cigarettes for the evening, Cheryl and daughter Shawna came to visit. They told me of an auto crash Shawna had survived some years prior when she slid out on ice. She was in a coma for well over a month and went through great pains to recover all her typical abilities. She “got me”.
Saturday fast approached and I was more than ready to ride my motorcycle to the National Motorcycle Museum. The edge of town is less than a mile from camp. I proceeded into town in a 30 mph zone. I could see a big pickup truck stopped at the sign to my left. No sooner did I slow to coming 20 mph zone, than this pickup truck pulled out in the intersection with no regard that I’m right there. I braked, I maneuvered right to get around his front end, and when my crash bar hit the asphalt my body jolted off the bike. I tumbled pretty good and popped back up; hard to imagine how this occurred because getting up off the ground is usually a bit of a chore for me. Motion and adrenaline are amazing. I watched ever so briefly as I thought my new bike was about to be toast. But NO, what I saw was freakishly weird. After the crash bar hit and I tumbled, the bike sort of popped back up and continued forward on her own velocity. She cleared the intersection and the crash bar drug itself along the curb. The curb held My Girl up. She never actually went all the way down. She rested there. I was already in motion following my bike. I took out my phone and dialed 911. The dispatcher said help was on the way. I first thought the guy was leaving the scene but he was actually moving his truck out of the intersection over to the right side of the opposing block. When he approached me, I went ballistic. I swore at him six ways to Sunday and when he gave me some bull-crap about a blind spot, he only made things worse. There is no flipping blind spot. I went after that rather large man with my fists ready to beat the snot out of him. Now this is a tiny town and I later learned the police station is merely a couple blocks away. The only thing that saved that man’s face and saved me from sitting in jail, was that the police man was there in what seems like under two minutes.
EMT’s tended to my shoulder and elbow road rash. At didn’t realize at that time that my pants must have come up because I had a pipe burn also. That didn’t sink in until I calmed down before leaving the scene. By then EMT’s were gone but I knew I could manage that. I went back to that high school park and sat peacefully to consider what had just happened. I was sort of upset with God and yelled at him, “You could tell me what to do without getting me hurt!” I messaged my son and a couple important people. I relaxed, I communicated, and I rode on. I stopped at J&P Cycles to get advice on the safety of the bike. It seemed mostly fine to me, but I am not expert. A tech looked her over, even though that’s not why they are there; she seemed fine for riding and nothing too great was damaged. I bought myself a new helmet because the one I have is missing the shield from last year and I had a heck of time finding that one back in the day; and the half helmet I was wearing last year is gone. I tried a pair of boots to replace those from last year; however I have two different feet sizes. This is causing a problem because I don’t want to wear 3 or more pair of socks on my good foot for mobility and heat reasons, and the fake foot doesn’t fit in my regular size. Since this boot search has been going on, I have decided to ask for the next foot to be in a smaller size so that I can put socks on the bad foot and be normal on the good foot. This will happen in the fall I hope. For now, I think I will have to deal with my Milwaukee shifters and a few extra socks.
I met a dude that also lost his left leg just a couple months after me last year due to a drunk driver. We chatted outside on the picnic table as I installed the quick release on my new helmet. A gentleman from CMA was kind enough to take a picture of us two-legged bikers. We all chatted for quite some time and each of us had our separate ways to go. Just a few more miles down the road I reached the National Motorcycle Museum. It was getting really hot out and the AC of the museum was refreshing. I spent a couple of hours at the museum and was tickled to see Bean’res bike. I remember when I first met him; he had just given the bike over to the museum and was riding a standard bagger. So this is the first time I got to see the infamous bike in person. Next to the bike is a mannequin wearing Bean’res purple suit. It has long blond hair and sunglasses, but I have to laugh because the poor mannequin in swimming in that suit. Bean’re is 6’2” or maybe 6’3” and the mannequin is maybe my height. I asked a tourist to take my picture and had a great 15 minute talk with this man, partly regarding my son’s Virago and the issues he’s having with it.
When I left the museum I went to McDonalds to catch some Wi-Fi and then returned my movie to Wal-Mart. When I got back to camp, my neighbor Mike asked what had happened because he saw me early on the side of the road with the police. I explained and he had a less than favorable opinion of the guy that caused the incident. Not for me to get into here. Ms. Cheryl came over and helped me tend to my wounds since I can’t reach the one on my back. They invited me to dinner and I had a great time with their family. Later by the campfire I read to the two young grandchildren the book I received as a gift entitled, “Grandma Loves her Harley Too”. Young Tyler listened intently and we talked about some of the pages, like the beautiful scenery and I had to teach him what unique means. Despite the mishap and boiling anger from it, my night was extremely pleasant thanks to these strangers that took a moment to care.
In the morning, Mike the neighbor helped me with an experiment. I lowered the wheel setting on the chock and tried yet again to get the bike out by myself. NOPE, couldn’t do it. So, I removed the wheel lock cradle and used only the large portion of the chock that hugs the wheel. I strapped down the bike and packed up the trailer. I was off yet again. I said my goodbyes to the neighbors and asked for a family photo. Mike gave me $20 and said to have a drink on them. Well, I tried to give it back and told him their kindness had been more than enough. He wouldn’t have it. So I graciously accepted and when I ate my lunch later that day, I gave thanks for meeting such great people.
I traveled most of the day but since the night prior I was stiff and aching pretty bad. I drove about three hours and finally decided to hit a local Emergency Room to get checked out. I didn’t think I was really hurt much, but it was settling in. I was told I had a hyper extended left neck muscle (whip lash basically). They gave me drugs of course, but I couldn’t take them because I was driving. More than anything I got a little relief from the ice pack they gave me, but I looked like a dork with the neck brace on. So it goes. I continued my drive to my next camp and arrived about 6 pm. The ice had long since gone warm and I left the brace on for the drive but I had to setup so I could sleep and it was hindering my movement. The unload process went far better since I altered the chock. I also am getting a better packing method down now that the bike has been in and out a few times. Setup went fairly well and didn’t take too long. This camp has no water on the sites so I was testing out how this would go. I chose the place because it was only $15 per night and I have to pay double that next week while in Sturgis. I saw several tourist things I can do in Monticello and Wynot, Iowa. And of course, I have checked the map for pretty roads to ride. My first full day was spent waking from the fog of the muscle relaxer, which I don’t think I want to take anymore, dealing with insurance and attorney on the recent accident, and doing the work that pays the bills. I’ll adventure during the week and shall head out this coming weekend to Sturgis.
Wishing you all Peace, Hugs, and Pipes that Rumble (TM)…