Friday, July 29, 2011

Hairpin Bend

I've known for a long time now that I am truly blessed. There's no other way to say it. Ever since my near drowning when I was ten (Ref: My Favourite Place) and my very serious car crash in 1969 (Ref: My Unknown Angel) I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that I am being guarded and protected by my Unknown Angel. I could not have made it this far without her. Twenty-seven smashed-up bones later and I'm still fully mobile and able to ride a Harley. This essay reinforces this declaration for the third time.

The remote stretch of coastal highway14 connecting Jordan River to Port Renfrew on the south-west coast of Vancouver Island is fairly rough. It's loaded with uneven road surfaces; poorly patched pot-holes; narrow soft shoulders in places; terrific sharp turns and hairpin bends. It would make a superb race-track for Tourist Trophy (TT) races. My riding buddy Jim and I toured that highway. I rode my 2004 Harley Davidson Super-Glide and he took his 2006 Honda Shadow. He took the lead. What a ride! There was no other traffic. Our bikes performed extremely well. There was no shortage of near full throttle accelerations and heavy braking. Our riding skills were tested to the limit. It was a challenging and thrilling ride and we arrived at Port Renfrew, exhilarated.

On the return trip I took the lead. I wanted to pick up the pace a little. I was anxious to put the bike through its performance specifications. Sometimes I do this but only when conditions are right. Its times like this when I feel lucky to be alive. She performed admirably. Me and the bike worked in perfect harmony together. I knew I was getting close to the 180 degree hairpin bend that we past through on our incoming trip, but this time, I was going downhill and I was approaching it fast. What little shoulder there was, was damp, soft and unstable. The drainage ditch was ten feet deep and loose rocks were scattered randomly along the bottom.

Patches of loose grit and fine sand were all over the road so I knew that touching the brakes was not an option. Neither did I want me and the bike to slide into the ditch on our sides. My only chance of making the curve was to reduce my speed pronto; lean her far over to my left as much as possible and try to navigate my way around as best as I could. Instantly, I down-shifted from 5th to 4th to 3rd to 2nd gear in rapid succession. The bike bucked like a rocking-horse as my front forks violently compressed and decompressed from heavy engine braking and rapid clutch engagements. At the same time, I tried to follow an imaginary arc shadowing the rim of the ditch - but I knew I wasn't going to make it. I was heading into the ditch at an oblique angle and there was no way to recover from it. My speed hadn't dropped low enough. My thoughts switched to damage-control in a millisecond. Should I stay with the bike?... or should I jump away and just let her go?

That's when she came! I felt the rear tire starting to dig into the mud and grab hold. It was as if she was applying weight to the back wheel. Keeping my cool, I managed to remain upright while I slowly and carefully navigated a gentle slope upwards until I was on solid asphalt again. I hit the kill-switch; parked the bike and sat down at the side of the road with my head in my hands. I quietly thanked my Unknown Angel for saving my skin – once again.

The bike was OK. I walked down the side of the ditch to examine the patch where I regained control of it. What happened should not have happened. It was against the laws of nature and motion. The wall of the ditch was so wet, soft, and slippery that I couldn't even get back up without slipping and sliding. I found nothing solid enough to support any traction at all.

Many people dismiss the thought of an Unknown Angel as a fairy tale. Others accept it. I belong to the latter group.

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