Sparks in the Dark

My last blog was about a crash I had pulling out of a gas station. For some reason that crash scared me more than the one near Hazen, Ark., even though the one close to Hazen had the potential to be much worse.
The Hazen crash came during the week I was in Cabot for my mother’s funeral. I had just started my vacation when she died, so I pulled my camper to my sister’s house and was staying there. I had the Magna with me. We made a day run to our hometown of Gillett, about 100 miles to the south. It was dark by the time we started back so my wife rode with my daughter, son and grandkids who followed me in the minivan.
I was heading north on U.S. 63 coming up on the intersection with U.S. 70. It was several hours after sunset and this poorly designed intersection is not lighted. The striping on the road is worn off and almost nonexistent.

The site of my October 2008 crash near Hazen Arkansas.

The site of my October 2008 crash near Hazen Arkansas.

I was doing 70mph heading up 63. As I came around the corner a vehicle going south blinded me. I didn’t realize the road split with northbound traffic making a right turn. As I approached the place where the road split I tried to see past the glare of the other vehicle’s lights to determine where the road actually went. By the time I realized that I had to swing to the right to avoid a head-on, it was too late. I’d been sloughing off speed as soon as I got confused about where to go. I’m not sure how fast I was going at this point. Once I realized I had to turn, I leaned the bike into a peg-scraping turn, holding it as tight as I could. My daughter said I was really throwing up sparks, which alerted her to the turn. (She hadn’t see it either and said she would have probably wrecked if my emergency manuvering hadn’t alerted her.)
My speed was not excessive. I was matching other traffic on a highway that was as flat as the bottom of a skillet, and straight as a rail for miles. The night was clear and I could see for miles right up to the moment the headlights blinded me. Even then I could see enough of the road so that it looked like the oncoming car was in the same lane with me. Since his course had me to the right of his heading, I was right in the spot where headlights on low beam are directed. In less than a second I went for being able to see very well to being almost completely blind. That fraction of a second happened to be in a critical moment negotiating a curve.
I was making it until I hit grass at the edge of the road. At that point the tires went out from under me and I slid a good 30 yards on the tall wet grass. I stayed in the saddle as the bike did a flat spin. By the time we stopped I was leading the motorcycle.
I could tell I was OK. The wet grass allowed me a slow stop without chewing me up. I’d only been on asphalt for a few seconds and my leather jacket lasted long enough to protect me.
The wreck must have been pretty spectacular. A truck driver behind my daughter came up and said he expected to help remove a corpse. I guess my peg was really throwing up sparks before I went down. The trucker thought I was on fire. He said he thought my bike had exploded and that was why I went down.
Knowing my wife, kids and grandkids had seen me go down, I tried to get up quickly, but my leg was trapped under the bike. My son got there fast and pulled the bike off me. I must have had 10 acres of grass in the bike. I took some damage to the pipes and engine guard during the few seconds I was on the asphalt, but nothing serious. I wore the scrapped jacket for another year. It’s hard to explain exactly why I didn’t get rid of it. Not really a good luck charm, and not to show off a battle scar. It just seemed like it had been through a rough spot with me and felt like an old friend I didn’t want to lose.

− Guy Wheatley

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