Sunday, July 25, 2010
Phelan is having a contest over at her blog. The prize is a 72-hour bag, which actually goes along with my blog's theme of preparedness ;), and so I thought I would enter, and provide a link to encourage any of the rest of you who might have motorcycle-related stories to enter, also. The purpose of the contest is to bring attention to the issue of downed-bikers. The challenge is to write a "biker" story. Unfortunately, I'm not a biker, but motorcycles figure prominently in my past.
My favorite story is one my father tells that doesn't involve me. Back when we lived in Germany, my father had a motorcyle he used to ride to work. One time, he had needed to travel a pretty far distance from where we lived for a class or something. He'd offered another soldier a ride back to where we lived.
It was a particularly brutal ride. It was raining or snowing, and it was cold. As they made their way south, my dad noticed that he was having a really hard time keeping the bike on the straight and narrow. With the weather like it was, he thought it was the wind whipping him all of the place, and he was afraid that he might have to stop and wait things out.
About halfway home, he realized that it wasn't the weather, however. His passenger didn't have any gloves, and he'd been leaning over every so often to warm his hands with the tailpipes. Every time he leaned, my father had to adjust the bike to keep from falling over.
The not so fond memory involves me trying to learn to ride a bicycle and doing my practicing in the street. We lived in a military housing area, but these housing areas were often smack-dab in the middle of the town. So, while most of my neighbors were American families, we were, kind of, in the middle of German life, too, and there was a little German shop that we used to ride (and walk) up to where they sold candy and stuff little girls like to buy.
There was an intersection I had to cross to get from where our apartment building was to the kiosk. It was a four-way stop, which wouldn't have been a problem, if I had been able to get going faster - although on this particular day, it didn't really matter how fast or slow I went through the intersection.
From what people were able to piece together (because, frankly, I don't remember any of it), I was riding my bicycle along the road and came to the intersection, where I stopped and looked both ways. When I was sure it was clear, I proceeded through the intersection, but I might as well have been walking in the middle of the road, for as fast as I was getting through.
Somewhere in the middle of the intersection, a soldier (I think, one of my father's, who was a company commander at the time) came barreling toward me on a motorcycle he'd borrowed from a friend. He ran into me, and from what I was told, I was thrown some distance and the bicycle I was riding (my older sister's, and no, she never has forgiven me for ruining her bike) was twisted into the a Z shape.
I sustained a head trauma and was unconscious for thirty-six hours, lying in the Krakenhaus in Frankfurt, where I'd been air-lifted (my first and only ride on a helicopter, and I don't remember!). I had stitches in the side of my head near my temple. I also had a pretty severe case of road rash on my shoulder and my lower back. I still carry the scars today. Thankfully, there were no broken bones, and I don't seem to have suffered any ill effects from the head trauma, although my mother will tell you that the portion of my brain where math aptitude is stored was irreparably damaged.
In the military, when things happen to dependants, it is the soldier's fault, unless it can be proved otherwise. It's especially true overseas, and one's commanders will sooner ship a troubled family home as have them stay and, potentially, negatively impact the mission. In the Army's eyes, the soldier has to be there, but his family does not, and it was even more true back in the '70s when this happened. They used to say something like, Uncle Sam didn't issue you a wife ;).
So, my father had to experience a brutal investigation into the incident. Not only was his daughter involved and severely injured, but also one of his soldiers was implicated. He had it pretty rough, and I do remember him being very stressed out and the feeling that it was all my fault, because I'd been riding in the road.
In the end, I (and by association, my father) was found not at fault, at least in the military's eyes. The soldier had been drinking - not enough to be a DUI, but because he had a beer or two, it was determined that his judgment had been impaired. The thing that really helped me, though, was the fact that he wasn't looking where he was going when the accident happened. He was test driving his friend's bike, but it was stuck in second gear, and so he was looking down, trying to get it into the next gear when he approached the intersection, and he didn't see me or the stop sign.
I don't know what happened to the soldier. I imagine he was harshly dealt with, and because a child and dependant were involved, and because it was the company commander's child and dependant, I imagine the punishment occurred at the Battalion, or higher, level. In other words, my father, the guy's CO, didn't sign the Article 15. I also want to stress that I have never held any malice toward that soldier. His punishment was likely more severe than he deserved, and I actually feel bad for him.
The whole thing was incredibly stressful for my father. A company commander has to provide a positive example for his soldiers, and can't have family problems or personal problems. It was very shortly after that, that we returned to the States. I'm pretty sure my little accident didn't have anything to do with it, but who knows.
My parents never bought me another bicycle, and while riding a bike is one of those things you really don't ever forget how to do, until I moved to Maine, I didn't own a bicycle of my own and was never really comfortable on them (I am now, if you're wondering).
I also thought I might be afraid of motorcycles, but I've found that I'm not. I find riding on the back of one exhilarating, and I keep waiting for Deus Ex Machina to make good on his threat to get one. In fact, I keep thinking if I had a motorcycle with a side car, I could give up one of my cars, and the girls and I could tool around in the motorcycle. They're little, and two of them would fit, snugly, in the side car, and one could ride behind me.
I'm thinking about the cost savings and environmental savings in driving a motorcycle that gets much better gas mileage than just about any car, but there's also that cool factor that can not be denied.