Knowing when to call it a day – Retired from 50+ years of riding

After over 50 years of safely riding motorcycles, I finally hit the “big one”. On 4 Aug I went for a ride, first over Casitas Pass to Ojai for breakfast and a tank of gas. Then up Hwy 33, a real world-class motorcycle road, with left sweepers linked with right sweepers for 20 miles or more, 50-90 mph. I was alone and not pushing it, just riding at a sporting pace in perfect weather. Up and over Pine Mountain Summit and down the even-twistier backside to Ozena, then a right turn onto Lockwood Valley Road, another classic twisty road, over to Frazer Park and Gorman. Onto I-5 and down the Grapevine and over to Arvin, looking for the Caliente-Bodfish road to Lake Isabella,

Michael Masson Sept. 15 2014

I noticed my time was up, so I turned west south of Bakersfield and cut over to Maricopa for another tank of fuel. Back along 166 toward Santa Maria, left turn on 33 and up the Cuyama River to Ozena, then back over Pine Mountain Summit along the 33 to Ojai, another great run. And I didn’t make one mistake! Heading home over Casitas Pass, 300 miles into the ride and almost home, I hit the second summit, shifted my feet on the pegs and upshifted to 4th, heading to the first downhill turn, and Bam! … I wake up in a CAT scanner in Ventura. I even missed the helicopter evac!

What happened? I’ll never know. But I know that turn intimately and have known it for 50+ years, a tricky right-hand hair-pin in a blind road cut. From the CHP diagram I fell right at the entry, not deep into the curve, as I would have if I had been going too fast. The only thing that makes perfect sense is this: I downshifted to 3rd, set up on the left hand of my lane, one foot from the centerline, and rolled right for a late-apex turn. Just as I got banked full-over, a car appeared out of the blind right-hander, cutting the curve and over the centerline, right in front of me! A harder push on the right grip, instinctual, and I missed him on the right, falling flat on my right side on the pavement. It makes a lot of sense. Nobody falls at the initiation of a turn! OTOH, maybe I did screw up for the first time in 50+ years, and if so, I’m too old for riding.

I busted my R. ankle (tib/fib, pinned), my R. fibula in at least 5 places, my R. hand, R. scapula and clavicle, maybe 4-5 ribs, pounded my shoulder and multiply-fractured my skull around the right eye. And I lost a bit of skin on my wrist and on my calf. A bit of TBI or CHI, of course, and I still suffer from a bit of vertigo. But I was wearing the $1000 padded Aerostich Roadcrafter riding suit Elona bought me for our 50th anniversary (good thinking, Elona!), and that really, really helped, I am sure, and also a brand-new helmet.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that I was also extremely lucky! I lived through it, and with both hands, feet, knees, hips, and eyes intact, and no paralysis or permanent brain injury. I am one lucky, lucky guy, and very grateful for it! I am now in my 4th week in an excellent rehab facility, and I go home on Thursday (4 weeks), plus rehab takes me up to SBCC twice a week where I teach my Physical Anthro course, from a wheelchair and with Elona helping out. Teaching: it’s good therapy.

Like an alcoholic who has quit drinking, I am still and always will be a motorcyclist, and my post-crash dreams are still happy dreams of motorcycling, but I am now a retired motorcyclist. Doesn’t say I won’t take a hot lap on somebody’s bike someday, but I will not own and ride daily anymore. The lovely BMW bike was destroyed and it would take at least $20,000 to buy back in, but mostly I just can’t put Elona through this again, not that she even asked. So there, I quit!

Just in case you were wondering…


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