A Date With Destiny
Where to begin, hmm… My story started thirteen years ago when I bought my first bike, an ’83 Kawasaki KZ750 and got motorcycling into my blood. It was the spring of 1990, and I was newly married and still in college. I thought a bike would be an inexpensive mode of transportation back and forth to campus, as my wife needed our car for work. Although my wife wasn’t crazy about the idea, she agreed for me to buy a used bike. Of course it wasn’t long before my younger brother got the fever, too, and bought his first bike. Needless to say we rode. We rode far and wide over the rolling twisting roadways of central and eastern Kentucky. Many times I had traveled those same roads, but I saw them for the first time that summer. Riding became so much more than a mere mode of transportation. But, as it is often said, all good things must end. My brother got into a pinch and sold his bike later that year. After all the miles I put on it and sitting out for a winter, the ’83 Kawasaki started needing repairs and tires. Still in school, I didn’t have much extra cash to put into the bike, so at the insistence of my wife, I sold it. But the biker in me had been stirred to life. From that time forward I would want for something that I could not quite explain.
Over the next few years that “something I couldn’t quite explain” would become very apparent because I kept coming back to the same place. The clues were there, too. Cycle magazines I bought, bike ads in the local paper I browsed, and frequent stops at motorcycle dealerships I made; not to mention the way my head spun around every time a big cruiser would rumble pass on its way to unknown destinations. I wanted another bike! But my first wife invariably had an excuse for why I shouldn’t buy another one. I suppressed my feelings and took up other hobbies like golfing and fishing, but something always remained missing.
A decade later, I found myself divorced and asking questions like, “What now?” I felt like the past ten years had been wasted. As it is for many in my situation (the divorced that is), I started the painful process of dating again. Much to my amazement I soon found myself in love again. And less than a year after one marriage ends another begins. I would not have thought it possible to find love so soon after so much heartache, and Lord knows I wasn’t looking for it, but I did. Life is often funny that way. But, as rotten luck would have it, the second wife hated motorcycles even more passionately than the first wife. Was the universe trying to tell me something? By this time, however, I had somehow deceived myself into thinking I didn’t really want another motorcycle. Ironically, and much to my wife’s dismay, her own father awoke the sleeping biker in me.
My new father-in-law is an avid biker, and we were always talking about his journeys. When I showed interest he offered to let me ride his ’99 Intruder last spring and I fell in love with riding all over again. I had finally figured out once and for all, without a doubt what was missing from my life. The freedom of two wheels and the open road!
As I mentioned, my new wife didn’t want me to get a bike so this would be the first major fight of our fledgling marriage. It was tough but I held my ground; no longer bullied by excuses, my passion for riding would win this battle. In the end, we agreed that if I paid for it I could have it, but she wouldn’t have anything to do with it. Months of savings and much market research later I bought my beautiful new black/blue ’02 Suzuki Intruder Volusia! This was early September 2002.
After twelve long years of waiting, I finally had the bike of my dreams. All my thoughts were now consumed with riding. As if this could somehow make up for all those lost years. I knew I needed to practice some riding basics since it had been so long since I last owned a bike, so I signed up for the MSF Basic Rider course. Unfortunately the MSF courses in my area were booked until the end of September. In the meantime, I couldn’t stand not riding, so I rode every chance I got. It came back to me easily. The Vol was easy to handle, and it all seemed so natural. I was feeling really confident and wanted to stretch my new-found freedom, so when my father-in-law asked if I wanted to join him and his buddies on a weekend trip into the Smokey Mountains, which would include the Cheriola Skyway and the Dragon at Dill’s Gap in North Carolina, of course I couldn’t refuse. My wife was very much against the idea. She thought I should have more experience riding and have completed the MSF course before going on a long trip. I knew deep down she was right, but the fever had taken hold of me. I couldn’t resist the temptation.
As the weekend of the trip approached I got a call from my father-in-law telling me he had come down with a bad cold and didn’t think he was going to make the trip. Was this some unseen force telling me I needed to slow down? I didn’t listen. I told my father-in-law I hoped he felt better and would be able to join us on the ride; I had decided to go anyway. He offered these words of advice, “Be careful on the Dragon and don’t follow Preacher.” Preacher was a long time friend of his and part-time local minister, thus the nickname. Apparently Preacher was known for his lust for speed, especially on the twisties.
The ride that clear autumn day was perfect, blue skies and warm temps. I had ridden further than I had ever gone before on a single ride. The mountains views were spectacular from the saddle of my trusted steed. All was right with the world. We ended up at the campgrounds near Dill’s Gap late in the day, just as the sun was starting to set. I was feeling great, more confident in my riding skills than ever before. This Dragon would be no problem for me.
As we pulled away from the parking lot, I somehow ended up behind Preacher. I had done such a good job avoiding this position in the pack until now. We picked up some speed and then encountered the first curves. Not so bad I thought, I could handle this, no problem. Then Preacher picked up the pace and I followed. It was nearly dark and to exacerbate the problem I was still wearing my dark sunglasses. Then it happened, as we approached a blind curve Preacher suddenly slowed down, but he must have down-shifted because I didn’t realize it until I was nearly on top of him. I slammed on my brakes, but that curve was beyond all control. Before I had time to think another thought I went down. I can remember thinking, “Man I just wrecked!” but couldn’t quite believe it. It felt like a bad dream. My head hurt (thank God I was wearing my helmet), my shoulder hurt, my knee and elbow hurt. And I couldn’t get up; the bike had my right foot pinned to the ground. Luckily the guys riding up from behind were able to stop before they collided with me. They quickly helped me back to my feet. Then I saw my beautiful Vol… It broke my heart, scraped front fender, dented tank, bent brake pedal, broken mirror, and scratched chrome everywhere I looked! Then my left hand started to throb, but with the adrenaline pumping I managed to get back on the bike and ride it nearly 30 more miles to the hotel we had planned to stay the night.
After we checked into the hotel it was becoming more and more apparent that I would not be able to continue the ride. My left hand had swollen to twice its normal size. I later would find out I had crushed the bone at the base of my thumb where it connects to the wrist. I made the dreaded calls, first to the insurance company, then my father-in-law to see if he was feeling well enough to come get me, and last and most frightful was the call to my wife. She was surprisingly calm, which scared me all the more. In the end, I only had to endure a few “I told you so’s”. The worst part of all... no more riding for at least six weeks!
I had to miss the MSF course I signed up to take. As fortune would have it, they had an opening (someone had dropped out) for their last class of the season the first weekend in November. I got my cast off October 22nd and rode a little the next day! I took the MSF course a week-and-a-half later and passed with flying colors. I really learned a lot from it and highly recommend it to newbies or anyone who hasn’t ridden for a while. Yes, I got the Vol all fixed up - good as new. Even added a windshield and saddlebags!
This wreck has taught me much; I am a safer rider today because of it. Come to think of it, life has taught me many lessons over these past thirteen years. Looking back, would I change anything, if I could? I don’t think so; one might say it was a date with destiny. Today as I sit in comfort and look out at the cold winter days, I long for the open road and wonder what new adventures await me.
Ride on my friends! Ride on! See you on the highways and byways!!