High Noon in Pennsylvania
The sky is blue and the roads are remote, twisting through the woods between Cumberland, Maryland and Somerset Counties. Swinging through the valleys and towns nestled at the feet of the mountains here, we have no way to predict what is about to happen.
Sometimes, when the stars align in a way to indicate your ticket out is about to be punched, the gods cut you a serious break. T-boning a full-grown doe at 62 mph and riding away virtually unscathed makes me feel like I've stuck a toe in the great hereafter to test the temperature. Now I sit with Honda mechanics in Somerset, PA, my heart thumping like a jackrabbit's on speed. I watch with detachment as they surround the VFR like surgeons in a trauma unit, staring through them as they stitch my shattered fairing. I'm fully aware that 9 times out of 10, under the same conditions, it would be me instead of the bike on the operating table, and this is a thought far more transfixing than the repair job in front of me.
We can't predict these things, and we can't always avoid them. Let's face it - we're all vaguely aware of the dangers deer pose, the same way we know that salt is bad for the heart. But it's hard to be comfortable if you constantly contemplate all the risks that may catch up with you. Forecasting the weather is hard enough. What would be the point in plotting the factors inducing a doe, grazing peacefully in the shade of a laurel, to wander toward the corn on the other side of Route 31? And how could I know she would choose the 'wrong' moment around high noon on Tuesday, September 24th, 2002, to cross the road? You can't go through life obsessed with the rarest possibilities.
Preparing through precaution gives us peace of mind - taking motorcycle safety classes, finding the right eyewear, getting plenty of rest, and paying attention - the list goes on and on. Luckily, I'm still here to report that the most important precaution you can ever take is to stop believing that it won't happen to you. You can never prepare so much that you guarantee your safety, and understanding and accepting this risk is part of what makes riding thrilling. But if you don't think about the risks from time to time, it can be dangerous. Complacency on a bike happens to the best of us occasionally, and after an accident you will always wonder if a lack of concentration was the cause, no matter how much a part it played in reality.
'Man, you're lucky,' says Jason Kiraly, a service technician at Super City Sports Sales who's suturing my cracked fairing together using a jerry-rigged system of plastic ties cinched through newly drilled holes. 'I can't believe you're actually going to ride back out of here on this thing. We should call it Frankenstein - back from the dead, you know? …So you actually killed the deer?'
My voice cracks in the first attempt to answer him, so I stop and try again. I have visions seared behind my eyes like a set of four flash-shots. First the brown movement low and blurred. Second, looking down at the handlebars from over the front fairing. Then, the front grille of a (timber?) truck - an 18-wheeler - and finally the tilt of the horizon as I reverse the lean from the center of the road back to the white line. In my memory, the oncoming truck was still twelve or fourteen feet in front of me when I notice it, so by leaning back into my lane at that instant, I thought I'd cleared it by five or six feet. But Christian, watching with photographic precision from behind, indicates with his fingers that it was more like two inches.