Friday, July 28, 2006

My Date With a Deer

My Dad asked me to publish this one.

My Date with a Deer

It was early spring in Charlotte. The last frost was still ahead of us but you could never tell by the air today. The wild dogwoods were beginning to bloom. On a day like this even a 48 year old man could feel invincible. The road, as far as I could tell, would go on forever. This was a day to be outside.

“You know,” I said to my father as we walked up the 7th hole, “the outfits these motorcycle people wear work great. As long as you do not run into anything solid you just slide.” Bruce was not impressed. “Don’t fall off your motorcycle,” was all he had to say about that. I had no idea how soon I would get to test my theory.

Later that day, sitting at home I got a call.

“Let’s go ride.” Terry said on the phone. I had no idea where but I like riding.

“Come on over.” I said, “I’ll be ready.”

I rolled my VTX 1800R out of the garage. A little Honda polish and a micro fiber cloth would shine it up just right. Terry arrived shortly and we were off, headed to a state park within easy riding distance.

“It will be light when we get there.” He said with a big grin. “and it will not be cold coming home.”

With that we were off. An hour or so later we were driving up the twisty road to the top of Morrow Mountain. He had underestimated the time somewhat. It was 6:55 PM and darkening fast as we climbed the hill. The park closed at 7:00 PM. I know this because the Ranger told us so. He was very pleasant as I find all law enforcement people to be. He just wanted to go home and we were the last people in his park. We hustled down and stopped at the gate to reach into our saddlebags and put on more clothes. Terry had missed the temperature a bit. A brief discussion ensued leading to an easy choice. That big restaurant with the full parking lot back a mile or two on NC 24-27 was our goal.

The road out to 24-27 was wide, with easy turns. It was also very dark. Terry had led the whole way up so it was my turn to be in front. I hit 55 just as the speed limit did and I was accelerating from there around an easy right hand uphill turn. The road looked oddly shadowed for a moment, then my lights saw the deer. There were several of them, the largest in the center of the road. As an adult human being I tend to think in words. Words were too slow for this moment. As fast as you can say ‘shadow-deer-thud.’ That was it. I hit the deer that fast. My brain could see him and his buddies. I can count six of them in the image that remains in my head. I remember the colors of their hides and the reflections in their eyes. My brain saw the deer in the middle trot a little to the right, farther into my path. Deer do not know that you are following the road. He probably thought he was moving out of the way. He was wrong. I hit him, shadow-deer-thud, that fast and I was down; tumbling and sliding.

I have no idea how long this next part took. I have fallen skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, mountain boarding, water skiing and just running. There was nothing in my past anything like this meeting with the pavement. I think I tumbled a bit. I slid a bit. I ended up on my back. I am sure I did at least one rotation sideways before I stopped. Somewhere around the tumbling part the bike left me and slid on its own. Measuring from the start of the skid to the end of the bike’s travel the next day showed that it went 62 yards from point of impact to its resting place. I would have been happy that I had stopped moving had I not hurt so badly.

My back and left side felt like they had been beaten by a rubber truncheon in some foreign prison. I imagined only torture could reproduce that level of pain. All I could do was yell. I think I was more animal than human at this point. Every exhale was an unfocused yell. The kind of yell the Olympic weight lifters do when they pick up the big weights. I do not know how long I sat in the road and yelled like that. When you hurt that bad time doesn’t matter much. I really did not care that it might not hurt later. It just hurt too much at that moment to do anything else. I yelled, and yelled, and yelled.

There was another part of my brain at work here. Even as I yelled incoherently like an animal who has just been slammed into the pavement at something over 55 miles per hour I was thinking. Did my toes wiggle inside my boots? Yes! Did my hands work? Yes! Terry approached me from the left and asked me if I was bleeding. “Yes,” I said. Then slowly, ever so slowly, the pain began to subside. I came back to humanity.

I saw a car out of my right eye. I asked Terry to go hold him up. I discovered that I could scoot my butt along a bit. I moved myself to the side of the road. I told Terry where to find my cell phone. There was no service. The people in the car got out and the driver went looking for a spot where a call to 911 would work. There was a trickle of blood running down my nose. I took off my helmet and looked at the blood inside it. It hurt a lot to sit so I tried to stand. Up and walking over to look at my motorcycle I did not feel as bad.

There are several kinds of pain. The first is the acute pain that demands attention now, sort of like when you put your hand in a fire. Then there is the long term pain that makes you stop moving so you can heal. There must be something from our ancient past that puts a space in between these two. You could call it a get away/survival space. I had time to get away if I needed to. Part of me actually wanted to straighten up my bike to see how badly it was damaged. I thought about looking for the deer. That was the most active I would be for several days. Fortunately the bald headed animal sitting on the road hollering was almost gone and another part of my brain took over. I was not going to move anything. I looked up the road and saw a nice friendly blue flashing light. I was on my way out of there.

I asked Terry to go with the Ranger, who had come to help after hearing about my wreck on his scanner, to take my VTX somewhere safe and I would get it later. Then I let the 911 people do their thing. Tied to a hard wooden backboard with broken ribs and lots of scrapes and bruises might just make the ride to Stanley County Hospital the worst auto trip I have ever taken. I have been in a hospital before. You just let go. Lying on an x-ray machine twisting left and right as I shivered from the cold was ugly. The scraped areas on my hips kept sticking to the mattress. It got me what I needed though. As soon as they were comfortable that I did not have any broken vertebrae my goal was clear. I was going home before someone thought of a reason to give me a night on a plastic mattress.

Things began to speed up to normal pace again. Donna came to the hospital to get me. She made some new friends in the staff people who gave her directions. Terry called Matt to let him know I would not be in Charlotte at 8:30 for our recording session. The nurses wanted to send me back to x-ray to look at my knee. No was an easy answer. The doctor wanted to put stitches in the contusion on my head. I suggested that it might just do fine if he left it alone. Doc was cool with that. I got back on my feet and we went to the front desk to joke with the nurses until they were ready to let me go. 20 minutes after midnight in Albemarle and the Wendy’s drive through was dinner. That night in bed I was very pleased to discover one spot I could lie still where nothing hurt. It had been 6 hours or so since I last experienced such a position.

The leather covering over my helmet was ripped in four places. My jacket has holes in various places but the body armor stayed in place. My gloves are still useable. The pavement sanded my boots to the thickness of a sheet of paper in many places. As for me I can type just fine but any movement that requires stomach muscles just plain hurts. Things as simple as rolling my chair in towards the keyboard yank at the spot on my left side. My ribs will heal but I do not know when. The bright red contusion on my forehead is colorfully balanced by the large strawberries on my left shoulder, right hip and right knee. A shower revealed that everywhere on my body there are new little cuts and scrapes that burned in the hot water. My hands and feet are unscathed. Matt and I drove to the park the next day to pick up my bike. The Honda store is working on an estimate to fix the motorcycle. One of the men in the ambulance went back and got the deer. Is now cut into steaks in his freezer.

This story is not over yet. The suddenness with which your world can change has given us all a little pause. In one shadow-deer-thud second I went from a very much alive man enjoying a day on a motorcycle to an animal hollering in pain. The State Patrol officer in the Emergency Room told me there were three or four deer hits that night in Stanley County. Thinking about how to prevent such an accident let me get over the apparent randomness of the way the road ended for me that night. I will never again ride carefree down a country road in the dark. I am glad that my motorcycle gear worked as I had told my father it would. I will ride again. Not tomorrow, or even this week, but the day will come. When it does I will be a good bit more careful as I remember that God gave me another day. It will be up to me to make the best use of it.


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