Total Pilot Error!
This little blog post is going to be about being a really dumb rider of a 950-pound Honda Gold Wing. The story about to be shared has been analyzed for hours and questions have been answered. If after reading you’d like to comment with phrases like: “You’re and idiot”, or “I can’t believe you can be so dumb”, or “What were you thinking?”. Well, I get it. This is a story about bad thinking and planning; maybe someone can learn from my stupidity. So, here we go …
I planned a trip to leave my home in Bakersfield, CA and ride to Utah. First night staying in Springdale, Utah near the south entrance to Zion National Park. Next day ride through Zion then up Hwy 89 to SR-14 to I-15 up to Cove Fort crossing over 70 back to 89 and back to St. George (about 440 miles) then ride home from there the next day. Would be a good ride.
The day finally came. I leave at 6:15am from my house. Ride through Tehachapi, CA to Barstow, CA. Lots of wind during that leg. About 30 mph, kind of quartering tail wind. The 950lb GW handles the wind remarkably. Get gas in Barstow and continue to Las Vegas, NV. I-15 to Vegas is a fast road! The GW cruises really nice at #$mph. Pass Vegas and stop in Mesquite, NV. Get some gas and food. Leave heading towards St. George, UT. Pass St. George and ride pass Hurricane, La Verkin, Virgin, Rockville to Springdale, UT. Get a hotel, dinner and sleep.
This first day of riding was great! I love the ride. Between Littlefield and St. George you get the first glimpse of amazing rock formations. Absolutely, amazing. I have enjoyed traveling to a destination so far away and in a different state. Going to bed; I was excited for the next days ride.
It was clear and 30 degrees when I started this moring at about 7:00am. Springdale is beautiful! Rock formation/mountains all around … things you don’t see every day. I started on my second day warm and cozy with my heated jacket, gloves, seat and grips. Just after passing the town of Springdale you are in Zion National Park. If you go to Zion and you are not awe struck … go to a doctor immediately and get checked out! Best 10-12 miles I have ever ridden! Pictures do not come close to the feeling of riding a big GL1800 around the nice curves, through awesome tunnels at Zion.
Exiting Zion on highway 9, I’m heading towards Mt. Carmel Junction (HWY 9 and 89). It was these miles where I was missing the first signs that I should choose another route. I pass about 50 buffalo with snow/ice on their backs (never seen that before). Along this road there seemed to be chucks of “glass” along this path every so often. Now the temp was about 20 degrees (again, I was warm and comfortable). The “glass” was actually ice broken out of the lane divider reflector indentations. The reflector is set in the asphalt creating small caverns where water (from rain) settles. Then at night or day it freezes into ice. Cars run over the center line and shatters the ice which spreads to the highway.
I arrive at Mt. Carmel Junction, UT … a really small but cool little town. Stopped to get gas and continued north on HWY 89 about 30 miles looking for SR-14. HWY 89 is another great road to cruise.
Arriving at a little (itsy bitsy little) town, Gravel Pass at SR-14. Turing left I begin my journey to Duck Creek Village and on to Cedar City. I get to Duck Creek Village … again, I love these little communities out in the middle of nowhere. I stop after passing the town to adjust something on my bike. THIS IS WHERE THE STORY BEGINS.
Stopped at the side of the road I noticed there was “frost” on the sides of the roads. Never gave it a thought other than it looks awesome. Let me say, I am in no hurry to get anywhere. I’m simply enjoying riding into new places and experiencing new routes to tour. I didn’t know it then but I was at 8’500 feet being at Duck Creek. I put it in gear and took off.
After a few miles the frost was actually snow, but the roads were clear. Again, I’m in no hurry just simply enjoying riding in beautiful Utah. The weather is sunshine, beautiful blue skies, outside temp 25 degrees. After a few more miles the snow now had accumulated in the middle of this two-lane SR-14, however, the lanes were clear. I continue a few more miles and now I need to ride in tire tracks to avoid riding in the snow (maybe ice?). Again, up to this point I am enjoying EVERTHING about this trip!
After another mile or so my nice wide tire tracks begin to shrink to about 10 inches … a little further down the road they are now 5 inches. Now I’m concerned.
At this point I move right from comfortable to “I’m in trouble”. The small tire tracks I was tracking in disappeared and there is no sign of dry pavement. It is all slippery ice.
The road at this point is all white/grey … completely iced over. I feel like I’m riding on an ice skating rink. I was riding slow
… maybe 20-25 mph. I was trying to come with ideas that would make my situation go away. There was a high probability I was going to fall … I knew it and was expecting it. I did not think I could stop … I felt I could slip into the snow-covered ditch and I didn’t know what could be under the snow. I for sure could not turn around without falling. I kept moving along for about another quarter mile. Up ahead about 100 yards was a flat looking turn out. I decided to aim for the turn out and then stop safely or lay the bike down … best idea. THIS IS WHERE THE POO HITS THE FAN.
How fast is a “blink of an eye”?
As I aimed towards the “safe place”, in faster than a “blink of an eye” the bike and me were sliding on the rink! The best of my recollection, I must have been traveling between 10-15 mph. The GW slid about 10 feet I slid about 30 feet. I don’t remember the bike falling, but I was feeling the entire sliding action on this unbelievable slick ice. I landed on my knee, then hip and elbow then slid most of the way on my back, head up. I had recently purchased a “super riding suit” (I’d like to talk about gear in the next blog) and it did its job above and beyond the call of duty!
After standing up and making sure I wasn’t injured I walked carefully to the bike … the motor was already turned off. So, there I was standing over my bike alone in the middle of this two-lane road, SR-14. Let me reiterate that I was completely uninjured.
The Gold Wing was uninjured as well. It was resting on the “bracket/bars” that do a remarkable job of keeping the other parts of the bike from getting a mark. I have lifted a Gold Wing from the ground in the past; dry flat ground. I tried this day … there was no way … no grip … the road was so slippery (think ice skating rink).
I decided to
call for a tow truck to get me and the bike to dry ground. At this point before I called a 4-wheel drive pickup drove up the hill and stopped to provide help. The lady pulled over at the spot I was aiming for some 5 minutes earlier. I started walking towards her as she was walking towards me. She apologized and said she didn’t think she could help. I agreed and at this point it gets really, really, really bad.
This lady and me are talking on the side of the road about 75 yards up from my bike. An
SUV (Tahoe) coming the other way, going too fast for the conditions approaches. We both give her the “palms down” slow down sign. She hits the brakes and it was on! The Tahoe slides by us with wheels locked. I’m sure the driver looked ahead and sees the GW laying perpendicular in the middle of the road. The driver (I think) is trying to avoid the motorcycle laying in front of her. She chooses to try and steer this Tahoe to the left. As the SUV begins to track to the left the back end begins to fishtail towards the middle of the road. The speed of the Tahoe at this time didn’t appear to be faster than 25 mph (just a guess). The lady I’m standing with and myself are holding are breaths … not for the GW … but, scared to death as to how this is going to end for the Tahoe. The back end of the Tahoe fishtails and the back tire/bumper area slams into the front cowling of the GW. Parts go everywhere and the bike is spun 360 degrees and ends up on the side of the road.
It gets worse.
Once the back end of the Tahoe hits the motorcycle, the force of the impact shoves the Tahoe’s back end around to the left and she is sliding perpendicular on the road heading straight for a small pickup truck coming the opposite direction. The pickup drives (controlled) into the ditch … avoiding the Tahoe by 10 feet. The Tahoe seemed to try and accelerate away from the pickup. Now the Tahoe is heading straight for the right ditch. The Tahoe slams head straight into the ditch with an awful thud sound, continues through the ditch and knocks down a tree with another horrible cracking sound and disappears from sight.
It became all very quiet. The lady I was standing with began calling 911 and I started walking slowly to the Tahoe. In the passenger seat of the pickup truck in the ditch was an off duty EMT, she got out of the truck immediately and began crossing the street, slowly. I arrived about 30 seconds behind the EMT. The young lady driving the Tahoe was certainly traumatized but, uninjured. The airbag had certainly worked.
From the time we first saw the Tahoe to the crash was only about 15 seconds. Within 10 minutes the fire rescue crew was there. Amazing how fast they arrived! The driver of the Tahoe had to exit the passenger side after two firemen stressfully forced the door opened. She walked away from this awful accident uninjured!
During the next 30 minutes we saw 5 other cars slide into the ditch! One of these 5 cars slid off the road traveling about 20 mph right into a tree! No airbags went off, the driver exited her car upset … because she had just bought this brand new car 2 days earlier!
During all this I called my insurance carrier (GEICO) … they were amazing and have been during this entire process. A tow truck came for me and the bike. After getting the
GW loaded we headed to Cedar City, UT, 10 miles away. The tow truck operator was really great! He drove me to a U-Haul rental shop where a U-Haul truck and trailer was waiting. The operators of this U-Haul store were great! Above and beyond the call of duty! They got the bike in the trailer and strapped the GW down for the 7-hour trip home. This really was not their responsibility … great folks!
At this time, it’s been about 4 hours since my fall. I’m in the U-Haul, no radio and spent the next 7 hours traveling from Cedar City, Utah to Bakersfield, CA going over and over my morning trip and why I fell.
If I were in an airplane, the NTSB report would say “Pilot Error” was the cause of the accident. Indeed, it was! I had so many warnings to turn around that I chose not to listen. It wasn’t because I was going to be late to somewhere. I didn’t have anything to prove. So, let me share with you what I believe happened, the signs I ignored and why I got into trouble.
The purpose of the trip was simply to go on a long ride and enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of riding the Gold Wing. Riding for the pure joy of riding! Those of you who ride understand this “obsession”.
The first sign I didn’t get … the “glass” on HWY 9. This is the sign that says, “Hey, Danger … it’s really cold outside and while you are enjoying this safe ride now, beware, watch
for more ice.” This sign was completely missed … my thoughts were … the “glass” looks kind of cool (pardon the pun).
The next sign came at Duck Creek Village. I’m stopped, adjusting my bike and I see snow on the sides of the road. The message was … “Hey, Danger … it snowed last night and while this looks really nice … there is slippery stuff all over.” My thoughts were the scenery looks awesome! This is great, it’s cold outside, the “roads” are clear and I get to enjoy this ride. And I put it in gear and take off.
There is snow between the two lanes. A HUGE sign! “Danger, do you see this! There is ice/snow on this road … what are you doing?!” My thoughts were … this ride is getting more and more beautiful all the time, I’m not going to cross the road and ride on the snow … I’m a good pilot!
A few minutes later there is snow in my lane, but the tire tracks are clear. Now the signs are down right in my face shouting, TURN AROUND! “Hey Stupid (stopped calling me Danger), you have got to be kidding! You are now riding in tire tracks to avoid the snow and ice covering 50% of the road … you’re going down!” My thoughts were … I’m in the tire tracks and I think the roads will clear up just a little way up the road. However, this was the first time I began thinking about an exit plan, but continued????
Now the tire tracks are narrowing quickly, but still there is about a 10-inch tire track. The message now is, “Danger, you’re truly and idiot! I have asked you to stop and go back several times and you are too stupid to read the signs, no more signs for you!”
The narrow tire tracks are gone. Disappeared, in what seemed like an instant. I am not riding on snow, I’m riding on ice. The bike beneath me is struggling to stay upright. I’m in this situation for about quarter mile and I’m feeling like the pilot that is in the air wishing he was on the ground. I don’t feel I can make a U-turn without falling. It feels like I would fall if I stopped. Gravity was pulling me into the right ditch covered with snow … what’s beneath the snow … cannot go there. My thoughts are accelerating trying to figure out what to do. In between my brain trying to determine what to do there were some potty words being shouted in the helmet. Up ahead about 100 yards was a flat turn out. I’ll get there lay the bike down or not, call a tow truck and presto back to riding on dry roads.
Just as soon as those thoughts crossed my mind I was on the ground sliding … game over!
In summary, what got me were two big things. First, my inexperience in understanding weather and riding. I simply didn’t think the cold temps and a little snow would bite me. Secondly, I’m a bit of an explorer, let’s keep going to see how far I can go before I turn around. I wasn’t doing this to see how good of a rider I might be … just wanted to see what was up around the next curve. Unfortunately, once I determined I had gone too far … I had gone too far.
The 2008 Gold Wing is in the shop for repairs. Should be a couple of weeks before ready.
This event gave me some great appreciation for the little saying: “At least no one was hurt”. I never felt like I was going to die or even get injured … I was traveling very slowly. I know freak things can happen, but, this was not life threatening, therefore, this incident does not count as one of my 5 lives (which I have 4 left).
Now you know the story.
Thanks for reading!