FORT MEADE, Md. (AFNS) – Some memories are Kodak moments – the kind you want to recall again and again. Others are more sinister, hanging around unwanted, as a reminder of life’s darker side.
One such ominous memory combines one of my greatest joys and my greatest fear into a valuable life lesson.
On a beautiful, warm summer evening, the alarm bell rang at the fire-station where I volunteered during college. Within a few minutes, my crew and I arrived at the scene of a downtown motorcycle accident.
A lifeless body lay several feet away from the wreckage. After a collision with a car, only a mangled ball of iron was left of the motorcycle. The rider was dead on arrival, while the driver of the car walked away unharmed.
Despite this experience, last year I decided to get a motorcycle. It is the best way to travel on a summer day, whisking through traffic while enjoying easy parking at my destination. For me, it is the only true way to explore America’s highways–in a community of riders, who greet each other like friends, even in the big cities.
Knowing full well that my decision brought inherent risks, I applied through the base for a certified new rider’s course. I relearned basic bike operation, traffic rules and safety techniques that would give me a safe start on a machine more than three times my own body weight.
And it was time well spent: While road signs and laws translate directly for motorcyclists, the actual dynamics of the road change dramatically for bikers: Riding a motorcycle places you low on the totem pole of road safety.
Because automobile drivers often have no idea how fast motorcycles travel, they misestimate their approach or breaking distances. Very often drivers don’t even see riders until it’s too late. Add to that drivers distracted by texting, cell phone conversations or other disruptions, and the possibility of an accident rises drastically. As much as possible, I try to increase my personal safety by anticipating others’ actions and making sure that drivers have noticed me before I enter intersections or change lanes.
Parity on the road means that motorcycle riders are responsible for their own actions. At times bikers may overestimate their riding skills and underestimate the bike’s power. Adherence to speed limits and traffic rules can go a long way toward staying within a “safe zone.”
Finally, before I “hit the road,” I make sure I am prepared so that I could literally hit the road with little or no consequence. Before I trade the protection of a car for the joy of open-air riding–with only inches between me and the pavement–I make sure I’m wearing complete head-to-toe gear. I have seen first-hand that “road rash” is an understatement.
I do not regret my decision to ride. Yet, I always remember the rider who didn’t survive. I carry the memory with me every time I clasp the chinstrap of my helmet–knowing that I want to enjoy my life on two wheels and ride so I can live another day. I hope you do the same, and greet me when we pass each other on the open road.