Going down on the road…
By Donna Warren

I had a great trip to the Women’s and Motorcycling conference in Athens, Ga. But unfortunately a 14 day trip for 18 people usually isn’t without a few incidents and “events”. I define events as those things we would rather not happen when we are on a trip such as losing luggage, mechanical breakdown, accidents, etc.

I had an event in Athens. On Monday, July 3rd, I made a trip to the Federal Express office to ship home all of the stuff I bought and some other things I didn’t think I would need for the rest of the trip.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Athens area, it is located on the southern end of the Piedmont plateau that stretches from the Virginia border through the Carolinas, Georgia and into Northern Alabama. This is the foothills area of the Great Smoky Mountain chain. It is very hilly and there are some very steep roads. The pavement is slightly rounded rather than flat as is more common here in New Jersey. It’s curved more to let the rain runoff easily.

The Federal Express office is located on Broad Street going west out of town. There is approximately a 5% grade as you descend from the center of town. For the un-initiated, that is a very steep hill…the kind requiring truckers to use lower gears. It was almost as bad as those legendary straight up and down hills in San Francisco.

As I was going down it on the way out of the downtown area, I remember thinking how tricky going down the hill would be in the rain or with ice on the roadway. I was supposed to meet one of the other members staying at the Marriott Courtyard on North Finley Street for lunch, doing laundry and a relaxing afternoon at the pool. Finley was a left turn several blocks past the crest of the hill on the way back.

So there I was coming back up the hill riding in the left lane because I knew I would soon have to make a left turn and wasn’t exactly sure how far it was. When all of a sudden, I realized that the vehicle in front of me had stopped to make a left turn…the problem was he had no brake lights nor apparently a working turn signal.

I wasn’t speeding but I was climbing a very steep hill under full throttle at 30-35 mph and knew I couldn’t stop in time. Since I’ve never thought I would make a very good trunk ornament or hood ornament for that matter, I did a panic stop and then swerved to the right to avoid the car.

As I approached his bumper, the rear of the bike started coming around on my left. Either I wasn’t pressing hard enough on the rear brake or I’d locked the damn things up. I pumped the brake trying to correct the problem. The bike straightened out but I was already in the swerve. Now, I know you can not use brakes while swerving because you will go down.

Apparently I hadn’t got of the brake soon enough because I was below 45 degrees. As a last resort, I kicked the ground and pulled up as hard as I could on the right handlebar to try to get the bike more upright.

Unfortunately, with the curved pavement, my leg was about eight inches too short to do any good. I knew I was going down so I hit the kill switch and hung on.

Since I was almost stopped anyway, I went down easy. I instinctively pushed myself away from the bike. Then to my complete surprise, both the bike and I began sliding down that 5% grade.

A mechanic from a nearby garage ran over. I yelled for him to grab my bike so it would stop sliding. He grabbed the bike and someone grabbed me and helped me off the road. I later learned the mechanic who grabbed my bike was walking back from a local deli with drinks for his co-workers. The man who helped me was the driver of a car behind my location in the right lane. Their garage was on a side street about a hundred feet further up the hill.

A couple of other mechanics arrived and they picked the bike up and pushed my baby onto the side street. Since they were mechanics, they checked everything over to make sure my bike was safe to ride. I didn’t think I was hurt, the bike had only a few scratches and I had avoided the accident…well almost anyway. I suppose going down on the street does classify as an accident but I didn’t hit the car, totally wreck my bike and turn myself into a trunk ornament. As far as I’m concerned, it was an acceptable outcome.

The men wanted to call the police and an ambulance but I wouldn’t let them. While I wouldn’t have minded seeing the jerk without brake lights get a ticket especially since one of my rescuers saw the whole thing and was willing to testify if needed, I really didn’t want to spend a couple of hours dealing with the police. Also, I wasn’t sure if the police would consider my going down a reportable accident and I definitely didn’t want that.

So when these very nice men were convinced I was OK, they let me continue on my way and I rode to the Marriott to meet Mickey. My hotel didn’t have a Laundromat so I had brought some clothes in the T-bag to wash while we were lounging at the pool. When I stopped in the hotel parking lot, I had to call Mickey to come down and get the T-bag off the bike because by then I was shaking like a leaf and my hands wouldn’t work right.

You see, the realization about how truly blessed I’d been had finally registered. It was only by the grace of God that there were no cars close enough to me in the right lane going up that hill so that I would get run over. There was a car in the right lane but the driver was far enough behind me to be able to stop long before he would have hit me. In fact, he was one of the people who helped me get up.

All in all, the incident ended successfully because I had avoided hitting the car and that was good but I also made a mistake that caused me to go down. Thinking about it since then, I realize I had put new brakes and tires on my bike the week before we left. I’d only had those new brakes a week and had been riding on the extremely worn brake pads for months so I’m pretty sure I had locked the rear brakes. Needing to pump them to straighten back out kept me on the brakes into the swerve which caused me to go down.

In retrospect (isn’t 20-20 hindsight just great!), the next time I put new brakes or tires on my bike, I’m going to go out to a parking lot and practice those panic stops and obstacle avoidance maneuvers before I go on a long ride. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to practice them any time you make changes that can affect the handling of your bike.

As for getting injured, I had pulled all of the tendons, ligaments and muscles on the right side of my chest when I tried to prevent going down which hurt but wasn’t serious. After soaking in the hot tub and relaxing by the pool, I rode back to my hotel later that afternoon, to the closing ceremonies that night and was able to leave with the group early the next morning for Greeneville, TN…our next stop.


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