Hazardous pastime

The news has been talking this week about the hazards of motorcycling with the death of another rider west of Mandan, Neal Geiger. It was another case of the classic “I didn’t see him” syndrome from which many “cagers,” a term we motorcyclists use for car drivers, suffer.

We’re in a very tricky season. Not only are the roads still scummy and sandy from the winter, but the sun is still very low in the sky this time of year. That can make for some very dangerous visibility problems at dusk and dawn. Compound that with the fact that area cagers have probably not seen a motorcycle on the roads for several months now, aside from the diehards, so they’re just not used to looking for them on a conscious or subconscious level.

I haven’t even ridden any of my motorcycles this year. Only a couple of years ago I made a point of riding every month of the year, including ice racing. But these days I’d rather not sandblast my paint with the remainder of the winter sand, and I’m a little spooked by the whole angle-of-the-sun thing. It was that type of scenario that led to the horrible death of my friend Kirk on his Kawasaki Ninja several years ago. That kind of thing makes you think.

When one participates in high risk activities, our own vulnerabilities and mortality are something we try to brush off so they don’t interfere with the fun. But after a while, the law of averages and the benefit of experience tend to make those concerns harder and harder to put away. Maybe I’m just getting old…more or less, I’m lucky to be getting old. As several of my friends would attest, we hung it out there farther and faster than any one of us should have dared and yet survived. I’ve got the scars, the almost invisible limp, and the 24 hour pain to prove it.

I was talking with a friend today about the newspaper article about Mr. Geiger’s fatal collision, and it brought to mind memories of friends that have passed. There have been several fatalities among my friends here and abroad. One particularly awful memory was the crash of Norm Kukert, a friend who died literally right in front of another friend and me. I still can’t see a motorcycle on its side without seeing the horribly grisly accident scene. Facing not only the tragedy of a fallen friend, but also one’s own mortality staring back at you, can be a sobering event.

I remember when my friend Mike announced he was going to quit roadracing. He and his wife had a new baby boy, their first, and he decided to hang up racing for their sakes. This was interesting given his particular career, which is inherently dangerous. The next weekend, the weekend immediately following the 9/11 attacks, I was all set up and ready to race on my own. For a number of reasons I packed up my pit gear and came back to North Dakota without racing. That very weekend a young man was killed in turn 2 while his fiance and their little girl were in attendance. Suddenly Mike’s choice didn’t seem so cautious after all.

Why do I continue to ride? It’s what I am. It’s all I’ve ever known, since before I was even in first grade. It’s where I feel at home, it’s where I find peace, it’s where I find excitement and relaxation all bundled up into one. Tragedies and dangers notwithstanding, it’s where I belong.

We all take chances. Different folks have different levels of chance that they’re willing to take. Many of us will be out there this summer on two wheels, occasionally one, trying not to go pinballing between the cars of hapless drivers who “just didn’t see” us. Please take the time to watch out for motorcyclists. We’re counting on you to help lessen the risk of simply doing what we love and were born to do.

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