Back on June 2nd I set off on an adventure – a 10,000 mile cross country motorcycle trip that would take me through 27 states. It was easily the longest and most involved trip I’d ever taken, and I started planning for it almost 9 months before I left. Roads to ride, places to stay, equipment to buy, I tried to think of everything I’d need along the way. And then I started thinking outside the box a bit and tried to plan for those “just in case” moments.
I found, I think, every BMW dealer within 100 miles of my route and plugged them into my Zumo. I counted the miles and made appointments at dealers in Salt Lake City, UT and Austin, TX in order to get the bike looked over. Since I knew at points I’d be out in the middle of nowhere with no cell service, I subscribed to SPOT Satellite Messenger service. While I knew there was no way to be prepared for every possibility, I tried to take the steps that would give me the broadest coverage. It’s a good thing I did.
By the time I hit Salt Lake City, the TKC-80s were done in. The front was ok for another 500 miles maybe, but the back was totally shot.
After talking with the good folks at BMW Motorcycles of Utah, they hooked me up with a pair of Michelin Anakee 2s and gave me some terrific information about riding in Escalante National Monument (The Grand Staircase). I donated the front TKC-80 to their shop. I imagine someone put it to good use.
Down in Austin I needed to get a mileage-based service performed and discovered a bracket holding the rear mudguard in place had sheered off. Nothing devastating, but good to know. They didn’t have the parts to fix it (and neither did anyone else they called, from Dallas to San Antonio), so we jury-rigged a temporary solution that worked just fine. Or it would have if I didn’t crash and break the guard off completely, that is.
During one of my stops on the way to Austin, I took every dirt road in Texas I had planned on riding off my route. See, on my way across the panhandle I discovered that the massive drought had turned most of those dirt roads into fine-grained sand roads. Between the 113 degree heat and the complete lack of rain for the previous 40 or so days, all the moisture just baked away, and I had no desire to plow a fully loaded GS through 4-8 inches of fine talc.
I missed one road though: Bragg Road – The Ghost Road of Hardin County.
I have no idea how I found out about this road, and no idea why it appealed to me so much. I arrived at the southern end of the road and stopped, debating about whether or not I wanted to try it. I knew it went straight as an arrow for about 8 miles before it hit the paved road I would turn off on (Farm to Market Rd 1293). More importantly, it was simple to bypass. Hell, I’d even save time if I bypassed it. I took a walk about a half a mile down the road and what I saw looked good. It was a little rutted, but the dirt was firm and there seemed to be plenty of room to turn around if things got worse further on. I went back to the bike, sat on a log on the corner of The Ghost Road and 787, had a smoke, and thought it over.
While I was there, a pickup truck pulled up to see if everything was ok. We ended up chatting for about 15 or 20 minutes, and when I asked him about Bragg Rd he said it’d be fine. “Folks live along the south half,” he said. “So’s they keep it graded real good for them.” He also poked a bit of fun for buying into the whole Ghost Road bit, but it was all in good humor and we had a laugh about it together. I took him at his word and, after he pulled off headed south to 770 (where I had just come from), mounted up and began the last 6 miles of my summer vacation.
The first 5 miles were great. It was a little after 11:00, and by the time I pushed off from 787 the temps were already in the 90s, so it was nice to be in the shade beneath the arching trees that line either side of Bragg Rd. It hadn’t been graded recently, but it was still in fairly good shape. The ruts down either side were only about 3” deep and the middle had about 1/4” of sand, but it was easy going. I kept it slow and enjoyed the shadowed breeze.
At about the 5 mile mark, though, the road began to deteriorate. At one point my gut told me to turn around, but I didn’t take it seriously. “Three more miles until 1293,” I thought. “How bad can it get in three miles?”
With two miles left, patches of deeper sand started to appear, and the ruts had doubled in width and depth. I slowed to about 20 mph and started weighing my options. If I wanted or needed to turn around now, I’d have to unload the bike to manage the sand and ruts. My gut was screaming at me, but still my head said, “Soldier on! You don’t want to go back through all that crap anyway!”
Instead of having this internal argument with myself, I should have been focused. I let my concentration ebb for a moment of deliberation, and The Ghost Road kicked me in the ass.
Right around noon, and almost exactly at the 6 mile mark, I felt the front tire wash out in the sand. I went down hard, the bike landing on my right leg and my helmet smacking into the sand and dirt. Thankfully I had slowed down during my little argument. Thankfully I hadn’t taken off my riding jacket, gloves, or helmet in the near 100 degree heat.
I popped up and immediately knew I had hurt my ankle. I had no clue how bad it was, but I wasn’t about to unwrap my big ol’ Joe Rocket riding boot to find out. If it was broken, the pressure on it was a good thing, especially considering what I knew I had to do next. I stripped down to my riding pants and t-shirt and unloaded the bike. That was the easy part. Lifting it back up with a bum ankle was the hard part. Once righted, I checked it over, and with the exception of a few scratches on the cylinder, everything important looked fine. The mudguard was hanging by a thread of plastic, so I took it the rest of the way off.
I couldn’t turn around. The ruts were just too wide and deep. I hobbled ahead looking for a spot wide enough to wheel the bike around and found one about a half mile down. The ankle didn’t seem too bad, so I figured it was only sprained. For some reason I decided it would be safer to leave the bike unloaded and carry my gear down to the little turn-around. I kept the tent and sleeping bag loaded since they are so light, but I didn’t want to deal with the extra weight of the side and top cases in what was now 4”-8” of sand.
I hopped on the bike and drove about 1/10th of a mile, then walked back to my gear. It took 4 trips. I drove another 1/10th of a mile, and did the same thing. Each trek through the sand worsened my ankle.
About then I got a call from my friend Nick in Houston. It went to voicemail (sorry Nick, phone was in the jacket, I was down the road lugging my gear). When I checked the message, he was worried. He had been watching the SPOT Tracker and noticed I hadn’t moved much in the last 3 hours.
3 hours? Holy crap. It was nearly 3:00 PM. It had taken me just over 2 hours to go 2/10th of a mile? I did some quick math…
1/10th a mile per hour…
3/10th of a mile to the turn around…
6.2 miles behind me…
1.8 miles in front of me…
Carry the one…
I was going to be out here well past dark at this rate – ON THE GHOST ROAD!
I sent Nick a text: “I’m ok. Bike’s ok. Can’t talk now. Will update soon.”
Or something like that. I probably scared the crap out of him, but I didn’t have anything to tell him just yet. The worst part was, I could barely put any weight on the ankle at that point. All that walking turns out to have been a certifiably bad idea.
But… my phone had rung.
I had cell service.
I’ve been an American Motorcycle Association member since 2003 and I’ve never once used their services (other than hotel and Bike Bandit discounts). On a couple of occasions I’ve thought about canceling, but always wound up thinking better of it. I talked with Alison (I think, or maybe it was Alice?) and she was just awesome. She arranged for a tow truck to pick me up and take me to the nearest hospital. She was worried about not calling me an ambulance, but I said I was, all things considered, OK and that the tow truck would be fine if they were willing to drop me and the bike off in the hospital parking lot.
Ten minutes later Joanne Harris of Big Bird Wrecker Service called me to let me know her husband Brady was on the way. Thirty minutes after that Brady and I were loading the GS onto his wrecker.
Brady and Joanne deserve a post of their own, so I’ll get to them some other day. For now, let me get to the point of this post…
All the preparation I did… all the planning, all the precautions, all the “what if” question and answer sessions… Not once did I ever consider that I would be the cause of my own problem. A moment’s distraction… that’s all it took to end my trip. A moment’s loss of focus. Yes, in the end I was prepared with the physical stuff I needed to deal with the situation, but I’m the one that caused it by first not listening to my instincts, and then getting lost in my own thoughts.
Thankfully the AMA was able to help me out. Thankfully I had cell service. Thankfully I met the coolest tow-truck driving couple on the planet. Thankfully I had such good friends in Nick and Erin, who drove for 2 hours from Houston to rescue me from a backwater hospital whose chief doctor repeatedly told me “You broke your big bone” in the most horrifyingly stereotypical Indian accent imaginable (and yes, Beaumont Baptist will be getting a post all their own as well. Broke my big bone, indeed. Quack).
When I started this post about 1,800 words ago I thought it was about the importance of being prepared. But it’s not, really. It’s about the importance of putting yourself out there, taking responsibility for your actions, and dealing with whatever comes your way the best you can. If you do that, you will find your own success.
And for Pete’s sake, don’t listen to what anyone says about the outcome! I’ve heard more crap about my “failed” vacation in the last four months than I can even remember, from friends and family members alike. The only person who can tell you with any degree of certainty if you failed is you. Your friends don’t know, your parents, your significant other, none of them know. You may value their opinion, but when it comes to your success or failure, they just don’t know what the hell they are talking about.
Not reaching your goal doesn’t mean you failed. My little tumble put an end to my goal of a 10,000 mile trip. I didn’t get to Ride the Dragon, or visit Barber’s. I missed the Blue Ridge Parkway and seeing my cousin Chris who I haven’t seen since… gads I don’t even know how long it’s been. Even though I crashed and missed all that, even though I put myself in the position of adversity that caused the crash, it was still the best trip I’ve ever taken. My vacation may not have turned out like I had so meticulously planned, but it was still a success.
Put yourself out there. Take a chance. Plan and prepare, but don’t be afraid of not reaching your goal. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 10,000 mile trip, a new job opportunity, an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts, or that cute blonde across the room. If you open yourself to possibilities, even unfortunate ones, you will learn about success.
Failure is just a point of view. Don’t ever let it be yours.