The Mental and Emotional Aftermath
I crashed my Tessa (ZX6R) about two weeks ago, and have only now found my bearings to share my story and thoughts about this with you all. The shock of crashing a brand new bike lasted a lot longer than I expected and has left me without the feeling of invincibility, and an overall new perspective on life.
It was on one of the most perfect Sunday mornings… I woke up early enough to set out for a ride and return before the church traffic hit me. The sun was up, and it was stereotypical ‘riding weather’. I had watched ‘Rush’ only the night before, and some of Niki Lauda’s courageous return to racing after his crash was still imprinted in my head. I didn’t feel like riding for pleasure that day… I only wanted to ride to get better and faster in the corners that day. I had wanted to take on a road that had some twisties which made me think twice a few times before. I had begun hanging off recently, and was determined to get some practice and become technically more sound than I was. And I wanted to end the ride by catching up with a book at the coffee shop… ‘Stem Cells Now’, it was.
As I geared up, Lauda’s words about risk popped into my head, especially the part of not exceeding 20%. I had ridden on that road before and had come to know it quite well. The weather was perfect and the sunshine made sure the asphalt would have warmed up sufficiently as I would have ridden a good fifteen miles before I got to Messina (that road). I knew trucks would be barreling down that road, often crossing the center line, but I knew I would be prepared for that. I grabbed a banana and hopped on the bike, checking for the oil level and making sure the brakes were good. The exhaust sounded raspy and egged me to set off.
As I headed to Messina, I began feeling a bit detached from the ride. Doing the speed limit on a straight highway seemed extremely laborious and I began feeling impatient. This is hard to explain. I felt a bit cloudy and pre-occupied with something else. It was perhaps due to my thoughts from earlier in the week when I realized I was determined to commit to riding very, very seriously. I had decided it wouldn’t just be for pleasure. I had wanted to become very good, and technically proficient. I promised to myself that I would pursue track days as much as my crappy pay would let me, and would forgo some other things in life so that I could be a better rider. My mind was filled with a kaleidoscope of Lauda, Senna, Dunlop, Hunt, IoM TT, F1… everything. I was overflowing with a mixture of awe, inspiration and general helplessness that seemed very demanding. I felt both amazed and lethargic at the same time. Was it the reality of financial viability and practicality eclipsing my ambitious visions? I don’t have an answer for that still.
I made the left turn into Messina and headed to the first corner. A couple of fishers were focused on the ponds at either side of the road. It was a slow right and I took it a bit gingerly, with my thoughts shifting between those people fishing and in anticipation of a big truck charging down my lane. And I began hating myself for being a wimp and made an actual effort in the following right-hander to hang off and work the throttle. The next two turns were similar, in that I was concentrating hard in hanging off and trying to get the throttle to work well. An SUV passed me in the opposite direction and consumed my attention momentarily. But I quickly re-established focus to the turn, my body position and the way the asphalt felt. The grip felt good and I managed to get the throttle working well. I was not looking down at the dash now, but my entry and exit speeds seemed good. The next corner was a gem in my book… one of those turns I wouldn’t forget for a long time. I came out of that turn a very satisfied man and looked down at the speedometer. I was well over the speed limit, and was happy that I didn’t try to care about what speed I was doing. It felt a very natural speed for the level of my skills and the time I spent getting acquainted with the bike. I was taking all of these turns in 3rd, and wasn’t too worried about revving the engine too much. Coming from a v-twin with plenty of grunt at the bottom, I wasn’t too confident I would get the pull out of the corners if I was in 4th and doing 35-45 mph.
Then I approached some gravel, which led to the boat ramp into Lake Kincaid. I checked for traffic and passed ahead. Messina would end after a few more corners, leading into a very gravelly path that was basically off-road. I never really knew where that led as I always went there on my bike.
The next few corners came up on me and I wasn’t too happy or too disappointed with the way I took them. One was a sweeping left that I felt better than I did the last time I took it. Then I came out of the last corner (which I didn’t know then) and decided to open it up a bit and shifted into 4th. And there it was. The asphalt ended as I got over a crest, and instead of gravel, there was just slushy mud all over. I began braking when I was still on tarmac and carried on with the rear as the bike ploughed into the mud. Things here happened so fast that I might not be able to recount them accurately. The first thing I remember was the rear sliding underneath me. Then I felt my hands get light on the handlebars and I went back to braking with the front. And then it was over. The bike made wobbled violently once again and came down to the right. I remember being thrown off and hit my head twice while tumbling on my back. Tessa lay on her side behind me, with the engine still humming.
I got up to my feet and yelled the customary ‘Fuck’ as loudly as I could and hurled obscenities at myself for not remembering when the asphalt ended. Then I picked the bike up and set her on the stand and looked for broken pieces. I was covered in mud and so was the bike. I hated myself so much that moment. I had crashed a brand new bike, and the fault was all mine. There was no one to blame. Could I have braked? I don’t know. But I could have remembered to slow down for the end of tarmac instead of shifting up and getting ready for a straight. Why was I so lost in carving those corners up that it took me a moment to register that the road had ended and I needed to brake? Could I have braked in the little patch of asphalt and gravel that existed before the mud began once I came over the crest? The brakes were definitely strong, so I should have tried to. Was I fearful of locking up the front if I grabbed it too hard? What would I have done if that was a car in front of me, and that was all the reaction time that I’d had?
I found a small trail in the mud where the rear had come in and some patches where Tessa and I ate dirt. Littered in the vicinity were a spring, a black plastic fastener and a third piece of plastic I couldn’t recognize. I deduced that the spring would have come from the rear brake, and the fastener was from the black plastic that attached to the front cowl. The bracket holding the rear brake and the footpeg had sheared. The fairing had a sea of scratches and the entire right was deluged in mud. I turned the bike around and started it. I found it was still rideable as long as I didn’t rest my right leg completely on the peg.
A truck had just come out from what lies beyond the mud, and asked if I was okay. I said I was and he grinned back and drove off. I thought I knew what he was thinking: that I was a total squid showing off on my brand new sportbike and got what I deserved. Damn it, I am better than this. My boss lives nearby so I went to his place to get some help. I didn’t want to call insurance. He brought over some zip ties and arranged it so the bracket would stay in place and I could lightly rest my foot on the peg and get home.
On the way back, I felt like shit. The fuel light came on, but I didn’t want to stop. All I could think of was why on earth had I crashed. I was getting better. The first time I crashed on my SV650 was when I didn’t know how to take a corner. Am I still rubbish at riding? What good was I as a rider when I couldn’t even brake hard and suddenly when needed? Are some people just not meant to ride hard? Would I have to be content with allowing the general population think I was cool because I had a bike, and that I was no better than people who pose on their bikes, never showing them any corners? I was yelling at all these accusations with ‘I am not a squid… I am better than that’, but there was a lot of self-doubt at that point. Thoughts of the bike not belonging to me flooded my head as I passed the credit union that lent me money to buy the bike. I had crashed someone elses property. Reality hit me like a bolt of lightning.
I ended up depressed all day after I got home. I didn’t want to turn back and look at Tessa. I had let her down… very badly. I went to meet some friends that night, and hoped to drink down my sorrow with a lot of wine over a game of Risk (yes, I keep some occasional company with geeks). I drank a lot but didn’t get drunk, and my sorrows were still there. The people with me thought I had gone mad, but I didn’t want to tell them about what had happened.
The next day I cleaned up the bike, my gear and my backpack and placed an order for the broken part. Since I had been furloughed, I wanted to run away from what I had done for a while and drove home to Wisconsin after parking the bike at a friend’s place. I got it back today after returning to Louisiana yesterday night. I still haven’t got the part back, but it felt so good to be back on the bike. Two weeks without the bike (or alcohol) and a ton of problems… but the bike reminded me why I had got into motorcycling in the first place. It made me happy. Now I don’t feel that bad about crashing my brand new bike. I realize it was inevitable. I still don’t know if I should have been able to come to a stop (upright) that day, but I do know that I won’t reconsider anything at this point. I will still go out when I want to, and won’t worry about superstitions and sixth senses. Unexpected things will continue to happen, and I am glad it didn’t turn out worse. That is life.