The odds of crushing my motorcycle’s exhaust header into a pancake, destroying the engine sump guard, ripping off the oil filter, having four quarts of oil spew onto both wheels at high speed and living to tell about it are fairly slim, so someone was looking out for me on a cold and wet afternoon this past February.
I was heading south on I-95 to speak at my first talk of the year, a luncheon for MS patients in North Carolina. Because of an eight-inch snowstorm that was rolling into New Hampshire, I needed to leave two days earlier than I normally would have. I warmed up the home generator, filled all the five-gallon jugs with gas, and made sure the snow blower was all set to go. It was the least I could do for Elin, my wife, as once again I would be 1000 miles away and somewhere sunny when the winter cleanup was being tackled. I did feel a twinge of guilt for about a second, or at least until I rounded the first corner our block.
It was cold. I was riding with all my heated clothing plugged in, head to toe, drawing large amounts of amperage from my alternator as the temperature stayed below freezing for the first 8 hours. I spent the first night at my brother’s house in Virginia, hoping the weather would get a bit warmer the next day. I decided to spend the first extra day I had riding to Florida, as there was a harsh and heavy rain forecasted for the Blue Ridge Mountain area.
It was in the low thirties when I left the next day, and it rained through most of my ride south. I chose to continue wearing the heated gear. It rained on and off a bit; the temperatures rose to a respectable 45 degrees and I made good time using the Florida state line as my goal for dinner.
Driving through Florence, South Carolina, I sped up to pass a tractor-trailer whose spray momentarily blinded me. The crunching collision with a large object in the road was instant, and the bike went airborne. I never really saw what catapulted me into the stratosphere, but for a rare instant, a truck driver and a motorcyclist saw eye to eye. Neither of us blinked.
When the bike and I landed back on earth, I realized I had run over something large and hard. Both ends of my bike were misbehaving as if I had two loose wheels. I’m still not sure how I stayed upright. I assumed I had damaged both rims, or that I was riding on two flat tires. The bike’s engine was also not responding to the throttle well, and I thought I might have knocked some connectors loose.
Taking care not to make any sudden movements that would upset the gyroscopic forces, I let the bike slow itself down enough to get to the side of the highway. The realization of trying to patch two tires or waiting hours for a flatbed in the rain on the edge of freeway traffic compelled me to continue rolling as far as I could, hopefully making an exit, which was in sight. The bike was wiggling at both ends and I held on for dear life. I was relieved to see a hotel entrance just across from the off ramp. My feet were unable to stay planted on the foot pegs, which told me I also had an oil leak. The Yamaha stalled as I pulled in the clutch but we were able to roll into a parking spot. We marked our location with a beautiful pastel of oil and water.
As I looked over the damage, I was shocked but grateful, realizing I probably just had my closest call with a bad accident in decades. The front of the engine had been smashed in. The oil filter was torn right off the motor, squirting pressurized oil over both wheels. The belly pan protector under the bike was destroyed and hanging, the front fender was cracked, and the exhaust header was crushed and twisted. My driving light and one of the crash bars were also damaged.
I called a friend who works for Yamaha and lives near Atlanta for help. If I were to make my speaking gig, I needed parts, a dealer who could help, or a loaner bike. Within ten minutes of hanging up with Steve, he called me back letting me know a nearby dealer would be by to pick me up with a trailer within the hour. He also asked me what parts I needed. From what I could see, the oil filter and a header pipe were all that were crucial to getting me back on the road.
I used some of my hotel rewards points and booked myself a room for the night. After apologizing for the oil slick surrounding my bike, I got to my room and began removing my wet layers when my cell rang.
“Hello Paul, this is Don from Generation 3 Powersports. I’m out here in the parking lot to collect your bike.”
Wow. Barely ten minutes had passed since hanging up with my friend Steve.
I never know what to expect in these sorts of situations. I am completely at the mercy of people I do not know to help me and I have no other options available. I am vulnerable and stuck agreeing to and paying for whatever they choose to charge me. This incident could very well cost me thousands of dollars, money I certainly did not have, just to get back on the road. It’s a scary place to be in, consoled only by the fact that I was, well, alive. The world was whispering in my ear that I was about to get a ride directly to the cleaners.
Don was the owner of the dealership, representing the second of the “Generation 3” name. He was very interested in my story and my goal of a million miles. Thirty seconds of conversation and I realized my fears were unjustified and flat out wrong. When he said they would do everything they could to get me patched up and back on the road, he meant it.
My cell rang again. It was my Yamaha friend, who had located the only exhaust header available in the country. Steve had made arrangements to have it shipped overnight to the dealer, and even better, that Yamaha would donate the part and shipping costs.
“The oil filter,” He said, “Well, you will have to get one of those on your own.”
Again, my fears were squashed and replaced with a little guilt over not trusting the goodness of others. The call probably saved me a grand. The remaining repairs and trailer ride would be less, and I knew I had a low interest credit card I could use and pay off over a few months. Having two extra days on this trip was something that never happens, and it looked like I might even be able to make my talk.
We unloaded the bike and rolled it into the shop. A couple of the mechanics showed interest in the bike, and we chatted about how many miles I had ridden it last year. One of the guys took a good look and agreed the header pipe and oil filter were crucial, and we decided to patch the fender for the time being.
The owner gave me a ride back to the hotel after work, and even invited me to attend church with his family. I declined, as I needed a shower and some moments to absorb all that had happened. And maybe a shot of whisky.
We didn’t know what time the part from Yamaha would arrive, so I decided to take a lazy morning and Uber over to the dealer around noon the next day. The young lady who picked me up started to talk about her life and challenges she was facing, and I briefly told her about my journey and things that had really helped me. Something seemed to click. She thanked me over and over for inspiring her to make a change in her life. I was humbled beyond words leaving the car, considering it was only a three mile drive.
Getting out of the car, I saw the mechanic riding my bike around the lot. The exhaust system had arrived and had been installed, and the bike was rolling! Wow. All in less than 22 hours! They refused to let me leave without giving it a good wash first, and Don asked me to join him and his wife for lunch. I hardly ate, as listening to their story of 40 years in the motorcycle business and their involvement in the community was amazing. They listened to my story and about MS, and we discussed the current issues facing the motorcycle industry.
They refused to let me pay for lunch, and when I returned to say goodbye and collect my motorcycle, they refused to let me pay a single dime for any of the parts, service or the trailer ride. None of it. I had the guys who worked on the bike sign my fender, slapped a Generations 3 Motorsports decal on the bike, and we all shook hands. The staff took a photo of me and the bike in front of the store and then returned to their daily business activities as if it were just another day for them.
I was a bit overcome and embarrassed by my initial fears of being exploited, financially burned or taken to the cleaners. Purely by accident, I was able to meet some incredibly decent people who just wanted to help me out when I needed it the most. I rode away, choked up, grateful my near miss with death had turned out to be another amazing lesson about the kindness and compassion of strangers.
I was able to pay it forward in a small way the very next day, as traffic slowly inched past a fresh accident in Durham, North Carolina. The van was smoking, smashed up in the front, facing the wrong direction halfway in the passing lane and pressed against the jersey barriers. As I passed, I saw a woman propped against the barrier just behind the wrecked van. The police were not on the scene yet, and surprisingly for the amount of afternoon commuter traffic, not a single driver had stopped to help her.
Pulling over was mechanical for me. I never gave it a second thought. I’m not trained in medical response, but I could tell she was a bit shaken and scared. She kept repeating where she was to the 911 operator and that another vehicle had hit her. The traffic made it loud, and because English was not her first language, she was having difficulty. I understood her answers but the operator did not. I motioned for her to give me the phone and I took over the call. After hanging up, I just tried to show compassion. She had a bump on the head and sore legs and arms from the airbag. She kept trying to get up and look over the van but I encouraged her stay put. I calmed her down a bit and kept telling her it was going to be ok.
It was another ten minutes before rescue arrived, and when they began to assess her condition, I spoke with a trooper and then quietly departed the scene. It wasn’t anything more than doing the right thing, but boy did it make me feel good to show a little compassion to a stranger when they needed it. It also made me sad to realize how often I’m too busy to do so.
The keyboard brandishing evils of this world are trying to turn us against each other with fear, distrust, hate and bullying, hoping to destroy our country. It’s not real. Stop watching the media feeds, and you can lower your cholesterol and blood pressure while losing the fear and distrust of others.
I started this million mile journey because I felt I had a limited time and a progressive disabling disease, but I am experiencing so much more about the true goodness of people around the world, and it has been an incredibly positive adventure. I challenge you, no matter what obstacles you face in your life, to unplug and take a trip, take chances, learn the truth about the people of our world and mostly, #DARE to CARE!