Wipeout and Return to Phoenix (Nov 4-6th)

I was up and about before dawn, which is uncharacteristically early for me, but it was good to get a nice, early start to the day for once.

After packing up my gear, I decided to check out the hiking trail to the falls themselves. There was this big volcanic rock along the way:

Fossil Falls is what remains of a glacial melt waterfall which flowed 10,000 years ago, eroding the soft volcanic basalt in its path. No water flows here today, but native americans did live nearby while it was active. The result of all this erosion is a visual cacophony of smooth, twisted stone shapes.

Sadly, the harsh early-morning light over-exposed my photos, so I apologize for their poor quality.

I would have enjoyed exploring the lower trails, as I think the view of the falls would have been far better from below, but I didn’t feel like hiking quite that far with my gear on. As it was, hopping between boulders in motorcycle boots was an interesting challenge!

I zoomed down the 395 and headed towards Ridgecrest. Spying a Walmart, I decided that I could do with some maintenance and cleaned my chain and air filter in their parking lot. Yuck! The filter was absolutely filthy after cruising around the dusty desert for so long. Luckily I carry I a spare.

This was a fairly uneventful day, as I ate up the miles heading south towards Joshua Tree National Park. I didn’t take too many pictures, because most of the views were of flat scrubby desert with the occasional mostly-abandoned town or water tower to break up the monotony.

I rolled on for hours into the night looking for a campsite, playing my favorite guessing game, “does this road look inhabited?” Thankfully, I eventually saw a sign for Johnson Valley OHV area, and decided to check it out. It was a bit loose and sandy, but not unreasonable. I had no luck finding an out of the way place to camp, so I simply threw down my tent in the staging area near the informational sign.

While winding down for bed, I decided to play with my tarot cards and asked about the outcome of my visit to Joshua Tree. The first card that I turned over was Death. I realize that this card isn’t literal, it symbolizes transition, cycles and new beginnings, but it still unnerved me a bit. I laughed it off.

I fell into a peaceful slumber, only to be awoken in the morning by the rumble and squeak of passing trucks. Pickup trucks. Semi trucks. No wonder the road was so washboarded…

I spied one of the OHV trails nearby. Loose, steep, sandy gravel. Yeaaah, no thanks.

I packed quickly, dehydration was becoming an issue as the desert warmed up. As always, the road wasn’t nearly as sketchy during the daytime.

I headed back to the 247, where for a time, things were peaceful. I was in a great mood, enjoying the morning air. The flat road became rolling hills, and I found myself stuck behind a pair of semi trucks, going well under the speed limit. With plenty of time to pass, I decided to pull a familiar maneuver – I grabbed a handful of throttle and gunned it to pass them quickly. Midway through, a wobble began to form, innocently enough at first, and I figured it would correct itself as it had always done in the past. I didn’t want to slow down for fear of being stuck between oncoming traffic and the semis, or forcing the semis to pile on their brakes to avoid rear-ending me. I maintained my speed until I was sure I was past them and safely back in my lane. This proved to be a mistake, as the wobble got progressively worse, the oscillations feeding into each other. By the time I realized I was in deep shit, mere seconds later, I was sliding across the pavement at 85 miles per hour.

I have never fallen off of anything going that fast before. I didn’t even have time to be afraid. My only thought as I became airborne was something like “Oh. Fuck.”

Making a conscious decision to try to relax, lest my tension cause further injury, I flopped and slid until I came to a stop. I immediately stood up. I didn’t collapse, nothing major was broken, so I quickly walked out of the path of the highway traffic and to the opposite shoulder in search of my bike. Thankfully, I found it intact, resting on its right side on the shoulder. It must have stalled and locked up the rear wheel, because it left a large streak of burnt rubber on the pavement, and hadn’t slid much further than I had.

Once the bike and I were out of harm’s way, the reality of what had just happened sunk in. I began shaking slightly and fumbled to take my helmet off. Almost everyone on the highway had stopped at the spectacle, no doubt expecting a casualty. One of the semi drivers rolled by at idle speed, leaning way out of his window and shouting “Hey, are you okay??” Other drivers asked the same question. I replied “I think so… give me a minute.”

I started struggling to pull my bike upright, but by this point my adrenaline was wearing off and I was feeling pain. My right wrist would not cooperate whatsoever. Two cars parked nearby and their drivers came over to see how I was doing. One of them, a woman, said that she was on her way to a family emergency and couldn’t really stay to help, but wanted to make sure I was okay. The other, a man named Chris, said that he lived a block away and that I could recover at his place. They helped pull my bike upright, which, much to my amusement, started up immediately.

I followed Chris home, riding quite slowly on the shoulder, my handlebars cocked at an unwieldy angle. Every movement of my wrist was sharp stabbing pain, but somehow I made it down his sandy road to his sandy driveway and managed to park the bike without incident.

Chris had errands he had to take care of, but invited me to make myself at home. I thanked him profusely and ran a hot bath to unwind and explore my injuries. By this point my wrist was unusable, and it made everything at least twice as clumsy and difficult as it needed to be. I winced as I scrubbed the two-inch patch of road rash out on my left forearm. My right knee was incredibly swollen and covered in bruises from thigh to ankle, but I could walk and crouch on it, so I didn’t think it was broken. My fingertips were bruised and numb, and I’d bitten the tip of my tongue. I tried to feel for a broken bone in my wrist, and did experiments to see what my range of motion was. I could grasp objects as long as no weight was involved. I couldn’t bend my fingers backwards or forwards very far. I decided to give it a few days to see if it was broken or just badly sprained.

I spent a few hours in the tub and cleaned myself up. It had been a few days since my last shower, and the water was blissfully relaxing. Eventually I emerged and tended to my wounds with triple antibiotic and bandaids. I wrapped some ice in a washcloth and held it to my knee and wrist for a while, which helped reduce the swelling and pain. A bandage wrapped around my wrist limited its range of motion.

My riding pants were absolutely destroyed. The seat was nothing more than melted ribbons of nylon.

The armor in knees had blown out, abraded from the road. I looked at the seat of the jeans I was wearing underneath, and was amazed to only find a small burned spot where they had been in contact with the disintegrating pants. They were spotless otherwise. I have no doubt that those pants saved me a trip to the hospital – my knees and skin would have been toast. I have a quarter-sized scar on my knee from a year ago, when I learned the lesson about how durable clothes alone are in a crash.

I decided to see how badly damaged the bike was. The road had taken a chunk of paint and plastic from the fender, headlight shroud and right barkbuster. At least it wasn’t my knuckles!

The right mermite can took the brunt of the blow. Along the outside bottom edge, the aluminum had simply sheared off, splitting the bottom open like a can of sardines. Amazingly, other than some rash on the bottom of my fork tube, the bike itself was completely untouched! Awesome!

I accidentally woke Chris up while trying to get the box bent back into shape. He told me that there was no rush, that I could stay the night and should come back inside and just relax. He insisted that I settle in his recliner, loaded me down with blankets, and dug out an old VHS tape of The Doors movie. We got pretty baked. That was a really weird movie.

Next we watched Maverick, and it was more movie and conversation into the evening. Chris proclaimed with all seriousness that it was my guardian angel who had saved me in the accident, and mentioned that there were a lot of factors working in my favor – they’d recently resurfaced that part of the road, for example, allowing me to slide more smoothly. If I’d been a few miles down the road, the shoulder drops off sharply, and I or my bike could have gone over the edge.

“Watching you crash was like something out of a movie,” he remarked. “I thought for sure you were a goner, and then you just got up and walked away. And then you took off your helmet and holy shit, it’s a chick! No offense.” “It’s too bad you didn’t have a camera, that would have been great for my ride report!” We laughed.

I found out that he was retired, grew up as part of a large family in LA, and he showed me his Harley Electra Glide, recounting stories of his own mishaps on the road. He moved out to the desert for some peace and quiet, but I could tell that he misses his family.

I spread my sleeping bag out on the bare mattress in his spare room, and he brought me an armload of blankets in case I got chilly. Drifting off, I had the odd experience of reliving the sensation of falling and sliding a few times, but this was the best night’s sleep I’d had in a while.

I awoke feeling like somebody had dumped me in a rock tumbler and left me there for a few days. Once I was upright, I set to work trying to fix the box to a point where it was usable. Chris helped, wrapping masking tape (all he had) around the gaping hole in the hope that nothing would fall out.

I had decided to try to make it to Phoenix, as my wrist was still in a fair amount of pain, and skip my other plans (Joshua Tree and Slab City) for the time being. With the way my luggage is set up, I need both hands to be able to properly work the bungee cords which attach my tent – no tent means no camping. I packed up my gear, bringing the motorcycle pants with me as a trophy. After loosening the bar risers, I was able to shove them more or less back to the correct angle. Other than the rack being tweaked to one side, nothing else seemed out of place.

I said goodbye to Chris, who invited me to come back if I ever needed a place to stay around that area. I thanked him for all his hospitality – I am not sure what I would have done without him!

After a brief stop at Starbucks to let everyone know I was okay, I settled in for the long and painful ride home.

Highway 62 was peaceful and desolate. The road itself was nothing to write home about – straight and surrounded by endless desert, but it suited my mood and I could set my own pace. I was nearly alone on the road for much of the day. At one point I passed a horse and buggy which was surreal, given the fact that I was at least 30 miles from the nearest town, but by the time I realized what I’d seen, I was too far ahead to take a photo unless I wanted to double back.

Near the Arizona border, surrounded by desert, they were growing cotton. This… doesn’t strike me as being the best idea – cotton requires a LOT of water, but I guess it works somehow.

Soon, I was in Arizona, and called my parents to let them know I was a few hours away. You can see in this picture how tweaked my rack was:

The Arizona sunset was gorgeous, a brilliant orange with a ring of pale pink encircling the entire horizon.

It took me a while to get to Phoenix, as I wasn’t comfortable going very fast with my luggage broken and off-kilter. My parents were grateful that I was relatively unscathed from my accident, and the look of shock on their faces when I showed them what was left of the pants was priceless.

Safe and (mostly) sound. Any crash you can walk, let alone ride away from, is a good crash. It could have been far worse…

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