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Butt Washers & Other War Stories

I pinched another one out of my motorcycle seat recently after I made a right turn, and afterwards failed to cancel my non-self-cancelling turn indicator. An oncoming driver understandably anticipating I was about to turn right, began a left turn that came close to making me his hood ornament.

I got to thinking about it relaxing later with a beverage. How many times during the sixty odd years I’ve been riding motorcycles has the immutability of fate slapped me upside the head? Following are some moments that remain burnished in memory.

Twenty years ago, during a freezing April evening I was riding with my nineteen-year-old daughter Leah clinched tightly behind me to mitigate the wind chill. We were traversing the lonely sixty-mile hump of U.S. 395 in eastern Oregon that coursed our route south through the Malheur National Forest from John Day to Burns. Suddenly, in the apex of a sweeping right, the rear Dunlop slid sideways for a few inches in a patch of ice, then caught traction again. It was one of those unforgettable milliseconds. Over dinner in Burns I asked Leah about it. 

 “Hey Daughter, how’d you like our little zip-dee-do?”

 “Oh Dad, the slippage, it made my butt hurt!”

Another incident memorialized in my cranial photo album is from the captivating morning I was riding east on California Highway 299 tracing the curvaceous course of the Trinity River roaring in full spring snowmelt, a smashing venue where you know somewhere deep in your leather it doesn’t get any better than this. As I approach the riverside community of Big Bar, I notice a gaggle of turkey vultures feeding on the road shoulder, on the carcass of a road-killed deer I suppose, but before I can make that identification, one of the eagle-size birds takes off and promptly at 45 miles an hour I’m in the Hitchcock movie fully expecting the flying beast to smash into my windshield. As I duck behind the Plexiglas, one of its wings does just that, leaving a macabre imprint, but I take the full impact of the bird’s chest on the top of my helmet. It’s a blow that stuns me for a minute or so, and leaves me the indelible olfactory memory of carrion stink.

In 2005 the century is young. But I’m not. I’m in fact too old to be riding a red BMW R1100R at a brisk pace in deep rural eastern China endeavoring to keep a tight squadron of upscale Chinese guys from Hong Kong with whom I’m touring the Shandong Peninsula in sight. And they’re wicking it up into what I regard as a dangerous real life video game dodging paving stones and potholes and Chinese grain farmers and apple growers – who are quite proficient given the green effulgence of their fields and rows of trees bursting with fruit – but who scare the bejeezus out of me by suddenly materializing in my crosshairs driving ancient one-lung diesel tractors hauling the most appalling loads. Then it happens, a paving stone in my line I see way too late to avoid and wham, thump, over it I go at speed, with no get-off thanks to the right fortune cookie. When I stop I see the front rim is dented, but the tire still at full inflation 

“Denis, you one lucky guy”, said our tour leader Franki Yang.

The immutability of fate? A few more sips of my favorite beverage and I start thinking more and recall an incident that occurred early in my riding experience. I was approaching a busy intersection in an L.A. suburb and the light was go-for-it green, but something, or Someone I like to think, warned me to hesitate, and as I did for that split second, a truck roared laterally through the red. It was such a close call I felt a rising wave of nausea and had to pull my bike over to the curb and just sit for a while. To this day, fifty years later, I’m wary of intersections. 

Often your most beneficent safety accessory is the one inside your helmet, use it.

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