The Choices We Make

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Yamaha Motorcycles Street Event - Skagit Powersports


The Choices We Make…

I'm a motorcycle rider; but I'm different from a lot of us. I'm a motorcycle rider that carries with me a heavy story of my days before the bike, and how a singular moment in time has completely formed who I am as a motorcyclist.

I was 24 years old and living in California at the time. I had few cares in the world. I was moving just blocks from Venice beach, working at a record label, and the sky felt like the limit. I don't know if you remember what it's like to be in your early 20s. You're invincible.

You hear stories in the news of tragedy but you don't really think twice of them because they'll never touch your life. I was in the middle of moving - an early Sunday morning - coming back from getting coffee so I could begin unpacking boxes in my new bungalow. Literally 3 blocks from my house, I'm sitting at a stop light waiting to take a left. Venice Blvd is as straight of a road as they come…you can see forever down the road. I pulled my Honda Civic out to the middle of the intersection so I could take a left into my new neighborhood. Gosh, I was just beaming.

I began to take a left…I honestly couldn't have been going more than 5 miles an hour when I looked to my right and just proclaimed aloud the slowest and most agonizing "Oooooh fuuuuuuuck" of my entire life. Time stands still in moments like this. I had absolutely no idea where the motorcyclist came from, as every driver who gets in an accident with one says…because it's true. Biologically the eye doesn't see very much and the brain tosses together multiple images to make sense of what is going on. Motorcycles don't take up very much space in the image and therefore often aren't registered. But I digress…back to the moment that time stood still.

I watched this motorcyclist approach my passenger side door head on and then proceed to buckle my car in half. Airbags going off left and right I halt my car to a stop and get out running frantically at the motorcyclist who had just propelled over the roof of my car and then 30 feet away from it. It wasn't long before ambulances, cop cars, and firetrucks were lined up at the scene. They peel you away from a scene pretty quickly when you're an involved party.

All I really remember was approaching the man on the ground who was making this horrible gurgling noise through his helmet that will haunt me to this day. I know nothing about motorcycles as this point so it doesn't register in my head that he is in full gear and a full faced helmet. This means nothing to me and so I don't notice it. I'm on some stranger's phone, who is trying to comfort me as I scream in tears to my mother, thinking to myself "Holy fuck, this man is going to die." I have never felt anything resembling a level of fear as gripping as I felt it in that moment in time.

Gear. This is the side of motorcycling that motorcyclists make an individual choice on. I never intended to get into motorcycling. It was a force of nature that worked its way into my life when I moved to Seattle 5 years ago and just clicked. Anyone who knows me from my days in California thinks I am bat shit crazy for getting into motorcycling after what I experienced. I have my days that I feel that way too, but my sense of adventure has always been like a raging fire inside of me and it seems to grow the older I get.

So, the thing is, most motorcyclists will not consider anyone other than themselves when it comes to their choice in gear. Your gear will serve a purpose and for a lot of people, there is an image that is trying to be obtained in the choice of gear made. So, why should you consider anyone other than yourself, right? I feel very differently. I wear good gear all the time for 2 reasons: 1. I would like to be riding my motorcycle until I'm old and gray. 2. I went through an experience where the only reason that the man who I got into an accident with lived, was because of his choice of gear.

I got a call from the cops later that day to fill me in on the man's condition. This isn't something they do all that often but I was so frantically concerned about him that they decided to call me. I sat in my apartment all day in a cold sweat just sobbing, until I got the call. The man survived, and the only bone he broke in his body was his left hand pinky. Now I'm not saying that he probably didn't have a long road to hoe when it came to rehabbing his body; but what I am saying is that his choice of gear saved both his life and mine.

Had the story resulted differently, I'd probably have moved back to Minnesota and into my parent's basement where I would have become a shell of my existence and my only social interactions on a weekly basis would likely include speaking to a therapist about how a complete accident, one false move in my life, left a man dead. Most people don't consider that.

In hindsight, knowing what I know about motorcycles and braking, the accident could have been avoided… but most people don't ever believe a moment in life like this is going to happen to them…and therefore there aren't many of us that practice emergency stops on a regular basis. So, when moments like this come up and we have to make quick choices on how to react, both parties don't always make the best choices and that is what results in an accident. However, the choices that you make before you swing your leg over your bike could be the very choices that save your life.

As a motorcycle rider, I'm ashamed to have this story under my belt. But it's there and I carry it with me every time I get on the bike. I carry it with me every time I get behind the wheel of a car. I buy helmets that are more expensive than I would like them to be, and I look like a dorky geared-up version of the Michelin man when I head out on 3,000 mile solo trips. I will never be one of those people who looks "cool" on a bike, and I don't care. I think it's a lot cooler to be safe, and ride defensively, and consider that my choices do not only affect myself, but other people out on the road.

Ericka Turnbull/June 2016, republished by Sound RIDER! October 2016

Ericka Turnbull is the founder of the Rainier Ravens

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