12 January 2010

The Saga Of Sturgis

Common lore in the motorcycle community is that motorcycle riding itself isn't dangerous. As any rider will tell you, “It's the other driver you have to watch out for.”

Other, preventable factors cause plenty of accidents to be sure: drugs/alcohol, fatigue, recklessness and inexperience but in our case is was indeed that infamous “other driver”.

Luci of Dubhe reminded me recently that I'd never written about my accident and requested a post. So, grab a coffee, sit back and I'll tell you our little tale.

Early last year, JD and I decided to make the pilgrimage to Sturgis Bike Week. It was our first time so we wanted to ride the whole way rather than haul the bike on a trailer and ride around once we got there. (This is such a common occurrence that there are stickers that read “I rode my bike to Trailer Week.)

For several months, we scoured maps and read up on campgrounds and gathered our gear. We planned to meander our way to Sturgis by way of Glacier National Park and Yellowstone.

We rode across Washington the first day and saw some of the hottest weather we'd ever seen. It must have been at least 104F around Hanford that day. That night we camped at a lovely little campground just over the border in Idaho.

The second night we stayed outside of Glacier and spent the third day riding around the park. Even had our trip gone as planned, Glacier might easily have been the highlight. The scenery was right out of National Geographic. It's definitely on our list of must-visit-again.

We camped south of Glacier that night and, on the fourth day, drifted south towards Yellowstone. By afternoon, surrounded by rich green fields, farmhouses and old barns of grey wood, we rode into a little town called Cardwell. I was happily shooting away with my camera, when the driver in a blue SUV in front of us pulled over to the shoulder and, as we passed, decided to make a u-turn without looking. Events thereafter are a tad hazy....

JD told me later that he saw the SUV pulling back onto the road at last minute and attempted to accelerate out of the way. Even with his skill and experience (which I'm convinced kept it from being worse than it was), we weren't able to avoid going down. I remember a flash of blue, then blackness and then laying on the asphalt with JD holding onto my leg and asking someone to call 911. I don't think I lost consciousness but I think I must have closed my eyes tight out of reflex.

JD wasn't hurt, fortunately, other than some muscle pain a few weeks later when he returned to work. He said he stayed on the bike throughout the accident and when we slid to a stop, he was still holding on to the handlebars and cranking on the throttle.

I remember a lot of the details immediately after the accident but not in what order they occurred. Overall I was really aggravated. It was only day four of our two-week vacation and I was so mad that it was wrecked (ha). This kept me from worrying about how badly I was injured, I think. I had a fair amount of pain but I didn't know that my leg was broken. Somehow I knew enough not to investigate matters further.

I remember that the asphalt was broiling hot and a couple of people were kind enough to take turns standing over me so I could have some shade. Someone fetched my water bottle. A woman sat holding my head and talking to me the whole time.

I think there was a little cluster of people standing around us. I heard several different voices but couldn't see their faces. A man said “I didn't even look.” (This I assumed was the driver.) Another starting talking about how I'd need surgery. My EMT training surfaced and I said “Shut up! You don't ever tell the patient how bad the injury is!”

I talked a lot while waiting for the ambulance. I was trying to show that I was okay. I tried to make light of it and asked how the bike was. They thought I was really worried and told me that that wasn't important and not to worry about it.

JD was on top of things, of course, being used to emergency situations. He was calm and managed everything with aplomb. He told me I'd need surgery and I remember thinking “Oh, no. It'll be fine” as if it were going to be optional. I didn't know how badly I was hurt but somehow I knew enough not to try and raise my head to look. It hurt to move around but I didn't know my leg was broken.

I asked him a few times if he was okay. He said yes but I didn't believe him. I knew he wouldn't want me to worry and would say he was fine even if he was hurt. I think I asked the woman holding my head if he was alright. She said yes, too.

The ambulance crew was great, too. They worked quickly and kept apologizing to me when they had to do something that caused me more pain. I told them I was an EMT and just to do what they needed to do. They told me to keep breathing deeply and that actually helped quite a bit.

The transport to the hospital in Butte was a little long - about 30 minutes. I was secured to the backboard, though, and still had a lot of adrenaline in my system. The pain level wasn't too bad for which I was grateful.

The ED staff at St. James Hospital was top-notch, as were all the folks there. They, too, worked quickly and took good care of me. The only bad part was when the doctor started cleaning my wound with betadine before the nurse administered the demerol. I was pretty sure they'd set my leg on fire and I overheard the nurse fussing at the doctor for that oversight. After that kicked in, I was okay.

For the next little while, I don't really know how long it was, they took care of administrative details and prepared for my surgery. The ambulance crew hung around for a bit and came to wish me well before they left - such nice people! I waited for JD to arrive, he having stayed on scene to take care of the bike and our property. I know he came to see me as soon as he could but I had a fair amount of painkillers and sedatives on board, however, and the rest of the night is very foggy.

I spent three days in the hospital altogether. On the first night, after the surgery, I was mostly awake and a little anxious to be left alone. I asked JD to stay and he again showed me how much he loves me and the nurses tucked him up on the tiny bench next to my bed (he's 6'3”). I felt bad about that but really wanted his company. You have to ask for help when you need it, you know? I hope he knows I'd do the same for him in a heartbeat.

The next day, JD took care of the bike, got us a rental car and talked with insurance people. My job was to lay around talking with several hundred doctors, nurses, therapists, nutritionists, janitors, social workers and chaplains (okay, there was only one chaplain and she was quite nice). I'm not sure which of us worked harder.

The day after that, we began to talk about what to do when I was discharged. We still had a week and a half before JD had to be back to work. I knew that JD would be disappointed to be at Sturgis and not be on the bike but I just couldn't face the thought of going back home while our vacation rolled on without us. We decided we'd just drive on towards Sturgis and do as much as we could.

We made it to Sturgis for the last couple of days. Wisely, JD rented a wheelchair in Butte and was kind enough to push me around the whole town. As it was pretty obvious what had happened to us, we ended up talking with way more people than we would have in other circumstances. Everyone had to tell us their war stories and we even got our photo taken and put on the Sturgis website!

After Sturgis, we continued on our merry way. We drove through the Black Hills (stunning), Yellowstone (pretty but crowded), the Grand Tetons (beautiful and worth another trip) and back home via Montana and southern Idaho (surprisingly lovely).

All in all, it was a good, if eventful, trip. It was primarily a survey trip - to take a quick look at several areas and see where we wanted to return and explore more thoroughly. Even with the unexpected delay we did accomplish that. Glacier, southern Idaho, the Grand Tetons and the Black Hills are all on our must-see-again list. And, of course, we are both grateful that the accident wasn't worse. I've heard of too many accidents, less dramatic than ours, that no one walked away from. We were lucky.

Some people, after having an accident, sell off their bike as soon as possible. Others find the risks outweigh the benefits and keep on riding. I'm not as in a hurry to get my own bike as I was last summer but I'm not ready to swear off riding either. It will be riding season again in a few months and I'll just have to climb back on and see how it feels.


  1. Thank you for telling that story. Now I understand how it went down. I think it's great that you're not afraid to get back on the bike, I don't know if I could do it. I've never been in a biking accident and I'm leery of them EXACTLY because other drivers just don't pay enough attention.

  2. Thanks for the request. I was fishing around for a post topic - evidently that was a good one. Just realized how long it was!

  3. Just a footnote to Kate's post. It was indeed a wonderful beginning, Glacier was spectacular!.
    I decided to get us Triple A just prior to the trip thinking if we have a flat tire in Montana or Wyoming it would be worth the price and what a lifesaver that was. The tow company Whitehall towing was incredible. (Triple A) they not only took my bike but the owners brought a second personal car loaded me and all our luggage up and took me 30 miles into Butte and waiting until I could see Kate in the ER they were incredible.
    I was VERRRRY glad Kate wasn't hurt worst than she was and what a trooper! She insisted we go on to Sturgis. She was disappointed in not being able to hop out and take as many photos as she planned of all the beautiful scenery we encountered. I think she limited herself to a 1000 or so rather than the 5 or 6 thousand she probably would have taken had she been mobile.
    I and I should say We definitely plan to again travel this route and see many of these lovely places again in the future, who knows maybe a return to Sturgis in 2010.
    Nice post Kate.... JD


Homesteading Webloggers
Powered By Ringsurf