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Crashing Influence

A close friend of mine was involved in a life-threatening motorcycle accident recently. Although he survived, his life will never be the same again. He’ll likely never ride again, and may not even walk again, either. It’s too soon to tell.

As many of my readers know, I am a motorcyclist. I have been riding up to 10,000 miles a year since 2007, often on long multi-day solo trips around the western United States and British Columbia. So far, I have only had one involuntary get-off, and that was at slow speed and into soft snow. No harm was inflicted on me or the bike (although my pride was dinged a bit).

My thoughts lately have been on the influence of my friend’s crash on my own future. Will I continue to ride? Will this impact my willingness to go on long solo trips? Will my riding level and pace go unchanged?

Riding a motorcycle, or flying an airplane, or driving a car (or even walking down the sidewalk) has a certain amount of risk. Everything we do in life is a calculated risk, even where we choose to live or whom we date. Most decisions we make are based on emotions and not objective risk calculations. As an example of this, I have met many people who refused to fly because they thought it was unsafe yet are willing to drive a car. The former is significantly safer than the latter.

Motorcycling is an inherently dangerous activity. We face the risks of getting into an accident, and when that happens, we face the risk of serious injury. It’s a complex calculation compounded by poor (or wise) choices. Those who drink and ride make a choice that significantly increases their risk of getting into an accident. Those who ride without a helmet significantly increase their risk of serious injury or death if an accident occurs. Do both and you’re a great Darwin Award candidate.

The risks I’ve faced while riding motorcycles have always been there. My friend’s accident has not changed the calculus on that. The best lesson to learn is from someone else’s mistake. My friend didn’t make any mistakes that contributed to his accident, but there are still lessons to be learned.

When I take a training class, I obtain knowledge. I make choices to practice and apply those lessons until they become automatic, muscle memory, instinctual. I am going through the same thing now with my friend’s accident. I have obtained knowledge about what happened and what could have been done to prevent similar situations from happening to me — or, what could be done to minimize my risk of harm if it does (some things can’t be prevented from happening).

I have gleaned two lessons from my friend’s accident. Accidents can happen through no fault of my own, so wearing all the gear, all the time is a rule I will never break. The other lesson has nothing to do with motorcycling, but instead has everything to do with life after an accident occurs.

What will my family do if I die or become incapable of working? What if I need long-term care? Who will be notified in the event of an accident?

All of these things should be considered by everyone, regardless if they ride motorcycles or not.

I am making the choice to continue riding, and continue living. I will not live as if my death is imminent, and certainly not as if I am already dead. Some people live that way, sadly, if you can even call it living.

The risks I face as I ride are acceptable to me, and I will continue to take steps to reduce those risks of a life-altering event from occurring. I will also take steps to reduce the effects of an event should it happen.

Ultimately, as I pass through middle age and get closer to the end of my ride, I look back and realize that most of my regrets are of things I was too afraid to try.

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