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* * Cheating death on my motorcycle

I own four motorcycles and I ride a lot. So it was completely ordinary for me on this Sunday morning to roll my 1981 Honda CBX out of the garage and prepare it for a ride.

It’s a classic machine, produced in limited numbers, and now a collector’s item. But it’s not a museum piece. I still like to ride it, and although it doesn’t have the performance of newer machines, it still thrills me, much the same way people like to drive their antique cars.

I left my neighborhood with a heavy heart, as one of my brothers in motorcycling had died the day before.

I rode through Christiansburg, happily getting greens at most of the many traffic lights. On this warming summer Sunday morning, there weren’t many cars around, even at the town square.

I rode up the hill on South Franklin, past the cemetery where many of my childhood friends’ parents are buried.

I picked up some speed descending into Rogers and leaned the bike gracefully into the sweeping turns over Pilot Mountain and into Pilot. It was a beautiful day, with the sun in my eyes and all manner of birds, squirrels, and chipmunks seemingly wanting to play dodge-ball with me. Once, on a country highway in West Virginia, a squirrel in front of me started to react, I thought he would zag so I zigged, and he zigged instead, and I nailed him. I was depressed about it the rest of the afternoon.

But it’s the bigger critters that are a concern. Dogs. Deer. Especially deer. They’re big, unpredictable, and not as soft and cuddly as we’d like. I know too many people who have hit them, with unhappy results.

It’s a bit like Russian Roulette out there; you never know which chamber will have a bullet in it, or in this case, which bend may have an obstruction. I always wear protective gear: jacket, padded pants, gloves, and a full-face helmet. This stuff really works (Ask me how I know.), but it only goes so far, depending upon the specific accident.

I reached the outskirts of Floyd and turned right towards town, probably only a few miles west from where my friend died on US 221. He made a mistake, a terrible, tragic mistake, that cost him his life. According the news article, he was behind a string of cars inching along the highway, with a farm tractor ahead. My friend decided that with everyone moving so slowly, he could easily pass them all, even though it was a double-yellow zone. And I’m sure he would have been fine… except the tractor turned left, right in front of him. He died on the scene.

I rode past the only traffic light in Floyd, where 18 months earlier a pedestrian was killed crossing the street, and continued southwest on US-221.

I had ridden a longer ride the day before, and with chores to do, I headed home on Alum Ridge Road, a wonderfully scenic and curvy affair that leads back to Riner.

I’m sure everyone who has ever driven a car or ridden a motorcycle has made a mistake or two (or dozens or hundreds). Here’s my worst. My wife and I were touring on a borrowed motorcycle in Ireland, the same model I was riding today, for a few days after a rally. Our daughter was a teenager, elsewhere at a horse camp on the island. Traffic was busy on the two-lane highway. I wanted to pass a slower car. The road markings aren’t the same as ours, and I thought I was in a legal passing zone. I moved right to pass (remember, they drive on the left), and faced a panel truck speeding towards me in the other lane. I hit the brakes and dove back behind the car, just in time. I nearly had a coronary, had nightmares for months. I don’t think my wife had any idea how close we’d come to disaster.

So imagine this scene if I’d not been able to get back into our lane. My wife and I would both have surely died. The borrowed motorcycle would have been destroyed. Our daughter would presumably have been informed days later as authorities figured out who we were and that she was elsewhere on the island, far from home, and now an orphan. Not good.

Alum Ridge is a beautiful place, with vast views to the south over bucolic farm fields and low, forested mountain. I turned left on SR-8 and approaching the Little River Bridge, saw a deer munching greens beside the road. He spooked as I rode by and leapt down the embankment.

I arrived home, another safe and thrilling ride on my amazing motorcycle through heavenly countryside.

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