Beautiful, sobering autumn day

Someone else crashed. Message received
Published October 11, 2009

In the dubious pursuit of progress, I’ve abandoned a flawless summer and hunkered down for the chillier half of the year ahead. It is officially autumn, evidenced by retreating fog and dipping temperatures. There’s no season that spells doom for motorcycling in the Bay Area, but certain months call for more clothing. Prepping myself for a Sunday ride this morning, I squeezed into my thermal bottoms for the first time since spring and took special care in tucking in my new, thicker thermal top. Preparation dulls the stabbing bummer of cold.

En route to Alice’s, I decided to avoid Highway 35 and its frigid, shadowed halls. An unperforated layer of fog blanketed the sky, well above the mountain tops, and filtered out all colors but desaturated cobalt and gray. The natural lighting was perfect for photography, but I didn’t have the sense to bring my camera. Through La Honda, I was shocked to see countless Ducatis cluttering a lot that’s not a usual moto attraction and further regretted my absent Canon.

I had a good run. An uninterrupted blast down north Stage flowed into a mostly open sweep of the western bits of Highway 84. Past La Honda, a series of three trucks pulled right to allow me to squeeze by in quick succession. The spirited pace floated delusions of invincibility through my feeble brain.

And then Harley rider coming the opposite direction flew by, yelling and flailing his left arm up and down. I couldn’t hear the words he screamed, but the message was loud and clear: “Slow down!” A few turns further east, the cars in front of me came to a dead stop.

From my position I couldn’t identify the hold-up, but an earlier sign warning of road work seemed to foretell the culprit. But as traffic slowly crept forward, the real reason behind the hog’s erratic hand motions came into view: On the dirt shoulder to the right, an upside-down and shattered new Ducati 1198, and back-down on the opposite side of the road, a still-helmeted rider, unmoving. A half-dozen other Ducatis lined the corner, directed traffic around the wreckage, and seemed on top of the situation.

An upside-down and shattered new Ducati 1198

My heart sank. The scene was a sobering reminder that I’m not invincible. Certainly not invincible hanging off a blue mess of metal and plastics on wheels at 50 mph through turns so long and sharp to obscure unknown dangers ahead.

The last couple of miles to Alice’s were slow, pensive miles. As I backed the bike into the lot at STP, a trio of riders circled to ask if it was true that a tree was down on 84. A tree? If only. Sirens flooded the intimate valley, masking the usually happy roar of internal combustion engines. Every other minute, another emergency vehicle emerged from the woodwork to tear arse down 84, toward the scene of the crash.

Alice’s and STP were swarmed with Ducati refugees now blocked from their La Ducati Day destination to the west. Moto wrecks are unfortunately not uncommon, and so discourse carried on much as usual. The influx of Ducatis left plenty to ogle and lust for, but the Italians didn’t have the place alone. A Russian Ural was the most obvious outcast, built like something from the ’50s with a sidecar so integral to its design that the bike would’ve been missing indicator lights without it.

A small displacement stink wheel announced itself with a typical ring a ding ding and I had to know what it was. The Yamaha RD400 was tastefully modernized to an end of minimalism; petite, simply black, and utterly clean. It’s exactly the sort of bike I’d want to grow old with. Unassuming, impossible not to love.

After an hour of coffee sipping and relaxed delay, I decided it was time to leave. With westbound 84 clogged up, I had no choice but to ride Highway 35 out of the mountains. It was cold and very damp, the overhanging trees dripping their gathered dews over the asphalt. Earlier events still fresh in my mind, I wasn’t in a hurry anyway.

When I got home, I logged online to learn more about the crash. It was worse than I thought. The downed Ducati I spotted on the shoulder was just one of two motorcycles involved in a head-on collision mid-corner, resulting in both riders suffering serious injury. According to reports, the Ducati rider was not an innocent part of the crash equation. I take some solace in knowing that the crash was the result of someone’s poor choice, rather than freak, unavoidable accident, but the solace is of no use to the Norton rider who was struck. I hope the best for both of them.