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Saturday, April 24, 2010

It could have been worse, and it almost was.

My buddies and I set out on a motorcycle trip from Denver, CO to Liberal, KS Saturday morning. It didn't take long for us to run into trouble.

The weather forecast had been pretty iffy all week; at one time they were calling for 14 inches of snow but by Friday afternoon they were forecasting an inch of snow on grassy areas and the storm would be gone by morning. We prepared for rain and wet roads but expected to be on dry roads by the time we reached Limon Colorado. We didn't make it that far.

It was dry with clear skys when we left Denver but we ran into light rain as we went south to Parker. We encountered snow as we rode into Franktown. As we turned east onto CO-86 the snow was starting to stick to the road, our windscreens and face shields. Within a minute of turning onto CO-86 I couldn't see the road in front of me. I was able to reach my hand out and wipe a small patch of snow and ice off one corner of the windscreen to see through.

I was between the lead rider and the tail gunner. I was able to keep up with the lead rider for a short while but I slowed down when the motorcycle started fish tailing. I had already lost sight of the tail gunner and I lost sight of the lead rider a few minutes later.

I was on my own now and I knew I had to get off the road. I thought I saw a tractor plowing a driveway on my right and snow piled up next to the driveway. I tried to slow for the turn but the rear tire came around front and passed me by. The bike and I went down and skated along the road several feet before stopping. Fortunately there was three inches of slush on the pavement to cushion the fall (I had all my gear on too.) All traffic on CO-86 came to a stop while I, and the guy in the SUV behind me, picked up the bike and pushed it into the driveway. The guy on the tractor came down to help too.

The tail gunner caught up with me about the time traffic started moving again. He had pulled off the road a mile back. He had already decided to abort his trip and had been trying to signal me for several miles to pull off. He came on down when he saw the traffic stop. While we were discussing what we should do, we saw the lead rider pass us by heading back to Franktown. He didn't see us because his eyes were glued to the road - I'm not sure he would have been able to stop anyway.

We were offered a ride into Elizabeth or we could stay at the farm house. We opted to wrestle the bikes up to the farm house and call a friend in Denver to come and get us; we left the bikes at the farm house. Assuming they don't get any more snow, we will go out on Sunday or Monday and ride them back (getting out of the muddy driveway could be a problem).

Lessons learned:
  • Everyone is responsible for their own decisions. No one forced me to go on the trip. I knew the weather was questionable; another rider had already opted out. We all share a degree of responsibility for each other but each of us is ultimately responsible for our own skin. Ride your own ride.

    This wasn't a weather or planning issue - it was a safety issue. I rode into an unsafe situation and didn't react quickly enough. I had ample opportunity to react. I could have opted not to go, I could have backed out at Parker, or I could have pulled off at Franktown when we got into snow.
  • Know your limits and ride within your limits. I know someone who rides his motorcycles the year around; it's his only mode of transportation. He has ridden motorcycles his whole life - he rode mini-bikes and dirt bikes when he was a kid. His skills and reflexes are in top shape - my skills and reflexes are nothing compared to his. He is able to ride a motorcycle on snow packed streets in sub-zero weather - I can not.
  • Be prepared and have a plan. I had the right gear, but I don't have towing insurance or road side assistance for the motorcycle - I need to get some.
  • Get off the road at the first sign of trouble, if only to wait it out.

We might have missed the snow if we had delayed our start by two hours. The storm has already left Colorado and is now over Kansas City, Kansas. We might try again later in the summer.


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