The medevac helicopter finally showed up. The fire chief was pissed because some asshole had originally called it off. After the chopper left, we waited for highway patrol to inspect the scene. There are several theories as to what happened. There were no witnesses to the accident, and Chad doesn't remember a thing. My best guess is that a combination of Chad coming in too hot and the 30-mph wind gust prevented him from making the turn. An unskilled rider would have pulled the brakes at that point. An experienced rider would hold on and lean further into the turn. Near the apex was a slight scrape on the double yellow. We guess that Chad had leaned in too far, and his pegs (already scraping) bottomed out, lifting one of the wheels just long enough to steer him into the shallow, rock-filled ditch on the opposite side of the road. Somehow, still upright and moving fast, Chad had held on, bouncing left and right like a pinball, as the bike pitched over the uneven terrain. The detour left a visible trail of scarred rocks in the ditch.
The wild ride came to a sudden end when Chad's upper arm impacted the end of the guardrail that protects the traffic coming from the opposite direction. Chad was apparently off center from the bike, as the motorcycle did not hit the guardrail. The guardrail halted Chad, and the force spun him violently around while his bike continued on. His body caught on the Goldwing's trunk, ripping it from the chassis.
The state trooper let us leave the scene a bit after sunset. It was the slowest 60 miles that we ever rode-dark, windy, and trembling. So what do you do after something like that? We were supposed to be on this epic journey, and we were questioning whether we could even ride to our next hotel room. It was adrenaline that got us to the next town that night. An angelic innkeeper at the Back Narrows Inn (backnarrowsinn.net) in Norwood, Colorado, made us a frozen pizza since the only restaurant in townwas closed. Brad stole some drinks out of her personal fridge, and we drank and talked about the accident before finally giving in to our exhaustion.
Day 4 Reality
In our minds, we all wanted to go home. Junior (the Freshman) was freaking out, but we knew we had to keep going. We took off on our all-day ride to Grand Junction to see Chad in the hospital's intensive care unit (ICU). Once there, they told us only family members could visit. I lied and said I was his stepbrother. I believed in the back of my head that his appendage would have been miraculously attached. He was sleeping in the ICU, and seeing him there without his right arm was actually more daunting for some reason than the moments immediately following the accident. I guess it was because this time I let my emotions take over. It was a lot to handle after having blocked them out.
We stayed in Grand Junction to be close to Chad for a few days. That night we went to dinner and had many adult drinks. We went over the day's events over and over again; we were trained, professional riders, prepared with the best gear. The accident happened during the daylight, everyone was sober, and we weren't riding recklessly. Even the Highway Patrol couldn't come up with an easy explanation: was it an animal that darted across the road, sand, the wind, or just a coming together of stars?
I had vowed not to shower for the rest of the trip, which really drove Brad, who had to share a room with me, nuts. He said I smelled like a pig, so I decided I'd try to kick his ass. He is proud to say that he flipped me over his head into the small space between the wall and the bed. This might all sound crass with Chad in the hospital, but we were clinging to a few moments of normalcy before facing the hard days to come.
Chad would learn about the loss of his arm, but would teach us all a lesson in fortitude. I'd always admired him for being an excellent rider, but now I'll forever admire him for being able to ride out absolutely anything.
To be continued...