Hanksville, UT to ICU Grand Junction, CO
This is the second story in a series. If you didn't read the first one, you didn't miss much. I spent paragraph after paragraph complaining about intense heat, a run in with a cow, and the breaking down of the group dynamics on our motorcycle trip from Los Angeles to Sturgis, South Dakota. It's the un-glamorous parts of bike touring that no one ever tells you about. We thought things would get better, but they took a huge turn for the worse.
Day 3 Wind
His arm was gone. It was completely torn off except for a 2-inch strip of skin. Everyone was in a total panic. At first, I had no idea how bad the damage was. Chad was lying in the ditch alongside a tight right-hand hidden switchback in the mountains of southwestern Colorado.
Wake up late. Eat fast. Gas up. Charge out. Shoot up into the mountains. Why do we do this to ourselves? The five of us had gotten in late the night before after battling winds and rain. By the time we left the hotel in Hanksville, Utah, it was late afternoon. We cruised through the switchbacks leading to and from the Hite Bridge spanning across the Colorado River on Route 95 (Bicentennial Highway). It was an odd feeling to cross one of the nation's grandest rivers in solitude. We didn't see any cars along all of 95. We kept heading through Blaring on 191 and crossed the state line on 491. We headed north on Highway 141 towards the unincorporated town Egnar, Colorado (whose name is "Range" spelled backward), with Chad leading the pack on an '09 pearl yellow Honda Goldwing, Brad following on a Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager, and the rest of us way behind.
I had been trying to keep up with Chad and Brad's close formation, but they are much more experienced riders. Checking my ego, I relaxed the throttle a bit. The floorboards scraped asphalt around every bend. A blind turn came up, and I saw a flash out of my left peripheral. Wait! Was that Brad running on foot? Ahead of me was a cloud of dust. Fuck. It was windy in the mountains that day, but it wasn't windy enough to whip up thick black dirt in the apex of the switchback. I wasn't sure what had happened yet, but I knew it wasn't good. I drove past the ominous cloud, squeezed the fuck out of my Electra Glide's front calipers, and ran. I didn't even spend the extra second to put down the kickstand. I didn't care.
Chad was laying on the ground lifeless about 40 feet behind a crushed yellow Goldwing, and Brad was backing away from the scene. My brain clicked, and I went to work. I never thought of myself as a calm person. I figured that if something like this ever happened I would freak. I didn't.
By the time I got to Chad's side he was starting to make noise. He was alive! From the looks of it, Chad's arm had a nasty fracture and his wrist looked destroyed-like a bunch of trash overstuffed in a garbage bag. I have been working on getting my wilderness first responder certification for years, but have never finished. What I did learn came in handy. I checked Chad's pulse in his right arm, and thought I wasn't doing it right. I couldn't feel anything, just cold flesh. I checked his left arm and felt his blood ripping through his radial artery. The pulsation from his wrist told me his heart was still in the "on" position.
Blood seeped through the sleeve of his armored jacket. I gently moved his right arm to inspect the damage. He was bleeding out. I asked a few of the guys in our group who had just shown up to help me turn him over. One guy puked, the other guy said no way, and the third said not to touch him. In order to keep his spine inline, I needed their help. I didn't want to risk putting Chad in a wheelchair for life, but I knew we had to stop the bleeding.
For possibly the first time in my ADHD life, my brain was 100 percent focused on the situation. The rush was incredible. I yelled out to anyone to grab my first aid kit out of my bike. Someone handed me my sleeping bag instead. I felt a bit of panic set in, but stayed in control and repeated, "I need the fucking first aid kit!"
I had to cut off his jacket to see where the blood was coming from. The scissors weren't in my bag, so Brad gave me his Bowie knife. The braided Kevlar fabric on Chad's Motoport Air Mesh Kevlar Jacket jacket was, of course, very cut resistant. We finally removed the sleeve and saw the injury. I lifted his arm to get a better look. It was cold and dead. It was bad. The gash not only went deep, it continued through the entire bone and almost all the way out the other side. I lifted his arm up a little to get a better look. About one inch from his shoulder was a thin piece of skin holding onto the rest of his arm. The blood wasn't spurting, so I didn't think he was bleeding that badly until later when I realized that the dry dirt of the high desert was absorbing most of the fluid.
Someone puked again. His bones didn't look like I expected. They had a bunch of bloody pinhole-sized dots. I twisted his arm around to line it up correctly and tried to reattach it with the help of some small bandages from the med kit.
Chad was starting to talk now. He asked me what had happened? I told him that he had been in a motorcycle accident. He was very calm and said, "Hmm. Motorcycles? I like motorcycles. That makes sense."
He asked me who was in charge, and I tried to keep him calm by telling him that I was in charge and that I have medical training. Looking back on the situation, Chad saved is own life by staying so calm. His mind was looping and he kept asking me the same questions over and over again. What happened? Who is in charge? He had no clue as to who any of us were, the year, the month, or what country he was in.
Brad and Billy were frantically trying to get cell phone reception to call 911. With minimal reception at 7,000 feet above sea level in the middle of nowhere, they would get connected to someone, talk for 30 seconds, and lose the signal. A registered nurse just getting off of her shift at the ER happened to be driving the first car that came upon the scene. She had a pair of scissors that we used to remove the rest of his jacket. She kept track of his pulse and blood oxygen content with a finger monitor.
Three hours later the EMTs showed up. The guys were fresh out of school and were having trouble placing him on the backboard properly. They were trying to apply the board to him while he was still laying face down. I felt uncomfortable telling certified medics how to properly get him on the backboard while keeping his neck stable.
After he was stabilized to the board, a group of us gently lifted him and carried him out of the ditch. We needed to place him on the gurney, but the RN was in the way, holding Chad. I told her that she had to move. She said she couldn't. I raised my voice, telling her again, but she just looked at me and shook her head. I realized then that she was keeping Chad's arm from falling off the backboard and startling the rest of the panicked group.
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...
Essential Back Country Safety Gear
It's easy to call 911 when you are in a populated area, but when crossing the country on back roads you have to be prepared for some self-rescue. Being prepared only works if everyone in your group knows who is carrying which essentials.
Having your vital information saves a lot of time during an emergency. Chad and I ride with an In Case of Emergency Identification (ICE ID) product stuck to the outside of our helmets containing D.O.B., blood type, insurance, contact info, medication, allergies, and any medical conditions. I got mine from www.vitalid.ca.
Cell phones are iffy in the backcountry. Do not rely on one to save you in an emergency. There are many companies on the internet that rent satellite phone for less than $40 a week.
You can't get help if you don't know where you are. The SPOT Personal Tracker (findmespot.com) is a satellite GPS messenger that links to family, friends, and an international rescue coordination center. Simply press a button and emergency services will be notified.
A sturdy knife, water, lighter, first-aid kit, and high-energy food can save a life.
Make room for a first aid kit and know how to use it. I recommend that at least one person in the group be certified as a Wilderness First Responder through a reputable company like NOLS (nols.edu).