Off Center: Snow Job

Up To Speed

It was the sort of high-desert morning that can bite you: cold, with a phalanx of dirty nimbostratus teeth grinning down from the south and east. But saddling up for another lovely 70-mile ride down to the Boss Angeles, I wasn't worried. They're probably bluffing.

Not this time. Scattered drops after eight miles turn to hard rain in eight more. Then snow. Snow? Hold on. It's not even supposed to rain in Southern California. But the big fluffy flakes just come harder and faster. Passing the last exit for an easy U-turn toward home, they start to stick. Denial, however, is not just a river in Egypt. I have work to do, and meetings in L.A. This can't last. I'm dropping out of 3000 feet toward 68 degrees and scattered clouds in the L.A. basin. It'll all blow itself away like 99 percent of the sad little flurries I've seen around here. But this was a one-percenter, with no intention of dying down quietly or soon. Not soon enough for me, anyway.

White stuff is sticking to my face shield faster than I can wipe it off and traffic is bunching up-bad combination. Time to duck under the next overpass and regroup. The best strategy for riding a motorcycle in the snow is simple: don't. Beyond that, there are three choices here, none of them good: 1) Wait it out and hope none of the drivers white-knuckling their way south locks onto the sunset-yellow BMW and takes us both out; 2) find a sympathetic pickup truck owner in my address book; or 3) ride. Meanwhile, those clouds are working on a reasonable facsimile of Smolensk. There's nothing but voicemail on the other end of my phone. I'm on the frosty edge of stage-one hypothermia. The next exit is less than 100 feet away.

The GS starts obediently and slips into gear. Ease the clutch out. The rear tire bites, but the front isn't doing so well. At maybe 6 mph, it skates sideways on the snow-covered shoulder, tossing me to the ground like 214 lbs. of half-frozen meat. Tired of bad? Try worse. My left ankle got caught in an argument between the BMW's clutch cover and the pavement. It lost. Cue the adrenaline and four of the seven words you can't say on television. The crunchy feeling in my boot moves the emergency room to the top of today's agenda ... as soon as I can figure out how to get there. Still nothing but voicemail. Just as dialing 9-1-1 looks like the only way out, I say a little prayer. God sends me a Prius.

Maybe four hours after my new best friend Jason dropped me off at the hospital, my wife Caroline is driving me home. Two days later, the carrot-orange cast looks better than it feels. Confined to the couch, I'm to keep the spiral-fractured malleolus-a.k.a. the lower extremity of the fibula-elevated. And I'm left wondering what more to take away from this experience beyond a pair of WWII-spec crutches and generic Vicodin.

I run the scenario past my friend LG, a.k.a. Laurence Gonzales, contributing editor for_ National Geographic Explorer_ and the author of Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why-_a stunning bit of required reading if you plan to live through regular exposure to risky business. "My first rule of survival is perceive and believe," Gonzales says. "That means you accept the clear evidence of your senses and not engage in denial like 'maybe it'll get better'. Pilots call what you did _get-home-itis. It can kill you. We live in a culture that tells us, through subtle and constant rewards, that we can make our own rules and get away with it. Most of the time, we can. Then comes the real hazard and suddenly we can't anymore."

I had get-home-itis: twice as dumb and just as lethal. Plans are good, but Laurence figures flexible plans are a whole lot better. Bend them before you break something, and I started breaking things miles before the snow started. "Sounds like you broke your unbreakable rule," Laurence said: "Don't ride in snow. Did you check the weather beforehand?" No. That might have saved me from all this. Or maybe all this can save me from something worse next time.