Expect the Unexpected

It's a terrible thing to sit there and witness a friend crash right in front of you. To see the body stiffen, the brakes come on raggedly, to see his head pointed to the outside of the corner instead of through it—painful and frustrating. In my memory of the event, my friend struggled for several seconds, arguing with himself if he could make the corner at that speed, deciding he couldn't, and then maybe he could, and then back to doubt. With doubt came too much front brake. And with just a few degrees of lean angle, a low-speed but surprisingly violent low-side ensued.

I'm sure it was over in an eye blink. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I love the laughably improbable aphorism, "Expect the unexpected." It's credited to Heraclitus (circa 500 B.C.) but was reinserted into our lexicon by Oscar Wilde and since repurposed by such luminaries as Helen Thomas and Brad Bird.

Riders on their game make a hundred little calculations a second in an effort to "expect the unexpected." Days, weeks, months go by without incident; the unexpected remains preoccupied with someone else. Dropping a tree on your neighbor's car; delivering an inheritance from an unknown uncle. And then it's right there in front of you.

This morning started with a ride in the Malibu hills and a quick visit to the Rock Store followed by a very sane jaunt up The Snake—part of Mulholland Highway known to attract judgment-impaired riders and with them an accompaniment of law enforcement. Fellow MC staffer Zack Courts led, and my friend was in between; I believe strongly in having an area-knowledgeable sweep rider with out-of-towners among us. Plus, after an "unexpected" contribution to LA County's coffers via the Sheriff's department earlier that morning, I was happy to hang back and act like an adult.

I noticed that my friend was a little tentative on the roads and did not repeat some of Zack's cleaner and more elegant lines. As we continued, I watched my buddy's riding improve and could see him relax. Zack had set a pace somewhere inside my friend's comfort zone, and I suspect he was having a good time.

And then he crashed. I've replayed the accident a thousand times in my head, recalling that I managed an interior "no, no, no" as I saw the thing unfold, followed by a brief entreaty to "look up, look into the corner!" I wasn't following closely, so it was no trouble to stop. As I got to him, I could see he was in pain. But he was breathing, his eyes were open, and he was responsive. His fall was a little freakish in that he managed to break several ribs without hitting anything but the pavement. He'll recover just fine, albeit with a story. "You remember that Christmas when I had those broken ribs?"

The story will end well, but I have a couple of regrets. This accident happened on a notoriously difficult set of corners—downhill, slightly tightening, more than a few visual distractions along the outside including a nasty bullnose end of the guardrail where a driveway intersects the road. A nasty little stretch of pavement that I wish I could have warned him about. How do you do that? "Okay, there'll be a double-apex left-hander about 6 miles from the end of the road…" Impossible, unless you're wearing synched communicators. Turns out, we were both equipped but with incompatible brands. Sigh.

I noticed my friend was fighting a little target fixation on the ride; I had an opportunity to mention it, make him aware of what I was seeing, but didn't. Maybe that's a guy thing, respect for another rider, or just not wanting to sound like an A-hole. Bad excuses. I'm sure my friend would have taken the suggestions at face value, one rider sharing experience with a bad habit fought and mostly overcome. Could have, should have.

We all have opportunities to pay it forward. Don't miss them.

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That’s quite the crew for a low-speed drop, but my friend was thankful for the quick medical aid. Less so for the bumpy ride down the hill.