"After the impact I remember looking down (just like I was flying in an airplane) and seeing all these boulders and thinking 'O boy, you're in for it now. You're either going to land on these boulders or go into this river.' It's like I was suspended in time. I flew about eighty feet. I thought if I get through this it's probably going to be a miracle."
Being a motorcycle rider you've probably heard the saying that goes something like this, "There are two kinds of motorcycle riders: Those that have gone down and those who will."
I've heard this expression from riders and non-riders alike. I've read it in print more than a few times over the years. With that saying in mind, I belong to the first kind, actually a few times over. I'm still in one piece, strong and ready for the long ride, but I do have a few scars and have been busted up. I'm sure many of you that are reading this can identify. As far as riders of the second kind are concerned, that is a true fact - if you've stopped riding and haven't gone down. Sometimes it's our fault for being careless - if only for a moment. Sometimes no matter how safe we are riding, totally aware of our surroundings and all immediate dangers, or what evasive actions we take - we still go down.
However, it's obvious to me, whether you've gone down or not, and you may have thought of this too, there is a third kind of rider that may describe us all. Riding is life to us, life in the fullest sense. We feel its motion. We see it ahead of us, above and all around us. We are given life as we ride through it. Philosophically this feeling has been termed as being "in the groove." Psychologically this sensation may be described as "self actualization". Spiritually it could be known as, "being here now'. On a purely physical level, riding is visceral, a deep connection to motor impulses; in Greek mythology we are like the Centaur, we blend into the bike below us as our horse. It can be hard to define and put into words, but to understand and feel it, simply go for a ride. Jim is a rider of the third kind. You will come to know him by this one tale of a life-altering incident, and by his determination to get back on a motorcycle.
Jim had been riding motorcycles for thirty-nine years at the time of his accident. Riding was his relaxation. He would arise early to take on the coolness of the morning - on his way out for a three to four hundred mile day ride. Mostly he would head out toward the plains, mountains and prairies of eastern Oregon. Sometimes he would turn west to the coast for some seaside riding. He usually rode solo on a sport-touring machine. On a Thursday in June of 2001, breaking in a new Triumph Sprint near milepost 72 on Highway 35, in the shadow of Mt. Hood, his life was almost taken away.
The road north from Highway 26, just east of Government Camp, snakes alongside the east fork of the Hood River then opens up into farmland nearing the town of Hood River on the Columbia. Highway 35 is a fine motorcycle road: many curves under a canopy of trees, views of the twisting river below, and lightly traveled by automobile. As it so often is, roads through paradise are also popular wildlife crossings. It's their paradise too. With a riding career spanning decades, Jim realizes this too. He says, "When you're riding that early in the morning, and you're out on the mountains like that, you've got to look for wildlife."
Carving steadily through the turns, the river flowing down below to his left, the steep mountain bank to his right, he noticed the orange construction signs. Approaching highway construction at milepost seventy-two he saw the first warning sign about eight hundred feet prior to the next curve. "Reduce speed to thirty-five" it read. Coming into the construction zone he geared down to speed limit. Visibility was good; Jim could see the corner at a distance. As he leaned through the ninety-degree left-hander he shifted down again in anticipation of an upcoming right-hander. The Triumph odometer was just about to turn over to three hundred and fifty miles when Jim's life would change forever. He said, "Something was telling me something's not right. It's like the air went dead. It was dead quiet. I knew something was wrong. It's the same feeling I had when I was in Vietnam. I could sense when something was going to happen. From a distance I saw the area where the deer came from, the deer was not in there, and there was no movement."
The deer leaped onto the road from the downside of the bank. There was no time for Jim to swerve. He was right there. Jim relives the seconds of impact, "Just as I backed off the throttle that deer was right in front of me. I grabbed and pulled the brake lever back all the way. I just clamped down on that foot brake and had it locked up. I tee boned him in the mid-section right where the belly hangs down. He was a big one; he wasn't one of these little Bambis, it was like a mule deer. I hit him at about twenty-five to twenty-seven miles an hour. I saw the brown coloring of the deer's fur. I hit him square. It just totaled my face shield. It's like somebody took a belt sander across the whole face shield. The Triumph tried to eject me off. I remember going forward and I thought, 'Okay I'm going to fly over this guy now' but my jacket belt buckle hooked up on the tank bag, which was strapped securely to the Triumph. It brought me back into the seat. With me and the deer tangled, the bike is doing a stoppie down the road on the front wheel with the back wheel up in the air."
As with just about all motorcycle accidents, there were two impacts. In Jim's case, one with the deer and the other across the road at the riverbank. He tells of the second impact: "After I hit him I blacked out, I'd say for a nano-second. When I regained consciousness I was airborne. I flew over the opposite lane, over the guardrail, over rocks and boulders, heading straight toward the North Fork of the Hood River. I remember looking down (just like I was flying in an airplane) and seeing all these boulders and thinking 'O boy, you're in for it now. You're either going to land on these boulders or go into this river.' It's like I was suspended in time. I flew about eighty feet. I thought if I get through this it's probably going to be a miracle."
It was a miracle, Jim continues, "Between the boulders and the river there was this little patch of sandy gravel roughly four-foot square. That's where I landed, right in the center of it. I came down hard on my right side and braced for it. I hit and rolled into this bush which acted sort of a like a cushion and rolled me back. I narrowly missed hitting a big boulder. Lying there, what I noticed was that the bottom part of my leg where my ankle is, and my foot, more or less stayed perched on that boulder. I looked at it and said, 'Jim you have a problem. Your foot is a hundred and eighty degrees turned around. The back of your foot is looking at you."
Jim doesn't remember being in pain. He laid there by the river, small rapids splashing up, over, and around the rocks just inches away. His left leg, twisted, mangled, and pulled out at the knee, perched on a boulder. His Shoei helmet damaged from where a hoof had come around and slapped him in the head. He was losing blood.
"I remember being worried about my neck and head because if you screw those up, you're pretty much messed up for the rest of your life. I didn't know if my leg was going to fall off or not. I thought if my leg falls off, I'm not going to freak out. I'm looking around at my surroundings and thought, 'Great, I got to get up this rocky bank!' I tried to get up, but I couldn't. I couldn't even hobble on one leg. There was no way I could afford to go into shock. I have to stay coherent through this whole thing. It's a mind-set that you have to put yourself into. I just had to relax, which is what I did. I have to wait until the authorities and medical people get here. I have to give them all the information they need. If they knock me out then, that's fine. Until then, I have to stay awake," thought Jim.
Jim forgot that the state Department of Transportation, which had put up the warning signs, was working nearby. They heard the crash. A couple of ODOT guys dropped what they were doing, came running across the road and scrambled over the rocky embankment to his side. It took only a minute or two for them to get there.
Jim said, "They're trying to comfort me and they're asking me all these questions. I looked at one guy and told him."
"I've checked myself out and I don't think I have any damage to my neck or head. I asked him if he saw any other areas on me that might be ripped or torn."
He said, "There is no other blood coming off except where your leg is."
I said, "Well, I'm going to take my helmet off and see how my neck feels. I took my helmet off and it felt just like it did when it was on, except I felt a little stiff because I remember ramming the deer with my head."
I said to him, "Do you think it's all right if I have a cigarette? I don't think I'm going to have another one for quite a while."
He said, "Sure, if you feel like it, go ahead."
In the meantime, state police had showed up within minutes. In the distance Jim could hear the ambulance from miles away, the siren wailing away then muting around the bends. The patrolman stayed on the road directing any on-coming traffic. The deer wasn't quite dead so the officer shot it, putting it out of its misery. Between the medics and road crew, it took about eight of them to haul Jim up the steep bank. From the time of the accident to the time he was loaded in the back of the ambulance was about fifteen minutes. Jim gave the medics all the information he could, and asked for his wife Michele to be notified. His last memory at the scene was being hooked up to life support in the ambulance as they sped off for the twenty-four miles to the nearest town of Hood River. He woke up three days later after being life-flighted to Legacy Emmanuel, a major hospital.
Riding companion and friend of thirty years, Bryan Enfield said, "I went to see Jim at the hospital soon after the accident. Jim said to me from his bedside, "I'm just glad to be here."
Jim had had three operations, two of them were to try and save his left leg. He has a twelve-inch scar down by the right ankle, and a three-inch scar on his stomach. The surgeons tried to keep the blood flowing through the leg, but the leg died. It didn't work and it was starting to kill him. The last operation was to save his life.
The recovery period from the actual amputation wasn't very long. He went into physical therapy with a prosthetic leg designed for him. It's a complicated process and now he is using a second prosthetic and will soon change to a simpler version.
Kelly McCarthy of Cascade Moto Classics had sold Jim the Triumph Sprint. After Jim's wife, Kelly was his first visitor. Jim didn't know what was going through Kelly's mind at the time, but thought that maybe Kelly had blamed himself. Because Jim was a new customer, buying a different model of bike, he thought Kelly felt responsible. He assured Kelly that it was not his fault. It was nobody's fault. It just happened. After all, Jim had been riding BMWs for twenty-three years, and Hondas for quite a few years before that. One thing Jim knew for sure is that Kelly and Janice McCarthy felt really bad about his accident and that they cared for him very much.
Cascade Moto Classics is a family dealer and everyone who buys a bike becomes part of the Cascade family. Not every dealer has this kind of feeling.
Jim says of Cascade, "There are exceptional dealers in the United States that have a family feeling to it. When you walk into Cascade Moto Classics you can tell right away. You can tell by the way Janice does things: the coffee, the cookies, donuts and rolls, and her warm smile - everyday. On demo days or an open house there's a full luncheon offered. Not too many dealers do this."
Beyond that, Cascade fully supports the MGNOC and has for many years. I have found through my own experience with them that they go that extra mile, or inch, what ever it takes, doing what ever they can to serve their customers.
Being a rider of the third kind, Jim desired his motorcycle life back. He originally thought about a trike. He had spied a quick conversion trike kit at the International Bike Show and thought that might be the way to go. He also looked into sidecars. He came to the conclusion that trikes were not quite as stable as a sidecar.
Jim met Pete Larsen of EZS Sidecars at their Liberty Motors location in Seattle. He decided to go with a sidecar. He wanted the EZS complete conversion package, which is much more than a simple bolt on unit. Jim appreciated their engineering approach that targets the host motorcycle. The Dutch company has been crafting sidecars for the European market for twenty years.
So, what bike would be the host?
Jim said, "I've got to be frank about this. The Guzzi was not my first choice. I wanted to get a Triumph, but except for the underpowered Bonneville, they wouldn't do at the time. EZS had to have a cradle frame. I wanted to stay with a European bike. Guzzi and BMW offer the cradle frame. I didn't want to go back to BMW because I liked Kelly and Janice and the way they ran the shop. I wanted to find out what could be done with a Guzzi. I first pushed for a LeMans, but learned it didn't have the full cradle frame. My next choice was within the cruiser line. I decided on the Stone because in converting a bike to a sidecar you don't need the fancy rims and all the extras that the EV offers. The tires and rims go bye-bye, the front forks go bye-bye - the whole EZS sidecar kit comes with everything. Actually, I would have been better off just to buy a frame, motor, transmission, electrical wiring, headlight, no bars or front end, and just sent it up there and said, okay, now make a side car of it. But the Stone worked out real well. It has enough power to haul a sidecar."
The process of converting the Stone to a sidecar went on for eleven months. It started with Jim, Bryan Enfield, and Mark Thompson leaving from Cascade on October 26th, 2002 to make the one hundred and eighty mile journey north to Liberty Motors. Of course, Jim drove his car while Bryan and Mark took turns riding the Stone. After several months, Jim paid a visit so he could sit on the bike to make sure everything was right prior to painting - thumbs up.
In late spring of 2003 Jim, Bryan and Mark returned with the sidecar to Cascade. Mark rode the first ninety miles and Bryan the last ninety. Jim recalls, "It rained on the way back and there was one area that hailed like you just wouldn't believe. We pulled into Cascade to let them know the sidecar was finished. Kelly was out on a test ride and we called him on his cell to let him know my sidecar was there, but he got caught in a humongous downpour and was held up some place, hiding under cover. But Janice and everyone else came out. They all gathered around admiring the sidecar. We had to put the top on because the rain just cut loose. This was on May 17, 2003."
By mid summer Jim's new rig had been through a couple of oil changes, dyno tested and dialed in.
In his many years of riding Jim had never ridden a sidecar before. It has been an entirely new experience for him. At his own pace he's learning "direct steering", brake pressure, sidecar drag, and the many skills needed to operate and control his sidecar safely. Also, his right foot is doing double duty, as the Guzzi was converted from a left side to a right-side shifter. He gives his impressions, "I'm still trying to adjust to a three wheeler. It takes a little bit more work when you're riding it down the road, but it doesn't take much input to turn; you just push on the bar a little bit either side and you're going in that direction. Because of the kind of tires used for a sidecar, I feel more of the road; you can feel the imperfections, the grooves. I'm still experimenting with the kind of tire pressure I'll be comfortable with. The sidecar tuned out really great. I think I will adapt to it with time. It's beautiful. It reeks of craftsmanship. I can kind of see heads turn when I go down the road, but I'm paying attention to the road."
About starting his riding life over since the accident Jim said, "There is a lot of good that came out of this whole thing - I lived. It could have been a lot worse than what it was. It happened. It's over. There's nothing I can do about it. A lot of us riders have a need for speed. We like to twist the throttle and just flat out go. I especially liked to corner-carve on a sport-bike, but because I was breaking in a new bike when I had the accident, I was in a laid back mode. I wasn't going to push it. Now I have the same thrill at fifty-five miles an hour on three wheels as I did at one hundred on two wheels. Forever I could say, What if, what if, but now I have a whole new life, and a different way to approach it."
Jim has been given life again and continues to ride through it.