Risk Management Magazine

Search for Articles

Pushing the Limits

Pushing the Limits
D Company, 2-10 Aviation Regiment
(Task Force Knighthawk)
Fort Drum, N.Y.


This is a typical "there-I-was" story, much like the ones I enjoy reading about in safety magazines. The only difference is I am the subject, and the following events (yes, that’s multiple events) happened to me. The lessons learned motivated me to change the way I think about my favorite hobby — motorcycle riding.

The following events occurred during a two-week cross-country motorcycle trip while I was on block leave before leaving for a deployment to Afghanistan. The trip took me from Fort Drum, N.Y., to Pensacola, Fla., and back. To ensure I stayed safe, I planned the 3,000-mile journey meticulously and completed my TRiPS assessment, which was command briefed and blessed.

Day 5 of my trip would have me on my cruiser from Columbus, Ga., to Newport News, Va., a 700-mile expedition with a 10½-hour ride time. I knew some riding days would be longer than others, but this one was especially lengthy. With fuel stops and planned breaks, the trip was scheduled for about 12½ hours. It would be a long ride day, but it was doable. The weather was looking good and my bike was properly maintained and prepared for the trip. I had also slept in a decent hotel and rested well, so I felt mentally and physically ready.

I left the hotel at 5:30 that morning to gas up and go. My plan was to avoid the awful rush-hour traffic in Atlanta, but I encountered my first snag while trying to pay for the fuel. That delay set me back an hour, which meant I was going to hit the traffic head on, something I wasn’t looking forward to doing. I was already an hour behind, so now my trip was going to take at least 13 hours.

Of course, traffic caused me another three-hour delay, so now the trip timer was up to 16 hours and I hadn't even gotten out of the state of Georgia. Eventually, though, I got into a rhythm of quick breaks every hour to hydrate, fuel, grab a bite to eat and get back on the road.

By 2 p.m., I was about nine hours into the ride. I was making decent time and trying to maintain my hydration and spirits. Once I reached the Charlotte, N.C., area, though, I encountered more traffic. Since I was riding alone, I made sure to leave myself an "out" when in traffic. Also, my attention level was high and my head on a swivel because tractor-trailers were everywhere. When it came time to pass a vehicle, I did it with authority, which means I didn’t dilly-dally around. There were no slow passes since a driver may not have even noticed I’d come up behind them.

Then I got behind a tractor-trailer.

I was preparing my pass when it happened — a loud bang and then debris. The big-rig’s tire exploded right in front of me. Instinct told me to slow down, so I was hard on the brakes as rubber chunks seemed to come at me from everywhere. As I looked for my out, I realized it had evaporated with my speed, and I was now surrounded by cars. This made avoiding the rubber debris impossible.

Fortunately, I was riding with a full-face helmet, and my windshield and other personal protective equipment helped keep me safe. After taking several hits from large pieces of tire, a car let me out of my lane so I could finally pass the truck. By now, my heart was going a thousand beats a minute, so I headed for the next exit to take a break and assess any damage the bike or I took.

After sitting and sipping on a highly caffeinated cold beverage, I’d calmed enough to get back on the road. With my anxiety high, I questioned the decision to make such a long ride. I continued for another hour and half and was just about to take another break for fuel and food when lightning struck again. Yes, another tractor-trailer had a blowout — this time when I was in the middle of passing the rig.

While the blowout occurred on the opposite side I was on, the damage had been done. My anxiety was now through the roof. I was genuinely scared. I thought I was going to die on a North Carolina road. I pulled off the road again to calm down, eat and relax. I also called my wife to talk, but I didn't mention my close calls. I didn't want to worry her further. I then called my designation friends to let them know I was having issues.

While I ate, I contemplated my options. I could either ride another four hours to Newport News or grab a hotel and rest. I’d now been on the road for more than 12 hours and suffered two major events within the past two. “Get-there-itis” eventually won out, so I hopped back onto my bike and continued my trip. About five hours later, I finally reached my destination. All told, I had spent almost 18 hours on my motorcycle.

When I had time to reflect on my trip, I made several decisions that would affect future rides. I will never again try to travel more than 450 miles in one day. Also, my routes will mostly take me on smaller highways rather than interstates.

I didn't enjoy that ride day at all. I was very lucky, as a few of my choices could have proved fatal, especially the decision to press on to my designation. I want to impart to all riders that nothing is worth pushing the limits. Take time to get to your designation and, although it sounds cliché, arrive alive.

  • 1 August 2013
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 10567
  • Comments: 0
Categories: Off-DutyPMV-2