When Luck Runs Out
1ST LT. WAYLAN J. GREEN
Headquarters, 113th Sustainment Brigade
North Carolina Army National Guard
Greensboro, North Carolina
In my younger years, I had all the qualities of an effective warfighter — strength, tenacity, energy, speed and fearlessness. Those qualities, however, didn’t necessarily translate well to safe motorcycle riding.
I bought my first motorcycle after my first deployment and could not wait to get it on the road to see what it could do. I was all about pushing my physical abilities and throwing myself into unfamiliar and frightening territory. I lived to beat fear and consistently won. It wasn’t until I purchased my new motorcycle and — shortly thereafter — gave it up to a scrap yard that I learned that without maturity, I was setting up myself for failure.
My dream bike at the time was a Yamaha Seca II 600cc rocket, and I bought one with just three miles on the odometer straight off the showroom floor. It was a stunning deep green, and I bought an equally beautiful helmet to match. This was my first big purchase as a 20-year-old “adult,” and it made me feel as if I’d moved up in the world. I believed I could do anything now that I had my own transportation and was as free as could be on the open road.
For the first three months, I pushed my new machine’s capabilities every chance I got — keeping the speedometer at about 100 mph on long trips and 50-60 mph in town, shooting the gaps down the traffic lanes, zipping between cars and getting from point A to point B in the most efficient manner possible. What a rush! I felt there was nothing I couldn’t do on this bike. It was as much a part of me as I was a part of it. It responded to the slightest shift of my weight and lightest twitch of my hand. I could get it from 0-60 in no time flat and stop it on a dime.
I was mobilized again after those three glorious months and had to put my beauty into long-term storage. While deployed, I had wonderful dreams of once again hitting the open road at top speed, leaving all of my cares and worries far behind. Visions of slipping gaps and pushing my speed past insanity filled my head and occupied a lot of mental time. My deployment seemed to last for an eternity before I was finally heading back home to be reunited with my 600cc queen.
That first day I was home and released on a 96-hour pass, I rushed to be reunited with my bike. Dressed in nothing but a T-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes, I grabbed my helmet and had a buddy take me to the storage unit. When I got her out, she was dusty but still had that “new-bike” smell. I must have spent an hour washing every nook and cranny, taking great care around the rims and sleek tank.
Once inspection ready, I topped her off with fuel and opened her up on the road. It was like two lifelong friends reunited after years of separation. I got the bike out on the interstate and kicked her into top gear. I topped the speedometer at about 120 mph before I began to feel a wobble in the handlebars. I wasn’t sure what was happening but figured it would work itself out if I tried harder to steady it.
I maintained my speed and moved over to the slow lane. Before I knew it, the shaking became uncontrollable and I attempted to hit the brakes. What I didn’t realize was there was a patch of loose gravel in the center of the lane in which I was now traveling. As I hit the brakes, both tires locked up and I laid down the bike on its left side. The left foot peg caught on the asphalt, causing the bike to flip sideways and sending me hurtling through the air. Even at 120 mph, I felt as if I was moving in slow motion. To my immediate right was a deep ditch with very tall grass that followed the side of the road and I was heading straight toward it. I had just enough time to mumble, “This is going to hurt.” I closed my eyes just before the impact.
I slammed to the ground face down, knocking the wind out of me, and slid in the tall grass of the ditch with arms out to the side for what felt like 100 yards. When my body finally came to a stop, I thought for sure I’d left a limb or two back on the road but was in too much shock to feel anything. To my amazement, I was uninjured minus some grass burns on my arms, which is crazy since I was wearing only a T-shirt, jeans, tennis shoes and helmet. As for my beautiful bike, it had flipped end over end another 75 meters, leaving a debris field down the road. I was so grateful to be alive, but the feeling was bittersweet once I saw my beautiful motorcycle strewn in hundreds of pieces up and down the highway.
It was at that time I realized I had set myself up for failure from the beginning. It doesn’t matter how physically capable you are or how quick your reflexes may be. If you fail to temper those abilities with maturity, your time will eventually come and luck will fail to be on your side. Also, rider training, such as the courses provided by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, is a must. Today, I’m a responsible motorcyclist and have enjoyed riding over the past 20 years without an accident!