Awareness: Your Best Defense
SGT. 1ST CLASS JOSHUA MOONAN
E Company, 2nd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery
Fort Bliss, Texas
Hawaii … beautiful islands with year-round riding weather. What more could a rider ask for? As wonderful as it may sound, there are definite risks those who are just arriving need to consider. All you need to do is ask someone who has been here for a year or two and you begin to get a clearer perspective. Any one of the conditions I am about to go over has a near miss attached to it, so take a second to really think about it. It just might save your life.
Two seasons — sun and rain
Some consider Hawaii paradise. Those of us who have lived on or near Schofield Barracks or Wheeler Army Airfield have another word for it — wet. People seem to forget Hawaii is a tropical island and, given that these two posts are near the highest travelable point on Oahu, they are almost assured the best rains any tree could ask for. But I am not a tree. I am a rider. And this means that although I may be able to ride in the rain with all of my protective gear, I may not be as comfortable — or safe — as I'd like.
All trained riders know the dangers involved in riding in the rain such as limited visibility, skidding on wet leaves, etc. Nonetheless, there is an inherent danger in riding around with those who become complacent in their four-wheeled behemoths because they are so used to the rain. Keep in mind that even though you may have made eye contact with the local across the intersection from you, he or she may do something stupid anyway. Awareness and caution are your best defenses out there.
“I don't see you,” means you aren't there
Here's an interesting bit of skewed logic I thought I left behind when I moved from Korea. (I was wrong.) It is a known fact that when a driver smacks into a rider, the first thing out of their mouth is usually, "I just didn't see him, officer!" And it seems like it’s only getting worse. Some of these drivers aren't even looking for other cars, much less bikes, so watch out! The import tuner that kid is driving may be made out of aluminum, but it will still turn you into ground beef … err, human.
Sandy beaches, sandy roads
Here's one I never knew until riding on an island: The sand doesn't care whether you enjoy living or not. It'll send you careening every which way just the same. I've seen experienced riders almost go down over the stuff. A few years back, it actually killed a guy. So, when you're watching that glorious sun sinking into the waves, keep an eye on the road.
I don't know what it is about Hawaii that makes people lose their minds, but it happens. Maybe it's the beautiful beaches, scantily clad beach attire, vacation decompression time, volcanic rock or some crazy combination of it all. But in the end, it doesn't really matter. What does matter is that it makes life more dangerous for you, the rider.
The island is full of drunken, partying tourists with no real responsibilities or cares for their actions. Afterward, they get to leave the state! So, riders, keep on your toes and stay away from those major touristy areas on weekend evenings. I know there may be an attraction or two you want to visit in Waikiki or Honolulu. If you do decide to go, watch out for the rent-a-car Ferrari, Lotus or other luxury sports car. Believe me, they are not watching out for you.
Super speed = speedy death
This one is for all those performance superbike people out there. I recently watched a video on YouTube of a motorcyclist pushing the bounds of physics on his crotch rocket at 140-160 mph. It was one of the stupidest things I have ever seen, but it happens. When I got back to the island from my second deployment, everyone was feeling good, looking great and ready to hit the beach. A couple of weeks later, I heard about a rider who thought it would be a good idea to fulfill his need for speed under the freeway. He tried to blow through an intersection, hit a van and turned himself into a short-lived human missile through the driver-side window. It was instant death and decapitation for the driver of the van, instant death for the rider and instant loss for two families. Not a good way to go. All of the education, personal protective equipment and vehicle inspections in the world aren't going to help you if you choose to ride recklessly. This first step in saving your own life is choosing to survive. Speed kills. It’s a slogan for a reason.
Crosswalk borders: Great for pedestrians, not for bikes
Here's one that caught me by surprise one rainy night. I came up to an intersection in Mililani at less than 5 mph, squeezed my brakes and didn't stop! At least not until I managed to get to the side of the thick white border of the crosswalk. I have heard the paint they use for crosswalks and road lines are wonderful because they can be applied quickly and disrupt traffic less because they dry faster. That is all well and good, but beware because they are dangerous. It’s just another thing on this beautiful island to watch out for.
Common sense is not so common
Finally, keep in mind that although you may have been riding for a few years, some of these kids may have been driving for just a few hours. Youth, inexperience, frustration and hormones: cram them all into one kid and add a 2,000-pound vehicle. Sounds like a recipe for disaster if you ask me. The fact of the matter is, even though the kid won't mean to kill you, he might very well do it anyway. So might the 60-year-old grandmother, for that matter. I knew a sergeant first class who broke his collarbone by smashing into the rear end of a vehicle whose driver made a right turn from the left turn lane.
The bottom line is you need to assume that there is no common sense guiding the drivers around you. Ride safe, ride defensive, ride aware. It may take a little more time, but it just might save your life.