One Foot Over the Edge
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 PAUL FIELD
C Company, 1-25th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion
Fort Wainwright, Alaska
It seems like yesterday that I returned from my first trip overseas. While deployed, I saved my money and wanted to purchase something fast. I quickly realized I didn’t have the funds to get a convertible sports car, so I opted for a sport bike instead. For just $10,000, I could ride off the lot with a motorcycle that had 120 horsepower and weighed only 350 pounds. That is a lot of power for a relatively small price. I went to the dealership and purchased my motorcycle in March. The next morning when I walked outside, a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) training course card was sitting on my fuel tank. I put the card in my pocket and promptly forgot about it.
I spent the next few weeks learning how to ride since this was my first motorcycle. It didn’t take me long to figure out the basics, and by May I knew I was the king of two wheels. I celebrated this new freedom by spending my nights cruising the local boulevard one stoplight at a time.
In late July, two guys from work invited me to run some canyons. I met them at a gas station at the base of the Wasatch Mountains for a quick pre-ride brief and to top off our fuel tanks. We discussed the route since I had never ridden it and set up a location to meet up when we finished the ride. They then turned to me and insisted I keep to the speed limit and never cross a solid line. They also stressed that I take my time, learn the road and not push my abilities.
I was insulted that they were implying this ride might be too tough for my bike and my abilities. Both of their bikes were well over eight years older than mine. They must not have known I was the greatest rider ever, and my bike was way better than theirs.
At the beginning of the ride, I didn’t really mind that they kept pulling away from me in the corners. I knew I could catch them on the straight sections of road. When we were about five miles into the canyon, however, the terrain changed from tight corners with trees lining the road to long, fast, sweeping curves running along a giant reservoir. As the road continued, the height increased above the water. This is where I met my very first decreasing radius turn, one that gets tighter as it continues.
To say I was unprepared for this turn would be an understatement. The MSF rider courses were not mandatory at this time, just recommended. Had I attended a course, I would have known to not stare at the curb or the foot of gravel that led to the 500-foot drop to the water below. I also would have known to lean into the curve, look where I was wanting to go and apply light throttle to maintain tire traction with the road.
Instead, I did what a rookie would do — I panicked and brought the bike upright again. I slammed on my brakes and stared at the gravel ahead. Eighteen years later, I can still mentally see exactly what the gravel looked like and how the asphalt was broken and chunks scattered on the road. I remember how it felt when the rear tire lost traction in the gravel and I started to slide to the right.
I was extremely lucky that day. When I finally stopped, I couldn’t even put my right foot on solid ground. There was nothing there. That’s how close I was to falling off a cliff. Fortunately, I was able to regain my composure and get back on my bike after a few minutes. I finished the rest of the ride well below the speed limit as well as the suggested speed for curves.
I walked away that day with a desire to learn how to operate a motorcycle properly, so I signed up an MSF rider course. There, I learned the skills I should have acquired before ever taking my bike on the road, such as how to negotiate a curve and look in the direction where you want to go. I also learned the difference between the posted speed limit and the speed appropriate for conditions. All of that training would have helped me avoid my close call on that canyon road.