It happened just that fast.
He came out of the tall grass just beyond an overpass. Why he chose that particular moment to come out of hiding is anyone’s guess.
I was flying down I-90, 30 miles east of Fairmont, Minnesota and headed west fast. 80-mph fast. I had just changed into the left-hand lane and begun to pass a cattle-truck, when he came out of hiding. The leap was spectacular. Despite the clear daylight conditions I never saw it coming.
Barely in front of me the big buck-deer leapt out of the left ditch, clear across the left-hand lane, and smashed directly into the side of the cattle-truck. The impact sent him spinning like a top as he slid down the road in the left-hand lane. The left-hand lane. My lane! Worse yet, the deer was still alive, and as he tumbled and spun he was frantically trying to regain his feet. I knew that the instant he did, he was going to leap again.
I just had time to pull my feet and legs in, tap the front brake (releasing the cruise control) and pull the wheel HARD right, inducing a severe left turn (for those that don’t ride, in order to turn a motorcycle at speed, the handlebars are turned the opposite of the desired direction of turn, inducing the lean and causing the turn. This effect is called “counter-steering” and is vitally important for any motorcyclist to understand). I also instinctively mashed the button that should have triggered the 50-caliber machine guns, unleashing a withering combination of hot lead and phosphorus tracer rounds and ruthlessly obliterating the wayward deer from my path…but alas, due to varying restrictive gun laws, that button is only connected to my Rivco air-horns. A satisfyingly deafening blast came out, but it would do no good here.
It takes a surprisingly large amount of force to induce an 80-mph Valkyrie into a peg-dragging left hand turn. Sparks flew and tires squalled as the thousand pounds of man and machine headed rapidly for the ditch.
The spinning deer was slowing and had regained his front feet. With a sinking heart I saw that he was pointed directly at my only clear path in the lane (the extreme left) and his leap would probably be the exact instant I passed him. I pulled my knees in tighter. This would enable me to hang onto the bike better, and hopefully keep my legs from being the point of impact in any collision.
As the bike hit the yellow line I pulled her back into a hard right to try to correct before I slid off the road. I was carefully watching the space between the deer and the left-hand ditch and taking aim for that narrow area. As my tires hit the rumble strips I suddenly knew I was not going to be able to correct enough to stay on the narrow shoulder, so I eased up on the hard correction. I did not want to be in an extreme turn when I hit the sloped grass…that transition would be…interesting.
Tense yet curiously calm in this moment of dilated time, I guided the big bike as best as I could as we inexorably slid off the road.
The next moment is a blur. The deer was only in my peripheral vision now but I was vaguely aware that he had fully regained his feet. There would be plenty of room. I had at least an inch to spare. BANG! Hmm. Okay, maybe not an inch. My right highway peg folded up and the deer went spinning in the opposite direction at the same instant the bike left the roadway into the grass.
The Valkyrie was remarkably well behaved considering it was never intended to be an off-road machine. Particularly at 80-mph. She tried hard to drive to the bottom of the ditch, but ahead I could see a yellow reflector and an embankment for a turn-around in the center median. If I hit that I was toast. I kept my eyes on the road (where I wanted to be) and pulled a steady right turn. The bike responded slowly, heading back up the grass toward the road even as the rear-end fishtailed slightly downhill.
I got back to the road at the same time I hit the rise for the turn-around and I am sure, just for an instant, the Valkyrie and I went airborne. It might have only been a couple inches or so, but it sure felt like more. As we hit the road I had her back in a left correction so I did not continue across the lane and bounce myself off the cattle truck.
Just as quickly as it started, it was done. Just like that. Straight and smooth down the highway, the remains of adrenalin pumping through my system the only signs there had been a problem. Well, that and the green juice covering my boots from them plowing through the tall grass. I’m sure it’s all over the bottom of the Valkyrie too.
The truck was rapidly slowing and I passed him quickly (“blew by him” would be more accurate). I keyed up the radio on Channel 19 and said dryly, “That…was a very near thing.”
The radio crackled back, “That’s an understatement buddy. I thought you were a goner for sure! Are you okay? Do you need some help?”
I reached out my right foot and pushed the highway peg back to its open position. I grinned as I noted with amusement that my tour-bell was still hanging from it. I glanced in my rear-view so I could see my pack. Since it didn’t fly off during the off-road excursion, I was positive it would stay put until my next fuel stop. I would check for further damage then.
Some humor should relieve the tension. I laughed into the radio, “Nah, I’m okay. The only thing I need I’ve got plenty of in my pack.” I waited for the inevitable questioning reply.
I spoke in my most droll tone, “Clean underwear.”
30 miles west of Fairmont the scene was replayed with annoying and somewhat startling similarity…with one VERY key difference.
He came out of the tall grass just beyond an overpass. Why he chose that particular moment to come out of hiding is anybody’s guess.
I was flying down I-90, 30 miles west of Fairmont, Minnesota and headed west fast. 75-mph fast (I was now bucking 35 mph headwinds). I had just changed into the left-hand lane and begun to pass another cattle-truck, when he came out of hiding. Despite the clear daylight conditions I never saw it coming.
The Minnesota state police car pulled out of hiding and entered my lane directly in front of me. I immediately mashed the button for the 50-cals again…wanting nothing more than to blow this idiot clear into the ether, but once again, only the loud horn-blast came out. Drat.
Tires squalled, I’m sure I did too. I’d imagine there are a few choice swear words echoing about south central Minnesota today. All things considered, I’d rather it had been another deer.
I barely made the turns and passed him on the rumble strips, laying on the horns all the way. I had at least ¾ of an inch to spare.
The cattle truck had locked his brakes. I’m sure it was him that keyed up and said, “Gdamn cop! What’s he trying to do? Kill somebody?”
I replied on the radio. I expected the officer was listening (I am not sure they are even supposed to, but I’ve talked with state patrols before on the CB) and wanted him to hear I was okay. If he pulled me over in my current adrenalin fueled state, things would not go well.
I asked dryly, “What’s 8-foot long, weighs a thousand pounds, has 200 watts of driving lights on the front, and is covered in chrome?”
The trucker answered, “Sounds like you, but what?”
“People usually tell the cops at the accident scene, ‘Dunno officer. I didn’t see him.’ That’s pretty much the same thing as saying, ‘I didn’t look.'”
That worked. The radio crackled back, “This is (rank and name deleted). Sir, I apologize for the conflict. That was entirely my fault and I won’t make excuses. I’ll even take the complaint if you would like to stop.”
For some reason total civility was beyond my reach at the moment and it sounded like I had a choice.. “No. I’m fine and do not want to file a complaint. If I stop now I’ll have to kick somebody’s ass.” Not elegant, I know. Not terribly characteristic of me either…but there it was.
This time it was not me that interjected the humor. The officer replied in a very dry tone, “Well, I don’t think it’s my ass you would want to kick at the moment…at least until I get some fresh underwear on…”
The last of the tension vanished and I laughed loud and long. I then turned up the tunes, kicked up the speed, and continued to head west.
Life’s short folks. Let’s ride.