I should have seen it coming. I really should have.
One thing I am never short on is confidence. Some call it arrogance. Maybe sometimes it is…but mostly it's not, although many may never understand that. Driven by what I once phrased as a "powerful and devastating need to see" I embrace the journey and find the destination to be more of an excuse than a target. In riding, as in life, risks abound and even though I moderate them when I can, mostly I find them completely irrelevant. I just feel like I can handle most anything the world throws at me, and if it should someday happen that I cannot…well…that is where my real confidence comes in. There are worse things than death.
One female acquaintance put it best when she stated that I just had "a quiet and casual strength". Hmmm. A quiet and casual strength. Yeah. I like that. I'm not sure I believe it…but I like it.
Strength comes from confidence, and confidence comes from knowledge…from understanding certain things…like knowing that life is a road. Of course, that is another story. Or is it?
Arrogance or confidence aside, I still should have seen it coming. It may have been inevitable-the universe's way of saying, "Yo! Dude! Yeah you! Tone it down a couple notches will ya?"
Sometimes we need to be taken down a peg or two…shown that there still are things that we do not expect and that can surprise and overwhelm us. Often we need to be reminded that there are forces in this world enthusiastically poised to do just that, and they just might be much closer than most think.
It happened very rapidly…amazingly and almost unnaturally rapidly. Screaming down the lonely highway, I was reveling in the power and freedom of my mount as the big Valkyrie cruiser loped along easily. That's when in what surely would have been a fatal event, I was nearly unseated-almost stripped off my machine by an incident so surprising and overwhelming, that it could only be supernatural. An incident so bizarre that it could only be legendary; it could only be an event stories are passed down from generation to generation about; it could only be the stuff legends are made of!
Yes, it could only be…an act of Dog.
Sure, I was confident. Maybe I was even arrogant. I thought I could handle anything the world threw at me. That is, until the world threw me a dog.
The prudent rider is always scanning the environment for potential danger or trouble-spots. Many times just slight alterations in speed or direction can avoid or eliminate a possible danger, provided the rider is alert to the situation down the road and prepared to respond to it.
Target sited. Potential conflict ahead.
There is a pickup truck about a quarter-mile in front of me, and he is slowing.
Risk assessment initialized.
Target vehicle locked on.
Objective is slowing.
Possible Newtonian conflict identified (something about two objects occupying the same space at the same time).
Target is moving to the shoulder.
Blinker is on indicating a likely right turn.
Left lane is clear.
Rear is clear.
No oncoming traffic.
Target continuing to slow.
Right turn probability approaching 99.25%
Risk assessment complete: Minimum threat.
Supplementary information: Vehicle is well maintained and seems competently driven. No unsecured cargo evident. Texas plates. Male driver wearing a canvas hat. Large German shepherd mix Dog in cargo area. Based on posture, tail activity, and facial expression, Dog is friendly and intelligent.
It is amazing how much information my brain sometimes elects to collect and file away in the dusty recesses of the mind. It is also amazing what it decides is unlikely, bad sensory input, or irrelevant.
The thing about this Dog…the thing I should have seen and did not…the thing that out of all the details is probably the most important…and the most improbable…
This was a flying Dog.
One second I was zipping down the road at close to 80mph, the next second I had Dog in my face. I mean really in my face! Even in retrospect I cannot identify the exact moment this occurred. Dog appeared just as surprised as I was.
Seemingly of its own violation the plastic windshield simply flexed over and let him by. He thumped square into my chest with a bone jarring impact. My hands were ripped from the handlebars and my arms wrapped around him in a reflex action as my backrest snapped. I was squashed flat on my back on the seat and my helmeted head solidly smashed into the sissy bar. I saw stars. Literally.
I also had the air completely knocked out of me. Oh, and there was the minor detail of who was driving since I was lying backward on the seat and stunned. Dog wasn't interested and it was unlikely he had much experience piloting Valkyries anyway.
I struggled to sit up and grab the handlebars, Dog sliding forward off my chest as I did so. I had to ignore the extremely strong compulsion to abandon any other duties and just bend over and hold my chest and try to moan. Survival won by a slim margin and I briefly examined the situation. The heavy Valkyrie cruiser was already slowing, but thankfully she was still dead center in the lane. I took control and gently eased her toward the shoulder, Dog completely limp and draped over the tank.
I got the bike stopped and kicked down the stand. For once I was glad of the safety switch on the side stand as it killed the motor for me. I was losing the ability to think about anything other than getting a gasp of air and I needed all the help I could get.
Mouth gaping like a goldfish out of water, and still completely unable to breathe, I pushed the limp dog off the right side of the bike and then slid off to the ground after him. I know from experience that when the breath is knocked out of me, the best chance to breathe is to lay flat on my back and try to relax (and try not to retch). Fully 5 minutes passed while I slowly regained my ability to breathe and the stars faded from my vision. Finally I stretched luxuriously, basically determining that nothing was broken, and rolled onto my side. The small of my back ached furiously-the backrest post that snapped was steel and it was to leave a hell of a bruise.
I looked at Dog. To my surprise he was looking right back at me. He was lying limply on his side and watching me carefully.
I have a long habit of talking to things that one normally would not expect to talk back. I have been known, at various times, to talk to cars, trucks, airplanes, motorcycles, guns, computers, houses, software I was writing or testing, cats, dogs, ski slopes, thunderstorms, and once, a tornado . . . although that conversation was understandably short and is best left unrecorded.
Why stop now? I took a deep breath. There was a simple luxury in being able to do so. "Jheeze Dog. What were you thinking? You nearly killed us both."
Dog slowly rolled to his feet, sat down, shook his head, and then wagged his tail exactly three times. He clearly gave me a look that without question said, "Sorry about that. Don't know what came over me. But you think you've got problems? That was my ride I jumped out of!"
I looked back down the road. The pickup had made its turn and was long gone.
"Yeah. That's a problem all right." I winced and rubbed my back.
I slowly got up and stumbled to the bike. My chest and stomach were starting to ache in addition to my back. I was going to have some bruises over this incident. Ouch! The backrest was completely broken off but still laying on the back seat. The metal post was snapped at the pivot bracket. I looked at it with a raised eyebrow, then shrugged and stuffed it in a saddlebag for later attention. My welder would make short work of the break. I groaned as I mounted the big cruiser.
The Valkyrie rumbled to life and I prepared to leave. There was nothing I could do about Dog. A large German-Shepard mix, he probably weighed in at something over 50 pounds. There was no way I could carry a large dog (that might freak out) on a motorcycle. How could I do it? Bungee him to the backseat? I laughed at the thought. Where would I carry him to anyway? No, his best hope was that the owner would retrace his steps and look for Dog once he noticed him missing.
I accelerated onto the road but couldn't help watching Dog in my mirror. He just sat there, watching me leave.
Crud. Friggen big brown eyes.
I pulled back onto the shoulder and stopped the bike. Damn I am a pushover. Women, machines, and pets all seem to have me completely at their disposal. Sigh.
I hollered over my shoulder, "All right! Come on then!"
Dog nonchalantly trotted up to the bike, sat back down, and "yipped" at me. His look clearly said, "I knew you wouldn't leave me."
I winked at him. "Yeah, yeah. Don't press your luck."
I patted the back seat and up he jumped. With the leather saddlebags, my back, and the sissy-bar he seemed able to sit there pretty good. I did a smart u-turn in the road and accelerated hard back to the turn-off. I braked harder then needed and turned sharply. I had to see if he could handle it before we got going really fast. He could. I think he was having as much fun as I was.
Dog's face over my shoulder and watching the road intently, we made 20 miles in 14 minutes. There was still no sign of Dog's ride so I pushed the speed up over 120 mph and just cruised. If the pickup truck did not turn off, we should be able to overtake him soon. We would not be able to keep that pace up for long. The Dragon is a thirsty beast when pushed that hard and would need fuel soon. Dog was eager and clearly enjoyed the speed. I strongly suspect that Dog would own a motorcycle if he could.
Gaining some astonished looks from fellow customers, we did a quick credit-card "gas-and-go" at a small station and then flew down the road again. Shortly Dog straightened up and "yipped" and almost immediately the pickup slid into view ahead. We were overtaking. I let off the throttle.
The road was clear, so I pulled out to pass but dropped her a gear and aggressively used the engine braking to match his speed as we came abreast. Riding beside the truck, I saw the driver quickly glance over at me in irritation. Then he did a double take, his mouth wide open.
I casually waved. He locked his brakes and slid off to the shoulder. I half expected that.
Dog and I sedately slowed, then did a smart u-turn and met the driver back at the truck. As I stopped the bike Dog hopped off the seat and then leapt into the back of the truck. His look, wagging tail, and single bark said several things, "Thanks for the ride. Sorry about the leap…well…thing. Dogs are just passionate about stuff sometimes. Nice bike by the way."
The driver of the truck had stepped out but was struggling to figure out what to say, his sun-worn face working in a series of amusing expressions. He had not yet come to terms that Dog had gone flying, much less come back to him on the back seat of a massive black and chrome cruiser piloted by a 300-pound guy in black leather.
"You," I pointed at the driver and he cringed, "owe me lunch."
Waving at the canine in the truck bed I hollered, "Later Dog!" and rapidly accelerated back the way I had come.
Dog would just have to explain his own actions.
When relating this story, many have asked me why I did not sue or demand compensation. After all, that was an irresponsible act, and it cost me a backrest and some pain. It could also have cost me my life.
All true, but in the end, no real harm was done. It's just not the Texas way to demand compensation for something so trivial.
Besides, everybody knows that Dogs don't have a lot of money anyway. (wink)
Did this "Act of Dog" teach me anything? Did it take me down a peg? Did this incident impact my confidence? Well, kind-of. Probably not in the vein intended though. I picture the universe throwing up its figurative hands and sighing in exasperation, "Fine, just be that way."
See, it impacted my confidence all-right. Now I am completely and totally one-hundred percent confident that dogs can fly. They can talk too, in their fashion.
Learn something new everyday, I do.