The Lion’s Den – Today, I Went For a Ride… It Was Ugly

What made this ride noteworthy was not the beautiful wooded scenery or the nice roads that lend themselves to a fun jaunt on two wheels. This ride has been committed to memory because while riding, I almost had an amazing off.

Like many days prior, and hopefully many days to come, today I went for a ride. These words are evidence that I survived this ride to throw a leg over again, but this was not my greatest two-wheeled moment by far. This ride qualified as a successful ride in that I operated my motorcycle, was transported from one place to another and then back home and that I survived the day. But those are about the best things I can say about it. You know that one time, or times ( I don’t judge ) that you wanted physical companionship badly enough to hook up with someone at the end of the night at a club or bar, that in any other setting or time you would not have looked twice at? Well, that’s kind of how this particular ride went. You wanted some company, and you found someone to go home with, but you aren’t eager to tell your friends about it. Or better yet when you have to weld something, and you were expecting the union of two metals to be seamless and pretty but despite having joined your two pieces and the weld being strong as possible the weld looks like pigeon shit. I know some of my more mechanically inclined readers know what I mean. I can weld, but it’s not pretty. I’m not certain that the ends justified the means on this one, folks.

It was nine days ago (at the time of writing this) that I decided to go on a leisurely ride in hopes of discovering and mapping out a route that I could show to friends, or frequent when I wanted to nice spirited ride by myself. I have had friends in the motorcycle community show me their favorite road and have felt like I too should have a route to share with friends when we want to ride in my neck of the woods as well. All too often, folks have asked me to take them on a ride when they come to town and it’s always been a sort of “pick a direction to go in in order to have fun getting lost” instead of my saying “we’re gonna hit route 215 for about 16 miles south over to CR-856 for another 40 miles before taking I-6015 north for another 40 miles ending at Timmy’s Taco Tent for an early dinner.” I’d like to have a regular map to follow when going on a “usual” ride, one where I don’t need my GPS to guide me back home.

My journey to find “my path” took me south into the backroads of NJ’s Pine Barrens in the vicinity of Batsto Village and Hammonton, NJ as I have had fun rides in that area before. Very aware of the pine needles, gravel, and sand that finds its way into the roads, I exercised caution and rode both less aggressively and not as fast as I typically ride. This was in part because I was tracking my route via the breadcrumbs feature on my GPS so I could document and revisit the route. Blind turns and sweeping curves that suddenly and abruptly meet with an intersection or stop sign are par for the course, especially in the residential areas down there so being ready to brake suddenly is a must. What made this ride noteworthy was not the beautiful wooded scenery or the nice roads that lend themselves to a fun jaunt on two wheels. This ride has been committed to memory because while riding, I almost had an amazing off.

Before leaving the house, I set my GPS to record the route so I could save it, perhaps update it, name it and reference it for later rides with the hopes of memorizing it and having a ride to take others on. I also turned on my helmet-mounted GoPro Session camera to capture landmarks for reference points, making it easier for me to commit the hopefully enjoyable route to memory. Seldom do I pay attention to where I ride with the sole purpose of riding there again and that’s the kind of thing motorcyclists who ride for fun and not necessarily commuting or racing are known for.

Now perhaps too much of my attention was on the route and looking for ways to make the trip more enjoyable or in an attempt to not have this ride be so straight up and down. If you know anything about me, you know I like turns. But had I not been so concerned with the direction of the roads I may have seen the SUV that damn near flattened me. On one road that I had turned left onto, after a stop sign, I noticed that the road which felt relatively straight to me would have easily felt like a chicane at the right speed, or the wrong speed according to posted speed limits. But at the risk of condoning the disregard of local traffic laws, I say “to hell with that noise.” This road brought into my view after a series of mild curves that again would have been more enjoyable at higher speeds one of the most beautiful road signs a motorcyclist could ever want to see: my good ole friend the “Winding Road” AKA “Set of Curves” sign up ahead. My eyes lit up like I was hunting rare Pokémon, and a Mewtwo unsuspectedly crossed the road in front of me. Full disclosure: I had to Google that because I don’t know a Pokémon from a pool noodle, but I know that game is popular right now. Sure, above that sign on the same pole was a “Speed Limit 25” sign but every sportbike rider knows that you always double that number especially on sweeping curves, highway on/exit ramps and chicanes or winding roads… It can’t just be me, right?

Now here’s where I will claim responsibility and admit some fault for how this ride turned out. I was too overjoyed to see that sign advertising the approaching alternating turns that I did not take notice whether or not there was a posted stop sign or merging traffic sign meant for me to observe. And that’s when it happened. With the blare of an automobile horn and the yelling of profanity from the driver of a white SUV, a Toyota Land Cruiser I believe, I managed to swerve sooner than I had planned before seeing the motorist, who very well may have had the right of way, and was, in an instant, side by side with an over two-ton sport utility vehicle driven by a pissed off and possibly equally as frightened driver.

As I found myself the recipient of a death stare from the driver and in the oncoming traffic lane I had to decide how to play this modified game of chicken quickly, I was engaged in with him. While I never stopped to ask him or nonverbally requested that he pull over to explain it to me, the gentleman driving the SUV (Sir, if you are reading this, I wholeheartedly apologize for that encounter…) probably thought of me as just some arrogant boulevard bully of a motorcyclist trying to intimidate motorists, break the laws, ride too fast, make a bunch of noise and do whatever I wanted on the roads with impunity. Little did he know I was sweating bullets with my ass puckered tighter than hood cornrows and my heart pounding out of my jacket.

Mind you, all of this took place in a matter of four or five seconds. So I decided that without the benefit of mutual verbal exchange between the motorist and myself I would have to make my next move one in the interest of self-preservation as he was motivated by frustration and me by fear. I squeezed the clutch, closed the throttle, then kicked a gear and got wide open on the throttle again as the clutch lever left my fingertips. I thought to my myself, “Please don’t wheelie the bike” as I blasted off ahead of the SUV and around the bend out of his sight. As I saw the white 5,000 plus pounds of killer vehicle fade in the distance, I remember asking myself aloud in my helmet, “But why the hell did you bother with the turn signal?” Oddly focusing on the fact that I signaled my lane change to leave the oncoming traffic lane to get in front of him to avoid one potential hazard to move in front of another.

When I got to the first open area where there was more than a simple shoulder, which happened to be a clearing in the wooded areas surrounding the roads where the road overlooked part of one of the rivers, I pulled over and dismounted my bike to have a seat and collect myself.

Hoping that the driver would not pull up behind my bike and get out to give me a tongue lashing or worse, I had to let my guard down while I lit up a cigarillo to try to calm my nerves and charge my phone while checking the footage from the action camera recording the whole time on my helmet. Looking over my shoulder every thirty seconds not knowing if I would have to fight someone or be greeted with concern for my well-being should Mr. Land Crusher, eh, I mean Cruiser, come flying around the corner, I put my favorite stainless steel Colibri lighter down on the ground and could not find it again when it was time to leave. To add insult to injury, although to be clear, only my nerves and pride were hurt thanks to a bit of luck and what some might call superhuman lightning-fast reflexes, when I attempted to access the video footage on the GoPro Session camera via the Bluetooth setting from my phone I discovered that from recent use without recharging, my camera’s battery was dead and I recorded nothing.

That close call with the motorist would have been badass to watch onscreen and of course before the “exciting for all the wrong reasons” near collision I was having a pleasant ride that it would have been nice to be able to duplicate.

After about a good twenty minutes of sitting there on the ground replaying the scary moments I had just been through, I figured there was no salvaging this ride, and I had better take my bike and myself home before anything else went wrong. I already lost my lighter but also in my haste to put some distance between myself and the area where I was when almost hit by a car I dropped my cellphone charger trying to stuff it in my jacket pocket instead of methodically wrapping it up the way I usually do and placing it the usual pocket for it. I punched my home address into my GPS and hit that big green button to guide me back to familiar territory so I could get the bike put away, get the gear off and enjoy what I anticipated would be one of the best ice-cold beers I’ve ever had.

You know when you’re driving or riding and the vehicle in front of you stops at a stop sign for what you consider to be too long before driving on again? Well, that was me the whole ride home. I damn near went in reverse at every stop sign and red light as if stopping for longer than necessary would add a measure of safety to avoid a repeat of the day’s almost crash n merge. When I got home, I made a sigh of relief, very carefully removed and put away my gear, tucked my bike in for the night and regrouped on the deck in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt to enjoy my beer and a proper cigar to celebrate having made it home in one piece. Of course like after all of my rides whether they be an hour or all day, boring an uneventful or at triple-digit speeds and impressive to even myself I learned from this day’s ride and am a better motorcyclist as a result. That run-in with the SUV reminded me of something that I tell people all the time and pride myself on being so cognizant of when I ride which is that when on 2wheels you have to be focused on everything and nothing at all simultaneously. I still do not know if I ignored road signs that may have warned me of possible oncoming traffic or instructed me to stop before merging but thankfully I was alert enough and focused enough on nothing at all to react to the motorist and save myself.

So to recap, the battery was dead in my camera, so I didn’t capture any of the good or bad footage that I thought I got. I lost one of my favorite lighters and a cellphone charger. I was almost taken off this planet by a Toyota. My nerves were shattered for the next hour while I made my way home at about 55mph because I was too nervous to ride any faster. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, I didn’t properly set my GPS to map the route so I couldn’t take that exact same route if I wanted to, except by luck or coincidence, again to go back to clean up the skid marks left on the road where I shit myself out of fear when I saw that truck coming. As I finished my drink and ashed my cigar, I looked out over my backyard and listened to the leaves rustle in the wind, shook my head, and all I could say is “Today, I went for a ride and… It was ugly.”

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