Keep Calm.

by Paula Wallis May. 02, 2018 3366 views
The road up to Mount Baker is a popular one for motorcycle enthusiasts, with its winding turns through old growth forests and stunning vistas along the way.

The road up to Mount Baker is a popular one for motorcycle enthusiasts, with its winding turns through old growth forests and stunning vistas along the way.

After neglecting my photoblog for a SHOCKING length of time, I thought it was high-time I show it some love.

Plus I have a little story to tell you.

We popped off to our place near Baker (Mt. Baker, WA) last weekend for a little bit of quiet family time. Encouraged by the (finally) glorious spring weather, we loaded up the trailer with the dirt bikes too, for a little bit of riding while there.

After unloading the truck and tidying and straightening whatever needed to be tidied and straightened, I began eyeing up my bike with some restlessness. Finally, I reached for my helmet and mentioned casually that I might pop off to Silver Lake for a quick ride. My husband readily agreed, knowing that it would be his turn later. I fired up the bike and my husband leaned in for a kiss and cautioned me, as always, to "ride very carefully."

Of course. It went without saying.

As I wound along Highway 542 (The Mt Baker Highway), listening to the hum of the wheels on the pavement and feeling the sun on my face, I thought, maybe I would take the route toward Mount Baker instead. Just for something different. It was a beautiful day for a beautiful ride.

I cruised along, unhurriedly, setting a slow pace so as to enjoy the view, and the day. I passed through the town of Glacier and decided to pull off at Chair 9 Pub and Restaurant to turn around and start the trip back. It was so lovely out, I didn't want to miss out on some time spent with my husband and daughter sat by the campfire.

As I started back, a sign for Glacier Creek Road caught my eye, off to the left of the highway. It was an alluring bit of road that disappeared into the forest, and one that I hadn't yet explored. Well....the campfire could wait a *little* bit longer, I suppose....

I passed some cabins set back into the trees from the road along the first stretch, and slowed down to admire them. Some, temptingly, had for sale signs staked in front.

As I rode further in, the road narrowed and the forest thickened, bringing a slight chill into the air. But still a very pleasant feel to the day. I began noticing heavy spring run-off, making temporary waterfalls on either side of the road, and sometimes trickling across it. I drank in the smell of the forest and bathed in the warm sunlight filtering through that mossy pacific northwest forest canopy. The paved surface slowly broke apart into mostly dirt road the further in I got. And not a very well maintained dirt road either. I wove my way through deep and numerous potholes, that seemed to get deeper and more numerous as I went along.

As I rode, I would catch glimpses of the Mount Baker Glacier, it's icy blue face glinting through the trees at me as I meandered along. I could see that if I made it to a spot where the trees alongside the road thinned out, I would have an expansive view of the snow covered mountain and the glacier too, drenched in the afternoon sunlight. It motivated me to keep going. Just one more bend, just 5 more minutes.

Just as I began to think how awfully strange it was that I hadn't seen a single soul in either direction this whole time, I noticed a small silver sedan type car, pulled off to one side, driver's side door wide open, but seemingly no one around. I slowed to see if I could catch a glimpse of anyone but didn't.

It was about this time, too, that I started thinking that maybe I should turn back. I hadn't told Paul where I was going, I was awfully far into the backcountry, I had no cell phone with me (and sketchy service at best even if I'd had one) and this just wasn't something I would normally do - riding into the backcountry alone without telling anyone of my planned whereabouts.

But that view. It kept taunting me through the trees. Just 5 more minutes. One more bend around the road. Plus, I was riding well under the normal speed, and carefully. I'm not making excuses for why I was out riding the backcountry alone. These are just my reasons. I didn't say they were good ones.

As I rounded another bend I could see a good'ish amount of snow piled up on either side of the road, and at the next bend ahead as well. That decided me. I didn't want to be slogging through wet snow when I definitely wasn't properly attired for that. I decided to turn around and head back down at the next bend in the road.

As I geared down (I hadn't been going very fast to begin with) and eyed the road up ahead for a good spot to pull over, I noticed, too late, a massive pothole looming up under my front tire. It was, as I said, too late. Too late to avoid it, brace for it, or correct my direction in any way. I hit it, the bike jolted sideways, and I jolted off. I can't be certain, but I'm pretty sure I was already cursing a blue streak before I even hit the ground, I was already so pissed off at myself.

I hit the ground. Hard. The bike followed. And landed on top of me, knocking the literal breath right out of me. We skidded together, briefly, the bike and I, before coming to a stop, the bike resting atop me, engine still purring quietly and back tire spinning lazily.

I pushed with all my might and managed to heave the bike off of me. I sat for a moment, trying to catch my breath, and then realizing how scarily hard that was proving to be. I kept breathing out, but I couldn't seem to draw a breath in. Just as I was about to enter full blown panic mode over this fact, my throat seemed to open up and I noisily, and greedily, sucked down double lungfuls of that sweet mountain air.

I rose unsteadily to my feet and took a brief mental inventory of just HOW injured I might be. (And the fact that I immediately and without hesitation took stock of this should tell you just how often I tend to grievously injure myself in such situations. That is, rather too often for my taste).

I could see no obvious blood (other than what was seeping through my clothes from the road rash), no bones jutting out anywhere, my vision was fine, I hadn't been knocked unconscious (although I had felt my helmeted head hit the ground with some force), I was ambulatory and seemed to be thinking straight. This was a good start.

Next: was my bike rideable? And was I capable of riding it? The motor was still humming along gently without a hitch, so that was a good sign, and I could see no great and obvious damage to it, other than scuffs and cosmetic damage to the body. No biggie. I leaned down to grab the handlebars and immediately and immensely regretted it. My whole shoulder/chest/clavicle area screamed in defiance and I quickly stood up, clutching one hand to my right shoulder, grimacing in pain and swearing a bit more for good measure. I unzipped my jacket and pulled my shirt to one side to see what might be going on there. Nothing obvious. No blood, no jutting bones, no swelling. But something really really bad was going on in that area.

I stood for a few moments and steeled myself with a few deep breaths. There was no way around it. I HAD to ride my bike back down to get to civilization, to seek medical care. And to do that I HAD to pick my bike up. I took two more deep breaths, gritted my teeth, and seized the handlebars, pulling the bike up toward me in one quick and incredibly painful motion. A scream tore from my throat, involuntarily, as I did so. But then it was quiet. I had the bike. It was upright. I was upright. I could ride it back down. It wasn't going to be easy. But I had no other options presenting themselves to me.

As I eased my leg up over the seat and gingerly lowered myself onto the bike, new and fresh pain flared up in various spots all over my body. But I resolutely ignored it, and toggled the throttle. I felt an irrational and overwhelming surge of affection for my little Honda when it responded instantly, engine revving and ready to go.

I slowly kicked it down into first and started the long trek down the mountain, biting off little screams every time the bike jostled over a small bump or pothole in the way, much as I tried to avoid them. The thought of over an hour of this on the way back made me feel impossibly weary, but I shook it off and focused on the road ahead of me.

My spirits rose as I eventually rounded the bend where the silver car had been parked to the side, as I knew that meant the main highway wasn't far off. But as I got closer, I saw - was that - a man? In the middle of the road? Wait, was he wearing clothes? Nope. No. It did not look like he was wearing clothes. Oh hang on, now he seemed to be putting pants on, at least. In an oddly furtive (for standing in the middle of the road, at least) flurry of movement, he suddenly had a pair of pants on. Maybe he'd already had them on to begin with. Still no shirt, though. As I got ever closer, he scurried off to the side of the road to stand beside his car, with his back set resolutely to me, purposefully staring off into the distance. Not to worry, friend, I would literally rather potentially bleed out than stop and find out what you're all about.

At long last, I reached the main highway and heaved a sigh of relief when I turned my indicator on to pull out onto it. I felt a little disheartened again when I realized how far I still had to go (about another 30 minutes) before I reached the safety and comfort of our campfire, but I brushed the thought aside and carried on.

At this point, you might be thinking, "but why not, now that you're back on the main highway, just head to the nearest restaurant or gas station in town and ask for help?" Fair point. But you must realize, at this point, judging by my rapidly plummeting body temperature and iron-like grip on the handlebars, shock had fully set in and I was running on pure adrenalin. All I could think about was getting back to the safety of my family. So I kept going.

I kept off to the side of the highway, keeping my speed down and letting others pass when necessary. At times this earned me a face full of diesel smoke and dust, but I just couldn't go any faster.

Finally I saw the turnoff to our place and mentally cheered myself on. I may have even cheered out loud.

Seeing my husband and daughter cozied up by the campfire was the most welcome sight I have ever laid eyes upon. He gave me a wave as I pulled up, but I could tell by the look on his face that he could see something was wrong, and was already up and headed toward me, his brow creased in concern.

It was at this point that I could finally give into the symptoms of my shock and began shivering uncontrollably, stuttering and stammering, trying to explain what had happened. He bundled me up and led me over to the fire, running for the first aid kit we kept inside.

So, the long and the short of it was this: after being treated in hospital, it was determined that I had a broken clavicle, a concussion, some nasty bits of road rash, and various bruises and contusions. The thought of getting back on that bike now, with my collarbone as painful as it currently is, and riding for that length of time makes me physically ill. But you can bet I'll be back at it, once I'm all healed up:)

A friend suggested, after my ordeal, that maybe I should give up riding. I didn't entertain the thought for a second, but I do, however, intend on giving up crashing.

So, if you're looking for a moral to the story, I'd say it's glaringly obvious here: never head into the backcountry alone, especially without telling anyone of your intended route. Always wear the proper gear for off-roading, always carry basic emergency supplies with you (water, first aid kit, some food, a lighter or matches, a metallic blanket - you know the drill). But most importantly - don't crash!!

Myself, I take away something a little more from this experience. Just keep calm. And ride on.

Keep both those wheels on the road, friends:)

Oh, PS - the worst part of all this? Doc says I'm not even allowed to pick up my camera for 3 whole months! Devastated! It's just too heavy for me to carry until my clavicle is all healed up.

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There are 3 comments , add yours!
Lisa Britton 2 years, 5 months ago

WE will be waiting for you to heal - wishes on a safe and speedy recovery

2 years, 5 months ago Edited
Heike 2 years, 5 months ago

What a story, Paula ! I hope you get well soon !
I lay more than once under a motorbike and wasn't able to release myself. I felt like a helpless beetle on its back...grinning
I'm really impressed, that you managed it and were able to pull up your bike by yourself. Something I never managed, it had around 200kg (440 lb) - too much weight for me.

2 years, 5 months ago Edited
Sigrid Strohschneider-Laue 2 years, 5 months ago

OmG! Yes, a clavicula smashed into pieces need time to recover. I KNOW ... If you don't follow the rules, the broken bone fragments won't heal. The piece of metal could get loose too. So be careful and take your time to heal and recover!

2 years, 5 months ago Edited