OK, here's the article. Prepare to gag.
Farewell to those motorcycle days
By Kurt Ullrich, from Maquoketa
Published May 12, 2006
This will be the first spring in a number of years in which I'll not go out to my garage, straddle my motorcycle seat, baby-step it backward onto the drive, and go for a ride. About a year ago in a hopeless quest for eternal life, I decided it would be wise to sell my bike. And sell it I did, to a young man just out of high school.
As I handed him the keys I said, with as much compassion as I could muster, "If you kill yourself on this don't expect me to feel bad about it." He laughed. I wasn't joking. It's now a year later and I understand he still lives, though I have heard through the motorcycle grapevine he has laid the bike down a time or two. Dumb kids.
Young people assume they will live forever. To them death is a bunch of annoying nonsense, an incomprehensible state perhaps embodied by the old man they called grandpa or an old woman somehow related to mom. For those of us in middle age, OK, upper-middle age, things aren't quite so clear. We've seen death lurking by the roadside and we begin to start working the odds, though in the case of motorcycle deaths the odds look to favor the house.
Out here in Iowa, the numbers are still relatively low. Death claimed 45 motorcyclists in 2005. A reported 250 cyclists were injured in crashes. No doubt many went unreported. Already in 2006 death has claimed 11 cyclists in Iowa, and the season is just getting started. This is not unusual.
Neighboring states report similar statistics. In Wisconsin, 80 people were killed on motorcycles in 2004, almost double the numbers from a decade earlier. Illinois doubled Wisconsin's numbers with 157 motorcycle riders killed in 2004, and almost 3,000 injured.
National estimates indicate the fatality rate for motorcycle riders is about 15 times higher than the rate for drivers of passenger cars. I don't know what that means exactly, but I know it sounds bad.
Around here, funerals of downed bikers are often replete with a parade of motorcycles roaring to the cemetery. Interestingly, these rituals are reminiscent of those practiced by law enforcement types when a comrade has fallen; the difference seems to be one of style, not substance: a parade of police vehicles with lights flashing, versus a parade of motorcycles with engines growling.
A heart attack 14 years ago was my first real indication a cemetery was in my future, that eternal life is someone's fiction. That's when I knew I likely wouldn't die a romantic death, rocketing too fast on a motorcycle, missing a rain-swept curve. Now it's beginning to look as if one night, in what I hope is a distant future, I'll have a bad dream and a figurative hammer will slam my chest. Gone. No motorcycle parade for me, just some rural folks in Fords stopping by the funeral home on their way home from work.
A few years back, just before dark on a summer's eve, a young man near here laid his motorcycle down to avoid a deer that had stepped onto the road. He and his bike slid across the highway under an oncoming semitrailer-truck. Later I heard about the trucking company having to wash flesh from the undercarriage. You know how some images become engrained in your head, even though you didn't personally witness them? Well, that was one of them for me. A man was dead, a local trucking company had lousy memories, and a deer walked away.
So, will I beat the odds? Nah, I'm gonna die, as will the kid who has got my old Harley-Davidson. He just doesn't know it yet. These days I'm happy to stare glassy-eyed down the highway toward retirement and old age. It's a narrow highway and probably shorter than I imagine, but at least I won't die on a motorcycle. Without a motorcycle I no longer watch for the specters of morbidity and mortality standing by the side of the road, like characters in a Samuel Beckett play. All they do is wait, wait for a corner taken too fast, for deer crossing the highway, for one beer too many. And, as in a Beckett drama, bleakness and regret are eventually overtaken by our tremendous will to live. It's why I sold my bike.