An Ode to Road Rash

Road Rash

Had an argument with the road… and the road won

I’ll keep this brief because I’m trying to keep the blood off my keyboard…

There’s an unwritten rule of the road in Asia: give way to anything bigger than you. It’s the compliment to the principal maxim ‘why go around it if you can go over it’? Lane markings are purely decorative. Trucks break for nobody. And I think I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen a turn signal put to use.

So as a motorcyclist you quickly learn to stay well away from anything with more than two wheels. That usually means riding on the shoulder of the road (which is actually the convention for motorcycles).

This isn’t a dig at the state of driver education in Thailand (that post is here). No one else was involved in my little accident (thankfully). I just mention it because that’s where I was where this little episode went down.

I’ve been bilking for some time now (like about a year), but most of that experience has been on the same, familiar roads in the immediate vicinity of my home. I figure if I’m going to ride across Asia I’d better start to venture a little further afield and get some experience navigating in less familiar territory.

Well, lucky I did. Because I’m learning already—the hard way (which is also the only way). And I’ve packaged my learning up into a neat little formula for The Journal of Rookie Motorcycling Mistakes:

shoulder + bend + lean + gravel = pain

Mucho daño.

I gotta say—that moment when you realize that things are about to get traumatic is an interesting one. A moment of disbelief. And then… Something strange happens to time. First it moves slowly. Then it seems to be missing. That happens about the time you register a total lost of traction with the ground. I guess another part of the brain kicks in at that point and sort of relieves you of command. It says ‘okay, I think you’ve done enough. I’ll take it from here’.

I’m no longer making decisions, just riding it out. Lucid. But without resistance. I don’t particular remember leaving my bike. But I know it wasn’t there while I was bouncing and spinning across the asphalt (or was it the world that was spinning?). Fortunately I was wearing a helmet (I usually don’t) otherwise my recollection might be very different.

My spidy-sense tells me that somewhere, off-retina, a car is pulling over and the driver, exiting. But this peripheral cognition is overshadowed by the awareness that large tracts of my skin feel like they were just polished with sand paper and I can’t think of much I would rather do than just lay here for a while.

I am however compos enough to figure out that the side of a road is not somewhere you want to be lying for any length of time, so I manage to get the top half of me upright and settle for sitting there instead.

The guy with the car door is standing nearby now interrogating me in Thai. I don’t understand the words, but logic dictates that he’s asking if I’m alright, and—remarkably, gratefully—I am. So I inform him of that fact. But I’m fairly preoccupied with dealing with the immediate repercussions of of sand-paper-skin (i.e. extreme discomfort). And he can figure this much out on his own.

I manage to hoist myself up on to the railing and slump there a while longer. Only now do I get another look at my bike—which is lying on its side about 15 metres away.

Soon another concerned party is on the scene. They give me water and call an ambulance. The driver of which—although I’ve suffered only minor, supericial injuries and there is no real emergency—still insists on putting my life in renewed danger by speeding to the local clinic at breakneck speed, spending more time operating the horn than the steering wheel. See what I mean about keeping it on the shoulder?

My wounds are dressed and I’m sent home to wait for my wife who was out when she got the news that her husband had a motorcycle accident on a road which apparently kills several each year.

I’m expecting something to the effect of “I told you so” (she did).

Instead she says:

It takes a long time to grow up and just a few seconds to die.


Lessons I learned on my date with the bitumen

  • If you’re going to ride a motorcycle—Asia or not—do yourself a favor and wear shoes.
  • Gravel’s good for neither riding on nor rolling around in. I don’t recommend either activity.
  • Hitting the pavement is not as painful as you might think. It’s getting up again that hurts the most.
  • Intensity is good (sometimes). It wakes you up and puts you back in your body.

Things I’m grateful for

  • I’m grateful I was wearing a helmet today (I usually don’t)
  • I’m grateful I got this experience just a few miles from home instead of in the middle of the Cambodian wilderness. It was a relatively gentle wake-up call that could have been much worse.
  • I’m grateful this happened on a quiet, country road and not on the Bangkok express way.
  • I’m grateful some helpful folks where on the scene and quick to come to my aid.
  • I’m grateful—very grateful—there was nobody else on the bike.

I’ll spare you the gruesome pics of my skinned palms. All things considered, I was pretty lucky to get off with a few cuts and bruises. I’ll be a wiser rider from now on.

Photo by knockhill

Your turn. Tell me your tails of near misses.

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