I was having a blast riding my motorcycle. I was exploring the winding backroads of Marin County, north of San Francisco, on a perfect summer day, a few weeks ago. I was riding on most of those roads for the first time ever, and it's always a pure thrill seeing an unexpectedly magnificent view of some valley, some lake, some mountain, the Pacific Ocean, or some awesome composition of them all, seemingly every other time I round a curve or crest a hill. Imagine dozens and dozens of miles of this kind of motorcycling bliss.
Then, imagine coming face to face with a motorcyclist's worst nightmare.
I was going around a sweeping left hand curve at 45 MPH, gently, through some trees. I slowed down from 55 MPH even though the speed limit just went up to 40 MPH at the beginning of the curve; it was 35 MPH before that, where it was twistier. This particular curve was absolutely non-threatening. The only reason I was slowing down was because of a park ranger office at the same spot and I didn't want to risk a ticket.
There were two deer hiding behind the trees and the bushes on the left side of the road. I didn't see them until I had rounded the corner. They also didn't see me until then.
I knew this immediately, because I saw in them the same look of fear and surprise that I had myself. They looked just as shocked to see me as I was to see them, that close to each other, coming out of nowhere. We were staring at each other wide-eyed.
Fuck, this is bad. I've read enough about how dangerous these creatures are to motorcyclists. You can be a decent rider doing nothing wrong when, bam, a deer jumps out from nowhere and hits your bike. If you're lucky, you stay upright and under control; if not, you end up in the hospital with broken bones, or worse.
Of all the hazards of the road, the common deer just might be the most insidious for its utter unpredictability.
I have been riding on hundreds of miles of rural, backcountry roads on that weekend alone, and thousands more in the last few months. I never lost respect about the danger they possess, but I haven't even seen a single deer on the side of the road. Until I saw these two, I wasn't thinking of deer at all, let alone trying to dodge one.
Yet, as soon as I saw them there, I knew I was in trouble, because these guys were spooked.
And they were right there. It even seemed like they were right next to me, just over off the other side of the road. Fuck, at least one of them's going to jump.
I remember their "unpredictability"; from David L. Hough's Proficient Motorcycling, they tend to "(jump) first straight ahead, then in a random zigzag 'wolf-evasion' pattern". I focused on the word "random" and thought: of all possible directions, what are the chances a deer's going to run in the exact direction required to hit me? If the deer were to really jump in random directions, chances are they would miss me.
Surely, even if a deer is dumb enough to jump in random directions, it's not so dumb as to jump in the worst possible direction, right? And even if a deer were to pick the worst possible direction, it also would have to pick the exact right speed to ensure collision. It would really have to aim.
And the actual deer haven't actually moved yet! Because the deer were so close when I stumbled upon them, I thought maybe they won't even have time to react. In just several more split seconds, they would already be behind me, even if they decide to bolt then.
This was the crucial point of no return. Assessing the situation, I felt like my odds of getting away with a near-miss were not that bad.
I still wasn't in the clear. Even though I was so close, the deer were not yet behind me, so I definitely wasn't going to accelerate. I don't think what little bit of extra acceleration I can do at that moment could put any meaningful distance between me and the deer. The deer would still be within my path; if I speed up, I will have less time to react to whatever happens next, and I will have increased the potential energy to hurt myself in a crash if I'm wrong about this whole calculation.
The deer haven't jumped yet, so no need to assume that they will and perform emergency braking now-- especially since that might just give them the extra time to actually jump out in front of me. Even if the deer had jumped at this point, I wasn't sure if I could've braked hard enough to avoid them.
Best, I thought, was to let off the throttle, cover the brakes, and coast until just another moment from now when I clear the deer.
Just stay still, deer. Stay still, and we both might just make it, I thought to myself, and also telepathically to the deer.
Well, it didn't work. The deer did not stay still. One of them-- I swear, at the very last moment it possibly could have, just when I thought I was about to pass them-- decided to make a run for the other side of the road from where they were, at precisely that unlikely speed and direction it needed to hit my motorcycle.
Why? Why! Why did you cross the road?!
How can you be so dumb?! I had a sinking feeling, like watching a close friend betray you, when I saw that deer bolt. It was unbelievable. I didn't think a deer could dash across the road so fast. I couldn't even figure out if I should swerve left or right to try to avoid it-- every way seemed like it was going to hit the deer anyway. All I could do was brake and hope the deer knows what it's doing and makes it across in front of me, if I at least keep going in the same predictable direction.
Nope, that also didn't work.
Well, at least I was on my brakes and slowed down a bit, so the force of the crash was less severe. I can give myself some credit for that.
But my other decisions deserve discredit. Hoping that the deer doesn't jump, hoping that it doesn't jump at your direction, hoping that it doesn't jump so fast that you can't avoid it, hoping that it somehow goes around you if you go straight-- these were all losing propositions, no better than crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. There is a better strategy for the rider who likes to be in control: don't let your safety depend on what anybody else does. Expect the absolute dumbest thing out of that deer, because that's exactly what it will do!
Looking back, the correct choice would've been to start braking to a complete stop the moment I saw the deer, especially since it was so close and I was fortunate enough to actually spot the deer while it was still stationary. Others have been less fortunate and have had deer that literally jump out of the woods without warning. So, even in a case like this where the deer was probably too close to completely avoid by braking, that extra split-second of warning time is like found gold that could've been put into better use by braking even earlier.
Back to the scene of the impending crash: the deer is now right in front of my motorcycle. I think it might've even decided to stop once it got in front of my motorcycle. Then I hit it. I don't remember exactly how, or what the impact felt like, but the next thing I remember is bracing myself for the real impact of when my head would hit the pavement. I thought it was going to be just like one of the many times I've fallen off my bicycle. Free-fall, then an abrupt jolt as I hit the floor. I was expecting that, but much harder.
Strangely, it wasn't harder. I've always wondered what it would be like if or when I crashed with the full set of protective gear I wear when I ride: full-face helmet, leather jacket, leather overpants, leather gloves, full-height leather boots. Now I know. It doesn't have to be bad at all!
That face plant I was expecting to feel never came. I did feel the side of my head impact the ground and slide down the pavement, but it was nowhere near as jarring as my previous bicycle crashes. Compared to bicycle helmets, crashing with a full-face motorcycle helmet feels plush: there's so much more buffer material surrounding the head. It seemed like my face was never closer than several inches from the ground. One time I was walking around in Boston, I tripped and distinctly remember realizing just how hard my cheekbone was when it hit the sidewalk. This helmeted fall was nothing like that.
I don't remember any pain, or even any significant impact, to the rest of my body from the fall. I remember sliding for a bit, but it wasn't scary at all. It felt like I wasn't going very fast to begin with, then I was slowing down quickly while sliding, and then coming to a rest shortly. My pants and jackets did not disintegrate, and they insulated my body similar to the helmet. I have mentally rehearsed several crashing scenarios like this before (helped by watching real crashes on YouTube) and expected the worst; when this actual crash came, and when it was going a whole lot better than in my imagination, I began to feel in control again.
Of course, control was mostly an illusion at this point. I'm not even sure how I hit the deer. I thought I hit it straight-on towards its hind legs, but I have pieces of deer fur stuck between my front wheel's rim and tires on the left side. Maybe the deer hit me instead from the left as it was running across the road? But then I also have cracks on my right side fairings with some deer fur also sticking out of it, as well as unexplained abrasions on my right jacket sleeve, that indicates the deer hit on that side too. That's what really puzzles me to this day.
(Deer fur somehow stuck in between the wheel rim and tire.)
Everything else after I hit the deer happened in an instant. All I could do was remain calm and let physics take over; when it was all done, the bike and I have fallen over on the left side, and together we slid maybe some 30 feet down the road. The bike was on top of my left leg, pinning it down. My left foot was bent outwards uncomfortably, but not painfully. I had to be careful about twisting my ankle or my knee and hurting them more than they possibly already were; I also couldn't just lift the 400+ pound motorcycle off of my trapped foot using only my other foot or my arms while I was flat on my back. Thankfully, I was able to shift the weight of the bike just a little, then rotate my body around, so that my left leg was not rotated in a dangerous, awkward position, and pull my foot out from under the bike.
The perilous part was over, once I've safely extracted myself from the bike. I resumed my last line of thought: Why, deer, why?! I pounded the ground with my closed fist before getting up, very theatrically; I was in such disbelief that the deer jumped when it did, and also because I noticed that a car going the opposite direction has stopped and someone is probably watching.
Behind me, I saw the deer I just hit, lying and writhing in the middle of the road. It looked like I crippled its legs the way it was struggling to stand up. I wasn't sure at first if it would make it or not; there was no obvious signs of carnage, but it definitely looked hurt. The other deer has disappeared. The suffering deer was spastic for an agonizing minute before dropping dead.
It made me sad to have killed the deer, but it also made me mad that that fucking dumbass deer almost killed me.
It didn't have to die. If only I slowed down more. If only it didn't jump. If only it wasn't hiding behind that tree, grazing on some grass, minding its own business. If only I wasn't coming around that tree, cruising along the road, minding my own business. Poor deer was just as innocent as I was, even if I was only partially innocent. I did what I had to do in the spur of the moment, and so did the deer. But because of our actions, there was now a dead dear and a crashed motorcycle laying on the road.
Seeing my CBR500R laid down also made me sad. I got it almost brand new about 4 months before and have put less than 4000 miles on it at that time. Those aren't a lot of miles for a motorcycle, but those were a lot of miles for me in such a short amount of time, because I've been having so much fun riding it. I was expecting the worst. I've heard stories of how fragile the plastic fairings are on a sportsbike, how prone they are to shattering from even the mildest drops of the bike; from this crash, at a decent speed against a decent-sized object on the road, I was imagining the bike to be a total loss.
I thought of how expensive it was going to be to fix everything that I may just have to buy a new motorcycle to replace it-- but then I'm having doubts whether that would be worth the money if some stupid deer is just going to decide to crash into it again. I was dreading the idea of spending even more money just to get me back to where I was; that of not being able to justify the extra expenses; and, finally, of losing the ability to experience the sublime joys of motorcycle riding itself.
But first, I had to bring the bike back upright right away. It was not exactly because I wanted to inspect the damage I couldn't see yet, or that I had to get it out of the way of other vehicles, or some other purely logical reason like that; it was more of an instinct of somehow preventing more damage to the motorcycle by getting it off the ground and onto its own wheels as soon as possible. This actually makes a lot of sense: it could be leaking fluids, or it could be unstable and shift weight and damage another part if left on the ground. But I wasn't thinking of those at the moment. I just felt as if the bike was an injured animal itself; that it must be helped back to its feet as if it might've felt pain and needed assistance.
The turn signals were blinking as hazard lights. That means the tip-over sensor that cuts the power to the engine must've tripped off and also automatically turned on the hazard lights, because I don't think I did that, even accidentally.
The woman from the car that stopped asked me if I was okay. I said I felt fine. My left foot was sore, but otherwise I didn't really feel any pain. I told her I was just glad that all my motorcycling gear seemed to have held up. She helped me lift the motorcycle back upright, which I really appreciated, so that I didn't have to try lifting 400 pounds by myself and risking even more injury.
(Aftermath. The deer was originally hiding by those trees near the road sign on the right.)
Actually, I felt exhilarated. I felt completely vindicated for being an ATGATT kind of guy-- all the gear, all the time. When the moment I've been fearing-- and planning-- for finally came, everything worked the way they were supposed to. Fuck yeah. I was walking away from a hard crash on my motorcycle with less injuries than I've had from more embarrassing bicycle accidents. Honestly, I was feeling invincible. I would've been ready to crash all over again, right then and there.
A park ranger was there within minutes, asking me if I was okay. Again, I said I felt fine, except for the soreness on my left foot.
For a while, a new dangerous situation took place. Cars were stopping or slowing down suddenly when they went around that curve and saw the accident scene. Whether they were gawking at the dead deer, gawking at me or the bike, asking me if I needed help, or just really not seeing what's going on in front of them until the last second, a half dozen or so cars almost rear-ended each other and almost caused another crash.
Throughout this time, I was pacing around to inspect the damage to me and the bike. Amazingly, we were both almost completely fine.
My left elbow took the brunt of the fall. I had small abrasions from the inside of the jacket. I was wearing tight-fitting spandex arm sleeves, and in the part where my elbow hit the jacket's elbow armor, the spandex arm sleeve and the jacket arm sleeve's inner liner actually fused together from the friction burn. The rest of the spandex arm sleeve, towards my wrist, was also torn up, but probably not from friction burn with the jacket. Judging from the dirt-colored discoloration, I think that part of my arm actually slid out of the jacket arm sleeve and dragged on the ground directly.
My left foot had the most injury. I could feel something was hurting down there. I was not alarmed by it, since I could walk around perfectly fine. But I was afraid that it might look worse than it felt, so I decided not to take off my boot and look at my foot, lest I didn't like what I saw. I can worry about that later, I thought.
The bike was in so much better shape than what I could've hoped for. The front fender was the only bodywork that was completely broken. The left side mirror just had to be rotated back out. The side fairings were both cracked, but pretty much structurally intact; only the left side had large scratches from dragging the pavement. The left footpeg and gear shift lever were also bent. Actually, the left footpeg itself was just scruffed-- again from the pavement-- but it was the mounting plate it was attached to that was bent inward from the weight of the bike. The gear shift lever was also bent inward and was stuck against the mounting plate, preventing any gear shifts. Luckily again, the lever proved malleable and I was able to bend it back out with a tiny adjustable wrench I always carry with me, and then a tow truck driver stopped by and helped me out with an even bigger wrench.
Then a second park ranger came and dragged the deer corpse to the side of the road-- more or less the same spot where it had been standing before our unfortunate encounter.
(Damage to left glove. My watch probably caused the hole on the wrist area, but the watch itself wasn't scratched.)
(Damage to leather overpants. The actual damage was on the non-leather part on the inside left of the leg, which was designed to be breathable mesh. But I didn't feel anything on that part of my leg, either during the crash or afterwards, so I don't know how this even happened.)
(Damage to leather jacket. The decorative piping is torn up, but the leather on the sleeve itself did not rip. I also only took a picture of the left sleeve, because I thought that's the side I fell and slid on and thought the damage is limited there, but later on I'd notice similar scuffs on the right sleeve. Weird.)
(Damage to the inner arm sleeve I was wearing. The elbow hole is from where the friction burn from the inside of the jacket actually fused the jacket liner with the inner arm sleeve, while the forearm looks like it got pulled out from the jacket sleeve and slid on the road directly.)
(Damage to the inner jacket arm liner, where the elbow armor is. This is what caused the minor road rash even though the jacket exterior held up. Also shows how much I hit my elbow and forearm, which was sore for weeks afterwards.)
(Where the dead deer ended up after a park ranger pulled it to the side of the road. Notice the vulture already waiting.)
(Not much external injuries for the poor deer. I'm lucky it wasn't any bigger, but at the time, it didn't look so small.)
(Nasty looking bruise on my left heel after I got home and took off my boot. Surprising, because I thought the heel area of my boots were pretty well protected. Not serious at all, and I was even luckier that the bruise did not affect movement much, because it was on the side rather than the bottom of the heel. What didn't show up is a sore area on the inside part of the bone just above my ankle.)
(The extent of the road rash I got on my left arm. Very minor. They're so faint that I didn't even think it would scab over, but they did. It also looks like my waist or hips hit something directly, between the jacket and the overpants, judging by the marks on my shirt.)