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October 12, 2015

Riding at Night

My buddy calls me and says "Let's ride, man. Let's go get lost."

So we're riding hard tops, dirt roads, end up going down through Foxton, Buffalo, Wellington Lake, Bailey, Grant, Kenosha Pass, Jefferson. Then south down to Florissant, Divide, Woodland Park. We gas up about every 50-60 miles, and by the time we get to Deckers, it is solidly dark.

Riding at night is never a good idea. Everyone knows this, but sometimes you're far from home and run out of daylight.

Probably, we pushed it too far. We rode too far on one of the waning days of summer. But you have to know what the fall is like. The Aspens are just insanely brilliant now. The color moves in a wave down the mountains. At Kenosha Pass, there are no leaves on the Aspen trees. And it's sad, in a way. So see that the color is all gone now, a victim of the relentless fall. Like looking at a house that's been burned down. Still you can remember what it was. What it used to be. And now, there is only this.

Stop to gas up at the bottom of Kenosha Pass. Now, turn south. We're not on the continental divide. We've never crossed it once today, but the mountains are still nice. Enormous stacks of Park County hay. Buildings from the 1800's still standing somehow, teetering on the brink of despair.

We're carving south, down 2-lane black-topped roads. Glad to be out. Glad to be alive. We emerge onto US Highway 24 well west of Colorado Springs. Now, racing back east on 24. Burning daylight.

At Divide, we would go South to Cripple Creek if we had more time, but no time now. Just a balls-out run for the house before dark.

Now running back north towards Deckers. At Deckers, I decide to take the back way and follow the North Fork of the South Platte River. This is a dangerous road. Sections are unpaved. Some guy drove a Harley into the river and died earlier this year. First they found his bike. Then they found him.

But this is the shortest route back, as the crow flies.

We're racing north, following the twisting river, and by now it is solidly dark. At some point, I realize my buddy's headlight isn't behind me any more. This is not good. This is nightmare fuel. Turn back. Maybe he stopped to bugle for elk. He's done that to me before. Last time I turned back, he was on the side of the road bugling for elk.

"Dude..I thought you'd died...."

"I told you I was going to stop and bugle for elk..." he'd explained. "You just forgot."

So that's what I'm hoping this time. That he stopped to bugle for elk. But now, here he is. I can see the headlight, about a foot off the ground...shining up into the dark skies. A surreal searchlight searching for anything. Finding nothing.

This is not good. Nightmare fuel. The bike is down. Maybe he was going too fast and crashed in the turn. That's what I think as I pull up to the scene of the accident.

The bike is down in the middle of the road. My buddy is lying on his back in the road. Or maybe he's on the side of the road. I'm not clear. Nothing seems to focus. My brain goes into a state that's hard to describe. I can't speak.

"Dude...I hit a deer," he offers.

Now, I see the deer, lying on the side of the road. Jerking his legs, trying to get up. But nothing works. The deer can't get up. My buddy isn't even trying to get up. He's lying on the ground, clearly in pain. Drowning in adrenaline. He's in shock. I'm going into shock.

Now, a Jeep has stopped. He's halfway in the road so that no one coming down the road will run over us. Maybe the Jeep has always been here. I don't know. The brain can't process what is going on very well.

Now, there's another vehicle stopped. People are getting out. "Are you OK. Should we call an ambulance?"

"There's no cell coverage here," offers someone else.

My brain can't really process what's going on. Like, that's what you're thinking though. We've got to get an ambulance. Or a helicopter. And now, I remember the last time I had to call 911. Why does this keep happening to the people around me. I'm sure that I am cursed. I've called 911 on people riding with me twice that I can recall, and it's never a good feeling.

This is a slow motion nightmare.

I have no idea how bad my friend's injuries are, and I'm scared to find out, really. I'm not like ripping his jean apart at the knee or checking out his foot to see how badly injured he is. I'm not a trauma surgeon or anything. Instead, I'm just wandering back and forth at the scene of the accident, unable to process what just happened. Where do we go from here? No cell coverage. A wrecked motorcycle. A dead deer, and my buddy lying on the side of the road.

Now, someone stands up the bike and gets it out of the road.

My friend stands up, like a Phoenix from the ashes. And says..."I think I'm OK. I can ride the bike back...."

I grab his shoulder, and he's quaking like an Aspen leaf.

"Dude...there's no way you're getting on that bike..."

"I'll give him a ride back to Conifer, if you want..." offers the Jeep driver.

"Would you? That would be great."

Now, what to do with the bike. I don't really care about the bike. It's the least of my concerns.

"Why don't you take the bike up to that house and just leave it with them and come back for it later," a voice from the darkness speaks.

"Yes. Good idea," I think.

I had no idea that there was a house anywhere near us. Now though, I do see that there is a house above us on the side of the hill. Perched precariously. No visible means of access.

This kid that stopped is turning the bike over and it won't start. I take the bike from him, start it up, and they tell me to drive it up to the house above us and leave it with them.

So now, I'm driving the wrecked motorcycle back and forth on the highway trying to find the driveway up to the house. Only it's completely dark and I can't find the driveway. So, I'm driving back and forth up and down the highway, like a rape victim in the night.

"Where's the driveway?" I ask the crowd assembled around the crash scene.

Finally, I locate the driveway. I drive up the gravel driveway and pull up to the house. Lights are on, and it's full of people, but no one comes outside to see what's going on.

Finally, a person emerges from the cottage. An aging hippy.

"My buddy crashed his bike. Can we leave it here and come back for it tomorrow?" I ask.

"Yeah man. Sure. Is he OK? Do we need to call an ambulance?"

"I think he's OK," I offer.

Posted by Rob Kiser on October 12, 2015 at 9:53 AM


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