After a very poor nights sleep I decided to change my plans. It seemed foolish to attempt an eight hour circumnavigation of the San Juan Skyway, and I decided to settle on a trip directly on to my second night’s capground in Ouray, followed by a little light exploration of the Million Dollar Highway. The last thing I needed was any more excitement. What could possibly go wrong with that?
Anyway it was a pretty chilly morning, not unexpectedly. The miracle product for these occasions is an electrically heated fleece which plugs into the auxiliary power socket of your motorbike and keeps you nice and toasty underneath your riding jacket. It also help to have something to wrap around your neck — keeps both cold winds and insects out, but is not long enough to wrap around your wheel and decapitate you. That’s always something I look for in riding gear — lack of decaptitation potential.
The ride westwards from Gunnison is very pleasant. Spectacular scenery, good quality roads, not much traffic. With the occasional photo opportunity I made good time and after topping up the tank at Montrose I was at my next campground by 11am. Having made it all the way to my designated camping spot without being stung, stabbed or eaten by the wildlife I had another campground meal and put the tent up. That took a load off of the bike and let me relax nicely.
Ouray is a very small town (that will be significant shortly) but has some wonderful open air hot springs that are open until 10pm, with great views of the surrounding mountains. A leisurely ride down to Durango and back would set me up for a long soak and maybe a glass of wine that evening, followed by sound slumbering until dawn.
The road south to Durango has a scenic overlook of Ouray. I stopped and talked with another rider for a while — he was on a longer trip from Pennsylvania, and had been a little startled by the interestingly curvy road he had just ridden northwards to Ouray.
About five minutes later, I found that I too was startled on a reducing radius turn that would probably have been comfortable at ten miles an hour, but at the fifteen I was riding at it started to become less comfortabe by the second, until …
Well, just a word about dynamics of cornering and whatnot. If you’ve ever seen the extraordinary lean angles achieved by MotoGP riders then you’ll appreciate how much they owe to the benefits of a nice bit of hot sticky rubber in contact with a clean road surface, but even with standard tyres the limit on the cornering ability of a motorcycle is often its geometry — after a while something other than tyre touches the road and hilarity ensues. Anyway, cornering with perfect balance and smooth control inputs and whatnot is a lovely thing, and in my mind’s eye there are all sorts of little force and velocity arrows showing how the lean angle perfectly balances the centripetal force from the tyres and the gravitational force of the thingamyjigs. All of this happens at the pleasure of the laws of physics and is subject to a number of possible problems.
For example, the touching down of some other part of the bike might reduce the downforce through the tyres and reduce the cornering power. A little gravel might remove nearly all of that cornering power. So when either of these events occurs nearly all of the little imaginary arrows of force and velocity promptly evaporate, leaving behind just one or two very big ones.
So thus it was — long story short, just before the apparant apex of the corner my left footpeg lightly brushed the ground, and a little gravel brushed away the lovely invisible arrows, and everything got very noisy and very dusty very quckly as the bike dumped on the ground and slid off the road and through dirt and gravel, neatly lodging the back wheel under a guard rail.
Now at that point, I might have said a very bad word indeed.
Well, there you are lying half underneath 500lbs of hot motorcycle in a cloud of dust, on the outside of a blind corner with your shoulders and head resting gently on the asphalt. Not a psychologically comfortable position to be in, let me tell you, and as all limbs appear to be working you slide the leg out from under, hit the engine kill switch and leap nonchalantly to your feet. At this point the important thing is to get the motorcycle upright as soon as possible so that other riders cannot arrive on the scene and start patronising you in just the fashion that you would apply to them. The bike has to be dragged out from under the guard rail and hoisted back upright without external assistance, and many is the person who has blessed the magical substance known as “adrenaline” at such a time — remeber, I had had an extra shot just the previous night! With a little care it’s actually not too tricky, although as the adrenaline wears off you can come to regret hasty actions the next day.
Fortunately there is nothing that keeps the adrenaline going quite so well as a slight nagging pain from an elbow, and the realisation that there is a small but respectable hole worn in the lower sleeve of the riding jacket below the elbow armour. “Ah ha”, you think, “my armour slid up my arm and exposed my elbow. That can’t be a good thing”. Well, slipping off the jacket shows that there is not only a matching hole in the shirt underneath but a significant amount of some form of reddish-brown fluid dripping off of your sleeve. “That’ll be inconvenient”, you think, taking care not to drip on your dusty but still respectable (and seemingly completely undamaged) motorcycle. Poking around in the hole in your sleeve you find a small but respectably deep and completely filthy hole in your actual arm, just below your elbow. At this point, you may well be forgiven for saying that same very bad word a couple more times.
Following a good long drink from your water bottle it is time to make a New Plan that involves some place where you can get a temporary anti-leakage wrapping followed by a ride to, yes, another hospital emergency room. At around that point, you wonder whether phoning your wife might just be the sort of thing that is best delayed as long as possible — no need to be hasty!
Thus it was that I put my riding jacket back on, cinched up the sleeves very tightly indeed and started riding back north towards the nearest civilisation.
Next episode: “General anaesthetic? ‘Tis but a flesh wound!”