by Dr Gonzo
Adapted from my autobiography describing a motorcycle accident where I flew off a mountain
|I approached the tight right-hand bend doing around 60 kph. Not fast for a Ducati 1000cc road bike, but on top of a mountain, with hairpin turns and not much road to work with, it was fast enough.
I took the lead, followed by Wayne, my weekend warrior partner, and as I dropped into the turn, the front of a large 4wd coming the other way was directly in my line. Everything slows and becomes surreal when things like this happen; no thoughts go through the mind. You do what you have to do to avoid the collision.
On my right, a towering cliff face of impenetrable rock...and of course, about a tonne of steel coming my way fast, and with barely enough room for two vehicles to pass each other on this bend, my only option was to stand the bike up, adjust my line and try to pull the bike down again once the 4wd had passed.
This plan would have worked well if I had more road to work with, but as the guard rail on my left loomed into inevitability, I hit my rear brake as hard as I could. The rear locked up and gripped the road with me still leaned over to my right, and my beautiful red Ducati high-sided, flung me over the rail and into an abyss.
Earlier that day, at around 7.00 am, I arrived at Wayne's place. The throaty rumble of my V-Twin at that time on a Sunday morning wouldn't have impressed his neighbours, and as his automatic gates opened, I spotted Wayne's bike down the end of his long driveway. The fumes from his four into one exhaust told me he was ready to roll.
He rode a monster of a bike, the same 1000cc capacity as the Duke, but close to double the horsepower. The in-line four-cylinder motor quietly rumbled. His Suzuki GSX-R was spotless and nearly as clean as my bike. I spotted Wayne as he made his way down the back stairs of his two-story home, his helmet already on with the visor up. He smiled at me, put on his gloves, we rode out the gate and headed south.
Our destination was O'Reiley's, a tourist spot on the Gold Coast hinterland. There was only one way there, and that was through Canungra...a one-way road to the top, then turn around and back the same way. It took us approximately forty minutes to get to the coffee shop at Canungra, where we fuelled up, grabbed a cappuccino and a bite to eat before heading up the hill...around twenty kilometres of winding pristine roads, ideally suited to the soft compound tyres we had on our bikes.
Once the coffee and food were in us, our lids were back on, and the bikes started, from the township of Canungra and up to O'Rieley's, when the serious business of riding hard began. I've always loved going up more than coming down...left-handers more than right, and so, it made sense that the worst accident I was ever going to be involved in on a bike would be coming back down and on a right-hander.
I cannot recommend flying without wings or an aeroplane around you, but there weren't many choices in this instance. The first time I touched terra firma, I tumble rolled, flew some more and rolled again on touchdown. Then something solid hit my shoulder, slowing down my motion; my guess, it was a large bush rock.
I continued my fall from grace, end over end, with no thoughts except a vague, "This is no fun at all." Dying, surprisingly, never came into my consciousness. It was like being on a ride at the fair, and I was waiting for it to end.
Then, I hit something hard again, and that one hurt. Even though I was wearing boots, there is only so much protection they offer. Pain is God's reminder that you are still alive. I must have been slowing down by this time; a few more forward rolls and I came to a stop, facedown, the visor of my helmet broken off on one side as the dirt and dust I had dislodged along the way settled around me.
I couldn't breathe. I'd had the wind knocked out of me, and dust filled my lungs when I eventually did take that first breath. I had come to rest at the base of two rocks. That was all I could see as I gathered myself and realised I was still alive.
Dust and dirt were in my mouth and eyes, but once it cleared and I got my breathing back to normal, it was then I could feel my collar bone trying to push its way through the skin.
Raising my head, I looked up from where I had come. I was on a 45-degree slope about seventy or more metres from the road above and surrounded by large gum trees and bush rocks.
Wayne appeared out of nowhere, breathing heavily from his efforts.
"Are you Ok?" (I have toned down the language in the following sentences)
"I think so. My collarbone is broken, but I think I can walk out."
I took one step on my right foot and abandoned the plan. He checked his phone, there was service, and he called the ambulance. I hobbled over and laid down on the flattest rock I could see and waited for the ambulance to arrive.
We heard the sirens coming. The fire brigade was also dispatched, and as they clambered down to my position, they were amazed to find me relatively unscathed (I think we all were).
One of them looked up to the guardrail I had sailed over and said, "You are one lucky boy."
And then, the hard work began. There was no way back the way I had come. I was given a green stick for the pain that was getting worse by the minute, as they planned how to extract me from the mountainside. Too many trees for a helicopter to winch me out, so a line perpendicular and upward direction was the only way.
A rigid plastic stretcher was brought down to my position; I was loaded onto it and strapped down. A long rope was tied to the front, with several fire brigade men manning the rope from above. Six men were assigned to the sled, who began the long and arduous journey back up to the road above.
It was the height of summer, and sweat was pouring from their faces and arms, but there was no other way. The commitment they showed, the sheer determination to get me out no matter what it took...I was so humbled by it. I know they were 'just doing their job', but when you have just been thrown off a mountainside and lived, only to be a thorn in these men's side, well, they were hero's to me that day.
I don't know how long it took to get me out, as the painkilling stick had taken full effect by that stage. From where I emerged a hundred metres away from where I had been high-sided off my bike, I looked down the road and saw my bike resting against the guard rail, and it appeared to be in perfect condition. Of course, I was looking at the untouched right side of my beautiful Ducati; the left side was a write-off.
The ambulance arrived at the Gold Coast Hospital, a junior doctor checked me over, and a neck brace was applied. And this was when I suffered my first ever panic attack. I wanted it off, but he insisted, saying he had seen people die from slight neck movements after an accident.
I was having none of it. As soon as the doctor left me alone, off, it came. Then, when he returned, back on it went. I couldn't breathe and wanted to run away from all of this. He realised I wasn't handling what had happened and gave me a mild sedative, which helped.
It was taking ages for the triage doctor to see me. Another accident had happened at almost the exact moment as my own, on the other side of the hill. A young guy had come off his bike and was in a bad way. As I waited, a man came over to me, placed his hand on me and told me I was going to be alright...he was the father of that other rider, and later, I found out that his son had succumbed to his injuries.
I had my bike repaired but never again rode it like I used to. Always thinking the car at the intersection was going to pull out on me...always holding back. I had 'the fear'. My twin daughters meant more to me than putting my life at risk every time I climbed on board that bike, so it just sat in my garage. I would take it for short journeys or ride it to work now and again, but that was it.
Eventually, after my divorce, I sold my beloved Ducati and haven't ridden a motorcycle since.