Originally posted by OliverThomas
@Aug 3 2005, 07:21 PM
Since I already cracked the egg, I guess I need to tell, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story.
One sunny October Sunday afternoon in 1988, my friend and I decided to go for a bike ride from Gournes to Agios Nickolaus (Saint Nick's) on the island of Crete. We'd done this same ride earlier in the year on my birthday and it was great. He'd been practicing� all summer, and wanted to show me a few things he'd learned riding a Suzuki 400 known for its good handling and forgiving nature.
So we borrow some gloves from a friend, and I get my first bad feeling about the ride. I brushed it off and just thought it was because I was on a borrowed bike (a 900 Ninja). My bike, a Yamaha FJ1100, was down for a fully detonated #2 cylinder complete with crushed ring lands and cracked cylinder head. We took the gloves and headed to the gate to begin our adventure. Neither of us could have imagined what lay ahead.
It was a beautiful clear afternoon as we sprinted onward to St. Nick's, warming up on the esses between Gournes and Chersonissos (the Ville). The bikes were working well, and the pace was spirited but not uncomfortable. We slowed through the Ville, then wicked it a bit until we arrived in Malia. Crawling through town, we avoided traffic and tourists on the narrow road winding through this town of topless beaches, hotels, and tourist bars.
Outside Malia the road opened up and the town traffic disappeared. Winding pitch black asphalt stretched in front begging us to gobble it up at a near triple digit pace. We were at a 90% clip, and I was feeling a tug of uncertainty about going this fast on a public road. There are too many uncontrollable variables with only our wits to defend us against fate.
As we entered a slight left hander, the bike twitched hard because a farmer's cart left a brown stripe of dried Cretan mud across the pavement. The bike just didn't like the slippery surface, and I was getting uncomfortable about being on a borrowed machine at this level of commitment. Exiting the slight left, we entered a long, blind sweeping right with the dry brown hillside blocking any view of the apex and exit of the turn. My friend was starting to pull away in front, proving the point he set out to show me.
As the black macadam snake straightened in front of us, we saw an intercity bus stopped at the right side of the road. Six passengers had just disembarked from the bus's rear as is customary in that part of the world. Unfortunately for us, they ignored the pedestrian underpass just a few meters ahead, and had started crossing the road in a single file.
There was no time to think about what to do. My riding partner was only 5 meters in front of me, but he was close enough to the pedestrians and inexperienced enough to do what turned out to be the worst possible thing: he tried to go around the front of the line. In their terror, seeing a pair of motorcycles hurtling towards them at a speed far greater than they expected on any public road like this, they recoiled toward the bus. Some tried to run ahead, but as my friend adjusted, they realized he was going to go in front of them no matter what. He did manage to skirt their presence, but found himself off-road on the left, going down a steep, tree-lined embankment completely out of control.
Seeing this unfold in front of me was only the beginning. Having been through a few seasons of road racing in the US, and having had a number of riders fall in front of me, I knew the best thing to do was aim for the gap between the last pedestrian and the now accelerating bus. It was pulling back onto the road from the shoulder and the pedestrians were now sprinting across the road. If this plan worked, it would allow them to run across the road to safety and clear themselves from my now unalterable path. I aimed carefully, expecting to just brush the bus if necessary to traverse the gap of daylight between the last man standing and the rear of the bus. It almost worked.
The last pedestrian in the line, seeing me rocketing toward him and apparently on a full collision course, froze like a deer in the headlights. His right leg was behind him as he stiffened and braced for the blow. I was doing everything in my power to thread this needle and miss both the pedestrian and the bus. I was leaned over hard, nearly dragging my right knee on the ground, but it was not to be. I was completely dependent on him continuing to move, and when he froze, there was no adjustment I could make to recover. I could not steer, and I surely could not brake. There was no escape. I clipped his heel; he crumpled in a heap on the road.
I was now on the pavement too. The bus, completely oblivious to what was happening behind him, continued accelerating and merging back onto the road. As I slid down the road, the bike chased the bus, showering me with sparks and making the sick grinding sound large motorcycles make when they are abrading their engine covers on unforgiving asphalt.
An eternity passed. I kept sliding and thanked my Dainese leathers, Alpinestars boots, and Spidi gloves for letting me keep my skin intact. Others were not so fortunate that day. When I finally came to a stop, my first concern was my friend. I could see the pedestrian, he was lying in the road and a small crowd was gathering around him. My friend was nowhere to be seen.
I got up, and ran to the side of the road, fearing the worst. The trees at the roadside were quite large. My mind was racing with thoughts of disaster. I imagined the horror of seeing him impaled on a branch as I searched for him. Luck was with him that day. He was injured but not severely. His injury was limited to a serious knee sprain and minor trauma to his chest from hitting the motorcycle's handlebars. He caught his breath, and we both climbed the dusty embankment to survey the damage we had done.
The pedestrian was still lying on the road. He could not stand, and his foot was not pointing in a direction it should for his position. Two French nurses, on holidays, came upon the scene from the campground nearby and helped with first aid. They instructed me to make a fist and push hard into the top of the man's leg to stop internal bleeding and help prevent shock. I gave him my jacket to keep warm.
We waited for an ambulance to arrive; someone had already summoned help from the campground. Before the ambulance arrived, a Greek showed up with a truck and offered to take the man to the nearest hospital, 45 km, and 45 minutes away. I nearly left the scene with the man, as I was the only one rendering first aid to him, but a Greek friend from Chersonissos who had come upon the scene advised me to stay until the Astinomia (Greek Police) arrived. He was right; it is a crime to leave the scene of an accident, even if you are rendering first aid.
I was arrested and tried for criminal negligence. I was found guilty. I am guilty. I should never have been doing what I was that day in that place. I was sentenced to 18 months in Greek prison. It is the maximum sentence you can "buy"� out under Greek law. I paid fines to avoid going to prison. That was the easy part.
The pedestrian, a Dutch national, was taken to the hospital at Iraklion, where they x-rayed his leg and determined his femur was shattered. It was not possible to save his leg. Thankfully it was possible to save his life. This man was my age. He woke up that morning as he had for 28 years, a whole man. As he slept in an opiated haze that evening in hospital, he would never be whole again. He did nothing wrong, and this life change was entirely at my hands and as a result of something I was doing for entertainment. It was nothing more than a personal challenge to race with my friend as we had on a glorious spring day earlier in the year. Was it worth it? No way. Was the punishment severe? Not at all compared to what would have happened in the US. Did it change me for life? Undoubtedly!
As you can tell, I'd done this before and escaped without injury, and I still have good memories of my birthday ride. I've never had one like it again, and I doubt I could. Many worse things have happened to many people, but this is my significant event. It's a weight I carry with me that will never go away.