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What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

Part IV: The final day

An incredibly common sight in Wales.
It took me nearly an hour and a half to pack everything up and get it on my bike. And as had been the case in previous parts of my journey, I felt annoyed at the process taking longer than I had anticipated. 

Calming down, though, was easier than it had been the day before. I reminded myself that with Jenn staying that night at a friend's house in West Sussex there was no one for me to rush home to. Additionally, I was in Lancaster, which meant riding through the urban tangle between Liverpool and Manchester was inevitable; better to avoid tackling that during rush hour.

Because I had nowhere to be and motorways are boring and I felt good, I decided to increase my mileage for the day and meander home via the winding A roads of Wales rather than speed down the relative straight of English motorway. For those of you playing along in the United States, a motorway is the British equivalent of a freeway/interstate; an A road is an undivided highway where speed limits can range from 30-60 mph depending on whether you're in a built-up area. A roads have no U.S. equivalent because there are no public roads in America that are so narrow.

In Wales, A roads are generally the least efficient means of getting from point A to point B. Unfortunately, they are also often the only means. My joke is that no one trusts the Welsh with explosives; so, rather than being able to cut through the country's multitudinous promontories, road builders had to go around them. The end result, though, is that if you are on a motorcycle on a sunny day with no particular time schedule, Wales is an incredibly good place to be.

According to my ledger, I bought tea at the Chester motorway services at 10:58 a.m. that day, so I suppose I was making better time than I remember. The services are roughly 70 miles from the Holiday Inn where I had started out and they mark one's arrival in Wales and departure from motorway efficiency. Whilst there, I encountered a large contingent of Welsh-speaking blokes riding raked-out, loud-piped, custom-painted, shiny Harley-Davidsons. I thought of the Dr. Simon Brooks claim that the Welsh are just Americans who couldn't afford the boat ride to the New World. Certainly I've not seen such ornate bikes anywhere else this side of the Atlantic.

So I had, on multiple levels, the sense that I was back home. Firstly in that I was arriving in a part of the country with which I've become pretty damn familiar over the past 8 years; secondly, I had stumbled upon a gaggle of Harley riders; and thirdly, I was able to speak with said riders in Welsh. Speaking Welsh is on par with a Masonic handshake. More so, actually. If you know it, you're in, son.

The riders were on their way to Hull, then onto a Belgium-bound ferry en route to some festival they seemed to think I already knew about because none of them explained it. Eventually they all mounted up to head out, with one of them saying to me in Welsh: "All these people around us are giving us dirty looks for speaking Welsh; this will really piss them off!" 

They roared away, the sound of their pipes setting off car alarms and causing people to hold their hands to their ears.

More sheep.
A Honda, of course, is a much quieter machine. Which is really what you want as you glide along the curves of Welsh roads. Soon, I was dancing through UKIP country. Full of racist, immigrant-hating homophobes, sure, but certainly a very pretty part of the world. This was just before the recent European elections and I was disturbed by just how many UKIP signs I saw posted in front of houses. I thought back to Scotland and the fact that in a few months it will be deciding via referendum whether to declare its independence from the United Kingdom.

"It's a topic that's a bit like religion," one Scotsman had told me over pints. "We don't talk about it in polite company."

But when the Scottish do talk about the referendum I imagine it can be difficult to find strong emotional arguments for staying together when you have so many people south of the border voting UKIP –– a party whose leader once referred to the Scottish as "yobbo scum."

All this went through my head as I wandered southward. As mentioned in Part I of this adventure, this trip gave me a lot of time to think –– about my life and my place and what I want to be. That's a self discussion that throws up a lot of problems, because certain really important things come into conflict with other really important things. 

I let these things slip to the back of my mind as I pushed down the beautifully winding section of the A483 that runs from Newtown to Llandrindod Wells. It is 25 miles of curve after curve after curve with good sight lines on most turns. In the United States they'd give this road a scary name and sell T-shirts. In Wales it's just a way to get from one place to another.

I had run this section on my road trip to Pennant several months before, and back then certain turns had given me The Fear. Now, though, I was comfortable keeping a slightly-faster-than-the-cars-wanted-to-go pace throughout. Credit the Michelin Pilot Road 4 tires, credit the way the weight of my Viking Bags panniers seemed to help the bike hold a line, but probably also credit the extra experience. It is fun and interesting to see yourself "grow" as a rider –– developing and improving. I still have a lot to learn and very much want to take a BikeSafe course soon, but it is nice to know I'm developing some skills on my own.

By the time I got to Llandrindod Wells, though, all I could focus on was my empty stomach. I parked my bike in the town centre and set off on foot to try to find a place that wasn't the warmed-in-a-microwave fare I had been eating too much of on this trip. Eventually I came upon a place that served local lamb burgers and home-made strawberry milkshakes. 

From there it was exactly 80 miles to Casa del Cope. But the hundreds of miles from this trip were starting to have their effect, so I stopped halfway to take a deep breath and gather focus for the traffic of the valleys and Cardiff. Still, I arrived home far sooner than I would have imagined that morning. There was time to unload the bike, wash it thoroughly of all the bugs and road grime that had accumulated over the past week or so, and let it dry in the early evening sun before tucking it away.

In total, I had covered more than 1,000 miles, through three countries and all kinds of weather. Sitting at my table that night, drinking beer and staring out the window, one thought kept coming back to me: Where will I go next?

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