Mal’s Wreck

I have permission to publish this story. Despite the obvious momentary lapse of judgment and the possible embarrassment that goes along with it, my pal Mal has authorized me to write this story because it is mainly about him. It is about him and how he, after riding all his life, let his guard down for an instant and paid the price. As I’ve always said, a fender bender to a car or truck is a catastrophic, life-changing (or life ending) event to a biker. He has authorized, and I have written this story in an effort to perhaps prevent the result from happening to you someday. Luckily, Mal is still here to tell his story. I, still here to relay it to you. Although I was not in harm’s way that fateful day. But I was in fact in the mix of the events. Close enough to the unraveling of the facts that I saw his entire wreck unfold before my eyes. It was a warm Sunday afternoon last summer. A perfect day to ride. Sunny, a little hot, a light breeze as the north Georgia Mountains can sometimes afford you, if you’re lucky. I had just finished up a biker rally with ABATE of Georgia in the quaint little village of Helen, Georgia up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I had brought some staff and trailered and old panhead and we pulled our medium sized trailer up to the rally to meet new clients and do some outreach in the biker community. So I wasn’t on a bike. Naturally, some clients and friends stopped by our booth for a visit and to talk bikes and drink a cold beverage. My good friend Mal stopped by to hang out with us a bit and shoot the proverbial shit. We sat under our canopy and smoked a cigar and drank some sweet tea in the shade. Mal was on his Harley and refrained from having a beer. Not a big drinker, he is cautious, as one should be when out and about on the moto-sickle.  All afternoon, old friends and new stopped by and jabber jawed and laughed and enjoyed some great biker camaraderie. When all was said and done and the shadows of the day drew long and the crowds thinned, Mal helped us pack up our camp chairs and folded tables and awnings as we got ready to leave. After the band stopped a steady stream of bikers pulled out of the rally grounds and onto the main roadway a quarter mile up the dirt road from where the rally was held. The dirt and gravel of the drive was a bit precarious to the bikers but everyone seemed to use appropriate caution navigating the path to the main road just south of the village of Helen. I climbed in the truck and slowly made my way up the driveway out to the road, conscious of the dust my rig would kick up behind me on Mal and the other the bikers following. I slowly made my way out to the roadway where the driveway T’s into Ga State Rt. 75. Only two choices from that point, left or right. On a Sunday afternoon you can imagine the steady stream of bikes and cars in both directions coming to and fro from the little resort town. Everyone in front of me had to wait a few minutes each to merge out onto the main road. I hadn’t yet noticed, but as I made my way up to wait my turn to get onto State 75, Mal was directly behind me and my trailer on his bike. Once up to the stop line I waited as cars and trucks streamed past me both left and right at a 40 or 50 mph clip. I waited, and waited, and waited, cars and bikes piling up behind me in a growing line bikers anxious to get home. In the monotony of the passing traffic, Mal crept up around the left side of my trailer to chew the fat through my open window as the seemingly endless stream of cars went by on State 75. We must have waited 5 or 6 minutes jawing until I sensed a break in the traffic coming from the right. I, heading home, simply needed to turn right into a break in the southbound traffic. Unlike Mal, I need not cross any other lane of traffic to proceed south. Mal, himself, heading north towards home, had to make a left. Unlike me, he would need to cross the lane of the southbound traffic and merge into the northbound traffic executing his left turn. It’s not rocket science, but something we simply learn to do as young drivers and riders. To gauge the distance and speed of oncoming traffic to determine if we have time to safely merge, accelerate, and fall in line with the stream of cars heading in the direction in which you desire to go. The old “look twice” adage comes to mind. In my haste to head home, I saw the few hundred yard break in the southerly line of traffic coming up.  I quickly said to Mal, who was mid sentence, (Incidentally, he’s always mid-sentence) “Hey, there’s my break, see ya Man”. With that, I contemporaneously spun my steering wheel clockwise to execute my right, hit the pedal and looked south and turned into the opening in the traffic. No drama, just a quick left, spool up the diesel turbo and head south. Mal, as if on que, looked left and gunned his throttle at the same time as me. Almost instinctively he proceeded, as did I. It struck me as odd, not right. To imagine the scene, he on the left, me on the right and if all went theoretically well, we were to proceed in separate directions away from each other. The only problem with that is I was able to see over the tall hood of my large truck. I can only surmise that Mal was not able to see what was immediately apparent to me. Coming in the opposite direction, plain as day to me was a red pickup truck. In an instant, before I was even able to process the logic of what was about to happen and before I even completed my turn onto the southerly lane, I heard the eerie screech of tires at the same time I recall hearing the rumbling of Mal’s Harley accelerate left. These two things did not register in my brain as conflicting, until I heard the crash. I heard it before I saw it in my side view mirror. Mal’s arms flailing in the air, as his bike was broad sided and he was ejected to the pavement. His bike spun on its side on the tarmac and he barrel rolled at about the center line, somehow not getting run over by the car that was coming behind me. That ugly sound of screeching tires and bending metal. I assume he simply gave it the gas when I did, assuming his coast was clear, because mine was. I do not know. Hell, Mal does not know. He appropriately characterizes the event as a ‘brain-fart’. A guy, who’s ridden all his life, lying in the road, battered and bloody with a wrecked Harley lying on its side. I jerked the wheel to the right and threw the truck and trailer up on the grassy shoulder 30 yards from my turn. I ran back to the scene and recall holding my breath. It wasn’t until I was able to see my friend roll over and climb to his feet unassisted was I able to get a breath. I didn’t know if he was run over, or blasted his head on the road or had broken bones. In the end, he cheated the reaper. Some blood and some bruises but nothing broken, Thank the Lord. The bike beat up but fixable. The pickup driver was absolutely unglued. Poor guy had his 6 or 7-year-old son with him and didn’t care much about the torn up fender on his pickup, but was concerned about Mal. We dragged the bike from the road, let the backlog of cars start to flow again and looked over Mal’s bloody arms and legs. He held his head and just shook it off. The cops showed. Mal told them the same thing he told the pickup driver. Sorry, Just had a ‘brain fart’, my mistake. How often ya hear that? Cops were so impressed that he simply was honest and stepped up they didn’t even write him a ticket. I mean don’t get me wrong, they stated in the Police Report that the wreck was his fault. It just goes to show you. You can ride all your life. You can take classes and refrain from alcohol and shit still happens. Mal’s insurance fixed the dude’s fender. Mal fixed his own bike out of pocket. We all learned a lesson. Mal famously says, time and time again, “We got no problems, only solutions”. With an attitude like that, you can’t just help but like the guy. Lack of “looking twice to save a life” notwithstanding. A simple mistake, made once. I trust he looks three times now. I do!

Remember, ride hard, ride safe, and in the end make sure you ride home.  –Irish

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