Uggghhhhhh, what just happened? Am I in one piece? Can I move everything? What’s that screaming? Oh man, is my bike okay?
These were the first thoughts that went through my head a few weekends ago, and no, I wasn’t totally prepared for the unexpected on this occasion. I have lived and worked through many precarious situations all around the world and pride myself on staying calm under pressure, thinking clearly, and preparing as much as possible for the unexpected. But this one caught me by surprise…and I was lucky it wasn’t much worse.
Living life to the max—both in and out of the office—is a core aspect of my personality, family life, and company culture. Much of this comes in the form of getting out on some form of two-wheeled device, either solo or with friends and family. On this particular weekend, I was heading off wild camping with my buddy Jody in the mountains above L.A. near Big Bear. Jody kindly offered to haul my mountain bike so I could make the trip on my motorbike: it sat idle throughout the COVID lockdown, and those winding mountain roads were just too tempting to miss. To keep the story as brief as possible….mate time and camping were awesome, our mountain bike ride along the skyline trail on Saturday was epic, and for Sunday we planned on riding at the Snow Valley resort. Lift-assisted descents: nice!!
To get to Snow Valley from our camping spot we had two options. Option 1 was going back the way we had come in: known, shorter, less off-road, etc., or Option 2: more off-road, a little longer, and not traveled by either of us previously. Luckily, with two of us, we didn’t really have to choose. Jody settled for Option 1 in his van while I and my motorbike headed off to explore Option 2, have some fun, and check out potential spots for future camping trips. Even though it was the longer road we estimated it would still only take me 20-30 mins to travel along the gravel forestry road and reconnect with Jody back at the highway.
Life was good. Camp packed, sun shining, my KTM running like a dream. The views from the ridgeline into the endless forest and mountains were incredible, and you just can’t beat the scent of towering pines blowing through the visor of your helmet!! I was only 10 minutes from where I had left Jody, travelling at a safe and comfortable pace (10-20 mph) when a few dirt bikers whipped by me. The gravel road was about 1.5 car widths—lots of room for several bikes to safely pass one another—but not wide enough for what came next….
A biker, coming around a blind corner, on my side of the road, and totally out of control. I had a heartbeat to recognize the collision coming my way, but no chance to avoid it... The bikes hit each other hard, both going down and flinging their respective riders to the ground. Uggghhhhhh.
After confirming I was in one piece and everything moved as it should, I got up and realized the other guy was screaming in pain. A quick check confirmed that luckily he was just badly winded. So…my thoughts turned to my bike. I asked his friends, who by this time had all stopped as well, to help me pick up the bike and check it over. It was evident very quickly that the handlebars no longer aligned with the front wheel which had taken all the impact. We straightened the bars as best we could against a tree trunk, tightened up all the bolts and made sure everything else looked good. I confirmed the group was okay, mentally checked I was good to ride, and then took off. This whole process had taken 20-30 minutes and I knew Jody would be wondering where I was. I wanted to meet up with my friend, take a closer look at my bike, and assess how I would get it and myself back to San Diego should any other problems arise.
So why was I not prepared?
- Communication. While Jody and I had made a loose plan, we had not agreed what we should do and at what time if one of us did not arrive. I had no cell service where the accident occurred and did not bring any form of spot device or satellite phone.
- Expecting only a short detour, I left all my tools and supplies in Jody’s van. This left me vulnerable when the accident occurred, having to make best use of someone else’s tools which were not designed for my bike.
- I did not know the protocol for having an accident off-road: do the same rules apply as on road? Do we exchange information? Who is liable or is it every person for themselves?
- For a short, ad-hoc trip, I did not have the additional off-road or helivac insurance in place as I would for a planned and extended trip.
What do I feel I did well?
- I always wear extensive protective equipment, which decreases the likelihood of a small incident becoming a major one. .
- I had bought a bike prepared for brutal off-road riding, and further improved it with significant crash bar structures, and they worked a dream. Ultimately the incident cost me a few hundred dollars to have the triple clamp fixed: the impact was so severe the bolt connecting it to the bars had completely sheared. The rest of the bike had not a mark on it.
- As an individual facing a large group, I stayed calm, assertive and did nothing to turn them against me in what could have been a precarious situation if I had tried to place blame or get angry.
- I checked and double checked myself and the bike before riding it away and then had Jody follow me home to make sure nothing bad happened or, and to support and assist me in case something did.
- I did not let it spoil my day and had a blast riding my mountain bike for the rest of the day with friends :)
Lessons Learned which I will continue to work on and apply to life and business:
- Over-communicate and plan. Discuss what could go wrong and at minimum have a plan to initiate an action to a trigger mechanism. We can’t have a plan for everything but we can have a method by which to initiate a response.
- There is no such thing as a quick and risk free detour: it is the shortest and most innocent deviations that leave us most vulnerable and under prepared. Prepare for them like you would something more epic in nature.
- Blind corners (blind spots) require a defensive approach to ensure you have time to react to what’s waiting for you.
- Familiarize yourself with your surroundings and landscape as much as possible: know the rules, regulations, risks, and opportunities regardless of where you are or how many times you think you have seen it all before.
- Be mentally prepared for the unexpected to enable yourself to stay calm and think clearly regardless of what happens. This can be supported by visualization exercises, scenario planning, and challenging yourself and those around you to think beyond the status quo.
- With the right attitude, team, tools, and plan, anything is possible!!
2020 has shown us in dramatic style that there are lots of surprises around the next corner. Stay safe and keep those real and figurative wheels road-side down, live life to the max…but be prepared!
At VECKTA we are committed to empowering businesses and communities to adapt purposefully and take control of your energy future today, while surrounded by uncertainty.