What Went Wrong

Some­times you’re the most dan­ger­ous thing on the track

Motorcyclist - - Contents - —Ralph Her­mens


The front straight at Chuck­walla Val­ley Race­way is 1,181 feet long, and I’d just run the length of it on a 2017 Kawasaki Z650, reel­ing in the rider in front of me. Turn one is a left fol­lowed by a sweep­ing right, and I was plan­ning my pass. I was on top of the other rider as we poured into the turn, too close and too fast to re­al­ize she was slow­ing down faster than I was. When she bled to the out­side, I clipped her rear tire, send­ing her into a tank-slap­per and me into a low-speed high­side. She stayed up. I rolled across the as­phalt like a sack of f lour. The bike was a rashed-up mess, but I felt fine— un­til the para­medic had me sit up.

“Yeah, you broke that col­lar­bone,” he said. “It’s pitch­ing a tent un­der your skin.”


It was the first track day of the sea­son, the sec­ond ses­sion of the day. I’d warmed up on the Z650, chasing my co-work­ers around the track and hav­ing a blast. The morn­ing was still cool, the bike strong and happy to stretch its legs. It was one of those rare mo­ments when ev­ery­thing feels per­fect. It felt good to be back on track af­ter a year of street rid­ing and com­mut­ing, good to be out and hav­ing some fun with my co-work­ers af­ter a few stress­ful months. I was ex­cited, greedy, and, ul­ti­mately, not pay­ing enough at­ten­tion. By the time I spot­ted a slower rider ahead of me, I’d al­ready started plot­ting how to get around her and stopped watch­ing what she was do­ing.


As a rider, you have to keep your head on a swivel. You have to pay at­ten­tion to ev­ery­thing around you and con­stantly be in the mo­ment. Some­times pre­dict­ing what other driv­ers—or in this case, rid­ers—will do can save your life. But as­sum­ing some­one will be­have as you would can be just as dan­ger­ous. Leave enough space for those around you to be un­pre­dictable, and al­ways give your­self an out. Not do­ing so earned me a pleas­ant stay in the lo­cal hos­pi­tal and a pile of plates and screws to hold my col­lar­bone to­gether. Add in two weeks off of work, plus an­other week work­ing from home, and it’s enough to drive some­one mad. Was it worth it? The scars of learn­ing al­ways are.

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