Monday, April 02, 2007

Yes, Deer

Spring has arrived across most of this great nation. Along with a fresh riding season straight ahead in the minds of so many enthusiasts are the very real dangers of animals which step onto the roadway and into our paths. Stray domesticated pets and wild animals mesmerized by the single and paired twin beams piercing dusk shadows and night.

Deer appear out of the darkness.

They spook you. Out of nowhere they appear from the darkness. Your panoramic view of the scene ahead instantly constricts into tunnel vision, involuntarily focussed on the reflective eyes moving towards the roadway. Broad tan bodies. Full grown. One (or is it two?) is moving down through the ditch. Too close. Will it (or they) run to the bike's headlight?

A shot of electricity bolts through you. Every inch of your skin crawls but you won't notice until this is over. By then the shivering from your body's instantaneous surge of adrenaline will be mixed with a cold sweat and the immediate need to void that bladder.


You yank the clutch and the front brake simultaneously while your right foot bangs hard on the rear brake. The instant before you've given too much, you moderate pressure in order not to skid. Every bit of concentration you have is trying to keep that bike going in a straight line. Nearly six hundred pounds of metal in momentum and not-so-great brakes to control it. You're praying in tongues. Out loud.

Before you're aware of it your left thumb is mashing the horn button. At this point you maybe utterly speechless or you're adding your own voice to the wailing siren at the front of the machine.

With everything going on, time somehow goes into slow motion. Thoughts not connected to this dire moment suddenly grip your mind. Overload. Your scalp feels like its sizzling. Some sort of internal switch activates. Brain is flipping the important cards in your mental Rolodex. And you can't do anything about it.

By the time you're allowed to see the real world around you again, the lead deer is frozen at the shoulder and the bike is heeled safely. Shaken and scared, you roll on the throttle looking for the nearest available place to get off the bike. Once stopped you realize the feeling in your hands is gone and your limp legs can barely hold the bike up in order to put out the kickstand. You're grateful because you know what could have happened. Even now, after standing a moment the convulsive shaking still ripples over you at odd intervals. The internal thermostat alternates between too warm and a hollow cold.

Back in 2006 one of motorcycling's greatest safety advocates met that deer at speed. Lawrence Grodsky, whose column in Rider magazine addressed every habit, skill and riding condition, died hitting a deer.

When you consider that a man who devoted his career and life to teaching motorcycle safety could still have lost his life in one of the most common night time accidents, you realize it could happen to any of us. Few of us are as skilled as he was but most of us believe we are.

All it probably took was a false sense of security. A moment lasting not much longer than the blink of an eye.

Please be careful out there.



Combatscoot said...

Thanks for reminding me just what it feels like! As a commuter, I have dealt with close-deer-encounters several times, each one scary. I'm finally beginning to get the idea to slow down a bit after dark, and to maybe not ride in the transitional dusk period.

American Scooterist Blog said...

Thanks John, I edited it a little based on my memory of the experience.
Yeah, I need to think about that dusk and night riding I'm so fond of too.


CodyandMichelle said...

Harv, I don't really like night riding for that very reason, and not just deer, but many varmints and cagers. It's already crazy to drive down here in the daytime with the cottonheads who can't see over the steering wheel much less add the darkness to the equation:(
As far as critters, I just think you have a better chance when you can see far out in front of you. Out in the rural section of NC where we are moving, there are so many deer and it's totally black out, heck I get scared driving a car. Awareness 100% of the time is hard to maintain, I just try to avoid that kind of stress!

Bryce said...

I had a near run in with some deer once. My parents' neighborhood is very verdant. Deer and other wildlife are just a part of life around those parts.

Joe said...

I had let my Rider subscription expire and I had no idea that Larry Grodsky had passed away in an accident. I read his column each month and took something away from it. What sad news.

Steve Williams said...

I'm familar with the bolt of electricity related to the sudden deer sighting. Here in Pennsylvania we get to claim the number one spot for deer collisions. They are everywhere. At dusk riding along rural roads you see them coming out of the woods like something from Night of the Living Dead.

I am extremely careful when riding along roads that have the typical crossing areas and treat those locations much as I do when I come upon a vehicle waiting to turn left across my path--- slow with a couple fingers on the brakes.

It does interupt the rapid progress I could make but I have had enough deer in the road experiences to understand the probabilities.

The worse case of deer was in the middle of a bright sunny day traveling through Sproul State Forest. I came over a rise at about 45 MH to about a dozen deer walking in the road. I had plenty of time to slow but for the next mile or so I would see deer standing just off the road in the woods that came right to the berm of the road. I rode at about 30 MH for the next 15 miles until I got out of the woods.

The strange part was I was passed several times by groups of sport riders traveling at incredible speeds. They either weren't aware of the deer threat or didn't care. I guess its why they always get the deer collision videos you see on youTube....

Great post Roadbum!

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

American Scooterist Blog said...

Cody, its something I'm kind of used to. I rode the southeastern quarter of Wisconsin's unlit country roads since I started riding. Yes, it does take more attention and often you really do want another rider out there with you. Its the view of an endlessly open sky thick with stars. On clear nights its not even that dark. You ride in a sort of twilight glow. The animals that do appear aren't lost in a brown blending of their bodies with tall grasses at the shoulder, they're visible by their eyes. You ride slower but you also get a different experience during the hours between dusk and dawn.

Bryce, that's how its been where I've ridden too.

Joe, I didn't know about it either. Now and then I picked up the magazine but never subscribed. When I saw the news it blew me away. Guys like Larry Grodsky don't come around every day.

Steve, thanks very much. Sproul State Forest sounds like an incredible place to ride. At the prudent speed of course ;)


Bill Sommers said...

Sorry that I'm rolling into this site so late, but I finally made it.

Up here in the Pacific Northwest, we can find deer inside the city limits as well as the rural roadways. Your detailed description of the hightened and active senses was spot on. A perfect topic for this time of the year.

I finally have you linked to my blogroll. Sorry for waiting so long.

Have fun,

American Scooterist Blog said...

Thanks Bill. I much appreciate you linking me : ) I was driving back from my inlaws' place Sunday night and decided to take the back roads to see how much snow hit our farm. Two deer made the dash in front of my car. Not really all that close but close enough to warrant using the horn. I'd hate to take a deer's legs out to have its head coming through the windshield.


Honky-Tonk Dragon said...

That was some great writing!
I've never had a close encounter with a deer, but I've been in some other near-miss situations and am all too familiar with the sensations you describe.
The scary thing about Grodsky, was that he was quoted a few weeks before his passing as saying that deer were his biggest road-hazzard fear. Everything else he felt he knew where he was in the risk/skill equation to deal with, but deer have enough unpredictability that you just can't be sure.

Honky-Tonk Dragon

American Scooterist Blog said...

Joe, it surprised me too. I knew of him and had read some of his columns in the past but never was a subscriber. Thanks for checking this site out. I took a look at your site and enjoy the variety of things you put out there. Sounds like you guys have a blast RV'ing.

Ben, thank you. His work will be sorely missed. His presence too. I appreciate the kind words about my writing. Thanks very much.