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.