January 1st, 1984
Photo attached, prelude to story.....
There are various ways to ring in the New Year. Perhaps my favorite now is to either go whitewater kayaking locally, or to swim in the Maumee River at Waterville with the old man there.
But twenty years ago in 1984, I lived in Tempe, Arizona; near Arizona State University. I worked at Arizona Kawasaki-Ducati-Laverda in Tempe on University and 52nd Street, the dealership is long since gone. ASU was one mile east of my apartment on Hardy, and work was one mile west.
For New Year's Day 1984, Tom Callahan (the general manager at Arizona Kawasaki) invited me and Chad Carmody to go riding with some friends of his on a fast group ride.
Chad worked part-time at the dealership, and was a student at ASU. He was Marine ROTC, and some of his coursework included photography. During slow times at work, we'd talk about college and photography. Chad would tell me that I'd have no trouble in college, that I seemed to him to be the brightest guy he knew that wasn't in school. But I lacked the patience and confidence to go to college straight out of high school, and so I was dragging my feet a bit.
Chad and I were also both photography enthusiasts, but we approached it from different directions. Chad was taking some photography classes at ASU in addition to his major. I bought my first camera (an Olympus XA), then a second (Minolta SLR), then read books and experimented a lot while keeping notes on shutter speed and aperture and subject. Each of us was impressed by what the other had shot, each of us thought the other was highly skilled with a camera.
On various holidays, several of the local fast guys (Tom's friends) would organize a high-speed group ride north if it was summer, or south if it was a winter holiday. The New Year's Day ride was basically a really fast scenic ride with some of the local Big Dogs through whatever scenery was open (no snow and reasonable temps) at that time of year.
New Year's Day 1984 was nice, clear and comfortable, 65F-75F, just like pretty much every other winter day in the Valley. We all met up in eastern Mesa at one of the rider's homes. Several bikes and riders were already there when we arrived. Just listing the bikes is a trip down memory lane:
There was a Honda V45 Interceptor, ridden by a former customer named Bill. Bill went from a GPz-1100 with handling problems, to the Interceptor. The VFR was new-age stuff in 1984, the GPz at the end of the line...
Then a 1978 Suzuki GS-750, bored out to 850cc or so, ridden by "Reverend" Jim. The bike was very fast, and was a veteran of many roadraces at Phoenix International Raceway. Reverend Jim got his nickname for his tendency to preach, after finding Jesus. Not the nicest person, ironically, but he was a very skilled and fast rider, and sometimes a customer of mine.
Then a nearly new 1983 Suzuki GS-750 (remember 16" front wheels and anti-dive?), ridden by Chuck Crawford. Chuck also had racetrack experience, and worked at Accessories and Cycles, a motorcycle parts chain store in the Valley. A former kayaker from Pittsburgh, and a fast guy as well.
My boss, Tom Calahan, was riding a brand-new Kawasaki GPz-750 Turbo. Tom had roadrace experience as well, we'd ridden together just enough to trust each other.
Chad was on a well-maintained 1982 GPz-550, and I was riding a new 1984 GPz-550.
The rest of the group consisted of miscellaneous early 1980's big-bore sportbikes. An interesting collection, and one which would look good in a museum now. Old tech meets new tech, with a mix of 8-valve and 16-valve engines, air-cooled and liquid-cooled, inline fours and V-fours.
We headed east on US-60 to Superior, Arizona. At Superior we turned south, towards the small Arizona towns of Kelvin and Kearny, Hayden and Winkelman on AZ-177. If you look at a map, there's a series of roads in that area that form a neat triangle, with the apex of the triangle pointing straight south at Winkelman. The terrain in that area is low desert and rolling waves of land, stereotypical American Southwest scenery, covered by desert plants. After the route turns north at Winkelman onto AZ-77 towards Globe, there are also small mountains to be crossed.
Almost as soon as we turned onto AZ-177, throttles were opened and the entire gaggle accelerated hard due south. Chad and I joined in the fun, and though we were on "small" motorcycles, we hung on alright, at least for a while. A GPz-550 may be small, but it wasn't a slouch.. The big bikes weren't quite topped out, and we could stay with them by keeping our throttles pretty much wide-open. Experience had shown we could avoid any small town speed traps by slowing down to the legal limit 5 miles or so outside each town.
That triangle at high-speed is a visual feast. Brown desert hills scroll past under the wheels, the hills are crested in just a few seconds, with an entirely new vista suddenly opening up in front of and below the rider. Observing the scenery at triple-digit speeds took on the feel of speed reading, or perhaps the surreal feel of time-lapse photography of geology. Mountains rose and fell, canyons formed, a few clouds passed by quickly overhead.
Chad and I fell behind the group after a short time. We weren't the riders the other guys were, nor did we have the same kind of roll-on power the big bikes had. We wanted to dally, to take photos, to simply enjoy riding fast but at our own pace in between stops. We weren't out to impress anybody but ourselves, to have fun, and to take some nice photos.
So we developed our own tempo. We rode fast, nearly as fast as our bikes would go, slowing down outside the small towns to avoid the speed traps along the way, and stopping often to talk and take photos while the bikes made tink-tink-tink sounds as they cooled and rested.
Then north at Winkelman, heading to Globe via Christmas, Arizona. The terrain becomes less rolly, and more mountainous as we get closer and closer to Globe.
Then an interesting scene: in the mountains now, the road passes over a slight rise and through a cleft in the rock. After the cleft, the valley below (which contains Globe) just opens up; there's a scenic pull-out with a gravel parking area, then the road curves to the left and then the right in two long sweepers that can be taken pretty much flat-out on a GPz-550.
Steal a quick glance at the scene, then hard left at a tick over 125 MPH indicated on the speedometer. The bike moved around just a bit, I held the throttle on, then hard to the right holding steady still at nearly wide-open throttle.
Then I looked in my mirror to check on Chad, as I'd been doing all day. Chad was no longer there...
No problem, he likely just stopped for a photo. I slowed, did a U-turn, and headed back up the mountain. I hadn't gone far when a car on the way down flashed his lights at me. I stopped, he stopped, and he told me there was a motorcycle accident just up the road...
I continued up, reached the crash site, parked my bike and was staggered. I can see it clearly, even now: the first thing I saw was Chad, face down in a rock garden at the edge of a cliff, moaning softly, perhaps 200'-300' off the road. The one bit of good news was that he hadn't gone over the cliff. His GPz was nearby on the ground, just a black lump with red wheels, shorn of any bodywork, seat, lights, or instruments. All those parts were scattered and smashed, with the little bits and pieces of red and black plastic forming a trail in from the road. Near the road, there were scrapes in the gravel of the parking pullout where the bike must have first gone down, then small divots in the Earth, and then one large crater where the bike must have dug in and cartwheeled in one final burst of energy.
A man was tending to Chad. When I approached, he said he was a doctor, and that I needed to go get help.
So I did. I raced down the mountain, as fast as I knew how to go, drained of emotion, feeling nothing. I stopped at the first place that looked like it had a phone, a Circle-K convenience store on the outskirts of Globe, and called the Arizona Highway Patrol to tell them of the crash, and to have them send an ambulance.
Then I got back on my bike, and returned to the crash site as fast as I could go. I told the man attending to Chad that help was on its way. I watched, drained, as spectators gathered up the bits and pieces of torn plastic and put them in a pile next to the wrecked GPz. I felt time slow down, as help seemed to take forever to arrive...
Finally the ambulance came. By then, Chad was talking, asking about his bike and his camera. I told him the bike looked pretty rough, but no big deal, it could be replaced. Then he asked about his other love, his Nikon camera. I looked around, somebody handed me his tankbag, I opened it up and saw that the camera looked fine. Chad smiled slightly and relaxed, and then we all went to the hospital in Globe, Chad in the ambulance and me on my bike.
It was frustrating, realizing how slow an ambulance actually travels down a mountain road into the valley. Time and again I wished it could go as fast as I could, irritated at the slow pace of events now, wanting Chad to be in the hospital, not really knowing whether he'd live or die.
Finally, we made it to the hospital in Globe. The highway patrol interviewed me about the crash, asking what happened. I told them what I knew, that we'd been riding together all day and when I looked in my mirror after that corner Chad was gone. By then it was about 3:15 PM, and I think Chad was the 7th accident in their system for the year.
Then the doctors talked with me. Chad had a broken wrist, and contusions on the heart and lungs, as well as lacerations from his tumble through the rocks. He'd live, but would be in bad shape for a while. His parents were contacted, but were out of town, and in the meantime I was the adult in charge so all information went to me.
I stayed with Chad all night, feeling responsible, as though I had put him there. He was badly broken up, though coherent. We were both about 21 years old, and when he had to urinate he was too shy to have the nurse hold anything for him so I aimed it into a bottle for him. Across the room in ICU was an old man, moaning loudly all night long. And all around was the smell of medicine and the hospital..
After that, events seem to run together, and I dozed off in a chair at Chad's bedside. At some point, his nurse (Dora) took pity on me, invited me to her home, and put me up for the night on her couch. Chad's parents arrived, and he told them everything. Chad's dad was a pilot, and took me aside for a private talk about where triple-digit speeds were appropriate. The helicopter arrived, and since Chad tended to get airsick he was heavily medicated for the flight into St. Luke's in Mesa. The pilot said it would be an interesting flight, as the fog would force them to fly low in the canyons following US-60 into Mesa.
And then, everybody was gone, and I rode home to Tempe alone.
A long story, but as often happens in real-life it didn't just end there.
Chad lived..! And he told me what happened. He explained that as we came through the cleft in the mountain, he looked at the scenery below him a bit too long, and suddenly found himself in the gravel of the parking area, out of control at very high speed. He didn't feel the crash was my fault. Chad ended up with a plate in his wrist, and giving up motorcycles. His Nikon camera was destroyed after all, a closer look revealed it was badly bent from a hit on the lens. I had his roll of film processed while he was still at St. Luke's, he'd taken some nice shots of me earlier in the day. I wish I'd have gotten doubles and kept a copy for myself...
Chad's nurse (Dora) and I dated for a while. That relationship didn't last, but we stay in touch to this day. Every now and then our paths almost cross on vacation in Arizona or Michigan, and every time we narrowly miss getting together for a visit. One of these days we will.
Chad's crash resulted in me flying home to Toledo for a week, and looking into college there. My dad offered financial aid (loans and a place to stay) if I went to college, so I moved back to Ohio in October 1984, and started at Owens Technical College in Fall 1985. While in Ohio for college, I became addicted to whitewater kayaking and had a son, so I'll probably live out my days no more than a few hours from West Virginia rivers. I rarely ride in groups now, and when I do I pick my motorcycling (and kayaking) partners very carefully. I've learned that equals make the best partners...
Reverend Jim died on the 1984 Thanksgiving Day ride to Payson. He hit a patch of ice at high-speed in a corner, went head-on into a truck, and was killed instantly. Tom wrote me in Ohio to tell me about it, explaining that he no longer had any interest in those rides at all.
Tom Callahan had problems on the 1984 New Year's Day ride, too. The sidestand switch vibrated off his GPz-750 Turbo, fell to the ground, disintegrated on impact, and at a high rate of speed the bike suddenly thought the sidestand was down so it killed the engine. Tom tells me it was an interesting ride for a few seconds. Tom continued to work at Arizona Kawasaki, but eventually went into real estate, left the Phoenix area a few years back, and as far as I know he lives in Boulder, Colorado now. We stayed in touch for a time, but I haven't seen or heard from him in nearly 15 years.
I'm taking a Martial Arts class now, and my instructor was recently talking about how in some cultures age 40 is considered a time of enlightenment. Perhaps that's true, as I can look back on the incident above and see so many ways the accident could have been avoided. Peer pressure, too much testosterone, youth, over-confidence, ignorance. Even a basic riding course might have helped. Live and learn, learn and live.
And I realize that no matter how many people tell me it wasn't my fault, the guilt and the weight never really go away. When people say you live with your actions your whole life, they're right. Out of all the things I've done in my life, the only thing I would change if I could is New Year's Day 1984.
Sharing the above in the hopes that nobody reading this will ever learn first-hand what such a crash is really like.
thanks doug.that is a magnificent story.
Riding all year in FL
Doug, that's a sad and enlightening story, but this post is in the way of a compiment.
You're a fine photographer, but you create pictures with words, too. Your posts are always well-written and enjoyable (even when they're sad).
"thanks doug.that is a magnificent story. "
You're welcome. Though crashing is the one subject I wish I didn't have the knowledge to write about....
Not all my posts are happy. I've had friends die doing their hobbies, and not just in this hobby. It's awful, each and every time.
I wrote the story about Chad because it's been 20 years, and there's still some residual effect on me from the event. Probably on Chad, too. So it's also meant as a warning to others as well.
"Doug, that's a sad and enlightening story, but this post is in the way of a compiment. You're a fine photographer, but you create pictures with words, too. Your posts are always well-written and enjoyable (even when they're sad)."
Thanks! I really do appreciate the kind words.
The writing is a strange thing. It doesn't seem hard for me to communicate with writing, to go in chronological order, to write simply and explain simply, and to notice many things in life that seem just below the surface to most folks. I usually have way too much to say, not too little - just ask some of my kayaking friends what an 8-hour car trip to West Virginia is like with me along....
Writer's block is never a problem, but then I don't make a living writing.
I thought once of being a writer, and have even sold some stuff. But the pay isn't there, it's not something I can quit a good day job to pursue.
My younger sister writes (very well, I might add), and is published, and sort of eggs me on. My girlfriend's best friend makes a living writing, and she egss me on as well. And as if that weren't bad enough, my brother-in-law teaches English....
In the meantime I have written a book, and it's being looked at by a publisher now. If they don't publish it, I'll probably self-publish, and see how it goes.
The content is culled from popular posts I've made to mailing lists and articles I've written, and is a slice of my son's life from his first motorcycle ride at age 5, and ends with him learning to ride a motorcycle himself at age 8. In between are various trips and miscellaneous stories, ranging from our visiting Thomas Edison's birthplace in Milan, Ohio; to an Uncle's death, to September 11, to another friend who died when he crashed on ice on I-75 a couple years ago, to a 5-day m/c trip with my son when he was 6 y/o, to locking myself out of my Dad's shop and having to spend the night in a derelict car (and having to convince police I wasn't a burglar after somebody reported me trying to get in the shop).
I never set out to write a book. But people kept suggesting that I do it, so I did. We'll see how it goes.
See what I mean about too many words is easier than too little???
Riding all year in FL
Good luck with the publishing, Doug. Writing is hard work (for me, at least) and the writing/publishing business often seems to me to be more mysterious than it needs to be.
Writing seems to me to be like other things, the more you do it the easier it gets.
The business end of writing is a strange world, though. I have learned that much so far. So much of that is by guess and by golly. Not so cut-and-dry as day job in design / engineering, where we can measure and chart things and feel pretty confident when we do stuff.