There must be a thousand ways that statement makes motorcycle enthusiasts cringe. What’s worse, I’ve got nobody to blame but myself. Luckily, I’m alive to tell the tale. Yes, I hit a two hundred pound yearling deer at speed and managed to keep my motorcycle rubber side down. These things happen quickly, so let’s see if I can expand on the moment.
“There must be a thousand ways that statement makes motorcycle enthusiasts cringe. I've got nobody to blame but myself. Luckily, I'm alive to tell the tale.”
It’s the middle of a Midwest summer and, having made an enormous first trip to the Pacific Northwest many weeks prior, I’m itching to get out for some riding along Wisconsin’s Driftless Area. The roads there are fantastic. Not only do they cover remote parts of the state’s countryside, they’re well maintained for trucks that service Wisconsin’s dairy industry.
So, I call a friend who lives in that area and we make arrangements to go camping. Governor Dodge State Park looks to be a perfect central hub as it’s near the crossroads to many of my favorite routes. There are also a number of motels in the area. The thing is, that’s over three hours away even if I take the slab. I’ll need to be up early so I can get rolling by 9am at the latest.
Leaving early would allow for my friend and I to rally in Madison before continuing to our campsite. Then, assuming everything goes well, we should be in the twisties by 1pm with three hours of sport touring ahead of us. “Should” is a favorite Jedi mind trick word used by mechanics to factually redirect a customer’s attention away from that which is far more likely.
The parts should be in before the end of the day, so I should be able to have everything installed by tomorrow and that shouldn’t cost you more than …
They’re not lying. They’re bypassing. My attempt to leave on time brings similar results.
Sidestand’s up at 10:30am, I’m irritated. This soon becomes tension. I’ve only these two days to get as many spirited miles out of my system as possible and I’m already eating into opportune hours.
Before I digress, here’s the point: I’m just now leaving Chicago for Madison and I’m already losing time on the better riding roads of Wisconsin. This irritation I’m feeling can only become one of two things over the next three hours of hypnotizing expressway, namely surrender or impatience.
I’m not known for being patient. Ask anyone. The festering begins.
Fast forward to Madison and I’m pulling into my friend’s parking lot. Having called ahead, he’s outside and ready to go. One more hour remaining and my anxiety continues.
We arrive at Governor Dodge only to spend fifteen more minutes getting our camping permits and selecting a site. Pulling gear, we spend yet another hour setting up camp. The sun isn’t waiting. If we don’t hurry up and get situated, today won’t include any real riding.
By the time we’re ready, daylight is fading. This being Wisconsin, 4pm hints of dusk fast approaching but I DON’T CARE. I’m dirty, sweaty, frustrated and impatient from leaving late, dealing with traffic, setting up camp and readying for a ride all under the heat of a summer’s sun.
We’re riding, damnit.
So, into a strobe light of shadowing trees and sunset I attempt pleasurable maneuvering, dropping into corners with a grin and accelerating through with satisfaction. The route I’ve loaded onto my phone is brilliant and the pavement outstanding. Still, something feels wrong.
That strobe effect I’m referring to gets worse. As the sun sets, it’s directly horizontal location creates a more dissonant transition between every tree we pass. Darks are darker and lights lighter. The contrast between the two gives approaching turns an ambience similar to that of early silent films. I have to slow myself and coast through rather than accelerate with confidence.
This isn’t good. We’re too late. Maybe we’ll just do thirty or so minutes and head back.
Then I see what I believe to be open road. It’s a slight decline into a left sweeper that heads upward and a tight one at that. I drop in, angle left and accelerate through the entire thing with full visibility, except for the oncoming lane where, wait … is that an animal?!
I brake, hoping for it’s escape. It’s not in front of me. It’s crossing the road and has almost made it but is paused in an oncoming lane. Startled deer have a tendency to retrace their steps. They like to turn back and run in the direction from whence they came because they’ve already confirmed that to be safe territory.
So, this (spotless) yearling deer that, aside from being on the road, was in no way coordinated with my course of motion does exactly that, placing it’s entire mass directly in front of my motorcycle.
With a fraction of a second to react, I let off the brake and attempt to lift the front end. That’s right. I accelerate. This action raises my motorbike’s fairing and extends the forks so that there’s a wider gap, or “mouth” of sorts. My motorcycle literally eats the deer to the extent that it can.
My forks immediately dive with a diagonal tilt before climbing to a brake-ready balance. Ejected into a rocky ditch at significant speed, the deer finds it’s demise before I can even bring the bike to a halt. My senses are overloaded, seeing/hearing everything around me on super-human levels.
Sitting idle, heels down, hands grasping the gel grips so tightly that when I release them I hear a sort of peeling sound, thirty seconds go by. My friend catches up. He has my turn signal in his hand.
“Did you take a corner so low that your signal got knocked off?”
I take this opportunity to laugh, calculating the physical geometry of such a feat (impossible).
“I hit a deer.”
“I hit. A deer.”
Both bikes off, we walk along the roadside and collect whatever shattered parts we can locate. Surprisingly, for hitting such a big animal, my Bandit 1200 is in pretty good shape. More important is that my own chassis is intact. I survived this! I’ve never felt more lucky, especially thinking of how many riders must die every year under similar circumstances.
Riding through the woods at dusk is one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made. Often referred to as deer social hour, they and other wildlife appear with confidence just as soon as the sun dims. Streets are as attractive to them as they are to us, an organized crossing between two locations.
The most important tip I’m trying to convey here is that riders shouldn’t do it. I was lucky that things didn’t turn out worse. Here’s a second tip, one that’s worth remembering should you or another rider survive an accident unscathed. When you call the first loved one who comes to mind to tell them what’s happened, the very first words out of your mouth should be:
Before I tell you what’s happened, I want you to know that I’m completely, 100% okay. I’m absolutely safe and totally unharmed. There’s nothing to worry about.
Then and only then is the person you’re talking to ready to hear the tale you’re about to tell.
Because I was dumb enough to go riding through Wisconsin’s Driftless Area at dusk, I hit and killed a yearling deer, smashing up my beloved Bandit. The weird part? I’m grateful for all of it because here I am documenting the event with a wiser focus that’s ready for next year’s riding season.
Stay safe out there! Buy a deer whistle! You know I will.
Have You Ever Been Involved In A Motorcycle Accident, Serious Or Otherwise?
Crashing is a frightening event. What unexpected and dangerous moments have you experienced? How did it change your perspective and why? Your input is invited. Post an article!