By any reasonable measurement, I should be dead. A few centimeters made the difference between sitting here writing this account of today’s near-death experience and a story in Thursday’s Roanoke Times that could have read:
A head-on collision between a pickup and a motorcycle left a 64-year-old Floyd County man dead Wednesday.
Police say Douglas Thompson Jr. of Floyd died after his Harley-Davidson Super Glide slammed into a Chevy Silverado driven by Dublin businessman Arthur Cox’s Chevy Silverado on Meadow Creek Road near Riner shortly after noon.
Meadow Creek Road, also known to locals as “Pig Path.” That rural highway has too many bad memories for Floyd Countians. Robert Pauley died after his motorcycle struck a dear in the post-midnight hours of Oct. 3, 2007. The twisty two-lane road that runs from Rte. 8 just north of Riner to Tyler Road near Carilion New River Valley Medical Center has claimed too many lives.
I take that road nearly every day on visits to my mother at her assisted living facility. At approximately 12:05 p.m. today I leaned the Harley into a sweeping left-hander just as the Silverado came around the curve well over the center line, right in my path.
Instinct and adrenaline took over and I veered sharply to the right. The Silverado, however, continued to encroach further and further into my lane. The maneuver saved my life as I avoided a head-on crash by centimeters, but the trailing edge of the clutch lever on the left handlebar of the Harley caught the edge of the truck’s front fender, gouging a groove that ran from the signal lamp halfway to the driver’s side door.
The impact drove the clutch level down onto my hand that on the left handlebar grip as my head and shoulder slammed into the driver’s side outside mirror of the pickup, shattering both it and the side of my helmet. Pain shot through my shoulder but — somehow — I managed to keep the bike veering to the right and did not lose control.
The Harley, staggered by the impact, wobbled towards the edge of the turn but I managed to avoid going off the road and brought the bike back under control, made it through the left-hander and stopped about 100 yards or so down the road.
Cox, as too many drivers who cause an accident do, could have fled the scene. He didn’t. He doubled back and found me still sitting on the bike.
“Are you OK? Are you hurt?”
“I’m not sure. You do realize you were on my side of the road.”
“Yes. I’m sorry. It was my fault.”
I got off the bike as Cox called 911. I inspected the bike, expecting to find major damage but only the left-side mirror was bent along with the clutch lever and housing on the handlebars.
“They want to know if you need the rescue squad,” Cox said while on the phone with 911.
“No,” I responded. My shoulder and left arm throbbed but nothing seemed broken. I could move my arm and feel my fingers, which ached. I took off my riding gloves and found some scrapes on my fingers. Leather from the the glove lined the inside of the clutch lever.
The Cardo Rider intercom transmitter on the left side of my helmet dangled from a wire and part of the lower side of the helmet was missing. The helmet did its job. My face was scratched and a welt appeared on my left cheek. My shoulder and left arm ached but my leather riding jacket did its job as well, cushioning the force of the impact.
Cox appeared visibly shaken.
“I don’t believe you didn’t go down,” he said. “How did you stay upright on the bike?”
“I have no idea.”
Deputy B. K. Davis from the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office arrived on the scene. Cox immediately admitted fault. He took statements, examined our paperwork, and ticketed Cox for the accident.
“You were lucky,” he said. “Make sure to have that shoulder checked out. Are you OK to ride?”
“Yes,” I said. Cox and I exchanged insurance information and I climbed on the Harley and continued the trip to visit my mother. She was asleep when I arrived so I kissed her on the forehead, asked the nurses to tell her I was there and stopped off at the clinic for a medical exam. They found soft tissue damage in my left shoulder and arm, abrasions on my cheek and fingers but no broken bones or apparent head trauma.
“Expect to be sore in the morning,” the doctor said. “You are a very lucky man. If I were you’d I’d buy a lottery ticket tonight.”
On the way home, I bought a Powerball ticket at Floyd Express Mart.
I didn’t win the lottery. Didn’t even come close but I didn’t need a win at Powerball. I had all the luck I needed on Meadow Creek Road at 12:05 p.m. on Wednesday, May 16, 2012.