BACK IN THE DAY
Where were we when I was so rudely interrupted? Oh yeah, I was attempting to explain how First Street Louth could turn into the Isle of Man, with blind curves and hills, after starting out as a dead-straight county road. Well, it’s not that complicated really – at the junction between First Street and County Road 69 (it used to be Highway 8) the altitude is 117metres – it then drops straight down to less than 80 metres and then curls its way up the Niagara Escarpment (called “The Mountain” by the locals) and ultimately reaches over 180 metres. It goes from low point to high point in about one kilometre, but in order to do so, it snakes and curves all over the place. Now that we’ve set the parameters, we can carry on with our story. After many moons of riding the first part of the journey, the whole way up to this point was basically straight and flat. Right now though, you sit at the stop sign and look at an incredible downhill that allows you to gather speed before you hit the twisties.
The worst thing that could happen was to be forced to follow a four-wheeler (this encompasses every vehicle on the road with the exception of another bike) since they were notoriously dead slow through the best part of the road. The only solution was to wait for them to get started, and then pass them on the downhill which set you up for the best part of your day. After blowing past the obstacle, the scene was set for the first turn – a blind, almost 90-degree uphill left turn, setting you up mentally and physically for the snaky climb ahead with a shot of adrenalin, and a sharpening of the senses! Usually, there would be one (in a worst-case scenario, perhaps two) vehicles to pass before the bridge – the first of the adrenalin shots, since too much speed will get the Honda 350 airborne, which is not its most graceful attitude when you’re two up.
On the day in question, it looked like a complete disaster – the guy in front of me at the stop sign sat patiently and waited for two cars on Highway 8 to make the turn onto 1st Avenue Louth right in front of him (and me, of course) before leisurely moving off. Figuring that I needed to hustle my ass, I left right behind him and took a look to see if I could pass all three before the turn. As it turned out, my hunch was correct, but in my estimation, I could probably pass them all by the bridge and get back into my lane to set up for the turn – assuming that no oncoming traffic showed up to thwart my plans. Needless to say, that only took a split-second, and I hammered the throttle and let her rip! Two-thirds of the way down I realized that I had miscalculated, and the first car was going to reach the bridge before I was! I decided to keep the throttle pegged and take my chances at making the pass, since the likelihood of oncoming traffic was low at that time of the morning.
I hit the bridge and glanced at the speedometer – which read about 85mph (approximately 140kph for the younger set) and caught more air going over the bridge than ever before! Nonetheless, I was able to get back in front of the lead car, with room to spare before the turn. Unfortunately, for the last week or two I had been hearing scraping sounds whilst going through the turn, but (given my inexperience and overconfidence) had not identified the reason for the noise – I was about to be enlightened! To make things worse (not that making things worse was even remotely required at this point) it had been cloudy in the mornings for quite some time, and I had not thought to (nor needed to in my opinion) change the face-shield on my ¾ helmet. Remember, back in the day, aftermarket shields were notoriously soft, and routinely needed to be cleaned with scratch remover or replaced more often than one liked – especially given their cost.
On this fateful day, the Gods were definitely not smiling, since as I started into the turn travelling faster than I ever had, the sun miraculously appeared making it impossible for me to see anything at all thanks to the myriad of gouges and fine lines in my shield reflecting the light and distorting my vision! In other words, it was like riding in a heavy fog – going too fast and facing a right-angle, uphill, blind left turn! I made the immediate decision to lay off the brakes and cut the corner short by using both lanes (remember my contention that there would be no oncoming traffic at this time of the morning). Luckily, I was right about the traffic, but unluckily I had ignored the previously mentioned grinding sound, and that coupled with my increased speed quickly allowed me to figure out the problem. As the bike leaned farther than ever before, the centre-stand dug into the pavement, lifted the back tire off the ground and dropped us into a slide that ended abruptly in the ditch, running us up against the hill – going from 50 to 60mph to a dead stop!
As luck would have it, we caught a break – actually a few of them. Firstly, both Mike and I were dressed for the cold wearing snowmobile suits that protected us from road rash. Next, the time we spent sliding on the pavement was mercifully short – thanks to the ditch and a mudbank at the side of the road. Finally, because the ditch was lower than the road, it tilted us slightly downward, so that when we hit the mudbank the bike hit on both wheels, stopped immediately and sat us upright! By the time the cars caught up to us and could see us, we looked like we had just pulled over for a smoke, so we got some pretty weird looks from those vehicles. You could see that they couldn’t understand why the hell we had bothered to pass them if we were going to stop around the corner. The only apparent damage to the bike was a broken clutch lever although there were complications that we simply didn’t have a clue about until later. More on this in the next installment…
Questions / comments, always welcome.
"The Old Timer"