Riding on Empty
August 4, 2011
I was just finishing my three-year tour as a Marine drill instructor (DI) at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and rode my Yamaha R1 as often as I could. I planned to celebrate finishing my DI tour by meeting a friend and riding in the mountains east of San Diego. We scheduled the ride for the first Saturday that August. The temperature was 101 F, typical for a mid-summer day. I was wearing all the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), including my motorcycle jacket.
We started riding about 10 a.m. and, before long, I was feeling light-headed. Although I hadn’t drunk any water since the previous day, I just thought this feeling was due to the hot weather. When we stopped to get gas, I bought a soda. Later I’d wish that I’d bought water.
As soon as we resumed riding, I began feeling light-headed again. We were in the mountains going through a series of curves at a pretty good clip when we came upon a two-lane road. My friend took off down the road, but I decided to slow down and found myself behind an older couple driving uphill at maybe 25 mph. As I was following them, the effects of my dehydration set in, causing me to pass out and hit the guardrail. As I did, I apparently woke up and put out my right arm to catch myself. When the bike fell, it shattered the ulna bone in my right arm and the radial bones in my hand. I didn’t realize my arm was broken until I tried moving it. I wouldn’t have wished that pain on my worst enemy.
A few drivers stopped to help and eventually called the California Highway Patrol. When I finally stood up, I realize how close I’d come to being killed. I’d only survived because I was going slowly when I hit the guardrail. Had I been going any faster, I’d have gone over the guardrail and down a 175-foot cliff onto some jagged rocks.
I was taken to the hospital, where doctors placed two rods and 14 screws in my arm. It took 50 staples to close the wound. Due to the bones not healing properly, I had to go back for another surgery five months later. Four months after that, I had a third operation where doctors did a bone graft by taking bone marrow from my hip and putting it in my arm. The pain was excruciating.
In the state of California, if you pass out or blackout while driving or riding, your driving privileges are automatically revoked. The Department of Motor Vehicles revoked my driver’s license because of my blackout and I had to get a CT scan and be interviewed by a physician. It was later determined that I blacked out because I was dehydrated. After the results of the CT scan and the documentation from the physician, my driver license was reissued.
As a youth, I was taught the importance of staying hydrated. It was a lesson I had to relearn the hard way as an adult and I’m glad I survived to tell my story. Before I take any long rides now, I not only make sure my bike’s fluid levels are where they should be, I make sure mine are too!
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Keep Your Cool
With all the possible accident causes when riding, it is easy to overlook the danger of becoming dehydrated. Yet, if it’s important to stay properly hydrated when you train and fight, why would it be any less important while cruising down the road? Here are some tips to help you ride safely.
• Drink plenty of water before and during your ride. Avoid coffee, tea, soda or sports drinks with caffeine or sugar, as they promote dehydration. However, sports drinks that don’t have caffeine or sugar can be helpful in maintaining your electrolyte balance.
• Consider wearing a hydration system that will allow you to sip water as you ride.
• Exposing your skin to the sun’s heat and wind will accelerate dehydration. Instead, wear riding clothing designed to both cover you and keep you cool.
• Wear your helmet to reduce the effects of the hot wind and help retain body moisture.
• Schedule rest stops so you can get out of the heat and into air-conditioning.
• Ride during the cooler parts of the day, such as the early morning or late afternoon.
Check out the article, “When You’re Hot, You’re HOT!” by David Hough at www.soundrider.com/archive/safety-skills/when_youre_hot.htm for good information on riding during the summer.