The Carleton Place Show and Shine was cancelled forty-five minutes after I arrived at the Canadian Tire parking lot for the event. No one was there but me and The Fox, and a friend who had come to meet us in his car. May as well go home.
As motorcyclists are wont to do, I decided to take a ‘short cut’ back to Almonte via Tatlock Road, Pakenham and Blakeney. An hour-long ride instead of the fifteen minutes it would take on Concession 8.
A light mist rose off the curves as if they were steaming as I rode up Tatlock. The asphalt gleamed from the rain that had forced the event cancellation when several storm cells passed over in less than ninety minutes. The sky was breathtakingly beautiful. An early evening sun shone brilliantly off and on through a dazzling array of cloud formations. Shafts of light and long shadows played hide and seek. I inhaled the earthy smell of woods and fields as I rode. The air was cool in the trees, a little warmer in the open. It felt otherworldly.
I rolled to a stop at the Union Hall intersection ten or fifteen minutes later. No one behind me. No one facing me. No traffic coming from either direction on Wolf Grove Road. After 5:30 p.m. is one of my favourite times to ride for this very reason – I often find myself alone on the road.
I crossed Wolf Grove and accelerated up the straight on the other side then cruised down into a valley, up the other side, down and up through another valley, a short-ish left-hand curve (be aware of the secondary road feeding in from the left) a bit of an S and then a right turn onto Clayton Road, which would take me to the 29. I would ride slowly through Pakenham, turn right onto the five-span bridge, then right again to Blakeney and then left to Almonte.
Except, I didn’t make it to Pakenham.
A large part of Clayton Road is newly paved. It’s blacker than black, silky smooth and wider than it was before. Not a pothole or a road snake to be found. It’s a nice country road with a few soft curves and hills made even more enjoyable by the resurfacing. Still, according to the owner of the Clayton General Store, motorists who ran the stop signs at intersecting roads, especially Concession 7, have killed others driving on Clayton Road. That’s why I’m extra careful at intersections whether I have a stop or not.
Clayton Road ends in a T at the 29. I geared down as I approached the intersections where I would stop – that may seem obvious, but lots of riders and drivers do not stop at stop signs – and then turn left when it was safe to do so. The 29 is a relatively busy road. Meanwhile, in front and to my right, at about 10 o’clock, a blue SUV was approaching the same intersection and, like me, was signalling a left-hand turn. But the blue SUV didn’t have a stop sign and the driver had already begun to turn.
Our brains are amazing computers. Mine processed all the information at hand in a split second. The SUV driver, whom I could see was a woman, was cutting the corner, probably to beat oncoming traffic. The arc of her turn would soon result in a head-on collision with The Fox and me. She’ll change course when she sees me. The intersection is on a slight incline. The driver was now looking directly down at me as she turned. But she was doing nothing to avoid hitting me. She doesn’t see me. She’s looking right at me, but she doesn’t see me.
While there are fewer people on the road in the early evening, there’s another hazard at that time of day – the sun. In late summer in particular, it can be blinding – literally – when it’s low on the horizon. It makes it impossible to see what’s ahead. That’s why I was invisible to the driver. She was blinded by the glaring light of the sun, which was behind me and a little above my left shoulder.
The last things I saw as I swerved right were her mouth flying open, her face transforming in fear and astonishment and both her hands pulling hard on the steering wheel as she tried desperately to change course.
It was too late.
I don’t remember the impact. The next thing I knew, I was lying on my back on the road feeling angry at the universe. I can’t believe this. Why now? No CMC ride for me tomorrow. Why couldn’t this have happened next week instead of tonight? Fuck.
Looking back, I find it incredible that these were the thoughts that first sprang to mind seconds after being involved in what could easily have been a fatal accident. But that’s what I was thinking. Without a word of a lie. No riding for me tomorrow.
“Are you okay?” It was a woman’s voice.
I opened my eyes. Her face was a couple of feet from mine. The driver of the SUV, whose name, I would find out later, is Debbie.
“It wasn’t my fault,” I said.
“Are you okay?” she repeated.
This time I answered after giving myself a quick internal body scan and finding myself unhurt. “Yeah, I’m fine,” I said while making a move to get up. It wasn’t like last year, when I knew I needed to go to the hospital emergency room.
“I think you’d better stay where you are,” Debbie said. “We’re calling 911.”
A big black pick-up truck blocked the intersection. The Fox lay a few feet away, still running. A man asked how to turn her off. “Kill switch,” I said.
I finally convinced Debbie I was well enough to sit and then stand. She was very kind and calm. She also looked relieved.
An ambulance and two paramedics arrived; they were followed shortly afterwards by two police officers each in his own unmarked car. They asked questions, we answered.
“It wasn’t my fault,” I said several times. I wonder now if I was trying to convince them, or myself.
It’s true. It wasn’t my fault. But still, I was sorry. Sorry I hadn’t swerved sooner. Sorry I hadn’t thought about the sun over my shoulder and how a driver coming toward me might be blinded by it. Sorry this woman whom I didn’t know had the daylights scared out of her. I kept apologizing. She kept saying ‘I’m glad you’re okay.’
On the other hand, although we hadn’t avoided a collision, we had swerved enough to avert hitting head on. It was more like a sideswipe. I had been thrown off the bike, but I was going very slowly coming up to the stop so I wasn’t hurt. Neither was Debbie. The Fox had a few more scrapes and scratches than before. Patina. Debbie’s left front tire was flat and there was damage to her vehicle. Vehicles can be repaired or replaced.
But what if I had been killed? What would the rest of Debbie’s life have been like? What if I had been severely injured? What would the rest of both of our lives have been like?
The paramedics left. The Fox started up no problem and I rode her home accompanied by one of the police officers to make sure I got there safely. The other officer stayed with Debbie who had called someone to come and change the flat so she could get home too.
I got up early the next day to go to the CMC Braeside-Quadeville ride. But I hadn’t slept well. I felt tired, nauseous and headache-y. I wanted to go, but it wouldn’t have been safe – not for me or the other riders. So I cancelled. I was really sad and disappointed. I went back to bed and slept for a few hours. When I got up, I took The Fox to Canadian Gears for a post-collision check-up. Johnny adjusted her windscreen, which was rattling because of the accident. Otherwise, she was fine.
I could have ridden from Canadian Gears directly back to Almonte via Concession 8, but I took a short cut instead. Up Tatlock Road, across Wolf Grove, down Clayton Road to the 29 where I turned left without incident. I slow-rolled through Pakenham and turned right to cross the five-span bridge; up the small hill then right again on Lanark County 17 to Blakeney. Left at the Blakeney stop sign. Five kilometres home to Almonte.
Made it. Enjoyed it. Rode safe.
© 2022 Susan Macaulay. I invite you to share my poetry and posts widely, but please do not reprint, reblog or copy and paste them in their entirety without my permission. Thank you.