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A RIDER’S REALITY CHECK: Just shortly after becoming a dad, Master Sgt. Matt Petrie nearly left his baby daughter fatherless during a motorcycle mishap while stationed at Lackland AFB, Texas. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Matthew Hannen)
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Posted 12/1/2011   Updated 12/7/2011 Email story   Print story


by Master Sgt. Matt Petrie
Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.

12/1/2011 - LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- On April 28, 2008, I became a dad for the first time. I was on cloud nine as I dreamt about all the great times and fun memories we would create with our new beautiful baby girl.

Then two weeks later, those dreams nearly came to a sudden and violent end.

May 12 would mark my first day back to work since the birth of my daughter. On the way to my job as the assistant NCO in charge of the Dunn Dental Laboratory at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, I lost control of my motorcycle on the interchange between Interstate 35 South and Highway 90 West.

As I slid across the asphalt, one had to wonder: Would my daughter be fatherless before even her third week on Earth?

I was one of those who had to wait till I moved out of the house before I could have a motorcycle. I've been making up for lost time ever since. With nearly 15 years of motorcycle experience at the time and 10 years as a Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor, how could things have gone so wrong so quickly?

As I drove on the interchange in the outside lane, I suddenly spotted a dead animal in the road. I swerved around the carcass, then immediately switched to the inside lane. But a car was merging into the lane ahead of me. I attempted to maneuver my 1999 Honda, Valkyrie Interstate 1500 around the vehicle.

What I didn't know at the time is that I had picked up some blood and guts from around the dead animal on my tires, making them slippery. So as soon as I initiated the lean, the bike slid and low-sided.

I remember seeing sparks and the traffic behind me as I slid along the road. I let the bike go, and it flipped to the other side. (I guess I don't like to do things half way; I couldn't just damage one side, now could I?)

Post road surfing, I had a quarter-sized rub on my helmet; scrapes and holes through my vest and jacket from shoulder to behind; a hole in one of my gloves; scrapes on the legs and back of my chaps; and some scuffing on the boots. Initially, I thought I was uninjured. Later that day, however, I discovered I had broken the scaphoid bone in my wrist. Still, a broken wrist was a small price to pay for the type of mishap I had on a busy interchange at highway speeds.

Somebody later told me, "You were lucky you were wearing your gear."

I responded, "Luck had nothing to do with it."

You see, I always wear my protective gear when riding -- even when it's San Antonio hot. That morning I was clad in the same thing I don every time I straddle my bike: helmet, jacket, vest, chaps, boots and gloves. Had I not had on all that protective gear, I definitely wouldn't have walked away from the crash.

As it is, my wrist healed (with the help of a screw), and I am back on the road.

As far as my bike goes, most of the damage was to the bags, trunk and faring. The engine guards did their job. If your bike doesn't have them, go buy them! If you ride a sport bike, get sliders put on! Not only did they protect the bike, they also protected me. Only a small scratch to the engine and one minor ding to the exhaust. I had to replace the front faring and engine guards, and everything got a new paint job; but in the grand scheme of things, minor damage.

Now on to my reality check. I ride 20,000-plus miles a year and was my squadron's motorcycle safety monitor. Despite all of my experience, training and preparation, I ended up sliding down the highway with life and death in the balance. It can happen to anyone, at anytime, in an instant. Remain aware of your surroundings, don't take anything for granted, and always aggressively search for hazards.

Remember, in making the choice to get out there and ride, we are accepting a greater risk level. Take the steps to manage and reduce your risk. Overall, ride safe, ride smart, wear your gear, and ride within your limits. Like my daughter, there are people depending on you to make it home safely each day.

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