Shiny side up

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- The first thing I remember about that day is the large cloud of white smoke from his tires skidding across the pavement, trying to stop on a dime. When I could finally turn around and get to him, he was struggling to breathe, and I could only hear the gurgling from the fluids that had rushed into his lungs.

As we tried to keep him conscious, a good Samaritan who happened to be a paramedic, stopped on the other side of the highway. As his helmet was removed, he lie there, slightly moving. His body struggled while his future was already gone.

I needed to call his wife. Right when she answered the first words she said to me were, “Koi, what happened?” She knew if I was calling, something must be wrong.

It’s a scene as vivid to me now as it was four years ago today.

My friend died on the way to the hospital and left behind his wife and six children. Even though he was a very experienced rider and had all his protective gear on, he still died riding his motorcycle.

I share that story with you because even after witnessing the accident that happened right in front of me and took my friend’s life, I still ride. Not because I don’t think it will happen to me – I already have a couple crashes under my belt and understand the risk I take every time I gear up and get on my bike -- but it’s what I love. Others who ride, too, understand those feelings I’m talking about. It’s a sense of freedom that can never really be explained, it has to be experienced.

When I began riding almost seven years ago, the only experience I had was from riding four-wheelers and dirt bikes. Back then I didn’t understand how much respect you really needed to have for the motorcycle and for the road. That lack of respect left me with a broken shoulder, a completely torn rotator cuff, multiple torn ligaments and countless visits to physical therapy. Even through all of that, I still decided to “get back on the horse,” but I wanted to get better, learn from my mistake. That’s when I decided to go to track days.

For the riders out there, I would highly recommend spending the money on a track suit and checking out a track day. Whether you have a cruiser or a sport bike, they don’t discriminate. You will be placed into one of three levels of track experience – beginner, intermediate or advanced.

The beginner and intermediate levels have instructors teaching no more than 10 riders in their group. The track days I went to had eight to 10 sessions throughout the day with each session consisting of 20 minutes on the track, 20 minutes in a class with your instructor and 20 minutes of rest. You learn to pay attention to what’s ahead of you instead of only what’s right in front of you or behind you, the correct lane positioning and so much more. The best thing about the track…there’s no speed limit. It’s a great environment to learn because you’re able to ride without worrying about cars, animals, pedestrians and whatever else can be dangerous for motorcycle riders. At the end of the day, what you learn from the instructors is equivalent to at least six months of experience. Finally, nothing beats the feeling of dragging your knee through a turn for the first time.

After my first track day, riding on the streets was completely different. I felt more alert and able to see what was going on in front of me, like I was able to predict what the cars ahead of me were going to do. I had no desire to push the limits.

Still, the first thing I remember about that day is the large cloud of white smoke; the last thing I want anyone to have to remember is a loved one taking their last breath from pushing the limits.

If you want to race me, race me on the track, not on the road.