Huffpost Fifty
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Kevin Ryan Headshot

Crisis Driven

Posted: Updated:

I just wanted a damn bike. I wanted to ride fast on back roads with no cops. Sure I was 52-years-old and in a marriage on its last legs with two daughters to get through college. I'd crossed into mid-life crisis territory on the age map but I wasn't in a crisis, I just wanted a bike. When I was a kid, I rode my bicycle to get away from home and go places where things might be better. I needed an escape then and I needed one in my 50s. In 2006 I put $500 down and got the dealership's first Buell Ulysses.

People talk a lot about riding but not so much about crashing. I crashed.

I know how to ride. I've been to the Kevin Schwantz Suzuki School at Road Atlanta. Then early one September morning I pulled out of my driveway and my ride ended one mile away. The SUV in front of me snaked lazily downhill and my helmet visor fogged. I grumbled at the driver for wasting a perfect set of curves. At the bottom of the hill, our road forked. The SUV kept to the left fork ahead of me and stopped. When it took off, I pulled up to the intersection. My fogged visor would clear as soon as I passed that SUV.

Looking right I see it's clear and start rolling. Looking left, the morning sun lights my visor like a fluorescent blindfold. I'm in the oncoming lane and can't see if any cars are bearing down on me. Twisting the throttle, I take off like a rocket. Suddenly I can see but my front wheel is off the ground and I'm heading for the concrete wall hugging the right side of the road.

My do list was short. Front wheel down, lean left. Unfortunately, the front wheel hit the pavement just as I ran out of road. The next moments didn't exactly unfold. Unfold is what you do with your napkin. I scraped along the wall and threw my right arm over the top. When I let the bike go, it spun me around. I fell backwards, slid down the road, the bike smacked the wall again and flipped.

In the emergency room, I thought this must be how a fly feels staggering on the kitchen counter after being swatted. Except flies don't get morphine.

The injury verdict was a "big laceration" behind my knee into the joint, three fractured ribs, a large hematoma in my thigh, cuts, scrapes and disrupted veins.The laceration came within millimeters of severing the artery to my lower leg. My surgeon cleaned out my knee, sewed up my leg and sent me home. With my leg swollen, it hurt to walk, sit, lie down and sleep. Oxycodone took the edge off.

After 10 days, I went to work for a few hours. In two weeks I was back to eight-hour days.

After a month, physical therapy began. They bent and worked my knee. Two and a half months post-crash, I'm cane free and have some flexibility but my knee remains stiff, swollen and painful.

In the ER I had gotten a text from my oldest daughter, asking about my Sunday. "Went on a short ride. Now I'm just taking it easy." The next day when I was discharged, I emailed my son and daughters that I'd crashed, cut my leg and was going home with stitches. I thought the crisis was averted.

When people saw me limping and asked what happened, I told them I crashed on my motorcycle. I never said I'd been in an accident. It didn't feel like an accident. It had purpose. It made me sit and feel. I'd been by that wall over five hundred times without batting an eye. This wasn't an accident. This was a sign.

In my 50s I looked at the walls around me -- marriage, work, lifestyle - and wondered if they were keeping my life together or keeping life out. I know people who seem perfectly content with their lives. That ain't me. If you're content, party on. I had made concessions for the sake of career, marriage and making a living and now felt like I've got to retrieve the pieces of myself I gagged and buried along the way.

When I was four, my father took me into a salt mine, bundled up in a tight cap and black suit that gripped my ankles, wrists and neck to protect me from the harsh environment. Over the years when I'd head back to work, I'd often say "back to the salt mine." After the crash, I realized I couldn't keep spending my days in a salt mine, no matter how much I liked the people I worked with.

Riding a motorcycle is a rush but sometimes it's not about riding around familiar roads, it's about heading out for new territory. When my mother was my age, she hit the breast cancer wall. Treatment seemed to cure her crisis but she didn't set her life on a new course. Five years later the cancer came back like a tsunami and took her. I'm divorced and now something is calling me to make another course change. It's time to stop riding in circles.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

Close
Post 50s Declare Their Independence
of
Share
Tweet
Advertisement
Share this
close
Current Slide