Updated: Jan 1
The first sign that anything was amiss: I was leading a motorcycle tour through Southern California. The tour routing had us hopping on the I-10 freeway for a quick 20-mile jaunt to our next major road. I rarely route a tour group onto the freeway, only when necessary to make time or get to our next road. For obvious reasons, we tend to avoid them, but it was a quick shortcut through Banning. We would drop out into the desert and the tour group would make for Joshua Tree National Park.
As I was leading a group of about 15 bikes, I was in the left tire track of the fast lane and drifted left. I suddenly found myself riding 70 mph down a hard pack gravel shoulder inches from the cement median. Thankfully, the shoulder was the same height as the pavement. The riders behind me were aghast and it completely freaked them out. I was riding 70 mph down the gravel shoulder of the interstate. Complete surprise and instinct kicked in, I eased the Z1000 back onto the pavement and we continued to Joshua Tree. At the time, I couldn't explain why I did that, lost concentration, boredom, drowsy, lack of attention. We made it without incident into Joshua Tree and I led the group to some of the fantastic rock formations.
While at Joshua Tree National Park, a terrible headache began to develop but I thought nothing of it. Headaches had become quite normal for me. Everyone gets headaches. It was common to get them on the first day of a multi-day ride. They were so regularly occurring, I never went anywhere without some Tylenol on me. I kept some in my car, at work, on the motorcycle. Headaches were so normal, I would take a Tylenol at the slightest hint of one. And they would go away. Simple.
But I forgotten the Tylenol this ride, and asked my other tour guide, Mark, if he had any. He offered up two Advil and so I took that hoping for the best. The headache was severe but manageable. I led the tour group out of the National Park and a fast jaunt over to Palm Springs. By lunch, I had very little appetite and just felt off. Which was hard to describe, just, off. The headache was still strong, but the Advil took the edge off.
“I’m bleeding. Inside my brain.”
Part II - The Intervention
That night, the guys came to my room and held an Intervention. It was the first such Intervention we’ve ever had on a tour. I assured them I was fine, vehemently insisting nothing was wrong. The guys were collectively alarmed at my drifting off the road earlier in the day. It was uncharacteristic. I had been riding motorcycles for several decades, spent a cumulative month of each year riding on all manner of road but there weren’t enough clues yet for the guys to figure out what was wrong with me. I was absolutely adamant. It was just a headache. I would be fine in the morning. The ride must go on.
The next morning, the headache was gone, yet I was running a bit late. The plan was kickstands up at 8. Ken, one of my most experienced tour participants who’s ridden over 40,000 plus miles with me, confronted me point blank. He had been directly behind me when I drifted off the road yesterday.
"Why were you riding like that? What is wrong with you?"
I again assured Ken I was fine. I then realized I had forgotten my phone up in the room and I never forget things. Hurriedly running back to the room while the tour group patiently waited, I located the phone and off we went. We headed south from Hemet and I led the ride towards San Diego. After about 30 minutes of riding, I blew a right-hander on Sage Rd, a relaxed southbound route out of Hemet and went wide into the other lane.
Why did I do that I wasn't sure. I have planned & led over 150 professional tours during the last 14 years across three states. Many of the riders I had with me have become good friends, some of my tour participants have ridden with me 30, even 40 plus tours. I concentrated on riding and holding my line. After I blew the corner, my buddy Dave pulled out in front of me and indicated follow my line.
Later, I was told I was sitting on the bike looking like a wounded cowboy, leaning to the left while sitting on the bike but I had no idea this was happening. It was just another day of riding. We reached Temecula and gassed up. Randy led the group south onto Rainbow Canyon. I again followed but soon drifted left and blew another right hander. Now that was getting annoying. But it still didn't add up.
Part III – The Mutiny
We retraced the exact tour route we had ridden 1 year ago and headed for the Palomar Observatory, the road was familiar and I knew what was coming. Palomar is a fun and smooth uphill originally graded out in the mid-1930s to pull the Westinghouse 200-inch diameter glass mirror to the top of a mountainous ridge line for the observatory. The curves are broad and smooth, loved by local riders. Halfway up the mountain side, I began to drift left again in a right-hander. As I neared the center line, another rider came down the hill headed toward me on the inside line. A collision was imminent.
Our two bikes clipped each other and both went down. The speeds were moderate and I quickly jumped back up, dusted myself off and up righted the Z1000 walking it off the highway. The other rider was stunned but also fully geared up and neither of us injured. I made sure the other rider was okay and gave him my insurance information, the accident was clearly my fault and I apologized. He was with his buddies and they arranged to retrieve his bike and get him home. The accident was quickly wrapped up, all parties fine, minor damage to the bikes, everyone was okay and cared for.
The Z1000 wouldn’t start and my only thought centered around getting it started. It was rideable and the sideswipe resulted in only minimal cosmetic damage to some of the plastic panels. I coasted down to the base of the hill and the bike dutifully started back up. As crazy as it may sound, I was ready to ride again. The tour group had started to assemble at the base of the hill and they refused to continue. It was a mutiny. One of the guys called his girlfriend and described what was going on. Her mother recently had a stroke and the behaviors he was describing sounded precipitously familiar to her.
"He’s having a stroke," she said, "You need to get him to a hospital."