Two-Weeks, Mostly in Utah, Nevada & Oregon
June 2014
Part Two: Shafer Switchbacks & Aftermath
Read part 1, or skip ahead to part 3:

Here's the official description of Shafer Switchbacks. It's at the top of the road. 

We were now in Canyonlands National Park, and after a break, we started back up the road, meeting a long line of dirt bikes I'm pretty sure had passed us while we were at the dinosaur tracks - I guessed they had gone our same route, up the Shafer Switchbacks, and then right back down. We saw the two pickups we'd met earlier turn left ahead of us onto the White Rim Road. We crossed that road, continuing on ours, and then, after just a bit, the switchbacks started, with no place to look up at them and think, "do I really want to do this?"

Up I went on the first one, turning to the right, saying, "You can do this. You can do this." Terrified. Such a sharp turn, sharper than I'd ever done before. I did it. The road went up so sharply I didn't feel comfortable stopping, so I continued up. I knew Stefan had stopped long before behind me to take photos - he hadn't been in my rear view mirror in a while. I took the next turn, this time sharp to the left. Terrified. And I did it. But I knew I was doing it too slowly. My heart was pounding. Were there six of these? Eight? I couldn't remember.

the wall I hitI got to the third turn, another sharp right. And knew I wasn't going to make it. I hadn't turned sharply enough, and I was going too fast to stop. I saw the wall in front of me and said, maybe out loud, "I'm going to hit!" And I pictured my front wheel soon crumpling against the rock wall (which is perfectly pictured in the very center of the photo at left).

I don't remember the hit.

The next thing I remember is hearing Stefan talking to someone, telling them we needed help. I don't remember what was said. I don't remember what I saw. What I remember seeing next is the windshield of a jeep, from the passenger seat. I don't remember what the person driving looked like. I remember talking, but not what I said. I don't remember the drive up. Someone told me this was where I should get out of the jeep, and I did - I don't remember if anyone helped me out. I sat down on a rock with a little shade from a bush, and then I was alone, except for my motorcycle. How did that get there?

Stefan had come upon me after the wreck - we don't know how long afterwards. He said I was under my bike, which was laying on its left side, but the pannier and the crash bar were keeping the bike from laying on me. He said I was moaning and moving, repeatedly saying "I'm so sorry" and something else he couldn't understand. He was able to partially lift the bike and he told me again and again to move out from under it and, finally, I did. He said I sat down, with my back to the road, my front facing the wall, and took off my helmet myself. He said that then the jeeps appeared, coming down the switchbacks, and he got one to stop. He asked them to take me to the main road, and they refused. He asked if they would at least take me to a flatter part of the dirt road, above the switch backs, and one agreed. So that person drove me up, with Stefan following on my motorcycle. Stefan helped me out of the jeep and sat me down on the aforementioned rock. Then he road back down with the jeep to retrieve his own bike.

Meanwhile, I was sitting on that rock, and my first clear memory is of a pick up truck coming from the left, and the driver, obviously a Southerner from the accent, asking me if I was okay. I think I said, "I've been in a motorcycle accident." The guy said he was an EMT, and asked if I needed help. I don't remember what I said. But I watched the pick up pulled over, and a guy got out. He said his name was Ewell Bickham, and he started asking me every question an EMT is supposed to ask. I remember being surprised by my answers: why no, my back didn't hurt! No, my neck doesn't hurt either! Through his questions, I realized the only things hurting were my head, mostly from the scratch on the forehead and into the scalp, and my calves. The massive bruise on my left arm didn't hurt, and neither did the big gash on my right front shin, which wasn't really bleeding, just really red. And I was happy. I was in a great mood. Why was I so happy? Ewell never left my side, and that meant Stefan could deal with everyone else.

responseI remember a couple of big white trucks coming from the left, but it may have been just one. There were two national park workers, and one of them gave me his ice water. It was really, really good. They radioed in that I'd had an accident. Then a national park ranger showed up, along with a national park EMT, who asked me the same questions as Ewell, though he wasn't as thorough. There were questions about whether or not I could ride my bike to the road, and I almost - ALMOST - said yes. Because for some insane reason at the time, I thought I could. Conversations after concussions are useless, folks. USELESS. I appeared lucid and fine to everyone, but I so was NOT.

I know I expressed a few times how happy I was that my bike was okay, and the reply was always the same, "We're glad YOU'RE okay!"

Then an emergency vehicle showed up, from the Grand County, Utah Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Department, and three female EMTs got out and started asking me questions. They asked me if I wanted a CAT scan, and I said I thought that was a good idea. Eventually, they helped me into the van, and I realized just how much pain I was in - a lot, primarily in my calves. I laid on the bed in the back of the vehicle and we pulled away, and I looked out the window and thought, I didn't get to thank everyone. I didn't get to tell Ewell goodbye. What's going to happen to Stefan? There were so many cars - how could there be so many vehicles on that dirt road? One of the EMTs pricked my finger and asked me lots and lots of questions - and I asked questions right back. She said she and the others were all volunteers, on call for emergencies like this. I wish I knew what agency they were with.

They took me to Moab Regional Hospital, about 30 miles away. One of them walked me into the waiting room, and I started filling out my paperwork. As I  waited, I noticed another person in the waiting room - a guy with a little dog. It wasn't his dog - he'd brought in a guy he'd found after a hiking mishap. I'm so glad the hospital allowed that dog inside - to have kept it outside in the heat would have been inhumane. Criminal, even. Another person waiting in the waiting room railed against "the environmentalists that have taken over Moab!" Lady, do you really not know that that's nothing new? Have you never heard of Edward Abbey?

I wobbled into the bathroom there off the waiting room and had a look at myself. Lots of bruises on my forehead. A very small bloody point midway between my nose and upper lip, almost like a large pin prick. Lots of little scratches and bruises on my neck. Some darkness on my left eyelid, but still no black eye.

It didn't seem long at all until I was called back to an examination room. The nurse asked me what happened, took notes, and then a guy came in to take me to my CAT scan - my first. Then I was back in the examination room, and the doctor came in for a chat. Everyone was concerned with my head - no one cared about the laceration on my right leg. He told me that he had never seen lacerations and bumps that bad on a head that was inside of a helmet, but nonetheless, I was incredibly lucky, and that the helmet had saved my life, no doubt, absolutely. He also said that he had dumped his motorcycle over a cliff years before. He said he couldn't believe I had all my teeth, that I didn't have any neck or back pain, and that my face was fine. He said women are tougher than men.

The doctor said that his concern was that I had lost my memory for a time and that it still hadn't come back - that such memory loss is a sign of a brain injury. He told me that, for the next two or three days, I was to rest, that I was not to play any mental games, like puzzles, that I should just watch TV (cartoons especially) or silly movies, and avoid stress. He said I could read. He said I should be woken up after my first two hours of sleeping that day or night. He said that repeated head trauma can lead to permanent disabilities, so I needed to be mindful of that in my future, now that I have had a brain injury, however slight. But he said, once I rested, if I felt okay, I could keep riding - but once I was back home, I should make a followup appointment with my doctor. We had a nice chat about football players and concussions, and the recent study that showed a high percentage of homeless men with brain injuries. He also said my CAT scan came back just fine - no damage to see.

The doctor left and the nurse came back in, and just as she was midway through her followup care speech, in walked Stefan. I was so happy to see him - but still didn't cried. I'd only almost cried twice - both times in having to say what happened. But I still hadn't cried. She started her speech over: said I would be getting black eyes in the next 48 hours, that I should take Tylenol rather than Advil, that I needed to be awakened every two hours, that it would be normal if I threw up a couple of times, but if I couldn't stop, I needed to come back in, and that we needed to look out for over-sleepiness, slurred or nonsense speech and confusion. She also said that the results of my CAT scan would be mailed to me, and I should go to the doctor when I'm home for a followup exam and take the CAT scan results.


Now I had really stiffened up. I was in more pain, primarily in my left calf. Oh my how it hurt. Both my calves hurt. We slowly slowly walked out to the waiting room and sat for a bit so I could brief Stefan and so I could hear his story. I teared up a little, but still didn't cry. Then he helped me out to the parking lot, and I had to get on Stefan's motorcycle. Oh mighty Isis, it hurt. It hurt SO badly. Somehow, I did it. We road back to the Moab Valley RV Resort and Campground, which wasn't far at all, and somehow, I got off the bike, an act which also hurt oh-so-much. I found some shade in the campground across from us and sat there while Stefan went to get supper. My motorcycle was now at the Canyonlands Visitor's Center: after I was taken away, the ranger had taken Stefan down to the crash site so he (the ranger) could take photos and ask some questions, and then the ranger had been so kind as to follow Stefan riding my bike back to the visitor's center, then drive him back to his own bike so he could get back to Moab.

The nurse had told me to eat light but, wow, that Wendy's hamburger and frosty tasted so damn good. No fries - I really did want to NOT over eat, because I really did not want to throw up. I was still feeling okay, relatively: no headaches, no backaches, nothing really hurting but my calves. My calves were KILLING ME, and I walked oh-so-slowly and obviously painfully to the bathroom. Stefan even walked me around the camp site before bed time, because I could tell I was stiffening up. We were staying at the campground that night - we'd already paid for it, and I'm fine sleeping on my air mattress. But we had to leave the next day - they were fully booked. The campground staff called around for us and found us a room at the Virginian hotel, right downtown, for the next night.

Unfortunately, the new group of campers across from us were inconsiderate jerks and decided to talk and laugh well after midnight. They knew I had been in an accident, they knew when quiet hours started, they could see people trying to sleep just a few feet from them, all around them. They didn't care. I got up to pee, and could tell my left eye was now almost swollen shut. Hurrah. I got out of my tent and slowly made my way to the bathroom. "Hey, how are you doing?" one asked as I passed - never mind anyone around trying to sleep. "I'm in a lot of pain, and can't sleep because you all are so loud." Silence. "We're sorry. We'll be more quiet!" They weren't. I hate them.

In the bathroom, I could see my big fat black eye. Yick. But my right eye still looked okay. I also had a look at my left shoulder bruise, which was starting to look worse. I wobbled back to the tent, passed the noisy white kids I hated. I bet they were a church group.

DAY SIX (Friday)

After my midnight bathroom visit, Stefan let me sleep for the rest of the night. I woke up just before 7 a.m., and as soon as I did, I knew my left eye was even worse. I warned Stefan to be prepared before he saw me. Then I went to the bathroom to see for myself. Ugh. I looked hideous.

Harlan came down later, looked at me, and said, "Go to the office. Just hang out there in the air conditioning all day until we get this sorted out." We packed up our gear and then left it all on the picnic table at our site - we knew no one would bother it. I went to the office with Stefan's tablet and played on that (no games, just Twitter and Google Maps), watched the Uruguay / Costa Rica World Cup game, and observed the workings of the Moab Valley RV Resort and Campground. It was fascinating. And I kept wondering as I watched TV and the staff work with guests: am I okay? Is there anything wrong with me? How's my memory? I also had nice conversations with various guests, like the father of three, originally from Japan, now living in Tuscaloosa; he was impressed when, in reply to my question of where he lives now, I said, "Oh, Dreamland!"

Stefan spent the day dealing with my bike. When it was time for him to go out to the road and hitch a ride to the Canyonlands visitor's center, where he'd left my bike, I feared he would have trouble doing since it was so late in the day and I doubted many people would be going there now, one of the campground staff members heard us and said to another staff member, "Can I take him? I can take him near there. Can I?" I couldn't believe this place! So, indeed, she did take him to the intersection of 191 and 313, and he found someone immediately there to take him to the visitor's center to retrieve my bike.

After a while, Stefan came back, and we started talking about how to get me and the bikes to the hotel. A woman that had been camping near us and had been working on her computer in the lobby said, "Oh, please, I'll take you!" I just... I have no words for the kindness of people, I really don't. Her name is Donna, and she's a former IT manager - we had a great earlier conversation about online security. We loaded up her car with our things, she drove me to the Virginian Hotel, with Stefan following behind on one of the bikes. We unloaded her car, Stefan checked in and got our room key, and while she drove Stefan back to the campsite to retrieve the other bike, I slowly carried things up to our room.

KTMsWe parked the first bike next to two gorgeous, new KTMs. As I was carrying things up to our room, the KTM riders came out of their room, and once they saw me and my eyes, immediately offered to carry the rest of my things up. I told them what had happened to me, and said, I'm alive because I was wearing a helmet. I just cannot believe people ride motorcycles without helmets.

I relaxed in the room, realizing I had overdone it a bit with going up and down the hotel stairs to carry our stuff up. After Stefan came back with the other bike, I felt a bit better, and we walked to a restaurant - I wanted pizza for supper. I had decided to eschew alcohol for the time being, even though the doctor and nurse had never said to do so, so the waitress put a lemon in my water just like the one in Stefan's Blue Moon beer. 

But by the time we got back from supper, I was wiped out. I went to bed early, fully clothed. Apparently I was so spread out when I fell asleep that Stefan felt there was no room for him and he slept in the other bed.

DAY SEVEN (Saturday)

The doctor had said to rest two or three days. I'd rested for one full day and a half and two nights. But I felt like I needed one more day and night. Luckily, the Virginian was able to accommodate us for another night. We would spend the day getting me a new helmet, trying to find new mirrors, and thinking about where to go next. I knew that going to Monument Valley, in the Navajo Nation, was out. I felt horrible about it - I knew how much Stefan wanted a photo of his Africa Twin there. A comment from someone made me think that, if I had to have an accident, it was much better for it to have happened here, near the Moab hospital, than in Monument Valley or somewhere as remote.

First I called my sister, to wish her a happy birthday, and then we were off on many errands. I was able to find a new helmet at Moab Powersports, out on the South side of town (almost out of town, really), and we were able to find one new mirror at another place. I would ride with one broken one. Getting on and off Stefan's motorcycle again and again was just what I needed to get my confidence back for my own bike, and to loosen up my muscles. My left calf was still killing me, so I had to get on from the right rather than the left foot peg on his bike. For my own bike, I would probably not need to use my foot peg, as I sometimes do, to get on and off. 

We also spent the day visiting the various stores in Moab selling jewelry, furniture and what not inspired by the area. Some very beautiful things - and some very kitschy things. I have mixed feelings about the things sold in Moab. Petroglyphs and pictoglyphs, in any culture, are beautiful to me, whether in Sweden or around Moab. That humans desire to create and share art and abstract thoughts even at the earliest moments of their cultural beginnings makes me have faith in humanity's capacity for good. The original artists certainly wanted those images shared. But on the other hand, the people descended from the original people of these lands, the Ute, Goshute, Piute, Navajo, and Shoshone, get nothing from the sales of these items - not even respect.

At lunch, I was very happy to see a large group of black tourists walking around Moab. I don't know if they were USA citizens or Africans, but I was very happy to see them. As I said in the first part of this travelogue, I really hate that I meet more people from Europe and Asia when I'm in and around National Parks than I do people from the Southern USA. The same goes true for black/African tourists. It's not that I don't love people from Europe and Asia - I do, very much, and I'm happy they love our outdoors. But I also want everyone, from all walks of life, from all cultures, and from my own country, to enjoy and value the outdoors. It seems that there are a lot of USA citizens that aren't connecting with nature, aren't valuing their state and national parks, and aren't camping, back packing, hiking, white water rafting, mountain biking, surfing, or doing the many other incredible things our outdoors has to offer, even just sitting under a tree and looking at it, all of which build up your mind and your soul. It's why I follow Outdoor Afro on Twitter, and on Facebook - I want to support a greater diversity of people enjoying the outdoors. It makes humans SO much more pleasant to be around!

Moab has changed so much since I visited back in 1996. So have I. Back then, the town felt so far away from everything, and like an environmental oasis in the middle of a terribly conservative state. Now, it feels like Jackson Hole, Wyoming - and that's not a good thing. But the people there are so friendly, and I appreciated their kindness more than I can say. And as for my changes - I'm oh-so-happy with all of them.

We were about to head off for supper when the KTM guys knocked on our door and asked us to join them for beers at the picnic table behind the hotel. We said yes - beer and conversation were highly desired over a huge meal. I had just a few sips of beer - I still was scared to drink even half a one. The guys turned out to be air traffic controllers from North Dakota. They drove Potash Road and the Shafer Switchbacks that very day, and were underwhelmed by such - which kind of hurt my feelings. I also learned that day that the route is classified as "easy" for 4 X 4 vehicles. Which further hurt my feelings. Am I really that bad at motorcycle riding?

I turned in early - the next day would, I hoped, see me back on the bike. I reiterated to Stefan that I needed easy routes, and probably no dirt, all the way home. We were skipping Canyonlands, and heading straight to Goblin Valley the next day, and then Capitol Reef National Park. I hoped I was ready.

So, you want photos... Stefan will have some on his site, but here's what you really want - notice how Day 3 was the worst:

Day 1 (day of the wreck)
June 12
Day 2
June 13
Day 3
June 14
Day 3
June 14
Day 4
June 15
Day 5
June 16

And now, Stefan having some fun with my disaster:

And in care you are wondering, I've written everyone I can find online to thank them for their care and help and attention.

And now, part 3: - I ride again - but no switchbacks.

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