Dad Survives Sliding Off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

by Dr. Dave
(Hattiesburg Ms.)

My father may be the luckiest person alive.

He’s as tough as they come and has survived far worse than this motorcycle riding incident on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

It’s 2001. Dad and I are into a week-long trip through the Smokey Mountains.

I’m riding a Yamaha Royal Star and dad is on his beloved Moto Guzzi.

During the first day, we rode from Pigeon Forge over to Cherokee, North Carolina, to eat lunch.

When returning, dad wanted to take a short ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway to visit the Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee.

We had ridden this way on BMWs many years before when I was 28.

This time it looked like we’d get a little rain.

Being the more experienced rider, I said, "Okay. But rain and wet roads mean we head back down." Dad agreed.

A few miles up, a light rain started and we pulled over at a lookout to gear up.

Light rain is the worst…mixed with oil, it can get very slick very fast.

We discussed this, along with problems he might have with his motorcycle’s linked brakes.

We decided to turn back and take a slow ride down the mountain.

Dad would follow me.

Back on the road he intercomed me, "Watch these tunnels, Dave, you can't see well."

I sensed some tension in his voice and said, "Right. Heads-up on the road, dad. Watch your speed. Take it slow."

He was behind me but at times I couldn’t see him because of the many twisties.

I reached the last overlook on the right. I stopped and got off the bike.

I waited about a minute but he didn’t round that last curve.

I hit the intercom and said, "Dad are you okay?"

Silence.

"Dad, you there?"

I begin shouting to him as I scrambled to get back on the bike. I just knew he was down. I hoped he was still on the road.

I had to ride carefully. I couldn’t help him if I went down.

As I headed back up, the rain turned into a downpour.

I could barely see and did not need that nasty "fight or flight" adrenaline rush…the heavy burst from fear, desperation or near panic.

Frequently I slowed to idle…shouted to him, got no response then moved on.

I made it to where I last saw him. But with no sign of him, I turned around.

With rock cliffs on my left and sheer drop-offs to the right and no sign of him, he must have gone over. But where?

I hadn't seen a single car.

I stopped every couple hundred yards, got off my bike and yelled out for him over the sheer drop offs...more silence.

One more tunnel remained. What do I do after that?

It's funny how hard you can pray. As I'm negotiating with God about becoming a missionary, I entered that last tunnel.

In the light at the end I saw dad walking in the middle of road…all 6’2” with his huge smile.

He was waving his arms and shouting, “I'm okay, Dave. I’m fine son! I'm okay.”

Seeing him was such an emotional relief.

The shoulder was only about eight feet away. I pulled over, looked over the edge and saw the drop was 400-plus yards straight down.

I give him a serious hug and asked, "Where's your bike Dad?"

He said "Son you won't believe this one. Take another look."

I peered over the precipice at a different spot and saw -- about 70 feet below -- a thick web-like net made of tree limbs that had washed down and spanned the thick trees.

It was as if someone had placed a net below and dad’s red Guzzi was lying on its side right in the middle.

It looked so surreal. The whole thing was a bad dream with a great ending.

It had taken him about 12-to-15 very long minutes to climb up without falling.

He’d dropped his helmet and intercom when climbing through the limbs. He’d watched them bouncing off the trees and tumble all the way down.

Dad was covered in grass and dirt…but he didn’t have a scratch.

We started laughing…a tension-relieving belly laugh that shook of our stress.

I figured out exactly what had happened.

He’d seen the curve outside the tunnel, grabbed the brakes, dropped the bike and slid right over the edge.

Now that he was safe, he hopped onto the seat with me and we headed to Cherokee to get a wrecker.

Back on the scene of the accident, it took the wrecker driver a few throws of a heavy rope to loop the Guzzi's front rim.

Then he used his truck’s winch to slowly plow it up through the grass and dirt.

It had a few scratches and scrapes. The fork was twisted a tad, so the three of us wrenched it back into shape as best we could.

Dad and I then headed back our cabin near Pigeon Forge.

We couldn’t stop and get a room in Cherokee because dad’s blood pressure meds were in the cabin.

Tough as nails, he said he was good to head back over the mountains.

Now he wore an old hard hat we bought from the wrecker guy for 10 bucks to replace dad’s motorcycle helmet.

I said, “Stay very slow and close, watch my high beam flashes and hand signals, flash me if you want to stop."

He rode flawlessly.

I gave dad a few head’s-up warnings when we rounded Chimney Tops mountain and maneuvered around its sweet 360- degree loop.

Back at the cabin we finished the rest of the night with plenty of beer, and we’ve never laughed so much since.

I drove up along the same stretch of road a few weeks ago to show my daughter and finance the spot where dad went over the edge.

The look on their faces was priceless, just as mine probably was when I looked down that same drop-off the first time.

I've often wondered what I should have or could have done differently.

I probably should have minded my instincts concerning riding in the rain and dad’s lack of experience. I should have never taken him up there.

At age 85 he no longer rides. But he often asks, "Have you seen the new Guzzis online yet?"

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