Common Tread

When your dad rides off the side of a mountain...

Dec 30, 2016

“Are y’all missin’ a buddy?”

The question came from a weathered man with a slow drawl, sitting behind the wheel of an aging F-150. The truck and the old man looked as if they were meant to be together in the same way some people are said to resemble their pets. The “missing buddy” this old-timer was referring to was my dad, who had been bringing up the tail of our group on his Suzuki V-Strom.

Spurgeon Dunbar and Pops
Like father, like son; ready to head out to the mountains of West Virginia. Photo by Barbara Jo Dunbar.

Our missing buddy

U.S. 33 begins to resemble a coiled snake, twisting and undulating, as it nears the border between Virginia and her western sister. The Yamaha XSR900 I was riding was having a much easier time straightening out the curves than the heavy cruisers Uncle Bob and his buddy Steve were piloting.

Pulling over at the top of the mountain I waited for the others to catch up. We had been riding all day but it was just starting to get fun as the sun began its western descent. We only had a few more hours of daylight left and, while it was unseasonably warm for November (the high at lunch had hit 68 degrees), there was a chill on the mountain and we weren’t looking to get caught up there after dark. 

Spurgeon Dunbar and Bob Quigg
As we sat, waiting on the top of the hill, we started to get the feeling something wasn't right. Photo by Steve Renschen.

Steve was the first to pull over, parking his Harley Davidson Road King behind me, followed shortly by Bob on a Kawasaki Vulcan. My dad should have been right behind him, but instead, the F-150 pulled up.

“Your buddy went off the road at the base of the mountain," he said. "I passed him on the way up. Didn’t look too good.”

I remember hearing my uncle start to ask another question but I was already halfway down the side of the mountain. My heart raced as my mind played out a slew of worst-case scenarios. I kept glancing over at the sheer drop on the southern edge of the highway while silently hoping he crashed to his right.

Spurgeon Dunbar and Pops with Triumph Bonneville and Suzuki V-Strom
This was taken almost 11 years ago, shortly after Pops showed up with his V-Strom. Photo by Barbara Jo Dunbar.

My dad and I have been riding together for more than 11 years. He’s been my longest riding partner, as well as my favorite. When I was four years old, he sold his 1978 Yamaha XS750 and when I turned 22 he finally replaced it with the V-Strom. His purchase came on the heels of me bringing home a brand-new 2005 Triumph Bonneville T-100. We have been riding together ever since, without incident, until now.

Hoping for the best

Rounding the corner, I saw the two cars before I saw the bike. My dad was propped up, leaning against the hood of the first car, while two men attempted to upright the battered Suzuki. The bike was lying in a shallow ditch on the side of the road.

I pulled a U-turn and parked the XSR on the narrow shoulder. Dad seemed OK but couldn’t remember what had happened. The two men had righted the Strom and were giving it the once over. The majority of the abuse had been confined to the left side of the bike and other than a bent footpeg, a rashed AltRider crash bar, and a cracked Givi topcase, the bike didn’t look that bad. Then we straightened the handlebar.

With the handlebar pointed straight, the front wheel pointed sideways. Grabbing a toolbox from his car, one of the men helped me loosen the triple tree clamps in an effort to realign the tweaked fork tubes and straighten the wheel. The other stranger helped Pops remove his gear.

By this point, Bob and Steve had made it back down the mountain and were directing traffic around the accident while we tried to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men...

While we were having success straightening out the front of the V-Strom, my dad wasn’t as lucky. He was having trouble getting his jacket off and was suffering extreme pain in his shoulder. As we were almost positive ol’ Senior had broken his collarbone, one of the guys offered him a lift in his car while the other volunteered to ride his motorcycle down the mountain.

Reconvening at the bottom of the hill, it was clear the Suzuki had bigger problems than we originally thought, and so did my dad. With continued generosity, the two men suggested we head back into Harrisonburg, Virginia, where we could drop the bike off at Early’s Cycle Center and dad at the Emergency Room.

Temperatures were plummeting and I felt bad for the guy limping the V-Strom down the road in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. We arrived at Early’s first and I stayed to straighten things out with the bike while everyone else set off to the ER.

Spurgeon Dunbar and Dad in Hospital
In good spirits in spite of himself, Pops waiting on the nurses. Photo by Bob Quigg.
The folks at Early’s gave the Strom a home for the night and told me that it looked like the front rim was bent pretty badly. Focused on my father, and eager to get to the hospital, I told them I would call them in the morning with a game plan.

I found dad in good spirits, chatting with the nurses, and questioning the doctor’s decisions (in fairness, the doc was a Ducati owner). He still couldn’t remember what exactly had happened, but with a broken collarbone and ankle it was clear he wasn’t going to be riding home on a motorcycle.  

The best laid plans of mice and men… 

While the nurses focused on patching up Pops, I set about creating a new plan. I got us a hotel, set up an Uber driver to pick up the patient and his gear, looked up the nearest pharmacy to get his meds, and figured out a truck rental scheme where I would drive both my dad and the bikes back to Pennsylvania.

2005 Suzuki V-Strom Crash
The crippled V-strom catching a ride home. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

By 10 the next morning, I was scanning the local radio for driving songs and dad was hopped up on drugs in the passenger seat of a box truck. Both the XSR and the V-Strom were safely secured in the back. Our convoy was completed by Steve and Bob leading the way on their respective steeds.

Spurgeon Dunbar and Pops
Dad was feeling a lot better on the way home once the meds kicked in. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

During the long drive home, I couldn’t help but think about an article Lance wrote back in January about stopping to help stranded riders. If it hadn’t been for the kindest of strangers, this trip could have ended very differently.

In the chaos of the afternoon, I never got the information on the two men (one of them as it turned out, was a motorcyclist) who stopped to help us. They took hours out of their Friday night to make sure that not only was my dad OK, but that his bike was, as well. When we tried to offer them some money, they refused, simply stating, “This is what we do.”

Letting it sink in

How many of us, rushing home on a Friday afternoon after a long workweek, would pull over to the side of the road to help a stranger? How many would leave our car in the woods to ride a stranger’s motorcycle 20 miles back in the direction we had just traveled? How many would then rely on a second stranger to give us a ride back to our car? We ended up stumbling upon not just one, but two such individuals.

Spurgeon J. Dunbar, Bob Quigg, and Spurgeon S. Dunbar
Uncle Bob, the patient, and myself waiting on a ride. Photo by Steve Renschen.

I am not going to speculate publicly about my thoughts on the realistic answers to those questions, but I am going to say, “Thank you.”

That thanks goes not just to the two men who didn’t know each other from Adam yet worked together to pull a stranger out of a ditch, ride into town, and drop him at the hospital. It also goes to everyone out there who has ever stopped to help out a fellow motorist stuck on the side of the road, whether you offered the use of a cell phone or a toolbox, provided some gasoline or a ride to the hospital.