Leif owned three motorcycles. The first one was the maroon and yellow Yamaha that he purchased in Manhattan, Kansas, moved to Fort Drum, New York when he was stationed there in the Army, then back to Kansas from 2001-2005 and then to Florida. It was that one he had the accident with at Fort Riley, sliding out on gravel when coming down a winding road from Custer Hill.
In the summer of 2005 in Florida, he was living at our house with his dad and spending his earnings from Amscot on dating, booze and a new motorcycle, the yellow Suzuki he's riding here. This was one fast crotch rocket and he loved it.
After he moved to Tampa, the Suzuki was stolen from his apartment house parking lot one night and with the insurance money, he bought a used Honda touring cycle. This was a very different kind of bike. I was surprised he made that choice, and I think he was, too. He said riding in the position required for the crotch rockets was hard on his back and knees, not comfortable for longer rides. He liked the position on the Honda but maintained he was "safer" on the Suzuki because its speed allowed him to avoid accidents. So he said. He refused to consider that speed might be dangerous. He was supremely confident in his riding ability. I told him it wasn't his skills that worried me . . . it was the other drivers on the road, and that turned out to be the problem when he was cut off by the white Cadillac not a mile from his house, when he wasn't even going over 45.
Leif took a lot of photos of his possessions, especially his cars and bikes. He took the photos of the Yamaha and the Honda that I'm posting here. He also took the photo of himself looking into the Honda bike's mirror. That one was taken on November 21, 2007, just a couple of weeks after he sent me a very depressed email about how life held no meaning. He was a very depressed and unhappy man at that point. Ironically, I took the photo of him on the Suzuki on November 7, 2005, two years earlier, when he was still hopeful. The Yamaha photo he took May 5, 2003.
It's hard to imagine Leif without a motorcycle, even though I didn't want him to have one and pleaded with him not to ride after his accident in July 2007. It was sad, though, to think of his joy being taken away, no matter how much I worried. Here is a bit of our text messaging about it, but only his side as mine were not recorded.
July 14, 2007 at 5:54 PM Leif Garretson wrote,
"July is not a good month for me. Crashed bikes twice in July. Had house robbed in July. Probably other bad stuff, too. July is like a country song. 'I crashed my bike. I crashed my other bike. My house got robbed and my best friend's wife died.6 And the car breaks down.' "Next year I am going to stock up on movies, food and beer and not leave the house."
Sadly, he didn't live long enough to see another July.
July 18, 2007 at 4:28 PM Leif Garretson wrote,
"Saw bike. Barely scratched. Just looked up FL DOT stats on helmet use. In 2005 riders wearing helmets were 22% more likely to be killed than riders without them. (You mean INFJ. I am INTJ.) 8,147 bike crashes vs 268,605 total auto accidents. 441 bike fatalities or about 5%. 3533 total auto fatalities or about 1.3%. Bikes more dangerous but . . . not by an enormous margin. And that includes all the young stupid trickster and street racers out getting themselves killed."
"Well, I certainly see your perspective. I would give you mine but I am sure that would be pointless as anyone who rides will tell you if you don't do it, you don't get it."
"There is more guilt than that? Seems rather abundant already. However, you should know I am immune to guilt. Always have been. Guilt doesn't factor into my thought processes. Only logic. Logically, I know I will not be happy if I am not riding. Logically I know you will not be if I am. All that remains is deciding which of two undesirable and diametrically opposed options is the most acceptable. I am really sorry to upset you, mom. I don't mean to. I really don't get upset. I really am the cold, unfeeling bastard I am accused of being. If I decide to stop riding it will not be because I feel any certain way but rather because I rationally decided that it was the most just and logical course of action. Weighing my strong desire to ride vs your strong fears. I don't share those fears. I honestly don't experience fear. I weighed the risk vs reward and accepted the risks years ago. In that regard nothing has changed. All that has changed is that continuing what I have been doing will cause you pain. My decision is now simply one of compassion vs desire. Whose desires do I put first, yours or mine? I have not decided. I have not decided if I am willing to sacrifice one of the things that makes my life worth living to save someone I love worry. Were it up to me I would keep riding until I am physically unable. I know people that have lost legs and still ride with prostheses. I haven't decided anything just yet. I figured if the bike was totaled I would not replace it but it's barely damaged. From my perspective you are overreacting. It is understandable but to me this was a minor mishap and just a further reinforcement against my fears. I see this totally different than you. I see 3 accidents and none of them even required hospitalization. I see statistics which show that after 6 months of riding in the saddle of a new bike the odds of an accident are very slim and the odds of serious injury or death much slimmer. I could quit riding and get killed in my car. I am never as happy at any point of the day. Never feel so alive and free and content as when I ride. There is not part of me that wants to give it up. If I were to do so it would be a sacrifice on my part to make you happy. So guess what, the guilt goes both ways. So who gets to sacrifice? One way or the other, one of us is going to have to accept something undesirable to accommodate the other. How does one decide which sacrifice is most in the interest of justice?"
"I am not sure that is a fair comparison. Maybe it is, but I don't think riding is as universally destructive as other addictions. It's risky but no form of gambling has odds as GOOD as riding does. Again, it's about risk vs reward. If I am willing to risk death riding, do you realistically think financial ruin or bankruptcy would deter me? Hell, I have faced that danger since I moved out. I face it every day whether I ride or not, so losing money or being poor is no deterrent at all. Been there, done that. Got the bank charges to prove it. I don't fear death and I don't fear life."
There is a lot of bravado and male pride in those messages, and I think he believed them, but in the end, something put him over the edge, and the slide began with the accident, continued through a lonely fall, and reached a tipping point when he had no financial options left, though we didn't know it. He would not tell us.
On April 2, 2008, just a week before he died, he sent the last text messages to me that I recorded (he sent email through April 8th). He still cared enough about the life of a turtle to stop his bike on his way to work and save it's life. He sent:
"I rescued a turtle today. "
Sent on Wednesday, Apr 2 2008 at 4:12:08 PM
"Where was it?"
Received on Wednesday, Apr 2 2008 at 4:12:44 PM
"In the road by my work"
Sent on Wednesday, Apr 2 2008 at 4:13:08 PM
"What turtle habitat is near there?"
Recevied on Wednesday, Apr 2 2008 at 4:14:02 PM
"I Dunno but it was a pretty big turtle"
Sent on Wednesday, Apr 2 2008 at 4:21:30 PM
Received on Wednesday, Apr 2 2008 at 4:23:36 PM
"Shell like a dinner plate. Maybe ten inches long and five thick"
Sent on Wednesday, Apr 2 2008 at 4:25:01 PM
"Looked like a walking speed bump"
Sent on Wednesday, Apr 2 2008 at 4:25:47 PM
He saved a turtle, but he didn't save himself. I miss him so!