Crashing Down a Hill with Three Wheels
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
It started off as a perfect morning. The air was still slightly cool in Park City, Utah and the thin mountain air was just like what those air freshener commercials want you to think of when they're advertising their products. The sun would be penetrating the thin atmosphere and heating up nearby Salt Lake City to over 100°by noon. At our higher altitude of 7,000' however, we had some time to play before the rays forced a siesta.
After gearing up with helmets, armored jackets, and boots, Ky hopped on to his BMW 1200 GS manly motorcycle, and I sat astride my sweet little ride, a Piaggio MP3. The MP3 is a cool motor scooter, rated as a motorcycle due to its heavy weight of over 500 pounds wet (with fuel). It's unique construction has dual wheels up front with independent suspension that make it very stable. At a stop, there is a button that can be pushed to lock the two wheels in place and it cannot fall over, balancing steadily on the three wheels. At a rated top speed of 75 mph it gets along on roads with other vehicles quite nicely.
We set off for an area called Guardsman Pass, about 45 minutes from where we were staying. The road connects Park City to Brighton and if you are looking for glorious mountain scenery, you won't find any better than this route.
We took little detours on our way up. We passed through old town Park City with it's beautifully restored historic buildings. Nearby we circled the posh Deer Valley Resort and neighborhood. If you have some extra cash burning a hole in your pocket, you can drop a cool $1,325,000 for a 2,000 sf condo. That's the low end of the total of three properties currently for sale, so you better hurry!
At about 10:30, the Bonanza Flat Trailhead was a nice little break for viewing the 1,500 acres of land recently purchased by Park City for preservation for $38 million. They take land preservation quite seriously here! It is a gorgeous unspoiled landscape.
Ky took this photo of me and my sweet blue scooter at the trailhead parking.
We rode on, making it up to Brighton, a quaint little rustic town of about 250 people year round. The population swells in the winter when skiers arrive to take advantage of great snow and slopes with four high speed quad ski chairs. At the very top of Big Cottonwood Canyon, the mountain averages 500 inches of light, fluffy and dry snow each winter. We were only there for the views and the ice cream this time of year though. After finishing our cone and checking out future hikes we would like to do, we saddled up again and headed back down towards home.
A stretch of Guardsman Pass Road is called Empire Pass. It is a steep section of road that has only recently been paved (2018) and it has a series of serious curves. The road is closed for the winter from November until snow is mostly gone around May. Here's a photo I captured with my drone:
Ky was riding in front of me. As I came around on one of the s-turns at a slow speed towards the outside of the curve to make sure I avoided upcoming traffic, one of my front two tires ran in to the narrow patch of gravel off to the side of the road. My training mentally kicked in and the instructor saying "don't brake in a curve" rang in my brain. It was a downhill descending radius turn and I knew I couldn't add speed. Sometimes that helps in a slow turn situation, but here I saw a steep drop off in front of me.
The MP3 started sliding out from under me and down the hill. Fortunately for me at some early point I was off of the bike and sliding down the hill parallel to, instead of under, the heavy machine. My body hurtled down the steep slope until I came to a stop after about a 40' descent. While I was slashing through small trees and over rocks and dirt, there was not even really time to think about what was happening. My head protected by my helmet, thank God, was banging on things, but I was at least going down feet first. I could hear my MP3 hit something which turned out to be a large rock which caused it to flip over and then it came to rest against a large tree.
I did a quick mental and physical survey and to my surprise, everything seemed pretty well intact. It seemed like only a minute had passed before I heard Ky screaming my name from above. I yelled out, "I'm okay, I'm okay" and stuck a thumb up in the universal signal of everything is alright.
Ky had been ahead of me and when he had looked in his rear view mirror he saw that I was not there, and instead he saw a big puff of dirt in the air. He turned around when he safely could and immediately came back to find out what had happened.
There was a distraught woman at the top of the road when he arrived. She had stopped her car on the curve to do plein air painting in the picturesque area. She had only seen the top of my helmet disappear and fearing the worst, immediately called 911.
Ky scrambled down the steep hill and he, like me, was amazed that I seemed to have escaped serious injury. From the bottom, we reassured the woman at the top that I was okay. What a horrible sight for her to have witnessed.
After more investigation to make sure that I was really okay, we went the few feet over to my sweet MP3. It was shattered! Nearly every inch was scraped up, the windshield was in bits, the carrier on the back was not on the back any more, and the unique suspension was akimbo in a most unnatural way.
We noticed while looking around that the parts and debris from my accident were not the only things down there. It was obvious that others had come before me. A guard rail really should be considered on this particular curve.
After Ky retrieved a few things from the storage compartments, we started making our way back up the steep hill, grabbing on to small trees to keep from back sliding. It wasn't long after getting to the top, that the fire truck arrived. They were amazed that I was okay, and said it was a miracle that I hadn't suffered major injury or even death. They unfortunately see way too many things that don't end nearly as well. They sent one of the young guys down the hill to make sure that the MP3 wasn't leaking any potentially hazardous fluids. I just love firemen - they are so awesome!
The police officer that arrived next at the scene was himself on a motorcycle. He wrote up his report, and he too was so very kind. I asked him if he had ever had an accident and he related his one major bad experience. Even with all of the extensive training that motorcycle officers take, he also sounded lucky to be alive.
After contacting our insurance company to see what we should do next, we determined that we would have a tow truck come out the next day to retrieve the remains. We rode home together on Ky's motorcycle, the first time I had ever gotten on the back with him. He had always been keen to have me ride pillion, but it was never my intention to do so. I'm thinking and hoping never to again. IF I'm ever going to be on a motorcycle, I'm going to be driving alone - I'm stubborn that way, and with more resolve and reason than ever.
There is an expression among safe motorcyclists, "ATGATT". It stands for "All the gear, all the time." It is a philosophy that a full set of motorcycle safety gear should be worn at all times, and gear should not be reduced at times when the perceived risk is less. All of me that was protected by safety gear escaped harm. My helmet suffered a deep gash, which would have been my head were my helmet not in place. My jacket was badly scraped up and my boots had deep cuts and a ripped spot.
The only area not fully protected were my legs and waist since I was wearing REI pants - not tough enough to withstand my slide. The bruises and scrapes could have been completely avoided with the right pants. I had just never gotten around to buying them. One week after the accident my bruises had peaked in color.
Please for your sake and the sake of everyone who loves you, if you motorcycle, or even bicycle on or even off road, wear safety gear!
I took the drone shot above and this video the day after the accident when the MP3 was being towed out. From the air, the steepness of the hill is not fully apparent, but it was a long way down & back up!
I'm just so thankful to be here writing this post. If it convinces anyone that they should wear the proper safety gear, I'm even more thankful!