Split-Second Decision


The right time to figure out what you’ll do is before you’re falling over a cliff.

I had always wanted a dirt bike. Both of my brothers-in-law had bikes and went riding a lot. I wanted to go with them. I bought my bike during the winter, so I didn’t have a chance to ride it right away. While the snow was on the ground, I would go out in the garage and sit on it and dream about riding.

I had heard a lot of horror stories about people getting hurt while riding. As I sat on my bike in the garage, I thought about difficult situations I might get into. I decided that as much as I loved that bike and as nice looking as it was, if I found myself in a situation where it was a choice between my life or saving my bike, the bike would be gone.

Summer came and I had the chance to go riding. My brother-in-law and I went biking in a gravel pit that was near a local reservoir. It had some nice hills. I was playing follow the leader with him. I was down below watching him as he went up a hill. He stopped at the top and was kind of looking off in the distance. He didn’t turn around and say anything, so I started up the hill much faster than he had taken it. When I got to the top, I gunned it and got a little air. The problem was that about as soon as I made it to the top, I could see that there was a drop-off. I had a split second to act. As soon as my front tire hit, I laid the bike down. The bike skidded over the cliff. The momentum carried me over as well, but I was able to grab on to the edge. My legs were dangling, and I was running in air, but I was able to pull myself up.

After my heart slowed a little, I looked over the edge and there was my bike, 30 feet down. I thought it was going to be demolished. I went down and picked it up. I kick started the engine, and it seemed fine. The only damage was bent handlebars and a broken mud flap. But when I looked back up the little cliff, I realized that if I had tried to stay on my bike, I could have been seriously hurt.

The rest of the day, I was a little subdued. We came home, and I found out that a friend had been badly hurt while riding his bike. He had been riding with another group and had gone off the edge of an embankment. He had tried to ride it out. I guess he hadn’t had time to make a decision. He ended up with multiple fractures in both arms. The doctor told him he would never be able to do much manual labor the rest of his life. He would be limited in what he could do.

That really drove home to me how grateful I was for having made my decision ahead of time. I had already visualized what I would do in the safety of my garage. So when the moment of danger came, I reacted just as I had imagined. I let the bike go and saved myself from injury.

I realized that in other areas, if I decided early in life what I was going to do, when I was faced with the dilemma there would be less problem choosing the right because the decision would already have been made.

[illustration] Illustrated by Paul Mann