Slow Motion

SlomoDuring moments of extreme danger, it's said, the world goes into slow motion. This is the sort of thing that could be easily dismissed as legend, or perhaps an attempt to dramatize for the sake of a better story. But it happened to me once, so I know it's true. I think it's the mind's amazing way of giving us more time to think our way out of a bad situation when seconds are all we have to work with. Accidentally riding a motorcycle off a cliff is a good example of that kind of situation.

I'd been riding dirt bikes in the same area for years, so it wasn't like I didn't know there was a cliff. There were trails that skirted the edge of it, and everyone knew it was there; it was just something you avoided, like a barbwire fence or a tree. I'm not exactly sure what was different about that particular day, but when I flew down the hill toward the cliff—same as a hundred times before—I wasn't able to slow the bike in time to make the normal course adjustment to the right, away from the cliff. Maybe the rear tire had less tread than I thought, or maybe I was moving faster than I usually did, but on this day I didn't make that slight turn to the right, and rode straight out into thin air.

My buddy was right behind me, and he says I just disappeared over the edge. But from my vantage point, things happened differently. Just as I was going over the handlebar, time slowed to a crawl. I noticed the change in the color of the dirt at the bottom of the ravine, and the way the sun was reflected from the little stream that ran through the middle of it. The landing zone seemed okay; there were no cactus, or jagged pieces of metal. I seemed to be rotating, slowly, as I fell through space; I began twisting my body so I could see the motorcycle following me in. I thought it would be wise, probably, to move my head to the side just a bit, thereby avoiding the front tire at the moment of impact. I was marveling at the blueness of the sky when . . .

Wham! I land on my back and right shoulder, and my head is already moving itself away from the path of the motorcycle's front tire. A split second later, it meets the dirt a few inches from my face. I lie there, stunned, contemplating the damage. My friend's eyes appear at the edge of the precipice, uncharacteristically concerned. It isn't the first time he's seen me wipe out, but this one is just plain weird.

No broken bones, no permanent tissue damage, and the head still works—more or less. But how remarkable the mind's dedication to simple survival, even if that requires altering the perception of time.


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