John & Brenda's Excellent Tour travel blog

Tragedy on Route 66 *****Warning - Sad and Graphic*****

After the friendly staff at the visitors centre recommended it to us, we pulled onto Route 66 to enter 2-lane highway history. As we stopped at a traffic light, a middle aged woman pulled up beside us on a Harley. She was decked out in full Harley regalia, leather chaps, black leather vest, long-sleeved shirt and a bandana. In the true spirit of freedom of the open road, she had no helmet and you could just sense the joy of the open road. We followed her for about 8 or 10 miles and I commented to Brenda how she pulled over to the right side of the lane whenever a line of traffic approached, just in case some idiot pulled out to pass.

We were overtaking a pickup truck hauling a large utility trailer at about 65 mph (legal speed limit) when tragedy struck. We're not sure if she thinking of pulling out to pass or whether the lights on the trailer weren't working. In either case, the pickup began a left turn and we saw smoke from the bike tires and a serious wobble as she braked in a panic. Whether she hit the trailer or the bike fell over first, we couldn't tell. All we saw was her body fly into the air and flip over a couple of times until she disappeared behind the sliding bike. All this was accompanied by the screeching, grinding sound of the Harley as it slid and bounced to a stop.

I pulled onto the shoulder, threw on the 4-way flashers and, with Brenda by my side, ran up to the woman lying on her back on the gravel shoulder. She was bleeding profusely from the nose and mouth, pumping blood really, and her hand and leg were twitching convulsively. With shock at what we were facing, we were grateful when a pickup pulled up and we were joined by a volunteer firefighter with an emergency kit. While Brenda prepared to assist him, he handed me a cell phone to call his dispatcher for helicopter evacuation. I returned up the road to direct traffic and as I looked back at Brenda, she pulled on medical rubber gloves and began assisting the firefighter on her knees in the sharp gravel. It only struck me later how proud I was of her courage and strength.

Within minutes, a paramedic ambulance and two Highway Patrol vehicles showed up on the scene and basically took over. Unfortunately, the woman was now dead, having virtually expired in Brenda's and the firefighter's hands. As a patrolman covered the biker with a blanket, I spoke with the other very young officer. I asked him if Arizona had a helmet law and he told me they were one of a few states that didn't. I commented to him that, other than the head trauma, there was virtually not another mark on her. He said those terrible words; "It's a shame because this accident was completely survivable if she had a proper helmet on." This woman had taken steps to protect completely her body, albeit with the glamorous uniform of a Harley rider, and left her most vulnerable part exposed. You don't know which emotion is stronger, anger or sadness.

After giving a witness statement, we drove off in silence, each overwhelmed by the magnitude of what had happened in the last hour. When we did speak, we realized the gaps in what has to be one of life's most significant moments: we didn't know anything about this woman who died with strangers around her on a lonely highway. Was she a mother? Was she a wife or lover? Was she a sister? Were her parents still living? Who mattered to her? Did anyone matter to her if she was all alone on a Monday morning on one of history's great highways? And was she happy in her last moments before her tragedy?

We may never know the answers to those questions but they and the images of what happen will be with us for a long time.

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