Last year, the last ride of the season ended with a deer crashed for two of our riders. This year's last ride of the season also held calamity for one rider.
13 riders left Newark about 1:30 and we rode south, following a meandering route with a destination of Nelsonville in mind. A 14th rider, Randy, would meet us in about 20 miles at an intersection in Thornville.
The autumn colors were just about at their peak this weekend and we've had only a little wind and rain to knock the leaves off the trees. With the sun shining and blue skies overhead, and the cool air rushing past us, it was the perfect weather for an autumn ride.
After about an hour of meandering through the country side between Thornville, Somerset and Crooksville, the group stopped for fuel just outside of New Lexington.
About 20 minutes after our fuel stop, we passed through New Straightsville, a small community in the middle of the Wayne National Forest a little south of Shawnee. Just outside of town, we turned onto OH- 595. As it often happens, I was near the end of the group with only Randy on his HD Softtail Classic behind me.
About a mile south of town after getting on OH-595, the road has a blind, up hill curve to the right. Gravel or cinders littered the inside of the curve so I moved toward the center line and kicked my right leg out to let Randy know about the hazard. However, a quick look in the mirrors told me my efforts were wasted. Randy was following a good 100 feet back, and with the blind curve, he couldn't see my warning.
I negotiated the curve and kept an eye on my mirrors. Just as I saw Randy round the curve, the road in front of me turned to the left and my view was obstructed. Near the top of the hill I slowed and at a driveway. I stopped. No Randy.
Fearing the worst, I made a U-turn and headed back down the hill. Randy came into view within seconds. It looked like he was upright, but then I realized that he was on the wrong side of the road and his front wheel was parked against the outside guard rail.
He'd gotten whopper jawed on the gravel, and when the rear wheel found traction again, the bike promptly laid down on its left side and slid across the opposing lane. He was OK. His leathers, gloves, and helmet protected his hide and noggin. But the bike was a mess.
The guard rail that kept him and his bike from falling into a 50 foot ravine had crumpled the front fender up against the wheel. Somehow the slide across the road broke his handlebar clean off between the mirror and the triple tree. His grip, clutch lever and switches hung from the cables.
The two of us and a passerby that stopped got the Harley off to the side of the road and pointing down the hill. Randy's cell phone went dead as soon as he tried to use it, so I got on my cell and called his roadside assistance service while he took stock of his bike. He pried the fender away from the wheel with a little effort and then looked at the handlebar.
After a few minutes, Randy had a solution in mind. He jammed a stick into the open end of the handlebar and left about 5 or 6 inches sticking out, onto which he jammed his grip, clutch lever and switches. A bungee cord and black tape held everything together. A lot of black tape.
Roadside service called back about an hour later to tell us that it would be another 2 or 3 hours before they could get any help to us. By that time, another rider from the group, Randy's neighbor, Charlie, rejoined us and we decided that together, the three of us would try to make the trek back home.
Charlie would take the lead with Randy, riding one-handed, in the middle and me protecting his rear. If we stayed away from the curvy roads, and Randy used his left grip just for the clutch lever, it might turn out better than expected.
And it did turn out well. Randy and Charlie made it home without additional incident. We parted company when we each were about 15 minutes from our homes. Randy's Softtail will soon be on the repair schedule at the dealership and we'll try to figure out how to break this last-ride-mishap habit the group seems to have gotten itself into.