Editors note: John crashed in the 1999 Iron Butt Rally. He was kind enough to give me permission to use this as a learning example.
His write up is a result of a discussion on hallucinations caused by sleep deprivation.
I have discussed my accident with many on the list, but this is a good time to discuss what I remember and more important what I don’t remember when I had my infamous light pole accident during the Butt. Maybe others will learn from it.
Like everyone on this list, I have been dead tired while riding. On 24 hour rallies I find it easy to keep alert with the adrenaline flowing and I normally bust though the sleep barrier by playing mind games singing, doing deep knee bends, etc; while riding. On longer rides like the 100cc I simply pull into a motel when reaching the point of being beat for a good sleep; on one leg of my 100cc I was in the saddle was a continuous 2600 miles before I hit the sleep wall and a fog bank making me stop at a motel. My point is simply I have had experience, like a lot of LDRiders, with sleep deprivation, but I now know multi-day sleep deprivation is a different ball game. Every LDRider I have talked with has sleep deprivation stories; some are almost as unlucky as mine, others have recovered seconds before having an accident. Maybe my story will be read and stored in the back of your minds so you can retrieve it at some point when you’re riding tired. Hopefully it will help you avoid my mistake.
In the 99 Butt, on the Maine-Florida leg, started getting the nods about 3 AM as i was going through Atlanta. I pulled off interstate and parked the bike in the center of huge parking area of a large shopping center under construction and laid down next to the bike, catching a couple hours sleep. I left before daylight and stopped on I-75 about 8 AM for gas and an EggMcMuffen. I was wide awake and feeling good. About 1 1/2 hours later I hit the sleep wall again. I was starting to get the nods. I started using my normal procedures attempting to fight through them. It wasn’t working and I started blacking out with my eyes open. A few of those and I was really worried.
The stomach’s digestive process was causing my brain to be deprived of oxygen as the digestive acids built up in my stomach. (A doctor I spoke with called it acidosis of the mind.) I knew I had to stop, but the sign said next exit 22 miles. I still headed for the side of the road to rest. It was hot, no shade, only a 6 foot shoulder and poison ivy, no place to lay down,and the trucks passing at 75 mph would almost blow the bike over as it sat on its center stand. (Those trucks traveling at 75 mph feel like a house moving by when you are that close to the road) After 10 minutes I knew I couldn’t stay where I was and get any sleep. If I laid down I would have had dozen of cars pulling over to see if I was dead.
I was feeling a little better, so I decided to ride to the first place I could safely stop. The first exit or over pass with shade would have been an oasis, and stopping to rest was the only thing on my mind. The next series of memories are spotty. I remember blacking out and waking up saying to myself I have to find a place to stop now. The next thing I remember is coming out of a dream like state and seeing a light pole 20 feet dead center in front of me……. I even remember exactly what I said just before impact clearly…..OH SHIT as I hit and flew through the air.
The bike and I flew though the air over 150 feet. I was lucky. Not a scratch thanks to the Stich; but broken hands, arm, collar bone, ribs and rupture spine, like someone hung me up in my Stich and beat the hell out of me with a baseball bat. As I lay on the ground wide awake., I gave the police information about what happended. My girl friend picked me up at the hospital, that threw on some temporary casts, and I insisted we stop at the St. Augustine check point to let Mike and Bob know I was OK. Mike didn’t see any humor in my asking for the rally papers for the next leg when I drove up….:>) ( Hitting poles at 70 mph is one way to stay awake, but I don’t recommend it. I didn’t get the nods again for 15 hours. )
What really scared the hell out of me was three weeks later. I returned to the scene of the accident on I-75 in near Adel, Ga. to pick up the wreck with the help of a friend. Driving up to pick up the wrecked bike I saw the wreck scene and the downed light pole. Just after the Adel exit the highway department must have been running a light pole test. It has several hundred light poles about 100 yards apart on each side of the interstate. The only place on I75 that has that. As the road curved I continued straight and hit the next pole that was directly in front of that straight line.
We continued to drive on to the next exit where the wreck was in storage. As we drove on I was in state of shock. I realized for the first time that I had passed a rest stop and an exit before I hit the light pole. I had driven twenty miles that I have no memory of doing it. I didn’t remember even passing an exit or rest stop. My mind had totally shut down or working on a subconscious level and I was driving on auto pilot. Even though the only thing on my mind was to stop and rest, I didn’t.
I have read numerous articles on sleep deprivation since. One of things I have read since was an article on a study done on effects of accumulative sleep deprivation. The study showed that after about 6 or 7 days of sleep deprivation, even though you are up and awake, the mind can virtually turn itself off like a light switch when it hits. It also showed all that simply a good nights sleep refreshed and removed the affects.
Part of the problem might have also been my mind and body moving into a more relaxed state since I was through bonus hunting and simply riding to the check point in St. Augustine. Which was also returning home. That stable horse returning to the barn theory of Higdon’s.
Needless to say, I am even more keenly aware of listening closely to my body when I ride now. The first sign of the nods and I am looking for a place to pull over. On 24 hour rallies I don’t normally eat any meals, except possibly a small quick late lunch. If I’ve been riding for a number of days and get the nods, I don’t try to fight to over come them. I pull over a soon as I can. If I stop to eat anything more than a candy bar a planned stop to rest afterwards, for 15 to 30 minutes or more, is now part of the meal and figured into the time allowance. The accumulative effect of reduce sleep is something to fear and be aware of at all times because it can cause the mind to shut down in an uncontrollable manner.
Editor’s note: the following is John’s response to riders having reported seeing various things after many hours of sleeplessness
But, I have never seen uneven handle bars, left and right hands swapping, stagecoach with 8 horses and Santa Claus at the drivers seat, little men sitting on the bumpers ahead of me, lawn chair deers, or sagging windshields. Are you sure you guys aren’t having drug related relapses?….:>)))) Real light poles are bad enough……..