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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Arco

By Martin Hackworth

It's all fun until someone gets poked in the eye.

Road to Arco

          Five weeks ago I set for my annual solo ride of the Tour of Idaho T1. Having ridden day one the previous week I set out from Pocatello on August 3 for Arco. Because I was looking forward to the Ironmaning the Vegas to Reno race the following week I decided to leave Pocatello late in the day to get a little practice with race speeds after dark. Nothing unusual or spectacular, something I'd done many times before. Little did I know how soon things would go off the rails. 

     I like the focus and concentration required to cover ground after dark. I anticipated reaching the edge of the desert around sunset and riding the sand whoops section while there was still plenty of light. It was here that things began to go awry. The sand was unusually dry and loose. I had a full (7 gallon) tank of fuel and high tire pressures in stiff desert racing tires to juggle. It took much longer to ride the sand section than usual and by the time I reached the edge of the lava flows at the edge of the Snake River Desert it was twilight. I set off toward Big Southern Butte in the last rays of sunlight on the western horizon. The bike was working great, the weather was perfect and I felt great. I remember thinking how much fun I was having busting a few gaskets loose in the night.  

     One of the things that makes any good adventure worthwhile is that there is a non-zero chance that you can get more than you bargained for - especially in terms of excitement. There is a reason why the X-Games attract a bigger following than a checkers tournament. In an average desert race you will probably scare yourself dozens of times, which is precisely the draw. It's all good clean fun too, until someone gets poked in the eye. 

     The first thing that I remember after waking up was that it was very dark and I had no idea where I was or how I got there. Sitting up resulted in mind-warping pain and years of experience that I could not remember told me that I had some dinged ribs. When I finally managed to stumble to my feet I felt very short of breath. I finally noticed a dirt bike laying in the sand and realized that it was how I got there. After a few minutes it began to come to me that I was somewhere south of something called Big Southern Butte and that I needed to go to someplace else called Arco. 

     Getting the bike upright was a handful. The battery was dead and kick starting hurt so bad I thought I might pass out again. Once I got the bike started I had to focus hard in order to come up with a plan. I knew that I had suffered a concussion, had likely broken a few ribs and that I was having trouble breathing. Somehow I knew that I had to ride north to Arco and I had a sense of which way to go. So off I went. After the first bump on the goat trail of a road I was on it became obvious that even small jolts to the bike produced great amounts of pain in my chest. 

     After a few miles I came up on a sign that said 47 miles to Arco. It was going to be tough but doable as long as I did it all standing up. On the way to Arco the mental fog lifted enough for me to remember that I was on the Tour of Idaho and that I had a SPOT beacon, light dutifully blinking, attached to my OGIO Flight Vest. I considered pressing the "come get me" button, but by then I was only thirty miles or so from Arco and was sure that I could make it quicker than the time it would take for someone to find me out there. That and the fact that I believe in self-rescue unless the need is pretty dire, which in my judgment it was not. It might hurt, but I was sure that I could make it. 

     Just outside of Arco I had another low-speed getoff when my HID lights both went out. As I was laying on the ground gasping for breath it occurred to me then that the same thing is probably what put me on the ground in the first place. The battery on the bike was old and wouldn't hold much of a charge (I'd ordered a new one but it didn't arrive in time for the trip). HID lights don't dim when the voltage falls, they go out. When the stator output was high it was enough to maintain the required voltage all by itself but whenever the rpm's dropped the lights were running off a marginal battery. I'm pretty sure that the battery just wasn't up to the task of running 100 watts of HID lighting.

     I finally made it to Arco at around 3 a.m. and checked into a motel. Sleep was fitful and the next morning I knew that I was in worse shape than I initially thought. I called a friend in Pocatello who drove out to Arco to pick me up Several hours later I was in the ICU at Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello connected with various tubes and wires to a half dozen fantastically expensive medical machines. The tally: four broken ribs and a collapsed lung. The upshot: two days in ICU, a chest tube, a week in the hospital and prolonged convalescence. The aftermath: a $25K hospital bill.

     But the worst cut of all was yet to come. Somehow my shameful inability to ride a perfectly good dirtbike across a wide, flat desert was deemed by the Associated Press to be a nationally newsworthy item (you think I'm joshing? Check this out). So as far as my neighbors and co-workers are concerned I was the star of my own Discovery Channel epic. It will take me a long time to live that down among the local dirtbike tribe. And as my doctor, my wife and son, my ex-wife, three sets of current and former in laws, my dentist, my son's dentist and a few innocent bystanders are all in league together to keep me away from the bad thing I am scared to go near a dirtbike (at least in daylight) for the time being lest they all follow through on their threat to burn down my shop. 

     So there you have it. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I'm healing up just fine thank you. And the Parker 250 in January is looking like a good venue for getting back on that horse.  


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