Posted - Jun 26th, 2014 9:00am
I started writing this post nearly 4 years ago... At that time, a title and a url were all that I could get down on the computer before a sort of full body and mind cringe would cause my fingers to lock up. For whatever reason though, I think its important for me to keep a record of that weekend. Maybe if your reading this you can tell me. Either way, here goes.
A few years back I talked a small group of friends into traveling out to the sand dunes near Yuma. I had seen a ton of pictures and videos of folks rip-roaring around the hills, and it looked like a blast. It was also easy enough to rent quads and small trailer for a few days. So with motorcycles in-tow, Tara, Brian, Mccoy, Veronica, and myself headed off for another AZ weekend adventure!
The dunes themselves are a neat area. 30 minutes outside of yuma, just south of the freeway they have a big flat sandy section where folks park, camp out, and load/unload all manner of sand-capable contraption. Theres some food and facilities nearby, and an ice-cream truck goes barreling through once in a while. In general though, it feels like your out in the middle of nowhere. All you can see is sand, sand, and more sand.
Brian and I had both ridden before but everyone else was new to this. I seem to remember Tara and McCoy reading the actual instruction manuals for the quads after we unloaded them and got geared up. Probably should have been a good indicator that this was a bad idea. We proceeded forward anyway, fearlessly taking our turns, learning the basics of shifting, turning, stopping, and before long we were doing all those things that looked so much fun on youtube. Then Brian went missing.
Theres not much you can do out there when someone from your group doesn't come back. Its a big area, everyone on a quad looks alike, and the dunes prevent you from seeing beyond the next hill. So its unsurprising that our search for him didn't go very well. Fortunately, after an hour or so he wandered back into camp. He was a little beat up, and his pants were torn down each leg from crotch to toe, but he was ok. Apparently he had gone over a dune that was concave on the other side and when he realized he was in trouble - pushed himself away from the bike. His pants caught on the handlebars, but he got far enough away to avoid the bike landing on him. When we went to look at where he bailed - there were 2 craters nearly 30 feet away from the dune. I'm still not sure how he avoided getting seriously hurt.
Things seemed like they were going to be ok after that. We had our accident for the trip, and now we could all have fun! We took turns riding (3 quads, 5 people), and in general had a great time following each other up and down the hills and watching high powered sand-rails scream across the sand. Then Tara disappeared.
I had stopped to watch everyone and she was right there cruising around, but when she didn't come out from the dune in front of me for a few minutes I figured she stalled or got stuck or something.
It still bothers me to think of her lying there underneath an overturned quad. Its a frozen and sickening image and I remember thinking as I crested the dune that it had to be a joke. She was messing with me. She couldn't be hurt.... People say time stands still at a moment like that, but I don't think it did for me. Its all fast-forward from there.
I remember yelling, tearing off my helmet and running down the hill to her. I started to lift the bike off her, but had apparently grabbed the exhaust pipe and heard my hand sizzle. Not wanting to drop it back on her, and not able to use my right hand, I sort of rolled/pushed the quad over and found that she was breathing. I thought - maybe she's ok?
I don't know if its normal or not, but over the next few minutes my brain began to try and de-escalate the problem. Not fatal, check. Not paralyzed, check. Not bleeding, check. Says arm hurts but is able to move it, check. To the point where you try and hope that maybe nothing major just happened - like in a few minutes you'll be limping back with her to camp and her parents won't hate you, and she won't think you screwed up her life, like your not an irresponsible idiot who took a group full of unexperienced riders out into the middle of the desert and got one of them mangled. Then I realized she kept asking me over and over what happened and couldn't understand where she was or who I was....
Eventually people came over to help, and a sand-rail ambulance (sandbulance?) took Tara to the emergency room in Yuma. We followed shortly thereafter. There were papers to fill out, and my hand was screaming. It didn't matter though. The only thought in my head was - "is she ok?" I'm nearly in tears thinking about that even now. I was so grateful when they told me it was just a moderate concussion. Then so heartbroken when they told me that her shoulder was busted up inside. I felt like a shameful dog when they finally let me in to see her...
I fully believed it was my fault Tara got hurt, but she didn't blame me. She was just as worried about my stupid hand as I was her shoulder/brain. So we moved on.
We bandaged all the things, got pizza, and headed home. I drove to keep my mind off the pain/guilt. There were weeks that followed involving hospitals, surgeries, more bandages, and a lot of retelling of the same tale. Tara was eventually ok. My hand eventually healed. I hope someday I can forget about it all. For now at least the cringing is manageable.
I can't say this slowed either of us down, but I doubt we'll be back to the dunes. A little research since then has led me to believe this type of accident is not only common, but happens to a huge percent of folks who go down there. I think Yuma is primarily a care facility for quad accidents, and a home for injury lawyers.
This is a part of our history though. Who knows if we would still be together if this didn't happen? If I hadn't stayed with her in the hospital while she recovered? If it hadn't shown me how important she was to me? I think I'll say I'm just glad we squeaked by on this one, and try to be a little more careful next time I have an idea for a weekend adventure.