There aren’t any tow trucks in Port Renfrew

We came upon a motorcycle accident on the way out to Port Renfrew today. I was leading a group of five motorcycles, and ahead of us was a different group of three – two big Harleys and a BMW Dakar. Ahead of them there were a few cars, going slower than motorcycles like to go, so we were all bunched up. Two of the cars split off at China Beach and the third one saw that he was holding us up, so politely pulled over to let us pass.

The group ahead of us took off and were out of sight in moments. In my group, we had a couple bikes riding two-up, one inexperienced rider going slow, and another who rolled her new bike out of the dealership yesterday. So I didn’t feel any need to keep up with them. My group continued at our relaxed pace until we found the BMW on the side of the road and two riders standing near it looking shell-shocked. The second rider’s bike was nowhere in sight.

I pulled my group over at the next open spot and ran back to see what was up. A Harley rider had target-fixated in the middle of a curve and gone right off the road. Not just in the ditch, but 15 feet up the gravel embankment on the other side of the ditch. By the time I got there on foot a camper had pulled over and given him a chair and some water. He had a cut on his face, a deep gouge on his right arm, and a horrible purple scrape bruise on his leg, but he was able to stand and walk at least.

I’ve seen plenty of people having bad days, but this was the first time I’ve been first on the scene, or close to it. Normally there’s already ambulances present or on the way, but this happened between Jordan River and Port Renfrew. There is no cell service and no human habitation of any kind for 20km in either direction. Everyone was just standing around, wondering what to do.

I checked the rider for broken bones and serious bleeding, then recruited a couple of my friends to help move the Harley back down into the road. I checked my odometer so I could report the location – there were no landmarks of any kind. Then we continued our weekend jaunt to Tomi’s Cafe and got on with lunch. In PR, I was worried, so I asked at the cafe if there was a tow service I could call and send back. There’s no such thing in Port Renfrew. So I had my friend call the RCMP in Sooke and tell them what happened and where, and ask them to make sure the guys were safe.

The whole time I was thinking about what I could have done. One of the stopped camper vans had a big first aid kit in it. I could have asked if any of them had actual training to go with the kit, and if not, administered first aid myself (I do have training). I could have asked my friends to go ahead without me and stayed with the injured rider and his friend and helped them flag down a truck. I could have gotten the BMW’s name and phone number, at least, so I could get in touch with him and ask if they made it out okay, or pass it along to the police.

None of these things are my responsibility, exactly, but it’s what I would want someone to do if I was in that situation. If I was the injured rider, I would be too shocky to do anything useful for the rest of the day. If I was the friend, I’d be standing there thinking “I can’t handle this. I need an adult.” Which is pretty much what the guy was doing. He was a new rider out on his first big ride ever, with his two friends who were supposed to be more experienced than him. But one of them just ate it, and the other one was far ahead before he noticed his crew was gone, and took a long time to come back.

So I wish I had taken responsibility for the situation and seen it through to the conclusion. Of course that would have derailed my plans for the day, but come on. It’s just a Sunday ride. I guess what stopped me was the feeling that everyone else was older than me, more experienced, and knew what to do better than I did. But based on what I could see, that was not true. Everyone else was looking for someone to take charge as well. I could have done it, but I ran away instead.

The guy was not dying or anything, but the worst case scenario I can think of is that he ended up riding his dented motorcycle, shocky and bleeding, back to Sooke (50km of twisty roads) before getting proper care. I would never want to do that. I would never want any of my friends to do that either.

It made me wonder, what is the procedure for dealing with an emergency out there? My friends and I, and hundreds of other motorcyclists, whip out to Port Renfrew every chance we get, enjoying the windy roads, the glimpses of ocean, and the total absence of speed traps. My group doesn’t have any hooligans, but accidents aren’t that rare.

There is no cell phone service. There is no data connection. There are no police in Port Renfrew or Jordan River – the nearest RCMP outpost is Sooke, and it’s probably staffed by like two constables. There’s no tow service in PR or JR, as I was appalled to learn. And there’s not really any “adults” to call – no one today had any more of a clue what to do than I did.

Luckily, there is one thing you can count on, on a sunny August weekend – tons and tons of traffic. And almost everyone is prepared to help, with Canadian enthusiasm, as long as you give them clear instructions and only ask them to do things that they can do. I’d like to have a plan in place in case something like this ever happens again. I’m unlikely to start carrying a first aid kit or satellite phone, so my plan relies on helpful strangers.

First, check for injuries and make sure no one is bleeding to death. Flag down one of the millions of RVs that drive through every weekend if one hasn’t stopped already. Tap them for blankets, lawn chairs, and water. Move any injured people off the road, sit them down, give them water and blankets, and have someone keep an eye on them watching for shock. Move all vehicles off the road as well. Ask the involved parties whether they want to try flagging down a ride to the next town or send someone else there to phone for help. If they’re incoherent, make a decision for them. Don’t be in a hurry to run off or send anyone else running off for help, because frequently help arrives on it’s own. But if not, send someone to the next town and phone Totem Towing or ambulance/police for help, depending how bad it is. Wait until everyone is on their way home. Get names and phone numbers sooner and not later, so you can check up on them. Give yours as well. And from the very outset, understand that your leisurely Sunday ride is cancelled, and that God has provided you with a Learning Opportunity instead. Be grateful for it.

I hope writing this out helps me get it right (to my own standards) next time, though, of course, next time is likely to be a completely different emergency and need a totally different response. So it goes.

On the way home to Victoria, we stopped to stretch our legs in Jordan River and a constable pulled up. He asked us if we were the ones who called in the accident. He had looked for the downed rider at the spot and along the road but hadn’t seen him or his friends. Neither had we, so I guess they all made it back to safety somehow.

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Shannon Graham

Shannon has been writing brief essays and occasional how-to articles at Rocketships, Unaffiliated (.ca) whenever inspiration strikes, since 2012.

She is interested in your opinion.

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