I learned these rules the hard way in 1994 and 1995, and even
though it all turned out okay, it could have been a disaster.  Let me

In 1994, after a year of working at my first job in Kankakee, Illinois, I
had accrued a couple weeks of vacation and decided to take off a full
week and do something fun.  What better way to vacate than dirt
biking in Michigan?  Over the years I had heard that Michigan had a
great off-road trail system and was a dirt biker's paradise.  So I
carefully planned my trip, called the Department of Natural Resources
to get maps, and prepared my RMX250 for several days of riding.

At that time I had only been seriously dirt biking for less than a year
and hadn't developed a network of buddies to ride with.  The internet
was not as developed as it is today, so hooking up with people to ride
with was difficult.  I had ridden alone many times in the woods on one
of my dad's farms and never had any trouble, so how different would
it be to ride alone in Michigan?  Besides, all of the trails were marked
and I would have maps if for some reason I got lost.  Undeterred by
the danger, I packed my truck and drove 8 hours from Momence,
Illinois to Atlanta, Michigan.  When I began trail riding the next day, I
couldn't believe what I was seeing.
 Miles upon miles of trails,
beautiful scenery, and lots of sandy soil.  The first day I rode nearly
100 miles and the next day moved on to another trail system near
Black Lake.  That day I rode about 70 miles and learned Rule #2
(hang on, the Rule #1 story is coming):  If you don't know how much
farther the trail goes on and it's time to go back for gas, TURN
AROUND.  I didn't, convinced that the trail would eventually wind its
way back around like the map showed.  The map was correct, but I
would have needed to ride another 20 miles and the gas tank would
have been bone dry before then.  At that point I broke Rule #3:
NEVER LEAVE A MARKED TRAIL.  The map showed the country
roads and I had a pretty good idea of where my truck was parked, so I
got off the trail and started riding dirt roads.  But my map reading
skills were sharp as a hammer and within a few minutes I was
completely lost.

Fortunately there is another special rule that doesn't necessarily
apply to dirt biking, and it goes something like this: when you are lost
and ask three people for help, even if none of them know exactly
where you're going, between the three sets of directions you should
be able to glean enough correct information to get where you need to
be.  The first guy I talked to gave me a lengthy set of instructions on
how to get back to my truck, of which I immediately forgot about 90%
of what he said.  Fortunately I remembered his directions to a country
store that had a gas pump.  On the way there it started pouring rain
and I hung out in the country store for awhile and received another
set of directions.  After gassing up and pouring in half a bottle of 2-
cycle oil, I headed back on the highway in the driving rain and tried
my best to remember all that the nice lady in the store had told me.  
Again, I got lost.  The third person that I talked to was another nice
lady working behind the bar at a camping resort.  I was quite a sight
in a full set of riding gear and soaking wet.  The lady sent me in the
right direction and I was able to pick up the trail and ride back to my
truck (still pouring rain).  On the way back, I encountered a young
couple on mountain bikes who were every bit as soaked as I was.

Despite being lost and alone, I still had not learned Rule #1.  My two-
day riding adventure in Michigan was so fun that I decided to do it
again the following summer.  Except this time, I decided to explore
the Upper Peninsula.  By way of Wisconsin and a two-day stay at the
summer home of my brother-in-law's aunt and uncle, I drove into the
UP from the west and rode a couple hours after waiting for rain to
pass.  The next day was record-setting hot and I started riding a trail
system that was about as far from civilization as I had ever been.  
About 45 minutes into the ride I caught something on my left boot and
felt a pain like I had never experienced before.  Apparently my foot
was dangling under the gear shifter, just low enough for a tree stump
to bend the foot in a way for which it wasn't designed.  I knew it had
to be broken, so I just turned around and started riding back to the
truck.  No crash, never stopped riding.  Problem was, my truck was
probably 10 miles away and after a few minutes of rough riding in first
gear (at least it felt rough with a broken foot), I decided to break Rule
#3.  Much of Michigan's trail system is located on land that is logged,
so there are plenty of logging roads crisscrossing the trails.  I figured
that I could make better time and be more comfortable on a logging
road, and eventually it had to cross a main road where I could
hopefully get directions back to my truck (and to the nearest hospital).

Sure enough, the logging road intersected a county road and I
conveniently blew through the intersection and dumped over the bike
while trying to get turned back around.  Talk about pain.  At least it
was my left foot that hurt and I could still start up the engine.  But
righting the bike was just another in a string of painful moments that
would continue for a long while.  Just as I approached the intersection
again, a big Dodge pickup truck came roaring by with a large RV-type
trailer in tow and a canoe strapped to the truck.  I capitalized on this
opportunity and sped along to try to catch the attention of the driver.  
Keep in mind that I couldn't shift gears with my left foot, so I was
shifting with my right foot.  Left-side gear shifter and right foot doing
the shifting...don't try that at home, folks.  I caught up to the truck,
frantically waved my arms, and it slowly came to a stop.

A middle-aged couple stepped out of the truck and there began as
incredible an experience with two Good Samaritans as anyone could
imagine.  Lloyd and Delores Fitzpatrick were just beginning a short
vacation that was to include camping and canoeing when our paths
crossed.  After convincing them that my foot was broken, I borrowed
Lloyd's knife and attempted to slice away the seams of my boot to
relieve some pressure of the swelling.  While I did that, they decided
that the trip to the hospital in Newberry (about 20 miles south and the
Fitzpatrick's home town) would be easier if the camper was
disconnected from the truck.  As they backed the trailer into an
opening in the woods, another couple pulled up in a little car and
offered to help.  I never did get their names, but the old guy let me
borrow his knife, which was much sharper.  But before letting me use
it, he attempted to "help" me pull off the boot.  Basically he grabbed
the end of it and started yanking before I even realized what was
going on.  It's a good thing he hadn't yet given me his knife, because
I probably would have used it to cut off both of his hands.  Believe
me, the yanking didn't last long.

By the time the back seam of my boot was completely cut off, Lloyd
and Delores were back and ready to load me into their truck and head
to Newberry.  They watched as I pulled my foot out the back end of
the boot.  First thing I noticed is that my foot had an unnatural shape
around the big toe.  The next thing I noticed was blood on my sock.  
Not good.  Lloyd and the other guy parked my motorcycle out in the
woods somewhere and we took off in the pickup truck.  At that point I
didn't much care what happened to my motorcycle or my truck...I just
wanted the pain to go away.  By some miracle we took the same road
to Newberry by which I had parked my truck and I pointed it out to the

About 30 minutes later we arrived at the Newberry hospital, and I use
that term loosely.  They were set up to take X-rays and stitch up cuts,
but that was about it.  I actually felt embarrassed to be there and as
they wheeled me into the ER in a wheelchair, I was prepared to hear
a bunch of abuse from the doctors and nurses (as a kid, I had a
doctor who called them "Suicycles" and gave me sh*t at every
opportunity for risking my life).  Turned out that nobody much cared
that I got hurt on a dirt bike.  The radiologist was glad that I had been
riding the same trails that she used for mountain biking, "keeping
them clear" as she put it.

The X-rays showed two breaks in the metatarsals and a dislocated big
toe that had popped far enough out of its joint to puncture the skin,
causing some bleeding.  That was too much for the Newberry hospital
to handle, so they called a specialist in Sault Ste. Marie, about 60
miles northeast.  O.K., slight was I going to get to
Sault Ste. Marie, get back to Newberry, get to my truck, get to my
motorcycle and load it up with a broken foot?  Answer:  Lloyd and
Delores Fitzpatrick.

Here was the plan:

  1. Delores would go home and get her car and drive me to the
    orthopedic specialist in Sault Ste. Marie.
  2. Lloyd would get a friend and drive back to my truck, have one of
    them take my truck back to the woods and load up the
    motorcycle, then go back to Newberry where Lloyd would drive my
    truck to Sault Ste. Marie and meet up with me and Delores.

Now, what kind of people would spend the better part of their day
helping a stranger in this way?  Guess that's how they are in
Michigan.  I had chosen to get hurt in a part of the world where
people still help each other.

Back to the story.  The nice doctor in Sault Ste. Marie inflicted much
pain but saved my riding pants from the cutters.  He kept asking
questions about where I was from and what I did for a living.  I just
wanted him to do his business and let me get out of there.  When he
found out I was an ag lender, he started talking about the rough time
the local cherry farmers were having that year, all the while twisting
my foot, pushing on the broken bones, and generally causing nearly
unbearable suffering.  He finally got my toe back in place, sewed up
the cut, wrapped on the cast, and let me leave.  Delores took me to a
Hardees drive-thru and I ate my first meal in about 10 hours.  She
helped me get set up in the Bambi Motel, not exactly a 5-star hotel
but the cheapest rates in town.  Lloyd eventually showed up with my
truck but wouldn't take any money for all their trouble, not even for
gas.  Awesome people.

The next day I had to file a police report for some reason (stupid
health insurance), then I drove straight back to the farm from there.  
In a lifetime, 8 hours isn't too significant, but those hours in the truck
felt like two lifetimes.  The important thing was that I learned Lesson
#1 and had a life experience that showed me there are good people
willing to help out when someone needs assistance.  Thanks again,
Lloyd and Delores.

Click here to see
my achin' foot.
The Rules