My brother Kevin is finally home after one of his bucket-list adventures: a motorcycle trip to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. It sits on the northern-most part of the US highway system – in fact, 10 miles north of the actual highway. Sarah Palin couldn’t see Russia from Prudhoe Bay, but that country isn’t far away.
Kevin had an accident on his KTM bike coming back down through the state. He was well north of Fairbanks when his tire blew after he hit a sharp pothole while rounding a curve. Asphalt is a rare commodity on that road and when it’s broken, it can be unforgiving to a tire. Kevin went one way and his bike went the other. My brother slid on asphalt and gravel for a few dozen meters. He was wearing full gear and that’s what saved him. His bike wasn’t so lucky.
In addition to his friend Al, with whom he was on the trip, and a guy from Minnesota riding down with them, several people stopped to help him. Al has loads of experience with medical emergencies including as a first responder, but a trucker who stopped, a former Navy diver, had even more. He was as efficient as a doctor or paramedic. A combination of strangers and friends got my brother taken in an ambulance to an Alaskan Pipeline Pumping Station where a medic is stationed 24/7. Kevin waited there for 32 hours for a tow truck and then took a bumpy seven-hour ride into Fairbanks where he was seen by a doctor. He has a broken rib, other cracked ribs and other bumps and bruises including cuts where there was a slim gap between his gloves and his jacket sleeves.
Kevin called his insurance company and holed up in a motel to wait. Actually, he had to change motels after the first one turned out to be worse than a dive. He couldn’t lift or carry anything, including himself. Moving was agony. The company told him he couldn’t leave the state or his policy would be null and void. He couldn’t lie down if he wanted to breathe and while he’s not a doctor, he decided that breathing was important so he stacked pillows on a hard wooden chair and tried not to fall out when he dozed off. It took the company eleven long days to get an adjuster to Fairbanks and begin the process of approving to have the wrecked bike moved to a mechanic for assessment. Can you imagine the frustration and agony of being in such pain and things taking so long? That’s something Kevin could have arranged in a couple of hours. When the insurance people told my brother it would be five more days before money was transferred to a tow-truck driver to move the bike, Kevin paid for it himself just to get something, anything done.
The better motel’s owner asked Kevin why he didn’t want his sheets changed during his stay and Kevin said he wasn’t using the bed. Alarmed that my brother was trying to sleep in a wooden kitchen chair, the owner arranged for this yellow chair to be put in his room so at least he could lean back to sleep and not worry about falling out. And he continued to wait for news about his bike. Could it be fixed? Would he have to rent an expensive U-Haul to get it home? Alaska doesn’t rent vehicles for one-way travel. How would he haul a trailer?
When his calls to the company elicited nothing more than empty “I’m sorry, sir” responses, he found out about the insurance ombudsman. His so-called team at the insurance company – whose name rhymes with bin-fact – was reluctant to give Kevin the contact information, but they finally did and he filed the complaint. The rules state that the company has 24 hours to make things right before the ombudsman gets involved. And boy did they hop to it. The next day he received three calls from three different departments telling him how much money they were willing to give him for various things: his motel, his gear, lost wages and a few other things including his flight home. Isn’t it unfortunate that it took the threat of a permanent note in their file before they stepped to it?
Kevin’s home now and telling his stories. He walks like Tim Conway as the old man on the Carol Burnett Show, but he’s on the mend. The bike? It was a write-off, so he’ll be bike shopping before his next adventure. The lesson: wear the best helmet, jacket, pants, boots, and gloves you can afford when you ride. They’ll save your skin. And should you ever need it, information about the insurance ombudsman is at giocanada.org.