Friday, 27 March 2015


Governments, police, courts and hard-liners have been wrong, totally wrong
This could be the breakthrough of the century. New research and a new book, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari, detonates the damnation wrought by holier-than-thou authorities on the victims of drug addiction, and in turn, their victims.

In the past, efforts by enlightened reformers have fallen on deaf ears, or they have been shouted down by hard-liners whose own addiction seems to be screaming for punishment.

Everyone is addicted to something; drugs, alcohol, tobacco, food, exercise, cleanliness, filth, gambling, sex, politics, talking, shopping, adventure, danger, or doing nothing. Personally, I’m addicted to writing and extending my old age.
Addicted to weird selfies in front
of weird mirrors

The old adage, ‘if you can’t beat them, join them,’ certainly applies here. Governments certainly need to join forces with the addicts to help them beat their addictions, instead of beating-up the addicts. Governments could be really innovative by supplying drugs free as a prelude to recovery and rehabilitation, thereby eliminating the need to buy drugs from criminals.

Anyone who advocates punishing people for being sick, are themselves rather sick.

The following article appeared in Huffington Post:

The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think
Posted: 01/20/2015 3:20 pm EST Updated: 03/22/2015 5:59 am EDT
It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned -- and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction by our teachers and by our governments. This story is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we take it for granted. It seems obvious. It seems manifestly true. Until I set off three and a half years ago on a 30,000-mile journey for my new book, Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs, to figure out what is really driving the drug war, I believed it too. But what I learned on the road is that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong -- and there is a very different story waiting for us, if only we are ready to hear it.
If we truly absorb this new story, we will have to change a lot more than the drug war. We will have to change ourselves.

I learned it from an extraordinary mixture of people I met on my travels. From the surviving friends of Billie Holiday, who helped me to learn how the founder of the war on drugs stalked and helped to kill her. From a Jewish doctor who was smuggled out of the Budapest ghetto as a baby, only to unlock the secrets of addiction as a grown man. From a transsexual crack dealer in Brooklyn who was conceived when his mother, a crack-addict, was raped by his father, an NYPD officer. From a man who was kept at the bottom of a well for two years by a torturing dictatorship, only to emerge to be elected President of Uruguay and to begin the last days of the war on drugs.
I had a quite personal reason to set out for these answers. One of my earliest memories as a kid is trying to wake up one of my relatives, and not being able to. Ever since then, I have been turning over the essential mystery of addiction in my mind -- what causes some people to become fixated on a drug or a behavior until they can't stop? How do we help those people to come back to us? As I got older, another of my close relatives developed a cocaine addiction, and I fell into a relationship with a heroin addict. I guess addiction felt like home to me.
If you had asked me what causes drug addiction at the start, I would have looked at you as if you were an idiot, and said: "Drugs. Duh." It's not difficult to grasp. I thought I had seen it in my own life. We can all explain it. Imagine if you and I and the next twenty people to pass us on the street take a really potent drug for twenty days. There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day twenty-one, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That's what addiction means.
One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments -- ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.
The advert explains: "Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It's called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you."
Continued below . . . .
But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexandernoticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn't know what was in them. But what happened next was startling . . . .
The full story of Johann Hari's journey -- told through the stories of the people he met -- can be read in Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, published by Bloomsbury. The book has been praised by everyone from Elton John to Glenn Greenwald to Naomi Klein. You can buy it at all good bookstores and read more at

Wednesday, 18 March 2015


Best of New Zealand in 18 days
The Australian and British tourists on the last day of their 18 day tour
Day after day of blue skies and comfortable temperatures seemed made to order on this 18 Day Discover New Zealand Tour with Hamilton based Leisure Time Tours. In fact it rained only briefly on just three days.

Queen Charlotte Sound in the Marlborough Sounds near Picton
Starting in Auckland on 20 February, the tour went north first to the beautiful Bay of Islands for two nights, then south to New Zealand’s geothermal wonderland at Rotorua for another two-night stopover. Then followed one-night stays at Napier, Wellington, Nelson,
Haast Pass
Christchurch and Franz Josef Glacier before traveling through the Southern Alps via the remote Haast Pass for two nights in the southern tourist mecca of Queenstown.
The Earnslaw at Walter Peak Station

After Queenstown, next on the itinerary was the spectacular alpine road to Milford Sound, the most unforgettable highlight of any New Zealand tour. And the weather was as perfect as the brochure photo, but it’s certainly not like that every day. Milford Sound gets over 300 inches of rain a year. At Milford tourists see spectacular mountain peaks reaching up from the mirror-surface of the Sound, or hundreds of cascading waterfalls in every direction.

It rained a little the next day on the road from Te Anau to Dunedin and the temperature was a little cooler, but nothing that could stop these visitors from enjoying this southern Scottish city and its beautiful historic buildings.

At Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain, the weatherman turned it on again for a thrill-of-a-lifetime helicopter flight and a glacier landing high above the southern lakes. Later, a leisurely drive through the McKenzie Country to Christchurch brought the tour to a happy conclusion, and the tourists departed for their home ports, taking fond memories of New Zealand’s spectacular countryside with them.

Milford Sound
Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki

The tour was an opportunity to introduce other tour drivers and tour managers to the latest book, The New Zealand Tour Commentary 2015. Only a handful of copies remain unsold.
Peter's Books

A photo stop on the road to Milford Sound

A southern scenic video taken on the road to Milford Sound:
Driving Through the Homer Tunnel

Sunday, 8 February 2015


Tour guides and drivers are waiting eagerly for this handbook

Below is two extracts from The New Zealand Tour Commentary 2015 by Peter Blakeborough. The eBook version of this handy tour reference will be published by Smashwords on 18 March 2015. Pre-ordering is available now via the link below.

Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is a place of wonderful scenic beauty. It is a system of hills and valleys that has tilted seaward over many thousands of years allowing the sea to invade the valleys and turning old hilltops into more than 150 islands. The Bay is ideally suited to big-game fishing, sailing and other water sports.
The first people believed to have come to this area were the legendary Polynesian explorers, Kupe and Toi, in the tenth and twelve centuries. They were descendants of Asians, who had migrated into the central Pacific about 4,000 years ago. There are two schools of thought on the route taken; the popular belief is that they migrated through south-east Asia, Indonesia and New Guinea. A less popular belief is that they crossed the land-bridge to Alaska and continued to South America before branching out into the Pacific. Another possibility is that both these beliefs are correct and that two migrations, from different directions, met in the central Pacific to form the Polynesian races.

Kupe and Toi may have been nothing more than mythical characters along with the Great Migration to New Zealand that is said to have followed them. It is unknown which Polynesian got here first or how many canoes followed. It is possible that only one canoe made the journey and that the journey may not have been deliberate.
The next to find the Bay of Islands was James Cook, in 1769, who described the scene as a ‘bay of islands.’ Next was a French explorer, du Fresne, in 1772. On Moturua Island in the Bay, du Fresne buried a bottle with a message claiming all of New Zealand for King Louis XV of France, not realizing that Cook had already claimed it for George III of England. To add insult to injury, du Fresne and 25 of his crew, were murdered by Maori at nearby Assassination Cove.
From the 1790’s there were occasional visits to the Bay from convict ships returning from Australia to England. They found the Bay an ideal place for replenishing provisions for the crews and obtaining backloads of timber. Whalers were also calling at the Bay from about 1800 onward.
Samuel Marsden established New Zealand’s first mission station in the Bay in 1814, and about that time, a European settlement appeared at Kororakeka – the town now known as Russell. Kororakeka was a wild town populated by ship deserters, ticket of freedom convicts, adventurers and con-artists of every description. It became known as the ‘Hell Hole of the Pacific.’ Today, Kororareka, or Russell, is New Zealand’s oldest town.
Mission stations and towns were also established at Kerikeri and Paihia about 1820 before the missionaries moved on to Waimate North in 1830.
Today Kerikeri has New Zealand’s oldest surviving building, a wooden mission house now known as Kemp House, it was built in 1822.

Although New Zealand was theoretically part of New South Wales, it was too remote for New South Wales law to have any effect and pressure mounted for a full annexation of the unruly colonial outpost. The first move came with the arrival of James Busby in 1832 with the title of British Resident but became known as the Man o’ War Without Guns. His only achievement was organizing 35 Maori chiefs to form the United Tribes of New Zealand in 1835. But in effect, New Zealand remained a lawless No Man’s Land.

The Treaty of Waitangi
A more serious attempt at establishing law and order took place in 1840 with the arrival of Captain William Hobson, with instructions to negotiate a transfer of sovereignty from the chiefs to the British Crown in exchange for the rights and protection of British citizenship. The first signings of the treaty took place in the Bay of Islands at Waitangi on 6th February 1840. It was signed in front of Busby’s house and became known as the Treaty of Waitangi . . .

And another piece from The New Zealand Tour Commentary 2015:

Gold was discovered at Canvastown by Elizabeth Pope, in 1860, and a tent town sprang up in 1864 when miners poured into the town at up to a thousand a day.
However, by 1865 the gold rush was over although a few miners stayed on for many years, but for little return. Timber milling helped keep the town alive for many years.
In 1866 four gold miners, travelling the Maungatapu bridle track from Canvastown to Nelson, were relieved of $600 worth of gold and murdered. The four murderers had already become notorious as criminals in England, Australia and New Zealand’s southern gold fields.

The Nelson district is believed to have been first settled by Maori about 700 years ago, making it one of the first areas of New Zealand to be settled. The Maori name for the area is Whakatu, meaning to build, raise or establish.
The Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, came into nearby Golden Bay in 1642, but left after a skirmish with local Maori in which he lost four crewmen. He called the place Murderers Bay.
Nelson as a city, situated on Tasman Bay, is said to be at the geographical centre of New Zealand and, after Auckland, it is New Zealand’s second oldest city dating from 1841. The city was named in honour of Admiral Horatio Nelson, who had defeated the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar in 1805 . . . .

Saturday, 7 February 2015


Why pilots fly on instruments instead of looking out the window

Most people believe that flying an aircraft in cloud is really not much different to flying in clear air, after all they must still know which way they are going, which is up and which is down, whether they are turning or flying straight, climbing or descending. It should all be pretty easy. If they can’t see, there is nothing to stop them going by feel. Okay, they may find it a little hard to locate a destination airport, but getting to the general vicinity should be a piece of cake. What could possibly go wrong? 

Unfortunately, many low-time private pilots also believe this dangerous fallacy. During the earliest years of aviation, accidents were common. Structural failure and loss of control was the most common cause, but as aircraft design, performance, and pilot training improved, another hazard presented itself. Pilots flying in reduced visibility often encountered a new kind of hazard that they were untrained and unprepared for. It was called spatial disorientation.
Jimmy Doolittle, the father of instrument flight

Spatial disorientation is a sneaky but rapid killer. Many victims strike the ground at high speed before they even realise there is a problem. Others fight for control, but rely on their senses or feelings, rather than their instruments for situational awareness. Spatial disorientation can take several forms. Typically, a pilot who is untrained for instrument flying, will feel a slight rotation about one of the three axis of his machine; he will feel pitch, roll or yaw. So he will make a small correction to bring it back on even keel, but that will be when his troubles may really begin. He may over-correct, or under-correct. For example, if he detects a slight turn to the right, he will apply opposite control (the same inputs for starting a left turn), but as the rate of turn decreases it will already feel as though he has started a turn in the opposite direction and as there are no external reference points to tell him otherwise, he will believe his feelings.

But that situation is only the beginning of the pilot’s problems because turning an aircraft, in terms of dynamics, is not a simple matter. It involves rotation around all three axis. It rolls, pitches and yaws all in the same movement and the pilot must control all three simultaneously. If he fails to do that accurately a fourth dimension immediately comes into play and that dimension is airspeed. So now the pilot has four things to control and the minor disturbance (or misconception) that started with a small correction on the controls has quickly become a complicated but crucial situation. The pilot’s actions in the next few seconds will determine whether he lives or dies. Most modern aircraft can fly straight and level for a time without any input from the pilot. They are inherently stable, but only until they start to turn. Left to its own devices the angle of bank will get progressively steeper, the radius of turn will tighten and the nose will drop allowing the airspeed to increase. Within a few seconds, perhaps a minute or two at the most, the gentle turn will have developed into what is commonly known as a graveyard spiral. The only uncertainty with a graveyard spiral is the question of which will come first – structural failure, or impact with the ground.

The standard IFR panel for many years was known as The Six Pack. From L to R, top to bottom, they
were the Airspeed Indicator, Artificial Horizon, Altimeter, Turn & Bank Indicator, Gyro Compass
and Vertical Speed Indicator
The pilot’s instruments will tell him early in the event exactly what is happening, but if he doesn’t understand them they will be of little use. Before undergoing thorough instrument flight training all pilots believe their bodily senses, just as we do all day every day on the ground when we have external reference points. He will also believe the forces on the seat of his pants and the balance mechanisms in our ears. That’s the natural thing to do. But instrument flying is not natural. Without training, understanding and self-discipline, an untrained pilot in cloud or fog, will fare no better than a scared cat on a multi-lane, busy highway. Control and panic do not belong together.

Flight safety started to improve after research and development work by the legendary American pilot, Jimmy Doolittle. In 1929, Doolittle made the first successful take-off, circuit and landing, flying solely by reference to instruments. His developments included the artificial horizon and the gyro compass. Within a few years most airline and military flying was conducted using Instrument Flight Rules and aviation became safer.

When this blogger started flying in 1954 there was a rule that pilots who were not instrument rated, or not flying on an IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) flight plan had to stay at least 500 feet vertically and 2,000 feet horizontally from cloud. They were limited to VFR (Visual Flight Rules) and they operated in airspace away from IFR controlled airspace. It was a sound rule. But many pilots, deliberately or accidentally, strayed from the rule, and many paid with their lives.  

But even today, many people including some pilots, believe that their natural senses will be all they need to survive in cloud or fog. When that thinking is combined with a poor understanding of the weather and visibility along the route, rugged terrain and over-confidence, accidents are bound to happen. In the worst case scenario, marginal weather can change to no-go weather, a pilot can be caught en route with nowhere to go and may be forced to land away from an airport. Visual flying by the inexperienced can be hazardous even when the intentions are good. Even now 40% of all general aviation accidents can be attributed to loss of control due to spatial disorientation.

There is a long list of celebrity visual pilots and passengers who died trusting their senses instead of getting the correct training and trusting their instruments.

Singers Patsy Cline and Jim Reeves had more than singing in common. Cline’s pilot and Reeves were trained by the same flight instructor. Neither pilot was instrument rated but both died while attempting to fly in instrument conditions. Buddy Holly died when his non-instrument rated charter pilot took-off into a snow storm at night. Boxer Rocky Marciano died in a Cessna 172 flown in poor visibility by a pilot who was not instrument rated. More recently, John F. Kennedy Jnr died when he lost control of his aircraft during a flight over water on a dark night. He was not instrument rated.
John F. Kennedy Jnr

After I had been flying for several years I undertook the training for an instrument rating, including cross-country navigation, various instrument approaches and recovery from unusual situations, not so that I could file an IFR flight plan and cruise above the clouds, but just for insurance against my own errors of judgement while flying VFR. I believe every pilot should be trained to IFR standard.

Many of the spatial disorientation accidents happen in aircraft fully equipped for instrument flying, but to pilots who are not instrument trained. Some of them seem to believe that having the instruments is more important than the training, but they continue to believe their natural instincts instead of the instruments and continue to die with only seconds warning.

Saturday, 24 January 2015


From sea to shining sea; from Pacific to Atlantic
Here is a free sample read from Highway America – the Adventures of a Kiwi Truck Driver, by Peter Blakeborough. Available as an eBook from

At 4pm Tuesday I departed on my first coast to coast run. Four hours later I rested up for the night at a rest area in the Mojave Desert where the outside temperature was still over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. According to radio reports some localities reached 120 degrees Fahrenheit that day. All praise to Old Bluey for its air conditioning and fast idle facility. The heat of the desert must also take a toll on the highway sign-writers; in the Mojave Desert I found a sign for a Zzyzx Road.
The nearby settlement of Zzyzx (pronounced Zikes) was established by one Curtis Springer in 1944 when he set up the local Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa on federal land. He created Zzyzx so that it would be the last word in the English language and everything went fine for Springer until he was sprung by the Federal Government for misusing government land.
On Wednesday morning I awoke to a beautiful desert sunrise and spent a few minutes taking photos before departing for Las Vegas, a TA breakfast and a flutter on a roulette wheel. By mid-morning Old Bluey was heading up Interstate 15 again through Nevada, a corner of Arizona and into Utah in brilliant sunshine.
At Fishlake National Forest I turned east onto the I-70 and started climbing towards the Rocky Mountains as cumulonimbus clouds gathered overhead. An hour later an enormous thunderhead hung menacingly over the landscape and triggered the most spectacular lightning displays imaginable. All around fiery, lightning bolts shot down from the sky, some striking the ground a mere fifty yards from the truck as I proceeded cautiously. The noise of the thunderclaps and torrential rain was deafening.
A few miles on the sky suddenly cleared and the only evidence of the storm was the steam rising from the still hot road and a few minutes after that the desert had the appearance of not having had rain for a hundred years.

I pulled into a rest area and took some more photos before going on to the West Winds Truck Stop at Green River, Utah, having completed 551 miles for the day.
A narrow strip of cultivated land on both sides of the river to the north of the town gave the locality a welcoming oasis appearance in spite of the uninviting surrounding desert. In the fading light I walked the main street, talked to some locals, and had a beer and a dinner and walked back to the truck where I studied the Rand McNally Road Atlas and the USA Rough Guide and wrote up the diary before putting the light out.
Green River is 4,000 feet above sea level and according to the Rand McNally Road Atlas a climb to over 11,100 feet (almost the height of New Zealand’s Mount Cook) was in store for Thursday and I rose early to prepare for one of the great adventures of North American motoring.
The sun had just risen when I crossed from Utah into Colorado and headed for Grand Junction (the junction of the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers), the largest city in western Colorado with 44,000 people. From there the I-70 follows the Colorado River through rugged gorges and settlements with names like Parachute and Rifle to Glenwood Springs which boasts the world’s largest outdoor hot springs pool. I’m not sure if Rotorua qualifies as part the ‘world’ or not. A onetime famous resident of Glenwood Springs was Doc Holliday, a dentist, gambler and gunfighter (lead fillings?) who retired there at the ripe old age of 35 and died a short time later in 1887. The local graveyard also holds the remains of Kid Curry, a member of the Butch Cassidy gang.
Continuing east the interstate enters Glenwood Canyon and makes numerous crossings of the Colorado River as it flows in the shadow towering mountain peaks all around. The road climbs steadily to 8,000 feet at the modern ski resort of Vail where President Gerald Ford was living in retirement. East of Vail the I-70 climbs quickly to an initial high of 10,666 feet at Vail Pass where I pulled into a rest area for another photo stop. It was July and the weather was mostly fine and hot at lower elevations but at Vail Pass there was still plenty of snow above the interstate and the air was thin and cold. Even though the hair spray load weighed in at only 19,000lbs. I was surprised at how well Old Bluey performed on the steep grades. Two years later when I hauled ice cream over the same mountains it was a different story. More about that later.

From Vail Pass the interstate descended again to below 9,000 feet at Silverthorne before climbing again to the Rockies summit at the entrance to the Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel at 11,125 feet above sea level. Then it plunged again to 7,500 feet at Idaho Springs and leveled off for a few winding miles before making a long descent to the busy mile-high city of Denver.
Driving the western Colorado section of the I-70 in a big rig started as a daunting challenge but it quickly became a fascinating experience and the most memorable of all the highways driven during my time in the USA. From the old gold mining hamlets to the modern ski resorts and retirement towns, some dull, others interesting, the road over the Rockies is hard to beat for scenic views on grand scale.
Driving eastward from Denver across the flat, featureless and sparsely populated prairies was an anticlimax at the end of a wonderful day and with another 491 miles covered I was pleased to see Exit 438 at Burlington, Colorado, and Amack’s Amoco truckstop.
Another 498 miles on Friday took me across the plains of Kansas and to a TA truckstop at Concordia, Missouri, for another night. On Saturday the ride across the Great Plains continued for 573 miles with an overnight stop in a rest area at Summerford, Ohio, between Dayton and Columbus.
On Sunday another 514 miles took the hair spray through Pennsylvania and to the TA truckstop at Bloomsbury, New Jersey. I had just got parked in a long line of trucks with origins and destinations in every part of America when another CalArk truck pulled in and I recognized behind the wheel the whiskers and cheery grin of Fred Gulliver from Christchurch. For five days Fred had been following me from Fontana, California, and he had hair spray too for the same company in Fair Lawn. We had a beer and some dinner together and caught up on the news from Little Rock and New Zealand.


Thursday, 22 January 2015


Cheryl Stearns was on a mission to collect her
20,000th skydive, until things down on earth got complicated

On November 12, 2014, a warm Wednesday with one of those storybook Carolina blue skies overhead, the greatest female skydiver in history lay unconscious on a patch of hard blacktop just west of Charlotte. Her head, nose, elbow, and mouth were cut open, her glasses were smashed, and she was bleeding inside her skull. It was just after 1 p.m. The only witness to the accident told police she couldn’t tell who was at fault. No camera crews came to the scene. There was no press conference at the hospital later. But when the police officer returned the skydiver’s mangled mountain bike to her house that evening, he made sure to feed her cats.

In the weeks leading up to the accident, I’d been following Cheryl Stearns as she made her final push to an unfathomable record—20,000 career skydives. Only a handful of men before her have reached that number. She was to be the first woman. She was preparing for a skydiving competition in Dubai, scheduled for just after Thanksgiving. The previous weekend, she made 11 practice jumps, each time falling under the cover of a red, white, and blue parachute with “U.S.A.” spelled out in the middle.
Her biggest worry that week had been shoes. She was considering switching to a new pair of Nikes. She’s an accuracy skydiver, so when she lands, she’s scored on how close the heel of her right shoe lands to a nickel-sized dot on a mat. For most people who jump out of a plane, landing safely is the only important thing. For Stearns, who won her first world skydiving championship in 1978 by landing on the exact same spot in a field in Yugoslavia 18 consecutive times, landing even a centimeter to the right or left of that dot is failure. The Nikes were producing mixed results.
Few people on the planet are as precise as Stearns. She spent 15 years in the Army and was the first female member of the elite parachuting team the Golden Knights. She’s jumped out of a plane in 35 countries and 32 states. She’s won 30 women’s national skydiving championships, five world military championships, and two overall world championships. And in November 1995, she jumped 352 times in one day, setting a world record that still stands for jumps in a 24-hour period by a woman.
She once jumped out over New York Harbor and curled around the crown of the Statue of Liberty with smoke streaming out of canisters on her shoes and an American flag tied to her back, landing in front of hundreds of people. Another time, she steered her parachute underneath the St. Louis arch. Another time, she jumped out of a hot-air balloon and into a pool at Sea World.
The numbers and places add up to an amazing life story, but 20,000 could be her most impressive, and defining, number. Most people who skydive do it only once. They pay for video and photos, evidence of their moment of courage for YouTube or an office desk. Stearns, who is now 59, is nearly 20,000 of those moments packed in a 5-foot-6, 128-pound frame and dressed in a red, white, and blue jumpsuit.
She’s revered in the aviation community. But at this age, even Stearns knows that she’ll come down someday. She may not have a 30,000th jump, or a 25,000th jump.
This might be her last big, round number. 
She wanted 20,000 to be special. She wanted it to happen in Dubai, and on the winning jump. So she spaced out her training in October and early November. She’d get three or four practice jumps in Dubai, she knew, and then 10 competition jumps. A skydiving accuracy competition is like golf; the lowest score wins. On each landing, a sensor measures the jumper’s distance from the target. One centimeter off target equals one point, two centimeters equals two, and so forth. The points are added together after 10 jumps. The best score is zero.
“What I really hope happens is that I get to 20,000 with a dead center to win the meet,” Stearns told me the Saturday before the accident. 
In order to make that happen, she needed to schedule her training so that her last practice jump onto Carolina soil was number 19,986 . . . . .
SHE AWOKE BRIEFLY on the side of the road and saw her twisted mountain bike next to her. She saw a car stopped in the street a few dozen yards away. An officer asked for her name and address, and she was able to give them to him, but then she started mumbling and slurring. An ambulance rushed her 11 miles to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte.
Medics stopped blood from flowing. At CMC, doctors put eight staples in her head and stitches in her arm and ointment on her face. She refused painkillers. Miraculously, nothing was broken. But she’d suffered what doctors said was a moderate traumatic brain injury. 
In her day job, Stearns is an on-call pilot for US Airways. Nineteen days a month, her shift starts at 9 p.m. and runs until noon the next day. If the airline needs someone to fly, her phone will ring, and she’ll pick up her travel bag and drive eight minutes from her home to Charlotte Douglas International Airport. She has more than 21,000 flying hours without incident. 
On her off days, she drives to Shelby to fly her private plane, a Cessna, which she uses as a member of the Civil Air Patrol. The day before her accident, she flew a young boy and a photographer around for a few hours before sunset.
In the few moments of her life that she’s not flying, she goes on hikes or rides one of her two bikes. That Wednesday, because she was training for the Dubai competition, she hopped on her mountain bike, which gives her a better physical workout. Her standard ride is a 25-mile route that travels through neighborhoods and past a lake and on the trails at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. It should’ve taken two hours and 15 minutes, exactly.
Later that evening, though, she awoke in the emergency room. Her longtime friend and roommate, Lindy Leach, was there. Stearns told Leach she couldn’t remember anything. That night, she caught brief blinks of sleep in between the throbbing headaches. The next morning, she tried to call home to tell Leach she was being moved out of intensive care, but she couldn’t remember her home number.
JUST BEFORE 1 P.M. on that blue-skied Wednesday last fall, Stearns strapped on her Camelbak water pack, rolled her mountain bike out of the garage, and went off down a route she knows by heart. She was thinking about Dubai. She was thinking about how she’d ended her last practice jumps that Sunday. She was thinking about those Nikes. Twenty-five miles. Two hours and fifteen minutes. Around the whitewater center. Around the lake. Then back through a new neighborhood called the Vineyards.
“I like to ride where it’s quiet,” she says.
At the heart of the Vineyards is a traffic circle. If she doesn’t see a car coming toward the circle on the left, she’ll cut across. If she does see one, she’ll stay right and go around the circle. She remembers almost cutting over this time. But at the last moment a red car came into view on the left, so she went around.
Spinning off the circle, she pedaled up the hill on Amos Hill Road, then over a bridge that crosses railroad tracks, and toward an intersection with Old Dowd Road, a fairly busy two-lane road in western Mecklenburg County. As she approached the intersection, the bike lane ran out. Stearns hugged the right shoulder. She doesn’t remember looking back. A police report lists various accounts of what happened next. A witness says Stearns was on the white line, but in the lane. Stearns believes she was over far enough. The driver of a 2010 Nissan, an 83-year-old named Mary who did not return phone calls for this story, says in the report that Stearns swerved into her lane. Mary also says that Stearns was wearing headphones. The report, which includes charges against Mary for failing to reduce speed, says that only the Camelbak and bike were at the scene, and that there were no headphones.
Mary’s right-side mirror struck Stearns in the left side of her back at 30 miles per hour. Stearns doesn’t know when she was knocked out, but she was, and more than the broken glasses or a cut lip or pending court cases, that’s the damning part of all this. 
Her head, doctors tell her, can’t handle abrupt changes in altitude. 
The most accomplished skydiver in the world is grounded.
Sitting in a chair in her home a week after the accident, Stearns broke in conversation several times, wincing while explaining what happened. She couldn’t bend over because blood rushed to her head. 
“Even sneezing hurts,” she said. 
Federal Aviation Administration guidelines dictate that a pilot who has a concussion can’t fly for at least six months and must go back through a flying school before returning to the cockpit. Stearns’s concussion was so severe, she’s already been ruled out for a year. She also can’t pilot her private plane. 
A neurologist initially told Stearns it would be six to eight weeks before she can even ride in an airplane again, let alone jump out. In the best-case scenario, they told her the earliest she could skydive again would be April. 
To download a free sample of
this eBook, click here
Even Stearns, who’s built a career around possibilities and optimism, couldn’t prevent a thought from creeping into her head, if only momentarily.
“I guess there’s a chance it’s forever,” she told me in December. “I can’t have that, though. I don’t know what I’d do if I can’t go up.”
One thing is certain: Stearns says she’s never riding a bike on the road again. The 2003 bike accident in Raeford left her without use of her left arm for six months. This time, the brain injury has her grounded for at least that long. That’s a year of life for someone who keeps track of every minute. She plans to install a bike rack on her car, and she’ll ride only on trails or on her stationary bike upstairs. 
“I’ve told her to stay off that damn bike so many times,” says Guy Jones, her former boss with the Golden Knights. “You’re safer in the sky.”
Cheryl’s full story is available from Charlotte Magazine at:

Peter’s Piece

What an amazing person Cheryl Stearns is! But her story tells us a lot about accidents involving bikes and motorized vehicles, in fact about all accidents. They mostly happen when everything is going fine and having an accident is the last thing we expect.

Cheryl Stearns is obviously an exceptionally safety-conscious person in everything she does, but even that wasn’t enough. No, I’m not about to say when your number comes up there is nothing you can do about it. That is just an excuse for not feeling obliged to take care of yourself and others. That attitude is just a wheel’s turn away from a death wish.

This accident, like all accidents, happened because people made mistakes. It could be Mary or Cheryl and it may be possible that both made mistakes, but that would certainly be out of character for Cheryl. We know less about Mary. Mistakes could have also been made by people not present at the scene; the people who certified Mary as safe for driving, the people who designed and maintained the road. In most accidents more than one person is at fault, some just more at fault than others.

Sometimes it is easy to dismiss a danger sign because the other person has seen you and will stop or give way. Few people seem to appreciate that if that other person fails to yield, then the responsibility is transferred to themselves.

Just this morning, a few minutes before reading the Charlotte Magazine article, I was out near the road cleaning our car and motorhome. A yellow courier van came along the street and veered across the street to park on the wrong side. I heard a thump, looked up again to see that there had been a collision between the courier van and a car backing out from a driveway.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t see you,” the car driver said.
“I thought you would have stopped,” the courier driver said. “You could put this through your insurance company, because mine is too expensive.”

The courier van had a small amount of panel damage from the car’s tow bar. The car appeared not to be damaged. They exchanged details and the courier left to continue his round. The lady driving the car was convinced that she was entirely at fault because she was reversing. So I pointed out to her that reversing a vehicle is not illegal and it is normally still insured while reversing. But because of restricted visibility one must take extra care while reversing. On the other hand the courier driver was illegally driving on the wrong side of the road, admitted that he saw the car reversing, and failed to take evasive action.

I suggested to the lady that she should insist that any claim should be through his insurance and that she should deny all liability, although ultimately a ruling could be made apportioning blame 90-10% with the courier driving on the losing side. Perhaps his insurance is expensive because he has an expensive claims history, and as a result of that he now has a store of ready answers.

But to return to Cheryl and Mary, our sympathy must be with both driver and rider, but ultimately it would seem that Mary must carry the greater proportion of the responsibility. The bike was in front of her and she struck it. Bikes have as much right as any other vehicle to be on the road, unless restricted by signage, and all drivers are obliged to do everything in their power to avoid collisions, regardless of who may initially be at fault.

Cyclists must always remember that bikes can be hard to see, and do everything possible to stay visible and safe. Car, bus and truck drivers need to be constantly on alert for cyclists, remembering that they are hard to see, and that with bikes, there is a higher possibility of an accident being fatal.