Last September I devoted this column to the telling of the saga of Minnesota biker Brian Baladez and the extraordinary lengths he went to in capturing and transporting a sick and badly injured bald eagle he discovered along a rural road in northern Wisconsin. As you may recall, Brian pursued the freaked-out and flightless bird through the high weeds by the roadside, wrapped it up in his riding leather and bungeed it to his bike, getting himself clawed and bitten for his trouble in the process. After a 50-mile journey and more than a few frustrations and tribulations including getting stopped and sobriety tested by the police in Duluth, he succeeded in delivering the eagle into safe hands, and ultimately into the care of the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center in Minneapolis. The eagle was given the natural handle, under the circumstances, of “Harley,” and while the Center was guardedly optimistic about the bird’s chances for recovery, whether or not it would ever regain sufficient flight capacity to return to the wild was far from a foregone conclusion.
You may also recall that at the time I wrote the column I’d been in contact with Dr. Julia Ponder, the director of the Raptor Center, about Harley’s prospects, and it was Dr. Ponder who mentioned that Brian’s leather jacket had been mauled pretty badly by the struggling bird and wouldn’t it be cool if someone in the biker community could replace it as a small token of appreciation for a gutsy biker’s good deed?
Shortly thereafter, Thunder Press sent Brian a Harley-Davidson Nevada jacket, and the dude was super-stoked to receive it, and, according to a friend of his, practically lived in the thing, removing it at bedtime only reluctantly. And we felt pretty pleased with ourselves for sending it. All-in-all the whole episode was a feel-good story that kept feeling better, especially when Harley astounded his caregivers by not only returning to health, but also returning—after a spell of healing, molting, and retraining—to full flight duty. Fittingly, it was Brian Baladez who was given the honor of setting the rejuvenated Harley free. The release on January 30th of this year was a big deal, attended by hundreds of well-wishers, and Harley took to the skies eagerly, majestically, and equipped with a GPS transmitter. He’s been heading back north to his home stomping grounds since then, and you can follow his progress at www.theraptor centernews. blogspot.com, which you can link to at our website. Sending a donation to the Raptor Center on Harley’s behalf would be a cool thing to do, too.
One other upshot of that event was that, while I’d had a few phone conversations with Brian in the period after the story first broke, it was only when I saw photos of him releasing the eagle that I realized the guy I’d been talking to and writing about sports a most-excellent mullet—a hairstyle every bit as endangered as the mighty bald eagle. He too, it was becoming clear, is a rare bird.
And then things got truly freaky. On March 30, an off-duty cop driving off an exit ramp near Scanlon, Minnesota, spotted a Harley-Davidson lying in the weeds beside the pavement, and an apparently decapitated body lying nearby. This time the wounded animal on the roadside was none other than Brian Baladez, and as karma would have it, the next souls to happen upon the scene and stop to assist were a Minnesota National Guard medic on leave from Afghanistan, and then a nurse. Closer examination found that Brian still had his head, but it was shrouded by a Harley-Davidson Nevada jacket that had somehow ridden up over his helmetless head during the crash.
Brian was transported to the hospital and admitted in critical condition with a broken arm, collarbone, and ribs, as well as a punctured lung, severe lacerations and a mass of nasty bruises. A real wreck, is what he was.
Like his fine-feathered friend Harley, however, Brian proved remarkably resilient, and within days his condition had been upgraded to “good,” and after a week he ignored the advice of the medical staff and checked himself out of the hospital.
“I can’t sleep on my back,” he told me by way of explanation. He also allowed that he’s a difficult patient, and to his girlfriend’s annoyance is in the process of pulling out his stitches and has already cut off his cast. He’s in a lot of constant pain, as you might imagine, and acknowledges with a gift for understatement that the crash “jacked me out pretty good.” He went on to acknowledge that his Nevada jacket had protected his head and face in the incident, sparing them the indignities the rest of his body had suffered, and when I delicately pressed him on the subject I considered most worrisome—the condition of his most-excellent mullet—he assured me it had weathered the ordeal unscathed. Whew.
I was first informed of Brian’s calamity by Debbie Thomsen, a friend of his from Colorado, and in her communication she brought up a now-familiar subject: Brian’s sudden need for a new leather jacket. It seems the one he’d been wearing, the one we’d sent him and the one that had miraculously preserved the mullet, to say nothing of the man’s face, was a goner. The EMTs had cut it off of him, along with, Brian later told me bitterly, his chaps, gloves and belt. Debbie wondered if maybe we couldn’t send him another one.
Seeing as how we’d already exhausted our entire annual leather-jacket-for-good-Samaritan-biker budget, I contacted Mike Morgan, our MotorClothes liason at Harley, and suggested that maybe The Motor Company could help out this time around. I didn’t have to ask twice. Mike jumped at the opportunity to contribute to the worthy cause, and three days later Brian received a Men’s Reflective Road Warrior 3-in-1 Leather Jacket from Milwaukee.
Brian remains in a world of hurt, and his scooter’s not doing much better, but knowing the man like I do now and knowing the quality of his karma, I have no doubt he’ll be back in the saddle in no time, sporting his bitchin’ new leather and once again flying his most-excellent mullet in the breeze. I’ll feel a lot better, though, if we can somehow get the guy fitted with a GPS transmitter. Anybody got one of those they can spare?
It’s all right here in the diaries.