Dennis Thompson’s Harley has a 131-inch motor and no muffler. Thompson says he built it to be “loud and proud.” The jet black Harley almost vibrates from the sound.
While it’s a noise Thompson associates with freedom, this motorcycle almost cost him his life.
“I'm tough. You know, I was in the army and I ain't afraid of nothing,” Dennis said.
After Thompson left the army, he became an aviation mechanic in St. Louis. He was very independent, and he says he spent his free time fishing, hunting, biking and chasing girls.
“Dennis was very wild, very free-spirited. Nothing really bothered him,” David Thompson said. David is Dennis’ younger brother.
Dennis said back then he had a lot of anger.
“I started, you know, drinking, trying to drink the anger away. And, you know, it was at one, two three, 10, 12, whatever. And pretty soon everything just disappears,” Dennis said.
Things took a turn in April 2001.
“[I] just had a bad day at work and took off early. And I was out trying to get rid of my anger. And I was on my bike. And it was like 10:30 at night,” Dennis said.
Dennis was wearing sunglasses, making it harder to see.
“And I had been drinking a few beers, you know, which is a mistake… [I] didn't see the car coming, and they didn't see me until it was too late,” Dennis said.
The car wiped along Dennis’ right side and his arm went through the windshield. He was taken to the hospital where he spent almost three months in a coma. The crash had taken his right arm and his right leg. When Dennis woke up, he was blind.
“I was there every day … And he just said, ‘I can't do anything anymore. You know, I'm not able to do anything,’” David said.
David told Dennis he saved the motorcycle.
“I'm like, ‘What are you do that old piece of junk, now?’” Dennis said.
David suggested they fix it and Dennis agreed. It was a labor of love. The two brothers worked together to replace almost everything. They kept the frame and the transmission. David said in the process, Dennis discovered he could still do things.
“Yeah, it was a little slower. But he was able to do it. And that was really the goal, that he could do things,” Dennis said.
The motorcycle now sits in Dennis’ garage. It’s a beauty, with a black paint job and a subtle gold flame design. Dennis’ wife Sandy Thompson learned to ride motorcycles so they could ride together. Dennis sits in the back while Sandy drives.
“You can crash in a car. You can crash in a tractor trailer. You can crash in a bus,” Dennis said. “Just because you crash doesn't mean that you stop doing what you need to do, you know, or even what you enjoy doing.”
David says the crash transformed Dennis.
“I think then it was more about Denny, where now you would think it would be and it's not. It's more about, you know, I guess the relationships and the people around him rather than just being about Denny,” David said.
Dennis says he loves the sound of the motorcycle but what’s most important to him is the community he’s formed through biking. He says that’s what keeps him riding.
This is a collaboration with KOMU. You can watch KOMU’s piece “Blind motorcycle rider shows you can always keep doing what you love.”