Three weeks ago, Winston resident Chris Martin was having the time of his life, careening around curves on a homemade tricycle, skidding down the Callahan Mountains west of Roseburg at 30 mph.
The fun ended when his “drift trike” slid off the road and plummeted over a 40-foot cliff. He landed on his left leg, shattering the knee and damaging arteries. A week later, doctors amputated his left leg just below the knee.
Martin, 29, became a casualty of drift triking, a little-known activity in which daredevils speed downhill in three-wheeled vehicles that amount to tricycles for grown-ups.
Although not well known in the United States, drift triking has been growing in popularity in recent months in Douglas County.
Martin’s wife, Lesley, 30, said local drift trikers favor the Callahans for its hills and sharp turns, which help the riders achieve the desired “drift” effect through corners.
“If you go to the Callahans on a Saturday or Sunday, you’ll probably see a group of drift trikes going down the road,” she said.
Chris Martin built his first drift trike in December out of parts he bought on Black Friday. He learned how from YouTube videos shot in New Zealand, where the trikes were invented.
Drift trikes can be made by anyone who has a bicycle and knows how to weld, Martin said.
The larger front wheel comes from a bicycle, while smaller back wheels are taken from a cart and covered with PVC pipe. The pipe makes the trike’s back wheels slick, allowing the trike to drift. The trikes travel downhill without pedals or motor, using the force of gravity alone. They have brakes, which can slow, but not stop them while the trikes are going downhill.
A YouTube video taken the day of Martin’s accident shows him and his friends sliding back and forth across a double-yellow line as they drift downhill around curves on a two-lane road. The video shows two drift trikes sliding off the road, one at 11 seconds and the other, with Martin aboard, at 38 seconds. The first rider fell a short distance and suffered only minor scratches. Martin was not so lucky.
Martin recalls feeling surprising clarity before and during the fall.
“I knew I was going to go over. I put on my brakes and put my foot down. I did everything I could to slow down,” he said.
He went off the road in an end-over-end somersault. He remembers worrying the trike would land on him and reaching out to grab a tree.
When he landed, he felt his left knee give way.
Soon after, his friends turned around and came to his aid.
Fellow triker Brandon Ryan looked over the edge.
“We expected to look down and see him two or three feet down on a ledge laughing his head off. The thing is, he was 40 or 50 feet down,” said Ryan, 29, of Roseburg.
Chris Martin’s friends scrambled downhill after him.
“They used tie downs and ropes and tied them together and got down,” he said. When they reached him, they wrapped tie downs under his arms to form a harness, and they began a slow climb up the cliff.
“I’d use my right foot to help push up, and we’d go a little bit at a time. They got me up to the road really well. They did a great job,” Martin said.
A friend drove Martin to Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg. From there, he was transferred to Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield.
The day after the accident, he had the first of four surgeries.
Lesley Martin recalled that when she arrived at the hospital, doctors did not yet know the extent of the damage.
They knew his leg was broken. What they did not know is he had damaged arteries, and the blood was no longer flowing to the lower leg.
“We got there thinking it’s a fracture, and it ended up being something else. I really only packed two days worth of clothes. It turned out we were there two weeks,” she said.
After each surgery, doctors were a little less certain they could save the leg. They finally decided to amputate during the fourth surgery Jan. 28.
Chris Martin said he does not want people to think drift triking is to blame for his accident. Martin said he believes the sport is no more dangerous than any other and the same thing could have happened if he were riding downhill on a bicycle.
“It’s just a fluke deal. It was nobody’s fault that it happened,” Martin said.
Douglas County sheriff’s spokesman Dwes Hutson said he had never heard of drift trikes before, but said the three-wheelers would be considered vehicles under the law.
“They have to follow basic rules of the road,” Hutson said. That means they can’t legally cross a double-yellow line. It also means that if they endanger others on the road, drift trikers could be charged with reckless driving, he said.
Martin said the trikers stay clear of oncoming traffic by having a spotter drive a pickup ahead of the trikes and signal if there is oncoming traffic.
Although he and several friends sold their trikes after the accident, Martin said he wouldn’t rule out taking up the sport again in the future.
“It’s hard to get me to say I’ll never do it again because it’s so much fun. That would be lying,” he said.
Chris Martin will get the first of several prosthetic legs in four weeks. Eventually, he will have several different “feet” for different activities such as swimming or running.
He said he is eager to get back to work running a log harvester for his parents’ business, Independent Thinning of Roseburg.
“It’s so hard sitting home and having my wife do everything,” he said. “It’s so not me. I want to work.”
Lesley Martin said doctors expect her husband will be able to operate the harvester again. He will have to relearn the skill of pushing pedals with his prosthetic — a task made more difficult by the absence of feeling.
“It’s just going to take him awhile to figure out how to move them up and down. It’s definitely going to be a challenge for him for awhile,” she said.
Chris Martin will also need to be able to get out of the harvester and walk on the forest floor to measure the distance between trees — a task his wife said will require a different prosthetic.
“He’s probably going to have to have more than one kind of leg in the machine with him,” Lesley Martin said.
Martin said the amputation will not slow him down for long.
“I really enjoy my life. I don’t want this to get in my way. It’s just a speed bump in my life,” he said.
Chris Martin said he does not see the point in being negative about what has happened.
“It’s not like my foot’s going to grow back. I might as well embrace what happened and move on with it,” he said.
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I knew I was going to go over. I did everything I could to slow down.
Winston resident & trike drifter