September 26th is one of the most significant dates in Jon Scheitel's life. On that day in 2004 he was driving his Yamaha Road Star motorcycle past Camden State Park in southwest Minnesota. He saw movement to his left.
"This deer wasn't walking, it wasn't running, it was in a pretty fast pace," says Scheitel. "I'd say you had about two seconds to even gather your thoughts at all. Well, that's not enough."
“I'd say you had about two seconds to even gather your thoughts at all.”Jon Scheitel
Standing near the accident site on Highway 23, Scheitel points to where he hit the deer. The motorcycle's front tire went over the animal trapping the deer underneath the bike. Along with grinding metal and a roaring engine, Scheitel remembers the sound the deer made.
"It was screaming, it was screaming," says Scheitel. "It was trying to get out."
Scheitel's unprotected head smashed into his windshield. Despite the near mortal wound he managed to keep the bike upright, eventually laying it down in the ditch. He says the first emergency medical workers on the scene later told him they thought they were looking at a dead man.
"He said, 'We'd a-never imagined that you'd a-made it. Because for one you could look inside your head and see your brain in there'," says Scheitel.
Scheitel went through a lengthy rehabilitation after the accident. It took about seven weeks before he regained full consciousness. He also suffered a broken shoulder and busted ribs as well as a punctured lung in the collision.
The head trauma left him with a permanent brain disorder: epilepsy.
He's one of hundreds of motorcyclists injured in recent years in deer collisions. Pat Hahn with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety says the increase matches the rising popularity of riding.
"There's a lot more people out there on bikes," says Hahn. "Literally like about twice as many almost as we had 10 years ago."
Hahn says there are a record number of motorcycles in the state now, almost 200,000. The deer population is near its all-time high, about 1.2 million animals. Hahn says taken together the numbers mean there's an ever-growing chance that the path of a motorcycle and a deer will intersect.
"You get a rider he lives in, say Apple Valley. Where does he go? He heads out for the rural areas. He heads out for the beautiful forested roads and the river valleys and things like that. They're riding in the places where deer strikes are going to be more likely because those are the best places to ride," says Hahn.
For biker Jon Scheitel there's a bitter irony in his near fatal crash. He says he almost always wore a helmet when riding. That day he was on a quick run to a motorcycle shop. He left his helmet off.
"And I thank God to this day, I really do, I just can't help it, for sparing me. Because I was out there in la-la land for quite a while. And I reported seeing angels and I maintain that was a fact," says Scheitel.
Scheitel says his best safety advice for other motorcyclist is to slow down and wear a helmet.
He also recommends staying off the roads when deer are moving around, typically at dawn and dusk.
Scheitel's only ridden briefly since the accident but vows he'll do more in the future. In his garage stands the big Yamaha which struck the deer. The only sign of the accident on the machine is a bent handle bar. Scheitel has more than that to show, including a five inch furrow across the top of his head. He's not afraid to point it out nor to talk about the dangers of deer and motorcycling.