Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Trip Back in Time: The Very Bad Day

Although we've got plenty of stories to tell about our recent trip to New England for climbing, visiting, and Adam and Kearah's wedding, I wanted to take a moment to recount something that happened to us a couple years ago.

It happened on July 11, 2006, and it was The Very Bad Day.

Summer 2006, I was living in the house of my friends John and Olivia, who run a guiding service called Northwest Mountain School. At this point in my life, I was still keeping alive the dream of becoming a rock guide - I had plenty of experience from guiding students in my high school and being a camp counselor at Camp Sealth, and I had my WFR certification. So I was trying to live the dream, living in Leavenworth, hanging out with the guide crowd, and not working... Luke, meanwhile, had decided to take a job in Bellevue, so we were both in Washington for the summer! (Although we were 2+ hours apart, which seems to be a common element...) Luke had spent the weekend with me in Leavenworth and had gotten up early (5:30ish) on Monday morning to drive to work in Bellevue.

En route to Snoqualmie Pass, Luke had just driven over Blewett Pass when a deer ran out into the road. The collision of the deer and Luke's beloved Justy totalled the car. Via a variety of phone calls from passersby and a state trooper, I got the message that I needed to go pick up Luke because he'd had an accident. I didn't realize that he had no cell service where he was, so I was terrified that something really bad had happened.

So I drove up to Blewett Pass and picked up Luke, who was safe and uninjured if a little shaken. We headed back to J & O's place in Leavenworth so he could make some calls to his insurance company and his mom.

The Justy, post close encounter of the deer variety

A little later that day, we realized that we needed to head back to the Justy to retrieve a couple more things, including the stereo, which belonged to Hartley. So we headed up SR-97 again. I was following a stationwagon going a little below the speed limit about a mile before the pass, when the stationwagon swerved aggressively into the left uphill lane. Luke yelled "tire, tire, tire", and I had a split second view of something large and black rolling towards me before it hit us as I was trying to swerve left out of the way. The impact of the tire caused the airbags to go off, but the car continued left through the other uphill lane and the the downhill lane, rolling onto the passenger side and hitting the rock embankment.

I said, "This is a very bad day." Then Luke helped me push open the driver door and we climbed up and out (a weird thing to do indeed) of the car, with me shouting at Luke to take out the car keys (something I'd remembered you were supposed to do), triggered by the eerie sound of the CD player still playing Jason Mraz.

I don't really remember the order that the next series of events happened, but I know that we were trying to take everything (all my climbing stuff and some of Luke's climbing stuff) out of the car, I was sitting on the gravel on the side of the road, shocked and crying, and Luke and a series of helpful people were putting out my car (yes, the engine was on fire).

R.I.P. RAV...

What happened was this: the dualy drive tire (2 tires and connecting metal parts) of a semi-truck coming down the highway from Blewett Pass came off the truck and started rolling down the highway. After trying to run down his tire to nudge it off the road, the truck was out-speeded by the tire, so he pulled over. The car in front of me saw the tire, so he swerved. I had barely any time to react, so my car, going uphill at 55mph, collided with the tire, which was coming downhill at something like 70-80mph. The impact totalled the car.

Some important parts appear to be bent.

A lot of people were wonderful and stopped to help us. There was the Homeland Security guy who helped put the fire out before rushing back to his armored van (he just happened to be there, we think he was transporting a suspect or something), the other people with fire extinguishers, the lady who comforted me and used her analog cell service to call for help, the truck driver (whose truck the tire belonged to) who also donated his fire extinguisher and information, the EMTs who offered to give us a ride back to John and Olivia's in the ambulance since we no longer had any transportation, and Jeff and Kristen, who lent us their van to drive to Wenatchee to get Luke a rental car so he could get back to work.

Notably absent from this group of people was that car that swerved before me, which sped off after the accident. Maybe they thought it was their fault, but whoever you are, you lost a LOT of karma points that day.

So ended the wonderful service of Luke's Justy and my '97 RAV4. Although we were sad to use them, we also felt incredibly lucky to be alive and, even better, uninjured. Luke got a little piece of glass in his knee from the broken passenger window, but that was the only injury. To this day Luke still gets extremely nervous around deer and I still get probably even more nervous around semi-trucks, especially on hills. Apparently accidents like this are not rare - plenty of people have been killed by accidents caused by tires coming off semi trucks.

So I guess the moral to the story... beware of deer during the pre-sunrise and sunset witching hours and GO AHEAD AND PASS that slow stationwagon in front of you instead of trying to be conservative - it could save you and your car.

Safe driving, everyone.


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