It’s very late…or very early, depending upon how quickly I can get this post out of my head and go back to sleep. My body is exhausted with the kind of tired that comes from spending way to long behind the wheel; but, my brain is clicking through events of the day like a slide carousel on fast forward. I didn’t sleep much last night, in anticipation of the first “real” vacation that we’ve taken in far too long. My parents have kept a time share in Vail, Colorado since I was a kid; but, I haven’t been here since I was in college.
This past fall, my mother was talking about how she and my step-father were considering selling their week, as they weren’t really interested in using it any longer. We remembered about how fun it had been for my brothers and I as kids, and how much my own kids might enjoy it. She promptly offered to let us use the condo this year, one last time.
Dave and I had each kid bring a friend. Isabel’s girlfriend, Kelly, is with us, as is Ben’s best friend, Christian. Neither of the friends has spent any time in Colorado, and we have some new experiences planned that should be worth the twelve hour drive to get here.
Though operating on very little sleep, we were all up by 4:00 a.m., and were finally on the road shortly after 5:00. We were in two cars, due to the logistics of space (two teenage football players require quite a bit of room) for all of the people and the stuff six people seem to think they need. As I was overfilling my own suitcase, I kept hearing Michael McKean, in the movie Best in Show. “We’ll be in Philadelphia for 48 hours. I think we’re over-packing.”
We’d made a good start, stopping in Flagstaff for gas and a stretch of the legs. We anticipated another stop just past the state line, in Utah. Dave decided to let Ben drive for awhile, and we set off with the boys following the girls.
Just outside of Tuba City, roughly three and a half hours into the drive, we were going at a steady seventy or so. It’s a two lane highway up through the high desert. On either side of the road, the shoulders drop away, sometimes with steep drops of ten to fifteen feet into scrub brush and dirt. Suddenly, our attention was caught by a cloud of dust and smoke as an oncoming big red pick-up truck started to swerve violently.
People always talk about how it seems like everything slows down in an accident. I can absolutely tell you, that is true.
The truck fish tailed, and I remember thinking, “We’re going to hit him.” And, “Shit! Shit! Oh, shit!”
The driver must have fought the steering wheel hard. Instead of swerving into us, he brought it back toward the shoulder, sliding at an angle to the road, and tried desperately to stay on the pavement. As he flashed past us and rolled down the embankment, both Ben and I were slamming on the brakes and skidding to a stop on our side of the road.
Our cars hadn’t even stopped before all of us were out of our seat belts and running back down the road. I reached back, grabbed my phone, and dialed 911, looking for the mile marker as I ran.
I am so very proud of Dave and all four kids. The truck had flipped onto its roof, and all five of them were down to it even as it was still coming to rest. Ben pried the passenger door open as the man and woman struggled to free themselves. The couple said that they were alright. The back window had blown out and the man said that he couldn’t see their three dogs. The animals had been in the back seat of the extended cab. He said that one of the windows was had been open and he wasn’t sure if they’d been thrown as the truck rolled. The boys started backtracking, toward the point where we could see the cause of the accident. The front passenger tire had blown and was a shredded mess of rubber down the highway.
The dispatcher sent emergency crews scrambling, and let me hang up after determining our location. By now, traffic was creeping by, with several other people stopping to see if they could help, or just to look. I spoke to several, assuring them that the couple was ok; but, that the authorities and medical crews were on their way.
By the time two deputies arrived, the couple were both out of the truck, with the man calling for their dogs. Isabel and Kelly carefully checked around and in the truck, hoping that the dogs hadn’t been crushed. They couldn’t see anything.
One of the deputies, after ascertaining the condition of the occupants, asked us some questions and took some pictures of the wreck from several angles. I watched as the other officer carefully studied the ground around the truck, and then began walking out into the desert. In the far distance, we could see a herd of wild horse, but no dogs. He kept walking, stopping occasionally to look at the ground. At the top of a rise, he paused and looked carefully out into the brush. Suddenly, he called back to the truck owner, and said that he could see one of the dogs; but, the dog wouldn’t come near him. The owner hurried up the hill, calling, “Thor! Come on, buddy!” Out of the brush, a red-gold blur of a border collie bounded with a bark. The dog was skittish, but soon crept toward his owner, tail wagging. Ben and Christian could see the other two dogs in the distance, but both dogs were too nervous to come close to the boys.
The woman said that she’d get the dogs. The couple thanked us for stopping, and we checked to make sure that we weren’t needed for a statement. Because the cause of the accident was evidently the blown tire, the officer assured us that we were okay to go. We rounded up the kids and got back into our cars. Ben was shaken enough that he told Dave that he didn’t want to drive right way.
As we were pulling back out onto the roadway, the girls and I talked about the accident. So many variables and the outcome could have been very different. For a second, it really had looked like we were going to t-bone that truck, with the boys plowing right into the back of us. Thankfully, the driver had managed to keep the truck out of our lane.
Also, the fact that the couple had both been wearing seat belts meant that they would be sore, but otherwise unhurt…very, very lucky, and unhurt. As we had approached the truck when it first happened, I fully expected to find people crushed in the cab.
The rest of the drive was uneventful. We stopped for lunch in a little town in Utah, still startled by how quickly a life can change…or not.
The condo is the same as I remember in some ways, very different in others. Tonight, we settled in, and the kids went to the pool. Dave and I unpacked, had a beer with dinner and thanked the altitude and our exhaustion on the quiet buzz that sent us to bed early, lulled by the soft, cool mountain air and the roar of the small creek rushing down below our windows.
I woke up in the early hours, seeing the accident in snippets of images…the smoke of the tire exploding, the great waves of dust as the truck started to pull violently, the way it slid forward and sideways for several yards, and the sickening knowledge that it was rolling as it flashed past us. Now that the experience has a place outside of my head, I am going to try to go back to sleep.