Monday, December 27, 2010
Well, here it is, the long-awaited account of my accident. I left that morning with no idea my whole life direction was about to be, well, re-directed. It had rained the night before; the sound of raindrops on windows had been a welcome change from the usual hiss of snow. So I had to chip a 1/4 inch layer of ice off the windshield. That meant nothing.
It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm, and I enjoyed soaking in some sun as I dropped John off at school and headed south towards Williston. I drove slower than usual, because I knew the roads might be icy after the storm, but I really wasn't having any trouble at all. There wasn't much ice on the roads, just a few patches where the road wasn't still wet from the rain.
I reached 13 Mile Corner, a corner that is--you guessed it--13 miles from Williston. As I merged, there was a whole string of pickup trucks and a semi or two going by slowly. "Hmmm, they must be caravaning to somewhere for work." I continued down the highway, passing with caution and holding it to a modest 60 mph on a 70 mph road. "Oh, look. Just up ahead is another caravan of vehicles going slowly."
I passed them also, and merged back into the right lane. I still had experienced no trouble with slick roads, and was even being passed by some vehicles. Just as I reached the top of the middle of the three hills before Williston, my van started to fishtail. I really don't remember anything specific about the next few seconds, just rapid-fire impressions.
I know I tried some subtle (and yes, they were subtle. I'm very good about not over-correcting. I get very quiet and still in emergencies!) corrections with the steering wheel. I remember thinking, "Which way is the van turning when I turn it?" Then, just as I reached the edge of the road, now facing the opposite direction I'd been traveling, I thought "Maybe I should let go of the steering wheel." Then, "It's really not going to matter now, is it?"
I slid into the ditch sideways with a loud whoosh of crunching snow. I don't specifically remember the van tipping on its side, but there I was, suspended at the now-top of the van by my seatbelt. I clicked the buckle and my feet swung heavily to the ground. I checked that no windows were broken and turned off the engine. I looked for my cell phone, but didn't see it, and by then someone was already at the van asking if I was alright.
He helped me open the van door since I didn't have the leverage to get it open from where I stood. Then I clambered out and sat on the side of my van. Cars were stopped on both sides of the divided highway. People were rushing up. "Is anyone hurt? I'm a paramedic!" "Is everyone OK? I'm a paramedic, and my wife is, too!" "Does anyone need help? I used to be a fire fighter and a paramedic." Alas, they all left disappointed, because due to the watch-care of God, I was absolutely fine.
Turns out ending up in the ditch signals the beginning of a traditional North Dakotan meet-and-greet. I felt sorry I didn't have any refreshments to pass around to the jovial crowd that gathered to share stories and secretly rejoice that it wasn't them in the ditch. And please don't get me wrong! I was glad for all the willing help I got, for the nice man who stayed until the highway patrol got there so I could sit in his warm truck cab, for all the others who willingly offered assistance. It's sort of the winter equivalent of a barn raising.
And in this particular instance, there were two vehicles to assist, since one nice gentleman who stopped had to watch his pickup slide sideways into the deep snow-filled ditch because he parked a little too far off the road. He was towed out by a straining pickup, tires spinning on the slick roads.
The highway patrol finally got there, and we had a lovely visit in his car, me with my hood pulled down over my face, lamenting the fate that still had my California plates fastened on that gleaming beacon of careless driving. Sigh. I learned a lot in that visit. Things like the driving conditions of that day were some of the most dangerous North Dakota can throw at you. Things like if there's freezing rain, just stay home the next day because things will be so bad outside.
See, those charming wet roads with the occasional patch of ice were really dangerously slick skid-ways. The sun had melted a thin layer of the liquid-poured ice from the night before, swallowing up any gravel that had been poured on it by the highway department that morning. There was actually a no-travel advisory for the very stretch of road I was on.
My van was towed into Williston, there to stay until the 27th, the soonest an adjuster could come look at it. It had sustained very little damage--a small dent on the side and a missing side-view mirror--but was totaled once the deer damage of a few weeks before was added onto the tab.
The patrol officer said that if you had to crash, I did it the right way. Of course I knew it was my angels protecting me, because I really did land so softly in the deep snow. I suffered no major pain or stiffness, and couldn't even say for certain what was from the accident or not, since I'd put a coat of primer on my living room in the morning, then came home after the accident and painted it in the evening and again the next morning.
Nothing is wasted if you learn from it, and I've tried to learn from my adventure with ditch-diving.
Lesson 1: When God is trying to get your attention with string after string of slow-driving cars, each one noted and pondered over (Look at all these cars driving so slowly. I wonder why?), PAY ATTENTION!
Lesson 2: Some people have their lives flash before their eyes. Some people pray. All I had was an overwhelming sense of embarrassment as I crashed. (Now everyone will look at me, and I look like an idiot.) Maybe I need to work a little more to focus on more important matters than others' opinion of me.
Lesson 3: I really, REALLY don't like being out of control. Oh, sure I knew my life and safety was in God's care and keeping. But that smug surrender meant He was supposed to keep me out of trouble, didn't it? You mean I have to trust Him even if things are out of my control and I don't like what's happening? >:(
Lesson 4: God always brings something good out of our bad. And sometimes a big disaster is only God preparing to take you in a different direction. You just have to let go of the wheel and let Him steer.