Interstate 35 is congested and I’m stuck behind a slow moving tractor trailer. Eyeing the passing lane, I realize that my economy hatchback can’t garner enough speed to safely move into the faster traffic.

I’ve made it halfway home and have about a hundred miles to go. I slow down behind the truck, keeping my eye out for an opening to pass.

18 wheelerFinally detecting a pause in the traffic, I turn on my blinker and make a move to the left, increasing my speed to keep pace with the cars coming up behind me.

Passing the trailer, my steering wheel stops working.

Very slowly fishtailing. Inexplicably, my windshield is turning toward the trailer of the truck.

Reality is dreamlike as I try to correct my position, but, despite my attempts, my car continues its slow slide under the trailer.

I am going under it. I brace myself for the impending smash of my windshield. Instead, a huge crash on the passenger side and my spine is wrenched to the right. My head drops down as I start spinning so fast that I’m sick.

Mistakenly believing that I wouldn’t survive the crash, a series of strange thoughts come through me.

A car crash. I die in a car crash. A strangely rational reaction, it simply feels like the answer to a long curious question. And then another odd thought, I got admitted to graduate school. I am so glad I got admitted to graduate school.

A second loud crash, this time closer, on my driver’s side as my spine now wrenches painfully in the other direction. More sickening spinning.  I can’t see what is going on or who I am hitting.

A third smash and my car suddenly stops.

Still as if in a dream, I look up, perplexed that I am now still. My car is next to a guardrail on a small grassy island between northbound and southbound traffic.  Smashed CD music cases litter the seats and floorboards, but the interior cab of my tiny car is still intact.

I throw off my seatbelt, open the door and run, frantically trying to get away from my car and to see who I’ve hit. A woman exits her vehicle. She falls to the ground in shock. Strangers are running toward me. They tell me I’ve only hit the trailer, no one else.

There were sirens. Then there is another crash. Then more sirens. The world is ripping apart.

I am collected by a composed man who I think is a soldier. Directed by him to sit on the bed of his pickup truck, I am now watching him speak to an officer, “Her tire flew off.” I look at him, increasingly confused. Why did my tire fly off? It was Sunday and I’d just had my car inspected on Friday.  (I would later learn it was a tread separation tire defect.)

I listen to him and learn that I’d gone under the trailer, but was thrown back out by an impact with its rear tires. Spinning down the freeway, my car was facing backwards into oncoming traffic when it made the second impact, this time on my driver’s side. That threw me off the road and into the third impact with a guard rail.

Traffic had come to a complete stop. Emergency services arrived. Then a second accident a few cars back. The second accident was tragic.*

congested traffic

It took me five years to finally drive on an interstate again, but a residual anger remained. I had been self righteous about my car maintenance and was angry that such measures did not prevent the accident.

Last year, I started driving on the interstate again. First making tentative trips back and forth to visit my sister in her new home in San Antonio. Gaining confidence, I finally drove to Dallas/Fort Worth, retracing the route of the original accident. Then a more ambitious cross country trip to Michigan and a solitary journey through Utah and to the Grand Canyon.

I am very excited about my trip to the Arctic. I believe I am a safe and responsible driver, but, honestly, am still extremely defensive about it.

Maybe it is a part of my stair step method out of fearfulness, but I believe my desire to understand my own auto mechanics is an outgrowth of the accident.

I am not so naïve as to think that with enough planning, education, or caution that any of us can avoid tragedy. But, I think, like everyone, I am trying to strike a healthy balance between a greater self reliance, a continued acceptance of others’ help and expertise, and, hopefully, a radical acquiescence to our unexpected experiences, both wondrous and terrible.



Countup: 28 days of sobriety

Countdown: 130 days until I move into my RV.



*After emergency services arrived for my accident, a driver behind us failed
to yield to the stopped traffic, causing a second, fatal accident at the scene.
The driver was deemed at fault and our accidents were considered unrelated,
so the families were unable to make a claim against the tire manufacturer.
(I’ve heard many times that it was not my fault,so I am not soliciting that comment from you.
I just thought I should clarify what happened and answer the questions I usually get.)

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