Friday, February 10, 2012

How did I bounce my car you ask?

How can I explain in as much excrutiatingly boring detail as possible?.......hmmmm........
Well, it all started this day in history, February 10th, 2012. I was driving from Lakeland back home, as I do frequently as a commuter. There is a big hill on one of the frequently traveled highways between my house and lakeland. Well.....technically speaking it is a highway on a hill, not a hill on a highway. If the hill were on the highway, how would you drive on it? But I digress.......
It's more like a hill with a highway slightly cut into it. Whoever built the highway decided they would make the hill level in one spot and cut straight through the edge of a forest I guess. To make a long explanation shorter for your simple-minded impatient convenience, this is the worst part of my commute to and from Lakeland everyday. I always thought if I was ever going to have a car accident on that hill, it would be because I hit a deer or a turkey, because I have seen them cross the road there on multiple occassions. It seems the wildlife has still eluded me to this day.
On one side of the road, the north side, the side on the left going to school and on the right coming from school, there is the rest of the hill side slanting upward, and there's a private driveway to a fancy house in the woods you can't see from the road, and there a driveway to a less fancy house that you can see from the road that is situated on the edge of the woods.
On the other side of the road, there are small wooden posts sticking out of the ground that seem perfectly useless. I gues they could be useful if you were drifting off the road and you needed to suddenly completely lose control by crashing into something small and sturdy.....but they are spaced far enough apart that they would only be useful if you are traveling at least like 30mph while driving parallel to the road. There's also a mailbox for the fancy house (I think there might be one for the less fancy house), and most importantly, the rest of the woods, which is absolutely most importantly suddenly falling when you look at it. On this side, the south side, the side that is on the right going to school, and the left coming from school, there is a very narrow ditch (I found out today, thank God), and there is also a sharp drop into a small valley, which at the point where I had my accident is about....I would say......maybe 50 feet from the road to the bottom of the valley.
That's the setting. Oh, and it's the first time in a month that it's been Wisconsin.....and it's been a real blizzard all day, and it's only starting to get sunny and clear (and really freaking cold) now at about 3:30 in the afternoon.

So I'm driving from school to home as I said before (I did say excrutiating, didn't I?), and I am approach the hill, driving West. The side of the hill the slopes up is on my right, the side the becomes a valley of horrible instant car wreckage and death is on my left. The driver behind me is tailgating me. (this detail doesn't exactly contribute to my car accident, but it didn't help either, and I can't stand tailgaters). The roads are a mess, and very slippery. I'm not driving very fast, but I know that especially in slippery weather, you need momentum not to stall when driving up the death hill. In trips past, this had occured. I had tried to go up the hill so slowly (about 30mph or less) that the tires stopped gripping the road, my momentum failed, and the car started moving backward while I was driving forwards. I didn't want this to happen today, so I was trying to go as fast and slow as possible at the same time. Fast enough I didn't lose momentum on the slippery road, yet slow enough that I could stop if I got into real trouble.
Suddenly as I was driving up the death hill, the nice hill on my right, the death canyon on my left, the tires lost their grip.

I have to stop for a moment to explain that I started driving when I had just turned 17, and I have recently turned 20, so I have a cumulative driving career of three years. Not that impressive you might say, but my earliest driving experiences were in bad weather (my mom did that on purpose), and I pretty much learned how to drive on wintery wisconsin roads. Also, I have looked at the miles accumulated on my parent's cars, and used my planners from high school and college to calculate that in those three years, I have driven somewhere between 30,000-40,000 miles or so. And so far, no accidents, no tickets (except one parking ticket I got in front of my house, and one parking ticket that doesn't count that I can blame on a good friend), and experience driving multiple times on many-laned roads and highways, in downtown Milwaukee, on highways through Milwaukee, and in downtown Madison, sometimes unaccompanied. I also drive less on average every day as a commuter student in college holding down multiple jobs than I did in high school. So for someone my age, I think I can claim a fair amount of experience thank you very much. :P

Continuing with the story, this was not the first time today this happened, nor was it like, the 12th or 15th time this winter that this had happened. Tires slipping and vehicles sliding are just a fact of life in Wisconsin. If you live here, you better learn how to turn into a skid. As the tires lose their grip, my natural winter driving instincts took over, and I turned into the skid. The back end of the car was sliding to the left into the oncoming lane of traffic while I turned the wheels slightly to the right. To correct this, I turned the wheels left into the oncoming lane of traffic and gave it a little gas so that the tires can once again grip the road. The tires then momentarily gripped the road after one second or so of sliding, and the back end of the car started sliding out of my control to the right, this is called fishtailing, and it is bad, because it means you are not in control of the skid you thought you just corrected. The car started drifting towards the right hand side of the road, and I turned the wheels quickly the opposite direction and hesitantly gave it a little gas to help the tires grip the road. It works! Unfortunately the back end of the car at this point in the story then fishtails the other way, and we are drifting left towards the oncoming lane of traffic again. I was very fortunate that no oncoming traffic decided to exist at this time, because my car was hogging all of the road.
So I turn into the skid once again, I had been traveling about 40 mph or so when I got to the hill, so my speed is considerable, and I have almost made it up to that point where if I go off the road to the left and fall into the ravine, my car will tumble about 50 feet or so (it's about the height of three two story houses stacked on top of each other from the edge of the cliff into the ravine to the corner at the bottom of the cliff), and I am gaining altitude as I move up the hill. Unfortunately my attempts to give it more gas are met only with tires failing to grip the road, and about the time I am totally in the oncoming lane of traffic proabably traveling about 30 mph, I decide it is time to apply brakes and hope for the best because I have lost all control, and the car is not moving in a straight line.

We are now about 5 seconds or so into my skidding adventure.

The car I am driving has anti lock brakes and power steering, so I slam on the brakes as hard as I can, and not surprisingly, this does very little, but it does slow me down a little. The tailgaters behind me are lucky they slowed down. Then the car slid completely across the oncoming lane of traffic, and it was at this moment that I noticed profanities almost started to issue themselves from my mouth. I am vehemently exclaiming a word in innumerable repetitions (although I think it was like five times if I counted right) that is both a noun and a verb, and a verb that describes an action that, despite its likelihood given my situation, I am very glad to say I did not engage in.
My car then of course continued to move off the road toward the chasm of certain death. I have found that it is precisely for the eventuality of situations like this that I am glad I drive around in an ex-state patrol car. I am told that there is a thin roll cage built in underneath the plastic and upholstery and such inside the car.
There was a moment where the car "got air." A first in my driving career, I'll admit. There was a moment when the car found the ground again, but it was the ground beyond the side of the road, and it slope downward, and the front end of the car went down. Then an amazing thing happened, the car kind of bounced, and suddenly it caught a split second more air, and then I was in the ditch. You may think to yourself, well that's that, but I left the road traveling at what was probably a good 10-20 mph, and the space between the edge of the road and the edge of the cliff in which this thing called "ditch" exists, is about just wide enough for the car to fit in the long way. My car hit the ditch, and was moving nearly in perpendicular motion to the road by this time. Elapsed time in skidding adventure: about 6 or 7 seconds.
Then there was the most dramatic moment, when the car was sliding in the ditch, and it only slid until my bumper was about to hit the trees growing out of the cliff side. I had a split second moment of clarity that felt more like 3 seconds where I wondered whether I would prefer that the trees be thick enough that they stop me from falling over the cliff, or thin enough they don't really damage the front end of the vehicle.

So the car stopped. There I am. In the ditch. "This is just great," I think to myself, "I am probably going to miss my piano students." I look around, and the objects that had been sitting next to me in the passenger seat had become airborne, and were now on the floor of the vehicle. I look out the window and notice that the people behind me who watched the whole thing, have pulled over to the side of the road, and a slowing down as if they're getting ready to help me like heros or good samaritans.
I notice the car is still running, so in a stroke of genius, I think, "why not try to get out of the ditch?" I put the car in reverse, check for traffic, and attempt to back up on to the road. The car budges an encouraging few inches back towards the road, but it is not enough. But before I lose my progress back towards normalacy, I step on the brake and reckon if I can't just back up on to the road, maybe I can turn around and drive forwards. I turn the wheels hard left, put it in drive, and the car turns, but only far enough to be parallel with what used to be the oncoming lane of traffic. I am scared half to death at the moment, because the car is situated almost next to the highway, and it is on a slope that is so steep it feels like the car could just roll over. My attempts to turn up the embankment aren't working.
I look back quickly at the good samaritans who stopped to see if I was alright, sort of. They are driving away.
So, in my last manuvering effort, I threw it in reverse, turned the wheels sharp to the right, and prayed I didn't drive straight backwards of the cliff when I gun the engine. The car slips, the grips, and I move backwards, turn, and drive once again right up to the edge of the cliff before stopping quickly. Now I am facing the road. "Alright!" I think, "this seems workable." I attempt to drive up the good. It's to slippery, and the car is only slowly sliding sideways down the hill. I figure that sliding sideways is better than not moving at all, and keep going until I get stuck. Eventually a very helpful young man showed up with a large pickup truck and a tow cable (Actually it was only about 4 minutes before that happened), and he offers to tow me out of the ditch. After nearly freezing to death, and after he slips and nearly falls down a couple times, we get the cable attached.
I have never moved a car that is being towed by a cable before. We wait until the coast is clear, and attempt to pull my car out of the ditch. I hear engines, his and mine, and I see the exhaust pouring out of his tail pipes. Nothing happens. I am unhappy. Many things are running through my mind. How I have very little money. How cold I am. How I really don't want to call a tow truck. How upset I am that I lost control of the car. How he said "I'm only gonna try this once." That was once.
Then I see him back up, and then I see him suddenly lurch forward! I cautiously floor it, and with a great crunching noise, the car is pulled out of the ditch! And sliding across the road! And it's really just as much of an adrenaline rush as it was the first time, because now I'm attached to another car.
But he got out to unattach the cable and recommend I "stay between the ditches this time." I gave him my business card and told him I was at his service if he ever needed a musician.
After I got home, I discovered that there is virtually no apparent damage to the car after I bounced it, other than the fact that I have managed to ram about at least 2 inches of frozen ground (dirt and grass) up one of the tailpipes. Go figure.
I realize I am lucky that there seems to be no damage. I also realize how lucky I am just to be alive. Praise God!
You know what the best part of the story is?
It was my mom's car.
She's happy I'm alive too.
I'm think that's also very lucky.