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The Day I Didn’t Go Snowboarding

July 3, 2012

The moment before impact I slumped into the passenger seat, completely relaxed. It was obvious we were about to get into a major accident and there was nothing I – nor Seth, who was driving – could do to prevent it. It’s what you’re supposed to do so I did it – contrary to my body’s reflexes and that age-old movie cliché, ‘brace for impact!’

We’d hit a patch of black ice going about 55 miles per hour. Just seconds before the truck started skidding sideways across the oncoming traffic lane it went through my mind how odd it was that the road was bare, as merely a week before it’d been covered in three inches of snow.

Seth was 19. I met him working at a pizza joint while attending community college. He’d moved to Portland from Little Rock, Arkansas, and had never been to Mt. Hood. He had brand new boarding gear, a vehicle, and was raring to go. I discovered later that his gear did not include tire chains. Or a current Oregon license.

Fortunately no one was coming down the mountain on that stretch of highway. We skidded across the highway and dipped into a ditch. The truck rolled, broadsided a tree, and bounced back onto its side. My window was facing down. It was broken. So was the rear window. On the stereo a hip-hop band – The Pharcyde – was chanting don’t pull me over, Mr. Officer, please, please… yeah, you guys are definitely going to jail… I turned it off.

Seconds later someone pried open Seth’s door. He was bleeding slightly, but we both crawled out on our own. A father-son duo had pulled over. Ten seconds later, they said, we would have crashed right into them. They attached a rope to their hitch and righted the truck. The bed was crushed over the rear passenger wheel well.

Then we waited two hours for AAA. Meanwhile a Highway Patrol car pulled up. The officer – a lady – was irate. She’d seen seven accidents that morning but ours was the worst. Weren’t we going a little fast? Seth started arguing, and I could see our morning quickly going downhill – if that was possible. ‘Ma’am,’ I said, ‘I completely understand your reaction. You are absolutely right, and we’re sorry.’

She calmed down. Seth, fortunately, shut his mouth. She listed his transgressions and told him she could impound his vehicle and take him to jail. But we’d already had enough trouble for the day; she let us off with a warning and drove off. AAA showed up and pulled us out of the ditch. The driver laughed. ‘The truck runs; might as well go boarding!’

Seth got this hopeful look in his eyes. He didn’t want the accident to be for nothing. I told him I’d had my shot of adrenaline for the day. My feet were cold and all I wanted was to go back to bed. But he kept pestering me, even though he would’ve been risking a trip to jail by going further up the mountain. Not to mention another accident. In the end I had to threaten to hitchhike home before he realized I wasn’t going up the mountain with him.

Halfway back to town the truck started making terrible screeching noises. He dropped me off, went home, and never drove it again.

That was pretty much the end of my friendship with Seth. That spring I finished school, quit my job, and left Portland for the summer. I must’ve left him a forwarding address, because a few months later I received a letter. He’d totaled his new car – making it three in six months – and moved back to Little Rock. There was a hint of maturity in his words. He realized how lucky he was to 1) be alive, and 2) not have injured anyone else while driving drunk that night. He apologized for trying to pressure me into snowboarding that day.

I wrote back – once. We didn’t exactly become pen pals. But I was glad he realized his actions needed some scrutiny. I hope he’s doing well, staying safe, and not endangering people around him.

It was years before I wanted to go snowboarding again. Now I make sure to travel with an experienced winter driver. Every time I pass that stretch of road I look for the tree we hit, but have never been able to pick it out. That’s okay – it didn’t have my name on it.

Car accidents happen far too often. Hopefully that was my last. Hopefully none of you, dear readers, will ever be in one either. But if you ever do find yourself on the verge of crashing, please remember this story, and remember – Relax for Impact.


From → True Stories

  1. Dan permalink

    Yikes. What a story! Black ice happens and is sometimes impossible to predict. We once hit some doing 60 on highway 97 on a road that had been dry for miles. It was amazing. All of a sudden we were drifting sideways. I used my winter instincts and tried to bring it back around but we just whipped around the other way and began spinning. Time slowed and it felt like we were in some kind of super slow motion, powerless to stop what was happening. Fortunately there were huge snowbanks on the side of the road and nobody was coming. We broadsided the bank and ricocheted around and came to a stop halfway into the snowbank with kids screaming in the back seat. I put in in 4WD, lurched out of the snowbank and drove slowly to a spot where I could pull over and check out the damage. The entire side and back of the truck was hammered but it drove fine. Only cosmetic damage. So we headed to Bend, rode the next two days with a touch of whiplash, and got the truck fixed the next week. Since then I have been driving with studs in the winter. People hate on them, but we drive over those gnarly mountain passes 30+ times a winter and I have no desire to repeat that experience.

    • Dan, I am so glad you made it out of that safely. The kids must have been freaked! Kudos to you for hitting the slopes anyway, and I don’t blame you a bit for using studded tires.

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