Pressure

The pressure developed from a string of decisions.

Photo by Richard Martin: https://www.flickr.com

First, to take my girlfriend on an adventure in Alaska. Second, to go in November. Third, to go the back way from Anchorage to Fairbanks. And lastly, to drive fast in order to get there before 2 am (the back way turned out to be quite long).

A perfect storm of compounding stupidity.

Under certain conditions of moisture and changing temperature, a thick layer of very clear ice can form on top of a road surface that is dry. We might call it Grey Ice. It looks exactly like a dry road (Black Ice looks like a wet road). And on this day, there was a sprinkling of snow blowing across it, from left to right, to complete the illusion.

We had been driving for about two and a half hours when the small adjustments that one makes when driving on a straight road, stopped having any effect on the car.

At this point we are on a raised road with trees on both sides. At the speed we were going, it looked really bad.

As soon as I realized that we were on a sheet of ice, time slowed way down and a color coded readout appeared in front of me showing all possible outcomes.

Each line could be followed to it’s end. Most of them smelled like gasoline mixing with blood and all but one were colored red for ‘fatal injuries’.

As I followed the blue colored line there was this tab sticking off of it at the edge of the road labeled “Roll Car to the right at this location =>”.

So I told my girlfriend to hang on, as we briefly hit the two foot snow-covered edge on the left hand side of the road, I turned the wheel all the way to the right.

The force of the turned wheel hitting the small strip of snow provided just enough force to alter our trajectory to keep us on the road and out of the trees below.

Then we rolled.

It was like being punched by a Giant…repeatedly. My side hit first and my head went through the window on my left and bounced off the ground. After that, I was slightly vague on the details except that the Giant punching us seemed to have infinite stamina.

Finally, the rhythmic pounding of the Momentum God stopped and total stillness descended. The car was destroyed, but upright, and we were both alive.

But, for us to survive, we would need one more lucky break. In the vast silence of the Alaskan winter wilderness, we would have to be rescued before we froze to death.

And it had been two hours since we had seen another car (it turns out that locals don’t use that road in the winter).

We sat in our seats, just breathing, saying nothing. In that perfect moment of unexpected aliveness, I reprioritized every aspect of my life. The life I have now, comes from that moment.

As it happened, we crashed within one-hundred yards (0.1 km) of a retired Highway Patrolman. Knowing exactly what had happened from the sound, he jumped up, ran outside and then up to what remained of our car. Saying “You might want to get off the road.”

So the smartest thing that I have ever done under pressure, is roll the Ford Explorer.