Visiting family for the holidays in snowy, Western New York recently brought back a memory from quite awhile ago: the time I drove the family car down a thirty-foot incline.
The story finds me driving down a snowy back road with my Dad a few months after receiving my learner’s permit at the tender age of sixteen. I had been slowly getting the hang of driving, but I had rarely driven on snowy roads. However, I wanted to prove that I was an expert driver, so I reasoned with my Dad by saying that I had lived in a snowbelt long enough to know how to drive in wintery conditions. He relented but was sure to provide me gentle “suggestions” along the way (i.e., a correction of my driving every hundred yards or so).
We were about fifteen minutes into our drive when I turned onto a back road that had not been plowed or salted since the most recent snowfall. I began to grow more and more nervous as I started picking up speed and worried that I would crash if I didn’t slow down. So doing what any inexperienced winter driver would do, I hit the brakes.
Hitting the brakes may be a good idea when you are driving on a bone-dry road at a manageable speed, but it should never be done when you are traveling too fast one an icy, slush-covered road. I learned this the hard way as the car began quickly sliding sideways.
Feeling the car start to move out of my control, I did the only thing I could think to do by hitting the breaks even more and jerking the steering wheel in the opposite direction. Unsurprisingly, the car continued to slide out of control but was now doing so in a different direction that it had been going in before.
The car was to the side of the road within seconds, and before I could process what was happening, it slipped over the side of the road and began quickly sliding sideways down a thirty-foot hill.
I’m not sure if you have picked this up from reading my blog, but I am an incredibly dramatic person. So take that knowledge and apply it to the fact that I was sixteen years old and was in the middle of careening down to what I assumed would be my inevitable death. Got the picture in your mind? Great job.
I shrieked as we headed sideways down the incline and began thinking about a wide range of pre-death topics. These included thoughts about the unfairly short length of my life, whether or not I would be buried in my favorite Wal Mart hoodie, and why I hadn’t ever attempted a full push-up.
Now that you have an accurate picture of me in your mind, let me describe what my Dad was like. Being a Baptist pastor, he has a certain calm aura about him that was in no way passed down to me. As I was screaming, he was softly praying. Like, a lot. I had expected him to join in on the theatrics at some point during the descent down the hill, but he just kept calmly and emphatically praying for our safety. It turns out that his prayers were answered because we ended up at the bottom of the incline having barely missed two trees.
We sat in the car speechless for a few moments taking in what had just happened. After the initial shock passed, Dad asked if I was ok, and we got out of the car to survey the damage. There was no apparent harm done to the car, so the only thing for us to do was wait for the sheriff (yes, I grew up in a very rural area) to arrive along with the tow truck.
Waiting on the back road was already unpleasant, but the fact that we were roughly a quarter of a mile from The Rolling Hills Asylum made it even worse. What is that, you ask? It is, as the name suggests, a former insane asylum that is believed to be haunted. In fact, it is said to be so haunted that it has been featured on TV shows such as Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, SyFy’s Ghost Hunters, FX’s American Horror Story Asylum‘s Promotion, etc. Yeah, it’s terrifying, and we were stranded incredibly close to it.
The combination of having just survived the first car accident that I was responsible for and being so close to the location of over 1,700 documented deaths left me feeling shaken. This feeling persisted up until the car was towed back onto the road.
I stood watching the tow person (is that a term?) bring our car out of what I had affectionately dubbed “the abyss” and thought about how blessed we were to be safe. While sending up prayers of thanks, I also took some time to consider the brevity of life.
These existential thoughts prompted an inner dialogue about whether or not I should move to Florida permanently as a means of never having to drive on wintery roads again. In the end, based on a combination of my family’s unwillingness to move and my strong desire to get my driver’s license, I ended up getting behind the wheel again.
I have certainly come a long way as a driver over the past seven years, but I will never forget my first and hopefully last winter crash.