Saturday, October 19, 2013

Come With Us – Glenn Highway

For this episode of Come With Us, I’d like to take you along with me for one of my greatest fears.

It’s dark out, darker than normal because it’s been raining and there are heavy, black clouds blotting out any hope of light or color from the sky.  There is standing water on the road and a slight wind has kicked up.  The truck passing you on the left going seventy-five is kicking up a vicious spray, which is making it even harder to see than flat out buckets of rain because it’s constant and the mist covers your windshield instantly, no matter the speed your overworked wiper blades flip back and forth at.

Sure they’ve added lights on the sides of the road, finally! But there are stretches of the thirty-plus miles that span from Anchorage to Wasilla that they didn’t put in any street lights.  Those are black as pitch and seeing past the yellow line that separates you from the wilderness is like trying to see into an ocean of the blackest ink.  Even in the areas where there are street lights, those only provide a seconds warning.

Something catches your attention, it’s reflective, glowing. Before you can ponder it, a dark shape, brown and big emerges in your periphery. A leg and then a body. You have only a second, maybe less. Not enough time to react, to save yourself, but still somehow long enough to be absolutely certain of what is about to happen.  

You are going to hit a moose. You even have time to wonder, in a horrified, detached sort of way if it’s going to come through the windshield.  If it does, will you be kicked to death in the midst of the poor creatures death throws?

And then it happens. Everything stops and at the same time speeds up.  You don’t even feel the impact, really.  The head is through the window and somehow you have long, thick, coarse hair in your mouth and you catch a glimpse of headlights beaming directly at you.  You’ve been knocked off course and are facing oncoming traffic.

The worst case scenario your brain sped up to play out for you in the milliseconds before you struck the moose has fallen far short of the mark. This is so much worse. Suddenly another thump rights you and though you have no idea how, you are pulling onto the shoulder and coming to a complete and horrified stop.  But there are no moose antlers spearing you, no legs ruthlessly kicking you through the shattered window.

You hold your breath, waiting for the moment either of those things might occur.  You’re in shock. You recognize that, as well as the fact that something is terribly wrong.  There is glass in your eyes and blood on your face.  There is hair all over the interior and every time you move you create a small avalanche of broken, tempered glass.

Still dazed,  you fumble with the door and then spill out onto the pavement.  There is a dark shape behind you on the ground some distance away.  It’s still moving, panting out heavy, slow breaths, still alive. You swallow the bile rising in your throat and blink back tears.  You don’t need to call the police because there are already several vehicles stopping and someone says they’ve made the call.

Minutes tick by and then there are flashing lights and a trooper and the shot and though you know it’s to end the poor things suffering, you still can’t help but flinch as your heart breaks a little bit more.

Now that the focus is no longer on the poor creature, you take stock of your SUV.  It’s demolished, but it’s possible angels were riding in the car with you because every spot except your door is caved in, windows smashed. Your door only has a scratch where the rearview mirror got dragged along the paint as it was ripped off.

It seems an odd thing to do, considering you are standing on the side of the road after you’ve just been in a pretty serious accident, but you say a prayer of thanks. You do this because those scenarios you played out in your head seconds before things went really bad, those aren’t just the product of your overactive imagination, those are the things others have gone through, people you know, people you’ve seen on the news.

You are one of the lucky ones.

I wrote this because tonight as I made my way home on my fifty-five mile each way commute, there was a similar scene which was and always is a shocking reminder of my mortality. Though what I wrote above was no hypothetical. I lived that experience several years back.  Having done so, as the season gets later and the light fades to darkness far too early, the fear of repeating this is a real thing, alive in my chest as I drive home in the darkness.

Living in Alaska has so many positives, but it also has its drawbacks.  The threat of striking a moose on the highway going sixty-five miles an hour is one of the bigger of them.

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