Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lost Highway

The following is an account of what happened to me on November 6th, 2008. And while memory is a fleeting and abstract thing, I have tried to remain as true to the fact as possible, not adding any details for dramatic effect. The goal here is to merely relay my experience for those who have not had the chance to hear me tell it yet.

6 PM, Northeastern Arizona. I was 9 hours into my trip to Canyon de Chelly (pron. 'shay') and half an hour from the hotel where I was to stay for a week and film the canyon and ancient Native American ruins for my employer, Finley Holiday Films. My rental SUV was loaded with my camera equipment and supplies for the trip. I had hoped to reach my destination before it got dark, but unfortunately because of daylight savings, the shorter November days, and the time zone change, the sun had gone down half an hour ago and the last rays of light had just disappeared behind the black hills.

Now it's rather difficult to fully explain my thought process as everything happened in the space of about 5 milliseconds, but I recall glimpsing in the corner of my eye the ghostly figure of a horse bolting across the road, illuminated only at the last split-second by the edge of my headlights, immediately followed by a snapping and smashing sound, and a waterfall of glass pouring over me. As soon as I had realized something had just hit me, I hit the brakes and pulled off to the side of the road. I was rather stunned, but the first thing I noticed was that a section of the windshield had wrapped itself back and was a few inches from my face, so I pushed it forward roughly back into place. In a shocking moment, suddenly all memories of what had just happened came flooding back into my head. I must have been going 60 MPH, actually 5 below the speed limit due to the darkness, but the horse had run out at full speed and collided with the front left side of the hood, it's head snapping forward and shattering the windshield before being thrown upwards by the curve of the vehicle's roof.

Sitting on the side of the road, I opened the door of the SUV with some difficulty as it had been dented in, and spit glass dust out of my mouth. As I did so, I noticed something dripping from my forehead. I was bleeding, and I hadn't even noticed. The coolness of realizing that this was what being in shock feels like was quickly replaced by the terror of not knowing how badly I was injured. I grabbed my duffel bag and snatched a t-shirt from inside and held it to my face and applied pressure to try and stop the bleeding. When the section of windshield in front of me had wrapped back upon itself, it had cut me on the left side of my face and right hand. Not to mention that the shower of glass beads had given me hundreds of tiny cuts all over my face. Fortunately the near-freezing night temperature of the high desert sped up the cauterizing process for my smaller cuts, leaving only the big ones to deal with.

At this point a family drove by and saw my condition, and told me they would drive up to the gas station nearby and call the police. Being in the middle of nowhere, it took 15 minutes for the fire department to arrive, followed shortly by an ambulance and the police. The fire department busied themselves with blocking off the road where the dead horse lay (I must have killed it instantly), and the paramedics took me into the ambulance and checked me out. No major injuries, miraculously, and other than my forehead, everything had stopped bleeding already.

So, despite the long story involved in getting home with no car (not totaled, but completely undrivable) and no cell phone reception, I realize that I was extremely fortunate that the horse had not gotten further out in the road, where a direct hit could have almost certainly been fatal for me, and I was most likely lucky that I didn't see the horse in time to try to avoid it, as a sudden swerve at that speed could have rolled the vehicle, or I could have driven into a ditch or something on the side of the road. The way the windshield had broken was in a way that I could have received serious damage to my eyes, but those had somehow remained safe as well. A kind Native American police officer drove me back to the hotel where I was going, and assured me that they had had problems with the family who owned the corral leaving gates open on their property, and that there would be no danger of them asking for compensation. Yeah, thanks. Still, that's good news, considering I wasn't technically in America at the time. The park I was going to was on a reservation and politically, the entire area is Navajo Nation.

So, after spending a night with no cell reception by myself in the middle of nowhere (the nearest town was an hour and a half away), I finally got home Friday around midnight (much thanks to the help of my employers for getting me another rental car), and was at last able to relax and rest, a much needed exercise as being in a car wreck is a very nerve-wracking experience. I never realized how much I enjoyed being around people I knew, friends of mine and familiar faces have never been so comforting. I am also anticipating even more my return home for Thanksgiving to see my family and relatives. It's not that I've taken them for granted until now or anything, but I guess near-death experiences have a way of making you enjoy the good things in life even more than you did before. Funny how that works, isn't it?


James said...

Nice to hear you are still alive. The big question is- did you get it on camera?

Derek said...

Holy crap, what a story. I'm very glad to hear you are not permanently maimed in any way.

The ghostly description of the horse coming out of the darkness sounds like it's just begging to be made into a horror film.

Take care of yourself.

Kevin Christensen said...

Thanks. I am very glad as well. I didn't get any photos, but one of the officers did, and I'm hoping at some point to be able to share them with everyone...

Heidi K. said...