July 21, 2008

Hyper Clarity

We have had quite a lot of rain here but there's only a slight drizzle now. We are on our way to Apeldoorn to pick up our twins who were sleeping over at my parents in law. As we approach the N11 (a local highway), it suddenly happens: the front wheels of the car slightly skid sideways to the left. I steer a little bit to keep course, but then the rear end of the car skids to the right causing the car to spin. I lost control over the car, and I hear myself curse and yell "ooh, no here we go!". My wife braces for whatever impact there is to expect.

My immediate thoughts were with my son who sits in the back, and my wife who sits next to me. Then, while the car spins its first 360 degrees and at the same time bumping into curb of the shoulder, I think about the skid course that I once took, years ago. As if I have all the time in the world, I assess the situation: speed is about 50 kilometers per hour, little other traffic and all behind me, the car is spinning anti-clockwise, we are moving into the curve in stead of out of the curve, I have depressed the clutch pedal with my left foot. Based on those observations, I decide to keep my left foot down and steer to the right (in my mind, that involved frantic turning, but my wife told me that wasn't the case at all).

The car makes another spin and breaks loose from the shoulder. I am now on the approach for the opposite direction on the N11 that we were heading. No traffic. Good. I keep the clutch depressed. The car makes one final spin and because I notice we are about to crash into the next shoulder I decide to step on the breaks. A few easy, steady pumps at first. I am recovering control over the car! It stops spinning, but now drives backwards. Now I step on the break, depressing it completely. ABS kicks in. We bump over the second curb and come to a stand still on the exit from the N11. Fortunately, there is no traffic at that moment. Good thing this is happening on a sunday.

The situation seen from above (Google Maps). I have drawn in the trajectory of the car. This particular highway approach is a notorious one, as there have been several accidents here before.

By passers stop to see if we need help, but we are okay. I restart the car and drive it to a safe spot where I finally freak out. I am shaking with excitement and I feel like laughing. We were incredibly lucky. My son cries a little bit, but he is very brave. My wife is all shaky too. I seem to have used up all my mind clarity, because I really don't know what to do. Now what? Let's call your dad, I say to my wife. There really is no logic to that at all, and my wife calmy tells me to call the police in stead.

The police instructs me to wait there, and while I do that I walk around the car and look at the trail of gravel I have made on the road. I have thoroughly ploughed up about three meters of a road shoulder. There's almost no damage to the car. Amazing.

A few moments later the police arrives. They are very friendly and point out that one wheel is broken and that the car needs to be towed away. I am also requested to breath into a drunkometer. I probably make a drunken expression because I have just made a full three bloody spins with my car. Of course, I wasn't drunk, but I don't blame them for checking.

The tow truck arrives and about an hour later we drive back home in a rental car. All is well. We were very lucky. At home, I reflect on the whole situation. I am amazed by the extreme clarity I had during the time the car was skidding and spinning. It must have been only a few seconds, but it seemed more like a whole minute. I very clearly remember the cool and calm assessment that I made and the decisions I made based on that. I had completely shut out fear and uncertainty. The adrenaline did its work, enhancing my sight, hearing, sensitivity and body strength and creating hyper clarity in my head. Wow, what amazing creatures we are!




2 comments:

Florian Hollender said...

Geez, Mark,
I am very glad that you and your family made it out of the situation without injuries. Your story urges me very much to take a driving security course myself, otherwise the only clarity I'd have in such a situation would be "gosh, I should have learnt how to deal with this situation!".

Mark Nankman said...

Thanks Florian. Now I am especially glad that I shared this with the world, because these skid courses are really useful.