Tuesday, October 31, 2006

And for my final act, ladies and gentlemen...

In all of my 35 years on this planet, my closest brush with death came this past Saturday. Fact is, I hope it never gets any closer than that.

My friend Micah (names have not been changed) owns a couple of what the people in the biz refer to as “Quads” and invited me to go riding last Saturday morning. I had ridden a Quad one other time in my life, and that was for exactly three minutes, at exactly five miles per hour, with exactly one of my children riding with me. So when Micah asked me if I had been riding before, my immediate response was, “Of course, dude, what do I look like, a weenus?”

Micah picked me up around 7:00 a.m. and we drove up to Cold Creek, a site up the eastern side of Mount Charleston. We parked his Durango and unloaded the Quads from the trailer. Micah had a map of the mountain and some ideas of some pretty amazing areas to see. And truly, the mountain was fantastic – fall colors everywhere and not another living soul.

The air was crisp, and we had dressed for it. I had on several layers of clothing, gloves, a helmet, and eye goggles. In five hours time we had traversed about 18 miles and covered some pretty beautiful, yet treacherous terrain. Micah was no doubt duly impressed not only by my natural Quad-ing skills, but also with my fearless nature and rugged autumn jacket.

Less than half a mile from the peak of the mountain, we ran into a dead-end and decided to turn around and head back. The road we were on was gravely rather than rocky, and flat enough for us to pick up some speed.

I was trailing Micah and clipping along at about 40 mph when I came around corner into a cloud of dust and some compromised visibility. I should have slowed down, but figured I had accurate enough bearings to know I was fine. That’s when my vision cleared to see a 20-foot ravine directly in front of me.

I immediately applied the brake and turned the Quad away from the ravine, but with the speed and the sudden turn…I could feel the Quad tipping and getting ready to flip. Everything slowed down in my mind and the final thought that ran through my head was, “This is most likely it. You have control of nothing and you are going into the ravine.”

I don’t know how long I was unconscious, but when I came to, I couldn’t focus or hold a coherent thought in my head. My mind and my vision were both hazy and I felt like each time I tried to focus my brain would flip over, like it was unsuccessfully trying to balance itself. I wasn’t sure where I was or what exactly had just happened. I started to look around and noticed the Quad about 10 feet from me, sitting upright. I was lying near the bank of the ravine, but hadn’t gone over the edge. At this point I figured that I had just fallen off, and perhaps nothing too bad had happened.

I started to push my body off the ground and felt a sharp pain across my upper back between my shoulder blades and up through my neck. The left side of my body was in complete agony. I lay back down. I propped my head to look in the other direction. I don’t know if my helmet had been knocked off or if I took it off, but it wasn’t on anymore. I looked into the road and saw some rather large pieces of the Quad spread all over the place. It occurred to me at that point that the Quad had flipped at least once, if not more, and just happened to land upright.

I didn’t feel I could stand without toppling over, so I pulled myself up on the Quad and hunched over it. The only image I could spotlight for any length of time was my family. I kept seeing Katie’s face and the faces of my cute little children. And there was kind of this non-verbal motivation to be okay so I could be with them again. But that was it. No other images came into my mind; nothing else motivated me to do anything.

I knew Micah would eventually notice that I wasn’t behind him, then stop and wait for me, and when I didn’t come, he would come back. I don’t know how much time had passed, but soon I could hear his Quad coming up the hill.

I don’t recall much of our reunion, (or the next couple of hours), but I know that Micah kept trying to keep me mentally engaged. My answers were short.

“Are you okay?”

“I don’t know…”

“What happened?”

“I can’t really remember.”

“Should Harrison Ford really be making a fourth Indiana Jones movie?”

“I…can’t decide.”

We were miles from anybody, I wasn’t dead, and our only plan was to get safely down the mountain. I climbed on the back of Micah’s Quad and he started down. We were so far over the mountain from where we started that we were actually closer to Pahrump than Las Vegas. (Pahrump’s Motto: Land Of 1,000 X-Files Episodes.)

We rode about six miles when we happened upon a couple of guys unloading some Quads from their trailer. Well, one was unloading the Quads, the other toothless fellow was playing “Dueling Banjos” on his banjo and telling Micah he had a pretty smile.

Actually, body piercing aside, these were some very nice folks who didn’t hesitate for a second to load their Quads back up and drive us twelve miles into Pahrump. I don’t recall the trip down much, except that it was bumpier than I would have liked. I was having difficulty holding my head up and my breathing felt labored. I didn’t think my neck was broken, but it felt so vulnerable, the paranoid part of me was sure that all I had to do was turn my head wrong and I would be doing special tours at our nations’ high schools, talking from my wheelchair about how to have a positive attitude in the face of adversity.

They dropped us off at the Pahrump hospital. It was a Saturday, and it was Pahrump, so I’m sure they had their best veterinarian on hand to check me out. They put a neck brace on me, sat me in a wheelchair, and wheeled me back for some x-rays. I was in and out through it, and I’m glad, because the parts where I was awake were extremely painful. The x-rays showed no broken bones, much to my relief. So the vet wrote me out a prescription for Lortab and recommended I take it with two helpings of Alpo, for healthy teeth and a shinier coat.

Micah had called our friend Bob (again, names have not been changed) and asked him to come rescue us from Pahrump-a-pum-pum. Bob’s lovely wife joined the Extraction Team and dropped Bob off at Cold Creek to pick up Micah’s Durango and trailer. Bob then drove around the mountain to Pahrump, a 40-minute drive if you don’t stop at any of the five brothels greeting you at the entrance to Pahrump. (Bob made it in 45...but we gave him the benefit of the doubt.)

We went back up the mountain to retrieve what remained of the Quad I was driving. I waited in the car, but Micah and Bob put on their CSI baseball caps and started singing songs from The Who as they examined the crime scene with flashlights in daylight.

Micah wondered out loud how I didn’t, logistically, go into the ravine. And Bob commented that he had never seen anyone simply walk away from an accident that damaged a Quad so severely. At first I thought they were complimenting me on my deft ability to remain calm under intense pressure and my instinctual stuntman reflexes. Then I realized they were saying that there had to have been some divine intervention and that I was very fortunate to only be severely banged up.

After a long drive, Micah and Bob, my personal heroes, dropped me off at home and I immediately called dibs on our couch. Katie went out to pick up my Lortab and I actually put some finishing touches on a talk I was supposed to deliver at church the next day.

I took the Lortab and went to bed, but then woke up at 3 a.m. to throw said Lortab right up and out of my already aching body. I tried Motrin, and it seemed to be milder on my stomach.

Yesterday I left the house long enough to go the doctor, and the good doctor said I have a concussion and that it will probably take 4 to 8 weeks for me to completely mend. There is some extensive bruising and swelling up the left side of my body, but because of how much clothing I was wearing, the only significant loss of skin was on my left forearm, and one slash across my hip. I’ll be on the couch for the next couple of days, but I know the day is coming when I will physically be able to do whatever I want once again.

You don’t walk away from something like this without learning something, and I certainly have. I am still here because I have something to accomplish. Could be supporting my wife, could be raising my children, could be attending the opening night of Raiders of the Lost Ark IV. Some mysteries of life you never really figure out. But it’s nice that I still have some time to give it a shot.