Note: This is a long two-part post. It’s a bit rambling, so don’t feel bad if you don’t make it all the way through. I wrote this one more for me than anyone else. (As an FYI, we are sitting on the side of a forest service road as I write this, and we are safe.)
Yair always quotes a famous scientist who jests that the universe is conspiring to kill you. Only that the scientist’s jest is kind of true. Most of the universe is not at all hospitable to human existence. Even if you were randomly dropped someplace on Earth, there’s a good chance that it would be in the middle of the ocean and you’d drown, or that you’d fall to some other location that is deadly for environmental or social reasons.
On that highly pleasant note, I will share with you two dramatic and mildly traumatic events that I experienced this week – both occasions that shook me but also where I surprised myself with my ability to react effectively.
Yair and I planned an easygoing Monday for today. Well, it was easygoing for me at least. Yair planned to summit the tallest mountain in Arizona (12,000+ feet), making him the tallest thing in the state of Arizona for a few minutes. I busied myself organizing the RV and rested, particularly since I have been a bit under the weather and my voice is totally shot. The afternoon passed without much fanfare, Yair returned from his day climb exhausted, and he crashed for a nap.
An hour and a half later, we decided to get a move on to the Grand Canyon and make our way to our evening boondocking location. Since Yair was still a bit zonked, I hopped in the driver’s seat and we began our descent. Our first “uh oh” moment was not being able to turn on the RV! The headlights had accidentally been left on from the morning and our starting battery was dead. But the RV backup system came to the rescue and we started the truck off of the coach batteries – no problem.
We waited a few moments and began descending the mountain. As the truck picked up speed, I hand-signaled to Yair “2” to let him know that I was going to downshift to D2. My voice was totally lost at this point, something that I realize in retrospect was dangerous because a driver should always be able to communicate what is going on. Even after I shifted to D2, we were still picking up too much downward speed at close to 30 miles per hour on tight turns (we’re over 12,000 pounds…) and so I hand-signaled a “1” to Yair as I planned to downshift us further.
Suddenly, the engine revved even though we only seemed to be going at 12 mph. Yair told me that I needed to accelerate because we were going too slowly and there was a car right behind us, but I could tell that something was already wrong with the RV. I realized that my no-voice situation would be dangerous on the curves, and told Yair that he needed to take over driving. He said “We can’t now – wait till we get to the bottom”. I tried accelerating, but the RV wouldn’t respond and didn’t go faster. Instead, all of a sudden three lights turned on: the check engine light, the battery light and the oil light.
I tried with all my might to speak and said “Yair, we need to pull over” even though it hurt me to talk. Yair told me to move back to D2 and I did, but this time the RV began accelerating way too fast and I tried braking. But the brake didn’t work. Then all of a sudden, the wheel didn’t work either. I could barely turn the wheel from side to side – it felt as though the RV had turned off and that there were 25+ pounds of weight working against me. I tried communicating to Yair what was going on with the wheel, and used every ounce of strength in my biceps to wrench the wheel one way and the other to match the curves of the road.
I saw a small turn-off around the next corner and pointed vigorously to the turn-off to communicate that I wanted to take it. Yair still didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation because I was mute and said “Only if you need to”.
By this point, with no voice, no normally functioning steering wheel and barely working brakes and acceleration, my tolerance for conversation was over. I pulled us into the turn-off and pressed on the (non working) brakes as hard as I could. The brakes were still not responsive, but as I slammed on the emergency brake, the RV came to a stop and turned itself off.
Once we had parked and were sure that we were safe, I started to write down for Yair what had happened. Only then did I (and he) realize the seriousness of the situation. The turn-off that I had turned into was the only place to pull over during the next five miles of steep descending switchbacks. (A godsend?)
If I hadn’t put everything that I and Arvie had into taking the turn-off and stopping our acceleration, and if I hadn’t made the unilateral decision to do so at the last moment, the RV would have kept going downhill and picking up speed as we dangerously tried to hug the curves of the road. Without a working brake, there is no question that we could have crashed or flipped over – wrecking Arvie and putting our lives in real danger. A scary thought.
posted by ayo