Wednesday, October 1, 2008

In Which I Go Careening Down a Steep, Winding Mountain Road in a Semi With My Cousin Eli

One summer when I was 17 years old, I went on a trail job with my Uncle Kent for a week. I had the thrill of counting loads of gravel as they brought them to some remote forest road they were carving out of the wilderness. At night we ate food that we had attempted to cook on a tiny little camp trailer stove in pots and pans that looked like they came across the plains (and were probably discarded by the pioneers!) One morning I was riding in my cousin Eli's ancient, decrepit big rig. He had a double load of gravel and he was going to unload it and drop me off at the side of the road where I would begin another action-packed day of counting gravel loads. As we headed down the very narrow road, I was looking out the window observing the sheer drop-off on my side of the road and getting a little woozy from the twists and switch-backs of the road. As I looked out the window, I noticed the scenery was passing faster and faster. I looked over at Eli. He looked very serious --with Eli this is hard to discern as he always has a straight face. The seat I was sitting in bounced up and down and every time the truck turned a corner, I fell against the door. The sound of the straining engine filled the cab. Eli yanked on the shift, the gears ground for a second and then pulled the shift back out of his hand. I noticed Eli had pulled the knob that should have activated the air brakes--but we were picking up speed. The weight of the gravel load was pushing us faster. Eli flipped the release switch and the gravel emptied out in a narrow stream behind us as Eli whipped the truck around a sharp corner. The pine trees beside the road became a blur. I shut my eyes and prayed; Eli swore and I prayed harder. "I'm too young to die!" I thought. Suddenly, the truck came to stop on a downhill slope. Everything was quiet. I opened my eyes and Eli put his head down on the steering wheel. I smiled over at him as he looked up. "You wouldn't be smiling if you knew how close you came to dying." He got out and checked the tires but he couldn't tell what the problem was. Later, they took the wheels apart to check the brakes--they found out that the brake shoes were completely worn down to nothing. Eli said, "I have no idea what stopped that truck." So I told him. I was too young to die.

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