It was accidental, of course. A string of bad choices combined with awful luck led to the totaling of my car 30 miles away from civilization, and three miles from any semblance of cell service.
My friend Tiffany and I were exploring the backroads of Carrizo Plain National Monument in California, four hours northwest of Los Angeles. I’d been to Carrizo twice before, and my 2010 Toyota Corolla had performed admirably. While trying to get up a hill, however, my car gave up––steep dirt roads and bald tires do not mix. I attempted to turn around to go back down and try the ascent again, but the car bottomed out in the soft earth. Each tap on the gas only dug the front tire deeper. Belly now fully immobilized, my car was a beached whale. As enterprising young women, Tiffany and I tried to gain traction by jacking up the car and stacking rocks beneath the tires. This failed. Knowing we were three miles from the main road with little chance of running into anyone on the walk there, we decided to try pushing the car, at least until the back tires made contact with the ground. We pushed, and the car inched forward. Again, and it inched forward. We were making progress! Who needed cell service and tow trucks when you had elbow grease and gumption? With the car in neutral and the driver’s door open, ready for me to jump in, we gave one final push. Three… two… one!
Gravity’s an ass.
Technically, our plan had worked. The car was unstuck. Fifteen seconds later, in the most cinematic scene of my life, I sprinted alongside the runaway vehicle, quickly realized there was NO way I was going to make it inside, and fell to my knees, skidding in the dirt. Time ceased to exist; everything was at once slow and fast and real-time. The car was careening, gaining speed––then SLAMMED into the ravine at the bottom of the steep hill. Gone. This is one of the moments I know I will remember for the rest of my life, yet can barely remember at all. It must have looked hilarious. Here we had been so confident, so proud of solving our crisis. Just seconds later, we were staring, dumbfounded, shaken, and in shock. We ran to the car, fought off the airbags, and clambered for the necessities: insurance papers, wallet, camera, water. We scrambled up the hill and waited for an explosion that never came. (What would have been more movie-like than that?)
On the four-mile walk (it’s only three if you don’t take a wrong turn) back to the main road, I took solace in the fact that I was in good company. When I lost composure, Tiffany quickly reassured me, and vice-versa. “When you tell people what happened, make sure you let them know how funny I was,” I announced to her. We were cracking jokes left and right. What else can you do? If I wasn’t laughing, I would have been crying; the tears rolled every time I stopped trying to make light of the situation.
I make no claim that this was anyone’s fault but mine. Do I regret it? Of course. But now I have a story that I’ll tell until the day I die. Even five minutes after it happened, I turned to Tiffany in hysterics, and laughed, “In five years, this will be hilarious.”
And the best part is that, on our way through the park earlier that day, I had said, “I love this car so much. I’m going to drive it until I run it into the ground.”