February, 14, 1998
Costa Mesa, California, USA
A week and half ago, as David was driving me back to Marnis house from the climbing gym, I asked him if I could spend the following Friday night at his place. Three weeks before that, I had told Marni that Id be out of her house by the 6th, which was that Friday. She would have let me stay the extra day, but I just preferred to keep my promise. Dave said that I was unable to stay with him, but mentioned that there was a possibility I could stay with Diane, a friend of his. The next day, Dave called me and said that I was welcome to stay with Diane, and that he would pick me up at her house on Saturday morning to go climbing at Joshua Tree. Friday afternoon, I rode the bus five miles south to Costa Mesa, and met with Diane. On the drive back to her place, Diane told me that her ex-boy friend had just died of a stoke a week earlier, that she was still in a lot of emotional distress. Given her situation, I was surprised that she agreed to let me stay with her.
After dropping my things in Dianes spare bed room, I went into her bathroom. Through-out the room were many angel decorations. There were angels on the towels, angel figurines on the counter top, angel candle holders, and framed paintings of angels on the walls. On the toilet was an issue of People Magazine with the headline, Touched by Angels: tales from people who believe that heaven helped them. I asked Diane about it. She told me that she is a strong believer in Angels. I told her about my angel experience, which happened two summers ago, as I was driving from my home in Saint John, to Gagetown, a Canadian armed forces base one hours drive away. After a half-hour of driving it was 7:30pm, and the sun was still high over the horizon. It was a warm evening. The heat made me sleepy. I took off my jacket, rolled down the window, and turned up the volume on the radio. My eye lids felt like they had lead weights attached; no matter how hard I tried, I could not keep them open.
I was driving 100kmph when I fell asleep. The last thing I saw was an over-pass 500 feet ahead. On both sides of the highway, robust cement columns supported the massive structure above. Colliding with such a non-forgiving adversary would have killed me instantly. After driving 700 feet with my eyes shut, I was shaken from unconsciousness to find myself still driving at a high speed, with my right side wheels on the shoulder of the road. Startled, I quickly cut the steering wheel hard to the left. The forward momentum was too strong. I gripped the wheel tightly, and braced myself. My world became a swirl of light, followed by the sound of squealing tires and busting glass. I was knocked unconscious after the second or third roll.
When I came to, I found myself standing outside the vehicle, unharmed, and unsure of how I got there. I was out of the car before anyone arrived to help me. The car was on its side in the middle of the undivided highway, with the roof caved in, and detached from the windshield, which laid jagged as a chain-saw at neck level on the drivers side. Glass sprinkled the pavement for 80 feet.
My friends from Vancouver, Calvin and Virginia Mitchell, were visiting at the time. Earlier that day I had taken their kids to buy a gift for their wedding anniversary. The jacket that I had placed on the seat beside me got sucked out the window, as well as the unwrapped gift that was left in the back seat by mistake. I was baffled by how I escaped the wreckage without injury ...until I saw the angels. I had angels in the back seat. Do I believe these angels had divine powers, with the ability to spare me from my own undoing? No, I knew they were just molded porcelain, but as I picked up the little wings and other fragmented pieces scattered across the highway, I saw them as a reminder that God was taking care of me.
One of the first vehicles on the scene was a female military doctor. Shortly thereafter, a tow-truck arrived. Neither of them were called; they just happened to be driving on the highway a few minutes behind me. Although I had only received a half-inch cut above my left eye, I was taken to the hospital on a stretcher and examined. I was released from the hospital that evening, with no further injuries.
Besides reminding me that seat belts do in fact save lives, the accident was also a great testament of how vulnerable we are as humans. I made a stupid mistake, and because of that, I deserved to pay the price. But what if I killed someone? What if I collided with a van full of students on their way to a big game? What if I killed two of them, paralyzed one and seriously injured the rest? Its crazy. Almost every person over the age of 25 I have recited this story to, has told me that they too have caught themselves falling asleep at the wheel. We have no idea who is speeding toward us on the other side of the yellow line. Thats one of the main reasons why I decided to kayak on the ocean, instead on bicycling on the highway.
A few nights ago, Diane and I went to see Good Will Hunting on the big screen. As we were driving home, four helicopters flew over-head in pursuit of a running fool. I thought it was pretty exciting. At home, I hardly ever hear about police chases, let alone see one in progress. I thought this kinda crazy stuff only happens in the movies. Here there are shootings and high speed chases everyday. Security is erroneous. Unless youre driving a tank to work, all the money in the world isnt going to make you more safe.
No matter how safe you play, God only knows how long you have left to live. Most little kids cant wait to grow-up, because they think that, "Big kids have more fun". Then when they get to high school, they say, "Im dying to go to university. Im tired of mom and dad trying to control me." Then when they get to university, they say, "All this studying sucks! Im dying to get a job and make some money." Then when they got a job, they say, "This work is burning me out. Im dying to retire." Finally when they are retired, they think to themselves, "Not once have I been truly content. Now Im just dying!" The point is... there is no point in postponing happiness.
In the same year as the car accident described in the above paragraph, I survived four other incidents, any one of which could have lead to my demise. The first happened on a white-water canoeing trip with my father, brother, uncle, and two cousins. It was the spring run. The water was terribly cold and the rapids were massive; so big in fact, that we got off the river above each set and scouted them out before making the descent. On the last set before the take-out point, the other two canoes ran the rapids without scouting them out first, so my father and I followed. Half way through, our canoe filed-up with water and capsized. We rode the rest of the rapids on top of our over-turned canoe - facing each other, with the canoe straddled between our legs. Due to the swift current, and the canoes lack of manoeuverability, we were unable to get to shore, and continued down the river.
"Hey, look..." says my father, "Theres the wall Adam(my brother) mentioned."
"What about it?", I asked.
"We must have missed the take-out point." he replied. "Adam said that we need to get off the river before we see the wall."
I didnt need to ask why. What happened next was one of the most frightening moments of my life. The wall is a 200 foot long concrete structure, which stretched a third of the way across the river, and stood 4 feet above the water line. The wall diverted the entire flow to right hand side of the river. At the end of the wall, the river disappeared from sight, and descended a bone crushing 25 foot free-fall onto a solid granite ledge.
We had ten seconds to escape catastrophe. My father was facing me with his back down river. He was unaware of the danger that laid ahead. I didnt have time to explain. "Swim for the wall!" I cried, as I dove into the icy cold water. Upon reaching the wall, neither of us were able to reach the top, and we continued to struggle against the current as it forced us closer to the precipice with each passing second. We fought desperately to hold onto little cracks and other features, but it didnt even slow us down. My father was sucked around the end of the wall first. I wasnt paying much attention to him; I was too busy thinking, "This isnt happening to me! This only happens in Readers Digest!"
Just when I thought all hope was lost, three feet and one second away from the lip, my father grabbed the back of my life jacket. He held on to the end of the wall with one hand, and me with the other. As he held me there, water began flowing into my rubberized pants at the waist. The pants had tight rubber cuffs around my ankles, which wouldnt allow any of the water to flow out. I thought I was screwed for sure, but even with the extra weight, Pops was able to lift me up out of the water, and onto a ledge behind the wall. After hugs of gratitude, the two of us took off running along the shore in persuit of the canoe, which by then was a quarter mile down river, 300 feet from shore, and headed toward the ocean. I summoned the attention of some fishermen by blowing the whistle on my life jacket, and they were able to tow our canoe to shore. The fishermen told me that a year earlier a boy went over the falls in an inter-tube and died instantly.
The second accident took place while on a weekend solo kayaking trip near St. Martins, New Brunswick. I paddled into a sea arch, then got out of the boat well inside the arch to take a photograph. To frame the picture perfectly, I climbed up the wall of the arch 15 feet, then hung on with one hand and took the photo with the other. As I was climbing down, my hand hold broke off, and sent me falling about three feet on to a little ledge just big enough for me to stand on. If I hadnt hit that ledge, I would have fallen another ten feet onto a jumble of seaweed-cover rocks and probably broken my back, or neck, or at least an arm or a leg. Either way, I would have been in big trouble. I was at least 10 miles from the nearest soul. If I had been knocked unconscious or was paralyzed, I would have been drowned by the rapidly rising tide(The Bay of Fundy has 28 foot tides - the highest in the world). Because of the secluded area where I was located, there would have been virtually no chance of anyone finding me if I was seriously injured. Anyhow... I didnt get hurt. It was just another one of the stupid accidents on my list.
My grandmother on my mothers side, Mrs. Grace Weatherall, had died that summer, and I was the unofficial heir to her vehicle. She didnt drive it in the winter, so the bottom had a great deal of rust damage. A few day before my asleep at the wheel accident, while speeding down a busy main street, I hit the bump at a set of railroad tracks, and the left rear wheel control arm broke. The car took on a mind of its own, steering me straight toward a telephone pole. Fifteen feet from hitting the pole, I spun the steering wheel hard to the left, shot across an intersection, and came less than a foot from hitting two cars stopped at a stop light. I wasnt hurt, and my car was not damaged.
The last accident took place while I was rock climbing at Cannon cliff in New Hampshire. I was leading a route which started with an awkward seven inch wide lay-back crack, and I was fifteen feet up before the crack got small enough that I could place my first piece of protection. When I reached down to clip my rope into the piece, my feet slipped out from under me, and I fell the full fifteen feet and landed on my back. Fortunately, I landed on a small bush, and was wearing a helmet and a small backpack. Uninjured, I continued climbing, and had a fantastic weekend. A few months later, while surfing the net, I came across a posting entitled "Accident at Cannon Cliff". The posting told of a man falling from the very same spot I fell, and received a concussion, a broken pelvis, a collapsed lung, and was carried out on intravenous.
God must be saving me for something...