About 13 years ago my husband and I made the fateful decision to drive up Highway I-5 with the kids directly after Christmas, through the Siskiyou Mountains all the way to Bellingham WA to see my mother. We bundled my two girls, then 11 and 15, in the back seat and took off for a memorable family road trip.
It was a lot of fun, at first. We watched the terrain change from valley to mountains, saw Lassen and Shasta in the distance, sang songs and talked about dreams for the coming year as we climbed gradually to higher elevations. When we had to stop to put on chains as fat snowflakes began accumulating on the highway, it still seemed like a lark. It was not until we forged into the mountainous terrain of Oregon that we began to realize this snow fall was actually a blizzard. The car grew quiet and tense as my husband strained harder to see the inevitable I-5 semis and the road ahead. We began to speculate whether we should pull over, but we were about 75 miles from the next town, lying ahead at the bottom of the mountains. The radio said they were closing the highway, but there was nowhere to get off, no way out but to forge ahead and try to make the descent to the valley, and restaurants and shelter. I concentrated on the road, trying to help my husband “see” as everything on the highway slowed to a crawl.
Consequently I was paying close attention as we slowly crested the hill, and instantly saw all of the cars and trucks on the suspension bridge at the bottom, sprawled together as the vehicles descending the hill spun and skidded down toward them. The hill was covered with black ice and we had no time to stop without being rear-ended. There was nowhere to pull over and evade the pileup.
I said to my kids, “Girls, we are about to skid out and slide down this hill onto the bridge. Brace yourselves against the back of our seats with your heads in your arms.” They instantly obeyed. A second later I felt the ice take the wheels. My girls’ sharpest memory in that moment was how I calmly stated the obvious: “Here we go,” I said.
There was nothing we could do. It seemed to take ages as our car lost all connection to our ability to control it and gracefully glided onto the bridge. I looked over the guardrail into a chasm of several hundred feet. I saw how beautiful were the thick, fluffy snowflakes all over the huge, stately pines. I wondered if the guardrail would hold if we hit it at the same time as one of the trucks that spun next to us. I wondered what it would be like to plunge into the abyss, knowing we all would be gone. I had time to feel grateful that, if my kids had to die in this moment, that I would die too and would not have to miss them. I had time to be thankful for my new husband and my new life.
Miraculously (and obviously), we made it through without plunging over the side of the bridge. We didn’t sustain even a scratch. Slowly the vehicles involved spun to a stop and, one by one, carefully disentangled themselves and inched on their way. We made it to the valley just as darkness descended, got a motel, and counted our blessings. My kids even were able to laugh about how I so absurdly had said, “Here we go.”
But it could have been so much worse. I don’t know how many near misses we get to just glide past like that in our lifetimes. As the clouds gather over our nation’s capital and every day brings more evidence of treachery and mental illness in this absurdity of a president-elect, the incident on the icy bridge replays itself in my mind, over and over. All we can do, facing the day when the unthinkable becomes reality and we have to inaugurate this laughable, hateful incompetent, is to brace ourselves as best we can, be glad we are together, and give thanks for what good things we know are true.
And so, loved ones, friends and family far and near, this year I don’t really have a “Happy New Year” in me. I think the best I can muster is, “Here we go.”
I hope to see you on the other side of the bridge.