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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Colorado Vacation Horror Story: I fell off a thirty foot cliff!

The Incident: Car Accident
Location: Beaver Creek Colorado on a high country wildlife excursion. It seemed more safe than skiing, snowmobiling or snowboarding. Um, wrong.
Date: 1/17/1995

So here's what happened. We'd been driving around for a couple of hours looking for wildlife. I spotted two or three bald eagles resting in trees which was cool because I'd never seen a bald eagle in the wild before but that was about it. Still, it was an enjoyable afternoon seeing nature in all its glory.

After driving around the lowlands we began driving up into the high country. Honestly, I don't remember for exactly how long. I think it was about an hour and a half we drove up into the mountains hoping to see deer, elk, bighorn sheep, etc. Eventually we reached the turnaround point and headed back to the hotel.

Within minutes our ordeal began. Our driver hit black ice. To our left was a sheer cliff, to our right, a rock wall. As she attempted to regain control of the vehicle we began sliding first toward the left. She tried to correct sending us toward the wall. She over corrected and lost control of the vehicle. As we slid sideways to the left it was obvious we were going to slide off the cliff.

As we went over the edge I remember screaming something like "NOOOOOOOOOOO!" My life did not flash before my eyes. I remember thinking to myself (quickly and clearly) what a stupid way to die looking at eagles sitting in trees and that it wasn't worth it.

We hit the ground front end first and as we did the windows exploded fragmenting into thousands, maybe even millions, of tiny pieces.

After that I just remember it was dark and loud as the Suburban rolled and rolled before coming to a stop. Later, the police said we did three 360′s before landing on the side of the vehicle. To it's credit the frame of the Suburban held up. A lesser car would have killed us all.

Miraculously, nobody died. I say it's a miracle because 5 of us were't even wearing seat belts. My first thought was for the woman in the front passenger seat who I knew was pregnant. She and the driver were wearing seat belts and both of them and her baby were just fine.

Rolling through the sagebrush.

As everyone else exited the vehicle I was also eager to get out. But when they tried to lift the woman who was lying on top of me up she screamed in pain. Yup, I was trapped beneath the only seriously injured person. I told them not to move her again because I was afraid she might have a spinal cord injury. So picture this, I was lying where the long side window used to be on my back, in the snow, with an injured French woman on top of me. I mention her ethnicity only because she didn't speak English, and we ended up hanging out with her on top of me for almost two hours as I recall. LOL had she spoken English I'm sure we would have become friends.

As I laid in the snow I could just barely see out of what used to be where the (now missing) glass curved along the top of the rear side window. I still remember seeing things from inside the vehicle hanging in the sagebrush like Christmas ornaments. And the scent of the sage, crushed by the car turning over on it hung heavy in the air. It was actually a comforting scent given how desolate the area was we were now trapped in.

Soon after going over the cliff a local drove by, went home and called for help.

I was so cold.

I tried out the only French word I knew (to converse with the lady on top of me) which was "frites" for French fries, and then I had nothing left to say.

Over an hour later I heard others say they could see the ambulance coming up the mountain... A sense of relief sludged, Slurpee style, through my now freezing veins. And then everyone shouted it was going the wrong way. Seriously. They had to drive down the mountain, find it and lead it back to where we were. By then I was really cold and I think getting a little delirious.

I remember the Eagles were playing a concert in San Jose that night and how I wished I was there seeing the show. I imagined the concert so much I started kind of humming out loud without even realizing it. One of the men heard me and thought I was whimpering in pain. LOL. I said no, I was just humming to entertain myself. It was a rather "Desperado" kind of moment.

As night began to fall, and after what felt like an eternity, help arrived. They quickly got us out of the car and into the warm ambulance.

This is what it felt like going over the cliff, rolling, landing and waiting for help.

Turned out the lady on top of me had a broken collarbone. Me? I was fine except for some small glass cuts, a couple of pretty decent bruises, I was hypothermic and so sick for a month I had to go back to the ER twice.

It was my first and only ride in an ambulance which was rather surreal in itself. Our paramedics were very kind and did everything they could to warm me up and make me comfortable for the long ride back to the Vail Emergency Room.

Sounds pretty bad right? There was a silver lining. . . WHAT? SERIOUSLY? Yes, seriously.

Eight and eleven months earlier I had been rear ended in two separate car accidents by inattentive drivers. In both cases I suffered whiplash that was at times so painful I couldn't move my neck at all. Oddly, after falling off the cliff my whiplash went away. I attribute it to that the force of the frontal impact must have been equal to the force of being rear ended and my bones must have shifted back into place.

In any case the tour operator was great. Even though we had all signed waivers he reimbursed my medical expenses and damaged items, (camera and my jacket) without even asking for a receipt. The hotel was also great. They gave me free room service for the rest of the night. I don't remember what I ordered but I know I ordered something because that was too good to be true!

To this day I always laugh a bit when people ask if I sued the tour company. I didn't. Seriously, when you're lucky enough to survive something so potentially fatal, relatively unscathed, money becomes irrelevant. Suing the tour company for what was truly an accident just seemed really petty.

So what made me blog this? I'd started the illustrations months ago but got sidetracked and never posted the story. Yesterday, I saw a contest on The Surly Concierge's blog that reminded me I wanted to write this post. If you have a worse vacation horror story you should enter his contest. Even if it isn't worse than mine you should still enter anyways because you could win an Open Table Gift Card:
" . . . in 150 words or less, tell me about your worst Hotel, Dining, or Vacation story. (Brownie points if you can include all three!)

Go for it! No subject is out of bounds! (Although try to keep the language PG-13, K? Also make sure to leave an email address so if you win we can give you your prize!)

On Tuesday April 19th, 2011 I will post the best three and let you faithful readers vote on who wins. The winner will receive a 50 dollar dining check in the mail! It’s that simple!

Don’t live in San Francisco? The dining checks can be used everywhere!"


If you enjoyed this bizzare tale of survival you'll probably also enjoy learning about the time a spider bite saved my life:

I Cheated Death with a Little Help from a Friend

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