Thursday, October 25, 2007

Near-death experience

I dont normally use the blog to document daily life events, but this one was a doozy. With so many of my friends and family asking me for a recounting, I figure its best to just put this up here.

First of all, let me say up front that Im OK, and my family is OK. Nobody was physically harmed by the event Im about to describe beyond some bruises and scrapes and a hefty dose of terror.

Last weekend (the 20st of October), my family and I drove down to North Carolina. While there, we decided to drive on the famous Tail of the Dragon, on Rt. 129 on the Tennessee/NC border. We had a blast down there, visiting with friends and driving our 2006 MINI Cooper S convertible on any number of challenging, twisty roads.

On Sunday the 21st we were ready to head home. My wife, who had never driven the Dragon, asked to make one final run up the road as the first leg of our trip home to Ohio. She'd been up and down the road many times in the passenger seat, and wanted to drive it "just one time", so she could say that she'd "slayed the Dragon" like so many others have. Conditions were favorable: dry roads, just after sun up, so no motorcycle or boat trailer traffic was on the road. My wife started her run well, moving easily through the roads many challenging curves.

A little past the 1/3rd mark, Kara approached one of the Dragons infamous decreasing radius curves. With a road challenge like this, the driver can be lulled into a false sense of complacency by an early gentle curve, only to be surprised when the road turns tightly in on itself, like the curve of a particularly nasty fish hook. Anyone thats driven competitively, or has interest in racing can tell you that there are few challenges harder than a decreasing-radius curve. The Dragons turns are even more treacherous because often the roads banking flips over and actually leans outwards at the apex of the corners, forcing the car to fight against its own momentum as well as the slight pull of gravity at the worst possible time.

As it turned out, this small extra force would prove to be our downfall.

My wife wasnt even going all that fast; certainly much slower than Ive gone through that particular section. Our five year-old son was in the rear, watching DVDs, and racing through the Dragon's 311 curves at warp speed wasnt in the mornings agenda. She went into the tight spot in the curve at only slightly elevated speed, but even that proved to be too much.

All I can figure is that she felt the car go light on the suspension as she drove over the negative camber banking. Instinct tells the average driver, even a careful one like my wife, to let off the gas at that point, and try to let the car slow down. As it turned out, however, that instinct proved to be the total opposite of what should have happened, for once the car was robbed of the force from its engine, the implacable hand of momentum grabbed the car and pulled it into a gentle, outwards slide.

It wasnt much; just a few feet of predictable skid. On any other road, she would have gone a few feet into the roadside gravel and corrected, getting us back on course with no damage beyond a little dust on the paint.

But as anyone that's been there will tell you, the Dragon is no normal road.

The cars passenger-side front corner clipped the rock cliff face standing about 48 inches from the side of the road, smashing it into modern art and lofting the entire right side of the car into the air. Safety glass exploded all around us in a glittering cloud as the car gently tipped over onto its side and then onto its roof, still skidding along the verge of the tarmac and the gravel shoulder. My stomach did that roller-coaster thing as I hung from my seatbelt. I remember watching the painted line on the side of the road sliding past the other side of the windshield glass, which, a moment later, began to craze and crack as the weight of the car buckled the convertible top over my head.

I didn’t even have time to be scared. All I wondered, in that moment, was if we had hit the cliff hard enough to rebound us across the entire road, and if we would plunge over the steep drop-off on the other side. Any moment, I expected to see tree limbs whipping past as we tumbled over the precipice.

As it turned out, somehow we kept hugging the cliff face, never entirely leaving the ditch beside the road. Thank God we did, for a tumble down the cliff would have certainly hurt us much more badly than we were. We stopped, resting on the drivers side door, and waited while hurrying feet ran towards us. Other drivers stopped and helped me, my wife and my son through the ruin of the shredded convertible top. The smell of talc and explosives from the deployed side-curtain airbag mixed with the flinty smell of pulverized rock and dirt. I had glass and sand in my hair, and my elbow ached from a scrape I had received but did not remember.

In short, we survived the ordeal, but our beloved car was destroyed in the process. But, it did its job, and sacrificed itself to keep us safe, and for that Im forever grateful to the safety engineers at BMW and MINI. Even though our car was a convertible, the reinforced top kept us from harm or even any real damage, something Im frankly amazed by.

Now that the insurance company has totaled the car, weve begin to search for a replacement, but Im certain that locating a new car in our exact model and color will be next to impossible. Wish me luck, and if youre the praying type, send a quick word of thanks on our behalf to whatever deity was watching over me and my family on that fateful Sunday morning.

Some photos:

The last beauty shots taken of my car, on Saturday afternoon, at sunset, on the Cherohala Skyway in North Carolina. Little did I know that 12 hours later Id be upside-down in this car, hanging from my seatbelt.

The final resting position of the car. We struck the cliff face on the lee side of the cliff, and somehow managed to not bounce off and over the other side. Thank God we didn't.

The wrecker on-site, ready to drag my beloved car onto the flatbed and from there to the wrecking yard. RIP, Nano you were an awesome vehicle

UPDATE: A friend of mine, Paul, put up a wonderful TRIBUTE to the Nano Car over on See post #15 for his full eulogy/tribute, but heres a wonderful quote:

While we wish our motoring companions could be with us forever, Nano left us in the way a great car is meant to - protecting his family from harm, while taking all the Dragon could dish out. Matt, Kara and Grayson walked away intact due to Nano's strength when it mattered. And that beats the heck outta rusting in some shed somewhere.

Too true, Paul thanks.


paulsminis said...


We are ever so glad that you and your family escaped this ordeal with only minor cuts, scrapes and bruises. Take heart in knowing that NANO can now join KERMEE 2 and romp the mystic trails together in that place where cars go after sacrificing their lives so their precious cargo may survive.

Paul and Sue

Paul and Sue

Matt Cook said...

Thanks, Paul... We will rebuild!

December/Stacia said...

Glad you're okay! How terrifying that must have been.

If your son's name really Grayson? I thought I made the name's the name of one of the main characters in Personal Demons. It's an awesome name! (Even though I spell it Greyson.)

Katie said...

I am so glad that you and your family are all alright! Those pictures are just so scary!

Rae said...

Holy cow, Matt. I'm so glad you're all okay!

Anonymous said...

I know your adventurous nature runs in the family, but please proceed with caution from now on. My healing prayers and my love goes out to all of you.
Aunt Deb

Matt Cook said...

Stacia, yes, my son's name is Grayson Matthew Cook... says so right on that birth certificate thingie and everything.

We have a new car set up - problem is, it's in CALIFORNIA, 2k miles form here. Ugh... Well, I guess I always wanted to take a road trip.

Steven said...

I'm So very glad that you and the family are doing well

ARE Near-Death Experiences TRUE? or FALSE? said...

It's great to know that you guys are doing great now. Live life with more love and appreciation for your family.