First of all, let me say up front that I’m OK, and my family is OK. Nobody was physically harmed by the event I’m 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
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
A little past the 1/3rd mark, Kara approached one of the Dragon’s 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 that’s driven competitively, or has interest in racing can tell you that there are few challenges harder than a decreasing-radius curve. The Dragon’s turns are even more treacherous because often the road’s 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 wasn’t even going all that fast; certainly much slower than I’ve 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 wasn’t in the morning’s 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 wasn’t 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 car’s 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 driver’s 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 it’s job, and sacrificed itself to keep us safe, and for that I’m 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 I’m frankly amazed by.
Now that the insurance company has totaled the car, we’ve begin to search for a replacement, but I’m certain that locating a new car in our exact model and color will be next to impossible. Wish me luck, and if you’re 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.
The last beauty shots taken of my car, on Saturday afternoon, at sunset, on the Cherohala Skyway in
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 NorthAmericanMotoring.com… See post #15 for his full eulogy/tribute, but here’s 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.