On Saturday night, I had a harrowing experience that sent adrenaline coursing through my bloodstream with toxic effects. Here's what happened:
The day involved meeting Cindy's family in Fresno to see the movie Secretariat followed by dinner at the Chuckchansi Casino in Coarsegold. Sure, this was a lot of driving but also great catchup time for Cindy and me. After dinner at the buffet (a delicious stir fry for me), I left Cindy gambling with some of her family while I headed out to trek the curving foothill roads of Highway 41 and 49 to her parent's home in Mariposa.
As I approached the truck in the parking lot, I noticed that the left front tire was low, so I drove to a nearby gas station to air up. However, the air dispenser was out of order. The next station was 5 miles away, so I headed down the road to get the air I needed. Shortly after I left that station, a red light came on: "Check Gauges." I couldn't see that anything was off (though later learned I was misreading the battery charge gauge), so I kept going but pulled into a shopping center in Oakhurst after I turned onto Highway 49 and called Cindy. After a brief discussion, we decided I should drive on to Mariposa as we could not discern what was wrong.
I drove another 5 miles and another light came on. This one said "Air Bag." I could not figure out what was going on until I was heading down a steep, curving incline, a 2-mile drop into the river canyon, and noticed that the headlights were incredibly dim and then non-existent. I was driving in the dark with a car fast approaching behind me. I hit the brakes again and again, hoping the brake lights were working. The lights in the car behind cast an eeire shadow of my truck on the road ahead making it difficult to see. I barrelled downhill, headed for a narrow bridge that crossed the river. CLUNK--a noise reverberated through the car, and the power steering was gone. I sailed across the bridge in a frightening float-coast. Spotting a driveway just past the end of the bridge, I managed to maneuver into its entrance and stopped barely off the road. Five or six cars zipped past me at breakneck speed.
Coursing with adrenalin, my hands shaking badly, I tried to make the flashers come on without success. I reached behind the seat looking for a flashlight that I knew was stored there. In the dark of the cab, I frantically pulled stuff forward, dumping a mess all over the front seat. The truck was still running and cars were speeding past. I was shaking uncontrollably and felt like I was going to throw up that delicious stir fry. When there was a break in the traffic, I backed up by moonlight into the driveway, skimming by a row of mail boxes. Then I turned the car off and reached for my cell phone. No coverage in that canyon. Every nerve ending was alive in my body, twitching and shuddering.
I was eventually rescued with the help of a good samaritan and coordination by Cindy from a far, but the lesson about the effects of fear and adrenaline will stay with me. I didn't stop shaking until 30 minutes after I was in a safe place, and I was sick for hours from the adernaline rush, nauseated, head aching, and unable to sleep. I kept feeling myself rushing down that hill with no lights or steering and a weird shadow out in front of me. Adrenaline poisoning is surely a factor in post traumatic stress syndrome.
This tap on the shoulder by fear fills me with compassion for those who live in terror or are momentarily brushed by horror. My harrowing experience was brief with a very positive outcome, but it gave me a vivid taste of what fear does to one's body and spirit.