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Driving And Day Dreaming On A Friday The 13th
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Driving And Day Dreaming on A Friday the 13th

I don’t often remember what happened on any given Friday the 13th. After all, it is just a superstitious designation of another coincidental date and it happens at least once a year, sometimes as many as three times in a year. On this particular Friday the 13th of July, 2012, there was a lot to remember for me and my 24 year old son Matt.

This day was the last of a five day camping and hiking trip for us on the beautiful Isle Royale, a very large island National Park located in Lake Superior, very near Canada. It was about an 8 hour drive straight north from our home in Illinois to Houghton, Michigan, which was the take off point for our pontoon plane ride to the island.

We had driven up the previous Sunday in our amazing Audi S5 rocket ship disguised as a sports car. With the open stretches of clear and empty roads, we were provided with perfect testing grounds to see what the it could do and it did not disappoint. As there were straight stretches of road where visibility was at least 2 miles, the rocket ship we were riding in easily made its way into upper three digit speeds. It made for an exhilarating, once in a lifetime thrill for the both of us. It made the ride up to the island very interesting and relatively quick.

There were two options available to reach the island. One was a ferry and the other a pontoon plane which took off from the Houghton airport but landed in the bays of the island. Inasmuch as the waters of Lake Superior can be very challenging and the ride a few hours long, we opted to fly in. This was also a thrilling experience as the four passenger plane roared to take-off, flew relatively low to the ground as it winged its way across the water, traversed the entire length of the island, and then ever so calmly floated down to a water landing, just as a swan would.

At least that was the case for the first of two landings. The second one more closely resembled a wooden roller coaster ride as we rushed to beat the impending rain storm heading at us at an angle which made for a challenging approach and bouncy landing. Fortunately we were in good hands as I was the co-pilot to a National Guard fighter jet pilot who wasn’t phased by any of this.

Once on the island, we evenly distributed our packs, two for Matt and one for me. After all he was the experienced trekker, having hiked the Rockies, the Alps as well as the Andes. He was the designated guide and I the ‘guidee’ with all the faith and confidence in his abilities and experience that he had so skillfully acquired and exhibited in the course of his world travels. We were both eager to partake of our together father and son time which had been limited since after college he moved away to teach in Boston. There was no subject off limits and we explored most all of them.

We spent the days hiking the trails in some beautiful vegetation and scenery. We tried our amateur hands at fishing with very limited success. In the evening, we would slowly wade into the Lake which was very cold but very clear. Meals consisted of freeze dried packets of all kinds of dishes, oatmeal and trail mix. Water was treated with a pump type gadget and flavored with various sorts of lemonade. At night reading was the preferred activity, either via paper book or by Kindle.

We logged nearly 30 miles in those 5 days. We managed to catch 2.5 fish, nothing edible. I saw a wolf and we witnessed a lake crossing by a moose and child on our return flight at take-off. We were very fortunate that the park provided camping shelters as well as out-houses at various camp sites so bugs were not a problem. All in all it was a very rewarding, entertaining and enabling experience. I wasn’t sure of what to expect as I had never done such a thing. Would I be able to keep up with Matt? Would I have the patience and intestinal fortitude to adapt to near wilderness conditions? It was a challenge I relished and looked to confront with all of my being, a test of mid-life, a bold move outside my comfort zone. Was life on the wild side just too much for me to handle, or did I overcome? Was I conqueror, or conquered?

I did it! I had successfully defended mid-life and proven to myself that I wasn’t over the hill yet. I experienced first hand that fabled rocky mountain high, I was swollen with pride.

These were the feelings swirling around in my mind and elevating my mood on the return drive home. We flew back into the Houghton airport, unloaded the plane, packed the car and hit the road headed south and home. It was another beautiful, clear, sunny morning. A fitting end to a great week of adventure which was soon to end abruptly.

Matt tells me that we had been driving for more than an hour, though it seemed to me we had just left the airport. In my mental state of exuberance and delight in driving the seductive speed demon of a car, I was moving along at a good clip, around 100 mph in stretches. It was an invigorating feeling akin to that of flying in the pontoon plane, but with me as the pilot. One particular stretch of road came to a curve which was deceptively marked. Apparently I didn’t realize it was there as only a scream from Matt alerted me to it, but too late to make a difference. It was to be the end of our driving for quite a while as the car was not able to hold the curve and left the road, pivoted in the depression at the side of the road which flipped the car end over end, twice, coming to rest upright and some distance from the road. In its flight trajectory, it also managed to hit a tree which smashed the roof down onto Matt’s head, cracking 5 vertebrae in his neck. At least he had his seatbelt on, I did not. As I wasn’t restrained in the seat, the airbag and my face met with enough impact to break every bone in my face, including my nose and jaw. I immediately passed out, not to reawaken until in the hospital some time later unable to close my mouth as the jaw was a little misaligned. The steering wheel left an impression upon my broken knee as well. Matt somehow managed to remain conscious during the whole ordeal, even seeing the rapid approach of the tree. He tells me that somehow the car ended upright and that we both managed to crawl out of it. Rescue was on the scene quickly as there was a house nearby which must have heard the terrible rumbling of the crash. Apparently I was conscious enough when they arrived to talk and complained that my face hurt, none of which I can remember. It was a tragic, nearly fatal ending to an idyllic journey.

5 months have now passed since that unlucky Friday the 13th. Matt has recovered without surgery and is back in the classroom. The plastic surgeons at Loyola Medical Center managed to screw titanium plates all over my face with no outward indication of the extent of the damage. My jaw was wired shut for 7 weeks and unbelievably no teeth were lost. The knee healed, so no more crutches or walkers, and I have finally been able to sleep in my bed leaving the recliner behind. While it looked quite grim initially, any lingering effects of the accident have so far been physically manageable.

What I am left with are many burning questions of how could I have let this happen? Was I physically up to the challenge, but somehow mentally lacking? Did I have a death wish of some sort, or more likely, did I actually think I could soar with the birds? Why don’t I remember the ensuing post crash conversations? Was I just simply day dreaming? And the biggest question of them all: why were we spared?

It still brings tears to my eyes to ponder these unknowns while I keep my mind open to any and all possible revelations and insights.


Street Talk

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