DUNCAN: I awoke our second morning in Glacier National Park without the slightest inkling of the ordeal ahead of us. I had no idea that in the blink of an eye, the actuality of our trip would deviate so suddenly and so profoundly from our plans. Life, as it were, was about to throw us a huge fucking curveball.
But I didn’t know that yet, and so I contentedly helped cook some breakfast, break down the tent, and pack everything back into the car. Before long we were ready to head back on the road. I offered to drive, seeing as I hadn’t been behind the wheel for very long the day before. Thus, the three of us set out down the narrow gravel road that led to and from our campsite. Horea rode shotgun, and Raffi sat in the back seat reading. To the left a gentle hill climbed towards a cloudy sky, and to the right a steeper one descended into a thicket of dense scrub and trees. Horea put on some music, and we all sat in quiet anticipation of what the day would bring us.
Suddenly, there was a Jeep in the middle of the road fifty feet in front of us and closing fast. The subsequent events all seemed to happen in a fraction of a second: without time to even think, I swerved to the right, evading the Jeep by inches; I tried to correct myself onto the road once the car had passed; for a sickening instant, the Golf seemed to teeter on the edge of the road; the car started sliding sideways down the hill to our right; I realized we were going to roll; I started to brace myself for the first tumble.
But just then, everything came to an abrupt stop.
The car lay motionless, almost vertical on the hill, and for a few seconds all any of us did was breathe. Horea, now more below me than to my right, broke the silence first.
“Dunc, what should we do?” His voice was heavy with tension.
“Don’t get out that side,” I responded after a pause, equally as tense. It was understood that the car might roll any second, that if any of us so much as shifted our weight in the wrong direction, the whole works might go tumbling down the declivity with us inside. “I’ll get out first. Climb over through my door.” I looked to my left to see a man standing on the road looking down on us. He motioned something, but I was too deeply in shock to respond. I opened the driver’s side door and scrambled up the hill, with Horea following. Raffi climbed over our pile stuff on the left passenger’s seat, opened the door, and clawed his way up as well.
The man at the top was the other driver. He had stopped, thankfully. A short, portly, mustachioed man with glasses and a heavy Midwestern accent, he asked us if any of us were hurt. None of us were.”It’s just a miracle that you’re all alright,” he said. “It could’ve been so much worse…”
And he was right. It could have been so much worse. As we surveyed the situation, we realized just how lucky we had been. The car was tilted at a fifty-something degree angle and all that had stopped it from sliding or rolling any farther down the hill was a single small tree. Had we had gone off the road any sooner, nothing would have stopped it from falling all the way down the hill; had we gone off any later, we would have smashed into a thicket of trees. Furthermore, the car seemed to have sustained minimal damage. Discounting the obvious misfortune of the situation as a whole, we were incredibly lucky.
The man introduced himself as _____ Gillespe, gave us water, and put in a call to 911. His hands were shaking. He told us that he just hadn’t seen us coming as we rounded the light curve in the road on which the accident had occurred. The aforementioned thicket of trees had blocked our respective lines of vision, and by the time we did see each other, it was simply too late to do much about it; he had been too far over toward the middle of the road, and both of us had been going too fast.
We ended up waiting over an hour before any help arrived. We told Mr. Gilespe more about our trip, and he told us about his. He had been a software engineer for most of his life, but last year he had decided that enough was enough and taken an early retirement. Since then, he had been travelling around the country with his dog, pursuing his passion of photography with the intention of eventually getting his pictures published. Though this man was overweight, apparently companionless (his dog aside), and had just caused me to crash one of my best friends’ car, I couldn’t help but admire him in a way. After what sounded like a lifetime of drudgery, he was finally striking out to follow his passions. He was trying to live the romantic life all of us wish we lived, wished we were brave enough to live.
A Park Ranger finally showed up, issued an impressed whistle as she surveyed the scene, and gave us accident reports to fill out. She then called in a tow truck, which took another forty minutes to arrive. That’s when we met Jeff.
Jumping out his tow truck (or “wrecker”, as they call them in Montana), Jeff had the looks of a gangly seventeen-year-old. He had the bare minimum of peach fuzz on his face, oil-stained, baggy jeans, a Hurley hat, and a whole lot of spring in his step. We would later find out that he was twenty-two years old, but my first thought when I saw him was “Woah, this kid is younger than me, should we really be putting the fate of Raffi’s car in his hands?” His skills proved more than adequate, however, and he had the Golf back up on the road in forty minutes of cheerily baseball-sliding down the hill, attaching various hooks, working the winch, and joking about the situation. He quickly inspected it once it was on flat ground. The verdict: a cracked oil pan and minor body damage, which was a fairly light toll for so severe a crash. However, nearly all the oil had leaked out, and the car was rendered temporarily undrivable. Jeff would have to haul us and the car back to the garage at which he worked, Jim’s Body Works in the nearby town of Browning, Montana, until the oil pan could be repaired or replaced. We hopped in the truck and drove off, oblivious to the ways in which Browning would change our perspectives on the country in which we lived, ignorant of the lasting memories we would form there in the next two days.