By the time we reached the Siskiyou Pass, the sky was dark. A steady snowfall sparkled in the sweep of my headlights. The road was slippery and visibility was very limited. Behind the wheel, I felt a knot of tension in my stomach.
I was in my early twenties. I had little confidence in my abilities, and even less confidence in my vehicle. I was driving a borrowed Ford sedan. The seats were comfortable. But even on dry pavement, the car moved like a giant marshmallow. Everything was squishy and imprecise.
To further complicate matters, my in-laws were in the back seat. I should’ve said, “I don’t feel comfortable driving this car in the snow.” But I didn’t say that.
As we came around one curve in the freeway, the night sky was suddenly illuminated by an orange glow. A car was burning on the side of the road. Other drivers had stopped, and it didn’t appear as if anyone was in immediate danger. Even so, the knot in my stomach twisted into a double knot.
After we started our descent into California, I lost control of the car. I had enough time to think, “This car is rear-wheel drive. So that means I should turn into the skid.” Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t regain control of the car. We were moving quite slowly, but I was powerless to prevent the car from sliding downhill. That meant we were sliding over a narrow median and toward oncoming traffic.
I tried every possible solution. I turned the steering wheel one way, then the other. I tried braking. I tried accelerating. Nothing altered the trajectory of my car. I felt completely helpless.
It occurred to me that this moment would not last forever. At some point, this lightly armored marshmallow would stop sliding. Either we would collide with another solid object, or some miracle of inertia would bring us to a halt. That realization gave me hope. At some point, this terrible moment will end.
Inexorably, the Ford sedan slid across the median. It slid into the lane of oncoming traffic. Then, finally, it came to a stop. A police officer pulled up next to me and rolled down his window. After asking if everyone was alright, he motioned me back onto the freeway. We continued down the mountainside without further mishaps.
The story isn’t terribly dramatic. There was no collision. There wasn’t even a near-miss. I guess the burning car was dramatic, but it was only visible for a moment. Yet this memory has become a touchstone for me: Sometimes, hope is knowing that the current situation will change.
— Mike Huber