The mission: 12 days, five states, 2,700 miles, and I had one last stop before I got to call the journey officially complete.
The kids and I had traveled to Seattle and back, passing over mountain ranges and grasslands, sandy sagebrush swept hills and dense pine forests, and we’d even squeezed in some time to explore the tide pools of Puget Sound — a grand adventure for them, an interesting throwback for me to all those years I spent on the road touring.
On day 10, I dropped the kids off at the ranch, got to sleep in my own bed for one night and then took off to drive halfway across the state to play music at the lovely Shakespeare Garden in Wessington Spring, South Dakota.
I love traveling with my kids, but I’ll be honest, I was pretty excited to listen to podcasts geared toward an adult audience or to listen to nothing at all for the last leg of the trip. After a few thousand miles of Old MacDonald sung in funny voices, Kid Roadtrip Trivia and the soundtrack from the movie Sing on repeat (even though it IS a great soundtrack), I was ready for the sound of silence.
The first half of the drive was uneventful, but as I pulled into Pierre, the eastern horizon was midnight black save for the occasional fork of lightning. I wasn’t in a rush, so I stopped at LaFramboise State Park, a small island in the Missouri River, hoping not to catch up with the storm.
The sun was shining despite the ominous clouds in the distance, but the wind was high, shaking the branches of the tall cottonwoods that thrive in the island’s sandy soil.
There were other folks walking around, enjoying the cooling weather and unbothered by the wind, still, I felt unsettled. “What is it?” I wanted to ask the trees. The crashing rustle of their leaves seemed to carry a message.
After I got back on the road, it took another hour to hit the edge of the storm, but the worst of it was already far ahead. Behind me on the western horizon, the sun peaked brightly beneath the dissipating clouds.
As I turned off one country highway and onto another, a rainbow arched over me, one end on each side of the road. “Well, this is a first!’ I thought to myself. “I’ve never driven under a rainbow before.”
I was happy for a good omen, and I realized how nervous I’d been for most of the last 2,000 miles. I exhaled. I was going to be glad when the journey was over.
Out of nowhere
I hit the buck at the exact moment I saw him, I didn’t even have time to be scared. He leapt up from the unmown road ditch directly in front of my car, and all I could think was: “Whoa, look at those antlers!”
In the next millisecond, every single one of the airbags in my car burst open. The car gently guided itself to the side of the road — the engine apparently deciding its work on earth was complete. Turns out the only way to get an airbag to deploy fast enough to outpace the speed of a collusion is through a carefully controlled explosion.
It also turns out when all the airbags on your car deploy, it unceremoniously rips the inside of your car apart, so you are instantly enveloped by a wildly unfamiliar maze of sturdy white and pink nylon balloons.
Sitting at my computer now, two days later, I have to marvel. Other than a very bruised leg and a persistent ringing in my ears, I am unscathed. My car, not so much.
When I went to the tow yard the day after the accident to empty my car of all the detritus from our two weeks on the road, the front end was mangled beyond recognition. And the airbags, now deflated, hung like the silken gowns of guardian angels who’d given up their wings to protect me.
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