Sunday was a good day, because we didn't die.
It happened not long after we had crossed the state line from Nebraska into Colorado. As always, I smiled at the incongruity of the plain brown sign reading "Welcome to Colorful Colorado." We were traveling south on Highway 71, about 30 miles north of Brush.
The cold January day was the first of our planned two-day trip from South Dakota to New Mexico. Visibility, under low clouds and light snow, was about half a mile. When we passed a newly built wind farm, the tall windmills loomed eerily out of the clouds and snow like landing towers for alien spacecraft.
The road was what the weather service would have probably described as "snow packed and slippery." Mindful of the conditions, we were driving at about 50 miles an hour.
Suddenly the rear wheels lost traction. The back of the car slued to the right, then to the left and back to the right. We slid sideways across the width of the road and into the left side ditch, bounced up a steep five- or six-foot bank, spun around without hitting the four-strand barbed wire fence at the top of the bank, and stopped. We were facing back toward the highway, with the nose of the car at the edge of a 10- or 12-foot dropoff.
At least that's how the driver explained it to me after the fact. At the time, all I knew was that one second I was twisted in my seat, rummaging for the bottle of V-8 juice on the floor behind me, and the next second my partner had shouted something like, "Hang on!" and we were sliding sideways. The car was jolting from side to side, all I could see was snow, my head thumped against the side window, my knee hit the front console, and my contact lenses were slipping sideways so I clamped my eyes shut to keep them in place. Then we were stopped, which felt wonderful until I looked out my window and saw how close we were to the edge of a steep bank.
We sat still for a few seconds, then asked each other, "Are you all right?" and decided we both were. We sat for a few moments more and watched our fingers shake as adrenaline flooded our bodies and gratitude flooded our minds. I said, with what seemed to me great calm, "We need to back very slowly away from the edge."
He answered, "Oh, I was just going to drive straight back down." I hoped he was trying to be funny. At any rate, he backed up, drove along the bank to a lower spot, and pulled back onto the highway.
Had the skid happened a few seconds later, we might have slid into the pickup that was approaching from the south. A few seconds earlier, we might have gone off the road at the top of a steep ditch and rolled. A couple of seconds longer, and we would have dived nose-first down the steep bank to the road below.
Those few seconds might have changed our lives forever or even ended them. They didn't. The particular arrangement of circumstances at that particular time and place didn't leave us jammed into a smashed SUV with crushed legs, battered faces, or fractured skulls. We were merely shaken, not shattered. Even our vehicle was left without a scratch or dent, though with a slight wobble about the right front wheel and a souvenir bunch of dry prairie grass caught in the back bumper.
We drove—slowly—on to Brush through the increasing snow and decreasing visibility. After eight or ten miles, our fingers had nearly stopped shaking. We checked ourselves into a motel. We went for a walk through the snow to exercise the adrenaline out of our systems.
The next morning, under frigid sunshine, we had the car checked and the wheels aligned. Then we drove on south, slowly, carefully, and gratefully.
It was a wonderful day to be alive.