Caution: Long play-by-play post here, so grab a nice cup of coffee and come back to read it, if you have the patience!
So as I mentioned in my last post, yes, I managed to hit a deer at the tail end (no pun intended) of our big birthday train trip adventure in Durango last March. It was about 8:30 pm and we had first left Alamosa, a decent-sized city that is home to Adams State College, then passed through the tiny town of Monte Vista, Colorado. Dark, but not quite pitch black yet. The area was pretty rural, though I had noticed a brightly-lit gas station on my left. Out of nowhere a group of three deer darted across the road. I missed two, but couldn't avoid the third, and I hit his flank with my right front fender. Once I realized I couldn't avoid him, I literally gripped the wheel a little tighter and braced myself for the bump, not unlike being in a bumper car and knowing you're about to hit another car. I was only going about 35 mph or so, not fast, and it seriously felt I would just end up bumping him out of the way, since I hit the deer's flank as he ran fast across the road, and he seemed to just keep going. I didn't even expect much, if any, damage to the car...I drive a Jeep Wrangler with the best bumpers in the world, strong as hell. And they didn't disappoint--not a scratch on 'em. The front grill was a different story.
I immediately slowed down and pulled over onto the shoulder, and the first words out of my mouth were, "K, are you okay??" She was fine; we both were. Physically, that is. But she didn't cry...I think she was as surprised as I was. After I pulled over, I noticed two things: I heard an audible hiss, and I noticed that my headlights were pointing in weird directions. By this point, it was pitch black, but I could still see the lights of the gas station behind me, so that's where I headed. I turned the car around, and drove a block or so very slowly back the other way, feeling very thankful for all those bright lights. I honestly didn't know what had happened to the deer, and that that point, I was assuming that he was all right, since it hadn't felt like such a hard collision at all. I nervously stepped out of the car and peered around at the front end, not sure what I would see. It didn't look that bad--a wide but shallow indentation in the front grill, a broken signal-light cover, a front passenger-side fender that was dented out of shape, and lots and lots of deer hair on the bumper (yuck). Thankfully, no blood or other yucky stuff, which was what I was hoping I wouldn't have to look at. An older man stepped out of his truck to go inside the gas station, and we made a little bit of small talk, me telling him that I had just hit a deer. I honestly don't even recall what he said in response. I knew Monte Vista was just a few blocks beyond the gas station, and I figured that K and I would have to find a motel or something where we could spend the night, since I was just too shaky to keep driving, it was late, and I wasn't sure what was up with the car.
In just those few blocks, I saw that the car had started to overheat badly, something was still hissing (the radiator!!), and the engine just didn't sound right. It was all I could do to get the car to limp into the parking lot of the local Dairy Queen, pretty much the first business I came to. I turned the car off and sat for a few minutes, hoping the engine might get a chance to cool off some. But then it would. not. start. And I really started to feel panicky. Nothing happened whatsoever when I turned the key. I realized then that we would definitely need a place to stay for the night, and as luck would have it, there was a motel right across the street, so I grabbed K and my purse and walked over there. It was nicer on the inside than it looked on the outside, and the guy at the counter was friendly and professional, so I chose to make a reservation (since I didn't really have any other choice!). I almost had a heart attack when I walked in, though, because the entire motel was decorated on the inside in Early American Hunter, complete with a HUGE deer head mounted on the wall of the lobby, just inside the front door! The very last thing I wanted to see, trust me. The room itself was very homey and almost cute, and it even had a small, but full kitchen in a separate room. I thought, "Well, this might not be so bad after all!" So we headed back across the street towards the Dairy Queen to grab our suitcase and so forth.
Now I've seen enough episodes of SVU, Criminal Minds, and the like to know that I really had to get in touch with someone to tell them what had happened. And I know that I am opening myself up to endless tongue-lashings (and rightfully so, so please be merciful) when I sheepishly admit that we were traveling sans cell phone--these days I have a land line and a cheapie cell phone only for emergencies. Why I neglected to bring the cheapie cell phone on the trip, I have NO idea. Stupid, stupid, stupid, a thousand times over. So anyway, we went inside the Dairy Queen, which surprisingly enough looked much more like your average Denny's or IHOP, wait-to-be-seated and everything. It was actually quite nice, and I was glad it was right across the street from our little motel. I asked if there was any kind of public phone (there was not), but the manager, bless her heart, offered her cell phone for me to make a long distance call. I called my aunt back in Colorado Springs, just so she was aware of what had happened, then with the manager's permission I made a quick call to my parents. I figured I'd have to find a repair place the next day, but I wasn't even sure how that was going to work since the next day was Sunday! Things weren't looking good, but at least we had a place to stay for the night...and then the manager insisted, "I wouldn't stay there if I were you!" /gulp/
After talking with the manager and a few of the employees up at the front counter, I learned that I could buy a little Trac phone at the dollar store down the road, but that it wasn't within walking distance at all. No pay phones around, either. I was a little surprised that this town didn't even have taxi service, so I wasn't sure what we were going to do about getting to this dollar store, since I really needed a cell phone for the next day. (Yes, in case you were wondering, I did learn my lesson!) One of the employees, a sweet girl in her late teens/early twenties, offered to drive us there, so I took a leap of faith and accepted the ride. (She had a booster seat in her car from giving her nephew a ride, so it was safe for K, too.) She told me that her cousin was a mechanic, and he might even be able to drive over and look at the car that night, to give me a ballpark idea of what might be wrong with it. While I went into the dollar store she'd call him and ask. I really didn't know what to expect, but I felt that I didn't have much to lose at that point. After I got the Trac phone, we drove back to the Dairy Queen to wait for her cousin to show up. K and I went in, sat down at a table, and I put my hands over my face in utter exhaustion and, quite frankly, desperation. All of a sudden, someone spoke my name: "Heather?" and I looked up to see the face of my friend Nicole, whom I haven't seen in at least five years. I couldn't believe it! She hugged me, and it was like a dam burst. I looked at her and just dissolved into tears. She was like, what on earth?! So I told her the whole story, and she said, "Well, the first thing we're going to do is go across the street and cancel your motel reservation, because you're coming home with me!" Nicole lives in Alamosa, about ten miles back the way we came.
Nicole was an absolute lifesaver. She and her fiance Steve had gone to the Dairy Queen with another couple after having gone out to a movie, and she just happened to have a craving for a blizzard, so they stopped in. She said they had never even been to that Dairy Queen before, which blows my mind. We did wait for the cousin, who also turned out to be amazing. He looked at the car and discovered that the force of the impact had knocked the fan blades into the side of the radiator, making a big gash and actually bending the blades. He handed me his business card, and it turned out that he has had a home business doing car repairs for the past fifteen years. He was willing to do the work the next day, and he did a terrific job for a very reasonable price, on a Sunday, no less. I bought a new radiator for him to install, and he bent the fan blades back as well as getting all the fluid levels back up to par. It ended up to be a lovely weekend visiting with Nicole and Steve at their beautiful home, and they both loved meeting K as they hadn't met her before. Despite the circumstances, it was absolutely wonderful reconnecting with Nicole and hanging out at her house the next day! She was more than willing to run all the errands I needed to run, i.e. going to the car parts store, checking on the car, etc. and it really was a lot of fun after all. We headed back home late Sunday afternoon, and the car completely behaved itself, except for the headlights still being a bit wonky. Unbelievably, another deer did run across the road on the way home, but thankfully I was able to avoid him. It freaked me out, though. Oh, and Nicole mentioned that she thought she saw a dead deer near the spot where I said the accident had happened, so it would seem that he didn't make it after all. Sorry, old fellow!
I am so, so thankful to have run into Nicole that night at the Dairy Queen, and truly, I am not so sure it was just a coincidence. She and Steve are both such wonderful people, and I recently got a beautiful invitation in the mail to come to their wedding on July 12th! I have to admit, I am feeling rather nervous about it since the wedding is at a ranch southwest of Alamosa, so I have to drive that same route all over again. I'm still so paranoid about hitting another deer (that was my first deer collision, and the first accident since getting my Jeep back in '02), yet I see them all the time when I drive around my neighborhood. K still talks about our "crunch with the deer". But I think we'll go, and you bet your sweet bippy I'll have my cell phone with me!