Erm, yeah. It was worse than it looks. Or better. Depends on how you look at it.
Heading back from the resorts I’d been working at for a few days, I was maybe 15km away from Chamonix. There’s a short cut that can be taken down the side of one of the hills on the way to the motorway and viaduct that I always use. I was a hundred metres or so down it approaching a slight bend, doing – I’d guess – between 30 and 40 km/h. It’s a really narrow road and I don’t like going too fast as the edge is unprotected.
I tapped the brake. Nothing seemed to happen.
I pushed harder. The wheels locked. And the steering, as is the case in situations like this, stopped… steering me anywhere.
At this point, I was headed straight for the edge, nose on. Nothing but a few tangles branches and some very scared-looking shrubbery prepared to flap idly at me as I plumetted down the slope they were hiding.
All in all, not good.
As I approached the edge, the wheels found some grip and I started to swerve to my left. Directly at the tree you see taking a starring rÃ´le in the photo above.
All in all, better but still very much “not good”.
At the last moment, the van swerved hard left. I assume as it his the snow and ice piled up on the side of the road. So instead of piling down the hill, or slamming radiator-and-engine first into the tree, I ended my downhill plunge abrubtly by blinding my car in its right “eye”.
However, I was at something approaching a 35 or 40-degree angle with my passenger side window giving me a very disturbing view down something of an incline.
At this point, the thought “Damn – I’ll be late for dinner” went through my head. Yes. Dinner. I really wasn’t concerned about anything else. I honestly couldn’t have been more detached from the situation.
I opened the door. Then opened it again when it slammed shut due to the angle. Clambered out and saw a car slowing down behind me with hazards on. The French chap inside hopped out and made sure I was OK before donning a yellow flak jacket (a legal requirement in all French vehicles – needless to say I didn’t have one) and directing traffic around our stationary vehicles.
I called Europcar who offered me a choice of three options – cars, trucks and bikes. I hit “1” as the Kangoo van is essentially the car with the seats and rear windows missing. The helpful young girl on the end stepped me through a lot of questions before telling me to ring up again and click 2 as I was wrong – it’s a truck.
Fine. I dialled again and pressed “2”. Unfortunately, this person was pretty much useless. He sounded like he’d just woken up from a coma and made no effort to help me. I passed him over to the nice self-appointed traffic guard who explained where we were. He handed my phone back with the message, “he says to ring the police”.
At this point, a 4×4 pulled up and the driver hopped out. “I live just around the corner. Do you want me to get ropes and see if I can pull you up?”
This I had to see. And it was quicker than waiting for the tow-truck driver that Pete in the office had tried to call. He was having his dinner and had asked us to call him later on. Great.
Off went the small truck back to his house and we (well, my new best friend) made sure the muppets approaching the bend didn’t just zip round the bend and head on into traffic coming down the hill.
Maybe 10 minutes later, the miniature Bigfoot reappeared and the driver climbed down. He opened the tailgate and started pulling out some obviously well-used tow-ropes, hooks, grapples and so on.
“You’ve done this before, haven’t you?” I asked.
I suppose it’s common around here.
As we blocked the traffic and made some room, ropes were clamped onto vehicles and the engine of the 4×4 revved up. That was warning to step back.
With a roar, the gas-guzzler leapt forward. My van at first slid backwards in a straight line as if it was reversing. Although with no wheels touching the ground. Then it started to swing as the ground shifted beneath it so that it was pointed nose-downnthe hill. And still moving sideways. Towards another tree.
I braced myelf. I could just see the passenger side slamming into this and making quite a mess.
At what seemed the last moment, the rope pulled taught and my van leapt backwards, becoming airborne momentarily. It slammed to the ground and sat there, hazards blinking and looking somewhat dazed and confused.
Out came Rope-Man who disconnected the two vehicles. He said he’d follow me down the hill for a way while I checked the brakes and steering. Nothing appeared to be leaking or about to actually fall off so I tried it.
True to his word, he tailed me for about a kilometre as I made sure everything was fine. No problems. Even the headlight that slammed into the tree still worked! OK, so the plastic was somewhat knackered but the bulb was fine.
He waved me goodbye, as did the other chap, as I continued on my way home. Where I was indeed late for dinner. So I went out and bought a Midnight Express instead.
All very bizarre. Mainly how I just didn’t seem to care about anything. No panics, no shaking, no nerves, no sickness. I slept fine that night and had no repurcussions at all.
And yet I’d almost driven right down or rolled off a hill in a van.
Surely I should have been more shaken up than that?
Regardless, I huge, HUGE thanks to my two nameless rescuers. Neither asked for anything in return and were happy to spend their time helping out someone who needed it. All I can say is that there’s not a shadow of a doubt that I’d do the same in a similar situation. I know I would. I guess it’s karma.
I only wish I had a video of the van being recovered. It was a sight to behold.