June 16, 2010

Run in with an Elk

So last Friday I left work in my truck, headed for Mt. Ranier for crevasse rescue training, the last trip for the Mountain School class I had been taking all Spring.  On the way I picked up Paul, an acquaintance from class who needed a lift.  We drove for three hours across the Columbia basin, turned south at the hamlet of Ellensburg, passed through the Yakima valley, heading south of the great Washington volcano.  About 50 miles east of Yakima on highway 12, just past picturesque Rim Rock Lake, I hit a large elk.

I distinctly remember the events in slow motion.  It was 9:30 pm and dusk was just settling in.  We were about 30 miles from our destination, enjoying a pleasant conversation when Paul suddenly exclaimed, "Look out!!"  I saw the elk, barely recognizing what it was, but could see it starting to trot to the left, attempting to get beyond the driver's side of the truck's front end.  I put my foot on the brake but can't remember how hard I was pushing.  The world around me rocked back and forth ever so slightly and the truck started to slow, though I could still feel its weight and inertia.  Then there was a whump, a hollow thump and the truck softly lurched forward, as if entering a bog.  The pelvis of the elk hadn't cleared the bumper and headlight.

As things sped back into normal motion, there was the sound of glass raining on asphalt and the crunch of metal and the tearing of plastic.  A few feet beyond the animal the truck came to a stop.  Without even taking stock of what had just happened, I inched the car forward, pulling to the soft, sandy shoulder of the two lane highway.  "I can't believe I just hit him.  I think our trip is over."

I could see Paul trying to look back to my side of the truck.  He wasn't hurt, I wasn't hurt.  The impact really hadn't been that great.  The airbags hadn't even blown.  I went to open my door and immediately felt a strange resistance.  Something was dented, tweaked to the point that the door was stuck.  I forced it open a few inches and slid out.  Just then a large pickup with a camper in its bed heading east, slowed as it approached the scene.  I can't remember what was said, but the man recognized what had happened.  From the corner of my eye I saw the elk attempt to stand, dragging its back legs to the opposite side of the road and over a guardrail.  "Do you have a gun?" I asked.  They didn't.  It wasn't hunting season.

I checked my cell phone.  No service.  The couple in the truck asked if we needed help.  I didn't know if we did or not.  I wasn't processing clearly.  We needed help.  Looking at the damage to the truck, I decided it wasn't driveable.  The battery was cracked, there was some unidentified fluid splashed everywhere, and the front wheel well liner was off.  The check engine light was on on the dashboard.

The man retrieved a broom from his camper and swept the debris to the side of the road, cleared their large retriever from the double cab of the truck and got him into the back.  I grabbed a coat, a map, and my ipad.  Paul got a coat and bag of food.  The couple drove us to a small resort area 3 miles east, back at Rim Rock Lake.  The resort was all but shut down, no phone book could be found.  A few Lion's Club members were having a leadership meeting at the resort.  They didn't have much to offer.  Paul had spotty service, but it was good enough.  After a few attempts, we contacted a towing service that would send someone out.  They'd be there in an hour.  We waited in the couple's camper while I called my insurance and Vanessa.

The couple stayed far longer than they needed to or should have--they were on vacation after all.  They left and Paul and I moved into the lobby of the resort to continue our wait.  About 15 minutes later the tow truck showed up.  The driver insisted on calling the state patrol, saying he legally had to and that my insurance would probably require a police report.  He called and the state trooper was already at the truck.  We quickly headed out.  Without difficulty and despite the dark, the truck was loaded onto the tow truck platform.  The state trooper was empathetic and gave me the necessary police report--no ticket.  Paul and I got in the cab of the tow truck and enjoyed the 1 hour drive back to Yakima where the truck was deposited at the impound yard and I was dropped off at the Holiday Inn.  It was about 2 am.

From Drop Box

Paul had called a friend earlier who just happened to be driving from Seattle to Spokane that night and convinced him to make a detour from I-90 and pick him up for an early morning drive home.  I was glad he went.  I felt guilty for ruining his weekend.  This way, at least, he'd salvage his Saturday.

I had a hard time falling asleep.  I was given a handicap friendly room just off the lobby of the hotel.  I joked with myself that the guy behind the counter only gave it to me after finding out that I had hit a large, slow moving animal with my brand new truck earlier that evening.  I was awakened by my cell phone ring.  My mom called to make sure I was ok after seeing a picture of the damaged truck I had posted on Facebook the night before.  I thought it was early, but it was already 8 am.  I went to the lobby for the complementary breakfast then made a few calls before finding a rental car.  I quickly showered and called a taxi that took me to the rental car office (they wouldn't come get me despite their sign that says they will--lazy employee).

From Drop Box

Then I drove straight home, not stopping for three hours.  I was home by mid afternoon, got the lawn mowed, enjoyed my kids and wife and slept in my own bed feeling much better.

The positive in all this?  It turns out that there is no deductible and my insurance will cover the cost of  the emergency travel etc.  Plus, we are planning a tip to the North Cascades in July and will just take a detour then to pick up the truck that is currently getting repaired in Yakima.  Plus, I had almost driven my smaller blue car but at the last minute decided not to.  I can only imagine the damage an elk would have done to that car and to me.  The truck may have saved my life.

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