Happy Trails, Part 166: Avoiding a catasrophe

I thought originally I would keep these next few thoughts to myself. Then I changed my mind, which I am entitled to do.

They involve a near-catastrophe on U.S. 287 just west of Wichita Falls, Texas.

We were tooling along the highway per our normal speed of around 60 mph; we never take our pickup/fifth wheel assembly to the posted speed limit of 75 mph. We also are quite aware of the distance we should keep between our truck and the traffic ahead of us.

So … we’re on our way to Amarillo, having been told earlier in the morning that wildfires had closed Copper Creek State Park, where we intended to spend the night before tooling into the Big A.

Traffic was moving along nicely. We approached a rise in the highway. Then, in an instant — and a frightening instant at that! — we saw a car that had just crashed; it was facing the wrong way on the highway.

What does one do when he spots something like that, with traffic in the other lane? I’ll tell you what I did. I slammed on the brakes! Hard! I stood on ’em!

The truck by itself would have stopped quickly. Not this time! We were hauling our fifth wheel, which weighs, oh, several thousand pounds. The truck would not stop!

I kept maximum pressure on the brakes … until we brought it to a full stop — about five to six feet from the driver’s side door of the car that had just crashed on the highway.

My wife and I sat there for seemingly forever. I had to catch my breath, as did my poor wife. The young man in the car in front of us appeared dazed from the impact he had endured. His vehicle’s air bags had deployed and I reckon he was jarred by the device designed to save his life.

I rolled down the window and asked him if he was all right. He said he was “just waking up.” He looked for all the world as if he didn’t know where he was at that moment.

At this moment, I cannot recall how much distance we had to bring the truck/fifth wheel assembly to a complete stop. Nor can I tell you precisely how I managed to get our rig around this fellow without tipping the fifth wheel; the highway sloped sharply to our right. Other motorists were stopping to aid the young man. We had our hands full and our minds focused intently on one thing only: bringing our truck to a stop.

I do hope he’s all right.

I am happy to report two things coming from this near-miss. One is that the fifth wheel trailer brakes worked perfectly; the other is that the entire assembly stayed in proper alignment as we sought desperately to avoid crashing into this young motorist’s vehicle.

I do not need to be petrified any more than I was in those perilous few seconds once we spotted trouble.

We now shall sally forth. With caution.

Leave a Reply