I’ve put off writing this one. It’s partly due to the fact that we’ve been so busy with family and friends in the last few months that I’ve gotten behind on sharing our stories. But it’s also due to the fact that when it was fresh, I was in way too much emotional turmoil to thoughtfully and rationally share the experience. And since recovering from the initial trauma, it’s been hard for me both to encapsulate the story as a complete meaningful tale, and also hard to revisit the emotions through the experience of writing. But I want to share the experience because it is a major part of our Adventure Story, and because I think it is healthy for me to create a narrative from it all and realize how ridiculous I am.
Driving onto some friends’ property in early January, we had to go between two large welded fence posts that had a very narrow opening in between. Our truck’s tow mirrors narrowly made the passage, but the slightest bend in the dirt road on the other side of the opening sent the side of Stumbo scraping along an unforgiving metal fixture. We backed out and tried for nearly an hour to navigate our truck and trailer through the tight squeeze, which even once successfully achieved afforded us only inches of clearance on either side of our 8ft. wide house. In the process of trying to get through the tiny space, Brad and I had each taken our turn steering the side of Stumbo into one of the posts, and there was damage to prove it. Someone who is not depending on this vehicle to be their family’s house for a year+ might say, “Oh, that doesn’t seem too bad…” But to us – it looked like utter devastation. We scratched the fiberglass side of Stumbo hard enough to break though to the plywood in a couple of places – which compromises the integrity of the water-tight body of the trailer. Damage to a storage door meant that we couldn’t access half of our under-trailer storage.
By the time we got through the gate and set up it was dark. I not sure if it’s simply due to being more physically tired, but it is way harder for me to handle stress in the evening. We were both eager to crawl into bed that night to get some rest and put the difficult day behind us.
Our emotional response was more intense than necessary, but that’s also easier to see now that we know the story has a happy ending. Some of the initial thoughts running through our heads ranged from:
“Will this make our insurance rates way higher?”
“What if it takes weeks to order parts?”
“What if we have to buy a new trailer in the middle of our trip?”
“Will insurance total the trailer?” (our fiberglass side is all one piece, so we thought worst case scenario would be full side replacement)
“Can we keep doing this adventure?”
“Will we have to go back home?”
We went to bed and tried to stop replaying the experience of hitting the post over & over & over in our heads. I tried not to daydream about scenarios in which everything play out differently (bargaining stage of grief). But instead of finding sweet, restorative sleep, we found ourselves laying awake to the howling of an Oklahoma wind storm. The intense sound of the wind and the rocking of the trailer kept us awake most of the night, paralyzed in a strange anxiety-filled, confused, half-sleep that only the hours of midnight-4am can bring. Of course we should have just gotten out of bed and read a book. Of course we should have turned on a movie. Of course we should have talked through our worst anxieties all the way to the end – forced ourselves to consider the potential realities at the end of each scenario so that we could realize that we were all fine and there would be a solution no matter what. But in that weird hypnosis that exhausted, sad people can fall into in the middle of the night, it seemed like the best idea to get as much “rest” as possible. So we laid in bed, locked in cyclical, negative thinking all through the night, letting the sound of the howling wind whip up all of our fears of inadequacy and failure.
“What are we doing, living in a trailer?! What were we thinking? Our fears were true – we can’t make this crazy idea work.”
We hoped that the wind would stop once the sun rose, but it didn’t. The next morning, as we groggily got out of bed to face the long-awaited day, Sunny jumped out of her bunk bed and exclaimed, “Wow! What is that crazy noise out there?!”
It’s funny in retrospect. At the time, it was painful in a way that couldn’t be helped with my normal morning caffeine regimen.
I know it seems dramatic – but this really put us into an emotional downward spiral that took days to recover from. I wonder if Brad and I have a new capacity for anxiety. I shared early on in this blog that we experienced levels of stress and anxiety as we prepared for this trip that we’d never experienced before. I knew there was a possibility that we were being hollowed out by new amounts of stress that could leave us open to experiencing those levels again in the future. Like perhaps now it is easier for our bodies to jump to anxiety as a coping mechanism for stressors. I had hoped that it wouldn’t be true, but this experience made me fear that we might have been right.
I have read that being hollowed out by sorrow gives you a greater capacity in turn to be filled up with joy, so I hope that maybe a similar thing might be possible when hollowed out by anxiety. Not sure…but I’m going with that!
To say that this accident shook our confidence is an understatement, but a phrase I’ve found myself using many times since the beginning of this endeavor is “Steel-Yourself”. It’s a phrase that I think I can honestly say I’d never used before 2016. But lately it comes in so handy.
“This road is about to be really curvy, Brad, steel-yourself.”
“I hated towing through that traffic, but I just had to steel-myself”.
“The trailer is probably going to rock backward when I pull this, so steel-yourself.”
“This clearance is painfully low, but mathematically we know we’ll make it…so steel-yourself.” It has never been more applicable to say, and I’ve never felt like I’ve had to do it so often in my entire life.
We knew that body damage of this kind would be pricey, but absolutely had to be repaired to prevent water damage – so we filed an insurance claim the very next day. We have great insurance through USAA and their customer service is amazing, so they started taking care of us right away. They even sent a field appraiser out to assess the damage so that we wouldn’t have to go to the trouble of moving our house just to get a quote. But a comment that the assessor made about the potential cost of the repair left me thinking there was a decent chance that we would get a “totaled” estimate back – I sat on this possibility for about a week, and educated myself about towing a trailer with a “salvage” title when registered through the state of Washington.
The good news is…it wasn’t totaled! We were able to schedule our repairs with an RV shop and a body shop very near to my parents’ house, so interacting with them was simple. It turned out that one of the body-shop owners was my 2nd cousin’s golfing partner. So you know…they’ll take care of you in a small town. We intentionally planned some fun family stuff to help purge us of all the negativity – jumping on trampolines for 90 minutes was particularly helpful. Spending a week away from the trailer with some fantastic friends was also very rejuvenating.
The body shop was able to look at the damage and determine that none of the underlying wood panels were damaged, so instead of replacing any of the wall they were able to apply some new fiberglass that more or less made the crack disappear. The RV shop ordered a new storage door. They contacted a local graphics guy to make us decals similar to what had been there to avoid paying $1,000.00 for factory Keystone Cougar decals.
We were able to pick up Stumbo just in time to take it on the next planned trip within Arkansas. We had been told that we would have a chance to approve graphics before they were applied, but when Brad went to pick it up – the graphics were already completely done! We were also told that only the swooshes and lines would be replaced and the complicated cougar omitted, since that would be the most difficult piece to make match the other side.
Now that it’s all said and done, a Cougar that looks a little goofy is the only evidence that the whole thing ever happened. It’s going to take a long time before my confidence in towing is fully restored. We did so many tricky maneuvers in California and Oregon – narrow campground roads in the Redwoods that drew a crowd, tricky gas station exits, windy roads with no shoulder, but we had never had so much as a scratch. Maybe I was feeling too invincible, too confident, but now I’m hoping to feel something similar again soon so that towing our house across the rest of the country is tolerable.
We made it. Everything is fine. And now it’s time to continue…so steel yourself.