An honest story from the road: New Year's Day

I've been in a small town in NE Oregon since January 1st. I was planning to be in Portland that night. I share this story with you because it's real; it's not pretty or glamorous, simply life. But it's emphasized a truth to me, that even when it seems you have next to nothing, you can create and tell a story.  I've been processing this time with the tools I've (thankfully) had in a backpack (my camera, my laptop, and a journal), and the space of an empty hotel room, and in doing so, I've thought about how while everything changed for me the other night, nothing changed at the same time. I've had to walk a little further, wear the same outfit for more than a few days, and pay more money for a bed to sleep in than I have in a long time, but all the while, I am doing exactly what I'd be doing if the following event hadn't occurred, if I was anywhere else- and I think that is beautiful.  

Jan 1, 9:15pm. 

I had just gone through what I thought was the scariest part of my drive back to Portland from Salt Lake. The weather was fine and the roads were clear all day, until I got to Oregon. 

Yellow hazard lights were flashing and semi-trucks were all pulled over with their hazards on, chaining up their tires. There was a pass ahead. It was now dark and I was counting how many hours i’d been driving as I made my way slowly through the curvy, winding pathways. I was finally only 3 hours form Portland. I couldn’t stop thinking about getting back to the studio and sleeping on the couch. As lame as it sounds, it sounded like paradise to me as I drove into my twelfth hour on the road and I couldn’t feel my toes. I made it through the pass just fine and was back on straight, flat, easy road again.  Within a few minutes, I discovered that I had not yet gone through the toughest part of the drive.

The van began to slide across the road, from the left lane, on to the right, and on to the snow-covered ground. I saw everything both in slow-motion and real time at once. I couldn’t begin to think of anything but where the van was headed and what it would do next, because it had all control now. It did not stop with sliding over a lane, but proceeded to spin one hundred and eighty degrees and flip over on its side. I found myself sitting on my driver’s side window, reminding myself that I was still breathing. I looked around myself, sitting helpless and viewing the world from a sideways, ninety-degree angle. My passenger side door was now a trap door on the ceiling; my driver’s side, the floor...

Everything that was on the right side of the van, was now on the left. As I reminded myself I was still breathing, I contemplated just how exactly I was going to get out. I felt like I was in a fishbowl. I also wondered when and/or if anyone was going to stop at the sight of my hightop camper van tipped on its side in the middle of the snow. A man in a snowplow pulled over after about what felt like an hour - which was in reality, probably less than two minutes. He stood at my windshield, which was now vertical, making a perfect window to stand at and look in at the mess I’d just made. He shined a flashlight, asking if I was the only one in the vehicle and if I was okay. I sat helpless and shaking, still sitting on the glass of my window. I first thought I could try to open the passenger door above me, but i couldn’t reach it. Then I thought of just smashing the windshield to get out. The man outside the glass I was trapped behind presented the idea of going out the back doors. I climbed over the rubble, which was everything in my van that came down with the fall. I couldn’t open the back doors from the inside- there’s no handles. I kept the back doors padlocked too, and only one of them opened, with some difficulty. Thankfully, I had the key, opened the lock, and a different man, I think a police officer, opened the door, lifting it up and out toward the sky, as I ducked and stepped out over the other normally-vertical door. 

Jan 2nd, 2017
My notebook and laptop have dirt in all their crevices, both from the potted plant that relocated itself among everything else in the van, and the moment the tow guy opened my driver's side door, spilling a sea of items, including my camera, which had been at my feet while I was driving.  I scrambled to pick it all up and shove it in the backpack I brought with me to the hotel.

I walked away from the accident with nothing but a bruise on my leg. I am currently waiting on the auto body shop to let me know if the van will be up and running to drive the rest of the way back home. Until then, I'll be doing what I do, just out of a motel room instead of a home on wheels.

Nicole Mason