In my post “One is a wanderer,” I mentioned New Zealand.
Don’t get me wrong, anything in this post notwithstanding, I love New Zealand. It is the most beautiful country on the face of the earth. My sole reason for seeing The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was because it was shot there.* (I figured they would butcher the books completely. Imagine my surprise when they didn’t.)
The backroads of New Zealand are usually two-lane, although very well paved. Passing on them is certainly possible, provided one can find a straight stretch without a blind curve. Unless one is a New Zealander, in which case you pass anyway, blind curve be damned. in 1991, The Rocket Scientist and I were tooling along through the North Island, and we were constantly amazed by the people zooming past us around curves that would give us the willies. And as we were driving, we ended up behind a sheep truck going far slower than we either wanted or needed to be going.
One sheep is a smelly creature. A entire truckload of them is horrific. For those Californians who have traversed I-5 past the cattle pens, a truck full of sheep is worse.
We kept hitting short stretches of road followed by blind curves. After about forty minutes of the choking smell (even the air conditioning could not make it bearable) we decided that, at the next straight spell, regardless of a blind curve at the end or not, we had to pass. We had not seen any traffic in quite a while, so we thought “What’s the harm?”
We got to a straight stretch. I pulled out to pass, at which point a semi-truck hauling God knows what appeared at the edge of the curve. It’s a doable pass, but just. I sped up.
So did the sheep truck. Damn. Okay, he’s going to play that game. I slowed.
He did, too. He would not let me pass, nor would he let me drop back behind him. On one side of the road is a steep hill, with no shoulder. On the other side, a steep drop, again with no shoulder. Our choices seemed to be meeting the grim reaper smashed into a bloody pulp on the grille of a truck, or rolling over the edge, again with very nasty results.
I could actually see the panicked face of the oncoming trucker. He was trying to slow, but a full truck has a lot of inertia. “We’re going to die we’re going to die we’re going to die…” was all I could think. I was not even swearing: I was too terrified.
Finally, I closed my eyes (I am not joking about that), floored the accelerator, and eyes still closed managed to swerve back into my lane. I somehow did not overcorrect, either. This is not a merely minor miracle.
Because my eyes were closed, I did not see how close we came to disaster. The Rocket Scientist, a brave man willing to face death head-on, was staring in horrified fascination, and did. According to his usually quite accurate estimation, we cleared both the sheep truck and the semi by six feet, at sixty miles an hour.
I kept accelerating (after opening my eyes, of course). The psychopathic sheep truck driver, his attempt at vehicular homicide thwarted, dropped back to his former pace. I was shaking so badly I could hardly steer, but the Rocket Scientist would not let me stop and change places. “If we stop,” he said, “we’ll be back behind the sheep truck.” So we drove on in complete and stunned silence, for probably forty-five minutes, when we figured that we were far enough ahead that we could stop for the two minutes needed to change drivers.
I have often wondered if I should take this as a sign: that either I or my children (two of whom had not yet been born at that point) are destined for greatness. I don’t think so, really, but damn, it does make me shake every time I think of it.
Life is a great thing, most of the time. It should be appreciated on its own terms, regardless of where it takes you or how much you accomplish. We can’t all be Steve Jobs.
And you never know when you might run into a sheep truck driver with mayhem on his mind.
*When the Not-So-Little-Drummer Boy and I first watched the movie on DVD, I kept saying “It’s not CGI. There really are places that beautiful in New Zealand.” When the Fellowship reached the Gates of Moria, and the monster appeared from the lake, the NSLDB turned to me and said, “Yes, I know, Mom. There really are monsters like that in New Zealand.” God, I love that boy.