I almost died that day… Well, not really. Actually, overall it went about as well as anyone could have hoped for, if it had to happen at all.
The Coquihalla highway was closed due to severe avalanche risk so Greyhound had been taking the longer but very scenic Hope-Princeton Highway to Kelowna. The extra time it took created a passenger backlog though, and by the time of my scheduled trip, they’d had to charter a second bus.
I made the mistake of choosing to ride on the charter bus because it was supposed to arrive earlier than the regular bus since it wasn’t making most of the stops along the way. Since I’d loaded up with snacks and drinks ahead of time, fewer stops wouldn’t be a problem for me.
Once in the snowy mountains, we were coming around a bend, and a semi-truck travelling in the opposite direction came over the centre line, and forced our driver to veer to the right to avoid a collision, and we wound up in the ditch. As we ran over the rumble strips at the side of the road and started going over, I thought: ‘oh, okay… well THIS is happening.’
We landed on a 45 degree angle, with me on the high side and sitting on the arm rest. A number of bags had flown out of overhead compartments and one wanged a woman on the head pretty good. ‘Ok,’ I thought, ‘well THAT just happened.’ I resigned myself to the reality that my day was ruined.
We were on the outside of a bend in the road on a wide curve to the right, and we’d gone into the ditch at the base of a tall hill. The scariest parts were the cars and trucks coming up over the hill ahead of us, and finding it very difficult to stop. We watched several near misses until a different semi-truck stopped beside us and offered to help. Before cluing in to using road salt and tire chains, he very nearly slid into us as he tried to get moving again. Even with chains his tires idly spun around and around as he inched over the next hill. People who stopped to help were sent on their way to call in the accident when they could since we had no cellular signal.
Our driver tried backing up onto the road again which worried me, since all that was behind us was oncoming traffic blindly coming around the bend. He only succeeded in backing up in the ditch and created a bus shaped trench ahead of us.
We’d effectively rolled over onto our exit door. We could have broken a window, but then we’d be exposed to the cold. Instead we stayed inside risking carbon monoxide poisoning as the bus kept us warm by idling and exhausting into the solid snow bank behind us. Aside from the smokers it was remarkable how calm we all were. Yes we went off the road, but we’d landed on a large snow pillow and nobody had been seriously hurt. If it had to happen at all, it really couldn’t have gone any better.
Around this time a Shriner hospital bus happened by, and the driver offered us a lift since he was empty and already headed that way. It was such a kind offer; I have no idea how we would have carried on once we were rescued if that bus hadn’t stopped and offered to help us.
When the first paramedic arrived, the brown haired woman squeezed her way through the pinned front door while joking about how she shouldn’t have had that ice cream earlier. She assessed the woman who’d been hit on the head and a couple others who had concerns. Not long after the ambulance showed up, so did everyone else. One of the good natured rescue guys came onboard to figure out how they were going to get us out, and when someone complimented him on his solo mustache, which he proudly proclaimed “oh yeah, 70s porn ‘stache.”
It had now been two hours since the crash, and it was dark outside. They decided they were going to break the already cracked right front window and file us out through it. They easily smashed the window out, removed the rubber stripping, and placed a matt over the bottom for us to safely climb over onto a step ladder on the outside.
Since I was sitting near the front, I was one of the first out after those with medical concerns. After hopping through and having my bag handed to me, I thanked the crews profusely, and then climbed out of the bus-shaped trench onto the highway. I could see a long snaking line of lights from the vehicles stopped behind us. The scene was absorbing, the flashing lights, the fresh snow piled a meter high, and a series of people being helped out of a bus through a smashed front window were mesmerizing. After a little playful sliding on the icy roadway, I helped some of the others transfer our baggage from the crashed bus onto the Shriner one.
My second big mistake of the day, was allowing most of the other passengers onto the new bus before me, despite being one of the first off of the last bus. I figured there would be as much room on the new bus as there was on the old, but I was wrong. After climbing aboard, I made my way past some very comfortable looking, but very occupied recliner chairs. Further up the aisle were hospital beds with three people sitting on each and as I passed them it dawned on me that there was absolutely nowhere for me to sit. I was one of the last people on the bus, and there was hardly even any floor left for me to sit on.
The best I could do was to find a square half meter of floor for myself between the coffee machine above my head, the bathroom ahead of me and its door frequently opening into my leg space, and a cabinet latch digging into my back. Not long after I’d resigned myself to this bitter situation, an endless parade of inconsiderates stepped in my space to help themselves to the expensive single cup coffee maker and bottled water over my head. The kindness of the bus driver giving us a ride, was being repaid with theft.
Twenty minutes after finally getting underway again, we were stopped for another two hours due to yet another accident further up the road. Only now did I lose my sense of humour with the situation. So far it was an easily bearable interesting adventure, but after we were stopped again for an unknown length of time, I was now fully embittered.
When we finally started moving again, after twenty minutes travel, we were stopped again for yet another hour. After this, our three hour trip the rest of the way to Kelowna continued on uninterrupted.
At some point, we started getting phone service again, and as I coaxed my phone into sending a simple ‘I’m ok’ to Joyce, all at once I received increasingly concerned messages from her, ending with a desperate sounding: ‘I don’t know what to do…’ It was bittersweet to have someone worry about me like that. It was comforting, but at the same time knowing she was worrying about me was the worst part of the ordeal since I couldn’t reassure her until the phones started working again.
My next fun adventure was dodging the feet of all the people trying to use their phones plugged into a power bar behind the coffee maker over my head, which didn’t stop other people from nearly scalding me as they still tried to use the coffee machine over my head which was now down to only having hot chocolate inserts.
Finally I saw Okanagan Lake, and I knew I was almost home. People cheered as we finally pulled into the bus depot eleven hours after leaving Vancouver. Some clueless management guy stood at the front of the bus, blocking our exit only to offer apologetic platitudes. After everyone who’d had comfortable seating got off the bus I was finally able to exit, and I rushed through the terminal into a big hug with Joyce.
In retrospect, what really stands out for me is how well it all went. Nobody flipped out or was hurt, and another bus was able to give us a lift. Aside from irritation and discomfort on the second bus, the worst part was just the hours of my life the incident consumed. I wasn’t left with a fear of bus travel; I was just the victim of a statistic; there was nothing I should have done to avoid it, and it’s nothing I should ever expect to happen again. Like so much of life, it was just some stuff that happened.