In the occasional series "How it feels," Bowdoin students, faculty and staff tell the Orient about their personal experiences. Here are their stories, as told to Joshua Miller.
…to face death during a high-speed pursuit of a drunk driver
It was back in February, 1981, and I had been a trooper on the road for about two years. It was a Saturday night. The conditions were dry. I was on patrol on Route 302 in the Windham area which is over by Sebago Lake. This two-tone blue Chevy El Camino—I remember exactly what this vehicle looks like to this day—with a drunk driver at the wheel had swerved or something so I spun around and went after him. By the time I spun around, which only took an instant, he was already almost out of sight. He had turned down Route 115. He had seen me and had stepped on it. At that time of the night the traffic was light, and he had stepped it up to close to 100 [miles per hour] so I did the same. He turned right on the Falmouth Road, which is just a two-lane country road—no paved shoulders or anything. So we're flying down the Falmouth Road and his taillights are way up ahead of me, and I knew there was a corner up ahead. I was going, oh, 90-plus [mph] to try to overtake him, and the first corner comes up. It was a left-hand corner, and I braked accordingly and accelerated out of the apex of the curve. When you go into those curves at high speed—you know we're well-trained at high speed driving—you go into the corner and you have to brake down the critical speed of that curve. If the critical speed of that curve is, say, 50 miles an hour, and you go into it at 51, there's nothing you can do. You're going to go out of control. The critical speed is it. It's really the maximum velocity at which you can take the curve. So you brake down to the critical speed of the curve and then you accelerate out of it. So right in the center of the curve, you're tromping right back down on the gas, which is what I did. And I came out of that curve just blazing, just accelerating. But I forgot about the next curve. It skipped my mind. I had taken the left curve and then the road went down a ways and took a right, and I was still accelerating on that short straightaway before that next curve and I went into the curve, I went into the apex of that curve at 90, which is impossible. You cannot make that turn. Nobody could. Mario Andretti couldn't do it. It's just impossible. So I'm into the center of the curve at 90 miles an hour and I realize that I blew it. The only thing I do at that point is put the brake all the way to the floor, locked up everything and the tires are screeching, and I'm going straight ahead off the road at the center of that curve. I'm holding on to the wheel at the three-o'clcok and nine-o'clock position. I'm not wearing a seatbelt mind you because, for some reason, I didn't have my seatbelt on, and I'm going straight because my wheel is locked up and once your wheels are locked up, you can't turn. Everything is straight. The woods are coming up and, wouldn't you know it, right dead center—on my hood ornament—coming right at me is a pine tree about three feet across. It was a very old, stately pine tree and I'm headed right for it, brakes locked up, not slowing down a bit, going something like 85 or 90 miles an hour. I then found what the word is that you say when you know you're going to die. It's not "oh shit," but it's "no." I went "noooo!"—just "n" with a bunch of "ohs" and an exclaimation point.
Death was staring me right in the face. Brake all the way down. Hand on the wheel. Tree coming right at me that I'm going to hit dead on. And I'm screaming "nooooo!"
No airbags. I was driving a 1980 Dodge Saint Regis. Probably about within 20 feet of the tree—which is nothing at that speed—at the last instance, I had the presence of mind to let up off the brake which allowed me to get a little bit of steering back. At that point it was a panic brake because I needed to slow down. But before you can turn you have got to let off the brake or you can turn that wheel all you want but you're still going to go straight. Up off the brake, allowed me to turn just about—just to turn the wheel a couple inches. So instead of taking the tree head on, I sideswiped it on the right side of my cruiser. There was a low-hanging branch, a big, thick, low-hanging branch, coming right out from the tree only a few feet from the ground. I sideswiped the trunk, hit the low branch and the branch came through my windshield, peeled part of the roof back, obliterated my blue light bar on the top of my cruiser. I'm ducking, of course, going in, hanging on.
Now, I'm going through the woods still going about 80 miles an hour chopping trees down as I go further into the woods.
All the while, I'm going "noooo!" because I don't want to die.
And then a bigger tree started to come up, and when I hit that, it was too big to break. I hit the tree, my body went forward, there's no windshield left, I slid under, injured my knee pretty badly, and my head went forward on impact and I hit my mouth on the steering column.
And then everything came to a stop.
It was dark and there was a hissing sound coming from the steam escaping from the engine. I thought that I had broken all my teeth because I had hit my mouth so hard. I was chomping down on hard stuff, loose hard stuff in my mouth and there was lots of blood. I reached up and felt my mouth and all my teeth were there. First thing I did, I reached in my mouth and picked out the hard stuff—pieces of safety glass. I had a mouth full of safety glass because I was hollering "noooo!" with my mouth wide open so when the windshield shattered, I got a mouth full of safety glass.
All the doors were jammed so I had to get out my side window which was smashed out. I realized that I had a back injury—which actually plagued me for years until I had back surgery. A man with a flashlight from across the street had come to see what had happened. When he saw me, he ran back and called rescue.
I was in shock and the next thing I knew, it seemed like there were 100 people there: rescue, police, fire, everyone you can imagine.
What I really remember at that point is being in the ambulance, lying down on the stretcher being transported to the hospital in Portland just as happy as I could be. I was smiling. I was joking with the ambulance attendants. I was just so glad to be alive. I should have been dead! I could not have cared less where the guy went that got away—there's another day for that. I was just so thrilled to be alive.
The accident totally destroyed my cruiser, gave me injuries that I lived with for many years at various levels, but I was just thrilled. I had a ball in the ambulance because it was just the most beautiful ambulance I had ever seen because I'm alive, and I'm happy.
I remember that when they went back to the scene of the accident to investigate, they found my glasses and my hat in the woods 60 feet in front of the vehicle. They had just flown right out through the windshield that wasn't there.
This experience had a lot to do with the real commitment that I developed over the year for safety and the safety field in general—alcohol and drug safety, but highway safety especially. And I always wore my seatbelt after that.
—Randy Nichols as told to Joshua Miller. Nichols is the director of the Bowdoin Department of Safety and Security.
…to embrace an odd coincidence
Starting in Crete, I went by ferry to Athens, up to Yugoslavia, and across the bottom part of Europe to meet a friend in Madrid. I got there after four or five days on the train traveling and he wasn't there.
He left a note for me in the lobby of his apartment building telling me to meet him and another mutual friend down in a city called Seville. We were to meet five days hence. I said, "Well OK, a little more travel down."
He also said that this friend that we have in common was staying in a small town called Jerez de la Frontera, where they make dry sack sherry, and if I wanted to meet up with a person a little earlier, I could meet up with this guy in Jerez.
A couple days later, I left Madrid and went down to meet my friend. I was supposed meet him in the officio del turismo, the tourist office, in this town around a certain time on a certain day. This was all hearsay, though, because I heard all this through another person. But I thought, "Well I'll go to another place. Without too much expectation, I'll go down there, and if I meet him, that's great."
And so I went down and spent the day in the small town called Jerez, wandering the streets and trying to figure out where the officio del turismo was, with no knowledge at all of Spanish. I just kept saying "¿Donde esta la officio del turismo?" Nobody in the town could help me. Though, I think they understood minimally what I was asking for, but they couldn't help me because as it turns out, the office didn't exist.
At the same time there was a bike race going on in town, which was pretty interesting. There were lots of people packed in the small town, with bikes cruising through. The race was just around the city. They would go through these different loops and come back every so often. It was lots of fun to watch.
So, after searching for the rendezvous point, I kind of gave up. Again, it would've been nice to see him, but a couple days later I would be meeting with more people. I went around looking for a place to stay. I finally decided on the third or fourth one that that I went to. It seemed to like it was reasonable, and I could afford it.
I gave them my passport, and I went upstairs and hung out in the room for a little bit of time, finally getting a little rest after wandering the town for awhile.
Later, I went downstairs to go out and get a bite to eat, and I asked for my passport back, and the guy handed me a passport.
I was walking out the door, and for no reason I could understand, I opened it up and looked at it, and it was my friend's passport. The weird part about it was that he was staying in the room next to me. And there I had been wandering around the town for most of the day trying to find him, like a needle in a haystack. All of a sudden there he was, right next door to me. It was odd that I looked at the passport, because I could've just pocketed it without looking. And he doesn't look anything like me. So, it wouldn't be that the guy at the hotel looked at the passport and looked at me and screwed it up. It wasn't that. I couldn't figure out why, except for the fact that we share the same nationality.
So it was a fun, inadvertent coincidence. I guess the idea is that sometimes, the harder you look for something, the less likely you are to find it. And when you stop looking, it appears. That's one tale that I remember and sort of think about.
—Mike Kolster as told to Joshua Miller. Kolster is a photographer and an assistant professor of visual arts.
…to go polar bearing in Maine
It feels damn cold, that's what it feels like. We, the Polar Bearing Club, go out once or twice a month to various beaches like Small Point or Popham or Fort Popham. The etiquette of polar bearing is, well, we all try to go in the water at the same time. We all strip down and then it's sort of a "one, two, three" and then we all run in. We wait until everyone is in and then everyone dunks their head under the water at the same time and everyone gets all the way wet. After that, well, we run our asses back to the car. Usually your hair is frozen and your feet go numb. At Popham Beach it's like a quarter-mile back to the car; at other beaches, you can park closer to the water, but regardless, you get back to the car as quickly as possible to warm up. One trip, in December of last year, we all ran out into the water except along the water's edge there was about six inches of ice. Half of us slipped and fell in which was rather unpleasant. But we were in the water which was our whole goal to begin with, I suppose.
Polar bearing is a cool thing to do. It's fun and refreshing, as bizarre as that seems. And it's a good way to get out of the whole Bowdoin studying-until-God-knows-when mindset.
—Brendan "Mort" Mortimer as told to Joshua Miller. Mortimer is the "co-dictator for life" of the Bowdoin Polar Bear Club (PBC) with Ian Kyle.