A lesson in adversity

All I ever needed to know about dealing with adversity in life I learned from a simple lesson from Dad. It also occurred during a potentially serious traffic situation.

The “Incident”

Background Info

I couldn’t tell you exactly where we were going, except to say that we were on our way to a Boy Scout camping trip. At the time, my dad was the adult Quartermaster and I was serving dual roles of Senior Patrol Leader and scout Quartermaster. In our troop, that meant that we were pulling the scout trailer. Much like the T.A.R.D.I.S., it seemed much larger on the inside than it looked on the outside. It also was much heavier than it looked (weighing in at around 6,000 lbs). We, of course, were driving what many called the “Blue Bomb” (a sky blue, 1977 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe 20 Suburban) definitely a beast of burden. Inside the truck, we were hauling about 1,000 lbs of gear, 3 scouts, my dad and myself (I was around 14).

Adversity Hits!

The incident occurred on the southeast side of Indianapolis on I-465 while we were traveling at about 65mph. The four of of scouts were telling stories and singing camp songs while my dad drove, observed traffic patterns and joined in when he could. Out of nowhere, I felt the truck behaving strangely. The rear-end was swaying much more than usual and my dad’s demeanor changed. His hands tightened their grip on the steering wheel–turning the knuckles white–he signaled a lane change and slowly start moving from the far left lane to the right and eventually on to the shoulder. When I asked what was up, he asked if I had heard something that sounded like a gunshot. I had but thought nothing of it and replied as such. He simply stated that it was the passenger rear tire blowing out and off of the rim.

Opportunity to teach

He then explained while I observed as he took over a mile to stop the nearly 14,000 lb load. I noticed that he never touched the brake pedal – NOT ONCE! During the entire deceleration, he slowed the truck using the clutch, transmission and engine. He also took that time to explain to me that the mistake MOST people make in a blowout is that they immediately hit the brakes or swerve off the road. This, he explained, is what causes rollovers. By the time he got the truck stopped, the tire was gone–mere rubble spread out over a mile along I-465 and shredded along the sides of the trailer.

The Lesson

While I didn’t, and he may not have realized it at the time, my dad shared a valuable piece of knowledge that day. This was a simple lesson he learned in the United States Army while being trained himself on the M809 5-ton 6×6 (5-ton tactical) and M35 2½-ton cargo truck (Deuce and a Half). The driving lesson was NOT to lose your cool and don’t over-correct because that’s where accidents happen.
Dad wouldn’t know this but physics is involved in this, and since I’m not a physics person either (Keep it to Math and Chemistry, but DON’T combine them), I won’t go into detail. Simply put, though; the act of applying the brakes exerts a force that is no longer equal on both sides of the vehicle. On one side, a tire is missing, so it will cause more brake force to be applied on that side.

When Adversity Strikes:

In life when adversity strikes, (life throws you a curve ball, your circumstances take an unexpected turn or a decision has unexpected consequences) I try to do the following:

  • DON’T slam on the brakes, coast to a stop
    Very much like the tire above, when life hits you in the face, the WORST thing you can do is slam on the brakes. You’re already on the road on a predetermined path and while you may understand what’s going on, you can’t know for sure. It may be a blown tire or it could have been an expansion joint in road.
  • Stop, Look, Listen, etc
    You need to determine if it really is a blown tire or that expansion joint. If it’s a blown tire, you need to make some decisions. If it’s the expansion joint, maybe you can continue on down the road–albeit a little more cautiously.
  • Re-evaluate
    So you blew a tire and the trip is at risk. Do you have a spare? Did the tire fall off? Do you need to backtrack or trudge slowly forward for help?
    Don’t dwell on the problem too long. If you can’t figure it out for yourself, then you’re going to need help
  • Fix it and Get back on the road
    Make the needed changes and repairs and get back on that road. You have an adventure to continue. The problem you just faced will have taught you a lesson and make you more capable of facing the next one along the way.

Easy to Say, Difficult to Live Out

It’s easy to write all of this up and tell someone to do it, but it’s much more difficult to live it out! Trust me, I know! I’ve struggled with this all my life. I had what I thought was a well-laid out plan for my life when I left for college at 18. By the time I turned 19, that plan was out the window. I’ve faced a fair share of adversity in the years since (and of course before that as well).

What I always try to keep in mind is that no matter what I’m facing, someone else is either facing something similar or has faced something like it. Our lives are each unique, but we can learn lessons from other’s misfortunes and fights with adversity. For one such practical example of how the above played out, check out a blog post from my personal blog entitled Vacation Testimony.

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