Almost Losing Our VW Van – Another Miracle

The following is an excerpt from our soon-to-be-published book: A Couple of Miracles: One Couple, More Than a Few Miracles.


One morning in the autumn of 1974, I unfolded a map of California and started studying it. I have always loved maps. Joyce sat next to me, finishing her breakfast.


“Look on this map, Joyce. There’s a whole wild area, the Mendocino National Forest, just north of San Francisco. Let’s go.”


And just like that, we took off in our VW van. I have always appreciated Joyce’s great love of the outdoors, and her adventurous (most of the time) spirit. Given what was to happen, I am surprised she still goes on adventures with me!


We didn’t know just how primitive the roads were, how undeveloped it was. We just drove. Or rather, I just drove. Joyce was too scared to drive on bumpy dirt roads that hugged the sides of mountains … with no guide rails and a sheer drop off.


We had recently had our first rain of the year, after months of no rain. Being new to California, we didn’t realize what that first rain did to dirt roads in the mountains. Conditions were muddy, slippery, and treacherous.


After a few close calls … we almost slipped off the cliff in a few places … I realized that we had no business being here without four-wheel-drive. But how to turn around? There didn’t appear to be any places wide enough. We had to keep driving up the mountain. To make matters worse, it was beginning to grow dark.


Finally, I spotted a turnout … sort of. It would have to do. I slowly and carefully negotiated a turn, but started to slip sideways toward the edge of the drop-off. With every move I made, our van slipped a little more toward the edge. Forward gear, a gentle push on the gas pedal, and slipping to the side rather than forward. Reverse, and the same thing…


The situation looked grim. I got out and surveyed the scene. This was long before cell phones, so there was no calling AAA or any other form of help. Instead, realizing we needed divine help, we prayed a very sincere prayer.


We decided there was nothing more to do until morning. We camped that night in the severely slanted van. For most of the night, Joyce was pressed against me and I was pressed against the wall of the van. It was not our best night’s sleep. Okay, Joyce pressed against me had its perks.


The next morning, I walked over to examine the drop-off. It wasn’t as bad as I thought the night before. It didn’t go straight down. Instead, it sloped steeply for about thirty or so feet, then it leveled out on a fairly level spur road that rejoined our road a little way down the mountain.


I told Joyce to get out of the van, just in case. She was worried. “Barry, what are you going to do?”


“I think I’ll try one more time.”


I didn’t sound convincing. She didn’t even try to hide her worried expression.


I got into the driver’s seat, put the van in gear, and slowly let out the clutch. The rear wheels turned, but again we did not go forward. Instead, we slipped to the right, both right wheels dropped over the edge of the turn-out. The van leaned precariously over the edge, and seemed to be on the verge of rolling over.


I acted quickly. I opened the driver’s door fully, jumped out of the van, hanging onto the open door as a sort of lever to try to keep the van from toppling. Now I was in a desperate situation! If the van started to go over the edge sideways, I would have to let go of the door, and just let it go. As long as I kept my full weight on the end of the door, the van stayed put.


Now what? I knew I couldn’t stay there forever. Without help, we were really in a bind. We hadn’t seen one other car since we had been on this dirt road.


My mind flashed on the worst outcome. If the van rolled onto its side, it probably would either slide or continue rolling down the bank. We stood a chance of losing the van and all our belongings.


Just when I didn’t think I could hold on to that door any longer, we heard voices. A few minutes after that, out of the woods above us came three big young men wearing backpacks. They lost no time in jumping into rescue mode. One of them had a climbing rope, which he quickly secured to the roof-rack on our van. All three of them, with Joyce and my help, tried to get the van back up top, but without success.


I made a decision. I announced, “Okay guys, this is what I’m gonna do. You hold onto that rope to keep the van from toppling over, and I’m gonna turn the van down the bank and drive straight down to the road below us.”


Joyce said, “Barry, that sounds crazy!”


I answered her, “Yeah, maybe, but I really think I can make it. And it looks like it’s our only hope.”


The three men looked grim, but nodded their consent to me.


One man spoke, “Go ahead. We’ll do our best to keep the van on its wheels.”


Sometimes there are just no guarantees in life….


I got in the driver’s seat once more, this time turning the steering wheel to the right, down the bank, shifted into first gear, and let out the clutch. The van started to slip sideways, going into an even more precarious tilt. Without those three strong men holding the rope, I would have surely rolled over.


Then another miracle happened. The rear wheels grabbed enough of the hillside to propel the van forward just enough to begin the turn down the steep bank. The next second, I was part rolling, part slipping, accelerating straight down the bank, hit the bottom with a loud clunk, and then bounced onto the road. We had made it! Without any damage to our van!


I heard a whooping cheer erupt from above me as Joyce and the men crept and slid down the bank toward me. There was hugging and congratulations.


Joyce said to them, “We want you all to know that you are the answer to our prayers. We couldn’t have gotten out without your help.”


One of the men said, “I hurt my ankle last night, and the three of us decided to abort our trip. We knew we had a thirty-mile hike out, but we had two choices. One way was by trail all the way down the mountain. The other way was a trail the opposite way to a dirt road we saw on our map. It was significantly longer to walk to our car via this second route, but we chose it. We didn’t know why. It just felt right. Little did we know we would come out onto the dirt road right here and be able to help you.”


We offered the men a ride back to their car, for which they were grateful. At their car, we said our good-byes, and again commented on the amazing synchronicity of events. It was yet another miracle in a long string of miracles called life.


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