Sunday, November 12, 2006

My Greatest Challenge

I suppose I had some concerns when I moved to Lincolnton. Would the slow pace frustrate me? How would I cope without a well rounded selection of restaurants and bars for dining and entertainment purposes? Where would I shop? Could I find iced decaf anywhere?

But these were relatively insignificant concerns in the grand scheme of thing, and I have learned to cope with all of them. For now, I enjoy the slow pace and relish it. There will be plenty of time in the future for rushing and frenzy. I have learned to appreciate Outback and Red Lobster for an occasional night out, I have found a few gems like Willow Creek Inn for when I require a little something more and in all honesty, Zippers and Iron Thunder provide as much entertainment as the lounge at the W Hotel. As for shopping, Wal-Mart has proved to be an excellent panacea (although rumors that a Target is coming to Lincolnton in 2007 have me all a-flutter!). And we know how I've dealt with the iced decaf situation.

The truth is, these weren't really challenges, merely changes in lifestyle.

But I have - in the last 2 weeks - found myself face to face with truly my greatest challenge: driving at night.

I suppose driving 80 miles a day in and of itself was an original challenge. Then came the first time I drove in the rain. Drove in the fog. Drove in the dark. Drove on the Interstate.

My first trip into Charlotte after we moved down here, I white knuckled it the entire way on 85, convinced I would be crushed by a tractor-trailer. My body was so tense when I drove, I had to stretch when I got out of the car.

But I got used to driving. I took back roads instead of the highway. I drove slowly in the rain. I learned to use my lowbeams in the fog. And when I eventually found myself forced to drive on 85 on a trip to Atlanta, I took it slow until I got comfortable.

In fact, everything was fine until the accident. As I wrote right after it happened, the accident knocked me down about 6000 pegs. My confidence was shot. And although I am slowly regaining my confidence behind the wheel, I still hesitate when I change lanes.

Driving in the dark has been a concern for some time. As we approached the end of daylight savings and the days got shorter, it was staying darker, longer, every morning. My morning commute went from no darkness to nearly 30 minutes of darkness over the span of a few short weeks. The only upside was that it always got lighter in the morning. I knew, that at some point during the drive, I'd go from dark to light and all would be ok.

But then came the end to daylight savings and the start of 5:30pm sunsets. It was pitch black by the time I left the office, with no hope for any light.

I found myself hating 2-lane back roads which had once been my salvation because every time a car passed me in the opposite direction, the headlights would glare in my eyes and make it difficult for me to see. Could it be that the LASIK surgery I had 6 years ago was still affecting my night vision?

I found myself unsure of myself in the dark. I'd see headlights reflected in the mirror and have no sense of how much room I actually had to get over. Merging as always been a weak area for me (dating back to an early childhood merge mishap). Merging after the accident has been that much more difficult. And merging in the dark on top of everything leaves me nearly paralyzed with fear.

For the first time one night, I was not able to merge over the 2 lanes I needed to in order to get onto the loop to head home. Instead, I found myself on Highway 74 heading the wrong direction in rush hour traffic. It took me an extra 15 minutes and 5 1/2 miles to get back on the loop in the right direction.

Each night, I get into the car and my heart starts to pound. Anxiety sets in. I contemplate which route to take - which will be safest, which will be least stressful. I know most of my fear is psychological. I suppose I will learn to get comfortable driving at night the same way I learned to drive in the rain. Take it slow and steady. In the meantime, I am counting down the days until December 21st (39) because after that, the days start to get longer again.

The capper came last Tuesday night. It was raining. Driving in the rain at night had me sweating bullets all day. On numerous occasions, I contemplated leaving early. But I figured it wasn't a very good image to project professionally so I toughed it out.

While highway driving has proven easier at night, highway driving in the rain is generally a nightmare and 85 is usually peppered with accidents. So I opted for the back roads. They were pitch black. The presence of fog made it impossible for me to use my brights. Every time a car approached I'd slow to a near halt on the curving roads. I was so blinded by headlights I was unable to see directly in front of me and was not sure how much room I had before going off the road. As I wound my way towards 27, I kept a tight grip on the wheel. I finally got to 27 and turned onto the familiar (and thankfully relatively straight road).

The rain slowed. Traffic was light so I wasn't barraged with a steady stream of headlights. As I approached Lincolnton a wave of relief set in. I was so close to home, I could taste it. Until - what's that flashing light?

A vehicle was parked in the road several hundred feet away. A figure I couldn't see was waving a flashlight indicating I should go - where was he indiciating I should go?

It turns out there had been a terrible tractor trailer accident on 27. I had no choice -- I was being directed back to the back roads I had been so grateul to be off of just moments before.

The amazing thing was that I actually knew the back roads I was being directed to.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

ps I did eventually make it home. One hour and forty minutes after I left Charlotte.