By: Scott Umstattd
Bike Adventure Media Coordinator
Before I signed up to volunteer with the Fuller Center Bike Adventure this year, Ryan Iafigliola told me that the definition of adventure is hardship remembered fondly. He assured me that there would be challenges along the way. Knowing this, I signed up to take part in the ride anyway knowing that overcoming the challenges would create incredible memories that last a lifetime.
Three days into our drive from Americus, GA to Seattle, WA we encountered our first challenge, our first hardship to be remembered fondly. Travelling through Idaho on our way to Boise, our tried and true Fuller Center Bike Adventure van blew a rear tire. Eight of us were in the van when the tire exploded. Our van leaned toward the shoulder of the road, making a couple of quick left/right jerks, but maintaining its balance. At some point within these split seconds our newly decorated Bike Adventure trailer, carrying everyone’s bikes and travel gear, reacted to the swaying of the van. The van skidded sideway, perpendicular on the two lanes of interstate. It felt like this would be the end of our first adventure. We would skid sideways and
stop. That feeling lasted only as long as the thought itself. Our momentum hadn’t come to a complete stop and the trailer, whipping behind the van, began to roll over lifting the rear of the van in the process.
As the trailer rolled over it took the van, and the eight of us inside, with it. As we lifted in the air and landed on our passenger side, I thought again. This time I thought we would stop on our side. That was another case of wishful thinking on my part. The van continued to roll, this time with wheels in the air. As we rolled over to an upside down position, I realized that any further assumptions as to what would happen next would be in vain. I had no idea how long the tumbling would last. Fortunately, the van ended up upside down, only rolling over once to get to that position. Odd as it may sound, I was relieved to be upside down. At least the van had stopped moving.
I found a window that had been shattered and slid out of the van. My initial thought was to help others out of the van, but in the chaos within the upside down van I could not determine who was where and who needed help. Once out, I was relieved that everyone had found their own way out through the many new openings in the van (most windows being shattered and scattered across the interstate 84 West). Everyone was out and everyone was OK-we all had cuts and bruises, but everyone was OK and accounted for and out of the van. Everyone except for our driver, Ryan Iafigliola. Ryan was trapped between the floorboard, steering wheel and seat. He was alert and aware, but trapped nonetheless. Pulling at every door proved fruitless. The van was shut tight. All doors jammed. Ryan and I were able to make eye contact and communicate. I got up, having been on my stomach to talk to Ryan, and noticed flames coming from the underside of the van between the front tires, now facing the darkening Idaho sky.
Traffic had stopped behind us. Fortunately, the road was not extremely crowded and all vehicles were able to stop before crashing into our van and trailer that covered both lanes of the interstate. I ran back to the first vehicles, 18 wheel tractor-trailers, and yelled “Fire extinguisher!!!”. I ran back to the van to find that Ryan had found his way out of the van and to further find that the flame had subsided on its own. Emergency service vehicles were quick to respond and several interstate travellers had come to our assistance helping us to determine the state of our injuries and placing calls for assistance.
All of this happened outside of Time. I’m not sure how long we were on the side of the road blocking traffic. I’m not sure how long Ryan was stuck in the van. I not sure how much time passed between the tire blowing and my slipping out of the van. But here are a few things I do know. People can be incredible and I am travelling with an incredible group of people. At no point was anyone in our van frantic or panicked. Internally, I’m sure nerves were frayed, but everyone in our group maintained composure in the immediate aftermath of the accident. As some were being checked out by paramedics others were placing calls trying to secure hotels and vehicles in order for our adventure to continue. And the adventure will continue. We will secure a new vehicle. We will mend our broken bikes. We will move beyond the aches and pains our bodies are feeling today. We will be on the road again very soon. Seattle awaits us as does Washington D.C. and all of the many stops in between. Our bodies, our bikes and our van have all been shaken, but not our resolution. The work that the Fuller Center engages in is too important to leave behind. Every day, people across the United States and throughout the world endure hardships on a daily basis. And for them, this is why we must endure.