June 25th, 2015
This will be the most difficult post I’ve ever written. And it will be long, because this is part of how I hope to process it all. A big huge thank you to every single person who has reached out to offer support, a nice note or text, a sad face reaction or comment. I’ve taken strength from all of it. Let me cut to the chase before I tell the story, so that you will not be in suspense. Dory has suffered irreparable damage following a rear end collision. She is “perte totale,” or a total loss. We have been in shock and grieving, and know that this will hurt for a long, long time. But here is the story. Pictures at the end because they are too horrible to casually scroll through.
Last Friday, the 13th, in 2020, during a global pandemic, on the first real rainy day of the season, and in the fading light of dusk, we set out like we do, in the late afternoon, heading for Samuel P. Taylor. And in an instant, we lost our Dory. About 20 minutes from home, we were traveling on Highway 680 North, like we often do, and about to pass the offramp to Highway 4. I saw the sudden backup in the lane ahead and started braking pretty hard. But I drive slow and we were fine with the unexpected stop on a slick and busy highway. It was a dicey enough situation, that I thought to put on the hazard lights to warn the people behind us. They were also able to stop, from what I understand. So we were stationary for a bit before it happened.
I probably will hear this sound in my mind forever. And see the image of Dory in the mirror, flying off to the side, knowing she was disconnected. The jolt was not as disturbing as the sound. And in my mind, even in that split second, I knew. I said, “Dory got hit,” Richard said, “Fuck!” but I knew Dory was gone. It was that bad a sound.
Altos are not your typical trailers. They are made like aircraft, using super lightweight materials and an aerodynamic design to keep them light and easy to tow. Their body is made from aluminum sheets, sandwiching a stiff honeycomb core. This allows them to be rigid and sturdy and take a lot of movement on the road. But the engineering depends on the integrity of the whole. We’ve seen how these things are put together and every step requires specialized expertise to assemble the parts into one brilliant puzzle. And it begins with the floor being fitted precisely into the aluminum frame. You cannot come back from frame or floor damage without a complete rebuild.
I turned off the engine and slowly walked back to see my worst fears confirmed. Richard called Randy. The hitch, along with the entire weight distribution system, was twisted and contorted and hanging off the back of Bruce with no Dory attached. She was nose down, maybe ten feet behind. Both safety chains were ripped off, dangling from Bruce, and the emergency brake cable had also been torn off. But it had done its job, and stopped her from rolling into other traffic. For a moment I thought she might be ok because the front didn’t look too bad.
Then, as I walked around the back, I saw. The bumper was torn mostly off and hanging by a thread, The bottom back section was crushed. And though the roof looked bad, I had the fleeting thought that maybe it could be replaced (which would be no easy feat). Looking underneath though, it was unmistakable that the floor had suffered serious damage at the back end as well. I texted Randy: “Dory is dead Randy. Accident on 680.”
Richard had called 911 and walked toward me. I simply stated, “Dory is dead, baby. She’s dead.” I never call him “baby,” Shock is a funny thing. I don’t think he processed that or heard me, and someone came up asking for a fire extinguisher. As I looked around the highway, I saw that at least 4 other cars had been totaled. Someone was walking through, asking if anyone was hurt. The wrecked car nearest to us was smoking.
From there, it’s a blur. Fire engines arrived, and CHP. People started asking questions and papers had to be retrieved. I went inside Dory first to get the fire extinguisher and I could see things had been tossed around. After I got the insurance and registration, I just started putting things back. I saw no broken glass from the crescent windows, and in fact nothing looked broken inside. I even checked on the coffee cups and there was literally not a scratch on them. We pack well.
Tow trucks and clean up crews began arriving. One woman was taken by ambulance on a stretcher but I heard that she was ok, just shaken up. She had been inside the totaled car that was smoking. Richard was on the phone with insurance and was getting instructions. Meanwhile, he started trembling violently and tried to sit on a guard rail post. Did I mention it was raining this whole time? At some point, someone put a jacket on him and that struck me as too Covidy, so I wanted to get him into Bruce. So he pulled the twisted weight distribution bars off the back we drove Bruce to the side of the road, where we were both able to sit inside for a while.
A tow truck positioned itself in front of Dory, getting ready to put her on their wrecker. Richard, still on the phone with the insurance company tow driver, told them to stop and wait because the other guy with a flatbed was on his way. The CHP officer stepped in and informed us that we were not allowed to wait and that it was his job to clear the highway as fast as possible. Things got tense. We asked if they could simply tow her to the side of the road so we could wait for our tow truck there and at first the officer seemed to agree with that. The tow guys kept reiterating that we would have to pay the full price whether they towed her to the side or all the way to Randy’s. That wasn’t the point, we tried to explain, what we needed was a flatbed. When it appeared there was no choice in the matter, they hitched her up. Safety chains were gone, the hitch lock was unusable, and then they informed us they had to tow her to the next exit to get her safely off the road. So we followed as they took her away from us.
If what had already happened wasn’t bad enough, we then got to watch as they pulled about twenty yards onto the offramp and Dory jumped the hitch. She was rolling with no chains or emergency brake until she came to a stop by hitting and wedging herself against the guard rail. I think only the state of shock we were in prevented violence. I simply took pictures to document the fiasco and told them not to touch her. And then our tow guy finally showed up. We made the wrecker guys leave, which they were happy to do quickly. At this point Richard had Randy on the phone, which he handed to the driver. After a brief conversation, Richard got the phone back and Randy said to thank the man for his time, to make him leave, and to sit tight until his guy could get to us. We trust Randy with our lives, so we did exactly that. We waited, now in full darkness, on the side of an offramp, Bruce’s hazard lights flashing and headlights fixed on Dory to warn approaching traffic. That seemed an eternity, but it was worth the wait.
This guy, I think Carl? basically put his life on the line to get Dory off the guard rail without causing further damage. He was wielding chains with giant hooks like a towing ninja. He pulled just a little on one side, then got back out into fast moving traffic to reposition his truck. Then he moved chains, got back in the truck, just a little more repositioning, until finally he had her on a course where he could pull her up without having her just scrape all along the side. It was masterful. And death defying. And we are grateful. We followed them all the way to Randy, who had been clearing out his shop for her in the meantime. We both could see the extent of the damage as we followed behind and it was then that Richard started processing the possibility that Dory’s road days might be over. He began sobbing.
Carl got her off the truck and Randy pulled her into his shop using a forklift. I was not really taking anything in and just continued the process of putting things away inside, trembling uncontrollably. Like if everything could just go back in its proper place, all would be ok. Getting a better look, I was amazed by how much things seemed fine. The kitchen shelves fell, but I put them back up. Things flew out of organizer pockets, and shampoo fell onto the shower floor, but really nothing broken, no damage. Randy told me that if there was any way in the world to do it, he would fix Dory. Then I started sobbing and gave him a full Covidy hug with no regrets.
That was Friday. Through the weekend, we mostly cried, and have gone through all the symptoms of shock and grief. And actually, though I have mostly felt no physical symptoms as of Monday, as I started to write this, the trembling started back up, double time. We now know that really, she is not repairable for the road. We have wonderful friends who were quick to contact Safari Condo on our behalf and we shall see what is possible in terms of getting another Alto. She is well insured and Altos certainly hold their value, since you can’t easily get one. The downside is that you can’t easily get one.
We’ve started the process going with insurance and we’ve taken Bruce in for repairs and a diagnostic. He may be retiring, but on the upside, we had already begun thinking about that. Just not this soon. We’ve emptied both Bruce and Dory and realize: a) that doing so is really really sad, and b) damn we carry a lot of shit when we go camping. The list of mods we’ve done to Dory goes on for miles and each one hurts to think about. Like the latches, the Lagun table, the Mr. Moose key holder, or the etched 633 in the window, done by a friend at a rally. Ouch.
So Carpe Dory is no more, at least no longer in its original form. We have some hopes and dreams for what might be done with Dory I, and perhaps there will be a Dory II. And I know she is just a trailer, but she has been like our child. Each of our actual children has had a terrifying health scare, and I can tell you that this feels no less traumatic. If we do get another Alto, I can’t help but feel we will never love it as much as we have loved her. But I guess that’s what you say about the new puppy after you’ve lost your beloved dog, right?
And now I need to write several love letters. The first I’ll address to Safari Condo and to the Altoistes group. The fact that the Nadeaus have created an inanimate object that elicits this level of bonding from its users is extraordinary. As I said, Altos are not ordinary trailers, but it goes beyond the engineering and design. This is a company that treats their customers like family (or their “California girlfriend” in our case) and treats their product as though each one off the assembly line is one-of-a-kind. They create trailers, but they do so for the joy and happiness of the people who use them. And that culture has carried forward into the Altoistes group I started. Some of my dearest friends are members of that group. The moment I expressed what had happened, I had people jumping in to help us. So many offered us their support and well wishes and this is not something that happens in every facebook group. There were even Alto owners offering us the opportunity to use theirs for the interim time. There is just something about Altos that attracts really good people and that is pretty special. And if this experience has shown us anything, it is that there is literally nothing else out there we would buy instead of an Alto. And also, we cannot live without one, so the near future will be rather tough.
The next is to Randy Wilferd. I know I have sung his praises before but this guy, on a Friday night, at the drop of a hat, turned everything upside down for us. He coerced his guy with the flatbed to come save us because he knew we would need the best. And he cleared out his indoor garage because he knew it would be better to have her in there since she can’t be sealed up properly. He was there for us, again, in a big way and we can never thank him enough. If you use his services, don’t you dare be a pain in the ass customer to him. Overpay him if you can, thank him profusely, and know that you are lucky to be getting the best and most honest RV mechanic out there. He is also a little crazy and that is also why we love him. Thank you Randy. Again.
And of course, thank you Dory. You picked me up after a year of tragedy and you brought Richard and me back to life. You carried us when we were scared, and elated, and always gave us shelter from the storms. You got us through some terribly dark years, but only just. And remember when we played ‘where am I?’ with Jimmy Gunn? You’ve been our escape hatch and our weekly therapy retreat. You’ve been a weekend office, and a full time Learning Center. You’ve been across the country and back, twice, and so many other places in between. We loved you at first sight my dear, and our love only grew with time. We are so so sorry this has happened and that your road days have come to an end. But what a trip, eh? We would never ever have seen all of these places and met all these people were it not for you. You made adventure doable, Doryable, with hot showers and espresso in the morning. And you got to be a TV star too! We love you and will never forget the times we had with you.
As for the future, we shall see. We watched “Finding Nemo” to cry to on Friday night and “Finding Dory” to cry to on Saturday. We will ‘just keep swimming’ and we have some ideas for how Dory might be able to be repurposed in a spectacular way. If we get a Dory II, I’m sure we’ll learn to love again, though maybe not quite like this. And perhaps the blog can be renamed to ‘Carpe Dory Duo.’ Not sure. Just taking this one day at a time, cause that’s what Dory would do.