Some experiences in your life will always make you look back and wonder how you survived. For example, when I was five years old, I was playing in the woods with my three-older sister and her friends. We were exploring unknown territory as kids back in the 70s used to do. I clearly remember that we were on a trek to see the fenced-in reservoir that supplied water to our community. In order to get there, however, we had to cross a huge chasm by balancing on a log that was laying across.
In my mind, that chasm was ten feet across and was at least fifty feet deep. In reality, it was probably something I could have hopped over. But where’s the adventure in that? We did eventually make it to the reservoir, crawling under the chain link fence, and doing whatever it is you do on the side of a reservoir.
Like most children in the 70s, I survived long days in the woods with little supervision. We did risky stunts and got scraped knees but we came out of it okay. And in a way, it probably helped us learn our limits.
Like that one time on the autobahn…
The year was 1996 and I had just traveled overseas for my very first international journey. I was working in the travel industry and my brother was living his expat life in Germany (he’s also spent time in Russia and China). For a deeply discounted travel agent rate, I was able to fly to Germany for a mere $250 roundtrip. And with more of my travel agent prowess, I was able to rent a car.
It was a manual transmission Volkswagen Golf and it was all my brother and I needed to travel from Germany to France, Sweden, and finally Denmark. In fact, that epic journey is where my “how did I ever survive” tale began.
Because my brother was a “local,” he took care of driving everything. Normally, I’m a bit of a control freak in the car and prefer to stay behind the wheel but I entrusted my brother with all of the driving because I wasn’t too keen on the drive-as-fast-as-you-want idea of the Autobahn. Turns out, he was. As he was driving, he noticed me gripping the armrest on the door and pressing my imaginary brake to the floor, to no avail, of course. That’s when I confessed that fast driving made me a little nervous (unless I was the one doing it).
But the driving was necessary because our goal was to drive on up to Sweden to visit my brother’s friend, Richard. Little did I know that Sweden was extremely far away. The entire trip was a comedy of errors with us ending up on a ferry across the Baltic Sea. After an entire 24 hours in Sweden, we headed back towards Germany, opting for a drive through Denmark, instead of taking the 8 hour ferry.
All was well until we got to Germany and my brother declared he was simply too tired to drive and asked if I would.
At this point in the trip, I felt equipped to handle a little European driving and set off on the autobahn while my brother snoozed away. And then things went from bad to worse.
It was late at night and heavy fog had rolled in. It was so difficult to see the road in front of my, I had to sit up and lean forward over the steering wheel to see the road. In addition to the fog, I had to deal with other more experienced drivers (usually in very fast Mercedes) driving right up to my bumper and swerving at the last minute. And I was trying to manage all of this while realizing I couldn’t read any of the signs in German and had no idea where I was going.
With the stress of driving, the late hour, and everything so unfamiliar, my eyelids began to feel heavy. I was struggling to stay awake but I had at least paid attention enough to know a Raststätten when a saw one. A REST AREA!
I pulled over, locked the doors, reclined the seat, and took a nap right there along the Autobahn. Best. Decision. Ever. You know why? Because I’m here to tell you about it.
According to the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America poll, 60% of Americans have driven while feeling sleepy and 37% admit to actually having fallen asleep at the wheel in the past year. Scary stuff. I took the Pledge Against Drowsy Driving and I’m encouraging you to do the same.
Sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation, this initiative seeks to raise public awareness about drowsy driving, its effect on drivers and how it can be avoided. And if you find yourself driving on the Autobahn in the middle of the night in thick fog, or you’re just feeling a little sleepy while driving, follow these tips to keep you and your loved ones alert while driving:
- Get a good night’s sleep. 7-9 hours is ideal.
- Plan to drive long trips with a friend or companion.
- Schedule regular stops.
- Avoid alcohol and medications.
- Take a short nap if you feel fatigued (15-20 minutes.).
This post is sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation as part of Drowsy Driving Prevention Week. All stories are true and all opinions are my own.