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Thursday, August 8, 2019

Oh Deer.

We left Blair, Nebraska en route to Phoenix, Arizona (why? a story for another post) before dawn. By the looks of it, we had missed a major hailstorm just minutes before passing through Omaha. Cars were spun around, lanes were closed and emergency vehicles were lined up with lights flashing, illuminating the piles of bright white hail on the sides of the road. Glad we didn't get mixed up in that! Once clear of the big city, we were flying down Interstate 80 at 75mph, the most comfortable speed for our truck with the camper loaded.

Around 7am we always start looking for the next available coffee shop on the road. This 4100 mile road trip sometimes required extensive research to find a caffeine stop, the sparsely populated areas we were traveling through were a particular challenge. I was scrolling through the Google Maps "Coffee" search feature trying to estimate just how far we'd have to drive for a cup of energy when


"What the hell was that?"

I looked up at Mark, his eyes wide and hands shaking a bit on the wheel. "Deer."

It was only then I realized the lower half of the driver's side windshield had a deer head-sized indentation, and Mark's lap and most of the front seat was covered with fine shards of glass. He slowly eased the truck over into the breakdown lane and moved as far as possible off the road. Unfortunately, because of the torrential rain Nebraska had suffered all year, the ground on the side of the highway was a gooey, tire sucking mess. We were off the road, but not far enough off to be comfortable opening the driver's side door so close to the traffic lane.

I hopped out and dug around in the glove box for napkins to help brush the glass off Mark's lap and the seat. We were so pumped with adrenaline we didn't realize every brush against the shards was making tiny cuts in our fingers and bare legs. After getting most of it onto the floor mats, I peeked around the side of the truck and signaled when it was safe for him to get out.

Holy shit.

It happened so fast it was hard to tell exactly what happened, but judging from the body damage we pieced it together. The deer was running from the median strip across the lanes, hitting the front quarter panel with it's chest, it's head whipping around and smashing the window. From there its body must have flipped and slammed and slid down the side of the truck, shearing off the driver's side mirror and leaving it hanging by its now useless electrical connections. The body (because I'm pretty sure it was an instant death) must have flipped around again because there was a huge dent in the back quarter panel as well, just beneath the camper. There was deer hair and feces smeared over the back side panel, brush guards of the bumper, and under the camper rail, the icing on the cake if you will.
Interstate 80, where cars go 80, and deer play chicken.

The only thing Mark remembers seeing is the deer's eyes in the windshield before it hit. I think it still haunts him today.

After calming down a little, and brushing more glass off the seat, we got back in and limped our way to the next exit, listening for any weird engine sounds, unsure if anything but the body damage we had seen was affected. Milford was the closest town, so we headed there on the advice of the nice ladies at the gas station at the exit.

Milford is exactly seven blocks long. It looked like it served the farmers in the area, having a small grocery, a small coffee shop, a small auto repair shop, a one pump gas station, and various empty store fronts. We stopped in for coffee, mostly to gather our wits a bit since we had no need for caffiene at this point. The owner shook her head as she poured our drinks, "My husband hit a deer last week. So scary!"

Head smack

Where once there was an electronic adjustable mirror, only shredded wire remains.

Seriously reconfigured quarter panel
The auto shop there had just opened for business for the day, and after expressing their sympathy told us their windshield guy only came in once a week. They said our best bet was to drive back to Lincoln and find an auto glass place there.

The deer left more than dents.

Not wanting to get back on the interstate with a damaged windshield and no side mirror, we took the frontage road the 20 miles back to the city of Lincoln. As Mark carefully peered around the smashed part of the windshield, I googled "auto glass replacement" and made my way down the list of shops, calling for appointments. The first place said they could get us in the next day. Nope! Not gonna stay another night in Nebraska, as nice as our visit had been. The next place said they could get us in around noon. Better than tomorrow! We made the appointment just as we crossed the Lincoln city limits.

Having nowhere else to go, and very nervous driving around in a damaged truck, we drove straight to Capital Auto Glass and parked in front. We went inside and asked if we could hang out until our appointment time. The guy offered us coffee, and also offered to call around for a new side mirror. Another customer in the waiting room overheard our story and offered to drive us somewhere and buy us breakfast. As we were talking to him, a delivery truck pulled up with our windshield and the shop manager told the warehouse guy to pull our truck in. They moved our appointment to the front of the line and by the time our windshield was in, the mirror had arrived and they installed that too. All in all, we drove away with a sparkling new windshield and a gently used mirror exactly one hour and thirty minutes after driving into town.

The good guys in this story. If you ever find yourself in Lincoln, NE with busted glass, call them.

Deer hit: 7:30am
Arrival at glass repair shop: 9:00am
Back on the road: 10:30am

Incredibly, we made it to our scheduled campsite in Colorado that day before sunset.

Over the last 18 years we estimate we have driven an average of 6,500 miles annually in the interstates, rural highways, county lanes and backroads of every western state and Canadian province. While we have hit a few small animals and run over a couple of unfortunate reptiles, we have never even come close to hitting a deer.

Moral of this story: If you must hit a deer, do it in Nebraska. The state might not have towering mountains, deep canyons or dramatic coastlines, but damn they have the nicest, most helpful people on earth.

We are deeply indebted to you Nebraska. We'd love to visit again, but honestly, we aren't sure our old truck can take any more hits from your hulking corn-fed wildlife.

On our way back on 80, we passed our old friend.
R.I.P.  Deer