You know how I said I would never sell the car? Never say never.
Well, there’s more to that story. That evening, when everything felt right, fate would have other plans for me. And I’ll be completely honest… I exceeded my skills given the conditions.
Let’s rewind a bit. A few months after buying the car, early in the summer, the urge to customize my car came over me. I started with small things, like an HKB Sports steering wheel adapter and Nardi steering wheel (which eventually ended up in my current Alto) and progressed to minor external things like painting the stock and winter wheels and using a set of red aluminum lug nuts. Since the engine was breathing and running just right, I never considered changing the intake or other minor modifications.
However, the ride height, as with my Alto, was atrocious. So I ordered a set of generic-brand springs, but they were sized specifically to lower the car by approximately 30mm (1 inch). I planned to install them before the summer of 2016, but I didn’t quite find the time.
Late in summer, I took a trip to the Philippines via Kansai International Airport. Everything about that trip was messed up: I missed the train by a few minutes (which never had happened up until that point), so I should’ve taken that as a divine sign to not go. However, I struggled on and drove in a bit of a rush down to the airport, paying for the 8000￥ or so of tolls along the way in hopes to make my flight and, yet, I arrived almost exactly the time my flight should’ve left. So I bought the soonest and cheapest one-way ticket I could find, costing me another 30,000￥ ($300 USD). My trip was more or less fine, but that’s another story.
One week later, my flight landed late in the afternoon. I was certainly tired from my trip and the flight, but I still had 3-and-a-half hours of local roads before I reached back home. Two hours into the drive, I experienced what is called “flow” in psychology, or more colloquially, “being in the zone.” There was a certain zen-ness to that following hour, a pureness of experience. Beyond the roar of the engine, it was silence in the night. This is almost the same mindfulness I experience on my other fun, long, and exhausting drives around Japan, except this time, I was in hindsight more exhausted than I expected.
It was warm, but in the northern mountains of Kyoto, the windy roads were slick from rain and there was a dampness in the air, causing a bit of fog in some parts. I knew these roads fairly well, having driven on them more than a dozen times by that time. Combined with my unfounded supreme confidence in my driving ability, I hustled quickly through the quiet, empty roads. Probably faster than I should’ve given those conditions.
All within legal speed limits, of course.
Three hours into the three-and-a-half hour drive, I came around to one of the final bends of the mountainous roads: a very sharp, but not quite hairpin right corner. I had glanced briefly at the GPS and I knew it was coming, but I miscalculated. In the poor visibility of the dark night and a slight haze of fog in the air, I didn’t realize how quickly the turn came up. With slowed reflexes, I applied the non-ABS brakes far too late and locked them up on the wet, rain-slicked roads, causing me to skid with little time for correction.
It was then I realized how deep and wide these uncovered, open-channel snow / water gutters alongside most roads really are. At about a foot wide and just as deep, they are more than enough to swallow most tires.
Most of the people I know in the expat community call them “gaijin traps” for the fact that probably most of us don’t know how treacherous they are until we each have our own encounter with one. Some folks I know experienced them walking around town in the dark when their feet find no purchase and plunge into the wet, deep abyss. Except I experienced it with a car.
The car skidded along the wet road and a mere fraction of a second later, my two left wheels dove in. There was a horrendous sound of metal underbody grinding against the concrete, vibrating the car for another fraction of a second, and the car quickly came to a halt.
This is basically the most awesome Initial D moment in my life, but completely opposite in almost every way: I was in the outside gutter of the curve, unskillfully driving in a front-wheel drive car, crashing like a moron instead of being the tofu hero.
Aftermath of my accident in Japan to come…