That Time We Almost Died on The Way to Our Wedding, Got Stranded, and Were Rescued by Social Media

This post is long over due! We’ve been so busy since we returned from our trip we haven’t had a chance to really sit down and keep up with our blog.

We are officially married! And so happy and grateful to have come this far, because the journey to our wedding did not go as we expected it to! Where do we even begin?

SHORT STORY: 

We planned a 2 week honeymoon road trip up the west coast for a private elopement ceremony in a forest in Washington state. 3 days into our trips, our brakes failed while driving towards a cliff and the emergency brake saved our lives. We were stranded in a small town (15 hour drive from our wedding location) for 3 days before we found out our car wouldn’t be fixed in time for the wedding. We asked our friends on Facebook for advice, and the entire internet stepped up to the plate. Friends, family, and complete strangers made donations to help us pay for our car, celebrities shared our story, Audi read it, and they lent us a Q7 to use for the rest of our trip. Our story spread across news outlets and blogs, and we ended up getting a full spread in a celebrity gossip magazine!

LONG STORY:

The plan was to travel north through the mountains and up to Seattle where we would have a private, intimate ceremony in a forest with just our good friend Christen officiating, and the videographer and photographer present to capture it all, and drive back home along the coast for our Honeymoon.

Well, we left for our trip on Thursday August 4th. We were still adding some final touches to the trailer the day of (I promise we’ll share the final results of our trailer, as well as pictures from the rest of our road trip in another post soon!) We were literally up all night, packing up any emergency supplies we could possibly think of, had our Jeep inspected by two different mechanics who both told us the car was in great shape, and filled every storage area we had with clothes, food, cameras, books, blankets, toiletries, etc.

When Shit Hit The Fan

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On Monday August 8th, a little more than halfway between Yosemite and Lake Tahoe, our Jeep began to overheat. We had hit a construction zone that halted all traffic and we were idled for a solid 20-30 minutes, so we think the uphill trip after being at a complete stop may have been what pushed the temperature over. We pulled over to let it cool back down, drove again, and when it started to heat up, pulled over again to cool. We figured slow and steady would win this race. We were 19 miles away from the nearest town, and our goal was to make it there and find a mechanic to help us. We pulled over at this spot (pictured above) and hung out by the lake for a good hour while the car cooled in an attempt to keep our spirits up. We saw a family fishing, asked if they knew how far we were to a mechanic, and they told us they weren’t sure but just 1 mile more and the rest of the trip would be downhill.

Awesome! We figured if we can just make it to the downhill part, we’ll be good to go until we make it into town.

We chugged uphill, eyeing the temperature gauge the whole time hoping for the best. Finally, the temperature became consistently stable at a healthy 210 degrees. We had just came up on this sharp u-shaped turn around the side of a mountain, when I started smelling something burning. I asked, “What’s that smell?” and not even a second later, Gus said, “Uh oh…”

“What?” I asked.

He didn’t say anything. I looked down towards his feet and saw him pumping the brakes, but nothing happened. I looked back at him. “Are you serious? Are you serious?” He couldn’t say anything. He just kept trying to pump the brakes and looking at the dashboard of the car, which was now going all wonky. I looked forward and saw the sharp left turn edging a cliff, just seconds away from us. I’m not going to lie, there was a moment where I thought we were going to die. I had NO idea how we were going to get out of this. I mean, we had no brakes, were going 60+ mph heading straights towards a cliff. Then I remembered there was an emergency brake. I immediately reached for it, slowly eased up on it, and Gus slowly steered us around the corner. There was a turnout to the right of the road after the turn and he pulled onto it while I kept pulling the brake, hoping we’d stop before we hit the wall. For a second it felt like the e-brake stopped having any effect and it looked like we were going to hit the wall, but we finally came to a safe stop. Gus turned off the car, the engine started smoking like crazy, and then I immediately broke down crying because the reality of what had just happened hit me. And all of this, from the time the brakes failed, to the time we finally stopped, was all within 20 seconds? I don’t know. It went by so fast but at the same time everything happened so slowly and vividly.

Pictured below is the view from where we stopped, and the bottom of the cliff we were heading towards. At least we had something pretty to look at.

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And pictured below is the view from where we stopped, facing the turn we just steered around. (The end of the road pictured is that sharp left turn we made.)

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We got out of the car. I was terrified. My entire body was shaking and I couldn’t think straight. Neither of us had cell phone service. Gus helped calm me down and told me he was going to walk back around the turn because there was a lodge maybe about 1 mile away that we’d driven passed and asked me to stay with the pets. We figured we could find someone there who could help us. We each had a walkie talkie, and as he gathered his things to leave, he realized he couldn’t find his wallet. We spent 20 minutes tearing up both the car and the trailer apart, searching the same areas 3-4 times desperately trying to find it, but we found nothing. We both felt so helpless.

Gus left, and I stayed. As soon as he turned the corner around the mountain side and was out of sight, I lost his signal on the walkie talkie. I was alone, it was quiet aside from the cars driving passed every few minutes, and it was cold. I was still shaken up about what had just happened. The cars driving passed paid no mind. I tried my best to stay calm and positive, but not being able to get a hold of Gus, or anyone for that matter, was terrifying me.

I have no real sense of time memory for all of this, but maybe about 30 – 40 minutes later Gus finally came back. I felt so relieved to see that tiny little man at the horizon running towards me. He told me the lodge we’d driven passed was closed, but he found a pay phone, and called our insurance for help. They told us they would call us whenever they sent a tow truck to us. Gus explained to them that we have no cell phone service, so a call or text would do us no good. They told him they would try anyway.

So then we waited. And waited. And waited. We waited for hours, looking down the mountain side hoping to see a tow truck coming towards us from either direction. Nothing. We didn’t even know if anyone was on their way. Gus was able to get the Jeep started again, and wanted so badly so go back and look for his wallet at the last place we stopped, but I didn’t trust getting back in that Jeep, and neither of us wanted to miss the tow truck if it did come. He was frustrated and upset with himself that he lost everything inside of it, then I realized it was my turn to step up and help keep him calm and comfortable. It was that moment that made me realize this was an experience that would absolutely shape us as a couple and as a family. When I needed help, he was there for me. He consoled me the way he knew I needed consoling. And when he needed help, I knew I had to set aside my fears and anxiety and be there for him in the way he needed me. We took turns like this throughout the next few days, shifting roles when necessary.

After three and a half hours of waiting, we decided to put up a sign asking for help, because it was clear that people driving passed us were ignoring us.

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Within 20 minutes, a pick up truck pulled over. His name was Douglas, and he’s the beginning to this story of generosity that we will tell for the rest of our lives.

Douglas was a volunteer for the fire department. He told us he had driven passed us going the other direction hours ago, and when he saw us still stranded on his way back, he knew he had to pull over. He contacted someone on his walkie talkie asking if any of the local tow companies were on their way to us. They weren’t. No one in the area even heard of us. He immediately contacted the closest Tow truck company and waited with us until it was confirmed they could get us. They picked us up within 45 minutes. Their names were George and Cammy. They brought us to a little town called Gardnerville, Nevada, directly to a mechanic they highly recommended. When we got there, they had just closed, but they told us we could camp in their parking lot for the night and they would get to our car first thing in the morning. We want to thank our  friend Seraphine for helping us with the cost of the towing of our trailer, as it wasn’t covered with our insurance.

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At the time, we had no idea this parking lot would be our home for the next 3 days.

So we set up camp and immediately started planning out all kinds of just-in-case scenarios. We ate for the first time in like, 12 hours? Once we were able to relax and ease our minds, everything that happened started to hit Gus for the first time. So we got ready for bed, and as soon I closed my eyes all I could do was relive that moment we lost our brakes. I had a hard time falling asleep that night. I kept jolting awake in night terrors, sobbing and feeling like I was still in that car heading towards that cliff. I kept having dreams that the e-brake didn’t work. Gus was there to comfort me even while he was half asleep. I don’t think I could have gotten through that night without him.

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We woke up the next morning (Tuesday, 3 days away from our wedding, and a 15 hour drive away from our wedding location) met with all the people involved with helping our Jeep: Jessica, James, Dennel, and John. These guys took good care of us and did all that they could for us. They told us they’d have the car ready to go within 6 hours. It turned out our radiator was busted, and the temperature gauge broke with it, and many other things. (This is why when we lost power to our engine  and brakes, our temperature gauge was reading stable.)

We hung around all day, went to the park, tried to kill our time. Talked with our families. Finally, the mechanic told us the car was ready. We packed everything up, got in the car and started it, but something just felt off to me. I didn’t have a good feeling about it. I was worried the same thing would happen again. I expressed my concern to Gus, and shortly after, the Check Engine light came on. We brought it back to one of the guys working there and he told us it was a spark plug misfiring, but that we should be fine. We parked the car again and idled it while we discussed what we want to do. Within minutes, everything shut off again, the same way it did before. We told the mechanic, they brought it in to look at again. Then they told us it was the spark plugs, and that they’d repair them for us. But then 15 minutes later, they came out to tell us it’s more than they expected, and they would have to take apart the entire engine in order to figure out what the issue was. They told us it could take up to a week and cost us more than what we paid for the car itself. That sucked to hear. We told them we needed to think about all of this and figure out what we were doing to do.

We spent the rest of the night doing so much research. We looked up trading cars in, every rental car company in existence, U-Haul, Penske, airfare, we even looked into buying a new car and trading the Jeep in. Our families were doing all that they could from afar, searching options for us. My brother even offered to drive my station wagon up to us and drive the jeep back, but I didn’t feel good about him driving that car in its condition. We exhausted every single option, but there were no trucks available for rent in our area, buying a new car was just too big of a decision to make on such short notice, and flying wasn’t a feasible option for us since we had both of our pets, all of our most prized belongings, and absolutely no luggage.

We looked at each other, each of us feeling completely depleted from trying our best to stay positive for the past two days, and collapsed on the bed together in tears. This trip was the one thing we were looking forward to all year. We spent every extra penny we had, every moment of free time, working on this trailer so that it could be a part of our wedding, a part of this journey. We sold many of our items to make money for this trip, for our wedding, for our trailer. We completely changed our lifestyles to be able to make this happen, putting a halt on frivolous spending. If it wasn’t going towards bills, food, or this trip, we weren’t buying it. The feeling of being stranded while literally being stranded took its toll on us. We felt helpless.

So I looked to Facebook and Instagram for guidance and advice. Maybe someone has been in this situation before? Maybe someone knows the area well and can help us find a rental truck?Screen Shot 2016-10-14 at 8.50.07 PM.png

Within minutes, messages and comments were pouring in from our friends, family, acquaintances, people we hadn’t seen in over a decade, people we’d met only once, people who only knew us through social media offering their support, advice, suggestions, etc. It was incredible. We took notes for all the options we were given and made a plan to research these things the next morning. We decided it’d be best to just ship the Jeep back to LA and deal with it when we get home that way we don’t have to come back to Nevada to get it.

Then a friend of mine, who I’ve actually never had the pleasure of meeting in person yet, Nicola and her friend Rakesh literally stayed up all night creating a GoFundMe page in hopes of raising money to go towards either a new car, or fixing our Jeep. She messaged me telling me not to worry, that we will be taken care of and we will make it to our wedding. We were absolutely humbled by the GoFundMe page but honestly didn’t think it would pick up much momentum considering we had 24 hours to figure out what to do. We wanted to leave no later than Wednesday afternoon to avoid doing a full day drive to Seattle. I never feel comfortable asking for money, but we thought if anyone would donate, it’d be our family, and the money could sure help us pay for the repairs towards the Jeep.

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Before we went to bed that night, we walked to the gas station for snacks and Gus found this little guy hopping around in the parking lot. He picked him up and said he wanted to take him to the park across the street where there’s a pond. He quickly ran across the street, set him down, and ran back and said, “Maybe that will bring us some good Karma.” (Spoiler Alert: It did.)

We woke up the next morning (Wednesday) and called a place in Reno that could rent us a truck, but we had to return it to Reno when we were done. So, it solved our issue of making it to our wedding, but it didn’t solve our issue of making it back home with our trailer. We were able to get a rental car to take to another city about 45 minutes away that had a DMV so Gus could get a new driver’s license.

This is where our story takes a drastic turn for the better.

While driving to the DMV, we found out this girl Azita had shared our story on instagram. She messaged us asking for our number, called us, and she and her friend Erica told us they were going to take care of us. Azita stumbled on our gofundme page and ran to Erica, telling her she felt guided to help us. We were both in tears after this phone call. We couldn’t believe two complete strangers were going out of their way like this for us. We were so humbled, so grateful, so shocked. We finally got to the DMV, and while waiting in line, I noticed we were being tagged in posts on instagram. One in particular caught my eye, a woman who had 2.5 million followers. Sophia Bush. Once she posted it, everything started picking up momentum. We were getting donations, comments, messages, followers, etc. It was nuts. She tagged all the rental car companies and Audi, asking if any of them could help us out. (We didn’t find out until the next day after the media got our story’s attention that Kate Walsh and Constance Zimmer also chipped in by spreading the word about our situation!)

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Within an hour, we got a text from Azita telling us to forget the rental truck because they had news for us. Then we got an email from a guy named Marc, a brand marketer for PMK.BNC, telling us Audi was sending us an SUV to use for our trip. We could NOT believe what was happening. None of it felt real even though the email was right in front of us. We called our families, tears were shed, we felt SO much relief. A complete 180 from how we felt the night before.

By 11pm that night, a brand new 2017 Audi Q7 was delivered to us by this incredibly generous guy named Alex. He had worked an 8 hour shift, heard our story, and volunteered to drive the car 8 hours to us from San Francisco to Gardnerville, Nevada. We didn’t know it at the time, but throughout the entire day, over 50 people working for Audi all around the country were making phone calls, seeking approval, putting together teams of people to add on a custom hitch that fit our trailer, etc. All of that just to help us get to our wedding.

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We left the next morning (Thursday, 1 day before our wedding) and left at 6am. The Audi was amazing. It was definitely the nicest car either of us had ever sat in. It was SO comfortable, and that helped with our 15 hour drive to Seattle. (This isn’t some kind of sponsorship. We genuinely enjoyed this car and miss it everyday.)

Along the way we started getting phone calls and emails from media outlets telling us they heard our story and they wanted to interview us. A Seattle news station wanted to interview us as soon as we arrived in Seattle. We couldn’t believe it. We agreed to do the interview so that we could have an opportunity to publicly thank all of those involved with helping us. We did the interview in a Target parking lot as soon as we pulled into town, where we also picked up Christen who had just flown in from LA a couple hours prior, haha. Our story ended up on People.com, HelloGiggles, The Knot, ABC News, In Style, Yahoo News, and several other websites and local news stations all around the country. A few months later, we ended up having a full page spread in Intouch Weekly. (What?!)

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To be completely honest, the attention from the media made me really anxious. One of the reasons we decided to elope is because I get stage fright, and the thought of saying my vows, such intimate words, live in front of a studio audience made me feel queazy, so potentially being in the spotlight like this nearly sent me into panic attacks. Though I was absolutely grateful for where the help of social media led us, I felt nervous about the idea of our relationship being publicized on this large of a scale. I don’t think anyone ever really expects to “go viral” so when it happens, it’s all so overwhelming and hard to process because so much is going on at once. Once our story started getting published, I was already beginning to see cruel comments from people judging and criticizing our character and our relationship and it hurt to read things like that. I’m sensitive, I’ll admit that. And I wasn’t quite sure I could handle the criticism, so there were some interview requests that I denied or didn’t respond to so I could avoid getting any more attention. The night before our wedding, I was really stressed about all of this. Both Gus and Christen helped comfort me in my fears, and I thank them so much for being there for me. They helped me realize that people who say things like that should hold no merit and obviously do not know who we are, and that this whole thing is about US and our wedding, and to focus on that.

And once our wedding started happening, I felt completely at ease. I wasn’t nervous, or anxious, or scared, or resistant. The moment I started getting ready, all of those thoughts exited my mind and I just thought about how I was about to marry Gus, my best friend. It was the most incredible day. It was perfect. It was everything we could have hoped it to be. We are so grateful Christen, one of our best friends, officiated us and was there for us throughout the entire ordeal. This guy knows who we are as a couple better than anyone, we couldn’t imagine anyone more fit to marry us.

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Photography by the incredibly talented Benj Haisch

Videography by Justin Kauffman of Northwest Wedding Films.
(a big reason we decided to have our ceremony in Seattle)

Also, shout out to one of my oldest friends, Jon, who lives in Seattle and made an impromptu trip up to our ceremony location to pick up Christen and take him to the airport because there were no taxi or Uber or Lyft services in the area!

So, here we are, happily married for two months now, safe in our home in Los Angeles, CA. We finished up our trip in the Audi and had the most incredible, magical time. Since this post is so long, we’ll save the photos and stories from our trip itself for another post. We returned the Audi a few days after we came home. Gus had a hard time saying goodbye.

We are still in disbelief over everything that happened. It all happened so fast and was just so surreal. Whenever we tell the story, we’re both just like, “Holy shit. That happened?!”

The Jeep has been in the shop since we got home, so poor Gus has been carless this whole time. The GoFundMe donors amazingly raised $3700 for us. We didn’t expect more than $100. We stopped the gofundme because we felt we had received more than enough. After the percentage GoFundMe took out, we had about $3300 that all went towards the cost for shipping the jeep back to LA, the repairs we paid in Gardnerville, and the repairs we’re paying the mechanic for the work he’s currently doing on rebuilding the engine. We weren’t expecting to have to use all of the donations and planned on donating what was left of it to other campaigns, but unfortunately the total cost for everything ended up being even more than what was raised! But we do want to pay it forward, so we are still going to choose 5 campaigns and donate what we can!

Thank you EVERYONE involved in helping us.
Thank you thank you thank you.
We will never forget you and all of your help.
We will forever believe in the kindness of strangers
and the goodness in people because of this experience.
And this is a story we will tell for the rest of our lives.