Since March 15th, two good friends of mine have been in car accidents that could have killed them. My friend Mick blacked out on the freeway because of a still-undiagnosed heart condition last week, unconsciously swerving across two lanes of traffic on I-25 and slamming into a guardrail. He woke up when he hit the guardrail, and miraculously no one hit his truck.
My friend Aaron, having survived a long Spring Break weekend mountain biking in Moab with nothing more than the usual scratches, was merging onto I-70 on a Tuesday night when a driver rammed into the back of his FJ Cruiser at 110 mph, and then drove off, presumably to avoid her third drunk driving arrest. Aaron’s truck skidded 180 feet, until one of the wheels ripped off, and then the truck rolled multiple times, coming to rest 480 feet later. Thankfully, several motorists saw the accident and pulled over to help Aaron. He was helicoptered to the hospital in Grand Junction, and escaped with fairly minor injuries, despite coughing up blood after the accident and being told that he might lose an eye. He should be mountain biking again in a few weeks. I’m very thankful that he’s still alive.
Aaron and I have had a couple conversations since that accident, in which he’s told me he believes he’d be dead if he wasn’t in a newer-model truck like his FJ cruiser, with the army of air bags that deployed while he was rolling across the pavement on I-70. I remember saying to him, “You do all this mountain biking without so much as spraining a wrist falling, even on all these exposed trails, and then you get on the highway to go home and you get hit by a drunk driver going 110 mph.”
I’m careful. I wear a helmet every time I climb (even sport climbing), every time I get on my bicycle (even if it’s only 6 blocks), and every time I ski (even in the backcountry — you would too if you were as bad a skier as I am). I double-check my gear when climbing and I don’t go into the backcountry without a beacon, shovel and probe, and a morning-of check on avalanche conditions. I wear sunscreen 365 days a year. Does any of this matter?
Mick is an arborist, climbing high up into trees with a chainsaw hanging from his harness, often “topping” trees with a crane. He’s never fallen, and despite years of work with all kinds of implements of destruction, still has all his fingers. Aaron races motorcycles at the track in Fort Collins, at speeds over 100 mph. And they both came this close to not being here anymore, when they weren’t expecting it at all.
Aaron and I have plenty of things we agree to disagree about, including eating meat,Â carrying guns, and whether or not winter camping is actually “fun.” But maybe the thing that interests me most is that I think he’s nuts to want to ride a motorcycle anywhere in America, even if it’s on a track, and that he thinks I’m nuts to climb trad and alpine routes. We both believe the other’s activity is “too dangerous.” I mean, what are you, crazy? Getting out there on a motorcycle, with nothing to protect you besides a helmet, with all these teenagers texting and people not paying attention, not seeing you on your bike in traffic? No way.
Well, are you crazy? It’s just about every other week we read about another climbing accident in the Boulder Daily Camera or the Denver Post, isn’t it? Seems like people are constantly pulling huge blocks off at Eldorado Canyon. Rocks break. Geologic time includes now. Gear pops. People rappel off the end of their ropes all the time.
We both have our rationalizations, Aaron and I. He knows why a motorcycle is safer than rock climbing, and I know why rock climbing is way safer than riding a motorcycle. Completely nonscientific reasoning that allows us to say, “I’m not worried about it.”
What we’re really saying to each other is, “It’s worth it, to me.” Aaron knows it’s worth the risk of crashing if he can feel what it’s like to ride 100+ mph every once in a while. And I know it’s worth the risk of betting on geology, and cams and nuts and ropes and carabiners, if I can get that feeling of pushing my limits somewhere high every few weeks or days. And that’s fine. People are different. I love my friends, even if sometimes I don’t understand them.
I’m just not sure what the moral of the story is here. Life is fragile, so give it some thought before you engage in “dangerous” activities? Or go out and do what you love, even if it’s dangerous, because you never know when some idiot is going to rear-end you at 110 mph?