As a rock climber of many years, I've endured numerous lectures from well intentioned folks about how dangerous climbing is. "Do you have a death wish? How can you justify such unnecessary risks?" These are age old questions that I continually fail to answer convincingly. A death wish? No. You've never felt more alive than when you're on the edge. But rather than describe the unexplainable about an activity which must be experienced to fully appreciate, I generally ramble on about the odd fact that statistically speaking, rock climbing is quite safe, and that the most dangerous part of climbing is the drive to and from the crag. Strangely, this is true.
Climbing is indeed a high risk environment, and as a result, we learn redundant systems and methods of communication to mitigate risk. Its heads-up all the time, and because of the inherent risks, we're on our guard and are actually being relatively safe. But at the end of the day, its all too easy to load up your gear, fasten the safety belt, crank the tunes, and blast home. I've never fallen asleep while climbing, but like many of us, I've caught myself nodding behind the wheel more times than I'd like to admit. RedBull and Starbucks have kept me going many hours late at night when I should have stopped and crawled in the back seat.
Having used this argument over and over to rationalize the risks involved in climbing, I at some point became aware of the staggering number of roadside memorials. One day I was driving along the levees over in the Sacramento Delta and began stopping to photograph them. It was immediately apparent how dangerous our roads are. The memorials are where they are for good reason. Each one was intriguing, unique, tragic, and packed with emotion. Personal items belonging to the deceased, religious icons, newspaper clippings, notes, ornately carved crosses, portraits, plastic flowers, wreaths and statues are left at the place of passing, often mixed with broken glass, bits of rubber and chrome. The weather decomposes everything, adding drama to these impromptu shrines.
I've made a point to watch for the memorials during my travels and climbing trips, and stop when I can to make photos of the interesting ones. My mind wants to know the story; What happened? Where were they going? Who were they? Just another traveller at the wrong place/wrong time? With so many variables and high rates of speed, anything can happen and there is little time to react. It could be any one of us.
The images here were made this past week out in the desolate Mojave Desert. At some point I'll figure out what to do with this growing body of work. Until then I'll just quote a warning from the Grateful Dead: "When life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door."
You've lived another year. Congrats, and be safe!