Friday, August 19, 2005

Slaying The Dragon

The tree of shame.

US 129 from Tennessee to North Carolina - Known as "The Tail of The Dragon" for its 318 curves in an 11 mile stretch of two lane blacktop.

It is one thing to come back from a weekend drive with the proud boast that one has slayed the dragon. It's quite another to have one come back having been slayed. Sometimes its the former - other times its the latter.

In cars like ours, it can happen as quick as the snap of your fingers. Even the most experienced of drivers run the risks and take their chances as you can only control your car and even then only a percentage of the time. No one controls their car or motorcycle 100% of the time. Sometimes the car is just so good that it allows driver error. Sometimes its abilities will spin around and bite you.

Younger drivers enjoy the wreckless abandon of having never been bitten. They often don't know they may actually not live forever. They may not know how painful recovering from a fairly small wreck with just soft tissue damage may be.

Whether we know it or not "Live for the now" is the existentialist motto. Our postmodernist culture which was heavily influenced by the 1960's existential call to personal peace and affluence gave rise to "if it feels good - do it" and "It's my call to make - who are you to say I can't?" kind of thinking. So on a daily basis we see the fruit of that thinking whenever one of us dies or gets hurt needlessly.

2 weeks ago, after seeing the result of a car that made a mountain twistie a little too fast and ended up buried in a tree with eyewitnesses crying with their heads in their hands - I have pondered whether to post concerning the voice that is - or should be - always there in the back of our minds. It says "slow down - you're not ready for this". But due to peer pressure or ego gratification we press on. Cutting corners, crossing the yellow lines, passing on a curve as if it were Indianapolis, scaring the locals while we blow by them on THEIR daily roads.

If you can't maintain your lane - you are going too fast.

If you can't stay off the yellow line - you are going too fast.

If you notice your cars traction getting loose in the corners when it wasn't your plan to do so - you're going too fast.

I realize these words will more than likely go unheeded. I realize the desire to not be known as a punk or a coward or a wimp is overwhelming for some.

I also know that driving these cars in the mountains isn't a video game. You don't always win a replay. You don't always get to hit the wall, spin out and then drive on as if nothing happened. Video mentality tells you you will live forever as long as you have another token in your pocket.

One time, back when i had a V8 Jeep Renegade, a "friend" offered to take me to his favorite four wheeling site. It was a powerline area where his cousin and he had gone many times over in Acworth. He, Debbie and I met up and ride together. For the most part it was a fairly easy trail until we got to one hill where the trail went almost straight up and had a 90 degree turn about 3/4 of the way up. Debbie took one look and asked to be let out - she wanted no part of that hill climb. My "buddy" sat in the passenger seat - and with a knowing eye, braced for what was to come.

I looked again and said - "lets go for it" and gunned the motor and headed up. At the turn there was a boulder sticking out on the left that could not be avoided which would bounce the top heavy jeep to the right and down the hill in a roll. A little bit past that boulder was another one on the right that would correct the pitch if you hit it in the right spot. It was the only way to negotiate that curve. I hit it perfectly and bounced my way on up the remaining 30 yards to the top where we parked and waited for Debbie to climb the hill.

My "friend" said after we were safely up there that "no one he knew had ever made it all the way uip the hill in a jeep" and that they usually had to roll their jeeps back onto their wheels to get home. From the top of the hill you could see something you couldn't see from the bottom. Along both sides of the hill were the stripped bodies of all kinds of 4wds. About that time, two all terain vehicles roard up to us and as they approached i could hear one of them say to the other "damn, i forgot my toolbox" as if to be vultures waiting for a carcass to scavenge.

Revenge was sweet - but i'll leave that for another time...

Let it be said that perspective was gained not only from the vantage point on top of that hill - but also by what was heard yet unsaid there as well.

All that to say that even if you aren't hurt, the possibility of contributing to the Honda salvage in Newport, TN exists. The odds your car will make it that far without a couple of guys rolling up in ATVs with their toolboxes is fairly good. Add to that - you don't know me any better than you know anyone else - even in our club. We all seem to be pretty decent individuals. But with that, don't be led into a situation you can't afford to lose. I too own a toolbox. I trusted my "friend" to take me to a fun afternoon of four wheeling - as it turned out he wasn't a friend at all and I was led into a situation that could have resulted in the total loss of my jeep.

Drive within your ability.

Drive within your lane.

Drive to drive again.

Drive to have fun.

As one who has hit the boulder - as one who has met a semi truck on the dragon - as one who has learned from life's curves - you won't regret using some common sense.