The last time I got in trouble I was in Big Bend National Park in Texas. This time the location was far less exotic! In fact my wife and I were at the intersection of I-125 and I-80 on the south side of Cheyenne, Wyoming. We were on our way home from a week of photographing the red rock country in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and were headed for the RV campground at Warren Air Force Base. As we topped the hill headed east towards Cheyenne, monstrous black storm clouds stretched across the horizon in front of us.
Without giving the weather conditions the attention they deserved, we forged ahead anxious to get our 5th wheel set up and bed down for the night. The closer we got to Cheyenne the worse the weather became until the driving rain and hail forced us over to the side of the road. Initially we were unconcerned but as the minutes passed, and the storm intensified, our lack of concern quickly evaporated and our anxiety ratcheted up with the increasingly large hail that was now pounding my truck and the 5th wheel behind. It got so large, and the noise so great, that talking was nearly impossible. At any moment we expected the windshield to cave in. I-25 was brought to a standstill with the heavy summer traffic lined up along the shoulders of the road sweating out the storm.
For fifteen or twenty minutes the storm raged and then, as quickly as it began, it drifted east and the cars and trucks began to move again. It was time to take stock of the damage. It was quickly obvious that my insurance company was going to be getting a call on Monday morning! The hood and the roof of my Dodge truck were a mass of dents. I didn’t even want to think about the roof of my thirty-foot RV but as it turned out the roof itself was largely undamaged - it fared better than the truck. The plastic vent hoods, the air-conditioned cover and the external running lights took a beating and would have to be replaced. All in all it could have been worse.
In retrospect what bothered me more than the damage was the fact that I had placed my wife, my vehicles, and myself in harms way. I didn’t recognize the looming hazard. I wasn’t tuned in enough to see what was about to happen. I didn't turn back! Despite the obvious storm, the thought of hail and the damage it could cause never crossed my mind. I was focused on getting to the campground as quickly as possible.
It is this mentality that gets people in trouble in the outdoors. As a society we have lost the ability to sense danger - the ability to detect the “edge of the cliff” and back off. So the next time you are faced with a situation where pressing on in the face of threats to your safety is ill-advised, pause for a moment. Evaluate your situation objectively. What are the threats? How able are you to cope with threats to your safety? What are the consequences of continuing? Is it time to turn back? Don’t let external issues influence your decision. You can always climb the mountain another day – but you have to be alive to do that!
For me? Next time I am going to try to listen to my own advice!