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Down on the Farm -- Can't figure out the risk-takers

Driving up a mountain road near Tucson last week, I ran across a group of people I have never understood: Those who take unnecessary and stupid physical risks.

First, it was the bicyclists, dozens of them, climbing the narrow hairpin road, utterly confident that the cars would slow down to avoid them.

The bicyclists didn't worry about pulling off to the right, so confident were they that they owned the road. Those who were in a conversation felt the need to ride parallel to each other, making it difficult to pass.

The road to Mt. Lemmon is steep, climbing 6,000 feet in 25 miles. Once they reach the top, the bikers can turn around and coast all the way down.

It isn't really coasting. In fact, the bicyclists cannonball down the mountain at breakneck speeds, scaring everybody in their way.

Then there are the motorcyclists. They do much the same, except they speed both up the mountain and down. Many have obnoxiously loud mufflers that can be heard for miles in the pristine wilderness.

What is the point?

Half of the motorcyclists don't wear helmets, another pet peeve of mine. Take care of yourself, people. When you crash, who picks up the tab for the neurosurgeon?

Then, halfway up the mountain, I saw the silliest risk takers of all: Rock climbers.

Oh, they have ropes and anchors and straps, but just what is the point of climbing up one side of a rock pillar only to bounce down the other side, suspended by a thread?

Near one of the cliffs stood a small cross. I assume that is where one of the threads broke, allowing the law of natural selection to do its work.

I have been violently opposed to unnecessary physical risk since I was a young child. My baby sister loved to go close to the edge.

As a child, she would slide close to the edge of the table, or waddle towards the edge of the Grand Canyon. It didn't matter. As long as there was an edge, she was there.

When she found out that walking right to the edge drove her older brother nuts, that just egged her on.

Then my father, instead of showing good sense and pulling sister back and spanking her soundly, joined her. I was convinced both of them were willing to fall over a cliff just to irk me.

Skydiving is another one. I once considered trying it, but then I thought, what if I went splat? How would they explain that at the funeral?

"He died doing what he loved," the officiator would drone, while everybody in the audience would think, "What a moron!"

No, I have never understood taking unnecessary physical risks, especially when so many people who thrive on such risks don't have the guts to take intellectual, political or philosophical risks.

If I offend somebody with this column, it is pretty harmless. One or two rock climbers might get mad and write a letter-to-the-editor--provided they are literate--but that is no big deal.

Yet, people say--even people who do risky things like go out on the ice with their pickup in November--how do you dare say those things? Aren't you afraid?

Of what? A little debate never hurt anybody.

Another risk sometimes worth taking: Financial risk. Entrepreneurs are the engine of our economy. They take risks. They sometimes fail. Then they start again. After many tries, some succeed and get rich.

Yet, more people seem willing to ski full bore down a black diamond ski slope, a risk that stands no chance of improving anybody or anything, than they are to risk some money investing in a new business.

As I try to understand those who take unnecessary physical risks, I have to attribute it to creative frustration.

Wasting away the prime of their life in a windowless cubicle, physical risk-takers reserve their true expressions of creativity for the weekend when they climb rocks or jump off cliffs or do something else that gives them enough of an adrenaline rush to convince them that they are alive.

Unfortunately, when one of them falls and goes splat, the rest of us have to clean up the mess.