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I found an orange desk chair by the recycling bins this morning. This thing looks like a throwback straight from the seventies. Faux-leather armrests, coarse-woven orange upholstery, heavy steel wheels and rollers. I rescued this thing from its useless perch; after all, I have a problem with still-useful things being tossed needlessly aside due to fashionability. I follow a very Soviet style of thought on consumption, the same style of thought which kept the Soyuz technology in use far after it became entirely obsolete -- If it ain't broke, don't fix it. But unfortunately things do break sometimes. When they are records, we more often than not cheer. Whether it was Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games streak or Lance Armstrong winning a sixth (and then seventh) Tour de France we instinctively are drawn toward legends. But sometimes a legend carries a dark side with it...


An ignominious record was broken on Friday; no one stood to cheer. This was not even bittersweet, instead stinging like the gale-force winds which whip 'round the Himalayas on the calmest of days. K2, indisputably the second-tallest mountain in the world at 8611 meters (28,251 feet) and arguably the hardest to summit, has reached a mortifying high. August 1, 2008 will go down in the books as the deadliest day in the mountain's history. Eleven people are dead after avalanches coursed over the slope. Others are currently struggling to hold on,The final approach to K2's summit... grimly clutching to what little shelter the mountain affords and praying for rescue. Two Dutch climbers have been helicoptered off the mountain so far, but more still remain fighting for life...


The day started clear, scores of climbers from multiple parties setting out for the summit. Twenty-five would reach the pinnacle, though some would make the classic mistake of not following schedule and pushing forward too late in the day. This isn't the same situation as what happened in Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air on Everest in 1996. Instead, it was the snapping of an ice pillar in the Bottleneck just below the summit which set off an avalanche, most likely because of all the traffic on the upper slopes. Nine climbers would be swept away from their fixed ropes by the avalanche as they descended; another climber plummeted to his demise, and a porter died saving another member of one of the expeditions. The total by the end of the day would end at eleven confirmed dead...


What is the key problem here? Is it merely the dangers inherent in one of the most extreme athletic feats possible for the human body? Or is it the exponential increase of traffic on these mountains? Reinhold Messner, the first person to summit Everest by himself and without canned oxygen and the first guy to survive to summit all fourteen 8000-plus-meter peaks, has said, "We attract tourists to these regions where we can't guarantee their security. Over time, our only chance at safety will depend on not turning the mountains into Disneyland." Yet, as Krakauer attested as one of the members of that ill-fated 1996 expedition as an Outside journalist doing a feature story about the mountain, the widespread use of oxygen, the preponderance of guide services and the rising moneyed classes from around the world are all contributing to turn these mountains into potentially-fatal theme parks for the rich. Certainly not everyone who goes to climb these mountains is in it just for status, but the overall rise in traffic on the mountainsides and the corresponding rise in trash left on the mountainsides is bastardizing and cheapening any reasonable intentions which brought people to the various Himalayan slopes year after deadly year -- whether or not they get out alive, which is never guaranteed...


But then again even the most innocuous of sports can take lives. One does not have to be clinging to an oxygen-starved Himalayan peak to risk his or her life daily, and disaster can strike around any corner. "I don’t want to be killed by a car, so I don’t want to talk on the phone on the way home." These were the last words of nineteen-year-old Autumn Grohowski, as spoken to her father and reported by Bob Mionske for VeloNews, in her final turns of the cranks on her bicycle before she was blindsided by a drunk driver coming through a closed railroad crossing. She had crossed into the oncoming lane -- which she assumed would be clear of traffic since it was directly before the railroad tracks which were gated off -- to turn onto the bike path when the motorist blew through the gate and plowed through her bicycle. She didn't die immediately. She hung on life support but, unable to survive without the machines, was released from her agony. Autumn Grohowski died despite being in a situation which had proven safe to her numerous times in life, a situation which seemed forever a logical choice.


That's the real problem. The climbers on K2 can blame nature, but it was no one but themselves who led them to the events of that moment which led to their perishing. Grohowski, meanwhile, had a life ahead of her. And now, instead of being punished for his 0.14 blood-alcohol level and gross disregard for safety barriers and speed limits, Gregory Moyer gets a full reprieve after a year. That's when his license will be back off of suspension and he'll be able to climb back behind the wheel, six months after his jail release. That's right... only six months for the death of a teenager.


Why such leniency? Well, the judge ruled that, because Grohowski was in the opposite lane while turning, she was culpable for her death despite the fact that the path should unequivocally have been clear of traffic as the train passed. That's the real sad thing in our world -- even as we try to do all the right things (remember how she hung up the cellphone?), the world can implode. When life looks like easy street there is danger at your door. All the care and attentiveness in the world cannot prevent mishaps like this disaster from occurring. But when even the very systems which are designed to bring justice to an unjust situation fail those who need it most, the futility of it all comes to the forefront and leaves those remaining with nothing but misery and emptiness. Autumn's father Kris, despondent with the results of the trial which saw her killer take a soft slap to the hamate and scaphoid for his crimes, committed suicide after the verdict came down...


Whether it is the poor decisions we make while intoxicated or the slew of oxygen bottles left behind in a final fatal pass of a high-mountain peak, humanity is committing its own sad form of suicide and homicide as it plays out its sad little drama. Sports can be a salve for this consciousness, an escape from the shocking reality that is our trip on this celestial orb. Sadly, though, sometimes reality interludes and interferes with the release. So enjoy every last moment possible and never take your reality for granted. The variables are constantly changing... some discarded things find new life, but humans never do...


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