I am going to die. As I crest the alpine highway summit in my brown, rust ridden truck, I am going too fast. When I bought the truck, which was fabricated two years after 1985, it didn't come with speakers and I never felt like spending any time or money putting them in, so I'm listening to music in headphones. Although they are keeping me awake, they are also breaking the ninja level of attentiveness and focus this endeavor requires. I promise I was diligently watching my speed for the entire four hour drive before this moment.
It's just over three weeks before January 14th and the road conditions are severe. It's pitch black outside this tin can on wheels, about 5 minutes before midnight, and the headlights of my truck reveal a thin layer of crisp, sparkling white snow that has just fallen on top of what I have just discovered is a completely iced over bobsled run; only the side barriers are replaced by towering white snow drifts twice the height of my truck, with patches of alpine trees, ditches or cliffs – some of which are high enough to guarantee my immediate demise when I reach the bottom.
I'm familiar with this corner of the road. I barely escaped this almost exact situation, in this exact stretch of road a few years earlier. This particular stretch of road on the Crowsnest Alpine Highway Summit in the Kootenay Mountains of British Columbia is immediately after the summit and steers slightly right with an outside camber, going downhill. Combined with the road conditions, the serendipitous topography of this particular asphalt is a perfect recipe for what's about to happen.
I turn my wheel slightly to the right. Nothing happens. I turn it a little bit more to the right. Still nothing happens. It feels like I'm floating, still right side up, in the air like a cloud. I'm sliding, I immediately realize, having just barely been very briefly lost in the thought of what it feels like to be a fluffy, white cloud floating in this beautiful, yet treacherous, winter wonder-land. Adrenaline hits me like a square kick in the chest. I over-correct the over-steer, but it doesn't matter anyway. I'm heading right across the road, into the other lane and there is nothing I can do. I continue to slide and spin across the road like a slightly rotating hockey puck. I am helpless. My rear tire hits the snow packed ditch first and in an instant I start to spin the other direction. Simultaneously, everything loose in my vehicle – pocket change, pens, books, nuts and bolts – launches into the air and turns into miniature improvised missiles.
When I remember it now, everything is extremely vivid, maybe due to the relative massive amounts of adrenaline my brain decided to inject into my body when it subconsciously thought my doom was near. Oddly enough, the conscious thought of dying didn't cross my mind – it all happened so quick. I was indeed afraid through the entirety, believing that I had lost complete control of my situation and was headed for a potential collision of some severity, but I didn't quite have the time to think about what might happen next. Fear, however, was responsible for why I had even attempted this mid-winter voyage in the first place, despite knowing the mortal risk from previous experience. I was heading to spend the holidays with a very close friend. I was afraid of being alone.
Fear is perhaps the greatest motivator for the human condition. Every person has their own unique quantity and quality of fears. Fear of rejection, fear of heights, fear of loss, fear of being alone. Fear among human creatures is possibly more diverse and unique than all the living things on the Earth. Some fears are deeply personal, but some fears, like the fear of death, are also shared. It seems at least biologically natural and logical, though, that most living things would need and want to preserve themselves. Looking back, I had nearly brushed death with that winter vehicle accident. Not two minutes after my truck lodged itself into that snow bank, a tractor trailer drove by in the opposing lane. But I survived without a scratch. Even my rusty old truck still runs today.
I am still going to die. We are all going to die. Fear of death wasn't responsible for my previous situation; it was fear of being alone. Our ignorance, carelessness and selfishness, often at some level, are rooted by fear. Consciously or unconsciously, fear, in many different forms, can drive us towards our demise, and not away from it. Perhaps we should fear each other, perhaps we should fear ourselves, or, perhaps, as a wise man once said, the only thing we should fear, is fear itself.