Extreme Lunacy

Why do people do that?



Illustration by brad fitzpatrick

I’m happy if I make it through the day without busting a hip. That means: baby steps on ice, eyes on ground when in motion and no more ladders.

People who court death by engaging in “extreme” sports are nuts.

Take bungee jumping. There are no bungee-jumping businesses in New Hampshire, but don’t let that stop you. You can buy those elastic ropes to wrap around your ankles, fling yourself off Memorial Bridge over the Piscataqua, and two seconds later, get snapped up short — boing boing! — maybe breaking your neck. Or ricocheting off the bridge abutment, smashing your noggin.

Consider those hulks who shoot the unrunnable rapids of Cold Brook in Tamworth, in itty-bitty snub-nosed kayaks, negotiating giant boulders and killer maelstroms, while just below a cackling Charon waits to ferry across the River Styx all those paddlers who screw up just an itty bit. And those sinewy rock climbers who scale vertical walls like Cathedral Cliff in Conway — fiddling around for toe and handholds, poking those piton things into cracks.

There are the fanatics who aren’t content with groaning to the top of Mt. Washington in cars (burning up their brakes on the way down). Nope, they have to climb up Tuckerman Ravine, then ski down the thing. But hey, what’s a little avalanche, or wind chills of -380 degrees?

"What about the fools who, like Icarus, yearn to fly on their own?"

Some extreme loonies ferret out even bigger thrills than Tucks, which they consider child’s play. Snowboarders leap off peaks, dropping straight down for a hundred feet or so, twisting and somersaulting on the way. And now there’s extreme carving snowboarding, which involves leaning way over to one side, dragging a hand — sometimes two — their chests an inch or two from the snow. They’re in for some good times with sciatica.

Now snow jockeys lash cameras to their helmets so couch potatoes can go to YouTube and feel as if they’re riding on their shoulders as they zoom down mountains. Makes me want to hurl. One guy, rippling forearms bare, stuck one of those cameras on, and ice-picked his way up Huntington Ravine’s Diagonal Gully, which looked pretty vertical to me. The idea was to get up there and then ski down. We hear him huffing and, finally, when he has a spot of trouble scaling the top, he snarls, “This is so f*#$&!$ frustrating!” (No f*#$&!$ s&*$!)

What about the fools who, like Icarus, yearn to fly on their own? They run like mad, jump off cliffs, hang gliding. Or, seeking longer flights, they parasail, sometimes for miles, lucky if they land in trees rather than — ouch! — on power lines. Up they go in gliders hauled aloft by little airplanes at little airports around the state, fooling around on air currents, like the birds. But unlike the birds, they can’t flap their wings in a downdraft to get aloft again. And those ultralight contraptions that run on lawnmower engines? If that engine craps out, how would you get your foot on the mower engine to get a good yank on the starter cord?

None of that firmament terror for me. No siree Bob. I prefer terra firma.

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