Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Off the freeway and into the fault trace...

I've really been enjoying reading all of the death-defying stories that have been posted around the geoblogosphere of late (though I hope it doesn't make me a bad person for enjoying accounts of dire peril from people I wouldn't want to see succumbing to that peril). It becomes quite evident that having a death wish, or at least not fearing death, comes with the territory of being a geologist. But then, does not having field experience with potential mortality attached inherently mark someone as a newbie to the field?

I think it does, at least in my case. The most "dangerous" thing I've done deliberately so far is park my car on a bunch of infamous faults. When I tell my friends in Virginia that I've done this, they get pretty freaked out; presumably, they don't understand how slim the odds of the fault rupturing in the few minutes my car is on it are. (And even if it were to go off while my car was there, I told them, if the car is parked, that would likely mean I would not be in it in the time, so the odds of me getting strike-slipped in half are even slimmer. They seemed moderately relieved.)

Here, we have a bad cameraphone photo of my car parked on the San Jacinto Fault in San Bernardino.

And here is my car on the San Andreas (with its convenient street sign), also in San Bernardino.

And this is my friend's car (which is the same model as mine, only darker gray), which she parked on the Calaveras Fault in Hollister, promptly after I said, "You'd better not park right on the fault."

But for this silliness, I did have a very serious very near death experience involving a car on the way to some geological activities. I was driving from Riverside to Soledad to meet a friend for a week-long road trip along the San Andreas. Just after getting off the terrifying California state route 46 and onto the apparently-safer US-101, strong wind shoved my car partway into the left lane. The problem was that another car was coming in that lane, so I corrected abruptly to avoid collision. I did, indeed, avoid a run-in with that car, but it turns out that I corrected too abruptly and ended up spinning off the freeway and rolling down a 15-foot embankment. I landed like this:

Amazingly, I had no injuries other than a pulled muscle in my neck, and we were still able to go on the road trip in my friend's car.

I think that any person would take stock of where they were in life and what they wanted to do with that chance to keep living after an incident like this. But chances are any sane person would think, "I nearly died heading to a geological site. Is this the safest thing for me to do with my life?" But me, I thought, "That road trip was the best thing I could have done after the accident. This really is what I want to study."

So there's hope for me yet in terms of geologically death-defying photographs.

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