Deadly car crashes.
Endless road work.
All synonymous with ‘the Malahat’ – both an 1100-foot mountain and a twisting highway on Vancouver Island.
When conditions aren’t ideal it’s awful to drive – no lights illuminate the road, few barriers separate speeding cars from massive trucks, and rain, fog, and snow slicken the pavement and obscure already obstructed views.
Oh, but the view from the summit is extraordinary.
Just hundreds of meters away from the congested highway is a mostly deserted trail. Last weekend I ran to the summit. In two-hours I saw two dirt-bikers and no one else. On an island of several hundred thousand people, I was alone.
The trail to the summit was mostly satisfying – hard-packed dirt and gradual elevation. Closer to the top, a rocky pathway replaced the earthen trail. Running slowed to a jog, every step a potential twisted ankle or inglorious fall.
Soon after, running ceased altogether when I chose the direct route to the top. Straight up a gully that must be a continual stream of water from November through spring. But last weekend, on a hot dry day with summer on the horizon it was dry and completely accessible. I grabbed a broken branch and used it as a walking stick to help as I scrambled my way up.
The scramble was worth it.
Oh, that view.
Blue sky, bluer ocean, distant mountains, a forest canopy, and an international airport as small as a postage stamp.
Travellers from across the country and around the world drive up the Malahat highway, exit at the scenic viewpoints, and revel at the glorious view. Thousands – tens of thousands – do it every year.
Far fewer take the trail to the top. Dozens. Hundreds. Runners like me. Hikers, mountain-bikers and quad-riders.
We are drawn by the same thing. Beauty. Magnificence. Nature’s wonders.
The attraction is so understandable. The destination is worth the journey.
Which makes the next part so hard for me to understand.
Garbage at the top. Beer cans. Plastic. Paper.
Lucky lager cans tucked into the base of a hydro tower. A fire pit filled with garbage.
Who does that? Who makes the effort to get to the top precisely because it is beautiful and then purposely despoils that beauty? The beer cans tucked into the hydro-tower. More cans, paper, and plastic left almost lovingly behind in the pit.
I don’t have the answer. My gut reaction is that anyone who does that is an asshole. I hate using that language in my writing, but it’s hard to feel otherwise.
But maybe that’s not fair. Maybe the person who makes the effort to get to the top and then discards their trash for others to clean is me on a bad day. Maybe it’s you. Those people are someone’s neighbours. They’re the people we see at the grocery store. People we hire, work with, or work for. Maybe our friends. Whoever they are, they walk among us.
I try and understand. Try to be sympathetic. Usually, my anger and disgust overpower empathy.
How are we supposed to understand people who clearly appreciate beauty, yet are so reckless in making the very place they worked so hard to arrive at, less beautiful?
There may be a million answers to that question. Philosophical, spiritual, practical. There may be no answers.
I’ve given up trying to understand. I find great wisdom in the words of Lee Child. Author of the massively best-selling Jack Reacher series, something he wrote several books back has stuck with me ever since – “People are complicated.”
I’m not sure truer words have ever been spoken, and I don’t think a philosopher, or a Nobel laureate could say it any better than that.
People are complicated.
Even at the top of the Malahat.