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Fed shutdown creates roadkill risks

The unintended consequences of Washington theatrics

November 4, 2013
KEYWORDS government
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By now, the federal government shutdown of early October is either faded news that reached some sort of settlement, or the U.S. has defaulted on its gargantuan debt and who knows, we are spiraling wildly out of control in a global economic meltdown, facing a depression… or life simply goes on.

Regardless, I learned something about federal shutdowns – they can be dangerous to your health.

Yes. I know there were worries about homeland security, border control, transportation systems, emergency management systems, federal employee furloughs and regulators  not being able to regulate. That was an upside to the mess on the Potomac for beleaguered safety and health managers.

I’m referring to something more personal here. One early morning on October 3rd, with the sun not yet making its appearance and a thick mist rising from wet turf, I drove over to Valley Forge National Historical Park for a jog along its trails. Oops, there’s a park ranger’s SUV with flashing lights blocking the trail. What is up?

Sorry, but

“Sorry. The park’s closed due to the shutdown. That means no running on the trails. I know, it’s disappointing, frustrating. All I can tell you is, write your congressman,” said the friendly ranger.

So I did an about-face and jogged back to where I had parked my car. Then I tbought, it’s too nice of a morning to run on a treadmill at the Y. So I jogged past my car, hopped down an embankment and jogged along the side of the road, a very busy Route 23 with cars and trucks and school buses streaming along during morning rush hour.

This was not a comfortable feeling. I had a narrow lane between the white line boundary of Route 23 and a grassy embankment. Most vehicles veered far out of the way to get around me. I jogged down one hill, up another, then reversed course and went back down the one hill and started to climb the second.

This was dangerous going and I knew it. There’s a curve to this hill I was climbing and cars come whizzing around it like a Grand Prix road course, picking up speed going downhill. I ran facing the oncoming traffic so I could see any distracted drivers coming. I didn’t want to run in the same direction as the traffic flow and get ambushed from behind.

Not a good place to be

There are a ton of stories of joggers who have been blindsided by cars and severely hurt, if not killed. I’m not talking about running at night when visibility is key and you should be wearing a hi-viz vest with reflective tape. I was jogging at daybreak, against the flow of rush hour traffic, on a road and a particularly hairy section of the road I’d never venture on if not for the park shutdown.

So I decided to take a chance and climbed back up the grassy embankment and got back on the asphalt trail. Within, oh, 30 seconds I see another park ranger riding toward me on a bike. He, too, is friendly and understanding. But a federal shutdown is a federal shutdown.

“You’ve been told, haven’t you, that the park is closed and there is no running allowed on the loop trail,” he said. “Yes, I know,” I said. But I motioned to the roar of vehicles streaming by on the two-lane Route 23 and said, “But there are a lot of cars out there, and really not enough room to run.” The ranger nodded in agreement and said, “I know,” but “you can’t stay on the trail.”

Weighing the odds

So back on the road I jogged. This is where a risk tolerance decision comes into play. I could just drive home and run another day. I could go to the Y and hit the treadmill. But I prefer running outdoors when the weather’s nice, and Valley Forge is a good jogging test, with little flat land and a series of soft rolling hills of varying lengths and steepness. I thought my chances of actually getting hit by a car were slim. (“Accidents always happen to the other guy, don’t you know?) My tolerance for this particular at-risk behavior was something I could live with – or so I hoped –  so off I went to jog several  more miles on Route 23.

This was no time to have headphones or ear buds in place listing to tunes. Putting myself in this position called for full-blown situational awareness, mindfulness, focused attention, call it what you will. I completed my run without getting clipped by a rear view mirror or run off the road by some guy gabbing on his cell, car weaving back and forth.

The risk was tolerable for that day, but I didn’t do it again. Why flirt with the fates? So it’s back indoors to the Y’s treadmill, or finding something outside hopefully a bit flatter than Valley Forge’s gentle and at times not-so-gentle hills.

Changing views on risk

Strange, isn’t it, how taking a risk can be tolerable one day, or under certain conditions, and then another day, or upon further review, we find it intolerable?

Emotions get in the mix, and emotions are fleeting. I was angry when the park rangers told me I must get off the park land. It was a beautiful fall morning, the park was beautiful, and I was set for a pleasurable jog. Plus, this is Valley Forge, for crying out loud. I didn’t think anyone “owned” this sacred land except the history books. So in a huff  over the stupidity and childish ways of politicians who have nothing better to do than play a game of chicken and read “Green Eggs and Ham” to their kids over CSPAN (Hello Senator Ted Cruz) I gritted my teeth and ran on some dangerous roads. Later when I calmed down I realized that was a bit of stupidity on my own part. Luckily I got the chance to reflect and see the error of my emotions. Not all risk-takers are so lucky.

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