Grand Junktion

Grand Junction, Colorado. May 3, 2003
AP Wire Services

This parody was written the few days after Aron Ralston was found. I am a great admirer of his. His book, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” is quite good.

A climber who amputated his arm with a pocketknife to free himself from a narrow, remote canyon in Utah was driven by a strong will to survive, a rescuer said yesterday. The rescuer, who admitted to vomiting at the sight of Aron Ralston’s severed arm as Ralston calmly carried it with his other good arm, told authorities that he was “shocked out of his Timberlands” when he came upon Ralston as he walked out of the deep canyon he had been pinned in for six days.
Apparently Ralston had finally decided that if he did not self-amputate his arm below the elbow, he would have died and been “nibbled on by every vermin this side of the Front Range,” as he was quoted saying. A Park Ranger, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there may yet be a legal battle over the rights to the severed arm.

“When the hiker cut his arm off on National Park lands, he may have waived the rights to it. We have seen a marked jump in tourist traffic and I can tell you that there is a growing camp that would like to see the limb left where it was originally lodged. It would be encapsulated in a temporary Plexiglas box while a more permanent structure could be built.” There was no word whether a red velvet rope would keep curious hikers from leaving skate industry decals on the box as a type of tribute to Ralston.
The hiker had been canyoneering in a tight, narrow section of Utah’s Badlands National Park in southeastern Utah when the 800-1000 pound rock shifted onto his right arm as it was wedged into a small crack. Ralston, an experienced outdoorsman, had told no one where he was going because, “then they just come and get you if you sleep in one extra day.” He had run out of food after two days and water after four.
“The biggest trouble I had,” he said, “was opening those freeze dried packages with one hand and my teeth.” When the accidental rescuer came upon him late yesterday, he was complaining of a chipped tooth and asked that he be allowed to see a dentist before consulting with, he described,
“those orthopedic nerds who coveted a spot as the team doctor for the American Gymnastic Team.”

The man who Ralston stumbled upon was hiking approximately one hundred yards in front of his wife and two teenage sons. After vomiting, he called his Salt Lake based company’s secretary and had her summon a military helicopter. Since the rescuer (who refused to give his name, citing legal reasons) did not know how to use the GPS system strapped to his L.L. Bean web belt, Ralston walked him through the set up procedure so that the co-ordinates could be relayed to the NFS chopper. When Ralston asked how long he had been hiking, the wife, who was also in the bushes vomiting at the sight of the severed limb, screamed out, “The fucking H2 is right there Marvin, in the fucking parking lot next to the kiosk where you were arguing with the ranger over the $4 per day, per person entry fee.”
When Ralston was finally airlifted to a Salt Lake City, Utah military hospital at the request of Norman Schwarzkopf, who heard about the story while in Salt Lake doing a book signing, Ralston asked only for an apple juice with no ice and an extra bag of salted pretzels.
Reportedly, the outdoor retailer REI is offering to pay for all of Ralston’s medical costs in return for the placement of a small decal on his carbon fiber prosthetic and 24 store appearances. The knife he used to severe his own arm will be on display at the Smithsonian for two weeks before going on tour with the Guns and Ammo Distributor show.
When asked how he got the courage to cut off his own arm, Ralston told David Letterman, “It wasn’t that hard really, kind of like cutting a chicken wing before you toss it on the bar-b-cue. Only without the fork to hold the wing still. That’s what the big rock was doing for me.” Ralston then pulled his bandages off and showed his new red-veined stump to the camera just before the network cut to a North Face commercial.
In a follow up interview with Barbara Walters, the aging TV personality asked Ralston if it hurt “really, really bad,” the one arm hiker only replied that he’d like to get his knife back before Labor Day, if possible.

What Athletes Carry

Siri Lindley carries a necklace with tiny, sometimes odd reminders of people and places and good times. The only time she will remove it is when she races. This she does with geat hesitancy. Carol Montgomery carries one pair of beige levis on every trip she takes. When they get dirty after a week in Peru or Japan, she rinses them in the sink with the hotel shampoo. Jimmy Riccetello carries two harmonicas, one in C major for the easy folk songs before the race and one in E for the blues if he has not done well.

Some athletes carry extra safety pins, vaseline for the private parts or that cooking spray they use to coat their wetsuits. Others won’t go to a race without their favorite CD containing a pre-race ‘psyche song’. The smarter ones carry sunscreen and lip balm. The crooks carry the hotel towels home. The well-planned always have aspirin, 5 mm allen wrenches and extra lace locks, all of which are often borrowed and rarely returned. Every endurance athlete I know has a banana, a PowerBar and a water bottle on the seat of their car.
Some carry great dreams in their head, dreams of winning, dreams of taking flight, dreams of finishing before the sun goes down. The dreams see familiar to the outside listener but unique to the weaver of that personal quest.
Some carry memories like buckets of water from a well, fetched when one is thirsty or in need of a bath. Others carry their memories like a knapsack sewn into the skin of their backs, an extra place to store all that they have experienced, too afraid to put the bad parts in their heads, to smart to let the good times out of their sight and sometimes too stupid to know the difference. But carry them they do, as we all must in whatever place and form makes sense at the time.

A lot of athletes carry guilt. And oddly enough, they carry it proudly, a public display of remorse for missing a workout or failing to place in their age group. “I can’t believe I missed that last 2 miles of the 2 hr run. I really suck”, they say. Or, “You? I only swam 20,000 yards last week. I doubt I’ll ever get back into shape. Might as well hang it up.”
Yes, we are a subculture of carriers. Be it tangible things, large or small or a pot pourri of emotional baggage, athletes seem to be the Sherpas of the physical world. There is nothing we will not bruden ourself with if we believe that it will make us faster, stronger, or more popular with our piers.
Nothing, it seems, is desposable– t-shirt drawers that don’t close, old cog sets that have five gears, pictures from our first race (and just about every other one since). Some of it is neccesary for our safety, like helmets and flashlights and 4 pair of swim goggles. Others run towards the vein of vanity, tight black skirts for the awards ceremonies and fingernail clippers to get the chain grease out from under our finger nails. A lot of what I carry has more to do with my sanity than the event I am traveling to (Ok, let’s see, guitar, laptop, 8 books…did I forget anything?).

I often wonder if we carry too much with us. Not the the things you can see and taste and smell and touch but the constant messages in our heads. Did I train hard enough? Too hard? Is so-and-so going to be there today? Is my new training plan correct? Is my girlfriend going to drop me if I fall asleep at 9:00 p.m. again? Are my quads getting too big to be sexy?
I suppose that in some cases we have no coice: we take our material where we find it, which is in our life, at the intersection of past and present. For the athlete that means carrying tired eyes, sunburn noses, race applications and legs that never seem to have much real spring to them anymore.
But it also means carrying the smiles of training partners when they do well, great songs in our heads during a set of 12 x 100 yards, stickers on our bumpers that we are proud of. And plans, always plans for a new running route, a race that sounds “neat”, a new bike instead of a new couch. Yes, we are good with the plans that we carry.

If builders were born to take away open space, and artists were put on this earth to create pictures and music and merchants are destined to dwell in a world of commerce, athletes are presupposed to movement. But movement itself connotates the burden of transportation in its passage. It carries with it some innate expectancy that if we are moving, whether it be in the form or dance, jump, running, travel through a foreign medium like water or snow or even with the advantage of mechanical object (bike, car, plane, parachute, boat) then we are to carry something with us.
What if we were to reject that package? What if we were to train and race and plan, even dream, without thought, expectation or outcome; to play like a child, simply for the sake of play itself? To carry nothing but our bodies and our spirit and our soul?
What would the incredible lightness feel like?

The Sound of Everyone Surfing

I like other surfers. I just don’t like them when they’re surfing.
If that sounds like a veterinarian saying that he or she likes dogs, but not when they bark or that I enjoy the company of our in-laws, so long as they are asleep, well, so be it.
Before you label me a self-severing curmudgeon, indulge my explanation of this diametric statement that most surfers should understand while the non-surfer scratches his head, the stereotype reinforced.
Place yourself in this scene: You go to a party wearing an aloha shirt and slaps. Your nose is sun burnt and peeling. You silently ooze that pervasive stoke of having scored good surf that morning.
Fate being what it is, you end up pouring beers and swapping stories with guys just like yourself. All is right with the world.
But when that same carload pulls up to your empty lineup the next morning, your stomach turns. Damn, can’t they find their own spot?
As a student of the sociology of sport, I find it particularly interesting that we, as surfers, are one of only a handful of other sportsmen who really don’t like to see other members of our chosen activity. Oh, we may flatter ourselves with the label of ‘tribe’ or ‘subculture’, but that appears as self- inflated profiling and means nothing unless the anecdotal evidence is there to back it up.

And you could dumb-down the theory, call it “supply and demand”, no different than having to wait for a tennis court on a crowded Sunday morning. But it is more than that. So much more.
Surfers are innately individualistic, born to stand, not above, but apart from the seething morass of humanity. We don’t do things en masse. That would be an affront to the very nature of our being. And especially, we don’t ride waves together. Not now anyways.
There was a time though, not that long ago, when riding waves with other surfers was considered not only acceptable, but culturally “correct”, safer, and for all means and purposes, more fun. The ancient Hawaiians shared waves, the early California pioneers shared waves, and even the big wave test pilot riders of the late 50’s took off on the same behemoth face merely for the sake of sharing their fear.
As far as anyone can tell, it was likely the advent of the lighter weight balsa boards and their resultant ability to “climb and drop” as they rode, that originally instigated the concept of ‘one man-one wave.’
Now though, when we speak to other surfers of the day’s conditions, we ask first of the crowd factor, not the size, shape, surface conditions or
how one’s board performed. To “score” is to get it alone, even if it is one foot slop. How odd. How strange. How very sad.
Last winter I found myself surfing a cold, sharky, mysto spot up on the Central Coast, alone, and secretly coveted another body in the line- up…just in case. My admittedly weak thoughts took me back to my own home break the summer before; a fat, mushy wave that favors the gray haired pony tailed set, replete with their new 9’6”s cradled in their Thule rack-adorned SUVs.
I had been watching one set wave after another go to the millionaires as I sat patiently on my dog-eared 6’8”. Finally, I told some V.P. of Marketing that I was going on the next wave and would he mind if I stayed out on the shoulder and allowed him his statuesque perch while I burned up a few rail to rail calories.

He turned to me and grunted a reply that highly suggested I ride a “long board” if I wanted to surf here.
While I didn’t get mad, I couldn’t let it go; my demented reaction prompted, no doubt, by the fact that I lived up the street, worked on the beaches and spent 7 or 8 sessions a week riding that yawner of a wave.
So, with cynicism as fuel, I proceeded to rotate, in sequence, my gradually lengthening craft conveniently stored in the lifeguard tower on the beach, each time asking my perplexed new friend if “this was big enough”? An airbrushed 9’0” Minard, a 10 ft rescue board, a 13ft. surf ski and finally a 19 ft Eaton racing paddle craft; I wondered just what he meant by needing a long board.
Finally, I asked him if he would come in to the beach and help me row the two-man dory back out. That way, I explained, we could ride waves together and not be in each other’s way.
He called me psycho and left the water. But I wondered who was more mentally unstable at that moment. I mean, I didn’t want to stuff the guy on take off and call him a kook. My kids were on the beach, same as his. I just wanted him to share the ‘love’, if only in gesture. Not chastise me for my shortened board, as if he was referring to something anatomical.
Face it. In highly populated coastal locales, the waters are crowded. Blame it on man’s search for a connection to nature. Blame it on the image propagated by the clothing manufacturers and the media. Blame it on the burgeoning ‘wahine craze’. Blame it on the long boards, leashes and unobtanium-lined wetsuits. Hell, blame it on yourself for not becoming a lacrosse player. It doesn’t matter. People like to surf.

And they like to think of themselves as the iconic wanderer, Juan Cabrillo or R.H. Dana with the optional leather and CD changer.
Urban surfing will only survive if we recognize the futility of posturing, of expecting and requiring that every wave we get to ride will be un-encumbered by another surfer. Maybe the answer to this metro- madness is a type of controlled Marxism, but with the emphasis on the pleasure of sharing, of giving and receiving not because the unwritten rules say so, but because you want to; kind of like the Dalai Lama passing out wax at Malibu or Rodney King guiding newcomers down the trail at Lunada Bay.
This idealism may not fit with the rebellious nature of surfers everywhere and I doubt I’m going to suggest Johnny Boy go on Prozac, but trust me, you don’t want the binary opposite: a type of forced control and order in the line-up, like some crowded bakery where numbers are handed out. “Set wave serving number 49! Number 49 your order is ready to ride!”
Or worse yet, picture a gallery of fresh law school graduates, scanning the line up for potential contingency cases causing “mental duress”. Most of us would quite surfing and take up lacrosse.
I’m not advocating drop-ins or a loss of respect for those who have paid their dues at a spot over the years. But if we choose to inhabit metropolitan regions and spend significant periods of time surfing crowded waves, maybe we should try a different tack than the current “meanest growl + biggest stick = most waves” scenario.

Then again there is always the real deal, the search for empty waves in every pocket of the globe. I know that I could live in a tree house in the Seychelles. But like all things, it seems, there is an attempt to achieve a sense of balance, convince the wife and kids that malaria night sweats are really not that bad. Not nearly as bad as trying a “go-behind” with some dude you never met, the both of you falling, coming up laughing, remembering that the ancient Hawaiians thought it rude to take off on a wave without another member of the tribe to share the experience.
It’s like an old friend of mine says, “Never take off on the first wave of the set. Wait for the last wave so that all those paddling back out can watch you, and share and hoot.”
And probably cut you off on the next set. Just so long as they ask first.