Sunday, June 27, 2010

North Fork dreams in memory of George Pringle Wright

In 1998 my good friend George died. He had battled cystic fibrosis and the complications that come with it since he was one year old. In his 30’s, already past his life expectancy, he became an accomplished whitewater kayaker. That is how we met. We taught kayaking together for several years but particularly enjoyed going paddling together. Our favorite stretch of river was Chamberlin falls on the North Fork of the American river.
The north fork is the epitome of perfect California Whitewater. It is free flowing. If the snow is not melting or a warm storm is not lashing the Sierra then there is no water. The beauty is fleeting. To be there and see it one must be committed to a grueling hike or be ready to paddle Class IV whitewater.
When the north fork is at its best, is on a sunny day in the spring when California Poppies line the walls of the canyon against an emerald green of buds of new oak leaves bursting into the spring air. The water, when it comes out of the shadows, is crystal clear to the point that the white gray, and golden boulders and cobble stones can be seen in the deepest of water. The rapids are pool drop, low waterfalls backed up by jumbles of house sized boulders. The water drops over the cleavages between gray rocks in deep green tongues that fall into snowy white foam piles. The eddies are blown glass in shades of blue and green.
George and I would return time after time to run the North Fork. We went when it was snowing and the water was steely gray and snow gathered on the rocks. We sipped hot chocolate from thermoses at take out while running the car heater on full blast. We went when it was sunny and warm and ate sandwiches while sitting up on the canyon side in a field of poppies. We discussed our runs through the rapids on end, analyzing every stroke and laughing at ourselves for being whitewater nerds. It seemed that we’d agree that every trip we did, was the best trip we ever did. We would marvel at how lucky we were that we could be there, playing in that sacred playground.
I always knew that he was sickly and that something was wrong, but I never asked. I could tell he didn’t want to talk about it. I knew he would when he was ready. About a week before he died, George called me from his hospital room to explain that he’d know that he’d had cystic fibrosis all his life. He asked me to explain to all of our friends why he had not talked about his illness in life. He didn’t want to dwell on the negative. He wanted to live life for the day. Then we said goodbye.
I learned a lot from George. He was passionate about what he did. Teaching kayaking was a passion for him. He truly wanted the best for his students. He loved his community and friends but refused to deal with people that “raised his blood pressure.” He always had a good attitude; even when he would spend weeks in the hospital fighting infections, or at home for months at a time recovering from illness. We would talk on the phone for hours about everything.
When he died, a few of his closest friends, and I paddled the North Fork in his memory. It was one of classic beautiful days. That was ten years ago.
In 2008 while I lay in a hospital bed, contemplating my life to date, I often thought of the north fork and how being there was a highlight of an otherwise extrodinary and fortunate life. I would also think of George and the suffering he experienced with courage, dignity and a positive outlook. Both of those thoughts gave me strength to fight, for my life, for the future of my family and for the outside, ever so faint hope, that one day I might return to that special place. Honestly, at the low point of my battle with cancer, I never thought that I would ever, in this life, have another chance to feel the cool waters of the North Fork lift the hull of my boat. That seemed too much to ask for a man battling for his life.

Yesterday Beth, one of my oldest and dearest paddling friends, and I paddled the North Fork. It was the same place the rocks were just imperceptibly smoother. The day was hot and the water shone like liquid jewels. The rapids distracted us from our daily trials and tribulations and the water soothed our souls. We both decided that we were incredibly lucky to be there and that it was a perfect day on the river.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When you have almost died, everything in life looks a little bit brighter, a little bit shinyer and a little bit happier. Then you go to Maui and it is like whammo! I felt like I was in the emerald kingdom of OZ. The greens are greener, there is a rainbow around every corner. The whales were leaping like lizards on a hot plate. The ocean was that special blue that is only reserved for HDTV ads. The kids had an awesome time, the grownups had an even better time.
A New Turn On:
I paddled an outrigger canoe for the first time, thanks to my old friend Leo. I am smitten with the sport. It is aerobic, it happens in the water and it has that hypnotic stoke of a technique based repetitive motion that melts the miles away. It is such a stoke that I might have to change the name of this blog to the puddin' canoeist. OK, I did do it in ideal conditions including 70 degree water and whales swimming up to me. Nevertheless, I am hooked. I have been really frustrated by my attempts to get back on the bike. The canoe may be a way of moving forward with a new fitness activity without the grief I've been feeling for the loss of cycling power.
I came home with a batch of poomoania. Whatever, I am now back at work and ready to go. Anyone want to go paddling?
Thanks for reading

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What's Next

Every year for the last 10 or so I have written goals and objectives for myself for the new year. The last two years those have been very very simple, 2008 was get out of pain ( that was berfore I knew what was causing the pain) and 2009 was recover. In years previous I have organized my goals up into personal, professional, athletic and spiritual. For 2010, now that I am mostly recovered, I am going back to the old way.

I have been thinking a lot about my athletic goals. I am waaaaaay out of shape. It is hard coming from where I was two years ago to now, to not beat myself up about my fitness. As a true puddin' I have always been pretty good abouyt only doing things that are funn and have immeditae reward. That is why it is much easier right now to watch House DVDs drink rum and eat bacon. I am already at 195 pounds which is 10 pounds heavier than I have ever been and 20 more than my fighting weight. On the psoitive side it is better than the 127 pounds that I weighed 14 months ago. The fact of th matter is that I just cant stand seeing the spare tire that has developed around my waist. There is no way that I am going to go out and buy another set of pants the next size up.
I haven't really gotten back on the bike yet. For some reason I am really having trouble with feeling ready for it. At the same time I really want it. So for now I am spending time in the gym on the walking/ running machine and the rowing machine. I am enjoying that, as well as the free weights and core work. I do feel like it is too early tgo set a big goal. No Death Ride this year. I would be really stoked if I could ride a century by next fall but I really don't know if that is realistic.
One of my goals is to be able to paddle Giant Gap this year. I think the hike in would truly be the biggest challenge for me. Not to say that the whitewater would not be a challenge. As a result I am alreaddy working on walking and getting my legs strong for downhills. I am also trying to figure out what boat to paddle... I am open to suggestions.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Outlive the Bastards

Billy posted something on facebook that made a memory come flooding back. His quote was "drink deep." Which brought to mind my favorite quote by Edward Abbey:

One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a
reluctant enthusiast... a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the
other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not
enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you
can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around
with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the
mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and
lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the
lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your
head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I
promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies,
over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and
their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive
the bastards.
Like may I read Abbey voraciously when I was young. He helped me form many of my attitudes. Especially the curmudgeonly environmentalist and passionate recreationalist. The quote says to me that it is important not to take any of your work too seriously, or better yet to realize that nothing is really that important in the grand scheme of things. Rambling out yonder is just a important as the most important brain surgery because what it is to save life if life cannot be enjoyed?

That is part of the essence of what it means to be a puddin'.

So that is my thought for the day... It feels good to be writing again. I took a long hiatus, who knows when I will post again but I've got a new spark for this blog. I'm gonna make a puddin' attempt at keeping it up.
Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Toughest Person I know

For over a year I have had a link posted to Check on KK. That is Kelley Kalafatich. She is recoverinng from a terrible disease called transverse mylitis. It has left her paralized and in lots of pain. Every day she wakes up to a pretty rough life. Every day she work on her goals. She doesn't complain and she always asks how you are doing.

Many people tell me that I handled my illness with grace. Thanks. I used Kelley as my role model. She has a video on You tube the link is here: See the video If you feel inspired by her story. Please think about donating a few bucks to her cause... and thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

What a great summer it has been. The last three weeks have been a whirlwind of fun. The family went to the Wausakee Club in Wisconsin as guest of Dr. KT and Mr. Bevridge. It was a wonderful trip with sailing, dining swimming fishing, canoeing, napping on the screen porch and more dining. It was such a great way to spend time withthe family. The girls never really stopped playing until we put them to bed at the end of the day.

Then we came home and had a visit from Mark K. and his fmaily Sierra and Jen. In the middle of that the girls had thier first day of school. The visit culminated with the whitewater voyages reunion. The raft company that the Chickenhawk and I worked for 15-20 years ago threw a party inculding a day on the water for all the old guides and thier families. It was so great to get together with all the old folks. Most of the old guides have moved away from this area so we hosted a party at our house one night.

Now Jim M. and his kids are visiting and we are having a great time again. It is such a blessing to have so many great friends and to be in touch with them after so many years. I love that much of the reuniting has been catalized by facebook. I have been spending a ton of time there finding out what is happening with people that I have know my whole life and with my current group of friends. It has really chenaged the way I stay in touch with people and I am pleased.

Work is good, my health is fine and life is the best.

That's it for now.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Zen and the Art of Kayak Rolling

I have always had some sort of sport that I focus much of my extra attention on. Recreation is a very important part of my life. Some have religion, some have art, I have outdoor recreation in one form or another. I think we all need something to help our spirits transcend the beat-down of daily life. For me, it is usually one sport at a time and I focus like a laser.

Right now it seems that post cancer and during recovery, whitewater kayaking is it. I "paddled" for many years before we had kids and stopped because riding was getting my attention. I am a rider, but I think I have always, first and foremost been a waterman. The call of the surf, the river and the sea are a siren song for me. The feeling of getting a boat or board up on a plane, when you are moving so fast that the water becomes almost a solid and the rules of interaction between you and it change is irresistible to me.

Water is a basic element. It holds the wisdom of the universe. Tom Robbins said, "Water invented humans as a means to transport itself across land." I buy that. I know that I have learned a lot from my time spent in and around the water. Much of it could be encapsulated in the basic magic trick of rolling a kayak.

Rolling is one of the strangest things that you can do. Think just about the physics of it, An upside-down kayak is just like a ship with a keel. The center of gravity is below the surface of the water by the pure fact that your body is hanging from it. Then using an ancient and amazing series of body language you flip the boat upright. That sounds interesting, but there is more to it than that.

Just like in so many challenges, the psychological aspect is much more daunting than the physical. Unlike the teachings of Yoga, meditation, or the basic human need, the first thing that rolling requires is the ability to hold one's breath; like a surfer being help down by a wave. Like and action hero finding sunken treasure. Like Jim on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom fighting an 800 pound 10 foot crocodile. You have to hold your breath under the stress of wondering when you are going to get to breath again, while performing a wicked series of unnatural, upside down movements.

When a beginning kayaker learns to roll they usually start in a pool. It is warm, calm, and there are people near by to help out. Once they have the basics down, they have a "pool roll." The next step is to go to the river acquire a "combat roll." For anyone, their first combat roll is a joyous moment. Since the alternative is swimming out of the boat, through a rapid, getting banged up and cold, emptying the boat, finding all the lost gear, and getting back in the boat. Just rolling up is a much preferred alternative.

The next step is to acquire a 'bomb proof roll." In other words you can roll just about anywhere, anytime, with or without a paddle. That is to become a Jedi of the kayak roll. It is to become a master of ones fear and basic desires; one who has the patience to wait or the foresight to jump on the moment to act. A master has the ability to face the dragon calmly and with a rational mind. A master knows, even upside down and backward where they are in a complex rapid. A master of the roll can go years without swimming. They become more and more proficient in their paddling. More and confident. However, the reality is that all kayakers are between swims. The master knows that ultimately, the river is in charge.

River running- kayaking, for me are analogous to life. After being a master of the roll, I am back to being a student. In the past few days of paddling, I have swam a couple of times. Two swims, many rolls. What stands out for me is the swims, not the rolls. I am not mad at myself. I am excited to go back to the basics. To work in the pool until my body, my muscle memory finds that bomb proof roll. And that, for me, is recreation.

Thanks for reading