Tag Archives: outdoors
I am afraid of neither cliché nor dumpster. I may be a little bit afraid of going all Johnny Utah and trying to teach myself how to ride a cliché in Red Hot Chili Pepper infested waters, so I settle for sitting on the couch and painting what should otherwise be a sporting good.
I found it in a dumpster. I saw it as a low rent project that would allow me the tools to learn my next sporting hobby. I had dreams of riding waves and floating just out beyond the break.
Two years later I have ridden very little beyond a sofa and sadly, I float a bit too easily in the pool.
Then I got an idea.
It is still rideable. At least in theory.
It is easy to find- hit the west coast somewhere around Los Angeles, then go north. Sand and palm trees will eventually turn into cliffs covered in succulents. That is Big Sur.There aren’t many people there, at least not by California standards. There are camp grounds, small resorts, and the coast. Mostly, almost completely, there is the coast.
That is why people go there.
I went there because I had never been and I needed to go somewhere.
It is the right kind of place for that. It is unincorporated, protected, and gorgeous.I am happily none of those things. Mostly I am hungry and just a touch bored.
Big Sur is also the right kind of place for that.
More specifically, the Maiden Publick House, a pub right behind the River Inn is the kind of place where you can go pretend like you are in Brooklyn in 2008… which is pretending to be Appalachia in 1920. But just like believing and clapping makes Tinker Bell real, being a talented musician who is giving it your all, makes this music great.
I snickered a little when the bearded man wearing Carhart overalls finished his drink at the bar and joined the band. It was like someone had watched too many Lumineers videos, or maybe the Avett Brothers-but they were good. I liked it. A lot.
I am sure there is some sort of line that when crossed, things like authenticity or performance become the same, but I don’t know where that is so I just try to enjoy stuff.
Stuff like elephant seals.
These giant things without legs flop around and make an incredibly loud noise when they tip their head back letting this big trunk like nose drop down inside their throat.
Somehow I found myself at the summit of Emigration Canyon at 9pm, prepared to ride a skateboard down a lightless winter road. I had planned to spend the evening watching TV but there I was with sweaty palms and shaky knees, all because I didn’t know the guys who invited me up there well enough to say no. Brooks and Daniel had knocked on the door of my dorm room and said “hey, we need a third. Wanna come?” I had no idea what they meant by a “third” so of course I said yes.
Riding in their Volkswagen bus up the canyon they explained to me that the idea is that two of us would ride the longboards down the canyon road, and the third would drive the van behind the skaters, to both give them light as well as block the way of any traffic that may be coming down the road. I assumed I was to be the driver. “Naw man. You can drive the next run. You are doing us a favor so you should get to go first. Besides, Sophia gets kinda nervous without me in the car.” Sophia was the two year old girl smiling at us from her car seat. This was Utah after all and it is not uncommon for an undergrad to be married with a two year old named Sophia.
“Uh. Cool. Thanks. Uh… I have never ridden a longboard before. Maybe I shouldn’t go first.”
“What? No way! Don’t worry bro, we have never ridden the canyon before either so we are like even. No worries bro.”
I was a very good student so this made perfect sense.
It was explained to me that longboarding is nearly the same as snowboarding, which I had plenty of experience with, except for the whole stopping business. Since you can’t really stop a longboard they told me that the key is in checking your speed with weaving turns, and when that doesn’t slow you down enough, you simply jump off the board before you get going too fast. I asked how fast is too fast and they just chuckled and responded that it would depend on how fast you can run as you jump off onto your feet. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that concept but I was already in the car. It was too late.
So there I was. The headlights of the van cast our shadows down in front of us and Daniel just smiled and said, “Here we go,” and pushed off. He was a good ten yards out ahead when I did the same. I could feel the rumble of rough pavement travel through the wheels, past my feet, and into my knees. I made a couple of awkward turns and leapt off the board landing on my feet. The board just rumbled into a snowbank. Daniel had done the same up ahead and looking back shouted “This ain’t so bad is it?” We both pushed off again. As we made our way down the dark canyon road I started to get the hang of it. I was cautious at first, jumping off at the slightest hint of discomfort, but I began to sprout some courage. Perhaps it wasn’t real courage but more a mix of adrenaline and embarrassment. I started pushing myself a little more than before.
I started leaning into the turns and holding on instead of bailing. I shifted my weight to the front foot and with my back foot I slid the tail of the board out making turn after turn. I felt fear slip away replaced by fun. I started to like it. I liked the winter wind biting my face, the blur of the yellow dashes as they sped past my feet, and the rhythmic sway of carving turns down the road. Yes. I liked this. But then a shaky turn snapped me out of it. My wheels caught just a little and as I regained my balance I regained my senses. I was going just a little too fast. Daniel was behind me now and the headlights were behind even more. I was right at the edge of controlling the board, but unfortunately going much faster than I could run. I turned by leaning back on my heels- an awkward angle from which to jump. I tuned the other way leaning on my toes- not as awkward but twice as fast. Stuck. Stuck riding a plank projectile. I began eying the snowbanks on the side of the road, planning, or timing, my last hope of escape. Not that one, there is a ditch between me and the bank. Not this one, I’m not quite ready. Too afraid. Going faster. It has to be the next one. I have to hit the next snow bank. I prepare to eject.
And as I leaned into the turn aiming at the snowbank, the glow of the snow disappeared, replaced by the dull grey of a guardrail.
Time stood still in my mind as I floated in air above the pavement. I moved my legs as if to run, hoping that when my feet finally touched down I might, somehow, stay upright. I did not. My legs were moving at the speed of me and the ground was moving at the speed of light. When feet hit ground they slowed, but torso head and arms did not. I tucked my head as I rolled bottom over top and put my arms out in front before I did tumble number two. The board clanked off the rail and ricochet back into a ditch on the other side of the road. I, having caught myself in push-up position, stood upright and stared at nothing. “Duuuuuuuuuude!” Daniel shouted as he came bounding up beside me. Startled back out of my slow motion daze I grinned and sauntered off to reclaim the board. “You cool?” Daniel asked. “Yeah. That scared the crap out of me. We are almost to the bottom, let’s finish up.” “Hecks yeah,” he agreed.
I tried to push off but couldn’t stand on the board. My legs had obtained this uncontrollable wobble that I didn’t notice till I tried to stand on the board. Two legs were fine, but when I lifted one foot up to stand on the board I was all Jell-o from the waist down. I was done. I expressed my unfortunate failure to Daniel and he compassionately replied, “Well broham, looks you got the wheel for the rest of the night.”
Back up at the top of the canyon Brooks stepped on the emergency brake and hopped out. I jumped over into the driver seat, smiled back at the kid in the car seat, and tried to grab the wheel. It wasn’t till I gripped the wheel that I realized that where I once had palms, I now had a mixture of flesh, gravel, and gore. Hamburger is great on a grill but gross on your hands and I figured the polite thing to do would be to simply drive with my finger tips.
When I got back to married student housing my wife was sitting on the couch. I said “Hey babe,” nonchalantly and she mumbled “hey,” staring at the television. I went right to the bathroom, normal behavior, but once inside I didn’t pee but rather flushed the toilet with my foot as my hands were in the sink trying to rinse away gravel and blood. I walked back into the other room and flopped onto the open end of the couch.
“Scrubs. Where ya been?”
“So funny thing. Brooks and Daniel came by and invited me to go longboarding with them. I had never been before. It was cool.”
She looked at me sideways in the way she always did when I talk about, or do things, that she did not understand or have any desire to understand; which was normal and often.
“”Oh. Cool.” Was all she said. It was at about this point, the two of us quietly looking at the screen, when she instinctively reached over to hold my hand. Her fingers brushed my palm and my hand involuntarily jerked away. It startled her. She looked at me. Looked at my hand. She looked at me. Then without a word she just shook her head and turned back to the television.
On my next birthday she bought me a longboard of my own.
Sometimes grown-ups make excuses in an attempt to justify childish decisions. Take for example my parents’ ATVs. We never had such things when I was a kid. Once they moved out to the middle of nowhere they suddenly “needed” them.
ATVs, all-terrain-vehicles, are mobile, fast, and can go anywhere over any terrain. Hence the name. My parents use them to haul wood, retrieve hunted animals, and to tow a large scale lawn mowing machine. Ya know, they use it to “work”.
As a generally irresponsible grown-up myself, I am calling their bluff. I recognize my own kind. These are absolutely toys.
I know people who own tractors, real life tractors, and those people rarely, if ever, hop on the tractor to go for a joy ride. How often do construction workers say, “Hey, its Friday night, why don’t we go cruise around on my bulldozer.”
My mother offered to give her grand daughter a ride and they let me follow along. First bit of childish evidence is that there was no reason to go that fast other than fun. We had no schedule, we were in no hurry, and that little old lady with the kid on back were going fast.Second bit of evidence; she was able to go so fast because she knew exactly where she was going and had obviously done this before.I would guess she has done it quite a bit. This is not work.
This is not work in the most true and scientific way possible. In 11th grade my physics teacher handed me a bowling ball and instructed me to carry it up the stairs to the 3rd floor, then go down to the basement, and finally bring it back to the classroom. Upon my sweaty and tired return he lectured the class on the definition of work and how I had accomplished nothing. Though energy had been expended I had returned to my original point of departure. Not work.
I tasted clouds of dust, heard a screaming engine, felt branches and bushes whack me as I passed but at the end of that ride, and every one thereafter, we ended right back where we started.
That is not work.
I have a confession. It is a hard thing to admit because though I have done nothing wrong, it still feels like a sin.
I don’t really like to fish.
I get bored.
I think I have always known, yet it has taken me nearly my whole life to admit. I want to like fishing. Perhaps I keep giving it a chance in hopes that I have simply been doing it wrong this whole time. Maybe I have just never hooked the big one and if I do, I will be hooked too.
In the fictional story of my youth, the one I have always told myself, I loved going fishing with my Dad. We used to go semi-regularly and I always wanted to go. In retrospect, as I look close enough to sweep the fairy dust away, I realize I never really went fishing all those times. I went exploring.
Dad would fish in rivers and streams. I would cast my line a couple times, snag the spinner on a rock or branch, then look around and find the highest visible outcropping of rock and shout, “Hey Dad, can I go up there?” He would say yes and I would scramble off.
I have since realized that this is not fishing.
It took trying to teach my kids to fish to learn this lesson. When you are teaching someone else, you can’t scamper off. You are trapped. And then you just sit there staring at a bobber trying to guess if that was a wave or a bite and so you reel it in to find the fluorescent cheese is gone from your hook so you bait it again and cast out the line. Again. For hours.This admission hurts my own feelings. I shouldn’t feel ashamed but I am. It feels like I have rejected my father and my youth and how I was raised. I would say it is almost a rejection of my religion, but we already have an actual religion so saying that would feel sacrilegious.
But then again… Mom never went fishing with us and Dad still likes her. She always stayed home and read books. I should probably get her a Kindle for Christmas.
I am quite skilled at a number of things that have no practical use. Like most suburban kids, all of my time and efforts during youth were spent acquiring those abilities. But unlike those other kids, my dad never taught me how to properly throw a spiral, I don’t think we ever played a single game of catch.
But he did teach me how to throw a tomahawk.There really isn’t much to it. The secret is all in your distance, the number of paces you are away from the target. At five and a half paces I can stick a hawk in block of wood every time. So can my little sister. At seven paces I flip the blade around backwards and the hawk sticks upside down.
I have labored to teach my daughter about things like oligarchy and the risks of confirmation bias but I was recently excited to teach her something much more important.
A young woman must be prepared to defend herself against the onslaught of tree stumps.
I’m not exactly sure why throwing a hatchet at a tree is so satisfying but trust me when I tell you that it is. It feels primal, is only slightly challenging, and makes a nice little “thunk” sound when the blade buries itself in the wood. It also makes a disturbing “ping” when it ricochets off into the bushes.
But perhaps the most satisfying thing about the tomahawk is that I have yet to find a tournament in Brooklyn or Silver Lake. Maybe there is one in Portland but I haven’t heard about it. Not that I don’t like Silver Lake, I rather like the place, but I also like that I have something in my roots that, much like my youth, lacks any social cache’ but is packed with personal enjoyment.
Special shout-out to my brother-in-law for pulling off the perfect tomahawk version of the “Robin Hood”. You owe my Dad a new handle.