Fear and the Flying Leg

Some of the stories that I tell here on this blog page are stories that I have told and retold over the years.  The stories may be less true than they once were because as I get older the need to make myself into the hero seems more important to me.  The backlash effect of that of course is that I am falling into the “Glory Days Syndrome” also known as the “I Used to be Great Syndrome” or by the lesser known “If I Hadn’t Gotten Injured I Would’ve Gone Pro Syndrome”.  This story is not about my one time or enduring greatness, this is a story about experiencing someone’s weakness that ended up displaying my weakness.

I spent many of my summers during and after college working at Christian camps in Wyoming and New Mexico.  I served as an archery instructor, mountain bike instructor, rappelling instructor, and rifle range instructor (I would say riflery but my auto correct keeps telling me that is not a word).  My very last summer working at the camp in Wyoming saw me spending up to 6 hours a day above any sort of shade teaching people, children and youth specifically, how to rappel.  For those of you that are unfamiliar, I taught people how to walk backwards off a 30 foot wooden cliff.

This particular day my associate and me had been up on the tower in the morning and had to go back up for an afternoon session.  Jeremy and I had moved past the point in the summer where we appreciated all the sunshine we were getting and were now to the point of trying to get people up and down as quickly as possible.  Into our lives came a boy that I will call “Mike”.  I would like to say that I changed the name to protect the innocent, but honestly I either forgot or blocked his name out of my memory because I might still be a little angry with him.

In order to go down the tower you have to go up the tower, which requires that each person climb a 30 foot cargo net.  Mike showed some apprehension at this point, but so do many of the kids that go up the tower.  In other words, Mike did not display any sort of abnormal apprehension at this point so we encouraged him that he was safe and he proceeded clumsily up the cargo net.

Jeremy and I then proceeded through our normal spiel which was a devotion about trusting the rope and not your brain that was telling you that this was not safe and how that was analogous to trusting in God and not leaning on your own understanding.  Following the devotion we would show people how to put their gear on and then how they were going to get down.  This is when things started to get interesting because I remember Mike slowly working his way to the back of the tower.  He was doing what most people do when they feel danger.  They distance themselves as much as they can from the thing that threatens them.

Mike had watched a few people go over when we asked him to get on rope.  I walked him through the various instructions, made sure his gear was safe and then I asked Mike to turn around and face me.  This was not something that Mike was prepared to do.  He did not want to turn his back to the thing that threatened him, the wooden ledge.  At this point things started to unravel rather quickly.

Wait, you might have taken that to mean that the rope unraveled quickly, it did not, it fact the rope did not go anywhere at this point because Mike was not going anywhere.

Mike had a panic attack, he told me that he was going to puke, then he told me he couldn’t do it, then he tried to run to the back of the tower to sit down (still on rope mind you), then he told me he was going to, well, defecate right there on the tower.  Mike was not ready to rappel that day.  So we move to phase two which is to have the other instructor walk backward with Mike to the ledge and start down with him.  Normally if we can get people over the edge, they go the rest of the way pretty well.  It is the first step, that transition from vertical to horizontal, that puts most people into some form of panic.

Phase two did not work and more promises of things coming out of Mike’s body were made.  So we moved on to phase three which is to ask Mike to go sit down while we get the rest of the kids down the tower.  Even during this phase Mike was freaking out, which did not help get the rest of the kids down.  Phase three is to scrap our desire to help Mike through his fears and get him down the tower.  So 2 hours after Mike came up the tower, we asked Mike to climb down the cargo net.  This was not amendable to Mike, so we tried to get him to rappel again, which was also not amendable to Mike.  Mike had one proposal to make, which was not amendable to anyone else, and that was to make the tower his permanent home.

Three hours into this stand off we were finally able to get Mike off the tower.  Jeremy and I were hot, both physically and emotionally.  Mike’s fears and what they had manifested had taken every bit of our patience and love.  We packed up our gear, walked away from the tower, and headed back for our bunk.  Halfway back I dropped my harness on accident and in my anger I kicked it with my fake leg.

My leg flew off and hit the bunk house.  All I could do after I had landed on my butt outside the door was to lay there and laugh, what else was left.  Fear can debilitate and exhaust every one of our resources and the resources of people around us.  I wish I had more patience with Mike that day to help him figure out how we could help him conquer his fear, that really was the point of why we did rappelling at that camp in the first place.  Faith to overcome fear.

Blizzards and Tunnels

As I stood in the cavern that had been created just that day, I did not realize just how dumb it was to be standing there or how awesome it truly was.

I have been watching the snow come down all day here is Poulsbo and I have to say that it is depressing.  Its depressing because as much as come down that stupid white stuff won’t accumulate.  I remember living in Brookings, SD when I was in college when Calvin and Hobbes was so popular in the mid 1990’s.  My friends and I built a snowman outside of our dorm that had a hole the size of a cannonball through its abdomen, and a cannonball sized snowball behind it (I would like to think that Calvin would be proud).  That snow man was made in November and it was still standing in March when it finally started to thaw.

That, by the way, was also the winter that I experienced the coldest day of my life at -40 with a -70 windchill.  Walking around the campus was otherworldly because you could not stay out for more than a minute totally covered up.   The ground sounded like walking on Styrofoam because the snow was so cold and dry.  The new snow that had fallen was so light and fluffy that it was like walking through down feathers.  I can’t remember why exactly I had transferred from Brookings to Spearfish the next year, but this might have had something to do with it.

Living here in the Pacific Northwest you come to miss the four distinct seasons and large amounts of snow.  Growing up in Wyoming it was not the cold that stood out but the wind.  The snow always seemed to come down sideways and there was always bare ground because the wind would drift everything up.  Then the next day you would get a Chinook wind and a sunny day and it would all blow or burn off.  That brings me back to my opening sentence and the hill in my neighbors yard.

We were hit with a huge blizzard sometime in the mid 1980’s that brought in enough snow to shut down the school for a couple days.  In Wyoming it would take over a foot of snow, maybe more, to shut down school.  In the Pacific Northwest it takes about 2 inches, and in some cases not even that.  I don’t begrudge PNW for that, you don’t budget significantly for something that may or may not happen every year.  This blizzard brought more like 2 feet of snow and it came down sideways in a matter of hours not days.  So when we woke up the next morning to a blindingly sunny day and no school we headed over to the Butler’s place, which was our sledding hill when I was a kid.  J.J. and I did not get along that well, but we had to stay friends so that I could use his hill.

The snow was so deep on his hill that we abandoned sledding altogether because we just sunk into the snow.  We made a few attempts and creating some chutes down the hill to run our sleds down, but the day was really about tunnels.  I remember at least 5 of us out there; my brother Brett, J.J., Jeff, Jesse, and myself.  Most of us occupied out time by picking a place in the massive drift that had stacked itself on the south side of the hill, but not Jeff.  Jeff had bigger plans.

I remember a couple of years ago as an adult trying to make tunnels in the snow and thinking that I was either terribly out of shape or snow had gotten harder than it used to be.  We started in the morning, each of us picking a place of origin and building a series of interconnected tunnels on the top of the hill.  Jeff had went to the bottom of the hill, where the snow was deepest, and started to build a snow cavern.  After I went home for lunch, I came back and decided to see what Jeff had been up to all morning, and I was in awe.  This cavern had to be at least 6 feet tall by about 8 feet across.  Today I would brush the ceiling with my head, but back then I could hardly touch it by sticking my hand in the air.

Once everyone had seen this wonder in the snow we all decided that it was time to get our tunnels connected to this snow chamber.  I cannot show you pictures because they don’t exist, but I can tell you that by the end of the day we had turned the snow on that hill into a human sized anthill.  We were there all day, I probably burned more calories than I ever had in my life, and I didn’t ask myself once whether any of it was a good idea, nor did I wonder what my target heart rate was.  So as I stood in that cavern it also did not occur to me that if this thing collapsed I might have a problem on my hands.

So here’s to the boys that I celebrated the blizzard with, because it was a celebration.  Snow was not seen by us as something that got in our way, it was seen as a challenge and a new world to discover.  I hope my kids get to experience something like that, I can’t imagine how I would react seeing them disappear into a 10 foot tall drift to see them come out on the other side 30 feet away.

My Kids Have Some Legitimate Questions

My lack of attention to details is going to cause some major problems in my life someday.  Actually that statement is not true, My lack of attention to details has caused some major problems in my life.  Case in point: The destruction of my barbecue.

As my son stood at the patio door the week before thanksgiving his face glowed.  This glow was not the glow of a child that was proud or happy like in the phrase “he glowed with pride”.  His face glowed because of the reflection of the huge flames that has consumed my barbecue and were presently burning up our deck.  My wife said she heard an loud boom and wondered what it was, then came around the corner of the kitchen to see my son staring out the patio door.  She yelled “Ash what’s wrong?” And all my son could do was slowly turn and look at his mom, and then look back at the fire.  Like many people he was caught in a moment that his brain was having a hard time processing.

Since winter was coming I decided it was time to burn all the junk on the inside of my grill off so that I could clean it and cover it up for the winter.  I went out to turn the grill on, a grill that last year I had done extensive research on because I take my grilling seriously.  I found that the propane tank was empty so I went to get my back up.  I did what I usually do when I attach a new tank, I listen and smell.  If I don’t hear a leak and don’t smell a leak then I proceed.  There are fire marshals and and barbecuers everywhere cringing at my last sentence to which I would respond “DON’T JUDGE ME!” if there wasn’t so much evidence to indict.

So I started the grill, turned it on high, and went about my business for about 10 minutes or so.  I came back, saw that the burn off was successful and turned off the grill.  I then waited around for about 10 minutes to make sure that the grill cooled off without any fires cropping up and then went out to my shop.  My job was done and I had other things to do.

About the time that my son was walking toward the deck I heard a noise that sounded like high pressure gas being expelled.  We live next to a highway so I am used to hearing noises coming from the roadway.  But I do remember thinking that there was no way that could be my propane tank because I had watched it cool and I had not heard an explosion.  It was about that time that I heard my wife scream “Honey!”  and my stray thought suddenly crystallized and I knew exactly what had happened.  My wife was standing on the road with the phone in her hand talking to the 911 dispatcher and I went sprinting by her, grabbed the hose and started spraying the huge flames that were burning up my deck, well my landlords deck as we live in a rental.

The flames were managed pretty quickly but the flame thrower that was my propane tank was not finished.  As I continued to spray water on the deck until the tank had exhausted itself, my wife was calling off the fire department.  Once the smoke cleared (and that is not metaphoric) I took a look at the damage and swore a few times.  So here is what my forensic investigation concluded:

With the help of my forensic investigation team (Myself, my landlord, and his son) we concluded that there was a gas leak somewhere along the line that filled the lid of my grill and then something ignited it and the lid blew off.  The reason we believe that is because the lid was torn, the cast aluminum lid tore in half (he said with a reserved pride).

Over the last month before this accident I had started a (contained) grease fire and stepped through the ceiling of my house.  I was not having a banner fall season.  Throughout all of this my kids observed a father that made big mistakes.  I would like to think that I handled it well, but the reality is that I lost my cool (that’s funny because I started a grease fire and blew up my deck.  I find that pointing out my humor is important sometimes because many people don’t understand it) more than once and said some things that I wished I had considered more.  As the title suggested, I think my kids are starting to realize that they might need to help keep dad alive.  I hope that I am learning from my mistakes, but I make so many that I have a hard time processing quickly enough before the next one happens.

As a side note, even though I tried to burn my deck down my landlord brought over lumber to fix the deck.  I tried to pay for it but he had it to me the next day, what an awesome Guy.  I fixed the deck and will paint it in the spring.

Sir, You May Want to Sit Down for This

I took my front fork in to the bike shop yesterday in order to have some routine maintenance done on it.  By routine I mean that I have neglected to ever do any maintenance on it.  I grew up on a fully rigid Shogun “Prairie Breaker II” so when I first got suspension I guess I figured that they took care of themselves like the steel fork of my youth.

I proceeded to the shop part of the store and asked the guy up front who was replacing some tubes if they could work on the fork.

“Sure, let me go talk to one of our mechanics and I will be right with you”  He said.

As I was waiting I wandered around the store noticing all the brand new bikes in the store.  My friend Dave and I swapped bikes back in 2007, he got my road bike and I got his full suspension mountain bike.  As it turned out I hated road riding and Dave decided that mountain biking was not a venture that he should be taking on with one arm.  Dave does everything else that you can imagine with one arm, but mountain biking is not one of them anymore.  Road biking, however, was something that he could do and I was more than happy to get rid of the one that I had bought brand new and was not getting any joy out of.  That bike was an attempt on my part to adapt to living in eastern South Dakota, it didn’t take.

So needless to say (but I guess I will anyway) my bike is getting old.  The Diamondback Full-Suspension bike is I would guess almost 15 years old now.  I tried to take care of it as best I could but it is starting to nickel and dime me.  I looked at the new Cannondale full-suspension 27.5″ and 29″ wheel bikes and realized how old the components and technology on my bike were.  I lusted.  I thought about starting a “Go Fund Me” campaign to buy a new bike, then I realized that those campaigns are for noble reasons.  I just wanted a new bike.

So the guy that took my fork back into the shop brought it back out and was accompanied by the most merciful mechanic I have ever seen.  He looked at me as a doctor would if they had to give me some bad news.

“You look like the doctor that is about to tell me that my dog just died”  I said.  I had intended to say “you look like the doctor that is about to tell me that my child died” but that seemed a bit harsh for the moment.  Instead, halfway through my quip I changed direction and “dog” came out.

He looked shocked (hey, I made a pun), then he smile and said “yeah” looking at my shock “your dog just died”.

“They don’t make parts for that shock anymore, and we can’t fix it”.

So I spent the next ten minutes working with the “merciful mechanic” on finding a shock that works for an old mountain bike that has 26″ tires and V-brakes.  For those of you that do not know what that means, I am riding a dinosaur.

Thank you to Silverdale Cyclery for your impeccable bedside manner, as a pastor I know that no one likes bad news.  You gently allowed me my moment to mourn and helped me move on.

Coffee, You Lied to Me…and My Dog

I went on a long ride on Saturday, 12 miles of mostly single track in the Port Gamble Trail System.  It has been amazing to see how much development they have done over the last few years.  Not only am I riding many new trails, but the clearings are starting to turn back into woods so I get lost in there much more often than I used to.  Don’t get me wrong, I can always figure out how to get back to my vehicle, it just takes longer than normal.

My biking partner on Saturday is in much better shape than I am, and apparently is much more graceful than I am.  I say that is because I would have a hard time waiting for someone to catch up if I were the one constantly in the front.

When we finished the ride he asked me how far we went.

“How far did we go?  8 miles?”

I pulled out my phone to look at my trusty app (I still have not received a call from any riding app companies about sponsorships).

“Twelve, we went twelve miles.”  Now I could have laughed at him for undershooting his estimate by fully a third of the distance.  However the reality is that to him it probably felt like 8.  To be honest, to me it felt more like 20 so I guess twelve is a good middle ground.

That brings me back to this morning, or rather I guess it should bring us up to last night.  I came home after having pizza to realize that something had not settled well in my digestive system.  At 40 years old I should remember that pizza never settles well in my system.  My 12 year old can mainline the stuff and ask for more, but I end up saying things like “I bloated” or “I shouldn’t have eaten that”.

Now we can talk about this morning and the title of my blog.  After the events that transpired last night to get rid of the stuff that didn’t settle well I woke up feeling like junk.  I went to make my normal cup of coffee and I was resigning myself to taking a day off from riding and catching up on the news (again I am 41, this is what I do, I catch up on the news).

Then I had a cup of coffee.

After the coffee kicked in I started to think that I could go out for a ride and I owed it to Spendy, the family dog, to go for a ride.  Last week I mostly went to places that have lots of other people on the trail so I didn’t take her.  However, 6:45 am on Millie’s Trail is always dead so she gets to be my riding companion.  So I suited up and took off.  It took me about 2 minutes into the ride to realize that I did not have it today.  Then I committed one of my own cardinal sins, stopping within spitting distance from the top of the ride.

I did not have it today, so I blame the coffee for lying to me a telling me that I am fine.  Spendy was slightly disappointed because I had shortened her run, and I was disappointed because I try to never stop within range of the top of a hill.  What kind of a wuss stops right before summit-ting to contemplate  the cup of coffee that they had that morning?!?

I love to blame things that can’t defend themselves because its easier than blaming myself, and less work than victimizing those that can defend themselves (this is of course tongue in cheek, I am not a monster people).  Food would seem to be an easy target except I am not sure that it can’t defend itself.  It is constantly kicking my butt or lying to me, and I keep coming back for more.  Its almost as if it is executing some master plan to defeat me.

Okay, I Guess We’ll Talk

I went riding with my third child again yesterday and I am starting to realize that he enjoys biking, but he also enjoys the one on one time that comes with it.  We were on a run called “Bobsled” which is not difficult but has quite a bit of curves, bumps, jumps, and other fun elements.  As we are navigating this adventure my sons asks me “Dad, what are your three favorite things about all of your children?”

Now I love to bike, and I love time with my son, and I love to talk about the great things about my children.  However, attempting to do all three at the same time is not a simple task.  I had to think about twelve different attributes while trying to ride and keep an eye on my son.  So here it goes:

“Well there each of you have so many amazing qualities it hard to narrow it down to three.”

“So you mean that you don’t want to think about three things, or you can’t think about three things”

“I could come up with at least three for all of you.”

“Then go ahead”

So I did.  Now mind you we are going along a trail that normally I would goof around on because of the amount of fun elements and the relative ease of it.  But since I was stuck riding behind my son who was a little nervous about the trail and in no hurry, I decided that I could do the task that he allotted to me.

I told him that his oldest brother was a hard worker, an encourager, and loved baseball (which I love as well).  His second oldest brother was a people person, loved playing with his sister, and loved to cook.  I told him that he had a very observant and inquisitive mind, that I loved that he loved to bike, and he was the best hugger that God ever created.  I told him that I loved that his sister loved to wrestle, that she said silly things, and she loved to hang out with me in the shop.  And I was done, only to add to the list that my three sons are really good big brothers to their younger sister.

Now we are going to focus on the ride right?  Wrong, did I mention that my son has a very observant, inquisitive mind.  He asked why I tend to go down hill faster than he does, and I told him that it was because I was heavier.  He said “wait a minute, I thought everything fell at the same rate”.  Now I am having a physics discussion with my son while we are trying to not get slapped in the face by blackberry, salmonberry, salal, NETTLES!  My nine year old is telling me about his theories of acceleration and deceleration while we are climbing a hill in which I am starting to suck wind (and decelerate).  He actually got off his bike in order to carry on the conversation!  Wait a minute, I was cool with slowing down a little to talk.  Now you want to walk the bike to talk, not okay.

Okay, that is not true.  I was okay with it.  When I go biking with my son I usually accept that I am not going to be going as fast as I want, or getting the work out I want.  Now I am starting to understand more and more just how serious he was when he said that he wanted to spend time with me, and it doesn’t seem like he is so concerned about what we are doing.

I am actually happy that my son forced me to think about what I loved about my kids, that is not a list I normally put to words, but it almost felt like a blessing that I was imparting as soon as I spoke it.  It is amazing how much a child likes to hear what their parents like about them.