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Archive for November, 2007


I had a Confucian moment on Friday. It went something like this:

“Don’t crash into the trees trying to avoid the poo in the path.”

Maybe, it was just a fortune cookie moment, I don’t know. I doubt that Confucius ever said poo, and I’m definitely not sure how to translate it into Chinese, but this was a big, old pile of horse manure right in the middle of the trail. The revelation came to me as I descended Nowhere Elks, my staple, training trail in Round Valley just behind my house.

Going up, I’d spotted the horse manure so blatantly in the middle of the trail. I’d avoided it without problem, getting a strong whiff and concluding that I was closer to the ground than cyclists and thus potentially on more intimate terms with the brown lump, that though it hadn’t changed that much from its original form of hay and oats, was still a pile of poo.

The downhill is what I earn from the almost three-quarter of an hour climb through the switchbacks to the top. The technical side of descending appeals to me. I carry speed straight into the turns. Instead of rounding the corners on the top side, I go straight at them, hit the back brake to slide the back end around and then counter steer once I go into the fishtail. I’m not sure if that’s how rally drivers turn, but it seems to work well until I learn something better.

My vehicle suffers from a lack of suspension, so I push and pull on the handlebars of my One-Off, and throw myself side to side, and fore and aft to unweight the rig over rocks that stick out like random teeth ground to nubs. I pull on the handlebars and then throw myself forward, smoothly surmounting a triangular one that looks like an incisor. In my mind, I compliment my newfound skill, and that’s when I turn the corner.

The brown pile looms, right where it had been. Without thought I steer left even though the turn goes right. My ride becomes significantly bumpier—the kind of bumpy where I won’t know where I am until I stop bouncing. It’s noisy in a motion kind of way, with a dissonance of images, and then I steer through the rocks and roots back onto the semi-smooth trail.

I’d only been out of control for a second or two. I’d only seen the pile of manure, not the trees just off the trail’s edge. Safety could have proved much more fleeting. I didn’t realize any of this until moments later when hindsight provided illumination.

Recently, I’ve run the risk of trying to avoid the poo in the middle of the trail in my life too. At the end of the month, I felt like a character from a Bruce Springsteen song. The bills all came due and there wasn’t enough money to cover them all. I couldn’t see when any money was going to come in. I had ignored the bills as long as I could, but my lack of solvency forced me to wonder why I was doing what I was doing. I could easily pursue some other job—one of those that paid me every two weeks, but instead I pursued a dream. I want to change the world. I want to tell the real story. But, I experienced real conflict. On the way up, I ground to a halt not because the climb was too difficult, but because my mind simply tripped over my situation. Why did I insist on living this dream? Beliefs and dreams waver when reality confronts them.

And it’s my dream—mine alone in many ways—mine to make a reality. Other people are involved, but at the moment I still feel alone. As an athlete I felt the solitary nature of performance. I’d compartmentalized. Everything in my life could be in disarray, but when I got in the starting gate I could block it all out. I considered it a talent, but when I finished I wondered because it kept me separate. I didn’t want that.

But then now with this new project I find myself alone again. The solitary part is daunting. I don’t know about making a documentary. I’m confused on how to approach sponsorship. I have so many ideas, but I am not sure how to make them happen. It would be great if someone showed me the way, but like the climb itself, this process is about plugging along—learning as I go. Eventually, others will join the group. Eventually, it will all make sense, but at the moment I need to push on. After all it’s my dream.

It’s my dream and my quest. As much as I believe that I’m climbing to help others, and I am, there’s also personal motivation. I changed when my ski popped off in the middle of that turn almost twenty years ago. Others see me differently, but I am just as guilty of seeing my limitations through other people’s eyes.

As an athlete, I thought I could outrun the disability. I thought I could be different. I was, until I retired. Then, I was no longer World Champion. I knew I’d never lose my athletic success, but it was no longer current—no longer the thing that defined me. I had to think if there was a greater meaning to my athletic career, and that’s why I’ve chosen to climb.

We’ll shine a light on a lot of amazing people. Reaching the top will be about resisting compromise and being free of regret. It will be about the need to take charge—to become complete—to live—to love—and to be alive. It will be my climb, but it will be about all of us, because it will be about being alive.

Bob Dylan sang, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

Joseph Campbell said, “One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.”

But, hindsight, like avoiding that pile of poo, only comes when you’ve emerged on the other side. We can’t see when we’re in the darkness. We can’t imagine solvency when all we have are bills. We can’t imagine teamwork when we feel alone, but that’s the nature of dreams. The ones worth achieving are the ones worth walking through the dark, or riding right through that pile of poo.

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