Monday, April 6, 2009

A little down-time and a keyboard can be a dangerous combination....

The season is about to begin and I am as nervous and excited as a young black lab on his first duck hunting trip. Being so eager to start racing bicycles got me to thinking about the complexities associated with motivation and how without it a guy should just cash it in and move on cuz he aint no good to no one when the mojo’s gone.

During the course of a life-long vocation committed to the pursuit of irrational amateurish gamesmanship there are pivotal moments when a true Man-of-action senses it is time to change course. With me the change over to a new athletic pursuit has always been abrupt and dramatic, devoid of reminiscing and/or second-guessing. In short, I make the cut instantaneous throwing myself headlong into the new game with no looking back. Perhaps Erikson was on to something with his contention that one’s life passes through a series of significant conflict points in which a person is confronted with a series of personal, albeit predictable crises. The theory goes on to purport that it is the resolution of these consecutive “critical moments” that determine ones path onward. Maybe itz not such a stretch to apply Erikson to what drives a guy to “give it up” for just a silly game…

As a young vigorous lad, initially I was confronted head-on with one of these transitional and thus anxious moments during the final couple of games my senior year at Gustavus Adolphus College where I was an undersized, albeit highly motivated, even intrepid nose-guard for the good ole Black and Gold Gusties. Prior to those last two Saturdays in the fall of 1982, athletically I had essentially been consumed with playing football since I was in the 4th grade. Even though I was never anything to brag about and I'd been hurt really bad several times, I loved everything about the game and so everything I did and thought about in terms of organized sport was directly connected to playing football. Football was my youthful passion for nearly twelve years.

So at the start of my senior year I was at the pinnacle of enthusiasm and then abruptly with only two games left in my so-called “football career” some incomprehensible feeling deep within me stirred a kind of unsolicited dreadful apprehension…It must have been a powerfully negative feeling because even now, all these years later, I still recall a vivid sense of foreboding that possessed me as I awaited for those last two games to end so I could “cut the cord” with football. The second to the last game was commenced on a beautiful late fall day at the campus stadium in Saint Peter. I remember waking up that morning suffering from a confusing, fretful, and essentially alien or phobic sensation that I did not want to play anymore. This was a very strange feeling for me given that I have always been a game-day sorta guy, loving and cherishing the excitement that exists before any big event. As anyone who knows me can attest, I have never had a problem getting fired-up. In fact, in my case, I often push the emotions related to a pre-game “arousal” mode to the point of counter-production…Yet, for the first time in my life on the morning of a big game, I slept in. I remember laying there well after the time that we were suppose to get up and get over to the mess hall wrestling with a strong, albeit foreign sense of melancholy combined with a really really dramatic worrying impulse that I was going to blow out my knee again and thus be crippled for the rest of my life… Later in the morning, while all my mates were getting ready in the locker room; getting taped, putting on the freshly laundered uniforms, and all that other cool stuff (pregame rituals that I had grown to dearly treasure). I remember agonizing over why I felt so out of place and so lethargic. I must have got through that one okay and interestingly I don't remember any aspect of the actual game, including who we played or even if we won or lost, but I am sure that I did not play with inspiration.

The last game of football I ever played was way up in Moorhead, Minnesota against Concordia College. Not only was it the last game for me (and all the other seniors, including several of the best guyz I have ever known), it was a big game for Gustavus as we had a chance, with a victory, to gain a berth in the NCAA Division III playoffs. Yet the unsettled feeling of trepidation had not abated and so I clearly remember planning to play the game in a manner that would minimize my chances of getting hurt. Itz amusing to look back now, given what I know now about options and things like that, but back then I never whispered a word about any of these weird feelings to anyone. Even though we lost that final game, I remember that the team played well and after a slow, hesitant start, I want to believe that I gave an inspired effort as well. While its kinda funny in a disconcerting sort of way, now that I think about it… but as the rest of the seniors waxed nostalgic after the game and a lot of beers, I was at best relieved and at worst nihilistic, happy to be done and in decent shape. I walked away from football and never looked back for I had completely lost interest. Of course, I was at the end of this initial obsessive run anyway due to societal constraints, but in any event, to this day, I have no interest in the game of football at any level.

While most of my college buddies at the conclusion of that season resolved to never play organized sport again and to instead follow the prescribed path that our society dictates, I never for a moment thought about quitting the game, I just needed a new one to play. Theoretically, I guess if we want to follow the Erikson premise I was forced into my first crisis, but I certainly never considered giving up playing the proverbial “game.” I immediately threw myself into the pursuit of rugby, a game that perhaps complimented my modest athletic abilities better than football had. I loved rugby, I loved the whole rugby lifestyle and I pursued it with a passion that even surpassed football. I had played the game while at Gustavus during the spring seasons and in the summers with the Rochester club, but only as vehicles from which to hone my football skills. Using the pursuit of a Master’s degree as a ruse, it was at the University of Colorado that I was afforded the opportunity to play the game as it was designed and so it was in Boulder where I began to think of myself primarily as a Ruby Player. We had a tremendous team and I had to work hard to make the first team; a team that ultimately qualified for the National Championship Tournament in which we finish 3rd overall losing to the University of Michigan for a chance at the championship game against Harvard, but defeating the University of California-Berkley in the consolation bracket. But alas two serious injuries plagued my second year in Boulder; forcing me to sit out during the post season play and so I again began to seek another avenue to satisfy my passion for competition, but with the idea that I would be back to play rugby.

Of course, the alpine surroundings of the Front Range screamed climbing and I heard the call clearly…Still limping from a severe and chronic hamstring injury, three years out of Gustavus, I embarked on a game that continues to this day to stir deep and powerful emotions within my loins of sheer enthusiastic contentment. I started climbing and knew right off that rugby was going to give way to a new game. From the first time I donned a climbing harness, tied into a rope, and placed a piece of protection into a slotted crack I was totally and irreparably hooked. I will go to my grave loving climbing…Rock climbing, ice climbing, and then alpinism dominated my life for the next fifteen years. El Dorado Canyon, Boulder Canyon, Lumpy Ridge, and Rocky Mountain National Park became my stadiums and the results of dynamic erosion became my competition. After five or six years, I expanded the arena to include bigger, higher, and thus more challenging rivals culminating in a series of five expeditions to Alaska and the Yukon Territories. After an unsuccessful and harrowing effort on Mount Hunter and subsequent failure on Mount McKinley, I went home from Alaska with the righteous attitude that it was time for me to settle down some and find a respectable career.

Unlike football and rugby, as of yet I have not be able to divorce myself completely from climbing. Many, if not most, of the most intensely lived dayz of my life occurred while I was climbing with my climbing buddies— from being stuck on the Ames Wall, lost on the Grand Teton, to watching the moon rise over the Saint Elias range from the East Ridge of Mount Logan, these experiences have left an indelible mark burned into my brain.

I will climb again someday, I can sense it…Perhaps here we begin to see a chink in Erikson’s theory. It is true that I rarely climb now, but I still read each year’s American Alpine Journal from cover to cover as well as studying each issue of Climbing magazine.

While I have been racing bicycles since the late 1970s it was not until 1995 that I began to place cycling on the same plane as alpinism. By that time my focus was on mountaineering and so cycling, especially off –rode riding, acted as a great training compliment. By 2000 with the birth of my daughter I was obsessed with cycling as it afforded me a method by which to “feed the rat” and yet also attempt to fulfill my duties as a father and husband. For playing the risky and even deadly game in the mountains aint no game to be playin’ for a daddy of a little person. Personally, growing older, slower, but wiser and tougher, the last couple of years have forced in me a new avenue of great interest within the world of cycling. I am now fixated with endurance racing…Wow!!! I need to get to bed...Suffice to say: I cannot wait for the season to begin….Oh yeah and in a decade or so look for me solo sailing on the Seven Seas living the dreams of Tilman and Chichester.


  1. Got to watch out for that Ames wall.

    Greg Ames

  2. Once again a beautifully written piece. Your blogmanship is pretty amazing. I can relate to your changing passions. I too have a past in other sporting activities, going from one to the next, and also did the climbing thing (which pretty much stopped after I got married). But I have dabbled mostly, while you have gone in headlong. I'm sure I'll see you again on the mountain bike or cyclocross bike. Keep up the good work!