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The thoughts of writer John Rezell, who will write about anything, anytime, anywhere. So pay attention.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Visit the ONWard blog at OutdoorsNW.com for Raz's latest writing

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Flashback: My Favorite Photo

Posted by johnnieraz on January 26, 2018 at 5:15 PM Comments comments (0)

ABOVE: My photo from the 1981 Marquette-Notre Dame basketball game at the Milwaukee Arena.


By John Rezell

     Lord knows how many photos I've taken over the years.

     In the garage I have boxes of slides and crates of photo albums chronicling my life with Debbie up to the time digital photography took over, and countless bytes of photos floating in hard drives here there and everywhere bringing that story up to date — literally to the last hour.

     Growing up I wasn't much into photography, and the lack of photos from childhood back that up.

     Good cameras were really expensive. For most folks with budget cameras, film and processing costs were daunting. So much so that a roll of 24 or 36 shots would typically include pictures from Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Memorial Day and finally get developed after summer vacation.

     Immediate gratification and photography weren't mates back in those days.

     Once I took my class in photojournalism in college, everything changed. Not just taking photos, but how to view life.

     It's sad that future generations won't know the joy of fumbling in the dark to roll your film onto a cassette, then later under red light watching an image appear from the ether onto a page.

     Nor will they know the agony of losing a whole roll or two of pictures to the cumbersome process.

     Or waiting a week for film to be processed.

     There's a lot to be said about technology and progress.

     When Debbie and I were married, our first significant purchase was a quality camera that cost about a two week's salary.

     We worked that camera hard for 13 years — it becoming a key element of my freelancing days — until it finally died on the most inopportune of times.

     On one of my most memorable assignments covering the inaugural Tour of China bicycle race, it slowly gave way, with me lining up shots of cyclists racing past at 30 mph then holding down the button and frantically following them until the camera decided to engage the shutter.

     Those photos from China are among my most cherished.

     Yet, if I had to select one of my professional photos as my all-time favorite, there is no contest.

     My first job out of college was do-it-all sports editor for The Jefferson County Daily News in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.

     There I got to cover University of Wisconsin and Marquette University sports.

     So I sat courtside at the Milwaukee Arena on January 10, 1981, as the closing seconds of an amazing basketball game between rivals Marquette and Notre Dame unfolded before me.

     In the final moments, freshman Glenn "Doc" Rivers launched a 35-foot prayer.

     I clicked.

     I caught it.

     The place erupted and everyone went nuts. I continued to shoot away.

     Eventually Rivers literally climbed on top of the backboard. It was crazy fun.

     It was a Saturday game. Our paper was a Monday through Friday publication. Not only that, we had union guys who worked the darkroom.

     So I had to wait until mid-morning Monday before the film was developed.

     When they handed me the negatives, my hands were shaking.

     Please let it be in focus.

     Please let it be in frame.

     Please give me something.

     What I saw was an image that will last a lifetime.

   

Making of a Cover Shot for OutdoorsNW Magazine

Posted by johnnieraz on January 20, 2018 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (0)

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This appears complicated, but it's actually a blast.


Best Mountain Bike Trail in Wenatchee, Washington

Posted by johnnieraz on January 6, 2018 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)

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Glacier View Trail outside Wenatchee, Washington is a wonderful experience, especially when spring wildflowers are in bloom


Sneak Peak at What's Coming to OutdoorsNW in 2018

Posted by johnnieraz on December 30, 2017 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

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It's really kinda weird to spend most of 2017 running around the Northwest and saving the stories and video for 2018, but that's the life of a magazine editor


Walleye Fishing in The Dalles

Posted by johnnieraz on December 23, 2017 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (0)

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I don't fish often, but when I do, I like to fish for Walleye


2017 Total Eclipse in Dallas, Oregon

Posted by johnnieraz on December 15, 2017 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (0)

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Watching the total eclipse in Dallas, Oregon will be remembered forever. Wow.


Gear Review: Orange Screws

Posted by johnnieraz on December 15, 2017 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (0)

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I'll never use regular old tent stakes again


Gear Review: Seattle Woolly Clothing Co.

Posted by johnnieraz on November 11, 2017 at 12:15 AM Comments comments (0)

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OK, so I'm hooked on wool now ...

Bavarian Dancing in Leavenworth, Washington

Posted by johnnieraz on October 15, 2017 at 1:50 AM Comments comments (0)

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My Austrian roots show


Review: Osprey Aether 70 Backpack

Posted by johnnieraz on July 29, 2017 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (2)

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My review of the Osprey Aether 70 Backpack

Review: Amphipod

Posted by johnnieraz on July 22, 2017 at 10:10 AM Comments comments (0)


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My review of Amphipod hyrdation choices.

Finding the Middle Fork Trail

Posted by johnnieraz on July 15, 2017 at 10:05 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

Here's my video [also on outdoorsnw.com] to show how to find the Middle Fork Trail and a great place to start an out-and-back.

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Middle Fork Trail in Oakridge: One of My Favorites

Posted by johnnieraz on July 8, 2017 at 10:00 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

The Middle Fork Trail outside of Oakridge, Oregon is one of my all-time favorite rides.

Check out this videos of the section beginning at Indigo Springs:

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Drift Creek Falls a Worthy Stop

Posted by johnnieraz on June 24, 2017 at 2:20 AM Comments comments (0)

     By John Rezell

    There are a lot of great hikes along the Oregon Coast, and Drift Creek Falls outside of Lincoln City is one of my all-time favorites.

    https://www.outdoorsnw.com/2017/05/razs-picks-drift-creek-falls-top-to-bottom/" target="_blank">You can read my story on the ONWard blog on OutdoorsNW.com

Cape Lookout Sunset Hike

Posted by johnnieraz on June 17, 2017 at 2:15 AM Comments comments (0)

     By John Rezell

     Eventhough the marine layer didn't fully cooperate, hiking down to the beach at Cape Lookout State Park on the Oregon Coast for sunset provbed to be an enjoyable adventure. You can https://www.outdoorsnw.com/2017/06/raz-picks-sundown-at-cape-lookout/" target="_blank">read my story in the ONWard blog on OutdoorsNW.com

Sightseeing on the Oregon Coast

Posted by johnnieraz on June 14, 2017 at 2:10 PM Comments comments (0)

    By John Rezell

    Ever wonder what happens to Lagerhead from Wisconsin when he travels a famous Oregon Craft Brew Ale Trail?

    You can https://www.outdoorsnw.com/2017/06/smooth-sailing-to-find-rugged-coast-beer/" target="_blank">read my story in the ONWard blog on OutdoorsNW.com

     https://www.outdoorsnw.com/2017/05/sightseeing-on-oregons-north-coast-beer-trail/" target="_blank">You can view my slideshow here

The Most Amazing Thing ...

Posted by johnnieraz on May 21, 2017 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Wild flowers bloom on the Glacier View trail outside

Wenatchee, Washington. Photo by John Rezell

By John Rezell

From the Glacier Trail

     The views of wild flowers flowing up and down the rolling hills as they seemingly come alive, reaching up to majestic peaks sometimes bathed in sun but more often smothered by storm clouds, proves as breathtaking as the task of pedalling a mountain bike along this magnificent singletrack.

     For the past two hours I've been chugging up climbs, jetting down hills, stopping repeatedly to start or stop my GoPro, and snapping countless photos. Although this should be a physically demanding workout, I feel as though I'm floating in a wonderful dream, tireless, feasting on nature's pure beauty.

     I've come to this stretch of the Cascade Loop in Washington state on assignment, to write about this invigorating place for my magazine, OutdoorsNW.

     I grudgingly accept that it's time to head back when the wind whistles across the rolling hills and blasts me with a tremendous gust that nearly shoves me off the singletrack, and hail pecks away hitting my helmet and sunglasses.

    Even this nasty side of Mother Nature pumps me up, and I soar down the face of the mountainside beaming inside and out.

    Typically a song will pop into my head as I find a way to capture the entire experience.

    I literally laugh outloud as I hear Steve Martin strumming his banjo and reciting no truer words for my life:

    "But the most amazing thing to me is,

     I get paid for doing this ..."

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10 Years Ago: Birth of an Adventure

Posted by johnnieraz on May 18, 2017 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (0)

PHOTO: Our summer home for 85 days and 8,000 miles in 2005.

By John Rezell

     When folks learn about our amazing adventure of the summer of 2005 that is chronicled in my book "You Can't Cook a Dead Crab and Eat It" they often ask exactly how one arrives at the decision to take such a grand leap of faith. This excerpt helps explain. Also, I just live an interesting life.

BEGIN EXCERPT

CHAPTER THREE

Birth of an adventure

(A few weeks after our trip to Georgia)

     Today is the birthday of our latest adventure. In the next three weeks we will sell as much of our Earthly belongings as possible via that American standard — the Moving Sale/Garage Sale. We'll pack leftovers into storage, close on the sale of our house, and head out on the road in search of our future.

     That's right, Debbie and I are packing up Sierra and Taylor, and heading off for a summer of exploration throughout the Western U.S. in search of the place we plan to call home.

     I'm sure you note a change in my tone. You're no doubt wondering just exactly how we got to this point, this point of knowing, without question, it's time to roll. I mean, the signs have been coming and going for a while now. How do you know when you know? The answer is that you just do. I know it's time to move on from this mess as surely as I knew it was time to get into it. That was just a little more than four years ago, when we rolled out of Loveland, CO, in our Ford Explorer with everything we owned packed in storage and a 4-year-old and 2-year-old in the backseat.

     Debbie looks at me and says, "You know, most women wouldn't allow something like this to ever happen."

     I say, "What? Driving out of town homeless and jobless with two young children in the backseat?"

     We hedged our bet that time. We just sold our house in Colorado for a nifty profit, thanks to a nutty home market. I had been a 2000 dotcom casualty, but after three months of searching for work while collecting unemployment, we were driving out for a job interview that I knew, instinctively, I had in my back pocket.

     I knew it from the moment I applied for the job. After sending my resume and cover letter via email, I went, of course, for a bike ride, came home, and said, "We're either moving to Knoxville or Birmingham. I'm not sure yet which one because I applied for both jobs at the same time."

     The next day I get the call from Knoxville. Ironically, my resume in Birmingham went to a woman who previously held the position I would take in Knoxville. If this all sounds strange and bizarre, well, you know it's all part of my world. The world that we put on hold for a while. Tennessee became elevator music; a trance to pass the time. To prepare a foundation for the girls. To get ready for this, the time, once again, to rock n' roll.

     Before I go any further, let me point something out I should have 'fessed up to long ago. I'm Gemini. Say what you will about Astrology and whatnot, but this much I know is true. I'll be cruising along through life as I know it, as I live it, and then, BOOM!

     Suddenly something comes rambling out of my yapper that even causes me a moment of pause. That there little tidbit about moving to Knoxville is a prime example. Understand that I had been unemployed more than three months at the time, and had applied for countless jobs (okay, not countless. It was more than 300, since Colorado unemployment forced me to keep track). As Debbie walked away after hearing my Knoxville prognostication, I scratched my head — literally — and wondered where in the hell that came from.

     But, I digress. (BID)

     Knoxville became a pit stop for us. We pulled in, changed drivers, milked every drop of fuel from that tank, and realized it's time to go. I mean really time to go. Things started to happen.

     See, we have been trying to sell our house "For Sale By Owner" for about two years. Well, trying might be too strong of a word for a lazy ass such as myself. We had a sign out front and at the end of the road for about two years.

     Every time Debbie got antsy and said that we should get a realtor, I balked. I said it wasn't time.

     One time when she pushed back harder, I snapped: "When the time comes for us to sell," I said, that mystery voice at the helm and most of my conscious essence listening in deep anticipation of what we would hear next, "we'll get a realtor and sell it. Just like that."

     I didn't actually snap my fingers. I'm not one of those guys. But you catch my drift.

     After near misses on job opportunities in the previous few months that would have moved us on in life — one for Debbie in Memphis, and one for me back in our native Wisconsin — we got a realtor. A budget realtor. All I will say at this point about that is that you get what you pay for.

     The day we officially went on the market, my horoscope went something like this:

     From the time you wake up this morning, every bit of your energy will be focused on a very particular objective: making a fantasy become a reality. The good news is that you stand every chance of doing just that.

     Just one week after watching Lance Armstrong in Georgia and igniting my inner fuse, we had our first showing. A couple of former San Diego police officers. That's strange enough, to find someone from heavenly San Diego in the boonies of East Tennessee. A little more bizarre when you know that we lived outside San Diego, in Carlsbad, for 10 years before heading to Colorado.

      (How'd we get out to Carlsbad? All together now: Quit our jobs and drove out with our belongings in storage — homeless and jobless. The only difference back then was no kids in the backseat. As I recall, it was a cooler full of beer.)

     BID.

     There isn't anything too different about their viewing, aside for one thing. They ask to see if their car fits into the garage. That sounds serious to me. A realtor once told me if the woman can tell you where she'll put her Christmas tree, your house is sold. I suppose a car is like a Christmas tree for a cop, no?

     So I pull our '95 Mustang out of the garage and park it on the side.

     The Mustang is like everything else in my life. A story in itself. My mother bought it for herself on her 70th birthday back in '95. She always wanted a Mustang. She's Gemini, too. You can't keep the four of us from our appointed rounds.

     She barely drove it, not that it matters. She got her satisfaction from it through the looks on people's faces when she'd tell them proudly that she bought herself a red Mustang for her 70th birthday.

     It spent most of its life in the garage, protected from the ice, snow and salt of Wisconsin winters. She finally sold it to me last year in mint condition with just 19,000 miles on it shortly after I had totaled Debbie's favorite car, her beloved Honda Accord, while delivering newspapers on a rainy morning. That’s another story in itself for later.

      The Mustang now has 31,000 miles. It's a great car. A real looker. Bright red. Mint. Debbie drives it to work. She fell in love with it in a heartbeat, having driven a ‘69 Mustang fastback in college. I sneak the Mustang out for long drives on Saturdays. Instead of going to the grocery store five minutes away, I head to one 35 miles away. Takes me about 20 minutes. Nice cassette stereo, too. Yeah, I said cassette.

      After the cops couple leave, I go out to put the Mustang back in the garage. With morning rain sprinkling down, I figure it's as good of time as any to put out the signs for our open house on Sunday, this being late Saturday morning. Hey, I guess we ARE finally really trying to sell the house.

      I slowly approach a very sharp corner not far from our house, attempting to determine the safest place for me to stop and put up the sign. Then I see a flash.

     It's a VW Rabbit heading for the corner — and thus, toward me — much too fast for dry conditions. With the slick pavement, well, time would tell how bad this will be.

     The last time I saw someone head into a 90-degree turn that fast was back in college, outside Whitewater, WI. Two farm boys in an ol' water truck so full that it was sloshing out the top as they bounced down the highway. I was coming from the other direction with my 35mm camera — telephoto lens and all — sitting on the seat next to me. I knew immediately they wouldn't make it. I reached for the camera.

      I cradled it in my hands as I watched the truck flip and tumble a few times. I was just finishing journalism school — actually spending summer school as editor of the student newspaper so I could graduate on time and get on with my career, certain I was ready for the big time.

      I realized at that moment I was a reporter at heart, a photographer in my wildest dreams, since I watched the crash with my mouth hanging open like a dolt. I missed a great shot, or rather, series of shots, since I did have the motor-drive on and ready to roll.

      Instead, all I have are the fond memories of pulling the groggy driver and his buddy from the smoking wreckage before it burst into flames. Okay, it didn't burst into flames like you see on TV or in the movies. But it did go up in smoke and we had a nice fire raging by the time the volunteer fire department arrived. I never did get my car blanket back. I didn't have the heart to take it from that shivering kid with the faraway eyes.

     BID.

     Back to the Rabbit. I immediately begin braking the Mustang, muttering expletives to go along with the words, "No, no, NOOOOO! That @#$#$^# isn't going to make the [email protected]$^$#*%^ TURN!"

     I'm correct.

      As I slow to a near stop, I enjoy a slow-motion treat of watching two eyes the size of ostrich eggs as he spins his steering wheel frantically attempting to regain control. He doesn't regain control. He swerves out and a collision with his driver's side rear appears imminent. Then he over corrects in a greater panic, and spins completely around — smacking my front end with his passenger side door.

      The door folds in like a beer can on my college roommate Bergie's forehead. It takes most of the impact. For a moment — a very brief moment — I think, "Hey, that wasn't too bad ..." Then the airbags blow. If you've never had the pleasure, well, hope you never do. I'd rather tangle with a hornet's nest. I get airbag burns on the arms and chest.

     In the end, here's what you need to know: He's 16. He gets his license Thursday. He gets his car Friday. He totals our Mustang on Saturday. A few hours later, the cops from San Diego call to make an offer on our house. The stars begin aligning.

     The nester in Debbie immediately starts thinking about renting a house for the summer or buying land cheap — all sorts of temporary possibilities that avoid the hippo farting in our Jacuzzi. We don't fit in here, living in Tennessee. This isn't us.

      "Hey," I say, remembering that the biggest obstacle of packing everything into storage on our move from Colorado to Tennessee was squeezing her Honda into our 10x20, "how often do you sell your house, liquidate your spare vehicle and face the onset of summer vacation?"

      Bite your tongue on your maturity smack. I've come a long way, baby. At least I didn't just scream, "Tramps like us, Baby we were born to run!" which, by the way, is what we sang to when we bolted for California, toasting with two glasses of champagne. That, and, saying, "I know pretty little place down San Diego way, where they play guitars all night and all day..."

      I didn't quote any lyrics this time, but Debbie got the message. She jumped onboard immediately, without hesitation. So, here I sit on May 18th, 2005, watching the local hillbillies dig through our treasures at another day in our endless Moving Sale. Do you know how depressing it is to see Tennessee trailer folk thumb their noses at your stuff?

      BID

     This always has been an important date for my family, May 18. My father, Reinold — aka Reiny or Rein-babe — was born on this date in 1918 in Milwaukee, WI. On his 27th birthday, he married Doris Jane Killian — otherwise known as Jane or Janeybelle.

      For those into numbers, you should probably know that Jane's birthday is June 18. That is 1925, to be exact. On her 57th birthday, I married Debbie Krueger. We wanted to follow their lead and be married on my birthday, June 11. But we couldn't get the blood tests done in time. One of the hurdles of eloping. So we got hitched in front of a judge in Galena, IL, a week later, on June 18.

     That's right, we eloped. We had Friday night for a honeymoon since I had to work Saturday night at the newspaper in Dubuque, IA. So we drove the orange Datsun B210 along the Mississippi River up to LaCrosse, WI. We had dinner at Taco Bell after being chased by some yokels all around town at terrifying speeds — at least terrifying given the amount of Reunite Lambrusco pumping through our veins. By the time I ditched them, real restaurants were closed. That was fine since, well, we had spent two weeks at the end of May in Arizona, when I burned up my vacation for the year, eating at nice places and enjoying a wonderful time together. That was my graduation present to Debbie. An unknowing advance on her honeymoon.

      Her parents didn't approve, of course, of us traveling together unwed and all, which, of course, prompted the elopement. Debbie had just graduated from the University of Wisconsin, and didn't have a job immediately lined up, so she moved back home. They pulled the antiquated, "Under my roof" crap. Boom. She came to Dubuque, IA, to live with me. We were on the move.

     I guess this union is based on blowing with the wind. Doing things our way, that is, you know, honeymoon first, marriage second. Making our own rules.

     BID

      Back to the significance of May 18th, 2005. Today we bought a Starcraft 1707 popup camper. That's a whopping 10 feet of trailer when folded. So I'll consider this not only the birthday of the trailer, but that of our adventure. Good thing, too. Reiny would have been 87 today. He loved camping.

      The camper, of course, was paid for with the insurance settlement money from the Mustang. I intend to bolt the silver pony from the grill of the Mustang to the trailer. Sierra suggested, since we're buying it on Reiny's birthday, that we call the trailer "Reiny."

     Hmmm. Maybe Mustang Reiny!

      If that isn't enough for one day, Debbie also gave her notice at WATE-TV, where she's a commercial producer. There's no turning back now. Full steam ahead.

END EXCERPT

A Day that Changed Me

Posted by johnnieraz on April 30, 2017 at 8:00 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     You could title this entry You Can't Rewrite History. The fact that history can't be changed is the reason I wrote my book "Taken for a Ride: Chasing a Young Lance Armstrong."

     Oh, I know a lot of people would love to change history. That's why it is not surprising to me that my book on Lance is the least popular of my three, although in many ways I believe it is the most entertining of the three.

    People have a hard time forgiving. Sometimes an even more difficult time remembering.

    Not me. I remember.

    It was on April 30, 1995, that Lance performed some cycling magic before my eyes in the Tour DuPont on the Stage 4 race to Blacksburg, Virginia, finishing with an amazing solo breakaway before a throng of thousands on the Virginia Tech campus.

     On that day, three years of hard good old fashion journalistic work to get to know Lance and cover his story paid off as he delivered an amazing ride. He followed that by treating me to quotes he did not share with anyone else. For the rest of my days as a journalist, I never let up or took a day off — knowing that you never know when all your effort will pay off.

     Here is an excerpt from "Taken for a Ride: Chasing a Young Lance Armstrong" about that day, that ride. But you have to buy the book to get those quotes that I never shared before.

BEGIN EXCERPT

    For me, riding in the press van or one of the team cars for the stage was a no-brainer. There is no other way to really know what goes on out there on the road. Driving six hours at 20-30 mph you get a true understanding of what the cyclists endure. You know how hot or cold, or rainy and slick the roads are. You know where there is wind. You feel how steep and long each climb is, and how tricky the descents. Every now and then, you get to witness something — like the 1993 Raul Alcala v. Lance battle up Beech Mountain — that will stay with you forever. That happened again as I stood in the middle of the chaos known as Virginia Tech University savoring Lance put the finishing touches on what, for me, will be remembered as one of the greatest moments in racing on American soil.

    What I’ve always loved about sports is that on any given day, someone seems to rise above — to find an inner strength the others cannot tap into on this particular occasion. Lance seems capable of capitalizing more than others as if it were the only fuel to feed his burning soul. It's one thing to watch his magic on a television. It's another to see it — and feel it — in person. Just ask the thousands who swarmed the campus of Virginia Tech that day. They watched on the big screen the end to a story. I got to see the birth of the story in person — that amazing moment on Mountain Lake during Stage 4 of DuPont.

    It had already been a legendary stage, one that Euro-tested riders like Ron Kiefel and Jeff Pierce pegged as the toughest single day of racing on U.S. soil since the days of the Coors Classic, if not the toughest in history. Period. It was a brutal course that the peloton raced hard, from the opening gun. 141 miles. Five major climbs. 8,000 feet of elevation gain. Names like Durand, Bortolami, Jaskula, Bauer, Yates and Armstrong were stoking the fire in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Carolina. Riders were left behind like carnage on nearby Civil War battlefields. As our press van climbed the summit of Mountain Lake, only a handful of powerful survivors remained in contention.

    With a slight drizzle wetting the windshield, it was critical to get the press van over the summit ahead of the breakaway — no telling how slick the descent might be. The climb, it appeared, continued on forever as Lance, teammate Andrea Peron, defending DuPont champion Ekimov and a few others continued hammering each other. Someone would force the pace for a few pedal strokes, and all would match. It’s like watching a small school of fish or a small flock of birds attempting to stick together.

    At moments like this, the press van must attack at 1K to the peak to make sure we get down the mountain without having the racers fly down the mountain and catch us. We knew if we ever allowed that to happen at DuPont, the press van would be dispatched to the back of the peloton for the rest of the stage, and with riders stretched out for miles, no telling how far that would set us back. So we only pushed the limits on so far. Absorbed in watching the battle behind as they toyed with each other up the demanding climb, we thought for certain we had missed the 1K sign. The climb went on and on and on. The fog intensified the dreamlike images. The tension mounted, for the racers, and the reporters in the press van. We knew something had to give. At least we hoped something would, and that they wouldn’t ride in as a group that neutralized each other all day. As much as we wanted to see the fight, if we got caught too close to the riders on the descent, we'd be pulled aside for the day and would never make it to the finish ahead of them.

    I sat in the back seat of the van with small binoculars, relaying information to our group. The binoculars really weren't much help looking through the rain drops on the window, and I eventually put them down. We were staying far enough ahead to stay out of the fray. Besides, by this point in my career covering racing, I didn’t need to see numbers to know who was who. I could tell by the way they handled their bikes.

    Don’t ever ask me to explain the nuances; I doubt I could. It’s more instinctive and intuitive. I knew who was who from a frightening distance. On such a steep climb it would be impossible for them to catch us quickly as we continued our ascent, so we had a little wiggle room. As I watched the small group keeping close watch on each other, the debate raged about the 1K sign. Did we pass it? Are we screwed? Our driver Tim Miller had gotten into the practice of pushing the limits on this tour, bowing to our constant pressure knowing that he might be forced to give up this plum assignment to drive a cargo truck at the end of the line if we push him too far. We continually recalled Steve Penny's epic Beech Mountain move as the gold standard for the press van driving, allowing us to see the Lance v. Raul battle. We even promised to pay any fines Tim might get from race officials and, looking around the van, I knew that expense would come out of my pocket.

    The atmosphere in the press van felt electric. We had played this cat and mouse game on every climb of the race, for more than five hours. Now, with the miles ticking down toward the stage's moment of truth like a time bomb, the tension leaped a level or two. Now you could see the rider’s breath puffing out in the cold. Add the drizzle, and it was enough to make your hair stand on end.

    "One more look, then we gotta go," Tim finally announced, his voice thick with anxiety. I turned for a final peek. The group was breaking up again. Now it's down to four. Hang on just a second for me to identify the survivors. Now three. Peron, Ekimov and Lance have a gap.

    "We gotta go!" Tim shouted.

    I could sense the countdown nearing blastoff. I didn't know if it was our clock, or the riders'. I begged. Hang on just ... a ... little ... longer ...

    BOOM! Already climbing out of his saddle, Lance swung out from the others with a lightning quick move and attacked. Ekimov didn't respond immediately. Peron sat on Ekimov's wheel, and Lance bolted up the hill alone.

     Tim put the pedal to the metal. We raced down the mountain for what seemed an eternity. On a descent the information on Tour Radio becomes sparse. The officials can't keep close tabs because of the speed, and the reception in the mountains gets spotty. It's the same for the TV reception. The satellite feed back to the finish line usually gets lost in the mountains. Although there had been no word on race radio that Armstrong had attacked, we knew he did. We saw it. The day before the crucial Roanoke Mountain Time Trial, and Lance threw down the gauntlet. My hands were shaking as I wrote my notes — as if there were any question as to whether or not the scene would be imprinted in my memory forever. I close my eyes today and still see it in HD.

     When we zipped into town we found the streets lined with fans a long, long way from the finish. Generally in a city this size, there might be a handful of folks here and there. A steady line of people created a tunnel. At least twice as many as we saw last year. When we got to campus, it was a fricking zoo. Typically we’d hop out of the press van and rush to the press area at the finish line, where we’d watch the finish on a TV monitor with the other journalists. We couldn’t hang there. We had to soak in the ambience. Feel the buzz. Skip Woods and I got out of the press van and disappeared into the crowd, with others wondering where we were heading.

     We plunged ourselves into the heart of the madness, our mouths literally hanging open and hair standing on our arms. We know because we paused and, without saying a word, showed each other our goose bumps. We stood watching Lance on the huge television screen as he weaved through the streets of Blacksburg alone, the crowd buzzing. The hill across from the finish line looked like ants attacking a picnic, swarms of bodies sprinting toward the screen for a better view of history in the making. This wasn’t like any other stage we’d ever witnessed. It was especially gratifying for Skip, who’s a Virginia Tech alumni.

     You could hear in the distance he was getting closer, just by the roar. When Lance arrived on campus, the din was deafening — the kind of sound you only hear inside a stadium or arena. This was outdoors, and not even closed in by high-rises. The sound felt thick. It was U.S. cycling's true Christening. Skip and I sprinted to toward the finish, running on past it, to catch Lance still on his bike. We were about 200 yards beyond when we looked back and savored the view as Lance saluted the fans gliding across the line. He continued on and on and on, rolling past us. Far past the end of the tunnel of fans and safety fence lining the road. He kept going, farther than I’ve ever seen him. We ran and ran.

    Lance rolled into a parking lot behind a typical college-like building, away from the throng. You could still hear the roar back behind us. It would be two minutes before another rider would finish, yet the cheers never faded. I bolted ahead, and caught up with Lance all alone — only because Skip refused to give up smoking. I left him behind after about 400 yards, gasping for air. There I was, in the spot I live for, alone, with someone who just did something absolutely stunning. I watched as it slowly began to sink in, his head nodding and occasionally shaking, like a Kentucky Derby winner slowing to a trot as it heads to the Winner’s Circle.

     I stopped and just stood there, not pushing my luck. He circled around the parking lot a bit, as if he understood the impact for me, an American-based journalist, seeing what is probably daily fare in Europe. It was as if he wanted to reward me as well as establish the magnitude of the moment. He never stopped, instead slowing to a crawl so I could quick step next to him.

    Dude, that was amazing, I said, completely caught up in the moment and throwing my cloak of objectivity into the air. This precious moment was ours. We slowly headed back toward the roar, in no hurry whatsoever. I just paused, giving him the opportunity to soak it in before I go for the gold. I said, this place has been going nuts for the past 15 minutes just waiting for you to get here. I've never seen anything like this for a bike racer in America. It's like you're a rock star or something.

    He cracked a grin of satisfaction like I've never seen from him. Total contentment. Peaceful. Tranquil. A connection materialized here that Lance had been searching for — yearning for — but never really certain it could become a reality in America. He loved his fans back in Austin because they understood what he endures to rise to this level. They understand his pain. Finally, he found new converts.

    It was just a year ago on this same stage that the clever Russian Ekimov pulled one over on the eager young pup. Lance could argue that one to his grave and never admit the embarrassment that Ekimov delivered that day. When Chuirato attacked out of that small group out front a year ago, Lance hesitated. Ekimov called Lance’s bluff. It infuriated Lance, whose idea of mind games is to crank up the pace until you surrender. Instead of unleashing his fury down the road with a counterattack, Lance blew it. Chuirato rolled into a somewhat rousing reception from the Va Tech faithful as stage winner. Lance rolled in with Ekimov. When Lance saw the party that he missed out on, it burned him up inside even more.

    On this day, Lance looked down the long finish line to a pack of reporters and cameras waiting about 300 yards away, and he slowed to a stop for me. Just the two of us.

   What does this mean to you? I asked him.

END EXCERPT

    I must share the adding-a-cherry-on-top moment. I made it my goal always to be the first running at Lance's side to get a quote when he raced in the U.S. At DuPont, by contract, that opportunity was supposed to be given to ESPN. Davis Phinney was the post-race reporter with that responsibility. So I respected Davis, and always made sure I got out of his way when he arrived so he could have exclusive time. Still, I made sure I was there first.

    As Lance and I slowly moved back toward the finish line, Davis ran up with the ESPN camera crew. Davis knows all about  — winning. He is the winningest bike racer in U.S. history. Davis stopped for a moment as his cameramen raced to Lance. Davis looked at me and said, "Just once I'd like to get to him first."

    The experience of that day carried me for the rest of my journalism career. Any time I felt a pinch lazy and figured I’ could just use cruise control, and sit the press conference for quotes, I remembered that day. Every time I hustled to get an interview, it provided the opportunity to show all the other journalists why I do what I do. I do it, because it is who I am. I want the story. The whole story. I want to win the day.



The Lucky Ones

Posted by johnnieraz on April 7, 2017 at 11:30 AM Comments comments (0)

EDITOR'S NOTE: In my role as editor of OutdoorsNW magazine and OutdoorsNW.com I will be blogging on our new website when it is launched in the next few weeks rather than posting here. Our blog will be called ONWard, and will chronicle adventures beyond what appears in the print editions. As this blog goes on hiatus, I felt this would be a proper post to stand the test of time.


By John Rezell

     The true beauty of this symphony we call life doesn't emanate from its divine score, but rather the creativity and genius of the individual members of the orchestra, who burst out in ad lib solos that carry our collective spirits to soar far higher than we could have imagined alone.

     This week America's Cycling Philharmonic lost its conductor, Steve Tilford, who set the tone and influenced literally thousands by living on his own terms until the moment he left our stage.

     The paceline of tributes online strings out from coast-to-coast — an unending barrage of heartfelt confessions — one after another after another after another, not unlike Steve's penchant to attack relentlessly and never let anyone rest on your laurels, least we forget the reason we came in the first place.

     We've seen celebrities in other fields who have moved masses pass on. Their tributes more often than not relegated to the brief, one-line cliches that allow us to quickly move on.

     What transpired over the course of the past few days has been nothing less than members of our tribe bearing — no, wringing out — their hearts and souls. Cries from deep inside ourselves. Places Steve found a way to touch.

     As I embraced each post, each sentence, each word, I was reminded how lucky I am to have been invited into this family bonded by our love of the wind rushing through our hair and our blood feverishly pumping through our veins as we cherish our freedom to chart our own course, to write our own song.

     Ask any of us the most successful riders ever to mount a bicycle, and the names will fill a familiar list, no doubt divided by discipline or specialty. Ask who the most influential person ever to mount a bicycle and, be you a roadie, an off-roader, a 'crosser or even a trackie, that very well could be a list of one. One who will be missed in our hearts as much as in our peloton.

     Each night I hop into bed incredibly thankful for the amazing life I've had the pleasure to enjoy. I wonder how I've managed to keep my wheels grounded and stay my course. It would be so easy to take full credit that "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul," but I know better.

     There's an old video online about Steve, and his brother Kris attempts to describe him in one word. The best he can do is explain that Steve is so many things, yet the sum of all of those is greater than the parts. It's magic, Kris said.

     I, too, am the sum of all those parts of my life that have connected me with humbling individuals who have touched me. So many of those incredible individuals make cycling a community like no other. I've been blessed to be touched by all of you. And Steve Tilford forever stands atop my podium representing the best of all of us.

     Magic, indeed.

     My book "A More Simple Time: How Cycling Saved My Soul" is a tribute to the many individuals who allowed me into their lives and my opportunity to share their stories in what I consider the Golden Age of American cycling, 1989-1996.

    

    

    


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