ConquerMountains.com

Click here to edit subtitle

Blog

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

view:  full / summary

Out of the Closet

Posted by johnnieraz on March 16, 2019 at 2:55 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     Some people confuse patience with laziness or apathy. Oh, not me. When it comes to work of any sort, I'm as lazy, er, I call it efficient, as they come. When it comes to most everything else, well, I'm about as apathetic as you'll find. But when it comes to something I really care about, I'm neither lazy nor apathetic. I'm patient. Oh, so patient.

     That's how I eventually published three books, by being patient. I waited until technology caught up with me and allowed me to publish books that I want to read and that I think some — not everyone — might be interested in.

     So I wasn't lazy. It takes a boatload of work to write a book, much less three. But I was apathetic toward the tenets of traditional publishing. I grew tired of agents and publishers attempting to convince me to make my work just like everyone else's because that's what sells.

     For years I've wondered why I have such a lack of interest in cashing in on my creative endeavors. Then I looked around my home office, at the myriad of creations of my Dad.

     From the rock people he made from stones we found on the riverbank to his whittled comedic characters (the doctor with a saw in his hand and the woman next to him with her legs on backward) to his loons with the body of a nectarine pit, it suddenly became crystal clear.



     My Dad would emerge from the basement with his latest art — or we would all open our presents at Christmas to see his latest — and we would rave that he should sell them, that people would pay for them. While he graciously accepted the compliments, it was painfully clear that would take all the fun out of it.

      Oh, I can relate.

     And so it has been for my young adult novel that I'll make into an animated film someday, my handful of screenplays that play on the big screen in my head, and my board game. They live in my closet and my head. Waiting patiently for the right time. Their time.

     It's not that I'm an egomaniac believing that everything I touch is gold. It's just that I know I'm unique — just like everyone else in the world — and I want to celebrate my individuality rather than surrender it to attempt to make us all more alike.

     I've survived as a writer for publications over the years focusing my attention on my job to create the way I want to, to the best of my ability, then surrender. My byline had two lines. I took care of the "By John Rezell" part. The editing team took care of the publication's responsibility. I was fine with that, mostly because I worked with great editors who respected my work and changed very little.

     My other endeavors, well, they are personal. They are part of me. They express me.

     My satisfaction and joy come from creating. The fun of coming up with something clever that prompts me to laugh at myself is unparalleled. I've never felt the need to cash in because, really, no amount of money can match that experience. It's what I live for.     

     This all matters now because, thanks to technology like Kickstarter, I'm about to take a big leap and bring my board game out of the closet. I can no longer rely on publishing to pay the bills for the rest of my working life. Thing is, I love what I do, so I'm not about to stop doing it because I've circled the sun a set number of times.

      Everyone who knows me understands I'm out there, living in my own world. I've said I plan to live to 130, so retiring anytime before 120 or so just doesn't make sense. I need something to keep me engaged until animation software catches up to me and I can do a whole movie by myself.

     So stay tuned. If my research proves the time is right for my board game career to begin, it will happen soon ...

The Frightening Truth About Concussions

Posted by johnnieraz on March 11, 2019 at 1:15 PM Comments comments (0)

     By John Rezell

     Well into our fourth month of painstaking concussion recovery, I sat with my teenage daughter in our doctor's office attempting to figure out a reasonable plan forward that didn't continue the seemingly ineffective, barbaric, somewhat medieval course of action we had been following. Then our doctor finally confessed:

     "The thing is," he said after avoiding the truth for so long, "is that we really don't much about the brain and head trauma. So we just have to try some things that we've tried before and hope they work."

     Having talked to a number of parents of kids who had suffered concussions, I asked our doctor about the trend I uncovered.

     "It seems to me," I said, "That if you haven't recovered in two weeks you're looking at two years."

     "Yes," he said, "That seems to be what I see."

     That, more than anything, is the scary truth about concussions that no one talks about. As the cycling community mourns the death of Olympian Kelly Caitlin by suicide and learns she was fighting through concussion recovery, here are a few things you should know based on our personal experience.

        No Quick Fix

        In my daughter's case it took more than two years to regain a close, but not complete, recovery to the person she was before she got hit in the head with a volleyball.

     We see so often athletes on TV sustain a major blow to the head, shake it off, and get right back into battle. And we think that's fine. Lately trainers spend time evaluating the severity of the blow. But let me tell you how my daughter's concussion went down.

     It was a Saturday volleyball tournament. When your team isn't playing, you must help officiate another match. She sat at the scorer's table preparing paperwork while the two teams warmed up. A ball came out of nowhere and smacked her in the side of the head, just behind the temple.

     Since she was offiiciating, not playing, I didn't see it happen. She worked the match, then came up to me in the stands, shrugged and told me she just got hit in the head.

     I immediately went through the laundry list:

       Did you lose consciousness? No.

       Does your head hurt? No.

       Are you dizzy? No.

       Do you feel nauseous? No.

       Feel sleepy? No.

       Do you know what day it is? Yeah, it's Saturday.

       Do you know your name? Yeah, (laughing) Taylor Rezell.

     Everything seemed fine. She went out and played another couple of matches. We went home. No worries. Sunday was fine. Monday morning she woke up to go to school and came to me and said, "Dad, something's wrong ..."

     She felt terrible, a headache and nauseousness after a restless night of little sleep. She had balance issues. Light bothered her eyes. She couldn't do her homework. Didn't want to eat. She felt confused.

     We went to the doctor and he prescribed some pain medication for the headaches, basically saying that's about all he can control at this point. Never one for drugs, she declined after the first dose because it made her feel out of control. To her that was more scary than the pain.

     She needed to follow this basic protocol — this for a 16-year-old honors student just beginning her junior year of high school: No phone, computer, TV or music. No reading or writing. Sleep in a darkened room until you feel better. Then see what you can do, and do it until you don't feel good again. Repeat. Repeat again. And again, and again ...

     It started with 6 to 8 hours of sleep followed by less than 10 minutes of activity before her symptoms would overwhelm her, sending back to isolation.

       After a month or so, she could manage 10-15 minutes.

       After three months almost 20 minutes, and finally progressed to a point where she started physical therapy to basically reteach her brain many of the millions of things it does unconsciously every second — things like figuring out where the body is in space so she wouldn't just lose balance and fall out of the blue. Yep, things like that.

      She couldn't go to school because, aside from not being able to concentrate and read for more than a few minutes, the brain suffered from information overload. All the people walking past in the halls, conversations everywhere — her brain couldn't filter it.

        Of course, if doctors don't understand what's happening or what's next, you can imagine what average people — like teachers, coaches, teenage friends, teammates, etc. — are thinking, much less the patient herself.

     Luckily her school has a strong training program, and the school trainer proved to be one of the most important people in her recovery, protecting Taylor like a mother bear protects her cub.

        Luckily I had a job where I could be around her most of the day, celebrating milestones like being able to read one page of US History without having to take a break, and actually being able to understand what she read. And I could comfort through the tough times, when a short drive in the car would make her head throb or she would stare at a Chemistry problem for 5 minutes and not understand a thing about it.

       It was a very long, confusing, frustrating, scary recovery with plenty of small steps forward and leaps backward. Two years later she continued to battle symptoms while trying to adjust to college life. But she has progressed, and is much, much better, although still not back to complete normalcy.

       We watch sports now and cringe each time a head gets hit. We scream at the TV if no one stops play to check the athlete out. We feel the pain when an athlete gets back into a game quickly. As someone who covered bike racing for years, I simply lose it when a rider crashes and is quickly helped back onto a bike.

       We are forever thankful that four years later she's thriving as a college junior, that we somehow managed to pull through her high school years without an extra year thanks to her determined pace before the concussion, and thankful that most of her teachers took it in stride and helped her (although there's always one that's challenging the diagnosis and hinting that she was out to cut corners).

        Interestingly enough, our doctor told us it appears that high academic achievers seem to have the most difficult and long recoveries. Professionals don't know why. But I'll always remember a school meeting with all interested parties involved, when Taylor wanted desperately to jump back into her honor classes and push through knowing that before that errant volleyball hit her it would have been no problem at all to succeed, if not thrive.

       That's when her trainer spoke up and said, "We all know that the Taylor we knew in September is not the same Taylor who is sitting at this table in April. And our only goal is to get that old Taylor back."

       Taylor looked at her trainer and understood, somehow, that she had to surrender who she thought she was and accept who she really was. She found a way to understand that it's all right to back off at times and take it easy. That's not easy for anyone, much less a teenager.

       It can shake your world to its core to learn there's so much about our brains and brain trauma that the experts don't know. The experts search for answers by literal trial and error. Taylor and I just know what we know. And we wanted to share that.

     








I Can't Make This Stuff Up

Posted by johnnieraz on March 9, 2019 at 5:00 AM Comments comments (0)

     By John Rezell

     Late December more than a few years ago when I was substitute teaching, I had this dream:

     I'm subbing and this dude is following me around, peeking in windows, hiding behind bushes. Finally he shows himself. It's Jim Carrey. The actor Jim Carrey.

     Now, I have a celebrity in my dreams about once every 10 years or so. So when I get a cameo, it gets my attention.

     Carrey walks up to me sitting on the bench at the playground during recess, and says he's doing a movie on substitute teachers. He wants to get the inside scoop. I say, sure, no problem. Just give me a call. I give him my phone number. He walks away, and the kid next to me says, "Why didn't you tell him about your script?"

     I say, well, I haven't really written it yet (and it's all formulating in my head as I'm saying this in the dream). The kid, by the name of Ryan, is in a fifth grade class I've subbed for. Ryan says, "You know it's great. Just tell him about it."

      The dream ends. I wake up buzzing. I start writing like a maniac. I write the first 35 minutes/pages of the script. It's Jim Carrey coming to school looking for a sub, and he runs into me, Mr. Raz. I write a scene that really happened to me as a sub, with Ryan, since the whole script is based on true experiences, depending on how you label a dream, whether it's a true experience or not.

     The major scene I write is when I took Ryan's class down to music. A few minutes later, one of the trouble makers is getting hauled off to the office by the music teacher, so my class is in there alone with their recorders (we called them saxettes).

     I go in, and restore order. Ryan has the attention span of a gnat. Always goofing around. Nice kid, but he has these issues and kids always picks on him. So I conduct them. To their amazement I know how to conduct with a baton. We play Jingle Bells.

      Ryan is screwing off like he's Clarence Clemons, so I ask him if he'd like to come up and play in front of the class. He says, "YES!!"

    So he gets up, and plays a great version of Jingle Bells. Then he asks to play another. I say yes. He plays Amazing Grace nearly perfect, with dynamics and everything. The class, who knows he's the top screwball, erupts in spontaneous applause. A standing O. They're amped as well as shocked.

     I use it as a chance to point out that everyone has their special interest and talent. Life is all about finding your place. And I tell them someday they'll pay 50 or 100 bucks to see Ryan play his sax or piano or guitar or whatever. Ryan is, it appears for the first time, the toast of the class. He's beaming with pride like I've never seen before. He's on a cloud.

     Back to real time, I'm writing like crazy. I finish that scene in the script. I decide to take a breather. I mean, this whole thing is just ripping from my fingers like magic.

     I figure, I need a break. Heck, I don't know anything about Jim Carrey, other than what I've seen in his movies. So I better do some research on the Internet. The first page I call up is this page.

     And I read this quote from Jim Carrey:

     "It started in second grade. I was in music class and we were practicing for the Christmas assembly. One day I started fooling around by mocking the musicians on a record. The teacher thought she'd embarrass me by making me get up and do what was doing in front of the whole class. So I went up and did it. She laughed, and the whole class went nuts. My teacher asked me to do my routine for the Christmas assembly, and I did. That was the beginning of the end."

- Jim Carrey

      I nearly passed out. I have to write this script, I thought. The cosmos is talking to me. To have my own Amazing Grace moment like Carrey's at school with someone is wild enough. For it to be at Christmas time with a Christmas song? Really? Pinch me.

     Well, you know me. I follow my own path. So suddenly I take a normal, everyday story that everyone would reject as too simple, and the next thing you know, I'm writing about everything else bizarro that's ever happened to me since I'm basing the whole damn thing on my life.

     There are so many unexplainable moments like the Carrey connection that have made my life so amazingly fun to live, yet so impossible for anyone to believe. I packed a lot of it into that script. All about that fine line between reality and fantasy, where nothing can top walking that tightrope. I live on that tightrope.

Been There, Done That?

Posted by johnnieraz on March 2, 2019 at 2:15 AM Comments comments (0)

     By John Rezell

     From the moment my first byline story appeared in our high school newspaper, my Grandma Rezell beamed with pride, and each time I saw her after that she'd find the chance to pull me to the side and say, "I've got a great story to tell you one day ..."

     Like most teenagers, I believed I had all the time in the world. So many other things captured my imagination. Sadly, that one day never arrived.

     One Friday afternoon I returned from college to learn from my Aunt Esther that Grandma Rezell passed away. Esther and Grandma lived together a few blocks away.

     The next few hours were mayhem, getting my Aunt to the bank, picking up my Dad and telling him his Mother had passed away, then dropping him off at my Aunt's house and picking up my Mom to tell her the news. I've always wondered about Grandma's story.

    Finding your roots is all the rage these days, with plenty of companies cashing in on that quest.

     I did some research many years ago, prompted by some old writing handed down from a Great Uncle as well as my Dad. There are interesting tales.

     My Dad's family, the Trundes, came to America from Austria-Hungary in 1887, landing in Nova Scotia and taking the railroad to the end of the line in McCook, Nebraska. They continued on to Yuma, Colorado, where they set their first roots getting free land from the government.

     There's a whole story in there, but what struck me most upon reflection years after reading the accounts is how I have, possibly by design, possibly by coincidence, have traced those roots.

     When I left The Orange County Register to launch a freelance career of my own, my first solo roadtrip was to Witchita Falls, Texas for the Hotter 'n' Hell bike race. At one point the family made the long trip from Yuma to Witchita Falls for a possible move.

     My Uncle wrote of the long wagon ride that included waking up one morning to snow covering everything. It look a month or so. I thought about that years later when I made the move from Loveland, Colorado to Austin, Texas, driving along the highway and completing the trip in two days.

     That I worked in Boulder but bought a house in Loveland, just a few miles outside the tiny town of Berthoud seemed like a bizarre twist of fate. I stumbled upon this home that had a beautiful red rock outcropping that moved me deep inside, and we bought it on my birthday.

     Only years later would I revisit my Uncle's writing and learn that two of my Great Great Uncles moved to Berthoud at the same time when my Great Great Grandfather headed to Wisconsin, starting my family roots there.

     When the family headed off in different directions, they left for Wisconsin, Berthoud and Newberg, Oregon. Yes, Newberg, just about 30 miles from where I live today.

     I'm not sure if I'm retracing or reliving or ...

     Speaking of cashing in, on my Mom's side, one of her aunts did the research at one time and discovered they are Daughters of the American Revolution, which, of course, makes my daughters DAR, although you have to actually pay for the right to say that.

     Only in America.

You Get What You Need

Posted by johnnieraz on February 23, 2019 at 12:15 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     It's funny how life unfolds before you, more often than not attempting to convey that great lesson offered by The Rolling Stones.

     "You can't always get what you want,

        but if you try sometime, you find,

        you get what you need ..."

     I remember living rather contently as an adolescent in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin never thinking much of any future beyond state lines.

     Wisconsin offered four very distinctive seasons.

     Stunningly beautiful nature in the Kettle Moraine and beyond.

     Great sports teams in the Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers, Lew Alcindor's Milwaukee Bucks, Al McGuire's Marquette Warriors and Bambi's Bombers/Harvey's Wallbanging Brewers.

     Then one day my Dad came home from his job at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and announced that he could pretty much be transferred to any department in the US of A.

     He just returned from a conference in Colorado, and although we did travel a decent amount throughout my childhood throughout the Midwest and South, I remember that day my wanderlust exploding from within as he spoke about Colorado, its majestic mountains lifting my spirits.

     For the next few weeks I'm certain he wished he had never opened his mouth.

     Even though I grew up a diehard Marquette basketball fan and pegged it as my dream school, I campaigned heavily for a move to California. Anywhere in California, to get residency, and matriculate to UCLA. My Dad dismissed California immediately, but wasn't quite yet ready to abandon the idea of Colorado.

     The anticipation ended when I overheard my parents having a discussion at the kitchen table, my Mom asking if he was really serious about contemplating a move.

     That's when I heard him say that our whole family is here, in Wisconsin. My older sister with her kids, my older brother with his. My Dad's mother and his sister. My Mom's sister. No, he couldn't move away from all of that.

     This was my freshman year of high school, and I pretty much decided that my future would be a mix of writing and music. Probably a double major in college, Journalism and Music, en route to become a teacher. Then my high school band director destroyed my love of music in one short semester. You find you get what you need.

      With Journalism reigning as my calling and every adviser warning, "You better love it because you won't get rich doing it" the number crunching for college quickly dismissed Marquette as a choice.

     I found the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to have a great J-school, and as I graduated my plan was concrete. Two years at Whitewater, then a transfer to the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

      Two years into my Whitewater experience, my roots were forged deep into the school and my future in newspapers. Lucky for me, heading to Madison didn't even cross my mind.

      As my junior year began as sports editor of the student newspaper, unbeknownst to me, my soulmate wandered into my life.

      Even though Debbie grew to be my closest friend, the thought of marriage couldn't be further from my mind. Even as I graduated, if you asked me, I'd tell you any chance at marriage to anyone would be 10 or more years ahead. Career first. I had the world to see.

      Of course, two years later we were married. Two eager Journalists, one print and one broadcast, ready to climb the ladder. One thing we did know: Children were not in our plans. Not soon, maybe, not ever.

      That, too, eventually changed after 14 years of marriage as we ended a string of fantastic adventurous vacations — each year surpassing the previous experience, simply blowing our minds. At the end of that vacation in the mountains of Idaho at the pristine Lake Alturus, it hit me. The only way to make the next vacation better was to share it with someone. We decided right then to start a family.

      My oldest daughter just graduated from college. My youngest in her junior year. I'm not sure what awaits beyond the horizon. I'm just comforted knowning I'll get what I need.

Seriously, Pinch Me

Posted by johnnieraz on February 16, 2019 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)

     By John Rezell

     Whenever people find out I've spent most of my life covering sports they pepper me with questions about my best memories: the best game, the best athlete, the best team, etc.

     But when I look back at my career, the greatest memories are reserved for the teams I was part of, and the people who worked alongside of me.

     Man, have I been blessed, from my first years on my college newspaper to today.

     When it comes to dynasties, I'll put the sports staff of The Orange County Register of the '80s and '90s up against anyone.

     Starting there as a part-timer I had the privilege of working with some of the best journalists in the country. From columnists like John Hall, Steve Bisheff and Mark Whicker, to beat reporters like Earl Bloom, Peter Schmuck, Dave Strege, John Strege, and Don Greenberg I not only got to see how to work like a pro, but also how to act like a pro.

     Everyone on those great staffers treated part-timers like peers, which only served to create a fertile breeding ground for folks like me, Ken Daley, Marc Stein, Terry Hutchens, Janis Carr and a long, long list of others.

     The unsung heroes on the desk, though, were the best. From the top, Jim Colonna orchestrated an incredible environment where everyone felt hellbent on excelling, not just performing. His lieutenants Dennis Peck, Paul Loop and Robin Romano were three of the best people I ever worked for.

     Robin, in particular, had a tremendous influence on me. She found a way to inspire me to take chances and be creative. She really set the tone for the rest of my career, when I'd do things like climb in a tree (photo above) for the best photo and view of a bike race. The talent level of the many copy editors was only topped by their incredible temperament that taught me grace under pressure.

     As wonderful as those years were, the true gift of that time came when I became editor of VeloNews magazine and later started the content team at bike.com, and I got to put everything I learned into practice.

     We created an incredible team at VeloNews that covered the world of cycling like no other. Charles Pelkey, Marti Stephens, Kip Mikler, Bryan Jew and Lennard Zinn made up the essence of team that brought the heart and soul of cycling to our readers. The talented roster of freelancers were a who's who of cycling journalism, from Maynard Hershon's writing to the photography of Casey Gibson and so many others.

     The best part was that it never really felt like work at any of my stops. We had a blast cranking out tons of stories on tight deadline. At Velo we'd blow off the pressure by having headline meetings late in the afternoon, where we tossed out hilarious, disgusting and sometimes offensive headlines from which we picked the best to share as we laughed our asses off.

     That gang also gave me the greatest moment in my career, when they stood up to have my back in the toughest ethical challenge I ever faced as a journalist.

     Of course, you can read that incident in "Taken for a Ride: Chasing a Young Lance Armstrong." It's a memoir that tells as much about the essence of being a journalist as anything, and how difficult it can be to walk the tightrope between covering someone and befriending them, as well as juggling the ethics of journalism.

     Being a true journalist is difficult, and somewhat rare these days. But it wasn't back then, when being objective and fair was a priceless badge of honor. I've often said you are born with the ability to be objective, it can't be taught. Just because you can write doesn't mean you're a journalist.

     Enduring it with colleagues who were true champions made it one hellava ride.

     Each one of my stops in this long career have been rewarding and enjoyable in their own way. My first gig of responsibility as sports editor of The Royal Purple at UW-Whitewater set the standard for having loads of fun while working hard alongside upperclasswomen Barb Uebelacker, Marla Cone and Sue Pierman.

     One of the most amazing stops was working with the MSNBC crew on the Salt Lake City Winter OIympic websites. Talk about 24/7 production!

       The last few gigs have paired me with genius entrepeneurs whose proclivity to spit out creative ideas seemed endless: Felix Magowan, Alan Scholz, Talty O'Connor. I thrived on the challenge of converting those ideas into reality.

      Some may look at my broken road and think it's paved with shattered dreams. Oh, far from it. It's the foundation of endless adventure.

Rising Above the Fog

Posted by johnnieraz on February 13, 2019 at 2:45 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     As noon approached it became ever so apparent the lingering fog smothering the Willamette Valley wasn't going anywhere. And if you didn't know any better you might scrap any plans for getting outside figuring it would just be a something of a downer.

     Having lived in Oregon's western valley for more than 13 years, luckily, we knew better. So my daughter Sierra and I packed our black lab Ridgely into the Santa Fe and headed for the hills.

     About 45 minutes later on our drive, as we climbed into the Cascades, we rose above the thick, puffy layer settled into the valley and felt the winter sun warming our cheeks. Ah, this is what we were looking for. The temperature inched up from its 38 degrees to 50 in a matter of miles, and by the time we rolled through Detroit a magnificent day lifted our spirits.

     A little research uncovered a potentially fun hike. Something that would be challenging, yet wouldn't bring us into the snow level.

     I didn't share the stats with Sierra at first, simply telling her it would be a Sierra-and-Daddy hike. We coined that phrase years ago, when we'd head off occasionally to explore on our own. Our first effort proved to be a steep, endlessly uphill grind that felt like walking up stairs for an hour-and-a-half.

     Since then, it seems any time that Sierra and I hike, we end up climbing and climbing and climbing. Of course, our greatest adventure was Zion National Park's Angel's Landing, my 18th birthday present to Sierra.

     So we hit the Stahlman Point trail and started our ascent. I hate to spoil anything, so when I glanced at the notes about this hike, I didn't look long enough to know whether the 4.8 miles was one way or round trip. But I did note there would be 1,300 feet in elevation gain.


    Hiking this early in the year, I wasn't sure how far we would go. Complicating matters, Ridgely is now 12.5 years old and not the same pooch who could hike endlessly. About 45 minutes into the hike Ridgely decided to surrender her position up front and slip back behind me. I was feeling it, too.

    Just a few minutes later, as the trail got steep again, two guys passed us coming down.

    "Just a couple more switchbacks and you're there!" they told us.

    Whew. Perfect timing. I started to think it was 4.8 miles one way, and that would be a little too big a task for Ridgely, especially this early in the year. Bouyed by the news, we kicked it up a notch and as we hit the summit, the spectacular view Mount Jefferson, iced with snow against a blue sky dusted with soft clouds.

    Oregon has its rap: rain, rain, rain and more rain. Oh, if you only knew ...




Inspiration

Posted by johnnieraz on February 9, 2019 at 1:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Inspiration is all around us, don’t let it pass you by —

be present, recognize, and embrace it. It’s truly magical

and a launching pad for your next adventure.

— Kristin Armstrong Savola


     By John Rezell

     As the latest polar vortex zaps the deep freeze on most of the country it's easy to surrender and just hunker down to survive. While you might surrender a moment, never surrender life.

     Kristin posted those inspirational words on Facebook the other day. It's easy to look at someone like Kristin, who shattered conventional wisdom by winning not one, not two but three Olympic gold medals in cycling's individual time trial — a discipline where maintaining excellence for a season or two is challenging enough, much less three Olympiads.

     In Kristin's hometown of Boise, Idaho she's revered as a hero. Her story inspires countless folks, from gruffy grandpas to zealous young girls. Covering the town's celebration of her third gold medal inspired me.

     It's so easy to be inspired by someone who has conquered challenges, thus igniting our fascination with athletes and other celebrities. But as Kristin points out so insightfully, inspiration can come from a mryiad of sources.

     There is, however, a danger that lurks out there. It's mistaking inspiration and emulation.

     Inspiration can be the spark that lights the fire, that motivates you to push yourself to excel in your own area of expertise or interest. It creates your dream that can lift you up on your darkest days. Dreams come in all shapes and sizes, but the true reward of making a dream come true isn't the dream itself. It's the realization you can do anything if you refuse to quit. It's empowering beyond imagination.

     Emulation can fester and foster failure as easily as success. Emulation focuses on specifics with success attached only in matching or surpassing a goal or person, more concerned with simply being the best and accepting nothing less rather than zeroing in on being the best you can be and accepting where that falls in the grand scheme.

     The obsession to be the best can lead to tunnel vision, where balance in all its shapes and forms becomes the victim. I've seen many athletes succumb to that obsession and have it eventually destroy their dreams and themselves. Those who manage to maintain balance thrive beyond the playing fields, and continue to inspire long after athletics have left their lives.

     I remember a polar vortex so many years ago, as the chill iced over my dreams for a spell. Enduring temperatures of minus-20 can take the joy out of any job. Retreating indoors can conjur up cabin fever. It can feel a bit overwhelming.

     Rather than climb beneath my covers in a warm bed, I sat on the living room floor listening to music late into the night not necessarily aware of what I was searching for.

     Then the haunting sound of a harmonica stirred something deep inside of me.

       A memory of hearing that performed live, under a sparkling clear Wisconsin sky with a full moon shining brightly at Alpine Valley just a few months before, sent an electrical shock though every cell in my body. Bruce Springsteen sang to me with words of inspiration:

     Some guys they just give up living,

     And start dying little by little, piece by piece,

     Some guys come home from work and wash up,

     And go racin' in the street ...

     Just a few weeks later we left the comfortable life we created in the Midwest to chase dreams in California. Just chasing those dreams inspired and empowered us. And our lives have never been the same.

 

Thanks, Jake

Posted by johnnieraz on February 6, 2019 at 5:35 PM Comments comments (0)

     EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of a series of Thank You essays to people who have helped make me who I am today.

     By John Rezell

     If you’re really lucky in life, you’ll cross paths with someone who really understands who you are, deep down to your soul. If you’re super lucky, you’ll meet them early in life, when they have the opportunity to make a difference.

     My stars aligned when I met Jake.

      I can’t remember the day I met Jake. Or the first time I saw that bright, mischievous smile followed by his deep chuckle. I just remember countless miles in White Lightning, his Monte Carlo, plying the roads of Brookfield, Elm Grove and beyond singing to our own private tunes with endless laughter.

     Jake saw me, and most people, for who we are. For better or worse I can’t remember him making any serious effort to change or alter who I was. No probing to figure out why I was who I was. He just accepted me.

      We shared some quirky traits and elements of our personalities that we weren’t necessarily proud of, nor ever really exposed to others, but they formed the foundation of a friendship that I cherished as much as any I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in my lifetime.

      I could spend days telling tales of our adventures, which nearly 100 percent of the time included beer or spirits — even our days working together as security guards for Summerfest.

      Although sometimes years went by without us getting together, when we would reconnect, the time between would fade to nothing.

     It pains me that I couldn't make it to his funeral, to say goodbye. But then again, we've never really parted.  

      And so it continues, to this day. So often a song, an image, or just a random memory popping out of nowhere, will bring Jake back into my life.

     His smile as bright and mischievous as ever.

     His chuckle as deep.

     Thanks, Jake.

     We sang a song …

My Quest is Simple

Posted by johnnieraz on February 2, 2019 at 2:35 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

      Somewhere along the line joy became my goal in life.

      Not fortune.

      Not fame.

      Simple joy.

      My life has been full of joy nearly nonstop since the day I graduated high school. I wouldn’t trade anything in my life since then — not that I necessarily would trade anything before that because I am the sum of my total life experiences.

      Good and bad.

      Yin and yang.

      I spend most of my days and nights in awe of the life I’ve enjoyed. I call myself an obsessive optimist, always finding the light and denying the dark. Maybe I’ve lived a life of denial and, if so, it has been a wonderful experience that I would recommend highly. Life can be what you want it to be. I want mine to be filled with joy and laughter. And, it is. It’s so by choice.

      Don’t misunderstand me. I’ve had my share of challenges, without question. I'm facing some right now. I’m sure a pessimist — who doesn’t even need be an obsessive pessimist — could pick apart my life and argue that I have little reason to feel joyful. That would be his or her loss, not mine. I just view my life through a different set of measures than most. Many things that keep others awake at night are not worth the time an energy to worry about, so I sleep like a baby.

     Our evolution from survivalists to greedy horders hasn't served us well. It seems that for so many individuals, no level of acquisition is ever enough, which I find rather odd since in my mind the only thing worth pursuing — happiness — has no degrees to it. You are either happy or not. You’re not more happier than just happy. And you can’t stockpile it, either.

     Nonetheless many continue to search for happiness in all the wrong manners. Believing that the proper acquisition of a material good or mass of goods will bring the elusive joy.

      What so many people fail to realize is the reality of America's obsession with success. Not simple modest everyday life successes, but extravagant successes. It's as if the simple American Dream of a modest house and a healthy family has been super-sized. The house is never big enough. Relationships are never satisfying enough. Health is vastly overrated until it falters.

     The urge to super-size has overblown America's emphasis on careers as the determination of your identity — of who you are. It blurs the real issue at hand. While it is fantastic if you can love what you do in your career from 9-to-5, true happiness is defined by who you are 5-to-9. In those hours away from your job, with your family, with yourself. That's what defines me.

     We often ask kids growing up the question: What do you want to be when you grow up?

     We seldom promote the answer: I want to be happy.

     A career, just like alcohol, drugs, sex or gambling, can be addictive.

     Career addiction can take over a life. You need more and more and more out of your career. Nothing will ever be enough. You're so addicted that you cannot see the damage you are doing to your family, even though you probably defend your actions by saying you are doing it for your family.  You leave before they wake up and return after they've gone to bed. You might as well have spent that time in a bar or casino.

     Just as parents want the best of everything for their children, children want everything for their parents. One can define that "everything" in a number of manners. I just prefer to define it as happiness

     And ask me who I am? I'm a Dad.

If You Give a Writer A Pencil

Posted by johnnieraz on January 26, 2019 at 2:55 AM Comments comments (0)

EDITOR'S NOTE: When I created Raz's Velo-o-Rama, my first website, in 1994 as a creative display of my work covering bicycle racing in America as a freelancer, the thought of having complete control publishing my work became an addiction and an obsession. As technology advanced I rode the wave through cyberspace in various capacities always motivated to create rather than cash in. As I celebrate the anniversary of self-publishing my three ebooks I decided to take a stroll down memory lane and look at some of the ideas that flowed from my muse. This first is my tribute to the classic children's book "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" and its line of stories, which I planned to use as the introduction to a website called The Brain of Raz.

By Raz

     If you give a writer a pencil, chances are, he'll want a piece of paper.

     So you'll strap on your helmet and hop on your bike to go along with the writer to the office supply store.

     But once you're on the bike path, the writer will want to explore. Because that's what writers do. It's called creative procrastination.

     You'll be riding along the bike path and probably see a pack of bike riders racing very, very fast.

     And the writer will try to keep up with them, just to see if he can.

     So you'll ride your bike as hard as you can for as long as you can.

     When the bike racers slowly turn into tiny dots on the horizon, then disappear, the writer will say that's for the best. It's a better story now.

     That's when you'll realize you don't know where you are, and that you should have brought a map, if not a survival knife and flint.

     You'll be scared, but the writer will smile with glee. And he'll say, remember, what doesn't kill you ...

     ... makes you stronger, you'll answer proudly. But he'll crinkle his nose and say, Heck, no, what doesn't kill you makes a great story! CHA-CHING!

     And if you haven't realized it already, you understand why writers are lonely people without a lot of friends. At least, friends who are alive.

     You'll spend a few nights in the cold, eating wild berries and drinking rainwater as if you were on "Survivior." The writer will fill your empty nights with terrifying stories of what could happen to you, all them ending in death, as he continues to remind you that reality is stranger than fiction.

     Eventually you'll get rescued and even though you shared the frightening ordeal 50-50 with the writer, you find that really you only own 100 percent of your story, and none of the writer's.

     Of course, the writer will hire an agent, who will take 20 percent right off the top, which is fine with the writer, because if he tried to sell anything on his own he'd end up with 100 percent of nothing, just like you.

     The agent will sell the book to a marketing company, who will take 50 percent off the newly neatly trimmed top. The agent is fine with that because without the marketing company, he'd be earning 100 percent of nothing, just like you.

     The marketing company puts together the book and sells it to a publishing house, which will take 50 percent off the top simply because it can, and another 20 percent off the top for distribution costs. For some reason, the marketing company doesn't flinch at this. Probably because 100 percent of nothing is ...

     The distributor will sell the books to local stores, who will jack the price up even further, to take off their 20 percent.

     And you'll go to the bookstore for the signing on the day the book is released, and you'll fork over $39.99. But you won't mind because, of course, you know the author will only get about 50 cents of that, and he'll autograph the book, meaning someday when he rides a little too far and too fast, you'll get your money back and then some by selling it on eBay, with you actually getting to keep a full 100 percent.

     Which makes you start thinking that, hey, who needs all these people in the first place?

     Why not just buy a computer, type in your story, publish an ebook and offer it to folks like yourself for, oh, maybe $5 because you really aren't concerned about getting rich, you just want to make a decent living.

     And just to show how greedy the rest of the world is, you'll use what profits you gain to start a whole knew company that focuses on children and finding ways to inspire them to create dreams for their lives, and follow them with the relentlessness of a, well, a writer.

     So you go to the office supply store to buy a computer, and as they hand you a laptop you feel like you have all the power of the world behind you to help you tell your story.

     And then, you laugh, because you think to yourself, hey, this is much, much, MUCH better than ...

     ... if you give a writer a pencil.

Living in the Now

Posted by johnnieraz on January 19, 2019 at 1:30 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     Without question the toughest part of being a parent is figuring out how you got to be who you are so you can pass that along to your kids as they search for their own identity.

     I only have a couple of hints of how I ended up who I am. And trust me, I'm not who many would have guessed I would turn out to be back in high school.

     But that's the beauty of life and the wonder of the journey.

     I can only speak for myself. I managed to find the courage, or maybe just enough recklessness abandon, to believe I could change. I didn't worry about the implications. I just set out to change.

     That hint came from my father. If you've read anything of mine over the years you know the story. He lost his short term memory latter in life. When I asked him about it, he told me it was fine. Because none of that mattered. Not the past nor the future. All that matters is the present.

      As I wonder about the many aspects of my life, I'm constantly drawn back to that moment, when I began to focus on living in the present.

      For years it came down to a simple premise: I can't change the past and I have VERY limited control over the future. It's all about what I do now, in this moment. I can attempt to prepare for a better future. But it's only a hope, really, not a guarantee.

      I recently watched Brian Greene's NOVA on time. I've always been fascinated by the concept of time although I can easily get in over my head digging into the essence of time.

     Greene explains quite well Einstein's theory that the past, present and future all co-exist. Some people like to believe that their future is predetermined, and float through life accordingly, letting the winds of fate carry them along.

     In believing that the future holds every possible outcome the present becomes a game of living to increase your odds of creating the future you desire.

     Of course, there is no complete control. It's all about increasing — or decreasing — your odds in the decisions that you make every moment in the present.

     I have a close friend who struggles with anxiety. He often bounces ideas off me since I appear to have little to no anxiety at all.

     I know many will have difficulty with that statement, but it's true. I just don't worry about stuff. That's not to say I wasn't a complete worry freak in my younger days. Oh, believe me, I was. Because, of course, my mother set the bar for worrying — as I believe most people believe of their mothers.

     Focusing on the present makes worries about righting past wrongs or wondering what the future holds somewhat problematic because, of course, it is ruining your present. Turning what could be a glorious morning into a stress filled day. No thanks.

Beyond the Horizon

Posted by johnnieraz on January 12, 2019 at 1:10 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     A clean white monitor glowing before me in the otherwise soft light of an evening slowly brought my world to a complete and utter standstill. Frozen for a moment in time, I found my mind floating in the clouds rather than thrashing in uncharted waters.

     My hands kept a vigil over the keyboard with my fingers delicately caressing the keys in tiny circles, refusing to commit to pushing any of them hard enough for a response. Eventually I looked down, and saw my right hand tremble a bit. I smiled.

     Instead of fear, I felt triumph. Instead of drowning in the turbulent waters, I'm flying above the clouds.

    It's there. I know it.

     I'm struck that this moment doesn't paralyze me. I'm a writer. It's not just what I do. It's who I am. And never in all my years of writing that I can remember -- going all the way back to my first short stories in fourth grade -- have I ever experienced true writer's block. I've never stared at a blank sheet before me, unable to connect words to thoughts.

     My mantra to young writers, from my daughters to reporters who sought my advice, always has been to just write. Let ideas flow. Don't think about it.

     Good writing is, more than anything, the result of good editing. Get an idea down. All the ideas down. Then craft and mold the message.

     On this occasion, however, the words were not the issue. The thoughts were.

     I have a feeling brewing inside of me. It has been churning for days. No, weeks. Maybe more. Something lies beyond that hasn't manifested itself quite yet. It only has offered a glimpse. A hint. It is wonderful, that's all I know.

      The sensation of contentment allows me to lift my eyes from the screen. I begin to look around the my home office.

     Christmas lights hung from the ceiling capture my attention first, bright, colorful and glistening like never before. I dive deeper into their essence. Their message. Each light sparks a memory. Soon my mind is racing as I chase them along the strand, filling my soul to the point of busting, so many grand memories. I love my life.

     The string ends at a new calendar, a black and white photo of Italy introducing me to January while triggering images of a trip there many years ago. I glance around at the photos that grace the wall, displayed in handmade frames I've created from branches, feathers, sea shells and other bits of nature I've collected along the way. I see my daughters in those photos, growing magically before me. I think about our kitchen table, and my daughers, from the first day they left a high chair behind to the first day one chair stood empty, its regular occupant having left for college.

     On and on it goes. Everything around me appears to jump into view, vying for my attention. Begging for a memory. Or two. Or more.

      From the futon that served as my bed years ago in Colorado as I began a new adventure alone, waiting for Debbie to rejoin me in a few months when we would welcome Sierra into our new life as parents, all the way to my Yosemite coffee mug that reminds me each morning of the most magnificent adventure a family could hope for through the summer of 2005, memories appear contained, for safe keeping, in the physical world around me.

     Life. Adventure. Something's out there, beyond the horizon of today. I'm not certain what it is. I only know I can't wait.

     NOTE: The photo above is the Blue Pool, which sits about halfway down the 23-mile McKenzie River Trail. It is considered by many to be the best mountain bike trail in the US and is about an hour's drive from Eugene. This photo is from my first visit to the Blue Pool when my older brother Tom came out from Wisconsin and we rode the trail. We rumbled through the lava fields and suddenly this amazing sight took our breath away. Each time I walk or roll into the woods the anticipation of what might surprise me lightens my heart. It's much like the feeling that overwhelmed me the other night -- one that seems to be hanging with me every where I go these days.

An Ode to Mother Nature

Posted by johnnieraz on January 9, 2019 at 1:40 PM Comments comments (1)


Spirit of Adventure

Posted by johnnieraz on January 5, 2019 at 1:40 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     As a parent, there are countless moments when your children reveal a pinch of their essence. You get invited to appreciate a rare glimpse inside.

     One of the biggest moments for me remains as crystal clear as the day it happened, many years ago.

     My stomach suddenly started doing handsprings in one of those moments of shock and disbelief filled with more fear than anything else.

     It wasn't terror staring death in the face fear. No, more like rollercoaster anticipation fear. Regardless, I found myself in one of those moments where I could have easily backed away rather than forge forward. Had I done that, we'd have no memories to share.

     Having gingerly climbed out to a somewhat lofty perch on the rocks overlooking swirling water below that had just crashed over the edge of Wildwood Falls, I faced a moment of truth.

      I looked down from the perspective of a protective father rather than the inspirational dad whose gut instincts brought us here just moments earlier. Then I turned to look at Sierra, sitting next to me.  I wondered just how in the world I got to this point.

      I mean, I know how I physically got there, to the edge of Wildwood Falls just east of Dorena.

      I stumbled on the picturesque spot during a bike ride. We were camping at Baker Bay, enjoying our first Fourth of July weekend in Oregon. I couldn't wait to show the girls the falls because, deep down, I knew something like this was bound to happen.

      We were one year removed from our epic adventure, when we spent the entire summer of 2005 traveling America's West in search of a place to call home. Both Sierra and Taylor grew magnificently before our eyes during memorable hikes at the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Yosemite, among other stops (that's all chronicled in "You Can't Cook a Dead Crab and Eat it").

     The real question: Did that adventure change them permanently, or would it remain a memory of one wild summer never to be matched?

      Debbie decided she had seen enough waterfalls in our first year in Oregon, and wanted to stay behind relaxing at the campsite with her book. We drove to the falls and looked at its beauty. Row River wasn't raging and wasn't too deep.

     I suggested we go to the top of the falls and take some photos. That's when Sierra flashed her devilish grin, and I knew right then I had pretty much been caught red-handed with my true motive revealed.

     We waded across above the falls in knee deep water, each daughter clinging to my hand as they felt the rush of the current against their legs. We took a couple of shots of some people taking the plunge into the refreshing water. Sierra's eyes beamed brightly as she soaked it in.

      That's when Taylor realized something was up.

      "We are NOT going to jump off the cliff, are we?" Taylor asked, already well aware of the answer by the look on Sierra's face.

      "Well, Taylor," I said, "You just never know. If you don't want to, don't worry, you don't have to."

      "I'm jumping," Sierra interjected confidently.

       "We'll see," I said, "We'll see."

       Let me note here that we had never jumped into a river from a rock, much less a high perch, so having it pop up like some piece of common conversation was bizarre enough.

       We sat atop the falls for a good 20 minutes watching others -- mainly teenagers -- jump. Then we maneuvered into position to check out the scene from the edge.

      "We're not jumping, are we?" Taylor asked again, trying hard to get a handle on a situation that made her more than a little uneasy.

       "Do you want to jump?" I asked her.

       "No!" she said emphatically.

       So, Taylor volunteered to take the camera and towel down to the bottom to record the proceedings.

      Next thing you know, Sierra and I are on the side of the rocky ledge looking down at the water. I began my lesson. We tested depth first by cllimbing down to the edge, dropping in rocks and watching them disappear (part of the beauty of Oregon lakes and rivers, where you can see to amazing depths. Crater Lake is clear to 140 feet!).

      Then we figured out what the currents were doing by tossing in a few sticks and watching them gently twirl before heading downstream. We weren't about to jump into the swirling whitewater at the bottom of the falls. We found a calmer, safer spot off to the side.

      I continued through my laundry list, explaining everything that would happen: How you have to leap far enough out, away from the rocks, to be safe. How you go pretty far under water for a spell. You might not know which way is up. You'll feel the current. Above all, just be calm. Confident.

       I kept taking my time, making sure Sierra had plenty of opportunity to change her mind if she wanted. But I'd turn and look into those eager brown eyes, and know that nothing was going to stop her.

      That's when I paused to take one more look down, and suddenly realized the height and magnitude of what might transpire in the next few moments.

      "Are you sure you want to do this?" I asked. "It's a ways down there."

      She looked at me with lively, steely eyes and said, "Daddy, I'm not looking down. I'm just jumping."

      I looked at Sierra in complete and utter awe. I couldn't think of a more inspiring response. I stood up on the edge and could feel a tremor in my knees and flutter in my stomach. I thought back. No way would I have done it my summer after fourth grade. I'm not convinced I want to do this now! But the only way to be down there ready to offer any assistance to Sierra is to get down there and know what it's all about. Show her how to do it.

     So I jumped.

     Of course, it was a gas.

     Oregon lakes and rivers -- even in the hottest days of summer -- will shock you. They are stunningly cold. These moments move with lightning precision, from a flash of complete terror to euphoria. I explain it to kids in my dream presentation as moments when every cell in your body screams at the top of its lungs: IT'S GREAT TO BE ALIVE!!!!

      When I bobbed to the surface I could see Taylor's eyes the size of golf balls. I looked up and watched Sierra quickly move to the edge. I could see her eyes concentrating as she went through her mental checklist. Then she paused. She locked her eyes on me, and I knew what she wanted.

     "One, two, three!" I shouted.

     On three she went flying. Just like her initial dives into Zion's Virgin River the previous year, the only real danger was her choking from laughing so hard. She erupted as she popped to the surface, screaming along with each of her cells.

 

     We crawled out of the water on the rocky shore to hear Taylor boldy announce, "I want to jump, too!"

      So, Sierra manned the camera. Taylor climbed up the rocks with me. We went through the whole checklist. I jumped. She got to the edge, and paused.

     "One, two, three!" I shouted.

      She jumped.

 

     Again, the look on her face as she broke the surface will be unforgettable. She laughed out loud, just like a third-grader-to-be.

       And so it went, for the next 45 minutes or so. Over. And over. And over.

      When we returned to camp both girls sported wild-eye grins. Debbie simply said, "No, you didn't!" They both exclaimed, "We jumped off the waterfall!!!!"

     Later that night at the campfire after Debbie finally calmed down, I told them that one of the reasons we left Tennessee last year for a summer of adventure was to show them how to make life happen. How to live life to the fullest. How to enjoy special moments.

      Of course, I added, you girls didn't need to learn that. You already knew.

 

Don't Read This

Posted by johnnieraz on January 3, 2019 at 12:05 AM Comments comments (1)


By John Rezell

     Whatever you do, don’t read this.

     I’m serious. Stop right now. Google something. Hit one of your bookmarks. Hell, go back a page. Turn off the computer. Whatever, just don't.

     Do not read any farther. Stop. Again, I beg of you.

     Just step away from your computer. Run like hell.

     Whatever you do, please, by all means, do not read to the end. Never, under any circumstances, share this. In fact, if anything, close this page right now and call/text/email/write everyone who means anything to you and simply share with them, my mantra:

     Whatever you do, don’t read this.

     If you insist, I'll tell you why. But then it's over. Got it?

     It goes something like this:

     I can’t remember exactly when I stopped reading fiction, but I sure as hell can remember why: My own life became much, much more interesting than anything I’ve ever read in a novel.

     I didn’t have to suspend my beliefs.

     I didn’t have to exaggerate my details.

     I didn’t have to enhance the quirkiness of the individuals buzzing in and out of my life.

     I didn’t have to, for any reason whatsoever, escape from my life.

     No sir. I had to dive into my life. Head first. Full throttle. I didn’t have time to waste with my head down and nose in a novel. I’d miss too damn much. Miss life. Not just any life, my life.

      I know. Enlightened ones, or those who believe they are the enlightened ones, tell you to read. Read, read, read and then read some more. That's the way to become a good writer. Read the good, the bad and the ugly. Then copy the formula. What irks me is that the reading considered to be good isn't writing about good at all, it's writing about the bad and ugly sides of life.

      The good? Who wants to hear it? I've been told if your life is great, keep it to yourself.

      Misery loves company. Maybe that's why I'm a loner. I've got a great life. Wonderful experiences. No super dramatic crisis to overcome. Anyone interested in reading that? Not according to publishers and agents.

      See, it’s like this. There are writers and there are writers. There are writers who listen to all that golden advice, play the game, and know the joy of seeing a book with their name on it sitting on the shelf in Barnes and Noble because they followed the same formula as the book sitting next to it.

     And, there are writers who just write.

     Not to make money.

     Not to become famous.

     Not to escape life.

     We write because that’s who we are. It’s what makes us tick. It’s our life. Frankly, we couldn't care less what someone else thinks of our writing. Because writing is not always about being accepted by everyone else, or revered by your peers, or sitting next to Oprah.

     For us, writing is about expressing ourselves. Chronicling our lives. There are countless writers who are the former and believe they are the latter. They’ll tell you that every writer wants to be heard. Wants to be understood. Every writer needs an audience. Acceptance. It’s the essence of writing, they say.

     Sorry.

     Not for everyone.

     Not for me.

     I’m a writer who writes for me. Audience of one.

     This all comes to light now for a couple of reasons. The other day it dawned on me that I can’t remember, ever, wanting to be someone other than myself. I never remember looking at anyone and thinking, “God, I wish I were him (or, probably more thankfully, her).”

     I can’t remember wanting to live anyone else’s life but my own. That’s powerful stuff. At least in my mind.

     High school, that's when it became obvious my life was more interesting than anything I’d read in a book. That’s when I found myself, and understood that the only voice worth listening to is the one that speaks from my heart. My soul. That’s when I entrusted my life to my instincts, and realized the power of the experience of life.

     As in living my life, not reading about someone else’s life.

     When I got dumped and had my heart broken, that pain, that agony — that tsunami of emotion was real. Not something concocted in someone else’s mind and put to paper.

     It was my emotion.

     My pain.

     I felt it, and as hard as it was, it let me know that I was alive.

     Connected.

     Living a life.

    Mistakes hurt. Badly. Disappointment and frustration are no picnic. Yet, lows make highs so much more fulfilling. Highs make lows much more tolerable. That wonderful, peaceful place in-between became the most amazing part of life. Nirvana. The place where, instead of reading about someone else’s life, I was living mine. Writing mine.

     I’d write about an amazing sunrise, stepping to the window in a small hotel room in Venice, watching a fishing vessel slice into the glassy glowing surface of the Adriatic as it headed out to sea. To deliver someone else’s life to destiny. I’d turn away, and savor the beauty of Debbie, asleep like an angel. Sure, Venice is for lovers. But that feeling takes my breath away wherever I glance at her. Venice. Austin. Boulder. Carlsbad. Dubuque. Eugene. Fort Atkinson. Galena.

     As I write, my fingers caress the keyboard with a tingle. I pause and read my work. A sensation bubbles from deep within, and rises to a grin cutting across my face. No, not a grin. My smirk. The ultimate fulfillment. Capturing the exact moment in the perfect words. My words.

     I’d write about other sunrises, dawning well into mid-morning in my noggin, as I type. Eventually, months later, after countless rejections, I’d wonder if it was just my imagination. If it was only in my mind that the words were perfect. Or, even true. I’d wonder if the sun could really flood the sky with a soft orange glow as cirrus clouds paint the edges of the horizon in stunning streaks of purple. Who the hell would believe that just because I wrote it? Can it really look like that?

     I’d debate it in my mind, almost endlessly, then load my daughters into the car, and drive to grade school. Just before we’d turn the corner, rolling through the hills of Tennessee, I’d peek in the rearview mirror, and see those bright, lovely faces of my girls. Sparkling eyes soaking in life, unfiltered, as only kids can.  

     My heart would skip a beat.

     My stomach would flutter.

     One of those moments, like writing my perfect sentence. True joy. Then Sierra would say, “Wow, Daddy, look at that sunrise!” I’d look. And I’d see the sun flood the sky with a soft orange glow as cirrus clouds paint the edges of the horizon in stunning streaks of purple. This is the magic of life. Of writing.

     Not for an audience.

     Not for anyone, but myself.

     My fascination with reality drew me to journalism. Non-fiction. I explored life through the eyes of countless people. My interviews became discussions. About life. I found truth to be exponentially stranger than fiction. Not to mention easier to find. It’s everywhere. All around me. Not bound in a book.

     I found that if I listened to my heart, my soul, my writing followed.

      My life continued to be my greatest work. I know because I’d see it in the eyes of the beholder. At parties. At interviews. At family get-togethers. At the checkout line. I’d see others bobbing in a sea of amazement. Wondering what it would be like to walk in my shoes. I’d wonder why others couldn’t, or wouldn’t, take those steps of faith on their own. Why they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, live life to its fullest.

      For a time, I thought my calling might be just that. Delivering that message to others. Helping them find the joy I find in almost every moment of life. How to do that? Writing, of course.

     I embarked on that crusade. I’ve had every door figuratively slammed in my face. Completely shut out.

     With a novel. 

     With screenplays.

     With memoirs.

     I don’t have what others want. 

     Want to read, that is. My guess is that it's a little to sugar-coated. The rah-rah cheerleader in me comes out. I don't shock just for the sake of shock. People will listen to me talk for hours. But the guardians of published writing appear to believe no one is interested in my stories. My life.

      I suppose I should be crippled by disappointment.

      Consumed by rage.

      Determined beyond measure.

      Obsessed to write, literally, this wrong.

     To please an editor or agent, if not an audience.

     None of that applies to me. Creating that drama would be fiction. It’s not part of life. My life. That’s what makes it, to this day, more interesting than anything I’ve ever read in a book.

     To most, I assume, it seems logical that writing and reading would be linked at their core. Yet writing is life in the moment, while reading is escaping the moment. At least your moment. Substituting a moment in my life for a moment in yours. The desire to do so is so foreign to me.

     I told you not to read this. You should be out living life instead reading a rant that is written, as I said, for me.

     This all started with my desire to actually write for a pinch about some books I actually have read recently. Trapped in the travel tunnel, waiting for flights to arrive and depart, hours in the air, I found time to read. I read biographies of Steve Jobs, Bill Walton and Phil Knight.

     Yes, they've done some amazing things in their lives. Nothing that would remotely interest me, or give me satisfaction. Still no, "I wish I was him" moments.

     No, more like, thank goodness I'm not like them.

    Great success, those books will tell you, comes at a great price. To a man they apologize to those closest to them. Their families. Their kids. Their soul mates. Their personal quests were at the top of their priority lists. Sad, but true. Some call that success. I call it tragedy.

    I wouldn't trade any of their successes for the relationship I have with my girls. Not for the honor of saying I changed the world through electronics. Not for the thrill of winning championships. Not for the ability to build stadiums in my honor.

    I told you not to read this.

    Go spend some time with your family.

    That's what I plan to do.

    But that's just who I am.

     Then I'll sit down and write about it.

     Interested in reading any of those life experiences I speak of? Check out my ebooks.

    

  

 

 

 

Change Can Be Simple

Posted by johnnieraz on December 29, 2018 at 2:50 AM Comments comments (2)

By John Rezell

     Don't get me wrong. I'm as lazy as they come. Honest.

     Given a choice, I'd much rather join my mountain goat friend in the photo up there in Glacier National Park via a ski lift and just sit on a rock enjoying the view. I've never met a couch I didn't like. Naps? The greatest.

      When it comes to fitness, though, it's important to step up. The human body is an amazing miracle. It's something we should honor and take care of like a newborn.

      As we prepared for a New Year, it's easy to come up with lofty resolutions. A great many of my friends are in the cycling community and fitness is second nature. But I've got a lot of friends who don't have fitness high on their priority list. Their resolutions very well could be — and in many cases should be — about taking care of their bodies.

      So here's my tip. Don't make that resolution that you have to join a gym and workout five times a week. Don't demand that you start running or cycling every day. Don't even put a deadline on your goal.

      Keep it simple.

      One day many, many years ago, I dusted off my bike, hopped on and decided to chart a course for fitness. It beat me up, something fierce. My legs were as rubber as Gumby. My lungs burned like a New Year's bonfire. My head dizzy at times. My lunch plotting an early escape. Just as I was about to pass out, I decided turn around and head home. I made it. Barely.

      I quickly jumped in the car to check the mileage. Seven miles. Round trip. I gave my body a few days to recover. Then went for it again. My goal was simple. Another lucky seven.

      Eventually seven miles turned into 15. Then 30. Then 50. Eventually 100.

     It probably took me three months to get to 30 miles. Another few to get to 50. Probably two years to get to 100.

      I had no idea that in a few years I'd ride my first century (a 100-mile ride) down in Baja Mexico. Or pedal down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to San Diego. Or that I'd climb mountains for the sheer fun of ripping down the other side like a maniac.

       Change doesn't happen overnight. It comes in baby steps.

       The key for me — someone who isn't one of those goal stormtroopers who just does it — is the Dory approach. Just keep swimming. Any advance, any improvement is a victory. It doesn't matter if days pass, or maybe even a week or so. Just don't throw in the towel.

        A year ago around this time, I tweaked my back. I ride my bike about 10-15 hours a week and hike on weekends, so I'm in decent shape. Cycling is great for your legs and lungs. Your core? Not so much.

        At the urging of my daughter, I focused on my core. I had started awhile back with pushups to strengthen my upper body. Barely could do 10 and laid there with trembling arms and a weak stomach thinking I was pathetic. A few days later, I tried 10 more. Eventually 10 became 15, then 20, then more.

        So I added situps figuring it had to be easy since I was doing about 35 pushups then. At the start, 10 situps was a chore, especially with my sore back. I thought I would vomit. I waited a few days and did it again. But 10 became 20, then 50, then 100. Now I do 200 situps and 50 pushups most days. I couldn't feel better.

        I'm not out to be the fittest guy in the room, in fact, if you look at me you wouldn't think I'm into fitness at all — aside from my shaved legs. Never thought about group rides, much less riding in front.

        No, it's just about taking care of my body (since I plan to live to 130) and feeling good in the morning instead of like a car wreck. It means I can jump on my bike and ride up a mountain for three, four or five hours. Or hike with my teenage girls for two, three, four or more hours.

        Awhile back I went to see my old childhood friend Jack, who lives in Salt Lake City. We went for a five-hour hike climbing some 3,000 feet and wondered who, if any, in our high school class would be able to keep up. I wish they all could.

      It all began with reasonable goals, and not a lot of pressure on myself.

       Start simple.

       Don't push it.

       Take your time.

       Before you know it, you'll have the fitness to climb a mountain and catch a goat sunning. It's worth it.


 

A Christmas Buzzzzzzz

Posted by johnnieraz on December 22, 2018 at 1:50 AM Comments comments (0)


By John Rezell

     Imagine for a moment waking up as a small child on Christmas morning and running downstairs to find the tree dark and house more than a little chilly.

     If you are really imagining this scenario through the eyes of a child, then you know the lighting and temperature are irrelevant. What matters are presents. And there are plenty beneath the tree.

     On this particular morn, a Christmas Eve blizzard knocked out the power in the area, thus no lights and no heat. Needless to say, it didn’t matter. At first.

     We dug into the presents as kids usually do. Then Mom handed me a big flat box. I had no idea what it was, so I ripped it open with a little added energy.

     It took me a minute to figure it out. Then it hit me. Electric Football.

     Growing up in Wisconsin during the Packers Glory Years, it didn’t get much better than this. Football was king. Neither team was painted. One team was white. One team yellow.

      Without hesitation, I decided to pin a number on one player. I peeled off No. 24 from the decals and planted on the back of a yellow player. Willie Wood came alive.

     We spent the next few hours playing with everything else under the tree while slowly adding layers of clothing. I never remember another Christmas without electricity. Nor a Christmas when electricity was in such dire need.

     Eventually the electricity came back on, and a nanosecond later, the game began to BUZZZZZZ. As players zoomed all around the field, I focused on No. 24. One of my heroes, the only Packer I honored with a number, Willie Wood, simply spun around and around in circles like a top, going no where, but certainly standing out from the rest.

     Ah, the memories.

      More than a few years later, another Wisconsin blizzard just after Christmas paid big dividends. My buddy Jack and I spent the better part of three days wandering around the neighborhood shoveling driveways and getting paid handsomely.

      After putting my required portion of loot in the bank, I had enough to buy myself anything I wanted. We went straight to Sears where I got an updated Electric Football Game, complete with painted players. The New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams.

     We didn’t quite take it to the level some people do. But inside was a catalog where you could order other teams.

    Eventually, I had six or seven teams. The teams we didn’t like, we repainted ourselves. We had a league in the neighborhood with six teams. It was great fun. Eventually we repainted every team.

     I had the teams packed away somewhere for decades. Last Christmas my little brother surprised me with a new Electric Football Game. Ah, the memories …

I am the Horizon

Posted by johnnieraz on December 19, 2018 at 4:15 PM Comments comments (0)

 

By John Rezell

     Lost in a sea of endorphins, the waterfall cascading from my eyebrow to cheek feels exhillarating rather than annoying.

     I savor the sound of my mountain bike tires crunching into gravel.

     The sweet scent of true Oregon Douglas Fir fills my lungs with every heaving gasp.

     As I crest another foothill of Oregon's Coastal Range the horizon unfolds before me with the wonder of a child opening a birthday present. It strikes me that, from the vantage point of that horizon I gaze upon, I'm the horizon. Nothing but my spirit connecting me to the sky dotted with billows of clouds.

     I can't say I've thought often about the horizon. Once brought to my attention I realize it is what my soul yearns for, and where my heart takes me every chance I get.

     I continue to flee from big city to smaller city to, now, town.

     I understand why, given an hour or two of freedom, I head for the hills.

     I understand why I prefer to ride my bike than drive my car.

     And why nothing fulfills me quite as much as being out in nature with my wife and daughters.

     Trust me, I'm not a complete Oregon hermit. If not for the Internet, I couldn't have landed the sweetest gig I could imagine. I'm a magazine editor living in Oregon working for a magazine in another state. Pinch me.

    Yet, for all the advances we appear to make as mankind races into its future at spaceship speed, I find the simplicity of life that has survived the ages as the true marvel of life.

DDWIL#2: Cat Scratch Fever

Posted by johnnieraz on December 15, 2018 at 1:10 AM

By John Rezell

     Cats have been on my mind a lot lately.

     No, I haven't been watching videos online. I've been out riding and hiking. And it appears it's just a matter of time before we cross paths.

     Again.

    This all started last March, when my black lab Ridgely and I were riding one of our local logging roads here in Oregon.

    These rides begin with about an hour or so of climbing followed by the return descent when I'm alone. At age 12, the countless hours and miles on the trail have caught up with Ridgely, so we drove to the gate and went for a shorter outing.

    On the way back down, we swept around a corner to see a rather huge cougar on the road about 100 yards ahead. As soon as we came in its sight, it stopped sniffing the ground, took a look at us, then took one hop followed by a tremendously impressive 12-plus foot leap as it disappeared into the woods.

      Yikes! That will get your heart-rate going.

     Not much you can do when there is only one way out, so I slowed to a crawl on the steep descent, pulling out my big knife — which I realistically call my False Sense of Security — and positioned the bike between Ridgely and the cougar's side of the road.

     I whooped and hollered as we crept past the exit zone. We made it out just fine.

     Since then, the evidence of cougars has increased. I ride up there a couple times a week, mostly alone now that Ridgely can't keep up.

     Last week I rode past a deer leg, from hip to hoof, cleaned down to the bone. Another half mile up I found a second leg.

     I figure that's good news for me. The cougar(s?) appear to be well fed.

     Recently some other gates were opened up for hunting season. On a different route I found a number of trucks driving around back where I usually have miles and miles to myself.

     I passed one truck off to the side, the driver surveying the meadow with binoculars. When he eventually drove past me five minutes later he reported that he stopped because a cougar crossed the road right in front of him.

    This all comes at a time when cougar news is hot in the Northwest. Two mountain bikers outside Seattle were attacked in the spring, with one killed, and a hiker near Mt. Hood was killed this summer.

     If that's not enough, I've had a couple cougar dreams recently.

     I know I'm no match for a cougar, even if at any point during an attack I actually managed to get a hold of my knife.

     More than a few years ago, this would have spooked me to the point of changing my routines, avoiding some places.

     These days, I just can't seem to do that. I'm so lucky to be able to roll out of my driveway and in 20 minutes or so be lost in the comfort of nature. I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. Literally.

     I've said for years I plan to live to 130. I still believe that. However, if some cougar decides to change my course of history, it will fall under DDWIL — Died Doing What I Love ...


Rss_feed