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

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New Directions

Posted by johnnieraz on January 2, 2021 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     Typically flipping the calendar year calls for review and reflection, but since we are collectively mired in the middle of this pandemic, that hardly seems appropriate.

     Still, the obsessive optimist inside my noggin always looks and forges ahead while appreciating what has passed.

     Without question 2020 was difficult on many levels, and so many lives have been forever impacted. Luckily, aside from losing two jobs (both mine), we have managed to survive pretty much unscathed. We all have our health and we've come to learn this past year that, in essence, that's all that matters.

     I'm completely confident that this too shall pass — my favorite OK GO song of all time, and the marching band video rocks — and assured that life will move onward, as it always does, in a new manner.

     With that said, I'm putting this website on hold for now. I'm hoping to relaunch ConquerMountains.com on much better platform (you have no idea what a mess it has been for the past five years on this end, although it appears relatively fine on your end).

     And, I just might try something radically new. We'll see.

     In the meantime, attack 2021 with all you have!

Two Worlds, One Mind

Posted by johnnieraz on December 26, 2020 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (0)

 

Missy Giove

Alison Sydor

EDITOR'S NOTE:Looking through some memories of past Decembers and this fun tale popped up from 1995.

By John Rezell

Outside Austin, Texas

     The rain tapped gently against the windows of the Barton Creek Resort in the rolling hills of central Texas as Christmas music danced lightly in the air, past the elegantly decorated tree, the grand piano and over the leather couch.

     The atmosphere was, hmmmm, how would the Austin locals down on Sixth Street put it?

     AW HECK, PARDNER, IT WAS MUSHY, SISSY, DOWNRIGHT PEACEFUL, IF'N' YER INTO THAT SORTA THING. ONE, TWO, ONETWOTHREEFOUR!

     Ahhh, yes, it was. Peaceful. Somehow I'd forgotten I was smack dab in the middle of a lousy week. I had the flu. I couldn't sleep. I had no rental car. I had one day to cram in 10 interviews, hearing the same thing over and over from each cyclist attending the combination Motorola road team/Cannondale mountain bike team camp.

     "I feel like this is my year," I'd write in my notebook over and over, feeling like it was some elementary school punishment. Oh sure, in between there were some scintillating conversations, but each would end with Motorola's flak Paul Sherwen popping up like some British Head Master From Hades, knowing full well the answers to the questions he rifled at me with a sly smile. "How was that one? Ready for another?"

     But now, now time was standing still. Thankfully the Motorola guys had a meeting or something, and Cannondale's manager Tom Schuler — the man who never met a PR Op he didn't like — had his riders stop by for a chat.

     Nestled comfortably in the leather couch sat Alison Sydor, the quintessential country girl next door. Her soft demeanor belies the fiery heart that rages when she's on a bicycle. Her eloquence in this majestic setting (a place where Barton Creek residents stroll through nonchalantly chatting about buying $200,000 yachts for a one month vacation as opposed to renting) gave mountain biking a near royal texture.

     If the cross country World Champion is a queen, well, bravo for the casting.

     "The rainbow jersey means I know that I have beaten the best in the world," Sydor said. "Until you actually do it, you always have that little voice in the back of your head wondering if you can really do it. It's always easier going after that first World Championship because you want it so badly.

     "Sometimes riders have a little lull after they win it. It's that catalyst that the other riders still have and you don't. The question becomes whether or not I can do it again. That's completely different from doing it the first time. But I also have the confidence of having done it before, which can make all the difference in the world."

     Sydor may be a little bit on the quiet side for some, but that's the beauty of a little Texas rain. She had no appointments to keep and, well, she enjoys sitting listening to the rain and talking. I always enjoy listening.

     Our time slot had long expired. But neither of us were in a hurry to do much of anything. Besides, the next interviewee was late and I had no where to go. Bing Crosby started crooning "White Christmas."

     "I'm, dreaming ..."

     Whoa, wait, suddenly there's a ruckus in the lobby and the bellboys are belting out laughs and punchlines like it's Lollalapalooza or the county rodeo. I'm wondering what the ... and Alison just shakes her head gently, sort of like she's seen it before.

     And in swoops my next appointment, her mouth rattling like my teeth on a gnarly downhill:

     "Sorry I'm late .... Am I too late? .... Will this take long? .... What is this for, anyways? ... I really need to go to the gym and pump some iron ... Is the coffee still hot? Can we do this later?"

    And with a whoosh, Missy Giove plops onto the couch next to Sydor, the Texas humidity having done magical things with her dreds. She balls up into the fetal position at Sydor's feet.

     "Oh, God, cramps ... Bad cramps ... It's like I'm dying."

     Boom. Like she's charging out of the starting gate atop Mammoth Mountain, Giove is talking about periods, and I don't mean the Renaissance. Sydor is the girl you left at home when you went to college. Giove is the girl you meet at your first Frat Party with a voice in your head screaming "This is the kind of girl mama was talking about..."

     Next thing you know Giove is talking about cars and police and missing windshields and speeding in the desert without that windshield and, well, don't bother trying to keep up with her. It's impossible. To appreciate Missy whether she's soaring down the mountain or running at the mouth is to sit back and enjoy.

     So that's what Sydor and I do for the better part of the next two hours, occasionally pausing to debate some philosophical conclusion that Giove has come to as a result of the latest story. Like stereotyping.

     "It sucks the cops don't believe the car could be mine just because I don't look like someone who could afford a Volvo without transporting contraband across the border in its trunk ... Not everyone with dreds smokes pot ... OK, so maybe most do, but not all of us ... At least not in season, you know what I mean? ... I need a hot water bottle ... You have one?"

     But that doesn't really faze her, stereotyping. Nothing does. Because Giove has one mission, and one mission alone. And that's to make sure that everyone knows she deserves to be pulling on that rainbow jersey signifying downhill World Champion just as much as Sydor does, because she earned it, she paid her dues and she won't slow down one single bit until the retirement police pull her over and strap her to a Rockin' Chair.

     It's like the training ride earlier that morning, before the rain, where the former roadie Sydor slipped in with the guys she's been reading about for years in VeloNews. "To get to ride with Steve Bauer, and Frankie Andreu and Lance Armstrong," Sydor said. "That was really neat."

     The group would turn a corner and suddenly a sliver-tired road bike would jump off the road and cut the corner like a buzzsaw. And on the other side Giove would bunny hop the curb back into the pack. Eventually the hills and the road bike got to Giove, and she found a couple of helping hands on her back as they chugged up the final hills.

     "They put together the bike this morning ... it didn't fit right ... Man, that sucked ... I'm so ticked, I hate getting dropped ..."

     Ultimately I steer the conversation to a movie idea I'm kicking around, one about a teen-age mountain biking phenom who is also a straight-A student and has to decide on the circuit or college.

     Missy rips me a new one with her laugh.

     "It's a no brainer ... Just what happened to me as I was getting ready to jump from books to berms ... It's no decision ... You just go for it."

     Maybe, I argue, but you have to think about what you're giving up. In your case you moved across the country, away from your family and friends. Tell me you didn't think twice. Tell me you didn't wonder. Tell me you weren't scared.

     And Missy closes the session with the face you see in Webster's Dictionary next to the definition of "Da." She stands and heads out with Sydor.

     "Everybody has fears ... But you can't be afraid of what's in your heart ... That's the feeling you have to trust ... That's all that counts."

     Alison smiled and nodded in agreement. Two champions. Two worlds. One philosophy.

     I just shook my head as they walked away.

     "How big are your feet? ... Have you got running shoes? ... I'd like to go for a run in the rain ... can I borrow a pair? ... You don't mind a little rain, do you? ..."

Thanks, Jake

Posted by johnnieraz on December 19, 2020 at 5:35 AM Comments comments (3)

     EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an excerpt from my ebook A Bucket List of Thank Yous, 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 Brother from Another Mother

Posted by johnnieraz on December 11, 2020 at 12:15 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     Most days I glide on my bike through the Basket Slough headed to farther points of interest in search of a good, hard workout, but yesterday I felt overcome with the urge for a more pedestrian pace through this National Wildlife Refuge.

     I took my time, relaxing to soak in the beauty of thousands of Canada Geese in the field, Mallard Ducks skipping across the ponds taking flight, Red-tailed Hawks pouncing on tiny feasts in the grass, Kestrels sitting on the phone lines and a majestic Bald Eagle atop a dead tree.

      I embraced a break from my workout to savor the lesson of the art of slowing down, something I learned from the hardest working man I know.


Humble Beginnings


     Nothing more than a pipsqueak when this larger-than-life 5-foot-11, 275-plus-pound former college lineman entered my life, I probably shouldn’t have even showed up as a tiny blip on his radar.

     I was 11 when I strutted down the aisle with his niece as he married my sister.

     I had no idea how he would fit into my life. I already had two older brothers — one 10 years older and one six years older. Dennis? He was even older than that.

     But somehow over the next few years, he found plenty of time to cart around my little brother and me on various adventures, often after spending the night at my sister’s house. We had riots of fun with this huge teddy bear of a guy whose contagious laugh that spawns bright red rosy cheeks can crack up a room.

     Making Dennis laugh became a priority. So often, as adolescence kicked in, my efforts were, ah, more crass than not. Victim humor, if you will.

     Of course, Dennis had a good memory — revenge came swift and sweet.

     He took us to see the towering bluffs above Lake Michigan one Saturday morning, driving us down the road toward the dead end barricade at the edge of the abyss, where waves crashed into the rocky shoreline.

     Suddenly he began pumping one of the pedals frantically screaming, “THE BRAKES ARE OUT! THE BRAKES ARE OUT!” We were overcome with terror. I leaped into the backseat. My little brother reached to open the door. Just before we hit the barricade, Dennis burst into his signature laugh. That was the day I learned about the clutch pedal.


Personal Punching Bag


     As I hit 14 and 15, I sprouted up to about 5-8, all of about 97 pounds. Every holiday and in-between visit we’d play football or basketball in the yard, Dennis bouncing me around like a rag doll, and laughing wildly as I went flying.

    He also took me on some odd jobs. He worked for Marquette University and managed the greenhouse. On the side he worked to start a landscape business, naming it Eden II.

     As I mentioned, he is the hardest-working individual I’ve ever been around. He instilled that work ethic in me. But on our drives to and from long, hard jobs, we’d get lost for a while. We’d explore. We’d chill. We’d slow down. His nickname was Cool Hand Luke because he’s also one of the easiest going, laid back mellow dudes I’ve known.

     Once I got a driver’s license, I spent much more time with Dennis. I’d pop into the greenhouse on Fridays and talk well into the night. We’d steal away Saturdays. He took me fossil hunting, mushroom hunting, fishing, out to Horicon Marsh to see epic waves of geese, much like those that swirl about the Basket Slough, and countless other adventures just road tripping to anywhere and seemingly everywhere.

     We had a simple rule when we’d roll out on a drive. You had to search out a road you’ve never been on before, and you must stop for every Historical Marker. I can’t remember if we ever made it home on time for dinner. I’m pretty sure we never did. We spent endless hours talking about sports and life, more of the latter.

     A few years after college and getting married, Debbie and I rolled out of Wisconsin on a road trip in a brand new sporty car, hitting a lot of roads we had never been on, as we escaped to Southern California with no jobs lined up — a true leap of faith. While I have a natural curiosity embedded in my DNA as a writer, Dennis elevated my zest for adventure to another level. I’m not sure that move would have happened without his influence.

     I offered him a ride in the new car, a farewell drive. We hit the expressway in downtown Milwaukee. I casually asked if he remembered the drive to the bluffs. He immediately began laughing, cheeks exploding red. I planted my foot to the floor, and as we blasted past 100 mph I calmly mentioned the car only had a driver’s side airbag. His nervous laughter soared to a new level. Revenge is sweet.


Life Moves On


    That was a long, long time ago. I’ve made it back for an adventure or two over the years, but none lately.

     Dennis went to the ER a few days ago, under the weather, wondering if he and my sister had contracted Covid. Nope. Instead they found a brain tumor.

     The hardest working man I know will fight this while he peacefully will accept his fate. He scheduled surgery saying, “They’re gonna dig some stuff out.”

     We chatted on the phone a few nights before his surgery. He shrugged that he has no regrets. I concurred, I have no regrets in life, either. He said, “Well, yeah, you’ve always gone out and done what you’ve wanted. I’ve always admired that about you.”

     I was a little too choked up to remind him who taught me that.

     He did, however, mention that he kinda hoped for one more road trip. He traveled to the Northwest long before we moved here, and mentioned how much he loves it. He hoped to make it out one more time.

     “Well,” I told him, "you get that stuff dug out, get your strength back this spring, and I’ll come back and drive you out here myself.”

     He said, “I’m in!”

     No truer words have been spoken. He’s in, all right. He’s in my heart and soul, as deep as one can be. It’s just a shame that sooner rather than later he’ll take that final road that none of us have ever been on.

 

 


Blinding Comfort Memories

Posted by johnnieraz on December 5, 2020 at 2:20 AM Comments comments (0)

    

By John Rezell

     Nostalgia appears to be rampant during these days of Covid, those of us born of a once dynamic and inspirational generation somehow losing that fire in our eyes that thankfully has been rekindled recently in the eyes of America's Millenials who are hellbent on guaranteeing that we don't return to those "Good Ol' Days."

     Selective recall of comfort memories — much like comfort foods — ease our frustrations each day and somewhat blind us.

     Technology moving humanity forward at a dizzyingly fervent pace that we dreamed would have landed a man on Mars by now find Baby Boomers falling farther behind the pulse of modern life, our smartphones purchased way, way back in 2016 screaming to Millennials just how out of touch we are. How much we need to get with the times.

     We huddle in groups on Facebook and other Social Media much the way we did in the safety of our neighborhood tree forts or playgrounds, reminiscing about the arrival of daily life-altering inventions like color TVs, touch-tone phones and electric typewriters, or dietary game-changers like 15-cent hamburgers, margarine, TV dinners and diet soda.

     We recall how we could chug a glass of Nestle's Quik Chocolate milk and devour a bowl of Captain Crunch or Super Sugar Crisp in nanoseconds after school, and bolt out the door only to return hours later to sit down to a home-cooked family dinner each night to rehash the events of the day with Mom and Dad both in their first and only marriage.

      We were unaware that the buddies we envied who skipped dinner and stayed out well into the night only did so to avoid going home to inebriated parents who beat the hell out of them or took advantage of them sexually, sometimes depending on the gender, sometimes not.

     We seem to forget that after dinner we would rush back outside while our parents watched the evening news filled with story after story of struggle, frustration and mayhem smothering our nation in those turbulent decades of the ‘60s and '70s. Rioting for Civil Rights, violent protesting of wars and corrupt government, bombings throughout America a daily occurrence.

     We held our breath when our older brothers turned 18 and received their draft card in the mail. We said goodbye to older guys we adored as heroes dressed in uniform with clean crew cut hair, who would woo us with tales of their daily adventures, only to see them return in shambles with long hair and beards never to mumble a peep about their latest experiences.

     Depending on how much your parents shared, you could be immune to nearly all of it, aside from the Atomic Bomb drills at school when you silently marched to the basement in utter terror wondering how covering your head with your hands might save you from the humongous mushroom cloud you've just saw on the Civil Defense Drill film.

     You could drive through town standing in the back of your station wagon looking down at your city's river, its water a disgusting color that was impossible to categorize and its stench so horrible you had to crank close the car windows even on the hottest summer day. Trash littered the edges and floated down the main channel.

      If you were lucky you drove right past those long lines at the gas station, where the choking fumes of car exhaust made you sick to your stomach in a flash.

      For the past 20 years I've been comforted knowing that my daughters don't have those memories.

      Oh, sure, they have vivid memories of each economic hiccup — the dotcom bust, 9/11 and the Great Recession — spitting me out of the workforce like a watermelon seed at a summer picnic. Long stints of unemployment and under employment when we never really faced serious financial struggles, but never ever really felt super comfortable, either.

      Visions of me working long hours at concession stands or cleaning up stadiums to pay for gymnastics and volleyball to reward them for their long hours at the kitchen table studying to bring home those 4.0 report cards that parlayed into scholarships that have them so, so very close to graduating college debt free, which will allow us to finally begin saving for a day when we can afford not to work because we can, not because we can't find a job.

     Each night I'm thankful that I have it so good, knowing full well that millions hope someday to ascend to this cushy life I enjoy.

     At the same time, I'm just as fearful that a tunnel vision focus on our economy has blinded us as we slowly see a return to those "Good Ol' Days" of social unrest, war mongering and environmental destruction — true measurements of the quality of life, that appear to be acceptable collateral damage.

     They certainly aren't acceptable in my memory.

What Readers are Saying About My Book

Posted by johnnieraz on December 1, 2020 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

      I find it fascinating that the visitors to my website and my friends on Facebook have always responded to me in direct, private messages rather than filling the Internet with public comments. I love that intimate relationship (and that's the reason I don't call these friends my "followers")

      That's why you don't see reviews of my books or comment about them scattered on websites. So I'll share a few and note that I'm flying on clouds this weekend after touching base with so many people from my life. Truth be told, you all have made me who I am today. BTW, a few Social Media shares wouldn't hurt my feelings ...


WHAT READERS ARE SAYING ABOUT "A Bucket List of Thank Yous"


     “Wow! Just finished the first few stories from your book. They sure bring back memories of the strong friendships we created early in life and the impact they have had over the years. ”

      “Of course you would publish a book that all of us need for survival these days. Thinking of someone else other than ourselves and thanking the people in our lives for that emotional investment of time and saw the value in us."

     “What a great tribute to (leaving name out) — and to your friendship. How wonderful. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your thank yous!"

     “What a beautiful read. It is so special the gift you have to recognize, embrace and put into words these life moments.”

     “I think the book could be misrepresented as just letters? It’s not quite that. Letters would be wonderful but this is much more than that. They are more like short stories.”

     “I'm about halfway thru your book (going to save the rest for tomorrow) … all I have to say is ‘Wow!’ You are rocking my world …”

      “What an amazing book … wish I could write something similar to acknowledge everybody who played a formative part in my life.”

     "Just finished your latest book. I was so inspired by the short stories and the thoughfulness of your writing."

After the Fire

Posted by johnnieraz on November 28, 2020 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (0)

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[Thanks to webs.com for showing the link ... NOT!]

By John Rezell

     It hit quickly, without warning.

      Driving up the Santiam Canyon I expected to see the results of the Beachie Creek Fire that raced down the highway on Labor Day and the days to follow.

      Still, the first signs struck me like the bolt of lightning.

      Suddenly buildings that were there this summer, aren't there now. Many are replaced by a pile of scrap.

      I ventured up the canyon wondering if there would be any opportunity for us to journey up Thanksgiving weekend and cut a Christmas tree, which has been our family tradition for years.

      The first sight of damage turned my stomach upside down. And so it continued. For mile after mile after mile. The trip ripped at my heart. The video tells it all.

    

Plenty of Thanks to Go Around

Posted by johnnieraz on November 24, 2020 at 10:20 AM Comments comments (0)


By John Rezell

     When I made that final decision to click on PUBLISH and share some of my deepest heartfelt thoughts with the world in my ebook A Bucket List of Thank Yous, a sense of relief and fulfillment washed over me.

     That caught me by surprise because more than anything, I expected fear and uncertainty to gang up on me. Do I really want to tell the world about my first girlfriend?

     Then I took a moment to scroll through my list of Facebook friends to determine whom I would send a personal note to about the book, a more modest manner of saying Thanks.

     As I scrolled through those familiar faces and names that have slipped in and out of my life, I realized how many more individuals have had brief, but everlasting influences on me.

     They almost fall into categories, or eras of growth.


Grade School

     Unfortunately, I have no grade school friends on Facebook. We moved from my childhood home in fifth grade, leaving behind all the kids who had early influences on me — things that still resonate today.

     There’s Lisa, who had a crush on me from first grade on and I enthusiastically returned the favor. The brightest smile at Maple Tree and one of the sharpest, smartest kids around. It would be years before I understood how she shaped my perception of race, helping me realize I’ve never really noticed, much less let the color of people’s skin guide my impression of them.

     There’s Bobby, my best friend’s cousin, who taught me the basics of throwing and hitting a baseball as well as catching and kicking a football.

Junior High/High School

     Who wasn’t a mess at this age? And who knew it would only get worse in high school?

     I lucked out to meet one of the most amazing guys on this planet when we moved to Brookfield, and Jack remains one of my best and endearing friends. From carving our initials into the huge oak tree over the pond to rooming together in college, he has stood as the example of who I want to be when I grow up. If I ever grow up.

     There are many others from high school, who will pop a post on Facebook that makes me smile immediately — not because of the post, but the fond memories of how they made me feel back when finding a way to feel upbeat and good on any day was job 1.

      But there are a number of individuals from high school who did make my Bucket List of Thank Yous, and you can read why.

College

      Maybe it’s just me, but it’s hard to think of many people who DIDN’T make an imprint on me if we spent more than some passing time with each other. But isn’t that what college is all about?

      Whether they were living in the same dorm, working on the student newspaper or that lone familiar face in a new class, they broadened my perspective on life.

      My college professor and mentor made the list. He’s been a motivating factor in my career ever since.


Career

     I went from working for large newspaper companies to small, often family-run, businesses. I got lucky and worked with some tremendously smart, creative individuals who challenged me in so many ways that it was simply impossible to NOT grow.

     I learned from great bosses and crappy ones. I found lifetime friends among coworkers whom I only know because we shared the same name signing our paychecks.

     Only one boss made the list, but her impact on me continues to this day — and every day that I write.

The Athletes

     This is a massive group. If there is one category that rises to the top, it must be the countless athletes I covered throughout the years. These individuals often shared their lives with me. We discussed their inner most thoughts, their angels and their demons. They offered unabashed honest (in most cases) to someone who, on some instances, they only met minutes before.

     That simple act of opening up to me always humbled me. I would listen to athletes pour out their souls and think that, really, no way would I return the favor. But through my memoirs and this Thank You book, well, I’ve found the courage to do just that.

     Of course, two athletes grace my Bucket List. But the flood of memories that accompany each athlete’s face fills my soul and reminds me of the power of living and breathing in that world of athletics, where the goal is simple: Every day find something, some way, to make yourself better and grow.

      Hey, that’s how this book was born.



Excerpt: A Bucket List of Thank Yous

Posted by johnnieraz on November 21, 2020 at 1:10 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     I'm fascinated with the question: How did I become who I am?

     A Bucket List of Thank Yous represents part of my personal insight into some of those answers.

     Without question, my parents were key.

     Here is an excerpt with the letter to my Mom, who passed away in 2013:

BEGIN EXCERPT

     Five kids. FIVE KIDS!

     That never struck me much growing up, that I was but one of five children of Jane and Reiny Rezell.

     Growing up in Milwaukee, and later Brookfield in Wisconsin, I spent most of my hours being a handful on my own. I didn't have time to contemplate the fact that my mother juggled five kids — four of us boys.

     It didn't really hit me until I started a family of my own, and had two daughters. Then the daunting task of raising five kids became the stuff of legends for me.

     As I began to ponder just how to be parent, I wondered about the ultimate question: How did they do that?

     How did my parents get me to be who I am? How did they raise five, in my humble opinion, really amazing kids?

     See, I love my life. I wouldn't change anything about it. Ever. I love who I am. I consider myself an obsessive optimist — always focused on the bright side.

     I jump into bed each night, not roll in. I can't wait to see what tomorrow has in store. I love to face the next challenge. And savor the details of life.

     How did they do that? This week I wonder, how did SHE do that?

     If I think back, one element of growing up jumps to the forefront: You could not exist in Jane's house if you were grumpy. No moping. No sulking.

     If there's one word I heard more than any growing up, it was simply this: SMILE!

     If you weren't smiling, you weren't living. Not really living.

     I wasn't an unhappy kid; I just made the mistake of walking around now and then without a smile on my face.

     So she would say, SMILE! And I did. My eyes would sparkle. My face would crack. My spirits would soar.

     When I did, the world transformed right before my eyes. No matter what obscure thing I might be doing — or lost in thought about — suddenly had a meaning. I learned to appreciate every moment.

     I think about that every morning as I ride my bike to work. I attempt to smile at everyone I pass. Say hello.

     Now most of the time it's nothing more than a passing greeting. But every now and then ...

     I'll pass someone who, even though they haven't made it to work yet, is having a crummy day. It's written all over their face.

     I smile. I say hi.

     Their eyes sparkle. Their face explodes into a smile. I can see that I made a connection. Made a difference.

     I smile and say quietly, "Thanks, Mom."

     I've traveled all around the country, and many parts of the world. I've lived in Wisconsin, Iowa, California, Colorado, Texas, Tennessee and Oregon.

     As I chased every challenge I could uncover, my parents were always behind me, 100 percent. They never questioned me. They supported me.

     We always knew that. We always knew no matter what, Mom and Dad were there if we needed them. It's easy not to fear failure when you have that safety net. It makes life a thrill.

     There is no more brilliant example of that than when I had to go to Las Vegas to help my brother Tom.

     I called my parents and filled them in on the situation. Without hesitation, without missing a beat, Mom said, "We want him to come home."

     We WANT him to come HOME.

     She didn't say, if he wants to come home, we'll be here,

     She didn't say, whatever he decides, we'll support him.

     She said, We want him to come home.

     That was 20 years ago. My brother straightened out his life, and lived with my parents. For the past 13 years, he lived alone with my mother. Taking care of her. This past year has been tough. A real challenge.

     Tom came home. Made it a home. And kept it a home.

     For that, my brothers and sister are forever in his debt. Words can't express how we feel about him. Our pride. Our love.

    Tom couldn't put into words how he felt. He asked me to. He said, "I'll always remember Mom for who she was."

    What Tom is saying is that he doesn't necessarily want to remember this past year. The decline. The hardships.

     That's understandable. It's phrase you hear a lot in these situations.

     I went home last month to visit Mom, and say goodbye, while she still had a pinch of life left.

     It wasn't easy. It was a challenge. I wondered how I would react when she would ask, "Which one are you?"

     Then again, I remember even at her peak, she could be looking right at me across the room and yell "JIM TOM JOHN JOE BARB...GRRRR..."

     Then she'd get around to whomever she was yelling at. So I was a bit prepared.

     I spent a few days at the hospice with her. One day at lunch, with all the aides in the lunchroom, they began asking about Mom. About who she was.

     I told them: Five kids ...

     Then, they told me about who she is. She's the sweetest woman. So easy going. So calm. Always talking.

      I thought, yeah, that's my Mom.

      Later, we sat together. She looked at me. She asked, "Which one are you?"

      I smiled. John, from Oregon.

     Her eyes sparkled.

     A smile crept across her face.

     I knew I made a connection.

      Five kids. FIVE KIDS.

      That's amazing. Thanks Mom, we love you.

END EXCERPT


 

New Release: A Bucket List of Thank Yous

Posted by johnnieraz on November 19, 2020 at 5:30 PM Comments comments (1)


By John Rezell

       I'm thrilled to say it's official: My latest ebook A Bucket List of Thank Yous has been published and is available on many ebook platforms including Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, iBooks and Smashwords.com.

      The book is a compilation of Thank You letters I've written to individuals who have made a major impact in my life.

      But my goal isn't just to celebrate them. My hope is others will use the book as a vehicle to thank those who made great impacts in their lives.

      The book honors my late Father, who was an extremely creative guy, but had difficulties writing. If you have trouble writing or putting your feelings into words, just send that special person a copy and refer them to the letter that best represents your relationship.

      I've written letters to my Mom, Dad, Junior High and High School friends, my college mentor, bosses, and others.

      It's super affordable so you can buy as many copies as you like (and help out someone who lost two jobs to Covid ).

Your Chance to Say Thank You

Posted by johnnieraz on November 14, 2020 at 1:45 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     The true magic of Mother Nature springs to life while I spend countless hours outdoors, hiking and biking. Vast breathtaking vistas, deep breaths of fresh air and overwhelming silence transport my mind to a magical place.

      There, I often ponder my greatest question in life. No, it’s not the meaning of life. It’s simply, how did I become the person I am today?

     When I probe deeply, I vividly remember people. I see faces, and relive specific examples of how those individuals left a lasting impression upon me. How it helped create me.

     Of course, my two greatest influences were my parents.

     My Dad’s artistic talents awed me.

     As an architect, he could draw anything, often sketching funny notes to crack us up.

     He took up watch repair because of his fascination with mechanics, and combined it with his woodworking skills to make amazing clocks.

      Later he began to whittle, and created a world of tiny characters that showed off his offbeat humor — like the doctor who operated on a woman holding his big saw next to that woman whom he put back together backward, the lady lifting the front of her dress to show her behind and back of her legs and feet.

      Eventually he dabbled with working on leather, too, creating belts, wallets and even beer bottle holders for your belt.

      But my Dad couldn’t write very well.

     So, when I showed a penchant for the written word back in grade school, my Dad jumped at the opportunity to encourage me. He paid me for anything I would write — a penny for every five words.

     I wrote all sorts of stuff — some short stories, poems and essays. That led me to start my own sports magazine that I distributed to a few relatives and neighbors, hammering on a typewriter hard enough to get through five copies of carbon paper to write stories about games in our Electric Football League, the Green Bay Packers and Milwaukee Bucks.

     My Dad confided in me that he struggled with any type of writing. He agonized over putting together a sentence or two.

     When I graduated from college with a degree in Journalism, he reminded me of that. He said the ability to write is a God-given talent, like being musical or athletic or artistic, as he was.

     Without question, my Dad had a major influence on my life. So did my Mom. And so many others, too.

      A few years ago when I began writing my trio of memoirs, I began to pen Thank You letters to the individuals who have made a significant imprint on my life.

      Now I’ve created a compilation of those letters in a small book, A Bucket List for Thank Yous.

     The primary purpose of my Thank You letters is to honor those who have made a significant impact in my life.

     But almost as important to me — to honor my Dad and help out those who might be like him — is offering this book or an individual letter to those who can’t write well. Those who search for a voice and a way to thank others.

     If you have someone in your life you want to thank, but have never been able to find the words to say it, send them a copy and tell them which letter best describes your feelings or relationship.

     As we endure this challenging year of 2020, we have the Thanksgiving season to reflect on our lives and offer thanks.

     EDITOR'S NOTE: At this point the ebook is available on Smashwords.com. It will soon be available on a number of websites including Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and iTunes.


Thankful My Optimism Lives

Posted by johnnieraz on November 7, 2020 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (0)


By John Rezell

     Just maybe, that extra hour of 2020 made all the difference in the world.

     Just maybe the end of Daylight Savings Time became our saving grace.

     At least that’s the way it feels Saturday morning as a swell of unbridled optimism erupts from my soul.

     Instead of waking up to darkness and despair — thanks to that extra hour — a soft, scintillating sunrise brightens my eyes and mood.

     Slices of sunshine radiated bursts from colorful orange and yellow maple leaves as they shimmer on gentle morning breezes, warming my heart from the chill of the second surge that appears to be a precursor for a winter of discontent.

     Of all the statistics that define this unsettling year that tests the resolve of optimists — even obsessive ones like me — one rises to the forefront to dominate my dreams for our future:

150 million!

     In the face of overwhelming despair — in spite of all the negativity, 150 million voices rang out across this land singing loudly, “We the People” care.

     It matters not for whom or what we shouted, but simply that we did. That our cries to be heard signal a resolve to fight, not surrender, in these challenging times. My hope is we fight for compromise and become relentless in our search to come together.

Covid Impact

    While the other numbers that have monopolized our psyche in 2020 continue to cast a chilling effect on us — that more than 9.5 million have been infected and more than 234,000 have died — those numbers pale in comparison to the hundreds of millions who have been affected by the fallout of this pandemic.

     Slowly the pandemic’s impact gnaws at our essence, having taken away our sense of normalcy and dashed so many dreams along the way.

     Yet the beauty of dreams is that they can persevere on the thinnest thread of hope. As long as you believe they will survive.

     Dreams fuel our souls. They rocket us to unimaginable heights in the best of times. They sustain us in the worst. I'm a dreamer of the highest magnitude

     What this year has done more than anything is expose us for who we really are. When our true selves rise above all our facades, we see our strengths and our weaknesses.

    When our essence is revealed, we can only embrace its honesty.

    Me? I'm a dreamer of the highest magnitude.

     As we forge ahead, our truths will guide us. But as we do, we always must reflect on how we made ourselves into who we are today,

Time for Thanks

     We did not make this journey alone. What better time than now to thank those who helped mold and shape us along the way?

     We have lost far too many of those people who influenced our lives this year, and most without any chance for one final moment to let them know how thankful we are for their impact on our lives.

     I’ve written a collection of Thank You letters to the people who have had molded me into the father, husband, brother, son, teacher and friend I am today.

     I hope to publish this small book of Thank You letters in the coming days to allow encourage and empower anyone to send a Thank You to those who have made you who you are.

     I offer the letters for those who are not proficient writers, people like my dad, who inspired me to pursue talents he didn't have.

      So let's embrace this time of change.

     Stay Tuned.

 

 

Off the Trail

Posted by johnnieraz on October 31, 2020 at 1:20 AM Comments comments (1)

By John Rezell

     Don't get me wrong, I certainly enjoyed having warm, sunny days well into October this year. Whether that is Global Warming or just a sweet gift from Mother Nature in an otherwise wild year, time will tell.

      It did, however, have one rather negative impact: Hunting for Chanterelle mushrooms.

      Typically as soon as the weather turns cool and the rain begins to fall, you can head into the forest for harvest. It's important to get out before the frost, although most Chanterelles stay more than a little hidden under a warm blanket of moss and fir needles. We usually have a nice wide window of opportuity, maybe 4-5 weeks.

      This year, with little rain throughout the year, once it did begin to get a little wet, the hunt became challenging.

    I spend most of the year on the trails. I'm not a bush-whacker or explorer, which is probably why I haven't had a search party out in my dishonor. Come Mushroom Season? I'm off the beaten path.



     Years ago I learned the true value of having my black lab Ridgely in the woods with me, and it isn't for protection. No, she'll run back to me like a little baby at the slightest hint of danger. 

     She is priceless in knowing how to find our way back exactly the way we came, if it comes down to that. It never does. I'm very focused when I'm off the trail, and generally work my way up and around a creek that I can always come back to and follow back to the road.

     Our first ventures to the new spot we uncovered last year found that it was slim pickin' at best. Still, we managed to find enough for a week's worth of delightful dishes (I love them on pizza more than anything).

     Exploring more in that general area didn't pan out much. Still, whether or not I find anything, a couple of hours of hiking up and down steep ridges knee deep in ferns makes for a good workout.

      Two years ago I attempted to find my first golden spot that I went to for 2-3 years straight. But not visiting it for two years or so made it somewhat unrecognizable, since the forest grows quickly around here. My very first favorite area I uncovered is now pretty much impassable.

     Having come up somewhat empty in my attempts in the Cascades, I decided to head back to the Coastal Range for my first true golden spot. I was pretty sure I ventured much farther into the woods on the forest road that ever before, and after rolling back and forth, I decided to take a stab at a creek crossing.

     Heading up hill at about a 60% angle proved to be killer. Eventually it leveled a bit, but we were striking out. Although Ridgely loves to eat Chanterelles and will find one when it is completely under her nose, she has proven to be worthless in just sniffing out a bunch.

     Then, we found a few. Then a few more. Ridgely started leading me up an overgrown logging road and slowly this area started feeling a bit more familiar. We found some more, here and there. Golden beauties just popping out of the forest floor.

     We were on a tight schedule, so I only had about 20 minutes left. As we started back down the hill, I felt 50-50 on whether or not this was my favorite spot or not. Seemed like it was, but then in some areas it didn't. I decided to make a little bit of a sweep along the mid-point of the ridge before diving down to the creek.

     BINGO!


     It paid off with a big batch for my famous Oregon Chanterelle, Hazelnut and Blackberry stuffing for Thanksgiving.

     We did go out again. Much to my surprise, there were still plenty in my good old spot (that I know have specific directions for so I won't lose it again).

     Plenty leftover that should last until Christmas dinner. Yummy.

Staying Sane in a Crazy Time

Posted by johnnieraz on October 24, 2020 at 2:30 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

    Strange how life spins in circles of chaos, yet I bathe in an aura of peace and serenity.

     Jimmy Thesaurus and I were wasting away some time in our hotel room on the fifth floor of a hotel in Shanghai a mere 25 years ago, the air pollution so horrible that we couldn't even see the street from our window.

     We were shooting the breeze when Jimmy T posed the ultimate question for analytical minds like his: Raz, what they hell are you doing? What's the plan?

       I laughed because I just finished my second full year of covering cycling in the US as a freelancer, but I had no real plan. I knew I was the envy of other American-based cycling freelancers because they knew I was making a boat load more money than they were.

       Still, I wasn't really making ends meet, so you can only imagine what discussions are like with their wives about their future. So, I told him straight up. Jimmy T, I have no plan. I don't know where this is going to take me. I just know that it's the right thing to do.

     Complete silence.

        I looked over and Jimmy T's jaw was on the floor. Look up agape in Webster's, and his portrait should be there.

        Stunned to silence.

        No response.

        I shut Jimmy T up — trust me, no easy task.

        But it was honest, and true. I managed to make it this far in life pretty much letting life happen. I believe with all my essence in destiny. Life happens exactly the way it supposed to happen, and there is no sense in trying to breakdown the details.

      Back to my future, 25 years later I sit at my desk enduring this wacky year of 2020 with no real plans other than continue to spend every morning in search of someone who might be willing to hire me to do, well, who knows what my next gig will entail.

       Covid robbed me of my job as a magazine editor and my secondary role as a substitute teacher. Of course I believe my prospects are promising, but that's the obsessive optimist in me keeping me in that aura of denial.

      I just look back at my past and I'm overwhelmed by the wonderful life I've enjoyed and wild experiences I've savored. So to liven up this Saturday Morning, I'll share one of my favorite tales.


     Yep, 25 years ago was the first Tour of China. The first time the top bike racers in the world rolled around that country back when it was still pretty hidden behind its communist curtain.

     There are plenty of stories from that trip in A More Simple Time: How Cycling Saved My Life and if you go buy a copy, well, it will at least make filling out my taxes a little more interesting.

     The story I'll share was spending a great day at the Great Wall of China with a handful of riders chosen to get to spend a few hours at the wall.

      It was a publicity op. A gang of journalists went with Americans Norm Alvis, Steve Hegg, Andy Bishop and other riders including a group of guys from Mapei-GB that had, among them, Gianni Bugno. And, of course, my favorite Russian, Viatcheslav Ekimov.


      We got the chance to see these guys play around on the wall like little kids. The rest of the entourage would see the Great Wall for a moment or two during the next day's race. That was it.

        I had to have some sort of souvenir — something to remember this moment forever, and then I saw it. A small stand with a guy selling furry Elmer Fudd hunting hats, you know, a cross between Elmer's hat and something Attila the Hun would wear — ear flaps and all. I went over and asked if he spoke English. He shook his head no. I asked, how much?

        And away we go ...

     “One-hundred American dollar,” he says.

      I laugh at him.

      “Oh, no,” I said, “twenty!”

      “Twenty!?!” he screamed, as if to serve notice to everyone around that a bargaining battle had commenced. “Oh, no, dis is Fox! Feeeeel.”

       He thrust the hat into my hands and invited me to feel the fur. Okay, it felt really soft and nice. But hell, I don't know the difference between fox and squirrel and whatever they make fake fur out of. Besides, I knew somewhere along the line I was going to take some serious flak from animal rights folks, so, if it really was fake, really, all the better for me.

       “Nice, huh?” he said, raising his eyebrows.

       I looked at him.

      “Yes, nice. Okay,” I said, “I'll give you ... Twenty!”

       He crooned like a little kid pretending to die a slow death.

       “Oooohhh, twenty!” he whined. “No way. Dis is Fox. Real thing. Not fake. Eighty.”

       “Eighty Chinese?” I countered.

       “No way, eighty AMERICAN!” he shouted.

       “Eighty American?” I asked for confirmation.

       He nodded.

       “Okay,” I said, stretching my pause, “how about ... Twenty!”

       “You kill me,” he said, “twenty? But this is FOOOOOXXXX!!!”

       “Are you sure,” I asked, dropping my Boris/Natasha accent on him saying, “looks like squirrel to me.”

        “No, no, no!” he screamed! “Real fox. Squirrel. No, no, no. No squirrels at the Great Wall of China. No way.”

        “Okay, then ...” I said, “I'll give you, twenty.”

       “SIXTY!!”

       “Twenty.”

      “FIFTY!”

      “Twenty.”

       “What your problem, man, dis is Fox?” he said, both annoyed and confused as his ability to speak English suddenly increased. “Great Wall fox. You don't get nice stuff like this anywhere else. You see other Fox hats here?”

        “Well, yes, that guy over there has the same hat,” I said, calling his bluff.

       “Oh,” he laughed, “those ARE squirrel. Okay, for you, Forty.”

        “You make a good point,” I said, and he cracked a smile. “Pretty good for someone who doesn't speak English, eh? Fine, then ... Twenty!”

         “Forget you,” he said, surrendering. “No way. Twenty? I don't need this. Go buy squirrel.”

         He turned away from me and tried to sell something to the riders who had showed up to watch the proceedings.

       “Fine,” I said, “that guy over there has some neat stuff. Nobody will know the difference.”

       I turned.

       “Thirty!” he screamed.

       “Thirty Chinese?”

       “Thirty AMERICAN!”

       “Really?” I said.

        “Really,” he said, not too happy.

        I looked at Scott Mercier.

        “That's a pretty good price,” I said to him.

        He nodded. So did the salesman.

       “Okay, enough,” I said, “twenty. Final offer.”

       He looked me square in the eye with a sparkle. I could tell he could really care less what he got for the hat. He just loved the bartering. We had been told that the locals love to barter, but I never really thought about it too much.

        “Fine, twenty — AMERICAN!” he finally said, “But you no fun.”

        I laughed and gave him a $20 bill. American.

        Then I went out and began to get photos of all these cyclists, donning my hat, on the Great Wall of China. My two favorites are Bugno and his gang. The best, of course, is Ekimov. It captured a look of him that I don't think anyone thought they'd ever see. Somehow, he always seemed to show me a different side than others saw. Everyone thought he would win the title in China, no problem. The thing was, he was really on vacation. He had his wife with him. It was neat seeing him wandering around with her every chance he got.

        I talked about Eki with Jimmy T, how I thought there really was a lot more to him than people gave him credit for. When Jimmy T saw me taking his picture with the hat on, he could not believe his eyes.


 

Mother Nature's Deathly Silence

Posted by johnnieraz on October 17, 2020 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)


By John Rezell

     Deathly silent takes on a new meaning as my gut wrenches while wandering through the forest laid bare by fire.
     Blackened scrags of Douglas Firs, Hemlocks and Ponderosa Pines that conquered the crevices and ravines between desolate lava flows over hundreds of years smother the landscape for as far as the eye can see.
     Some stand strong, almost heroically, refusing complete surrender, while others have crashed into the dusty dirt and sand.
     Mother Nature's lush, green blanket of canopy that previously hugged and warmed my soul on so many hikes here disappeared in flames of a firestorm, replaced by naked poles.
     Three years have passed since the Milli Fire torched this area along Oregon's Scenic Highway 242 just east of the McKenzie Pass.
     A few green plants have emerged from the bare earth along with an occasional flower, prompting a pause in the churning in my stomach and the swirling in my head along the Matthieu Lakes Trail.


     No sign whatsoever of any tree saplings emerging, testament to the long, long recover ahead. This forest will recover, yet will never be the same.
     New species carried on the mountain breeze will battle for survival with offspring of the previous landowners, and the forest will create new bond in its complicated underground network.
     A few miles up the trail, the firestorm somehow skipped over the ridge, saving this valley.
     By pure luck or, just maybe, deft actions of firefighters, the beauty surrounding Lower Matthieu Lake survived. I look out over lake and see the smoky haze from the Holiday Fire that still burns down the valley toward Eugene, having ignited more than a month ago.
 


   It likely will be months, most probably two seasons at least, before I can venture into Western Oregon's latest forest casualties up Highway 126 (the Holiday Fire) and Highway 22 (the Beachie Creek Fire) to see what favorite getaways have been lost.
     Then, as now, only memories of soaking in peaceful silence will have to sustain me through these painful moments of deadly silence.


Holy Cow!

Posted by johnnieraz on October 10, 2020 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (0)

 

By John Rezell

     After climbing a gravel mountain road for more than 90 minutes enduring countless cow encounters on the open range, the trailhead sign finally appeared at the end of the road.

     You call this a trail?

     With no signs that any humans have trekked here recently, if ever, I started pushing my mountain bike up the muddy cow path.

     The map at the campground showed that this trail would connect with another near the base of Council Mountain peak, and I would ride the second trail back down to the road to the campground.

     I never imagined the ride would play out with an endless line of cows wondering what I was doing in their 'hood.

     The cow encounters pretty much worked the same way. Big mothers would stand their ground and stare at me, freaking me out that they might decide to be overprotective to their calves.

      Meanwhile the calves would either follow mom's lead, or go ballistic.

Cow Chaos

     The calves would run up the road, or up into the woods, in a panic. For about 20 feet.

      Then they would turn for a standoff. Only to scoot again.

      By the time I reached the trailhead, I figured I out-climbed the cows. Judging by the trail, not so much.

      After pushing my bike up the trail for 45 minutes with short bursts of rideable terrain, I zipped around a corner to startle a gang of about 10 cows, who scattered into the woods.

     Just about then I realized that, if a gang like that decided to head off the beaten path, I would have no idea that I was following a renegade trail.

     Another hour in, that became a moot point when the trail just, well, disappeared amongst a plethora of cow paths.

     I explored a number of them, all eventually turning to dust.

     Oh, I did find a trail sign, knocked down and leaned up against a tree at the junction of a couple of paths. Neither went anywhere.

     The views were tremendous. I just turned around and headed back down the way I came.


     That was all fine and dandy, until I came upon that gang of cows.

     This time they burst into the woods. I continued down, and heard loud cracking and crushing of trees.

     To my right, I could see a mini-stampede through the forest. They were trying to cut me off at the pass!

     I hammered a little harder than my handling skills would typically allow, and I managed to beat them to the cross-section.

     After five hours, I made it back to camp only to find three cows breached the campground fence and were grazing at the entrance.

     Holy Cow, what a day.

I got the message

Posted by johnnieraz on October 3, 2020 at 3:15 PM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     My true belief is that people think too much. We spend too much time with the past or future flooding our brains that we sometimes miss the value of the present. This is especially true when messages come our way.

     Take my latest ride. I have this wonderful course that's great for 4-5 hours of riding. It's more Gravel Grinding on logging roads than anything, and of that time I'll spend less than an hour on a paved road with traffic.

     Mother Nature seemed to be in a sharing mood, giving me entertaining views of a huge wild turkey running across the road (seriousy, standing straight up it was at least 4 feet tall) not to mention a tiny, yet very perturbed bird chasing a grand red-tailed hawk that soared easily ahead of its nuisance as it swooped into the woods.

     I yearned to add another serious hillclimb to my menu, given my Covid-19 unemployed inspired fitness. As I turned to chug up toward the top of the mountain, I saw three piles of Cat Scat in the first 100 yards, and quickly decided to save my climbing for a more appropriate spot.

     Then, in the same place that I saw an owl glide silently over my head four years ago, I saw another. This time the owl swooped and perched in a tree, not 30 feet from where I paused to savor the view. I've seen owls flying in the wild before, but never one perched. And never one that turned its head 180 degrees to look me square in the eyes.

     Mesmerized or a moment, it moved me deep inside, as most nature encounters do. As I reached for my cellphone, the owl moved on, across the road, into the woods. Before I remounted, another zipped past in playful pursuit. This one stopped across the road, some 50 yards into the woods, but where I could get a clear silhouette view.

     About an hour later, after some lunch, I decided to add a paved 3-mile climb to satisfy my need to push. About a minute into the ascent, I felt a burning sensation on my right index finger. As I lifted it to examine, I see a Honey Bee perched on the tip. I whip my hand around and look again. Now I see some bee innards as well as a stinger lodged in my finger.

     You can imagine the countless thoughts that could come to mind as I belted out a string of inappropriate language. Yet, my first clear thought was this as I looked at the heavens to my Guardian Angels, always on watch. "If you didn't want me to climb that hill you could have let me know some other way because this hurts like )*@$%*@#(%&!!!

     I spun around and headed for the nearest market. Bought a cup and filled it to the brim with ice and topped it with a little lemonade to get my money's worth. Then I plunged my finger into the ice.

    For the next two hours, instead of pounding home with a strong pace and flying down hills at dangerous speeds, I sauntered at 5 mph, riding one handed with my right index finger in ice.

     Just when I planned to ditch the ice and hammer home, up and over a paved hill that I'd hit 35 mph easily on the backside, something felt weird. I checked my back wheel, and found a significant crack in my rim. One that, had it completely blown at 35 mph could have spelled disaster.

     I looked up again and said, OK, I get it.

     Life can be interesting, if you pay attention.


Call of the Wild

Posted by johnnieraz on September 26, 2020 at 12:15 AM Comments comments (1)

Wild Oregon Huckleberries


By John Rezell

     Exploration emerges as the heartbeat of our summer of chaos, providing the lifeblood to allow my soul to thrive.

     Each bike ride fills my essence with the adventure of discovery, never knowing what lies around the next bend, or over the next climb. In that respect, this summer has found its way to heal.

       As Ridgely and I spent a quiet morning on a calming walk through a small local park, we found blackberries in full force. Having already picked numerous quarts of the wild roadside sweets to stock the freezer, the thumb-size bulbs I plucked from the bush went straight to my mouth.

      The tasty explosions suddenly stirred something deep within. Without thinking twice I whipped out my iPhone and dove quickly into my calendar. Ah, yes, my reminder neared its time to chime:

      "It's Huckleberry Season" read the note, typed in a year ago as an annual reminder after I stumbled upon the perfect Huckleberry Trail.

      We got back into the Santa Fe and rolled toward home, my TO DO list swimming in my head.

      I had plenty to do, but my gut rumbled with a primal scream that sizzled up my spine.
    
     This is not an option.

     This is a necessity.

     Less than three hours later, we arrived at the trailhead. Ever the optimist, I had four large containers in my backpack. 

      As we hiked to the trail, so many possibilities raced through my head. Oregon summers depend on Oregon winters. Is it really Huckleberry season now? Or was it a few weeks ago? Or in a few weeks to come?

     I could see the trail a bit more dusty than usual, kicked up by the footprints heading in all directions. Might those many searchers from last year already picked this trail clean?

     All I remember is that the real harvest last year sat waiting two miles up the trail. Close to the trailhead, the bushes had been picked clean. Possibly hikers. Possibly wildlife. Impossible to tell.

     This year, just a Usain Bolt sprint in, I found my Olympic Gold. Not just a few Huckleberries. Not just almost ripe Huckleberries.

      No, the perfect Huckleberries — here, there and everywhere — waiting on the perfect day.


Wild Oregon Blackberries

Never the Same Again

Posted by johnnieraz on September 19, 2020 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (1)

Fire damage on Highway 242 from a 2017 fire. Copyright photo by John Rezell


By John Rezell

     Three years had passed since I last drove up the Aufderheide Byway. On my way to score a Labor Day campsite, it was my first look at the area since a fire swept through in 2017, halting my annual journey to harvest Huckleberries.

      My insides wrenched looking at the once lush forest reduced to towering bare sticks with blackened edges.

      Ridges resembled the pointed teeth of a dog's hairbrush.

       This once breathtaking drive now moved me for other reasons.

       I've thought a lot about that drive the past few days since major fires have decimated Oregon. It wasn't my first taste of fire damage to hallowed grounds. I'm pretty sure it won't be my last.

      This week, as two of my favorite areas have been scorched, I realize it will be different.

       Profoundly different.

       As of Monday's count, eight Oregonians have lost their lives in these fires.

       It's one thing to stomach the sense of loss related to Mother Nature. It's another when the loss is human.

       I'm not sure how I'll react when I have the opportunity to return.

       And yes, I will return.

          I'll continue to head to the mountains with a quarter tank of gas to fill up in the small towns along the way to ensure those outposts remain in business.

       I'll stop at various markets to buy supplies I don't necessarily need to support them.

       I'll stop for breakfast, lunch or dinner, too.

       As we drove home Labor Day, unaware of a tidal wave of flames that would eventually follow, we saw an empty business still up for sale. We tossed around a few ideas of how we could revive it, and enjoy the serenity of mountain life.

        Looking at the fire reports, I doubt that building stands today.

        It probably went up in flames, just as our thoughts of someday heading to the hill for good.


The view of Highway 22 from the Stahlman Trail just north of Detroit most likely doesn't look like this anymore. Copyright photo by John Rezell

All Choked Up

Posted by johnnieraz on September 12, 2020 at 3:40 AM Comments comments (1)

Waterfall on the Breitenbush Trail that most likely doesn't look anything like this anymore. Copyright photo by John Rezell



By John Rezell

      In this most distressing year of our time, Mother Nature’s Oregon havens offered solace — our saving grace.

      Escaping into the Cascades restored our inner peace.

      Towering Douglas Firs, Ponderosa Pines, Hemlocks and others reaffirmed our sense of resilience, having endured and survived hundreds of years longer than any of us mere mortals.

      Breathtaking mountain peaks stood majestically as reminders that lofty pursuits not only inspire, but lift our limits and boundaries.

Labor Day Retreat

       Rolling up Highway 22 eastbound out of Salem in search of an elusive Labor Day weekend campsite, I continually paused to take mental inventory of the beauty of Santiam Canyon and our seemingly endless opportunities to savor Oregon’s outdoors.

      I had no idea how precious those memories would become.

      My first reflection surfaced at Fisherman’s Bend, where I’ve pulled over on my way home from memorable hikes farther in the Cascades to flick a few fly casts into the Santiam River in hopes of striking a rainbow catch for dinner.

      Pangs of sadness gnawed a bit as I passed the Little Santiam Recreational area, knowing deep within the forest in rugged terrain making it nearly impossible to fight, yet that same isolated landscape somehow keeping it somewhat contained, the Opal Wilderness burned.


Ridgely on the Little Santiam River Trail with a view that lives only in our memories. Copyright photo by John Rezell


      Noting the Campground Full sign at Detroit Lake and the floating docks crammed with boats, I smiled at the popularity of this quaint oasis.

      Our summer season began with a Memorial Day weekend hike on the Breitenbush Trail, forced to drive deep into the forest in search of some solitude, or the closest we could find.

      Every spot to pull in a camper or pitch a tent appeared taken — Oregonians and our adventurous spirits on full display.

       In early June we would christen our new camper at Riverside Campground. We hiked some local trails and took the short drive up to the Santiam Exchange, to hike Clear Lake and venture a bit down the McKenzie River corridor.

      With the forests packed for Labor Day weekend up the Santiam Canyon, I continued down the McKenzie, again, reliving countless adventures along the way.

     We eventually scored a campsite up the Aufderheide Scenic Byway and reminisced about another amazing summer where nature had rekindled and refreshed our souls over and over, despite the craziness erupting around the world. 

Return to Reality

        Monday we drove home, down Highway 126, into Eugene, and home. Having moved from Eugene four years ago, it had been a long time since I ventured along Highway 126.

      Driving down through Blue River and Vida memories flooded of countless trips that began more than a quarter century ago with our first visit on vacation, and accelerated just 15 years ago when I wrote about new experiences as an outdoor columnist.

      On our first visit, the Vida Cafe introduced us to Oregon’s unforgettable berry pies. A fire closed the cafe for a time a few years back, but it endured and reopened.

      We arrived safely home, savoring the comforting images in our minds.

      Then, Monday night, both river canyons burst into apocalyptic blazes.

       In a bizarre atmospheric twist, a blast of easterly winds — typically winter conditions — roared through the canyons.

       In the case of Santiam, reports believe a tree downed a power line sparked the blaze. Riding gusts more than 50 mph, it exploded into a fiery tsunami.

       On the McKenzie the cause remains unknown, yet the same fierce offshore flow created identical uncontrollable chaos.

       Daylight never really won out on Tuesday, the heavy smoke from the Santiam Canyon fire keeping our Dallas skies to an eerie kaleidoscope of deep yellow, blood red and fiery orange.


The late afternoon sky in Dallas on Tuesday. Copyright photo by John Rezell


          The first video to emerge online showed Fisherman's Bend smothered in an inferno. Reports continue to worsen, as of Wednesday 300,000 acres have been torched throughout the state, the vast majority up these two scenic byways.

       It could have been the smoky tinge to our air that kept my stomach churning throughout the day and into the night.

          But it wasn’t.

       Detroit. Blue River. Vida. All destroyed.

       Thousands of steadfast Oregonians lost homes and businesses, and must tap into their pioneer spirit and relentless resolve to endure and survive.

        With huge slices of the best of Oregon gone, I feel the loss deep at my core and ache for those who lost more than a place to escape.

           Some recent photos from the areas torched by fire:








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