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

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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:







A cyclist is a cyclist

Posted by johnnieraz on August 29, 2020 at 3:40 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

    Whenever someone points out that cyclists come in all shapes, sizes and forms, I take a moment to reflect on it.

    Sure enough.

    There are cyclists who ride for fitness.

    Cyclists who ride for pure joy.

    Cyclists who commute.

    And, of course, cyclists who have no other wheel-powered choice in their lives than the bicycle.

    I’m reminded of that last group whenever I pass a cyclist who doesn’t have a home, yet has a bike. I think back to a time when I lived outside of San Diego. A good friend of mine was working on a project for a college class. I went out with him, video camera in hand, to interview some homeless individuals.

    You might imagine what some of their life stories sounded like. Real life tragedies. Yet, almost to a person, we heard the same sentiment. We don’t want pity, they said, but we do want acknowledgment.

     I remember Jack better than anyone. When we approached Jack, and asked if he’d talk to us, he couldn’t stop staring in disbelief. Then he wouldn’t stop talking. The most painful thing, Jack said, is being ignored. Seeing people purposely look away, least they make eye contact.

    Simple acknowledgment, Jack said, means everything.

    I’ve tried to remember that lesson. Always.

     Just after Labor Day 2008, as summer began to slip to memory, I got laid off. It would be more than two years before I gained full-time employment again.

     While still unemployed back in 2010, I ventured past one of the homeless in Eugene. He had his bicycle and bike trailer pulled beneath an underpass, with the trailer up on a rock. He’d pulled off his tire. Needed to repair a flat. And find a way to pump it up. It’s a long ride to the nearest gas station with free air, he said.

     I didn’t have a 20-inch spare on me, nor could my presta connection help his Schraeder valve. But I was, I had to admit, on my way to a bike shop. If he promised to sit tight, I’d return and help out. He said he’d wait.

     I couldn’t tell him I was headed to exchange a pair of cycling gloves that were under the tree on Christmas morning. They were nice. Really nice. They fit. But new cycling gloves, given our employment status, became a luxury item, at least in my mind.

     When I got to the shop, I exchanged the gloves. For a couple of spare tubes. And a portable pump. I gladly paid the difference.

     Upon my return, of course, he tried to make a big deal about it. He thanked me. Pointed out at least 20 other cyclists had ridden right past, and just ignored him. I was the only one to even speak to him. He felt guilty when I told him to keep the pump.

     Don’t worry about, I told him, I’d do the same for any cyclist.


Time to Reflect

Posted by johnnieraz on August 27, 2020 at 5:45 PM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     It's time for a break.

     We have more important issues to attend to and think about these days.

     I'll spend my Saturday mornings with an open mind, hoping to understand what others in this world face and finding ways to bring us together.

My Castle Views

Posted by johnnieraz on August 15, 2020 at 7:00 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     As we wrapped around the final switchbacks on the western edge of Castle Rock, the fog lifted from the valley into a bright blue sky like a flock of sparkling stars returning to the Milky Way. Ridgely charged ahead, as she's apt to do, as curious as I was — wondering if we would be graced by the view or fogged in.

     Once we cleared the summit and hiked to the eastern front, Mother Nature rewarded us in grand style. The Sisters peeked over a bank of clouds hanging like a sash around their middriff. We sat and soaked it in, this nearly perfect Saturday morning.

     Oregon gets a terrible rap for its weather, which, Spoiler Alert, is fine with us. It rains, sure, but nowhere near the London-esque manner most people believe. I ride my bike to work every day, and only need to don rain pants a handful of times each year. .

      From June until September, here in the Willamette Valley we see nary a drop of rain. Summers are magificent. The rest of the year, we never let a little rain bother us. Clouds, however, spend a lot of time hanging around here this time of the year.

     So to have a chance to make one of my favorite hikes and be rewarded with my most cherished Oregon image, well, I just couldn't pass that up.

     You can see the majestic Sisters from numerous locations in Eugene, but it's not as though they serve as towering sentinels watching over us. Which makes the fact that they have become my vision of "home" even more confounding. Whenever their peaks pop into view, something stirs deep inside.

     There was a time when Holy Hill, cradled in Wisconsin's Kettle Moraine gave me that jolt. Later the Southern California sunsets across the Pacific and the stunning views of the Flat Irons overlooking Boulder brought me that sizzle.

     These days, the Sisters offer me peace of mind. Home.

     Something about this hike lures me to this viewpoint again and again, after the first visit struck me like a magical spell. It has been our Christmas hike on many occasions that snow levels allow it, and it's the place where I brought my sax to wail one final tribute to Clarence Clemons on his passing.

     We had the mountain to ourselves this Saturday morning, Ridgely and I. Miles from our house, a few thousand feet above it, we spent the morning at home.

Spoilers? Hate 'em

Posted by johnnieraz on August 9, 2020 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

      I love surprises.

      And challenges.

      That's my motivation as I turn off the main road and head toward Paulina Peak. All I know is the sign says 4 miles to the peak.

      An hour later the cold, crisp wind howling at 7,984 feet above sea level ices my sweat-soaked body. The views take my breath away, even moreso than the climb.

     As I savor my accomplishment, the surpise factor elevates my enjoyment.

     A woman with a mountain bike on her truck asks me about the climb. How long did it take? Was it tough?

     I answer that it took an hour, almost to the minute. It was steep, but not brutal. I have no idea how much I climbed.

     She pulls out a map and shows me. I've conquered 2,000 feet over four miles.

     This fact lifts my spirits more. Why? Because it surprises me.

     Again, I love surprises.

      I love 'em so much, I create my own.

      How do you do that, Raz?

      Well, it's quite simple. I don't do much research.

      Oh, of course I do research when I'm on the clock as a writer. I have to research a ton. Which, I assume, is why I avoid it in my off-hours life.

      With Covid-19 wreaking havoc in so many facets of life this summer, my penchant for ad-lib adventure has been tested to its limits.

      I'm pleased — and surprised — to announce we found great success.

      We've lived in Oregon for 15 years now, and explored endlessly. Still, we'd never heard of the Newberry Caldera National Monument outside of Bend. I just happen to stumble upon it in search of a first-come campsite. Pure luck.

      It's not that I'm against the concept of reservations for camping. It's just that I believe every campground should have some first-come accommodations for folks like me.

      But Covid-19 prompted a lot of campgrounds to eliminate first-come sites this summer. Curse you Covid-19!

      Yet somehow I stumbled on the Newberry Caldera and the Cinder Hill campground that is primarily first-come sites.

      I stumbled on the Crater Rim trail, 23 miles that circle the caldera. Same for Paulina Peak and Paulina Falls. And the Cinder Hill Trail (photo above).

      This scenario plays out time and again for us. We stumble upon experiences that we could have and probably should have known about. Instead they pop up as surprises, making the adventure that much sweeter.


     

    


Something's Brewing

Posted by johnnieraz on August 2, 2020 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     As these bizarre times march on and on, refreshing my mind and body with a heavy dose of Mother Nature has saved my soul. Again.

     The challenge of finding a job in the best of times chips away at your psyche like a water torture, so remaining on the hunt since March tests my obsessive optimism to its limits.

     Yet, Mother Nature welcomes me.

     She embraces me.

     She lifts my spirits.

     She recharges my resolve.

     Looking forward always prompts moments of reflection. When I look at the vast collection of outdoor adventures I see a mine of gold.

     So I've relaunched this website with some thoughts of where we could go with it.

     While I continue my hunt for the next grand adventure, hoping to return at minimum to substitute teaching soon, the time has come to experiment. Play around a little and let the creative juices flow.

     So stop by every once in a while to see what I'm up to.

     If you want to see what I was up to after shutting down this website for 10 months, check out my posts at ConquerMountains.blogspot.com

I Know What I Know

Posted by johnnieraz on September 21, 2019 at 6:55 AM Comments comments (1)


By John Rezell

     It just flashed in my peripheral vision.

     Only for a moment.

     Just an instant.

     But I knew.

     Oh, how I knew.

     Before I could flick my eyes to the left for a confirmation, it disappeared.

     The hair on my neck leaped to attention.

     A chill ran down my spine.

     My gut fluttered.

    I screamed a profanity.

    And zipped on by.

    I charged down a nearby logging road at a pretty good clip last Saturday when it burst into view. I’ll admit I didn’t see it long enough to know for sure. I just know what I know.

     A cougar popped its headed above a bush just 30 feet ahead on the side of the road, then ducked away. I didn’t have time to think about it. Just react.

     If I would have attempted to stop, I would have stopped right there, right at the spot. That didn’t appeal to me.

      I know you’re not supposed to run from a cat, but really, I had no choice. Besides, it appeared to have the same reaction to seeing me as I did seeing it. We didn’t want any confrontations.

     I kept digging, increasing my pace even a little more, constantly looking back, making sure. My entire body went on full alert. Fight or flight, without question.

     I know cougars prowl this area. I saw one about 18 months ago. A big one. Really big.

     About a quarter mile from this spot, where a river runs about 50 feet beyond the trees and bushes to my left, and a wide open meadow runs for about 500 yards to the base of a hillside clear cut some 20 years or so ago to my right, a hunter stopped last November and told me a cougar just crossed from the river to the meadow.

     I carry pepper spray and a knife that I call my false sense of security. I figure my bike helmet might be my only saving grace in an attack, absorbing the impact of the cat’s first bite, maybe long enough for me to react somehow.

     And then there are all the bones ...

      But more than anything, it simply confirms what I’ve told my wife and daughter when they hike with me in the cougar area, nervous about an encounter. I’ve told them if a cat’s nearby, you’ll know. They ask, "how?" I just say you’ll know.

     In many years outdoors, only a handful of times have I just known. Just known something is out there. Something close. Something dangerous.

      For most of the past 13 years I’ve had my black lab Ridgely with me. My rule was simple. I don’t freak until Ridgely freaks. And she freaked a few times.

     She’s 13 now. Too old to hang on the long bike rides and hikes. We still get out, but shorter adventures. Sure wish I had her with me last week.

     I continued my ride, knowing I would have to ride past on the way home. A few hours later I did. On full alert, I felt nothing. Felt safe.

     Of course a half mile later I found myself confronted again with Oregon wildlife. Have I mentioned I hate snakes?

     A rattlesnake sunning itself stretched halfway across the road between me and home. I had about five feet in front of its head and three behind its tail of gravel. Frankly, I didn’t relish either choice.

     I probably should have got video. I screamed at it for a few minutes. Tossed some rocks. Eventually actually hit it. It didn’t even flinch. No doubt saving itself for the lightning quick attack.

      Eventually I opted for the same tactic. I rode back a ways, cranked it up full speed, and charged past its head. Again, it didn’t flinch.

      Suffice to say my heart-rate soared the rest of the way home.

      Oregon, never a dull moment.

Life's Magic, at Least in Oregon

Posted by johnnieraz on September 15, 2019 at 3:00 AM Comments comments (0)

The first Chanterelle find of the season. Photo by John Rezell

By John Rezell

    There’s a magic to the universe. I’m can feel it.

      Problem is, in my humble opinion, we often overlook, if not downright ignore it. We simply think too much.

     I could spend the whole Saturday morning giving you mysterious examples in my life, but I’ll focus on the past month.

     I’m talking about things like grabbing my cellphone to text my daughter only to have a text from her arrive before I could start typing. Or my uncanny ability to be at a stop light and out of the blue countdown 3-2-1 and it turns green. My older daughter says my accuracy rate with her in the car is about 95 percent, and frankly, it freaks her out.

     I can’t count the number of times this summer my wife and I are sitting together when a thought pops into my head — often something we haven’t discussed in months — and before I can bring it up, she does.

     And just the other day, driving home after dropping my younger daughter at the airport knowing I didn’t have dinner planned for my wife, I thought about stopping for a whole chicken at the grocery store — something we eat maybe twice a year when our day gets too crazy — only to arrive home and find out she stopped for a whole chicken to bring home for dinner.

      I bring this up because living in small town (pop. 15,000) in Oregon allows me to spend countless hours away from the endless distractions that keep most minds occupied throughout the day.

      I hop on my bike and in 20 minutes I’m in the woods, chugging up logging roads where I won’t hear a car or bump into another person for the next two, three, four or more hours. That’s a lot of time to not think, just be.

      So Friday I headed out to one of Oregon’s sweet collection of mountain bike trails as I attempt to keep my well-toned fitness for another week until a major ride. I’ve spent more hours on my bike this year than I have for many, many years.

      The good part is being able to head out for a four or five hours without killing myself. The bad part is being on a bike for four or five hours slowly becomes rather boring for me if I do it too often.

      I pulled my mountain bike out of the Santa Fe only to find I have no rear brake. The hydraulic fluid, if there is any, won’t respond to my disc brake.

      To get to this level of fitness means I do a lot of climbing. A LOT OF CLIMBING. More than most normal folks would consider sane (I’m not talking to you serious cyclists, but us average folks).

      There’s something about being alone out in the boondocks, plugging my way up an hour climb, that I enjoy. And I do mean plugging. By no means do I set any speed records. I’m the tortoise. If there were others out there, say young fit hikers, they’d probably leave me in their dust rather than vice versa.

      In any event, what comes up must go down, and I pretty much wear out my brakes every few months because I descend like a baby, born out of 13 years riding with my black lab when I had to descend at 5 mph as to allow her to survive for the next ride.

      At this particular set of trails the consensus would be that you have to be an idiot to ride them without a rear brake. Then again, I’m used to doing idiotic things not to mention, as I said, descending like a granny.

     So, I went for it.

     Truth be told, I went for it because there were no other cars at the trailhead. I do have an ego.

     After about 90 minutes of climbing and descending on the perfectly designed flow trails, well, I got bored. So I hopped onto the nearest logging road and just started climbing.

     I hit the summit about 45 minutes later. Once again, bored. And then something hit me, out of nowhere.

     Some rain has fallen recently in Oregon, and later on in late October or November, I heed that as a call to find Chanterelle mushrooms in the forest. I’ve never hunted this early, no matter how wet it might be. But, I’m in the Coastal Mountains, so what the heck?

      I hide my bike in the brush and begin slipping my way in bike cleats down the mountainside with about a 50-degree pitch. I see an old logging road covered with brush, and know I’ve struck gold on one of these before.

     But understand that over the past 13 years I’ve also spent the equivalent of weeks foraging in the forest coming up completely shut out. It’s never a sure thing, finding mushrooms, even at their peak.

      Just 10 steps down the hill, literally from 20 years away, a sliver of gold no bigger than an almond catches my eye. No way, I say out loud, somehow knowing it isn't a fall leaf.

      Sure enough, upon further inspection it’s the edge of a Chanterelle emerging from beneath the fir needles. Since they are communal, there must be others. There are.

      For the next two hours I hug this rich, steep, mountainside, filling a grocery bag with my precious gold. I’ll smother my homemade pizza with them tonight.

     Ahh, just another magical day in the Oregon forests.



True Joys of Parenting

Posted by johnnieraz on September 7, 2019 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (0)

     

        By John Rezell

      My daughter Sierra stepped into my office and deadpanned that she had something to tell me and something to ask me. Which would I like to hear first?

     Since we’ve been waiting anxiously more than six weeks to hear if she has cleared the in-depth security clearance to land a mechanical engineering job with the U.S. Navy, my choice was simple. Tell me.

      YES! The news we’d been hoping for finally arrived. I lifted Sierra and spun her around, whooping and hollering. Sierra, the mild-mannered engineer, looked at me as if I was crazy, wondering where that came from. I kinda wondered, too.

      Then I realized the true wonder and joy of being a parent. For all the grand successes in my life, this trumped them all. There’s nothing — absolutely nothing — that compares to seeing your child make her dream come true.

      More than anything, I’m sure the thrill of validation that our many parental decisions over the past 22 years have paid off sparks my biggest internal reaction.

      Sierra’s first night home, when she refused to fall asleep unless she was tucked into my side where she could rest her head on my chest and hear my heart beating taught me everything I needed to know about parenting: There are no master plans or blueprints, you just have to listen to your heart.

      At that point in her first night home I had a whopping 13 hours of sleep in the previous 96 hours. I wedged myself on our couch so neither of us would fall off, I wouldn’t roll over onto her, or she couldn’t slip onto her stomach.

      I’d dose off in short spurts that were never more than a few minutes. But each time I paused to look down at her, a wave of peace and calm washed over me — more refreshing than a good night’s sleep.

      Debbie stayed at home for the first six years, then I took over as Mr. Mom for the next eight. We endured the challenges of being a one income family. We focused their attention on school. We found ways to get gymnastics and volleyball into their lives. And we camped and hiked every chance we could.

      I marveled at how close we've grown, thanks to my years at home. I wish every father would have the chance to experience that close bond that mothers have monopolized for centuries.

       Over the years we’ve seen hints that we’ve done all right as parents. Through college, and now beyond, our daughters still want to spend Memorial Day camping and get out on a good old summer vacation road trip.

      And now, they are on the cusp of beginning their real lives.

      I can only think back to the early years, when adults would swoon about the two cute little girls and say things like, “Don’t you wish they’d stay this age forever?”

       I’d smile and later tell my girls that, no, I don’t wish they’d stay little forever because I can’t wait to see them grow up and find out who they would become. It just keeps getting better.

Summer Vacation

Posted by johnnieraz on June 15, 2019 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (2)

     "It's morning, I wake up, The taste of summer sweetness on my mind ..."

      — Rob Thomas, Streetcorner Symphony

      By John Rezell

      On one of my first grand adventures in Oregon nearly 14 years ago, one of my readers took me into the mountains, past an tiny, old store that simply had one word on the sign hanging on the door: Shut

      Summer's here, and my Saturday Morning Blog will be Shut while I spend as much time savoring the outdoors as humanly possible. I wish the same for you ...


A Hero's Last Goodbye

Posted by johnnieraz on May 27, 2019 at 9:05 PM Comments comments (0)

EDITOR'S NOTE: I spent Memorial Day weekend camping in the wild, cut off from news and the Internet. I returned to learn that my childhood hero, Bart Starr, passed away. Here is a rewrite of the blog I wrote almost four years ago when he was about to make one of his last appearances at Lambeau Field.

By John Rezell

      I'm shedding more than a tear or two. To be honest, I just cried like a baby. 

      I've enjoyed a great life, really. There aren't enough thank yous on the planet to give it justice. 

      So none of my tears come from sorrow. Instead my tears pour forth from a place of pure joy. A place where, no matter what age you are, the air of childhood innocence floats back into your reality.

      I feel the embrace of unlimited potential, remembering what it's like to believe for the first time that you can make your life anything you want it to be. I say remember what it is like for the first time since I carry that feeling with me every day. Like I said, I'm a lucky man.

       I feel the yearning to rise to a lofty standard and be a great leader, knowing full well that I can battle from any depth if I believe in my heart and my convictions.

      I know this because I feel the power a hero can unleash upon a boy.

      I'm thankful for Bart Starr.

      Bart Starr played quarterback for the Green Bay Packers way back when, long before Charles Barkley made his claims that athletes shouldn't be heroes. The truth is that many athletes don't deserve to be heroes. The simple fact remains that Bart Starr set the standard for heroes.

      On the field, Bart Starr exhibited grace under pressure. He showed how to lead men. He was cleverly risky.

      Bart Starr led the Packers to five NFL Championships. Over coming challenges? Five titles is pretty good for a kid selected 200th in the draft. Yep, that's one position later than Tom Brady.

      What set Bart Starr apart, even for a young kid, was the way he handled himself. Always a Southern Gentleman. Polite. Well-spoken. A rock.

      I don't know why I decided I wanted to be a good man other than I wanted to be like Bart Starr

      When I faced my greatest moral challenge as a journalist and had everything to lose except my dignity, I thought of Bart Starr. It may sound funny, a grown man suddenly brought back to his youth. But that's what happened. Somewhere in those memories I found the strength of my conviction.

      Life is filled with countless encounters and influences. You never know who, what, when or where you might feel their effects.

      Luckily, I knew who.

      Bart Starr may be gone now, but that green No. 15 will always live on in my memories, and in my heart, guiding me as only he can.


Recycling Memories of America's Golden Age

Posted by johnnieraz on May 16, 2019 at 1:05 AM

       By John Rezell

     Beneath the sea of colorful jerseys hearts beat in a cacophony of rhythms, some chirping at the rate of a hummingbird, others the leisurely pace of a sloth.

      Behind dark sunglasses eyes sparkle with anticipation or glaze with dread. Each glimmering racing bike carrying a countless chest of memories and dreams.

      Once the gun sounds a symphony strikes its opening chords, soon to erupt into chaos eventually closing on a final note proclaiming who proves best on this given day.

       Since a huge chunk of my FB friends roll in the cycling community, I’m never completely out of the loop. But I don’t follow the sport anywhere near as close as I did in the ‘90s, as a freelancer and later editor of VeloNews.

       So each year when the Tour of California hits the airways I watch while my mind takes a trip down memory lane.

      While revelations have rewritten the history for that generation of riders in the ‘90s, I’ll forever call it the Golden Age of North American cycling. Never before, or since, has the U.S. and Canada had so many top level pros in men and women. That’s why I wrote my books.

       With another Olympic year on the horizon, long lost are the epic battles of ’92 and '96 for spots on those Olympic teams. The U.S. Trials for '96 were a diabolical test to ensure that only the most worthy don a U.S. Olympic jersey in Atlanta.

       I'll be honest, I have no idea what the current selection process is. I just have this gut feeling that part of the reason we lack the depth and talent that took on the world in the '90s has a bit to do with making life a pinch easier rather than much more challenging.

       As I watched so many cyclists stand at the starting lines in '92, '96 and '00, I could feel the power of their stories, so many of them sharing their insights and insecurities with me over the years.

      It's not one or two stories that stand out for me, but the collective mass. That's why their journeys from '92 to '96 are chronicled in my books, and how and why they impacted me to make me who I am today. To all of them, I say Thanks.

      A More Simple Time: How Cycling Saved My Soul is available on Amazon, Barnes&Noble.com, Smashwords and iTunes


First Taste of Greatness

Posted by johnnieraz on April 13, 2019 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

    

       By John Rezell

     There's an aura that buzzes around extraordinary people, an electric field you can actually feel in their presence. You need not say a word nor shake a hand, but you feel it deep inside your soul there is something very, very special about them even if they haven't risen to their potential yet. I've been lucky to experience people like this throughout my career, but I'll never forget the first time when it caught me completely off guard.

     I drove up to Green Bay to attend a Packers preseason practice to get some quotes for a preview story. It was 1984, and former Packer and now head coach Forrest Gregg jogged over to a small huddle of reporters on the field.

     It's not that I was star-struck, even though I grew up a fanatic Packer Backer. I was a sportswriter now, and people who once appeared larger than life were just people I was interviewing. Heck, the days before that trip I was walking around Platteville, chasing Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka for quotes. Each time I'd catch up with him he'd fire me that Ditka growl, which in my mind was a sign of respect, born from our first introduction.

     As a sportswriter for the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, I got wind early that the Bears were going to move their preseason training to UW-Platteville, so I called Ditka to confirm. At first his secretary blew me off, saying he was unavailable. When she asked the reason for my call, I told her I was writing a story about the Bears coming to Platteville. She put me on hold. The next voice I heard barked at me, "How the hell did you hear that?" And so my relationship with Ditka began.

     Standing in that small group of reporters watching Forrest Gregg approach, I just prepared for a typical interview. Click on my tape recorder, start scribbling notes, ask a question or two if the local reporters didn't ask first. Then he stopped at our group, and the wave hit me. I actually froze.

     The interview began and I found myself simply in awe. I wasn’t taking any notes. My hand held my pen on my notebook as I simply absorbed the moment and felt his aura wash over me. I could feel this energy and intensity radiating from him while my mind was racing with a video history of him from playing days to sidelines coaching.

      What shocked me is that it took me completely by surprise because I wasn’t nervous or even thinking it would be anything special ahead of time. Just another day at work, another interview. Instead it was a moment for a lifetime.

      Forrest Gregg wouldn't be the last person to hit me with his aura, but he offered my first taste of the palpable vibe of being in the presence of greatness. RIP, No. 75.


Women Coaching Women

Posted by johnnieraz on April 13, 2019 at 3:20 AM Comments comments (0)

 

     By John Rezell

      If you haven't watched it already, listen to Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw talk about women coaching in women's sports. After hearing her take, I couldn't help but think back to my daughters' experiences in sports. Without question, the women who coached them had tremendous influence and inspired them. Many of the men who coached them were dumpster fires.

     Let me preface by saying that my career in sportswriting established a framework of reality when it came to my daughters and sports. Well, that and my own lack of serious athletic genes contributed mightily to understanding that sports would never be more than an educational enhancement.

     We treated sports as a reward for my daughters' hard work in the classroom. They started by enjoying gymnastics classes and eventually played volleyball. Despite the difficulties of being a one income family by choice — my wife and I decided when we started a family that one of us would stay home to raise our girls — we found ways to pay for club entries.

      Sadly, if I'm honest, we paid thousands of dollars over the years for a few men to completely destroy my daughters' love of volleyball. Interspersed were islands of joy where women were in control and established wonderfully positive atmospheres where my daughters thrived and learned the lessons that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

     But the experiences with male coaches, aside from a few exceptions, were riddled with stereotypical team issues and drama that, from my point of view, can simply be attributed to male ego/testosterone bullcrap. That is to say, the male coach's egos appeared to be the focal point of their attention as opposed to say, the experience of their players.

     I've met, covered and watched closely many male coaches who know their trade and were excellent role models. Unfortunately, my daughters didn't get that from all their male coaches. The sense I got more than anything was that those coaches who failed them failed because they felt that women should be treated exactly how men should be treated. And while a number of important aspects of behavior and motivation are in common for both genders, it is not a completely 100 percent situation.

     My many years spent around sports prompted me to sit back and let things play out the way they did with my daughters. I could have confronted the coaches, but I've seen how that can go south in a hurry for all parties involved. Instead, I figured my daughters would learn from the experiences and take that knowledge with them as they battle forward in life. Unfortunately it won't be the last time they face this gender mess, but as with all life experiences, they grew with each incident and appear better equipped to deal with future challenges.

     There is a huge value in young women seeing first hand women in positions of power and influence. I could see how that lifted self confidence and instilled a sense of pride and ownership in my daughters. Life is always a mixed bag, but at least they found a couple of the right ingredients for future success.

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 Wichita Falls, Texas for the Hotter 'n' Hell bike race. At one point the family made the long trip from Yuma to Wichita 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.


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