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

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

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Beyond the Horizon

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

By John Rezell

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

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

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

    It's there. I know it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Ode to Mother Nature

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


Spirit of Adventure

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

By John Rezell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      That's when Taylor realized something was up.

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

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

      "I'm jumping," Sierra interjected confidently.

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

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

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

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

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

       "No!" she said emphatically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     So I jumped.

     Of course, it was a gas.

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

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

     "One, two, three!" I shouted.

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

 

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

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

     "One, two, three!" I shouted.

      She jumped.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Don't Read This

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


By John Rezell

     Whatever you do, don’t read this.

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

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

     Just step away from your computer. Run like hell.

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

     Whatever you do, don’t read this.

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

     It goes something like this:

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

     I didn’t have to suspend my beliefs.

     I didn’t have to exaggerate my details.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     And, there are writers who just write.

     Not to make money.

     Not to become famous.

     Not to escape life.

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

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

     Sorry.

     Not for everyone.

     Not for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

     It was my emotion.

     My pain.

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

     Connected.

     Living a life.

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

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

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

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

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

     My heart would skip a beat.

     My stomach would flutter.

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

     Not for an audience.

     Not for anyone, but myself.

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

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

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

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

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

     With a novel. 

     With screenplays.

     With memoirs.

     I don’t have what others want. 

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

      I suppose I should be crippled by disappointment.

      Consumed by rage.

      Determined beyond measure.

      Obsessed to write, literally, this wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    I told you not to read this.

    Go spend some time with your family.

    That's what I plan to do.

    But that's just who I am.

     Then I'll sit down and write about it.

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

    

  

 

 

 

Change Can Be Simple

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

By John Rezell

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

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

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

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

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

      Keep it simple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

       Start simple.

       Don't push it.

       Take your time.

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


 

A Christmas Buzzzzzzz

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


By John Rezell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Ah, the memories.

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

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

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

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

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

I am the Horizon

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

 

By John Rezell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DDWIL#2: Cat Scratch Fever

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

By John Rezell

     Cats have been on my mind a lot lately.

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

     Again.

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

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

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

      Yikes! That will get your heart-rate going.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Beauty of Dog Years

Posted by johnnieraz on December 8, 2018 at 3:15 PM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     I’ve often wondered about the concept of dog years, although never enough to actually research how or why we multiply an earthly number of years by seven to understand how old our canine companions might be.

     I never found need to do the math early in my black lab Ridgely’s life, relying instead on a simple visual evaluation.

     Once she appeared to be big enough to handle hiking with me, she came along. When it looked like she would be able to hang with me biking, she came for those outings, too.

      The first time I calculated her dog age — when she turned eight — I was blown away that she managed to continue to run wild like she had done at age two. Hmmm, a 56-year-old bounding through the forest like a 14-year-old. Impressive.

     Eventually I became the first to slow a bit. Super long hikes and bike rides were replaced by shorter ones, along with more time soaking in the experience rather than blazing to the finish.

     At 10, er, 70 years old, I’d look at Ridgely’s patches of gray hair and hope I’ll have that kind of vigor when I hit her golden age.

     Ridgely cruised to age 11, occasionally beginning to hesitate before leaping into the back of the Santa Fe. Her spirit wanted to, but her body questioned it. Eventually she always jumped in.

     Now she’s 12, er, 84. She still wants to hit the woods as often as possible. But once there, she doesn’t have the zip she used to. We take it easy. I get her out for her workouts, and leave the longer, tougher ones to myself.

    On those lone journeys now, I think about the outdoor adventures we’ve shared over the past 12 years.

    She has enriched my life exponentially.

    Heck, times seven?

    Hardly.

    More like a thousand-fold.

 

Remembering Paul Sherwen

Posted by johnnieraz on December 2, 2018 at 7:25 PM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     I just heard of the passing of Paul Sherwen. So sad. He was a class act.

     My primary interactions with him were back when he was the Media guy for Motorola as Lance Armstrong rose to prominence. He always managed to get me time with Lance, and was surprised when Lance would give me access other writers weren't privy to.

     My favorite Paul Sherwen story comes from the 1995 CoreStates race in Philadelphia, when Norm Alvis escaped from a late breakaway that included Lance to win. Lance disappeared immediately following the race, headed for the Holiday Inn. While every other reporter went to the press conference, I grabbed Norm right as he crossed the line for his quotes, then bolted for the hotel. I knew the true story of the race sat with Lance, and I wanted to get the scoop.

     Here is an excerpt from my book, "Taken for a Ride: Chasing a Young Lance Armstrong."

     RIP Paul

BEGIN EXCERPT

     Without question, the real story of the race would come from Lance. He held all the cards for the past six weeks, and held them again in Philly. It reminded me much too much of my first encounter with him in Altoona. As strong as he was, there was little doubt in my mind that Lance controlled this race. If he wasn’t going to win, he would certainly decide who would. So I ran back to the hotel, which is about a 15-minute walk from the finish area. I found Paul Sherwen in the lobby and asked if I could get the chance to talk to Lance. Paul looked stunned that I was at the hotel. He asked me, "Isn’t there a press conference going on right now?" I said, yep, it’s probably still going. "And you’re here?" This is where the story is, I said.

      He disappeared up the elevator and left me in the lobby, with all the autograph-seeking freds. We all stood there waiting. And waiting. And waiting. The autograph-seeking freds asked my advice on where to corner some unsuspecting Motorola riders, so, hey, I told them. I'd hang around the van if I were you. They disappear ... then reappear ... then disappear ... as time slows to a crawl.

      Paul comes down after 15 minutes and assures me that Lance said he will come down before jetting out of town. I believe him because, frankly, when he says it's impossible to get 30 seconds with Lance he's right, so in this case I'm confident the opposite will be true. I’m writing some of my story in my head. As time drags on I start to scribble some notes. Nearly everyone who is anyone has passed me by not once, but usually twice, en route to their rooms for luggage and then out the door heading to the airport. The only riders who haven’t come past are ones still at the press conference or drug testing.

       Paul, the quirky Brit he is, seems to be having a glorious time passing by every five minutes to see whether or not I will endure. I inform him I always get my man, just like the Texas Rangers. He tells me it's the bloody Canadian Mounties who say that. God save the Queen! Who am I to argue? For the 15th time he says Lance will be down soon. For the 15th time I inform him I'll get a cot and sleep here if I have to. Eventually I looked at my watch. I've waited an hour and 45 minutes for Lance, even though I have to write stories for six different newspapers. I know the only way out of the building is through this lobby, from the elevator. I have to take a leak something fierce, but I’m not backing down. It doesn't bother me to wait. In fact, it’s exhilarating. This, I tell myself over and over, is what separates me from everyone else. It's worth it.

      Lance eventually comes down the elevator, and we retire to the hotel pub. He sits down, orders a beer, and answers my questions, even the ones that offend him a little. He's Lance and I'm Raz, and he's just doing his job and I'm just doing mine. Lance tells me about his attack.

      "Certainly I felt strong on the climb," Lance said. "I got a nice gap, but with that distance to go, that's hard. I had four guys behind me with no teammate to neutralize them. I was doomed."

      He didn’t have a teammate because Steve Bauer crashed just at the base of Manayunk. The plan was to have Bauer bridge up to Lance. Still, Lance felt strong and wondered if he could pull it off all by himself. He held on for 11 miles, with the city of Philadelphia totally behind him. He saw the gap coming down, and eventually sat up — the cycling equivalent of throwing in the towel on that move.

       "I knew it was over," Lance said. "I was pretty tired at that point. I could have chased Norm, but then I would have just given the other guys a free ride, and frankly, I would prefer that Norm win the jersey.

      "It's hard because we made the race. We did all the work, we did all the chasing and I felt we deserved to win the race. But that's bike racing. That's the nature of the sport."

       Those are the quotes I used in my stories, which pretty much filled in the details of the moves that made the race. Including, specifically, the most revealing quote when Lance said he would prefer that Norm win the jersey.

      When Lance said that, he saw my glare that I'd been holding up my sleeve since Chann McRae won his national title in Altoona. Lance looked at me and started getting pissed right away. He knew where this was headed. So, I said, you let him win?

      "I wouldn't exactly say that," Lance said, rather snippy. "I wasn't alone, the other guys could have chased."

       You would have probably chased them down, too, right?

       "Hell yeah," he barked, not wasting a heartbeat, "because they didn't deserve it. Norm did."

       Just like Chann did? I asked.

       He stopped short. Then, he just laughed, calmed down and took a swig of his beer. He looked at me with that sparkle of respect in his eyes. We kinda looked around and realized most eyes in the bar were on us. They were watching, but keeping a respectable distance. No autograph requests. He let his look linger, then spoke up.

      "Why in the hell did you wait two hours for me to come down here?" he asked. "Why in the hell did you come over here in the first place? Why weren't you at the press conference? That was still going on when you got here."

       So, I said, you knew exactly when I got here, and you've been just testing me?

       He smiled.

       "You'd have waited another two hours if you had to, wouldn't you?" he asked.

       I nodded.

        "I don't understand you at all," he said, shaking his head again.

Listen, I said, I'm writing a story about the race. You can call me crazy if you want, but in my estimation, that race was decided the moment Norm attacked and you decided to let him go. Just like you did for Chann in Altoona. It's not quite as obvious as pulling over in the final stretch at Pittsburgh a few weeks back to let Andrea win, but it's still the same. There was only one man in that race today who had the sole power to determine who wears that jersey for the next year, and that was you. I wanted to hear your side of the story. The folks I'm writing for back in Austin want to know your side of the story. Anyone who reads an account of this race deserves to know the real story, and the only ones who will know the real story are the ones who read my story.

       Again, he just looked at me with his quizzical eyes, lost in utter disbelief, attempting to understand my perspective, but having more than a bit of trouble with it.

     END EXCERPT

Flashback: My Favorite Photo

Posted by johnnieraz on November 17, 2018 at 5:15 PM Comments comments (0)

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


By John Rezell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Or waiting a week for film to be processed.

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

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

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

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

     Those photos from China are among my most cherished.

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

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

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

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

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

     I clicked.

     I caught it.

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

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

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

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

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

     Please let it be in focus.

     Please let it be in frame.

     Please give me something.

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

   

DDWIL: Not Losing It When Lost

Posted by johnnieraz on November 3, 2018 at 3:35 AM Comments comments (2)


Oregon gold, a Chanterelle mushroom

EDITOR'S NOTE: Since I plan to live to 130 years old, I don't think about my mortality very often. But I do know one thing: Should the worst-case scenario play out sometime out in the woods while I'm hiking or biking, I want everyone to know that I Died Doing What I Love. I'll call this my DDWIL. It's something everyone should leave behind.

By John Rezell

     A steady shower tapped relentlessly on my not-very-waterproof cycling jacket that draped over my hatless head, the water cascading down to my soaked sweatshirt sleeve that dripped down to the ground as I stood on a gravel logging road somewhere deep in the Oregon woods.

    Looking down at the small cross of branches I placed there a few hours earlier, I felt strangely at ease and at peace with myself, even though this was the fourth, maybe fifth and quite possibly sixth time I've strolled past. The branches marked the spot where Ridgely and I first emerged from the woods so long ago.

    I paused to take inventory yet again. Three hours into our hike. Sunset another four hours away. I'm completely soaked save for my feet, which remain dry and cozy inside my boots. I have an apple remaining and three quarters of a water bottle. I have my usual provisions in my backpack for emergencies: First aid kit, firestarting tools and tinder, hammock and a cooking kit. As usual in the Oregon woods, my cellphone shows NO SERVICE.

     Although we've hiked 45 minutes on this road in each direction I have no idea which direction heads to an ultimate deadend and which will eventually connect to another road and a probable route to a more popular road.

      The fact that we are, in reality, completely and utterly lost, seems to have no impact on me whatsoever. All I know is one simple fact: I broke just one of my rules for hiking in the wilderness, and now I'm paying the price. The question is how steep the price will be.

     I do know that if we don't make it out of here tonight, it will be past midnight before anyone knows we are missing. My wife is working very late tonight. My typical goodbye comment when Ridgely and I head to the woods is, "Don't worry until midnight." Right now midnight seems days away in one sense, moments away in another.

     Stay calm. Be logical. Keep moving. That's my mantra.

     My years of hiking and biking around Oregon's wilderness reminds me that logging roads like this one usually climb to the top of ridge and dead end there, but climbing to the west got us to the top of a ridge with the road continuing back down the other side and disappearing into the woods. If I head back that way, and have to turn back, it's another long climb.

     My biggest confidence boost comes from the fact that I'm not tired in the least. I've got plenty of energy. I can keep hiking for quite a while. The question is just which way?

     After hiking up and down the road with no clues as to which way to favor, we made a couple of ventures back into the woods in spots where we could see a clearing of trees, hoping that could get us back to the lake. Each effort did not pan out, even though we followed a couple of creek beds down hoping they would spill into the area where I assumed the lake sat. Nothing. Eventually we ended up back on the road. Back at my marker.

     So, you're wondering how did I get here?

     Let's go back to the start

     Thar's gold in them thar hills!

     That's the call that rings in my ears this time of the year. My call of the wild. My call to escape to the woods.

     Since we now live an added 90 minutes away from all my secret Chanterelle spots — which were already 90 or more minutes away my starting point in Eugene — I've challenged myself to find some new hunting grounds.

     That's all fine and dandy. There has to be a bazillion Chanterelles out there just waiting to be scooped up. The gauntlet was thrown.

     So Ridgely hopped in the back of the Santa Fe, thrilled to be getting back to the woods again. Heck, it had been a whole week!

     We charged up a new highway, at least for us, into the Cascades, and blasted down a new logging road named for a lake. We stopped aside a couple of hunters getting ready to head into the woods and learned it was the opening day of deer hunting season.

     So I dressed accordingly wild and bright, and somewhat light. We stumbled upon a trail to a lake. It was a short hike to the lake. I didn't don any waterproof jacket since I planned to be out for an hour or so at the most, and my cycling jacket was the brightest thing I had along. Besides, this was just a scouting mission and it was only misting at the time.

     It was early for Chanterelle season, but we did have some rain, so I figured I'd get a good hike in first and then, well, if I found a new Chanterelle strike by wandering off the beaten trail, all the better.

     The trail offered nifty hike to a little lake. The path around the lake looked somewhat worn. Up in the Cascades, finding a well-worn trail all around a lake is a crapshoot. Sometimes it's there, sometimes not.

     So we ventured around the lake.

     After taking that nice shot from the far side, nearly three-quarters of the way around (we connected with the lake where the bright red bushes climb up the left side of that rock), we continued on for the final quarter. That's when we had to cross a small stream that trickled into the lake.

     On the other side of the stream, the trail ended. That wouldn't be much a problem most of the time, since we'd just bushwhack along the edge of the lake back to our trail.

     But dang if the forest hillside looked like prime Chanterelle grounds. So we ventured in a little bit, always keeping track of where the lake was in relation to where we were.

     We hit a dry stream bed, and figured it headed back down to the lake since it headed in that general direction. We hiked down it, but it never got to the lake. That's where I made my mistake.

     In 10 years of playing in the woods, my conservative side always took over at this point. I can turn to Ridgely and say, take us back, and she will turn around and sniff her way back the way we came. At that point I still have a strong sense of where we just came from — not to mention a couple of strategically placed markers to know we are on our way back. Instead I forged on, confident I had a good idea where the lake had to be, and we'd eventually head there.

    I was wrong.

    Almost certain that the lake was over the next ridge where I could see some clearing in the trees, we trudged up the hill and popped out on the logging road. A road is good. But no idea which way to go. At this point I realized in my excitement to blaze new territory, I didn't quite catch the actual name of the lake, or did I ever check the forest road number that took us there.

    Now, back to where I started our story, I opted to continue east on the logging road, past our 45-minute previous hike. Another 30 minutes farther we hit the gate for the road, showing that we were on a closed secondary road. Progress, for sure. It brought us to another crossroads. Again, which way?

     My safety net for the whole day was hunting season. There had to be hunters roaming around somewhere. The road looked completely unused, at least today in the rain. And I hadn't heard a gunshot all day. Come to think of it, in all my years of hiking during hunting, I've never heard a shot. Strange.

     I could see that hiking north led up to an overlook. I figured there could be a slight chance I'd see the lake there. So we headed that way. The weather worsened, but not my mood. I was neither freaked nor anxious nor upset, which really lifted my spirits. I had no emotion, really.

     I just kept plugging away, plotting a potential schedule if need be. As long as I'm on a road, I'll keep hiking. No need to hunker down for the night unless it gets wicked. Plenty of light left.

    If it gets bad, I'll set up a fire or shelter of some sort either on the road or right next to it. Before all that, though, I can try an emergency 911 call and hope for reception.

     Thirty minutes later, the overlook was a bust. Nothing but a magnificent view, and a strong intuition that I had to head the other direction. So I did. Once again I passed the gate and headed south.

     This is when I pondered the concept of being physically lost but not losing it. Once you've lost it mentally, it's over. Done.

     As we continued on the road I thought about the backpack filled with forest service maps, including this sector, that sit in the back of my truck. I carry my main backpack with my emergency supplies for even the shortest hikes, like today, but then make the mistake of not having waterproof clothing. I know better than that.

     I figure I can walk into the darkness, for a while, but eventually I need to warm up and dry out. I've played this scenario in my head countless times, and that it might soon become a reality neither lifts or dampens my spirits. Just like Dory, I just keep walking.

    I've noted the forest road numbers, and their intersection. If I can get some cell reception, I can simply ask for directions out. I have plenty of energy in reserve. As we near the five-hour mark of our excursion, Ridgely's gait increases to a trot. I look up. There I see the Santa Fe, parked at the trailhead.

     Yep, no doubt about it. It's a mistake I'll never make again. I hope.



M-M-My Generation

Posted by johnnieraz on October 27, 2018 at 1:20 AM Comments comments (4)


By John Rezell

      I've never felt old.

      Not when the first gray hair emerged.

      Not when my daughters turned 18 and 20.

      Not when I wake up with an ache or pain here and there ...

      Nor when I have to put on my glasses to read the not-so-small-print ...

      Nor when I have to say "What?" or "Huh?" or "Eh?" 50 to 100 times a day ...

      Not even when I woke up one morning and realized both my parents have passed away, ending a generation in our family forever.

      See that kid above? That's how I feel.

      I see the world through those same bright eyes.

      So many things to see, to touch, to hear and to learn. I can't wait to find out what's next.

      They say only the good die young. I say the good feel young when they die.

      They say life is too short. I say life is too long not to savor the simple moments.

      They say a lot of things that I just don't get.

      Thing is, my view of life appears to be so totally different from them. I'm OK with that. It's their loss.

      The Greatest Generation. Baby Boomers. Gen X. Millennials.

      I hear the stereotypical complaints fired from one generation to the next. But I think we're all a lot more alike than different.

      As a journalist covering sports most of my life, I see the different approaches over the course of time.

      I see today how so many kids run away from organized sports screaming.

      Did you know that 75% of kids quit playing organized sports by the time they are 13 years old? And we wonder why obesity seems to be the common bond for all generations of Americans.

      They quit around that age because that's when sports become a job rather than a joy. Parents and kids alike have visions of scholarships dancing in their heads. That's when they get down to business. Time to get serious. Time for the fun-lovers to leave.

      The money we dish out for this madness is crazy. I literally paid thousands of dollars to have two clueless coaches destroy my daughter's love of volleyball. It was painful to watch. Those coaches never batted an eye.

      While those coaches were screaming figuratively for their players to grow up, they were the ones who needed to do that.

      There is a lot one can do with a life. But if life isn't fun, then what's the point?

      I see a collection of generations scratching their heads, wondering what the hell is wrong with kids today. They'd rather be skateboarding or riding their bikes or playing video games than spending a few hours each day at practice with coaches orchestrating their every move.

      What we need is a new perspective on coaching and teaching. Have you ever watched those kids who spend all day with their skateboards and bikes and, yes, video games? They push their limits beyond what most crazy coaches would dare. They work on a trick for hours, days, weeks, months and yes, sometimes years — undaunted and seemingly never devastated by a setback, or two, or 10.

      They crash. They hurt. They dust themselves off and do it again. On their own. Until they get it.

      They don't need a coach telling them what to do or how to do it. They don't need someone reminded them of mistakes and how to correct them. They learn the way humans have learned forever. By experimenting. And that's where the fun lives.

       If I were a youth coach of, let's say for example, soccer. I would take my team to a local high school or college game to see how it is done. To see the excitement and thrill of playing. To hear the crowd.

       Then I'd go to the field and set up the goal. Throw each kid a soccer ball and say go out and play until you hear my whistle.

       I'd whistle near the end of practice, and just leave enough time for them to show each other what they learned.

       And if they didn't quite get it right, well, that's life.

       I wouldn't jump in and show them how it's done.

       I'd leave it up to them.

       They will find the fun.

       They will learn to live.

       And they might never feel old.



      

      

     


Memories of Harvey's Wallbangers

Posted by johnnieraz on October 19, 2018 at 2:10 PM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     The thundering roar of 54,968 screaming fans literally shook County Stadium to its core, the din echoing down into the bowels of the structure where anxious sportswriters sat in the basement press room watching the TV as Rod Carew grounded out to Robin Yount completing one of the most improbable comebacks in baseball not to mention igniting one of the wildest celebrations in Milwaukee's history.

     It doesn't get much better than watching your hometown team earn its first trip to the World Series, unless, of course, you get to be there in person.

     And you have the opportunity to write about it.

     But I'll never forget that moment when every hair on my body stood at attention, and I gazed across the press room with a goofy pinch-me grin on my face, then locked eyes with my high school pal Bud Geracie.

     We just slowly shook our heads in disbelief understanding the astronomical odds of that moment becoming reality, not to mention us sharing it.

     Two young pups barely removed from college not to mention the halls of Brookfield Central High School, where we both wrote for the student newspaper, Tyro. Tyro, of course, meaning beginner, or novice.

      Little did I know what story had begun.

      Bud would ascend to become one of the best baseball writers in America, eventually covering the Oakland A's for the San Jose Mercury News.

      Me? That would be the last Major League Baseball game I covered.


      A distasteful experience just two days earlier pretty much erased any desire to cover Major Leaguers (more on that later), but as I scrambled to find my sportswriting voice over the next few hours I came to realize my true destiny.

      When the Brewers' lockerroom opened and champagne rained from everywhere, reporters crammed around the lockers of Cecil Cooper, who drove in the winning runs, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and any number of Brewers who had a hand in the day's success — Jim Ganter, Charlie Moore, Pete Vukovich, Pete Ladd.

       As I geared up all day in anticipation for this winner-take-all event, I spent a lot of time reminiscing about the countless games of my youth spent in County Stadium, typically with my best friend Jack.

       We would sit in the upper deck with maybe a thousand others, seldom making our attendance guesses exceed 20,000 as we popped empty beer cups to listen to the echo in the empty rafters.

      Or we'd spend a sunny afternoon in the bleachers with as many empty seats as those filled. The Brewers losing more often than winning, but it didn't matter.

       We would skip school for Opening Day and never, ever miss a Bat Day.


      Our heroes were names that only the most dedicated baseball fans outside of Milwaukee might know. Danny Walton. Tommy Harper. Ted Kubiak. Jerry McNertney. Phil Roof. Mike Hegan. Skip Lockwood. Davey May. Johnny Briggs. The Boomer.

       Only one player on that '82 team represented that long ride to get to this moment: Stormin' Gorman Thomas.

       In what would become a signature move of my reporting style, I turned my back on the pack journalism and headed to a table filled with champagne bottles, cans of beer and snacks.

       There, alone, Gorman Thomas limped to belly up to the bar, so to speak. So I bellied up with him.

       Stormin' Gorman kind of tilted his head like a curious dog, his thick mustache already dripping from his first couple of trips to the table, wondering, no doubt, why I found him more interesting than the rest.

      Stormin' Gorman wildly shook a fresh bottle of champagne as I neared, and grinned with wild eyes as he laid down the law.

      "If you want to talk to me, you're going to get wet. Oooh, are you going to get wet," Stormin' Gorman chuckled.

       I said you've been around long enough to experience this long ride to the top. How does it feel?

       "How does it feel?" Stormin' Gorman said, preparing to make good on his word as another writer came to crash the party. "You'll notice that I'm being very deliberate in taking this wrapping off this cork. I'm savoring each moment, taking my time, loving every minute. And as soon as I get it off, I'm going to hose you guys to the bone. Ooh, boy, am I going to get smoked tonight!"

       Moments later, the cork popped and I got hosed down as promised. The burn of champagne in my eyes never felt so good.

       We continued the interview, and Stormin' Gorman admitted, "I don't have to tell you guys I stunk up the place with my hitting, but it didn't matter ..."

      Stormin' Gorman talked about the  journey.

      "It feels so good because we worked from the bottom up to make a winner here," Stormin' Gorman said, adding, "It's like planting an acorn and watching it grow into a tall, mighty oak."

       Eventually I made the rounds. I caught Paul Molitor, alone, walking out of the lockerroom in the hallway outside, the euphoria left behind.

       "You sit and watch each year and you see others trying to explain their feelings in words, and they just can't," Mollie said. "And you wonder to yourself what it's really like. You can't imagine then, and I can't explain it now."

       Back then reporters had no portable computers. I dictated my story over the phone for the previous two games. Luckily, I worked for an afternoon paper, so my story wouldn't be due until the next morning. I'd make the three-hour drive back to Dubuque later, spending all night writing.

      While the rest of the sportswriters hammered to meet deadlines, I walked out of the stadium, up the hill to Wisconsin Avenue, and followed the conga line of inching cars toward downtown.

       From that moment on I made sure I always soaked in the ambience of the moment, to let myself savor the experience and have that drive the tone of my stories. And I found you might find the true essence of the moment in the most unlikely places.

      With bumper-to-bumper cars honking horns packed with screaming fans stretching 50 blocks to downtown and filling half of the Wisconsin Avenue viaduct, I saw a lone figure walking down the other side of the bridge.

      I literally did a double-take as I realized it was Reggie Jackson. Irritated to be stuck in a traffic jam on the California Angels team bus, Reggie decided to walk back to the Pfister Hotel. I followed at a polite distance. Occasionally a kid would recognize him and approach for an autograph, only to get a fierce glare.

      By the time we go downtown, he hit some side streets. But for the better part of 20 minutes I saw the two sides to every game. Interestingly enough, when Reggie got off the plane the next morning in LA, he had a shiner. Someone has a great story to tell out there ...

     Despite all those wonderful memories, the fact is I also remember that playoff series for showing me how much I never wanted to spend time around egomaniac professional athletes.

     Here is an excerpt from my book "A More Simple Time: How Cycling Saved My Soul"

BEGIN EXCERPT

     I got the opportunity to cover them in their home games of American League Championship Series in 1982. The old Harvey's Wallbangers who, of course, began as Bambi's Bombers.

       They hobbled back from California down 0-2 to the Angels in the best-of-five series. No team had ever come back from 0-2 in a series in baseball. No matter, I was thrilled with the prospect of my assignment, even if it might turn out to be just one game. Like most reporters, I went down onto the field during batting practice. The pack of reporters surrounded Brewers manager Harvey Kuehn, asking worthless, lame questions that reporters ask.

      I wanted to just soak in the ambience of the moment. It was the first time I had set foot onto the grass of County Stadium, after years of sitting in the far reaches of the upper deck, or the sun-soaked bleachers in the outfield with my buddy Jack. It was one of those moments where, yes, I actually looked down and watched my shoe step onto the grass as chills rushed up my spine. I turned away from the pack, to head back up to the press box, when Cecil Cooper emerged from the dugout for his turn in the batting cage. Cooper was a fan favorite. County Stadium would echo with "Coooooop!" whenever he came to bat. He replaced a Brewer legend at first base, George Scott. The Boomer. Cooper was so damn talented that Milwaukee fans fell in love with him, too. I had no intention of doing anything but strolling past. I did, however, make eye contact. That's when the reality of professional sports reared its ugly head.

       "Don't even fucking think about it, you mother-fucker," Cooper snipped under his breath, pretending not to be speaking to me, yet glaring from beneath his visor with eyes afire. "Don't you fucking dare ask me a fucking question."

       I lost all desires to ever have a pro beat at that moment, although, I really never thought about it much. Even watching the Brewers magnificently battle back to win the next three games and advance to the World Series couldn't change my mind.

END EXCERPT

    So I sit here 36 long years later wondering if this latest group of Milwaukee Brewers can match that magical ride with a sweep at home to head off to another World Series, ready to spark new dreams ...


    

I Get That You Don't Get It

Posted by johnnieraz on August 16, 2018 at 4:15 PM Comments comments (1)

By John Rezell

     When something goes haywire on my bike — something as simple as adjusting a brake — it's like rocket science to me.

     I can pull out my sax and mimic a solo from a song, but for me the core concepts of music and as difficult to decipher as Einstein's equations.

     I can shoot a free throw, throw curve with a whiffle, kick a 40-yard field goal and still run an 8-minute mile. But I'll never elevate beyond average in anything athletic.

     No, when God handed out those types of gifts, he skipped me.

     But when it came to objectivity and the ability to be unbiased — the pillars of practicing journalism — I received my gift.

     In this time when the freedom of the press is under attack it's easy to see where the disconnect comes.

     There are countless writers on the Internet and talking heads sitting at a desk on TV, but there's a huge difference between most of them and journalists.

     Just as engineers, musicians and athletes are born with gifts, so, too, are journalists. We view life through a different perspective than most people. We do have the ability to separate ourselves from forming opinions and coming to conclusions as we search for the facts. It's just the way we are wired.

     But just as it is simple for me to be unbiased and objective, I can see how someone who isn't would have difficulty believing anyone could be like that.

     I can see it every time I take my bike to the shop for repairs. Or watch a concert. Or turn on sports.

Holden Turning Up the Heat

Posted by johnnieraz on April 6, 2018 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (0)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an excerpt from my book "A More Simple Times, How Cycling Saved My Soul"

CHAPTER 68: Holden Pattern

     “Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paints. I like to make something beautiful when I run. I like to make people stop and say, ‘I’ve never seen anyone run like that before.’ It’s more than just a race, it’s a style. It’s doing something better than anyone else. It’s being creative.”

— Steve Prefontaine

      Without question, my favorite Steve Prefontaine quote challenges you to look at athletics through a new perspective. When the women’s 1996 Olympic Trials opened in the searing heat and humidity in Martinsburg, West Virginia with a time trial, there really wasn’t any other way to describe what played out. The best women in the land creating something beautiful.

     As the temperature soared toward triple digits the question became two-fold: Who would survive the day, and what impact would it have on the rest of the Trials?

      The drama began with another star from the 1984 LA Olympics looking for a rebirth. Rebecca Twigg rolled onto the course, and a fairy tale began. Twigg flew through the course, passing riders at an unbelievable pace. The PA announcers shouted updates, riling up the sweating crowd at the start-finish line. Twigg even passed riders who started eight minutes before her! She hit 30 mph on the rollers. Would Twigg steal the show?

      Mari Holden couldn’t allow that to happen. She wouldn’t allow that to happen. Holden’s only chance to steal the automatic Olympic berth would have to start with victories in her unabashed specialty — the time trials. Then she needed to combine those wins with some luck in a road race or two, which might not be difficult since the road races just might stick together for pack finishes.

      Something special fills the air when the tiny Holden gets onto her time trial bike and drops into an aerodynamic position. She transforms into a powerful machine — a human engine perfectly integrated with the bike — willing speeds from a bicycle that others simply dream about, or only manage on extreme downhills.

      With the crowd buzzing from Twigg’s sensational reports, the shocking news hit — silencing everyone for a moment, followed by a collective “ooohhhh.” At the time split, Holden zipped past 12 seconds faster than Twigg. The two-time defending champion creating art from athletics.

      Holden’s art displays raw heart for the beholder to absorb. She gets on her bike and leaves nothing to chance. Absolutely nothing. While many athletes push themselves to their limit, most appear to have a governor that won’t allow them to extract that last 1 or 2 percent, least they inflict physical damage to their finely-tuned bodies. Holden pushes beyond that, some how, some way.

      Her relentless charge, combined with insane heat and humidity, began to hit her in the final miles. Her usual steady straight as an arrow, efficient line became a squiggle. She bounced all over the road as she milked every last ounce of her essence out of the ride, delirious from the hellish conditions. When she crossed the finish line, she collapsed. She got placed on a stretcher, and left in an ambulance. Amid the chaos, she didn’t know that she won, topping Twigg by six seconds even though those in her support car estimated she lost about 40 seconds in the final 5K. In fitting tribute, her mother stood atop the podium to receive flowers and a medal.

      “I’ve never had anything like that before,” Holden said the next day, relaxing, at her hotel after getting hospitalized for dehydration and heat exhaustion. “I can’t remember the final 5K. Afterward, in the van, I was just freaking out.”

      Hearing her split invigorated her. She pushed harder. Deeper into the abyss others back away from.

      “I just felt like I was going hard, but nothing really out of the ordinary,” Holden said. “I pushed myself, but it was a course where you had to keep pushing because there weren’t any opportunities to just settle in. I thought I was going great, especially in the final 5K. I didn’t even know I wasn’t riding that well.”

END EXCERPT

Sun Downer

Posted by johnnieraz on March 18, 2018 at 3:20 AM Comments comments (0)


Drift Creek Falls

By John Rezell

     The marine layer drifted in and smothered the near full moon, extinguishing what little light that slipped through the trees slightly illuminating the trail, leaving Ridgely and I to hike the final stretch in complete darkness.

    It figures, I chuckled to myself. That marine layer already ruined the sunset, why not mock me some more? Having spent most of my life as a sportswriter, I should have been keeping score — this being two strikes and all. But no.

    I grabbed my cellphone and swiped it to bring up the flashlight app. Nothing. Strike three.

    I guess when I did a little cellphone maintenance the other day I zapped that app. Luckily I had reception, barely, so a few minutes later I had a new app and enough light to finish the hike.

    When we cleared the forest and returned to the parking lot of the Cape Lookout Trailhead the moon beamed brightly again, lifting my spirits. Just another day of adventure. I love it.

    We got a later start than usual, but the clear skies and temperatures nearing 60 called for action. Debbie had the truck for the day, so that meant I didn't have my usual collection of equipment for outdoor exploration — including my emergency flashlight — but we couldn't let that slow us down.

    Instead, some trucker in a hurry to the coast slowed us down. We lost nearly 45 minutes as traffic crawled past his overturned rig.

     We still managed to hit the Drift Creek Falls Trailhead with some sun peeking through the mist. A mile-and-a-half later, we enjoyed a spectacular view of the falls, raging in all its springtime glory — the sunlight creating a beautiful rainbow in the mist.

     I figured we could make it to a nice spot on the coast to grab a sunset shot. My initial goal was Oceanside, but along the way Cape Lookout grabbed my attention.

     I wasn't familiar with the options, but for once the trailhead signage offered everything you needed to know. There are three trails, the North Trail, South Trail and Cape Trail. North and South lead to overlooks. Cape leads to the beach, 1.8 miles down. Way down.

     With just one other vehicle in the parking lot, I knew I'd get a good secluded beach shot. So we went for it.

     The clock showed it was after 5, so time was of the essence. We had three miles under our belt and it's early in the hiking season so I don't have mid-summer fitness. Packing a healthy 15-20 pounds in my backpack didn't help either. But we went for it.

     We double-timed it all the way down the trail and made it to the beach in plenty of time. There I saw the driver of the other vehicle. I knew he had to be down there from the fresh footprints in the muddy trail only heading in that direction. We moved down the beach and were alone.


     A pinch of blue sky offered hopes for a decent sunset, but by the time the sun dipped below the horizon, the marine layer swallowed everything up to cast just a dreary gray across the landscape. It's not the kind shot that will make a postcard, but that doesn't do it justice.

    With Ridgely and I alone (the other dude headed up while he still had light) we listened to the waves crashing on the rocky cape, felt the Pacific mist on our cheeks and savored the solitude of sunlight disappearing for another day.



No rest for the weary with her around

Posted by johnnieraz on February 24, 2018 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

NOTE: There is a somewhat disturbing photo below. Do not view while eating. Just sayin'

By John Rezell

     Coming off a tiring stretch of a long string of work days, my favorite chair called to me like ancient sirens. A day of chillin' sounded perfect. Time to recoup and regenerate.  In a word, I felt exhausted.

     Ridgely had other ideas.

     Let me preface this by saying that when it comes to getting outdoors and enjoying nature, Ridgely is beyond obsessed with it — as noted in the photo above. She's still like that today, even at the ripe age of 11.5.

     She grew up with us hitting the woods at least twice a week as I wrote an outdoors column for the newspaper. So her most recent role as a stay-at-home-during-the-week-while-I-work-in-my-office-dog doesn't sit well with her.

     She's the true athlete of the family. I'll ride my mountain bike for 2, 3 sometimes 4 hours and she'll run along. We'll hike for 8 hours and she's there every step of the way.

     Wait, let me rephrase that on hiking. She'll run 50 yards ahead, then run back to us. Over and over. So hiking, well, she usually covers about 1.5 times the mileage compared to the rest of us.

     How much does she love getting out? I have this red shirt I wear for most hikes. If she sees me put it on, she goes nuts. Absolutely crazy. Check out this video:


 

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     Back to my rest day. No red shirt. But that doesn't mean she wasn't going to drop some big hints of what she had on her mind. In essence, she looked around and saw Debbie and I sitting at home. That means no one was going to work. So it's time to play.

    She politely sat up straight in front of me and gave me her puppy eyes. I laid down on the floor to pet her. That's when she went full throttle on me.

    She literally did everything in her power to get me up. She grabbed at my hands with her paws, trying to pull me along. She shoved her nose, then head, under my arms to pull me up. Eventually she tried to squirm her entire body beneath my back to life me up.

    She gave an amazingly entertaining show, yelping and begging the entire time [again, watch the video above to get an idea]. Eventually, like all the girls in my house, she won.

     I pulled on the red shirt, and things got really crazy. I opened up the truck and had her hop in the back. She'll sit there for hours to make sure I don't leave without her. She got her wish.

    We drove up outside of Oakridge and hit the Middle Fork Trail for some mountain biking. It's my favorite trail next to the McKenzie River Trail. While the McKenzie River Trail is often populated, the Middle Fork is generally all mine. Especially this time of the year. 

     A few years back, round about this time during a winter with more snow and colder weather than we are having, I hit the trail with Ridgely.

     We climbed a steep hill, and when we got to the top. Well, take a look at what greeted us:


     When you are in the middle of the woods, miles from your truck, it's the kind of sight you expect to see in a horror movie. A typical horror movie would have a clean Elk skeleton. Nope. This was half-eaten. Only half. Something planned to come back for seconds. Or thirds. Or Ridgely and me for dessert.

     Every hair on my body leaped out of my skin. We stuck around long enough to snap this photo, then spun and vanished in a hurry. I kept Ridgely close to my side, and started singing quite loudly.


     Back to this year's ride. We were climbing the hill about to enter the Elk Zone. I noticed that some other mountain bikers had been on the trail within the past few days. Their tire tracks were clear.

     Walking up a steep section with water trickling down the center of the trail, I saw a very fresh, very large paw print. Cat print. Knowing what we know, Ridgely and I turned around and headed home. More than enough excitement for one day.

Making of a Cover Shot for OutdoorsNW Magazine

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

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


Best Mountain Bike Trail in Wenatchee, Washington

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

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



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