Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

And that Makes 50!

The night before leaving Ann Arbor we had a flurry of activity as Dan was driving up from Charlottesville to drop off his mother-in-law’s car and Toys was meeting us with a car full of band gear so we could caravan down to Virginia together.

Will and I had done our last training run and were watching baseball when Toys called in telling us he was on his way. Not ten minutes later the Gizard (that’s Dan) phoned in saying he’d reached AA and was having dinner with his mother-in-law. Within an hour Andy’s house was hopping with all sorts of people, electronic gear, guitars and a random assortment of baggage. The game was on, Will was jamming on the violin and Molly was in the next room tossing in a clarinet solo. Brigit’s normally tame household had erupted into … well … us.

We took an early wakeup call, packed up my van and Toys' car, said goodbye to the AA folks and made a quick trip downtown to feed the Gizard’s rabid caffeine addiction. Dan tends to caffeine through his fatigue, while I prefer the power nap. He gets more stuff done and I feel much better.

Once on the road we snuk under a Michigan thunderstorm then headed for the Ohio border. We skirted Toledo, crossed the state to Cleveland, avoided it like an ugly girl wanting to ask you to Sadie Hawkins, then dropped south towards the West Virginia border.

Around 1:00 p.m. we crossed the Ohio River into the state of West Virginia and I had achieved one of the big bucket list items of any American traveler: I had arrived at my 50th state. Not only was it my 50th state, I had been to 46 of the 50 via road trips - not airplanes. A dozen or so Grateful Dead trips along with just about every big western drive on the map (including the ALCAN Hwy) had taken me to every state in the Union. Of the four states I hadn’t driven to Hawaii and Florida were the only ones I’d reached exclusively by plane. Kentucky and Tennessee came via a cross-country cycling trip in 1989 (although I’ve since flown to Kentucky twice).

Our family rule is if you put your foot down on solid ground in that state you can say you've been there and cross it off the family list. That way we avoid someone counting fly-over states. We drove all the way through Charleston, picked up I66 at Beckley and were almost out of the state before I remembered that I hadn’t stuck my foot down. I called for a gas stop about 50 miles short of the Virginia border, opened up the driver’s side door (something I almost never do, as I exit through the middle of the van) and tossed my leg out until it scraped the pavement. Now it was official.

You would think I would be satiated in my U.S. travel itinerary, but that’s not the case. Ever since I moved out West I started tallying up U.S. National Parks. There are 53 of those (and counting) and I’m just over 50% on that list. And those are the best road trips of all!

But alas, this road trip was far from over. We still had to cross the Appalachians into Virgina and motor on to Charlottesville before we could toss back a beer. We spent the better part of two hours cresting ridge after ridge. It’s no where near as nice as crossing a big Western chain, but it sure beats the hell out of everything inbetween. One funny anomaly along the way was crossing the New River Gorge rumored to be one of the oldest rivers in the world. Locals claim that only the Nile river is older, but Geologists have a hard time dating rivers. The pros claim it could be anywhere from 25 million to 250 million years old – and that’s a pretty wide swath of time. But the mountains themselves are surely the oldest in the world and should the Himalayan expedition come to fruition I would be flying almost directly from the oldest mountains to the newest – 8000 miles away.

This was all interesting stuff to consider and a great time killer on a 12-hour drive, but eventually the sun went down and we were faced with a nasty two-hour stretch in pitch dark. Eventually we scooted the city of Charlottesville and veered north east eight miles out of town to the Gizard’s very comfortable abode in Earlysville.

Very nice to get out of the car !

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