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.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


After some really great jams with Bill, I once again loaded up the van and he sent me off to Sandpoint, Idaho to crash with an old high school friend, Doug Faude. It’s always nice enough to hang out with the Faude clan, but this time it was for the first ever Favre vs. Green Bay game.

The fans in Wisconsin are plenty pissed about all of this but I’ve got a neat little Favre story that will keep me on his bandwagon for the rest of my life. Three months after I broke my back a journalist in Milwaukee wrote a story about me staking out on a new life after having been an extreme athlete for most of my previous life (I used to jump off big ladders into teacups for a living). Favre read the paper and was kind enough to send me a shirt, a hat and an autographed litho of him in front of Lambeau Field. Now that’s pretty nice eh? Well cheggit out – he sent it three days after he’d just won the goddamn Super Bowl! He was THE most wanted man in America and during that stretch of time - when he’s refusing calls from CNN and Good Morning America - he takes time out to send me this get-well package. So no, I don’t want to see him ever beat the Packers (which he’s done – errrr twice as of this writing), but I sure as hell wish the guy the best.

I met the Faude’s at Ponderay, Idaho’s famous ‘Slates Sports Bar’ and proceeded to see Favre mop up the floor with a defense he knows better than his wife’s eyes. The Packers had installed a new system since Favre had left, but what the hell does a system mean to a guy who’s been around that long. He sees players, finds mismatches and beats ‘em. No one’s ever been better at it.

The stay at the Faude residence was way too short, but I had to make some time if I was going to get to Wisconsin, fix the bike and get in a week of training before D.C. Inside this big marathon were going to be tons of little sprints. Doug sent me south following Lake Pond Oreille, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. When I wasn’t gawking at steep cliffs, I was getting rocked by 14,000 foot peaks in the distance. A few white puff balls broke up the big western blue sky and took me into the Montana Rockies though Missoula, Butte and Bozeman. The sun set behind me with the northern flank of the Washburn mountains that border Yellowstone just to the south.

I powered on through to Billings and made a dash for the North Dakota border hoping to camp somewhere before Bismarck. I wanted to get up early and catch a road-grub breakfast before driving the mind-numbing flatlands during daytime. My friend, Tom in Chicago loaded up my Ipod with something like 4000 Grateful Dead tunes so I had some old PigPen numbers grinding me right through the darkness. I was following a small canyon along the Yellowstone River when Bambi stepped onto the highway and stared me down.

Bambi was a female white-tailed deer that I’m guessing was pushing 220 lbs. I locked eyes with her and while slamming on my anti-locks, channeled this message:

“Listen honey, you know that if I swerve this car going 80 mph, it’s gonna kill me, so that’s just not in the cards. I suggest you scamper back off the road just like you hopped on it.”

Her glassy glowing red eyes filled with fear and her telepathy matched mine saying:

“Sir, you know I’m a dumb animal and even though I know I should be backing off here, there’s something in my breeding that just won’t allow me to do that. So while I’d appreciate the swerve on your part, I do realize that’s probably not what’s going to occur here. Sorry ‘bout the damage.”

Jerry, Phil and Bob dropped their axes and winced waiting for the impact – Pigpen and the drummers kept playing.

The interaction probably took about .9 seconds in real-time, but we really did have a nice discussion about it. And then Bambi, standing parallel to my hood, blew into more pieces than there are stars in the Milky Way.

In an instant my windshield was completely covered in green cud and I was calculating the odds that I would soon fly into a ditch. I kept braking and pushed wiper fluid like it was saline into dehydrated elephant. Soon enough I had a clear vein that I could see through. Amazingly, I was still on the road and the car was still running. Then I heard a loud thump as Bambi’s carcass slid off the destroyed grill and rolled under the chassis. Something caught on the muffler and dragged for another mile or so, just long enough to distract me from the fact that the temperature needle was slowly rising toward the H.

I was four miles from the town of Hysham and praying that I could get myself off the big road to some kind of repair shop. I slowed down to 35 MPH and waddled off I94 driving the final dark two miles to the lifeless hamlet of Hysham. The only lights on in town were at a convenience store, but luckily enough, the woman at the counter wasn’t a zitty-faced nimrod, but the actual owner. She took one look at my van, made two phone calls and within 10 minutes the van was being loaded onto a trailer.

The wreck driver took one look at the murder scene and declared the culprit van would have to do some time for this act. The closest shop was 30 miles away in Forsyth and it would be at least a couple days before he could get parts.

I couldn’t climb up into the truck, so the local sheriff who’d stopped by to see the mess offered to drive me to the motel in Forsyth. We caravanned along the state road with the sheriff telling me that he’d like to shoot more deer, but seems like they keep about 50 percent of the business in town afloat. "Deer accidents is big business ‘round here!" he bragged.

I woke up to a snow-covered Forsyth, Wyoming so thoughts of me getting my bike fixed and getting in a training run went out the window. Instead I plugged in my laptop and let my friends and family know what went down. Dan was sending me posts saying the India thing was progressing, but nothing for sure yet. I had the insurance company to deal with and was phone tagging with the mechanic who was nice enough to make a special run back to Billings for a new water pump and radiator. The good news was he said I’d be on the road in the morning. The bad news was that the insurance company called it an act of god and I was screwed.

I’d saved up enough money for gas & grub to D.C. and back, but it was a no frills budget. A grand full of repairs was going to end the marathon right there. I called my mom to tell her that I wasn’t going to make it to Wisconsin and she just laughed at me.

“What are you talking about,” she said, “You don’t just make a big plan like this and bail on it – your nieces and nephews will kill you.”

Before I could say I just didn’t have the cash, she had me taking down her credit card number and footing the bill. Not only is the marathon a series of sprints and pauses – it’s also a team sport. Nobody finishes one alone.

That night I went out into the sleepy town of Forsyth and discovered it was anything but sleepy. I found a sports bar with some first round playoff games going on and spilled a few with dinner. I also discovered I was a local celebrity. Not two bites into my burger the cook comes out and said, “Hey was that yer deer out on mile number 57? What a bute eh? Knocked her clean to hades eh? Nuthin’ left o’ dat one!” Then he pointed me out to two friends who both agreed that ‘Mile 57 was a damn good hit!’

When I asked the owner what there was to do in town, he snickered and told me to look out into the street. I rolled out the door and saw cowgirls, Indians, ranchers and farmers of all ages darting in and out of a half dozen bars. I chuckled, rolled my eyes then hopped out into the fray. Before I knew it I had four new best friends who goaded me into going back to the motel (almost two miles back!) and getting my guitar to play a set. When I got back to the bar I was handed a beer which I slammed pretty quick because I’d just pushed four miles. I strapped on the ol’ Epiphone and the bar tender turned off the tunes. I looked up to see a pile of lit locals staring at me. Only one tune came to mind. The set went like this:

• Momma Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys (learned for just such an occasion)
• Folsom Prison
• Big River
• I Weren’t Gone (one of mine written for just such an occasion)
• Runnin’ Down a Dream.

It was a nice little sing along for most of ‘em but I knew my book here was thin. That was a good enough stunt, so I took another free beer (OK, maybe 2… 4 free beers) then rolled back to the motel.

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