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.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

His Holiness and Carl Douglas

Normally after a night where musicians gather from all over the States for a one-off gig, the post-party is fairly ridiculous. But seeing as His Holiness was speaking early the next morning, we packed up our wares and headed back into the Piedmont for a bit of rest before a long, long day.

For most of us the show was over, but Techung and Rinzing still had to perform for a big crowd at the Charlottesville Pavilion.  Dan and Zoe had become the epicenter of the ticket market and were up early making sure everyone had a seat and no ticket went wasted. They were downtown early to catch His Holiness’s first act at the Paramount Theatre in front of a group of University of Virginia Medical School faculty and several experts in holistic medicine. Earlier in the year, Dan organized a conference on Tibetan Medicine in Charlottesville and works with the Arura Tibetan Medicine group.

Photo from Bill Emory of the Charlottesville Hook

The session was televised live on Virginia Public Television so Michael, Mia, Techung, Rinzing and I watched from the comfort of Earlysville while the panel nervously tried to act cool in front of His Holiness.  The speakers on the dais choked over long prepared statements after which the Dalai Lama politely praised them for their efforts.  

Back in Earlysville, we packed up two cars and prepared to meander through the narrow winding country roads to the outskirts of Charlottesville. Although a relatively small town of 45,000, Charlottesville is comprised of overgrown carriage streets that wind around forests, hills and one of the oldest universities in the Western world. It seems like none of them ever go straight, but if you can decipher the four or five main arteries, your chances are fairly good that you’ll end up where you’re going. The locals think nothing of it, but I spent six weeks hopelessly lost in 2010 before finally being able to find Earlysville at the end of each day.

The Tibtans piled their instruments into one car and took off with the sage guidance of a GPS. Michael, Mia and I loaded into Michael’s car with me reassuring them that I knew where we were going. I did know where we were going, but that didn’t mean that I actually knew how to get there. I directed them on a circuitous route past Thomas Jefferson’s famous rotunda at the end of the University of Virginia Lawn, and then promptly made a wrong turn that diverted us into some ancient neighborhoods surrounding the downtown mall.

Some well-planned tourist signs got us back on track and it wasn’t long before we had an extremely lucky parking spot not 200 yards from the Charlottesville Pavilion. Zoe met us in line and after a confusing exchange of texts and phone calls; everyone made it through security and positioned ourselves on blankets in the grass at the back of the Pavilion. It was a gorgeous 70-degree day and before any of the performers took the stage, most of the audience was in shirt sleeves basking in the fall Virginia sun.

Charlottesville Pavilion
My niece, Tashi, and her friends got to ditch school to be with us and we also weren't far from the other members of Jam Thicket and their families. Victor strolled over before the performances and told me he’s worked with the sound crew the city was using. “They don’t know what the hell they’re doing,” he said. “We won’t be able to hear shit.”

Tristan was decked out in his finest subcontinent formal wear, but he wasn't even close to being best dressed. After a speech by Satyendra Huja, the mayor of Charlottesville, (coincidentally born in Nainital, India, less than 200 miles from Dharamsala), representatives from the Red Crooked Sky Dance Troupe took the stage in full ceremonial dress for a fiery dance that transfixed the crowd.

Photo from Bill Emory of the Charlottesville Hook

It was a tough act to follow, but the crowd came to see Tibetan culture and we were just stoked to be with the band. Techung and Rinzing were announced and although we wanted to hoot it up, we just politely applauded like the rest of the reserved crowd. Thank god there were large video screens so we could see them because we definitely could not hear them. We later discovered the sound on the telecast was incredible, but live it was nearly inaudible. I know Rinzing was there because I could see him on stage. But the crowd was ripped off because those two can really play. Not only couldn’t we hear them, they only let them play three numbers. After they went off stage to polite applause, we sat and listened to twenty minutes of canned music waiting for His Holiness to arrive. The organizers had two of the greatest Tibetan musicians alive just dying to play and they opted for a couple of CDs.

Finally after His Holiness had a special audience with local Tibetan school kids, he made his way onto the stage for the usual awkward Western reception. I’ve seen the Dalai Lama three times in the U.S. and the crowds just don’t know what to do. The atmosphere before he appears is the same as that of a rock concert. Everybody’s in a great mood, laughing, visiting old friends, playing games; kids are having a field day in the grass. Then when he shows up they don’t know whether to scream like it’s Keith Richards or stand in awe like it’s the second coming (14th in his case). So you end up with a few gasps, some applause and a bunch of people bowing with their hands pressed together. Most of these people are from Christian backgrounds, not Buddhists, so they kind of fall into a church-like reverence. I’ve never been to a mega-church, but I kind of got that feeling at the Pavilion.

Unfortunately Warren was spot on with his thrashing of the sound company. Everyone seated on the grass was leaning forward, some (including me) with their hands cupped around their ears trying to put together his stories. Normally he’s more of a stand-up act than a rabble-rouser and you really hate to miss his jokes because he loves making his point with humor. At one point the crowd broke up in laughter and I missed the joke completely. As it turns out, he was working kind of blue. Take a listen to the audio on the Charlottesville Hook’s website. I think he was trying to say “Forget it!”, but as sure as can be, he said, “Fuck it!”

His Holiness spoke for a little less than an hour and by the last fifteen minutes we could hear without straining too much. After the talk the crowd spilled into the downtown mall in a more familiar-post concert atmosphere took over. The big chalk graffiti wall just west of the Pavilion was full of messages of peace, respect and non-violence. The Native Americans stayed in the ceremonial dress and continued to talk to anyone interested about their culture and their struggle.

Hangin' at the chalk wall w/my bro Tristan.
(photo by Zoe Krylova)> 

After twenty minutes, Techung and Rinzing appeared in our midst and we greeted them with hero’s welcomes. They said the sound on stage was as difficult as it was in the audience, but after their first two numbers they had it straightened out. I asked Techung if he was disappointed they couldn’t play more and he said, “No, this wasn’t our show, it was His Holiness’s” I don’t know about you, but if I ever get to play in front of 5000 people and they kick me off the stage for house music, I don’t think I’m going to take it as well!

We split into different groups and tried to remember who was riding with whom back to Earlysville. I ended up hitching a ride back with Techung and Rinzing, but it wasn’t exactly a direct route. They had picked up a hitch hikre on her way into town and the woman was looking for a ride out to Ligmincha Buddhist Retreat Center overlooking the Rockfish River Valley, 30 minutes south of Charlottesville. Dan lives 30 minutes north of town, so this trip was going to add nearly an hour to our drive. At first I thought it would be a drain, but I quickly changed my attitude and went along for the ride. None of us had to be anywhere at any time so it ended up being a glorious little sojourn into the Virginia Hills. Once we got to the Center we took a quick tour and were amazed at the natural tranquility of the compound. We were surrounded by leaves in fall color and, from our perch, we could see ridge after ridge of mountains. On the way back the three of us talked about everything from the Tebetan Youth Congress to LeBron James. By the time we finally got to Earlysville I was ten times more charged up than when I’d left.

photo c/o www.lingmincha.org

And that seemed to be the attitude around the house. As Zoe prepared a huge feast we all cracked into our beers and started the party that was delayed 24 hours by the morning responsibilities. As the beer flowed and the food went down, we slowly started strumming guitars until four or five axes were in hand. We were singing anything anybody knew or could find on the Internet.

As the evening went on and liquor did it’s best to detune our vocals, Michael decided it was time for a rousing version of Kung Fu Fighting. He said it at first as a joke, but within a few minutes we had a house full of 70’s idiots blasting it out: Whooo ohhh ohhh ohhhh… Whooo ohhh ohhh ohhhh…  Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting!!”

And of course Rinzing had the lead down perfectly on his first pass. I was dying to get Techung to blast into the vocal, but he wisely sat back and let me make a fool of myself.

And yes, it was recorded and yes, I will kill if it is ever posted on YouTube!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Playing w/ the Pros

(All pics on this post are from Zoe Krylova's camera!)

After my tumultuous departure from the Greater Portland Metroplex, it was time for some good old time religion. That would be coming from the talents of nine very fine musicians coming together in various combinations over the course of five days. The goal was to rehearse a bunch with musicians who had never really played together and see if we could come up with a palatable performance for a Tibet-centric audience on the eve of a talk by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Headlining the bill was Techung, the most popular Tibetan folk musician performing today. Techung was schooled at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) situated high above McLeod Ganj, the Dharamsala neighborhood that houses the Dalai Lama’s residence and temple. When I lived in Dharamsala, I was privileged to interview TIPA secretary Tenzin Lhaksam for 90.4 Tashi Delek FM radio. The podcast can be found here.

Joining Techung was Rinzig Tibet Wangyal of New York, one of the most intuitive guitar players I’ve ever had the privilege of playing with. Also just a screamer of a player when he’s plugged into a pedal and all juiced up.
Techung and Rinzing taking a slow morning in Earlysvill, Va.

The backing group was Charlottesville’s Jam Thicket, a band of four hardened local musicians who have coalesced in the rural hills of Albemarle County after more than 100 years of collective band experience. And just so we didn’t appear completely old and out of touch, 17 year-old Mia Bathke and her Dad, Michael, drove down from Milwaukee , Wisconsin to spice up the night with their great harmonies. I was gonna get a tune or two thrown in just for kicks. You gotta like having a guy in a wheelchair on stage right? Right...? 

Jam Thicket

The night before the gig we gathered at the home of keyboard player Victor Benshoff where the normally calm and collected band nervously set up gear, not knowing what to expect from the new musicians added into the mix. Jam Thicket which consists of Benshoff, Guitarist Dave Hersman, Drummer Warren Jobe and my brother Dan on bass, are as grounded and rehearsed an outfit as you’re going to find. Internally they’ll always find minute faults that drive them crazy, but to the naked ear the music isn’t rock, it’s granite.

Victor Benshoff

Warren Jobe

As they ran through a couple of their standards (Zappa, Allman Bros., Dick Dale covers), I plugged in and tried to make as little awkward noise as possible. Occasionally Hersman would toss me a lead at which time I stuck to the sage motto Dan taught me years ago about playing leads: If it sounds bad, don’t play it; if it sounds good, play it again. It seems almost stupidly simple, but if you stick to that premise, they’ll let you on stage with anyone. One bad noise can offset 30 minutes of great playing.

An hour into the rehearsal, Techung and Rinzig knocked on the basement door after long trips from Atlanta and New York. This is when the event began to take on a magical quality that stayed in tact for the next five days. Dan greeted Techung and Rinzig with traditional Tibetan kata scarves as we anxiously waited to see what would unfold. We had all heard some of Techung’s music, but none of us, bar Dan, had any idea how to play any of it. Techung arrived with a bag of tricks that included a pair of guitars, a 3-string dramyin, a dulcimer, a collection of flutes & recorders and this odd string-bow instrument called a ‘piwang’ (sometimes 'pewang'.  

Techung on the Piwang.

The piwang has two strings, but the bow is actually intertwined into the strings. The musician draws the bow back and forth and changes the tone by applying pressure on the two strings. The resulting haunting melody lines are nearly inseparable from the vocal timbre behind it. That is, IF you’re hearing the music being played by a master.

Jam Thicket took a step back as the Tibetans looked over the setup and decided where they belonged. This was their gig, but being completely unselfish and giving musicians, they didn’t want to over step their boundaries. Rinzing unpacked his axe and sheepishly plugged into Hersman's setup in front of the drum kit. We knew these two were pros, but that can mean a lot of things. That might mean they sing great, but don’t really play that well. That might mean they detune all their instruments and play some kind of music none of us had ever played. Or, in the case of Rinzing, it meant that he could just play the shit out of anything you put in front of him.

Dave Hersman

After we initially slapped a couple of leads around and I quickly firgured out he knew how to play, I asked him if he wanted to play one of my songs to get things going. He agreed and I taught him a simple, but powerful song I wrote in Dharamsala about Kalsang Namsto, a Tibetan Nun who was murdered by Chinese border guards while crossing into Nepal. I ran Rinzing through the chords and started into the song. Normally it’s a nice slow ballad with a peak towards the end. But Rinzing stepped on his borrowed pedals and shredded the song to pieces. I’ve got a couple of leads worked up for it, but it would have been a total embarrassment pulling them out after he’d just ripped the song a new one.

Yours Truly sounding much better than I do at home, thanks to Jam Thicket.

So we knew they could rock, but playing the Tibetan Folk music was another effort all together. The tempos are quite different and the two of them weren't sure exactly how they were going to arrange each song. After about 20 attempts at two different songs, none of them ever sounding quite right, the decision was made that Techung and Rinzing would play by themselves and Jam Thicket would join them towards the end of their set for a few tunes.

After rehearsal, we loaded up the gear into cars and escorted Techung and Rinzing back to Dan’s house in Earlysville where they would stay for the duration of the festival. Not only were they playing our little gig, the two of them were also opening for His Holiness as he spoke to 5000 at the Charlottesville Pavilion.

This also meant that floor space at Dan’s house in pastoral Earlysville, 30 minutes from the venue, would be at a premium. Dan’s wife Zoe met us at the door and showed us how she’d transformed her living room into a luxury suite. We slugged a final beer, trying not to wake up three-year-old Tristan, then went down to get some much needed rest before the next two action-packed days.

All this activity was a candy shop for the curious Tristan.
Early the next morning the house was up and buzzing while the locals tried to have as normal a morning as possible, getting ready for school and work. But Tristan, being as curious a fellow as you’ll ever meet, was gushing w/questions about the two guests sleeping in his living room. I was desperately low on sleep after my horrid trip in from Portland and slept in as long as I could until I was woken by Michael and Mia arriving from Milwaukee.

Can't tell who's more curious - Mia or Tristan. 

It was a glorious day in Albemarle County and as soon as Michael and Mia unpacked and got settled in, the house began filling up with music. Michael and Mia were working up their set in the sun of the back porch while Techung and Rinzing filled up the living room with music from the other side of the world. The Tibetans let me sit in on their rehearsal for a bit so I could teach them a couple of songs we’d decided on for a full jam at the end of the show. After an hour, I still had a hard time finding my way through their material, but when I showed them the chords to All Along the Watchtower, they had it down in less than ten seconds.

Eventually we packed everything into a couple of cars and made our way to the Southern, a high-tech studio-quality venue in the middle of Charlottesville’s downtown mall. Andy, the owner and sound tech of the Southern had a monster job on his hands trying to funnel the sound of nine musicians and more than 20 instruments to each part of his club – as well as arranging the complicated monitor mix on stage.

 It’s easy blasting out a bunch of sound to an audience. The hard part is making sure musicians on stage can hear each other. Nearly all of us had a vocal part or two and that means you need to hear the harmony parts of somebody standing three loud amps away. Often times you can be sitting right next to someone on stage and not be able to hear their instrument. This requires stage monitors to be individually tuned so that the band can actually hear itself. It’s not easy to do, and when it’s not done right, musicians are furious, not delirious as they may appear.

It's da Gizard. 

But Andy is an absolute sound maniac and with just a little bit of sound checking and stage managing, everyone was ready to go. Michael and Mia opened up the show and it’s just stupid to try to describe how cool they sound. Just do yourself a favor and take a listen to one of Mia’s tracks. I’ll let that speak for itself!

Mia Bathke - don't know her now -> you will soon!

Next Techung and Rinzing took the stage before a curious crowd of band friends and Tibetan supporters. Needless to say the performances were stunning and surreal. I could continue to write, but it’s really pointless. I’ll let you open up a track from Techung’s website and let you scroll through the pics on Zoe's Flickr page.

Jam Thicket took the stage for the last 90 minutes and thrashed through their set of clever originals and spot-on covers. I got to join them for a handful of tunes, with the only disappointment being that Rinzing was not around to rip the snot our of Kalsang, like he had the night before. We would have loved to stay up and jam all night, but the week had just begun, His Holiness was speaking in the morning and we had lots more music in us as time went on. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Philosophy and Shit

Twelve hours after I’d toed the line for the Portland Marathon, I woke up from a long and sobering nap and transitioned my thoughts from pedaling to picking. In just a few hours I would check my banged up Telecaster into baggage and board a flight for Charlottesville, Virginia. In honor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking in Charlottesville, my brother Dan and his band, Jam Thicket, would be joining Techung, the most famous practitioner of Classical Tibetan Folk music, and his shred-aholic guitar player, Rinzing Wangyal for a warm-up concert. When you are invited to perform under such circumstances you need only ask what time rehearsals begin.

To those of you who have read this blog in the past, you know the Tibetan struggle and the Dalai Lama are consistent themes in my life. If you attribute this to me being a rabid follower of the Dalai Lama and a devout Buddhist, you are sadly mistaken. On orders from His Holiness himself, I am obliged to NOT be a devout Buddhist. I have heard him speak on a number of occasions and a constant theme is that he does not want you to quit your religion to become a Buddhist. He simply asks that you take the themes of compassion, respect and tolerance and infuse them into your existing philosophical beliefs.

That required I figure out my philosophical beliefs and give myself a religion. I’m a recovering Catholic, but that perverse body is so diabolic I cut all ties with it decades ago. As a matter of fact, I think Jesus himself cut ties with the Catholic Church centuries ago. That left me with Rock and Roll, the Tour de France and the Green Bay Packers - lofty institutions with a much more manageable pantheon of gods. Those gods are more like the classical Roman and Greek gods: bigger than all of us, yet possessing the same faults only on a much grander scale. That’s a religion I can sink my teeth into.

Audience with Greg Lemond - one of the gods of my religion.

In order to fulfill my debt to these fine institutions, I watch every Packer game in full gear, make sure I view every stage of the Tour de France twice and have done my best to learn my craft as a guitar player. I’ve got the Dalai Lama back there as kind of an overseer, but he really doesn’t know what cover 2 defense is. To his credit I have become increasingly tolerant of Chicago Bear and Minnesota Viking fans. Still can’t get there for Cowboy fans though.

Let us pray. 

Leaving religion and philosophy aside, I am a fervent supporter of the Tibetan independence movement. If somebody came into my house, yielding a gun and told me I had to stop listening to The Who, I would barricade the door and crank ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ up to 11. Multiply that sentiment by 4 million and you have the Tibetan resistance movement. The fact that the U.S. continually backs down to China on this issue is the most obvious proof that collectively we don’t give a shit about morals. In this country, Democracy don’t mean fukall compared to Capitalism.  

Townshend at the 121212 show last week.
Jesus never could have gotten that far off the ground at 67.

I bungeed my bag to my legs and hoisted the Telly onto my shoulders. I hopped the No. 6 bus on a rainy Martin Luther King Dr., transferred to the MAX train (Portland light rail) and held on for the quick trip to PDX. Although I’d had my nap, I was still raggedly tired and dying to fall asleep on the red-eye to Charlotte, NC.

This is when the worst flight in the history of commercial airlines began to unfold. If you are at all squeamish, do yourself a favor and stop reading. I’ll be back tomorrow with a fine tale of beautiful music and inspiring kinship. But this ain’t that post.

Every year before the Portland Marathon I go on a two-week Atkins, no-carb, binge diet to drop 10 pounds by race day. But every year, I’m also training hard up until the last few days before the race. This year without the workouts, I was just basically plugging up my system. With 32 miles of biking and a half-dozen pints of IPA in my belly things started loosening up. After checking in I made my way to the TSA inspection and sleepily went through their instructions. I used to be waived past TSA (Still am in Europe!), but over the past two years they’ve gotten much stricter and they give me just short of a cavity search each time through.

One thing I have to do is lift myself out of my chair so they can swab the cushion for evidence of dope and bombs. This time, as soon as I lifted, my bowels erupted.  I had turned into what the portly, bald TSA agent deemed a ‘biological hazard’. Embarrassment aside, I was now desperately close to missing my red-eye to Charlotte.  But having lived in a chair for 16 years, I’m quite prepared for such instances. I pack everything needed to recover from the travel poo including gloves, wipes, clean pants, plastic bags – even a friggin diaper!

Being in no-man’s land, the less-than-jolly TSA agent escorted me to a bathroom where I went into combat mode. I cleaned myself up, scrubbed my chair, tossed my dirty clothes in the plastic bag and put on clean pants. “What a pro!” I thought to myself as I transferred myself back onto my chair.

And then I promptly shat myself again.

I opened up the stall, looked over at the TSA agent guarding the bathroom door and shook my head left to right. My flight, the last one to leave PDX that night, was gone. So too was the last MAX train. I was stuck at PDX until the next flight out at 5:30 a.m.

The only saving grace was that the one store open 24-7 at PDX sold Portland Timbers gear. I had to do a quick clean up job so I could make it back to the USAir counter to change my flight. To their credit, they were fully apprised of the situation and booked me on the 5:30 flight – although this one was to Phoenix before continuing on to Charlotte just in time to catch the last plane to Charlottesville. After the ticket was settled, I went back to the store, bought myself a new pair of Timbers sweat pants then settled into the transfer lounge for the overnight wait.

There was no chance of getting any sleep after what I’d gone through so I took the time to fully clean my two soiled pairs of pants and laid them in front of a fan for them to dry. I had my computer, so I wasted time watching a week’s worth of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. Around 3:00 a.m. I turned to lie on my other side and… well you can guess what went down.

Again I was in the bathroom cleaning myself and my chair and now putting on an ever-so-slightly rank and damp pair of sweatpants. When the TSA guards opened up the terminal at 4:00 I got in line with great trepidation, hoping I was the only one who could tell I was a bit off. I passed inspection and hurriedly rolled to the gate where they let me board the plane first. Having only gotten a few hours of sleep before the race and including my afternoon nap, I really hadn’t had much sleep in the past 40 hours. I was already at max fatigue before this episode happened. But now my paranoia was keeping me awake. Please dear god – let there be no more episodes!!!!

Although there were no more episodes, both my flights were late in arriving so I had to sprint at full tilt through both the Phoenix and Charlotte airports to make my connections. I actually missed the connection to Charlottesville, but there were storms in the area so they held the plane an extra 15 minutes. I used ten of those minutes and literally had to put my wheel into the door before the gate closed.

I landed in B16 and flew out of E25 - 12 minutes flat!

Once the Charlottesville flight took off I realized I was safe –even if I did have another episode – and I fell into a deep, deep slumber. So deep in fact, the stewardess had to wake me up after the plane landed. I deplaned and miraculously was reunited with my Telly that had made the flight the night before. Just outside the baggage claim, my brother had pulled up with his quietly-rambunctious 14-year-old daughter Tashi and his overtly -radical three year-old son Tristan. I gave Dan a hug to which he responded, “Dude, you are RANK!”

And that’s the life of a rock star in a wheelchair.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Not My Year

 Last year I did the Portland Marathon on very little training. I had a nasty bout of anemia caused by (TMI ALERT!!) Hemorrhoids and that didn’t allow me to get up to training shape until mid-summer. On top of that, the 15-year old hand cycle I bought with the fund started by my old high school swimming team had been in a sad state of repairs. I was finding it very difficult to find a good aluminum welder in Portland who knew what they were doing with such a weird contraption. After a couple of attempts, I finally got the old mule back into competition shape with just a month to go before the race. Normally I’ve got at least a couple fifty-milers in me but the 2011 Portland Marathon turned out to be my longest ride of the year.  I was pretty psyched to kick it out in 2:02 – 12 minutes off my P.R.

This photo has absolutely nothing to do with this story except that I'm writing from the shores of that lake and that's where I'm going to train as soon as Springtime hits!

But having had a blank season, I decided I wouldn’t take the fall or even the winter off. I was finally feeling strong again, and with the proper gear and a willingness to go out in the rain, you can maintain decent physical condition in the mild winters of the Pacific Northwest. As it turned out, the Winter of 2011-12 was extraordinarily mild. I rode, mostly dry, through November and had two spectacular sunny rides on the Springwater Corridor on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Unfortunately they were the last great rides on my 1997 Lightening Hand Cycle. The next time I rode, I found myself in the middle of a bike jam just north of the Portland Rose Garden (yes, we proudly get bike jams in Portland). In an attempt to avoid a city bus, one of the guidance handles on my bike got caught under a new Cadillac driven by an incredibly nice 70 year-old preacher’s wife on her way to evening services. I easily freed myself from her undercarriage and, after riding along for another block w/out noticing any difference, told her everything was fine. She could continue on her way without the slightest pangs of guilt (she felt awful!).

The problem was that she had actually delivered the death knell to my poor hand cycle. I didn't realize until I dismounted that the bottom of my frame had been severely compromised while I was being dragged. The next day when I rode, I noticed a lot of instability before it tore in two as I was exiting the Hawthorne Bridge.

Sixteen years into a hand cycling career in which I’d ridden more than 10,000 miles, competed in 16 marathons including two Portland Marathon victories, and I was done. Competitive hand cycles cost a minimum of $3000 and that just wasn’t in my budget.

That’s when misfortune turned to gold and I was saved. Off in the Midwest, my father was recovering from his own cycling accident when his lawyer informed him that he’d just won a $5k settlement with the guy who knocked him off his bike. Seeing as his bike survived the accident, he called me up and told me I should use the money to replace the old hand cycle. Less than two weeks into my grief, it was over. I would live to ride yet another Portland Marathon.

On the last weekend of April, after much research and lots of time waiting for a company in California to finish the welding job, my new hand cycle arrived. Three days later the Alberta St. Bike Coop put the finishing touches on it and I was chasing down the slower members of Portland’s ubiquitous bike peloton.
By the middle of summer I was up to 20 miles a day and had even beaten my previous marathon P.R., albeit on a flat, wind-aided ride. Disability Sports Oregon had arranged for Portland International Raceway to open to hand cycles once a week, so I was putting in more speed work than I ever had in my life. On a long 30 mile ride, I can’t go all out or I risk bonking far from home. But on the short two-mile loops I could force as much speed as my body could take. If I bonked, the furthest I could be from sanctuary was a mile. And from there I could yell for help.

Starting line for the PIR Hand Cycle series. Best speed training money can buy - and it was free!

I took a short break from training to drive down to Los Angeles and back, but two weeks later, I was back on the bike, cranking out miles and speed. Then one day I began hearing a clicking sound. It started slowly but after two days the click snapped every time I pedaled. When I got off the bike, I discovered my brand new bike had a cracked frame. 

Tim, my bike builder from the Alberta St. Coop, gave it a spot weld, but in just a few days the frame cracked just outside the weld. My new killer hand cycle was kaput. I called the frame builders in California and emailed them a picture of the crack. They profusely apologized and told me a new frame was on the way, but it would take three weeks to build. That meant I would get my new, new bike just four days before the Portland Marathon.

In the midst of whittling down the List from Hell, my new frame showed up and I sent it off to the shop to have the old bike parts transferred onto the new frame. Two days later I took the bike for a quick spin around the shop to see if it had been assembled correctly. They made a few adjustments, but then the bike went into my garage until the morning of the race as I had no time at all for a real test ride.

Which brings me finally to race day. I was up before sunrise, pinned my number on the back of my new, new bike and slowly rolled towards downtown Portland. As I crossed the Steele Bridge, I noticed the gear shifting was horribly misaligned. I couldn’t even get into the easiest gear without yanking the chain into place with my hand. On a course with two big hills including the St. John’s Bridge, I was dead in the water before the race gun blew.

Not that I had a chance of winning – As race director for the hand cycling division of the Portland Marathon I’d recruited the best riders from the P.I.R. hand cycling series and four of them would easily beat me. But in the middle of summer I had my eyes set on breaking my P.R. at the age of 50. And so under chamber-of-commerce conditions on my brand new bike, I limped around the course in the exact same time I did the year before when I’d trained less than 300 miles. 2:02. A season that started with such promise had gone for naught: 1200 miles of training and not one second of improvement.


But it was a completed marathon nonetheless. In less than an hour I was at the Seraveza Packer Bar swilling ill-advised amounts of IPA while watching Aaron Rogers get his eye poked out by the errant finger of an Indianapolis Colts defensive lineman. After my second loss of the day, I navigated my chair back home and laid back in the recliner for one last nap.

In just a few hours I would officially be out of Portland and on a plane to Charlottesville, Va to play a concert with two of the greatest living Tibetan musicians. His Holiness the Dalai Lama was coming to town and we were going to celebrate in style.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The List From Hell

The idea of pulling up stakes and moving to France was fairly simple and one I’ve done on a number of occasions.  But affecting that idea was not going to be a lay-up. I plotted out my to-do list and had it not been on a computer it would have consumed reams of paper.

 Before I unpacked my bags in Aix Les Bains, I had to move out of my house, travel to Charlottesville, Virginia for a gig followed by two weeks in Ann Arbor to speak to a couple groups of medical students. Upon returning to Oregon I promised my sister, Sue I would consolidate my twenty boxes of possessions, which took up most of the south side of her garage, into a more manageable pile. I also had to organize a medical conference in Bangladesh and prepare a talk on “Social Media for Medicine” – a subject I was ill-equipped to speak on, but would soon have to be an expert.

The List from Hell came in various stages, but started with moving. Phase I went like this:

  • ·         Get someone to store my furniture (Bed, dresser, trunk, file cabinet)
  • ·         Get someone to take my musical equipment (2 guitars, amp, keyboard, PA, two speakers, bag of chords)
  • ·         Pack all my clothes and sundry possessions in boxes.
  • ·         Get someone to help me pack everything in my van.
  • ·         Drive to Corvallis to dump off as much stuff as I could cram into my van and my sister’s car.
  • ·         Buy a plane ticket Portland->Charlottesville->Detroit->Portland.
  • ·         Buy a plane ticket Portland->Geneva->Portland.
  • ·         Buy a plane ticket Geneva->Dhaka->Geneva.

I was also training for the Portland Marathon and since 1998 I’ve been the race director for the wheelchair/hand cycle division.  My bike exploded on me three weeks earlier and a new replacement frame was on its way. That meant I had to find a bike shop to put it together and hopefully take in a practice run before the marathon. Just to round out my complete lack of free time I had gotten myself involved with an editing project for Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Oregon Field Guide. I was logging video which required I write down every word spoken for more than 10 hours of video on a story about the Oregon Outdoor School.

The plan was to get all of this done, do the Portland Marathon (hoping nothing happened with any of the chairs that would take more of my time), drink an ocean of beer while watching the Packers play at the Seraveza Packer’s Bar in North Portland, then sober up enough to get on my plane to Charlottesville for the gig. I probably should have worked in some rehearsal time for the gig, but that wasn’t going to happen until I got off the plane.

Then there was the part about the French visa. I’ve been to France more than a dozen times in my life and never really thought about getting a visa (aside from 1987 when they were pissed at Reagan and made U.S. Citizens get tourist visas). I have always just gotten on the plane and left the country when it was time to go home. Five times I’ve stayed more than 90 days in the country and never once gave it a thought.
But that was pre-Bin Laden, pre Schengen Area. 

The Schengen Agreement was signed in 1985 in Schengen, Luxembourg setting up a common area for European travelers to have common travel visa regulations. It wasn’t ratified for ten years, but ever since, you are only allowed to be in the Schengen Area for 90 days without leaving for 90 days. These rules were widely ignored for another six years upon which time Osama Bin Laden jammed planes into the New York skyline. Ever since, the rules have been strictly enforced.

But you can apply for 12-month ‘Long Stay’ visas which require their own special List From Hell as well as a personal appointment to visit a French Consulate. So Phase II of the List From Hell looked like this:

  • Application form (English version) filled out completely and signed by the applicant.
  •            One ID picture glued/stapled onto the application form
  •  Original passport or travel document (+ ONE COPY of the identity pages). Your passport must have been issued less than 10 years ago, be lvalid for at least three months after your return to the US and have at least 2 blank visas pages left.
  •  Status in the US - If you are not a US citizen, copy of your green card or visa.
  •   Letter promising not to engage in any employment in France (signature certified by a notary public)
  •   Letter of employment in the US stating occupation and earnings
  •   Proof of means of income - letter from the bank, investment certificates, pension slips, …
  • Proof of medical insurance
  • Marriage certificate or family book + Birth certificates for children
  •   Proof of accommodation in France (title deeds, lease or rental agreement)
  •   Processing fees
  • One residence form duly filled out (upper part only)
  • A self-addressed prepaid EXPRESS MAIL envelope from the US POST OFFICE ONLY

Unbelievably enough I succeeded in getting everything in both Phase I and Phase II from the List From Hell completed before driving over to the Portland Hilton to work two eight-hour shifts at the Portland Marathon Help Desk prior to the race.
On Saturday October 6, I picked up my Portland Marathon number, downed my first carbs in three weeks (I was Atkins dieting for the race) then rolled home and waited for my friend Jeff to pick up my furniture. As soon as it was safely secured in his North Portland garage, I boogied home, packed up all my music gear and took it to my playing partner, Bill's house. Finally, I came home and slid into the recliner in my living room. It was my last night in Portland and that’s where I was going to sleep – my bed was already packed.   
Whatever wasn’t done at this point wasn’t going to get done. As soon as I woke up, it would be race day.
The latest long, strange trip would start like the last one – with the Portland Marathon.
It was on.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Captain Crip Moves to France

It’s been two years since I landed back in America after an event-filled sojourn to India during the first six months of 2010. Even though the blog had garnered quite a decent audience, I was fairly sure NOBODY wanted to read a blog about somebody sending out hundreds of resumes without scoring a job. I have no doubt I could have made light of the evil corporate overlords who refused to give me economic harbor, but I was deathly afraid my readership would consist of figures just as pathetic as myself. So I put Captain Crip on the shelf until something much more interesting surfaced.

And, as of two weeks ago, it has. My latest adventure has landed me back in the French Alps, but the reason I’m here is a story more than two decades in the making. In order to pay for this little venture, I also had to take a short one-week detour to Dhaka, Bangladesh to speak to a circus-cast of doctors who successfully managed to keep my brother and me from being caught up in the street riots taking place outside our hotel. But first the two-decades part of the story ->

I now live down there somewhere.

Twenty four years ago, after nearly a year of constant travel, I landed in the idyllic French village of Les Avenières in the Department of Isere. Isere is a transitional department from the rolling hills near Lyon to the gigantic Alps bordering Italy. It’s a staggeringly beautiful place and I wasn't in town more than a week before I decided I would live here as long as the government of France and the people of Isere would have me. I had work as an acrobat and circus clown at Avenir Land, a small local amusement park that was the largest employer in the region. At the time I spoke not a word of French, even though I got the job because I told them I had two years of French in college. I didn't tell them I begged my fourth-semester French prof for a D just so I could graduate.

As the first weeks went by I was exhausted because I was the only person on my team who knew how to set up the show, perform and teach all the acts. At the end of each day we would retire to the Café des Platanes where I did my best to cram French into my already water-logged brain. There were two fluent English speakers in town and one really cute waitress who had enough English to let us know what we were eating.

One night there was an all-park party so we skipped the Platanes in order to pound beers at the Salle des Fetes des Avenières. After an ocean full of horrible French swill, Helene, that really cute waitress, and I went for a walk that curiously ended up at her apartment. Without entering the TMI file, I’ll just say we got along famously and were together on and off for most of my first summer in France.

Four glorious years as 'Le Plongeur de la Mort' (Death Diver).

 At the end of the summer, Helene decided to spend all of her money on a plane ticket to Montreal. My brother Dan and I were in Burlington Vermont visiting my brother Andy. I made a quick dash up to Canada and scooped her up for the final leg of our trip back to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Dan and I had been out of the country for more than 14 months and were as freaked out about going home as she was about going to America. We had a most-memorable bus-car-hitch-train adventure back to Milwaukee where I began to deprogram from a trip in which I visited more than 30 countries. Helene proved to be a bright-eyed keen adventurer and hung with us as we introduced her to dozens of people we’d left behind. Before returning to Montreal for her flight home, she even got to see a Packer game at the old County Stadium and witnessed the absolute deranged madness of Halloween on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin.

Unfortunately (or stupidly in my case) we drifted while I was home in Wisconsin and by the time I got back to Les Avenières in April, she’d moved on. She still worked at Avenir Land (now Walibi – bought out by a huge Belgian corporation), but we hung out with different crowds and I only saw her on the days we ate at her restaurant. By my third season in Les Avenières she wasn't at the park and I never saw her after that.

Fast-forward twenty-years and I found myself wasting time on Facebook, procrastinating instead of engaging in the god-forsaken, time-wasting, soul-draining process of job hunting. I got a friend request from a French guy I couldn't for the life of me remember. But he wasn't requesting for himself – he was an English teacher who was looking for an English speaker for one of his students. The professor asked the class if they knew any native speakers they could communicate with and Helene told him she know a few Americans when she was in her twenties. She’d since been married and divorced, but she kept her married name to make it easier for her two kids in the school system.

Again, I didn't recognize the name, but I took one look at the picture and her eyes popped out at me. There she was, 24 years later, still cute as could be. We started communicating again and that resulted in her buying a plane ticket to Oregon. We hopped in my car and hit all the national parks and big cities between Portland and L.A.  Again, without getting into the TMI file, things went really well. So well, in fact, that I’m once again in France for as long as the people of Isere (actually Aix Les Bains, Savoi now) will have me.

But getting here was no picnic…