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.

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.


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