Monday, July 31, 2017

Beatin' Them Strings Like They're Owin' Him Money

As a parent, it’s pretty amazing to be able to grant your child’s wish.  To be able to help them cross off a bucket list item.  And to help them manage their fears as they travel down life’s road.
Friday night the whole damily went to the Mountain Arts Center to see Tyler Childers perform.  Newtown opened for him and they were pretty good, but we were there to see Tyler.  Bean was stoked.  She’s begged to go see him ever since Mandy and I and her dad saw him open for the Steep Canyon Rangers at the MAC last winter. Unfortunately, he plays mostly in venues that require you to be 21 years old to get in the door.  When he announced he’d be playing at the MAC last Friday we got tickets as soon as we could.  Lily was beside herself with excitement.
After we got the tickets he announced a new album coming out a mere week after he’d be playing in Prestonsburg.  Sturgill Simpson has produced this album—Purgatory—and while I like Sturgill, I was a bit apprehensive about how he was rendering Tyler. 
Mandy and I have joked that Sturgill is scared so he offered to produce the album to keep Tyler down.  Sabotaging him.  Before I go too much farther let me say that I think the album is fantastic now that I’ve heard the whole thing.  I’ll get to that in a bit. 
Lily kept her cool all day.  She even passed out and napped on the drive to Prestonsburg.  When we got to the show she kept it together, and even as he finally took the stage after Newtown played she was a cucumber.  It was when we got in line after the concert to meet him that she started getting jittery.  When we were next in line she said: “My legs are all wobbly.”  When we eased up to the table in front of him—as an aside he had flown in from a few gigs in Europe that morning, had gotten three hours of sleep, and then played a two hour set and was meeting and greeting in the foyer of the MAC until midnight—Bean locked up. 
Lefties are cooler
In fact, we had to explain to Tyler that she was huge fan, knew ALL the words to most of his songs, and was excited to see him.  He liked her “Wild Kentucky Child” t-shirt, and signed for Lily a poster making reference to the shirt.  We also asked him to sign the drawing that Boone made during the concert.  It was a self-portrait of him sitting in the middle of the crowd with loud people all around.  Boone is our sensory kid, and in his drawing he reveals much about his own personality even down to the drawing pad and pencil in his hand. 
Young Master Childers played well with his Foodstamps.  I’m going to say this now and again, and again: Tyler is an artist best enjoyed live or recorded live.  There’s something about the way he grabs ahold of the song and shakes it trying to get it fully awake in your mind.  I’ll get to the album in a bit, but it just doesn’t feel the same as hearing him in front of an audience.
They came out with Tyler’s standard cover song: Rock Salt and Nails.  He’s taken the song and made it his own.  He’s turned it into a pleading, broody song, and he dances it across the stage like a master.  Then for two hours he played almost every song I had ever heard him play anywhere else.  He didn’t do a couple of covers (notably Time by Pink Floyd and Paradise), but otherwise he went through a deep set list that would have pleased any die hard fan.
In the middle of the show the band took a break and Tyler sat down on a chair facing the audience with his guitar.  I hope no matter how famous he becomes that he will always do this during his shows.  It’s what he’s best at, and it’s where his true talent shines.  His voice is unique, and distinctive, and while it doesn’t really get overpowered by the band—as if that were possible—the melding of his singing and solo guitar playing gives you the essence of who he is and why his songwriting is so important.
I’ve rarely heard a bad rendition of anything by Tyler.  His playing seems consistent.  His songs are well established after years of playing in all kinds of venues in front of thousands and thousands of people.  He has totally control of his voice, and he knows just how to evoke the right moment in each song.  And the words he has chosen to arrange together to create the stories in his music are poetry.  His vernacular is one that is familiar and comfortable to someone who has grown up or lived very long in Central Appalachia—particularly Eastern Kentucky.
He played a handful of songs I had either never heard before or had only heard once or twice.  My favorite was Woodward Creek followed by Bus Route.  I think one of the things about Tyler is that his songs are songs I would have written if I had been more talented and/or diligent in my early musical explorations.  In Shake the Frost he sings: “And I used to ride a Mustang, and I’d run that thing on high hopes, until they raised the price of dreams so high I couldn’t pay.  And I let that car just sit there, when I should have took you driving, the windows down, while the music played.” 

That was me.  When I was eighteen I had this little blue, 1985 Ford Mustang that I tried to ride off into some nebulous sunset.  I had my love interests that I tried to lure into it, and ultimately, I let go of all of that and moved on to wider paths and more colorful dreams.  It was that song that grabbed me the first time I heard it and dragged me through the door into Tyler Childer’s musical wonderland.
A great surprise was finding out they were selling advanced copies of the album at the concert.  Of course, we picked one up and listened to it on repeat all the way home.  And for a couple of days after.  The album starts out with Swear to God.  The album version is slowed down from his live performances and it doesn’t let Tyler’s voice dig deep in the gravel like you’d expect, blood running down his chin and teeth gritted.  This song absolutely rocks live.  I hope new fans will realize this and dig deeper.
I think the shining jewel of the album is Feathered Indian.  This song proved to me Tyler’s songwriting genius.  At first I wasn’t taken by it, but after a few listens and finally hearing a cover of the song I realized it is one of my favorites.  The lyrics are just amazing.  He paints with sound and language like no one else I’ve ever heard.  And the studio version of this song is far and away one of my all-time favorites of anyone. 

The entire album is great.  We made a copy for the car and put the original up.  This is one we plan on wearing out again and again.
We had a great weekend.  Bean was just bouncy the whole time except when she’d crash to recharge.  We’re already scheming how to get her a fake ID (at 10 years old) so we can get her into his normal venues for future shows.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Trump'd Up

Recently Trump addressed the Boy Scouts of America’s National Jamboree.  It was the same rambling drivel he’s come to be known for, lacking in coherence or true relevance to anyone other than Donald J. Trump.  His narcissism is painted bald on his face.  It vomits from his mouth in an endless torrent of sludge.  The fact that he gave a polarizing political rally speech to a group that does not take or promote political sides is telling.   That the whole affair smacked of Hitler rallying his Youth was chilling. 
I was a Boy Scout.  In fact, I’m an Eagle Scout.  My original Eagle Scout ID card was signed by George H.W. Bush.  When the hoopla over Trump’s Jamboree speech began, I remembered that I was present for Bush’s address to the Jamboree in 1989 at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia.  My troop attended the Jamboree and that trip was my one and only visit to the nation’s capital.  We made the most of that trip and visited so many places in D.C. and the surrounding area.  It left a lasting impression on me, and I will say as a fifteen-year-old I had almost no political consciousness at that time.  Heck, I had no idea Bush was a republican, and if I had I sure didn’t know what that meant.
Fast forward twenty-eight years.   I’m appalled by the politicization of a Scouting event.  That Trump took political advantage of an opportunity to inspire the Scouts and their leaders and families is deplorable.  Instead of building them up he just poisoned the water even more.  And I’m sure there were plenty of people in that crowd that were near orgasmic over being able to listen to a sitting president and one that has given the middle finger to the political establishment. 
In my experience people who give the middle finger to anyone will give the middle finger to everyone.  Trump is no different.  He’s playing his own game.  He does not represent his supporter’s best interests.   He panders to them, but he isn’t addressing them with wisdom and care.  It’s hard to keep watching as so many people give him a free pass on the worst behavior, the worst practices, and the worst attitudes I’ve seen in my 43 years on the planet from an American president.
Trump is the honorary president of the B.S.A.  He doesn’t understand the significance of that or what Scouting means to so many people.
The first thing you learn as a Boy Scout is the Boy Scout Oath:
On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.
The next thing you learn—which is reinforced throughout the time you’re in the organization—is the Scout Law:
A Scout is:
  • Trustworthy,
  • Loyal,
  • Helpful,
  • Friendly,
  • Courteous,
  • Kind,
  • Obedient,
  • Cheerful,
  • Thrifty,
  • Brave,
  • Clean,
  • and Reverent.
I would say that Trump is probably clean as he appears well groomed most of the time.  Beyond that I don’t believe he exhibits a single other attribute of the Scout Law nor does he really seem to understand the value in any of those traits.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Tickling the Strong Man

"Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength."

~Arnold Schwarzenegger

We are strong.  You cannot walk through the valley of depression—and keep walking—and not be considered strong.  For those of us who don’t give in to addiction, or despair, or the all too easy pattern of self destruction that plagues so many and permeates our culture there is the easy habit of feeling weak and helpless.  But the mere fact that we get up, clean ourselves off, fix breakfast for a loved one, and get on with our day is a testament to the stone under our foundations.

If you don’t feel strong that’s okay.  Strength is there when you need it and lies silent until.  Strength is subtle and provides the unseen bones of your daily endurance.  That deep inner strength that sustains you is like bone.  You can exhaust muscles to the point of failure and injury, but the bones within you do not falter at the end of the day.  That is the strength that you have that others may not.
Feeling weak is not a sign of weakness.  It’s a symptom of self-doubt.  It’s the same with physical weakness as with mental and spiritual.  I can’t count on both hands the number of times I’ve gone for a run, or a bike ride, or a hike and felt like it was pointless to even leave the house because I felt so tired or lethargic, and once I got warmed up and moving discovered that I felt better than normal and pulled down some incredible pace or time or distance.  When I’ve felt the weakest I have been strong.
That time I rode toward Rollins Pass from the plains in Denver…the weekend before I had failed to do a similar but shorter ride to the summit of Kingston Peak; a mere 80 miles round trip.  I had no especial hope to reach Rollins Pass that day.  It was 50+ miles from where we lived in the suburbs.  And I failed to reach the pass, but still managed to enjoy the best performance on the bike of my life to date. 
Tolland Road looking toward the Continental Divide
I managed the physical feat I wanted to replicate a couple of weeks later in Leadville: 103 miles on the mountain bike in less than ten hours.  I failed there chasing the dream, but still had the memory of Rollins Pass to convince me it was possible for me to achieve my goal.  The story of Rollins kept repeating in my head over the next year as I tried to get back into and return to race at Leadville.  If I hadn’t had Rollins I may have given up after my crushing failure.  Sometimes you reach goals you didn’t know you had or needed.
Perspective is important.  Physically I’ve done more than the average person.  I’ve climbed big mountains alone.  I’ve ridden my bike beyond the unknown and into great adventures.  I’ve ridden my bike to big mountains and then climbed them.  So, when I feel weak now I know it’s temporary, or at least if what I’m trying to do is ultimately possible or not.  Mentally and emotionally I’ve had similar tests of my strength and I keep coming back to the conclusion that if I were not a strong person I’d be dead, or walking around destroyed inside, or miserable seeking company.  I’m none of these things. 
On my way to Guanella Pass and Squaretop Mountain for an overnight trip in 2011
I don’t say any of this to disparage or incite despair in people who have devolved into addiction or other self-destructive behaviors.  Even if you let the demons wrestle you down the fight isn’t over.  The battle is still worth fighting. 
Know that there is strength in you.  Know that others can see it too.
Strength and energy are not a function of youth.  Dispel that myth from your head right now.  At 43 years old I now feel better than I have for most of the last ten years of my life.  It was hard to get to the root of my decrepitude, but I knew eventually I would, and I kept at it until I did.  I’m trying oh so hard to make the lifestyle changes that will maintain these feeling in my body. 
Life is to be lived not mourned.  For those of us fortunate enough not to have been born into war and turmoil we should take every day, grab its face, and kiss it square on the lips.  And maybe more so those who have been born into strife. 
If you don’t feel strong take a moment to think about when things in the past were the worst and you walked out of that darkness.  If you keep walking I promise you’ll come out on the other end into the light.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Ramming Speed Friday: Exquisite Ecstasy Edition

I can’t even…
Life is a crazy adventure. 
In The Power of Myth Joseph Campbell says in his conversation with Bill Moyers:
“My general formula for my students is ‘Follow your bliss.’ Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it.”
I can’t say that I’ve always adhered strictly to this principle.  I can say that from my teen years I desperately wanted to.  I wanted to go fearless down the trail into the wilderness and find the high places of life.  I wanted to be the fullest version of myself.  Throughout the years, I’ve danced around that state of mind, brushing up against it every so often but never being fully immersed in it enough to understand why it’s even important.  Figuring out what my bliss is…where it comes from…what parts of me truly wants to come through…that’s never been easy. 
I can easily come up with a bucket list of things I want to do in life, but what’s difficult is to sort out who I want to be.  As I neared the end of my undergraduate stint whilst rushing toward the long cubicle sentence I now call my life Mandy would frequently ask me what I wanted to do with my degree.  “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was our inside joke.  I was in my mid-30s at the time.  Truth be told I didn’t want to grow up.
I never had a definite answer.  I think at some point I started giving the expected answer—a planner—and ran with it.  I mixed up a big boy career and growing up with bliss and dreams.  At some point I stopped believing that dreams mattered and felt like I had to perform to some societal standard.  I have one regret in life…
Earlier in the conversations Campbell said:
“Now, I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: sat-chit-ananda. The word ‘Sat’ means being. ‘Chit’ means consciousness. ‘Ananda’ means bliss or rapture. I thought, ‘I don’t know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don’t know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being.’ I think it worked.”
My life has been a quest for bliss.  And I hope you realize that the word has a lot deeper meaning than mere happiness and it’s so much more than giddy feelings over some recent life events.  Joy, bliss, rapture…they all speak to a mental and emotional state of contentment I think.  Not so long ago Mandy asked me—in frustration—would I ever be content.  Without hesitation, I said: “I don’t think so.”
The Book of Matthew states:
“Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
I think this epitomizes Christianity.  And this also speaks to my spiritual conundrum of the last few years.  I don’t see American Christianity exhibiting this mentality.  How can I reason together with people who totally dismiss this beautiful passage? 
Tuesday, I stayed home from work.  It was just a random mental health day.  I honestly didn’t need it, but I was basking in an afterglow of a weekend spent with my favorite person.  The past few weeks have been a long and deep conversation between us.  Late in the afternoon we were just sitting around, finally noses into our respective smarty smart phones, but satiated for the time being with social intercourse, and I realized I had not had a single thought all day about leaving the house, cycling, rock climbing, hiking, or doing much of anything except being in the company of my best friend.
“I’m content,” I said.  She looked up from her phone and smiled at me.  But then I think the realization of what I had said sunk in.  I explained why I had reached that conclusion.  I honestly felt at that moment that I could spend the rest of my life sitting in that room with her and not need anything else. 
There are many things in life I want to do.  I have a bucket list.  From time to time I am compelled to go ride my bike a hundred miles or spend a day swinging around on cliffs.  I like paddling down new and exciting rivers.  I want to help other people discover the strength and curiosity hiding in their minds.  I want to share the world I see with as many people as I can.  That desire has driven me since I was a kid.
What I now conclude is that my priorities have been somewhat out of whack.  I can have all of those things, follow my bliss, but unless I stayed centered on the ground at my feet I’m never going to be able to enjoy the adventures I find myself in.  Maybe life can be as simple as “follow your bliss.”  I think the difficult matter is figuring out what your bliss is.  And I think that is a worthy adventure itself.
The best of me


Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Power of Love

Saturday, July 15, 2017 
Mandy has asked me in the past questions like: “What’s your favorite memory?” or “When were you the most happiest?”  Typically I’ve been unable to conjure the memory from the deep shadows of my brain.  I have a good memory—amazing in fact—but for someone with a mind like mine trying to pin down a single memory on command can be like trying to catch a butterfly out the window of a moving car.  It’s possible… 
Today I have been married to Amanda Sue DeFilippo Chaney for seventeen years and we’ve been together for a little over eighteen.  We didn’t know each other very long before we started dating.  I was twenty-five and she was eighteen. She made the comment last night that I raised her; we’ve been together for half of her life now.
Our life together has been an adventure.  And like any good adventure story it has fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…well, that might be a stretch, but you get the point.  We’ve fought dragons together.  We’ve trekked through dark valleys and over high lonesome passes together.  Through it all we’ve been side by side even though at times we may have grumbled at each other as any two people will on a long journey.  I don’t for a minute regret any disagreement we’ve had because her point of view has always helped me to confirm or refine my own. 
Together we’ve climbed mountains, rode our bikes thousands of miles, raised two kids and obtained two bachelor’s degrees.  We’ve endured a long series of crappy cars.  We’ve moved across country.  And back.  We’ve watched friends drift away and found new ones when we needed them most.  And we’ve done all of this together. 
Mandy skiing into Brainerd Lake.  Earlier that year (2009) we summited the peak (Audubon) in the background
Underlying the normal traffic of two lives being lived we’ve wrestled with my own debilitating mental health demons.  She held me through the long dark after I discovered I had ADHD, through diagnosis, and the ensuing decade long crisis of identity and self-worth that generated. 
When other demons reared their heads she was always there with me, taking her own wounds and giving back as well as she got.  At times I tried to pull away and fight on my own.  In retrospect it’s unclear if I was trying to protect her or myself.  We’ve always been stronger together.  While this war inside my head is not over there is a distinct lull going on right now leaving me the respite needed to regroup and take the time to acknowledge my staunchest ally. 
Prior to 2006 I was a happy-go-lucky guy.  Maybe to a fault.  I’m not saying there weren’t issues in my life, that I was perfect as a son, brother, husband, father, or friend, but for the first 33 years of my life I did my best to avoid worrying over anything or putting too much thought into the troubles of life.  I figured there were plenty of people out there worrying enough for themselves and me.
2006 was the year the storms came over the pass and started to batter us along our journey.  As storms do, they subsided and allowed us reprieve from time to time.  But to say the past ten or eleven years have been my own private Ragnarok would not be too melodramatic in a spiritual sense.
Indian Peaks Wilderness, Colorado
Your seventeenth wedding anniversary isn’t typically the significant one.  The milestone we looked forward to was fifteen.  In the first year we were married an older friend told us the first fifteen were the hardest.  She was sort of joking, and she and her husband had been married thirty at that point, but we kind of adopted that marker as the point when we knew it was going to be a successful marriage. 
It didn’t take long before we realized we had something special.  We didn’t understand why (and I must confess still don’t) but even as newlyweds and then as a “young couple” and beyond we’ve often gotten comments that our friends and acquaintances would like to have marriages like ours. 
For the most part we’ve not had to hide our marital imperfections from the world.  There haven’t been many, and those we’ve had have been reasonable.  Normal.  Typical.  Obviously there were a few years when we were getting to know each other and working things out between us.  That process wasn’t difficult for us though.  We didn’t fight about the toilet seat up or down or who got to sleep on which side of the bed.  In the beginning we were simply two best friends living together.
Then one day, not so long ago, she and I acknowledged that we’d come dangerously close to giving up.  She had been ready to walk away, and I would have let her.  The demon hordes almost overwhelmed us.  And in the heat of the battle our alliance faltered.  My mental health problems threatened the good thing we have.  The darkness almost choked out the light. 
I clung desperately to the knowledge of that castle keep we shared together where we have safe space and that we had defended valiantly together.  We were just so far from that place with no protection.  We almost lost the battle, the war, and the cause.
That was four months ago.  Four months shy of our seventeenth wedding anniversary we almost walked away from each other. 

Late last night we lay next to each other in bed talking and holding each other.  She asked me to tell her a story.  She does this frequently, and I try to oblige her, but with my crazy tangled up mind I find that trying to come up with an interesting memory to share from our past is like trying to catch a butterfly from a moving car.  Y’know how when someone asks what you’re thinking and you reply “nothing?”  We all do it.  Mandy and I have learned to respond: “Lots” because that’s true for both of us.  It doesn’t provide additional insight into someone’s state of mind, but it’s more honest.
For whatever reason I was able to conjure some good memories last night and we had a great venture into nostalgia.  Through everything we’ve remembered that our lives together have been an incredible adventure.  We recounted all of those steps taken together.  There have been amazing moments standing side by side looking out over the world and knowing that together there was nowhere we couldn’t go, nothing we couldn’t do.  And there have been the incredibly dark moments when we didn’t know how we were going to survive or if we’d ever be happy again.  We talked about all of that as we lay in each other’s arms.  
I told her on a whim I had bought two lottery tickets that afternoon.  I’m not sure why.  It’s not something I do.  I never had before.  For whatever reason I felt really lucky that day.  I felt like if someone was going to win something, or find the power to help others to the tune of $155 million it was going to be me (spoiler: I didn't win).  That led to talking about the Ingrid Michaelson song You and I. You know which one I mean…the one that goes: 
“Oh, let's get rich and buy our parents
Homes in the South of France
Let's get rich and give everybody nice sweaters
And teach them how to dance
Let's get rich and build our house on a mountain
Making everybody look like ants”

She played the song and sung along to it and I felt an incredible deep and profound love for her.  It wasn’t necessarily any stronger than I had ever felt before, but it welled up and I found myself grinning into her hair and just as happy as I could be.

It was when she picked up her phone and cued up “our song” (Dreams by the Cranberries) that I was overwhelmed by pure emotion.  There were no words and will never be words to describe what I felt.  I began to feel my chest swell.  My throat locked up.  I couldn’t say what I was feeling.  I stared at the ceiling stroking her hair and losing myself to a wave of infinite joy.  I couldn’t stop the tears streaming down my face.
When she sensed it she pulled back and looked at me.  Her expression was naked concern, but I could not tell her what was going on.  My body failed me at that moment, and I was utterly trapped within a prison of joy.  I was finally able to convey that I was happy, and she laid her head back on my chest.  I could only stare in wonder at the ceiling.  Existence became a point in the universe where every thread of our lives together touched defying space and time.  At that moment eighteen years of human history recorded in the mind of a being self-identified as Chris Chaney were in that room and spread out like a map on the table of the world and it was beautiful.
When I could finally speak I could only say “wow.” 
It took a few minutes to come back from the exquisite oblivion of that moment.  I can’t quite explain everything that contributed to my state of mind to you, but without a doubt I know if I could bottle that feeling and sell it I’d be rich, but I would never sell it.  I’d have to give it away freely.
When we’d both recovered from my moment of spiritual obliteration we talked more.  Of course we revisited some of the dark times along the path in recent months.  We’ve been fighting ahead out of duty more than passion for more than a while, and since May we’ve found a second wind neither of us expected and from unlikely sources.
Mandy apologized for the umpteenth time for not being able to help me when I needed help the most.  I keep reassuring her that no apologies are necessary.  I know it pains her deeply that on the darkest day of my life she let me walk away alone.  We both made a mistake that day, but those mistakes were made in good faith based on the understandings we had at the time of what was going on.  She had no idea that instead of a mental health day out hiking in the woods that I needed professional help.  I had no idea that the escape I sought was final.  If you know me at all you need to know this: I almost walked off a cliff that day.  Now, when I need strength to get through I look back to that day, as dark as it was, because I was somehow able to stave off the dragon alone.  By all accounts I should not have been able to.
She told me she’s glad we’re at this place now.   I was lost to her, but I’m back.  I told her I’m sorry I let the darkness dim her light in my life.  For now there is a tentative peace.  Not between us—that alliance is firm and resounding—but the cease fire between us and the demon horde.  The chemical structures in my brain have not changed.  My wiring is still tangled.  I’m still me, and I’ll never be able to escape me.  For now I don’t mind being where I am.  For now we have the high ground and the view is incredible.    
Love is an incredible mystery, and I am blessed with a love unlike anything I could have imagined up until this very day.  But I’ll let you in on a little secret…love works best and grows the most when you get out of the way and let it.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Ramming Speed Friday: Full Speed Ahead Edition

I feel great.  I’d be lying if I said I was 100%, but being able to say I feel great and realize I still have some work to do makes me realize how bad I had gotten over the past year.  My maladies were both in body and in mind.  We’ve come a long way, baby!  I’m looking forward to the continuation of the journey.  It’s a journey that felt stalled on the side of the road in the middle of the desert for so long.  And now we’re humming along with the music blaring again.
Let’s start with the body and I’ll point out the mental landmarks during the tour.  Lemme take you back to 2010.  That was before I started obsessing over endurance mountain bike races.  That was the first year I cracked 5,000 miles on my bike.  Maybe I wasn’t eating well, but I was consistently getting more than 200% of the recommended daily activity and I felt pretty good.  We bought a house in Arvada, Colorado, and despite the troubles in the cubicle it finally felt like we were settling into life in the West.
Into 2011 I began yearning to race my mountain bike.  I started “training.”  At first all was good, but then I wrecked on the wet train tracks next to the Coors Brewery in Golden and tore the AC ligament in my left shoulder.  From a cycling standpoint, this was a minor hiccup, and I was back on the bike in no time.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that only an idiot ignores the doctor’s recommendation to follow through with physical therapy and get healed up right.
The next year I raced my first Leadville 100.  I had a good run up to the day of, and then it seemed like things fell apart.  I believed myself bulletproof even after DNFing around mile 87, but the reality is that I didn’t train well.  I didn’t change my diet, and I didn’t really know how to prepare my body for the grueling effort of riding a mountain bike over rough terrain for one hundred miles above 10,000’. 
After failing in the mountains west of Leadville, Colorado I kept pushing into 2013, through the stress and turmoil of a 1,200 mile move and career change, through family upheaval, spiritual crisis, and the realities of getting older.  I rode a lot and I rode as hard as a could all the time.  And yet on my second attempt in Leadville—while I crossed the red carpet and the finish line—I didn’t succeed in my quest.  I weighed the same, I was eating the same crap, and I was training in the same wretched manner.  The stresses of life kept mounting.  Through suicidal thoughts, deep depression, anxiety, and despair I kept on trying to find my footing and figure out a path to take in life.  It was dark, cloudy, and without the support of my amazing wife and companion I don’t think I would have made it through to the other side intact.
Somewhere as I headed over that dark pass I decided trail running was a good idea.  I threw myself into it in 2014 and kept trudging ahead into 2015 until my body had more than it could take.  I quit cold turkey after the Rough Trail 50k.  I wanted to keep doing it, but I knew my body couldn’t withstand the pounding I was putting it through.  I had fully focused on running for over a year and the bikes rusted and tires began to dry rot in the basement. 
I’ve slowly gotten back into mountain biking, though a return to road cycling at the levels I used to maintain is unlikely any time soon.  I aspire to get fully back into rock climbing, but I knew before I could venture into the vertical realm again I have to get my physical house in order.  But there I’ve sat broken down on the side of a desert highway for two years.  My back, knees, and other joints have frozen with rust.  My battery has drained and won’t hold a charge.  The gas tank is almost empty.  The cars that pass seem to be going too fast to want to help, or going the wrong way, and all that I can do is listen to the radio as the last few joules seep from the battery into the washed-out sky.
After debating it for some time and putting it off for no good reason week after week, I finally signed Mandy and myself up for community acupuncture with Wendy Bentley at Natural Bridge Acupuncture.  Wendy and her husband Craig own Red River Outdoors, which is the business my family established way back in the mid-90s and sold (I believe) in 2006.  Wendy runs her natural health center on the property at Red River Outdoors.

A little over a month ago, I found myself reclined in a chair in a yurt in Slade, Kentucky.  The scythe-shaped two-bladed fan caused the light coming through the center hole to flickered on the back of my brain.  I didn’t feel the needles in my body, but I felt the tension draining from me and a deep relaxation set in, softened my bones, and for the first time in years I felt like a human being again.
At first I think I was hesitant that revisiting Red River Outdoors.  It's a place for me that had been caught up in a dream that I consciously let go of.  But that first visit with Wendy and my first experience with acupuncture was the beginning of good feelings and a turnabout in my life.
There is a lot I’m not telling you (and not going to tell you) that has been going on in my life these past few weeks, but I think my physical healing has been supported by some emotional and spiritual healing as well.  After a couple of visits Wendy recommended that I come in for a full private acupuncture session, and I agreed that if community sessions were making me feel as good as they were then I was all in for a private session.
The first full session was great.  She focused on my knees and my back problems.  It was when she did cupping that (at least from my perspective) the real revelation came.  She’d put the cups on, and after only a couple of minutes she touched my left shoulder and asked if I had an injury there.  And because I had considered it healed it hadn’t occurred to me to mention the years old AC ligament injury until then.  A few days earlier in the midst of a really bad day of back pain and knotty-ness Mandy was using the massager on me and showed me a diagram of the muscles in the back asking where it was tight and I saw the direct connection between where my shoulder was injured and the spot on the opposite side of my back that gives me the most trouble.  Between that and the amazingly purple bruise left over after my cupping session in the same area of my shoulder I realized that the shoulder had affected me long after I counted it healed.
That was the week before we went to Colorado.  I felt quite a bit better that week despite being in the car a lot.  This week I signed up for Wendy’s Yogalign class.  I have the most atrocious posture, and I can say for certain that has contributed to my lack of core support and a lot of my persistent back problems as well.  Or at least my suffering is exacerbated by my posture.
Monday I took ol’ Fatter Than Average (my mountain bike) to Veterans Park.  Within a few pedal strokes, I felt stronger on the bike than I had in a long time.  The day after my knee didn’t hurt much, and it didn’t feel weak at all.  I rode again Wednesday and felt even stronger, though technically I was slower that day.  But on Wednesday it was much warmer and humid.  However, on Wednesday my limiting factor was cardiovascular, and not in my legs and knee.
This week we’ve also been working around the house.  We put in paving stones for a walkway and over the past three days we built an 8’x12’ deck in our front yard.  For the past two years, I’ve avoided doing these things because my body revolted when I even thought about carrying tools from the basement to the yard to begin work.  I’ve been piddling at trail building for the past two years.  Through everything I’ve felt as if I were falling apart.  But it wasn’t all the king’s horses and all the king’s men this time.  I’m not one to heap praise, but I have to say I think Wendy is finding the root of my physical problems and her treatments are helping.  And I’m a skeptic.  I’m one of those people that must be convinced something really works before I’ll endorse it.  This is one of those times when I feel strongly enough about something that it seems important to share.
I feel a difference in my body.  I can’t even begin going into where my headspace is these days, but it is on track with the improvements in my physical strength and stamina. 
What this all means is that for the first time in a long time I feel like I’m back on track for the future.  At this point I don’t even know where I’m headed, but I know I’m headed there and away from that spot on the side of the road where I’ve been sitting miserable for so long.  That’s all that matters.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Playing Cat Soup

I’m still here.  I’ll always be here.  It’s not that I haven’t had plenty to write about, but that I’ve not had time to sit down and write.  I’ve been traveling the world.  Seeing the sites.  Experiencing life.  It’s been good.
The depression has been dormant for some time now.  Mandy and I have been going to acupuncture for about six weeks now minus the week we were in Mountain Time Zone and that pretty well corresponds to my improved mood and outlook, I can’t say one hundred percent that the acupuncture is responsible, but I’m definitely feeling better in muscle and bone so it follows that maybe the pokies have had an influence on my noggin as well.
Instead of giving you a blow by blow of our recent trip to Colorado I’m going to real fast hit the high points.  First, even before we reached the mountainous state where once we abode we were discussing the possibility of moving back.  I think we would both love to move back.  We also realize the benefit to staying in Kentucky where the cost of living is so much cheaper.  But there are other pros and cons to weigh in that discussion, and I don’t really want to dwell too deeply in them right now.  Suffice it to say we’re not packing boxes right now and likely won’t for some time if ever.
The drive out went well.  Our two monkeys and the Giant Nephew endured twenty hours of road tripping well.  We rolled into Denver on Sunday morning.  It was good because we were able to attend church where we used to go and see old friends again.  Quickly our schedule began filling up with dinner dates for the week we were going to be there.
On Monday I woke up feeling the hard effects of altitude.  It took a couple of hours and a decent breakfast burrito before I felt up to moving around.  Mandy and our spawn hung around town and visited a museum while I took the Giant up to Boulder where we rented two full suspension Specialized Cambers and took them first to Betasso Preserve and then finished up the day at Valmont Bike Park until we were just too tired to pedal anymore.
Minds reeling at Betasso Preserve

Old Towne Arvada

Clear Creek Whitewater Park, Golden

On Tuesday we drove up to Rocky Mountain National Park.  We bought an annual park pass and drove up Trail Ridge Road.  We reenacted the infamous Marshmallow Cream Incident but with mayonnaise.  You try purchasing a whipped or fluffy food product at sea level and then opening it above 10,000’ and you’ll totally understand.
Buying the pass felt like a political statement.  It rankles that it does, but if that’s what it takes…
RMNP view

Hiking at Flatirons Vista
On Wednesday my conference in downtown Denver started and while the family slummed around the Greater Denver area I rode the light rail (finally!) from Golden into Denver and hit the sessions.
We made the most of a whirlwind trip as we are wont to do.  I didn’t take as many photos as I usually would on such a trip.  That was mainly because I have gigs of digital images of the area and while there was a lot of new stuff to see nothing jumped out much as being photoworthy.  I was distracted anyway.
We had a good time and the kids seemed to as well.  We took the long way home.  I had always wanted to drop south into New Mexico and come across Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Tennessee.  The longer drive turned longer and longer, but it was a good deviation and we’re glad we did it. 
Memphis, TN

Nashville, TN

Cadillac Ranch outside Amarillo, TX
Last week was hectic and short with the holiday.  I don’t feel like I accomplished much at work even though I was pretty busy hitting meetings around the district.  I’m hopefully in the office most of this week and can make progress on things I really need to get done.

Fireworks on 4th of July at Patriot Days in Clay City
And speaking of…the RRGMTB100 is creeping up on us.  I’m trying to get pieces moved closer to being in place and trying to work through things.  I had a brief moment of panic over the weekend, but I swallowed it down with the resolve to get busy and make it work.
I had been despairing on my efforts in Bald Rock, but after a meeting with the BOD of the Climbers Coalition I feel much better.  Another (alternate really) option for new trail development has opened up, and I look forward to exploring the terrain after the race has passed and the seasons cool.
There’s so much I want to write about but can’t.  Schemes.  Life developments.  Ponderances.  Just not now.  It’s better that way.