Poker Face

Though variations on this conversational/argumentative/conceptual subject had been percolating and ping-ponging between my ears pretty much ever since I first landed less-than-gracefully as a Western tenderfoot/greenhorn/newbie/moron/dumbfuck in Gila Country in the summer 1976, the whole notion attained something at least resembling cogitative coalescence one winter afternoon as I sat (not for the first time) quaffing a few brews in Sluice Box Saloon. Several stools to my starboard were three corpulent bubbas, all of whom were attired in the height of retro flatland ski fashion, and all of whom hailed from a state that decorum mandates I not herein name. They were a jovial enough lot, though their jocularity was often punctuated by boisterously stated examples of extreme political incorrectness that, were one inclined toward stereotyping, one would consider pretty much cliché for the state I shall not herein name. Fortunately, the local resident sitting closest to these three bubbas was not yours truly; rather, it was Big Del, who ordinarily avoids conversations with tourists as aggressively as he avoids alimony payments. This go-round, though, he was apparently enticed into friendly banter with the bubbas via a tried-and-true method: he was offered unfettered access to the bubbas’ pitchers of beer, which were being re-filled in a manner that could best be described as “frequent.” This was a time in the M. John autobiographical train wreck when my normal tendency to socially interact with folks at the bar, even bubbas from the aforementioned state I shall not herein name, was mitigated by a ruminative mindset based upon the fact that, after 24 years, I had decided my time in the High Country was fast drawing to an end. I was torn about that decision clear down to my marrow, and my life at that point consisted of one period of second-guessing a move not yet made followed by another period of second-guessing my second-guessing, until, finally, the sum totality of my mental processes became nothing more and nothing less than a flushing-toilet-like downward spiral dominated by future perfect verb tenses. (It is often not so easy being me.) As I sat there at the Sluice Box that winter day, my life at altitude played between my ears like one of those old scratchy black-and-white movies from the ’30s, wherein the actors’ voices all seem about two seconds out of sync with the sound. And, out of that not-pleasant, but not-totally-unpleasant meditative state comes bellowing from the barrel-sized voice box of Big Del, “What the FUCK does that have to do with anything?” You could hold a gun to my head and I would not be able to tell you what prompted Big Del’s verbal outburst — he and the bubbas might have been talking about yet another impending ski-area expansion or they might have been talking about the last time the Sluice Box’s unsavory men’s room was hosed out — but I can say sans compunction that, when such outbursts occur in the vicinity of Big Del, you’d best be ready to duck. But these three bubbas hailed from a place where educational standards are not high. They did not back down. “Hay-ull,” drawled the Alpha Bubba, “we been skiin’ up here for near-bouts 30 years.” “Well, asshole,” Big Del responded, “I’ve been livin’ up here for near-bouts 30 years!” “Yeah, but there are, uh, three of us, which means we got a total of, uh … ” (and here the Alpha Bubba removed one of his rear-entry ski boots so he could utilize his toes throughout what ended up being a long and apparently mentally challenging ciphering process) “ … let’s see … 30 times 30, no … 30 plus 30 times two … no … 30 plus 30 is 60 plus another 30 is …  90! The three of us have been comin’ up here skiin’ a total of 90 years!” beamed the bubba, apparently mighty proud of his advanced mathematical skills. And so this chronological dick-swinging contest proceeded apace for another five minutes, till Pattycakes, a bartender who weighs about 95 pounds soaking drunk, looked up from her cribbage game and yelled “that’s goddamned enough!” and all three bubbas and Big Del post haste changed both the subject of their inebriated discourse and their tones-of-voice. But I, sitting there innocent and alone, could not change the subject, at least not within my cranium, for that subject, as I mentioned several hundred words ago, had been with me for decades. And that subject, germane to my impending exodus from the High Country, is/was/always shall be this: In a part of the world defined by residential impermanence, how does one temporally measure one’s connection to place? For many years, I covered for local papers various High Country municipalities. It was not uncommon for people addressing town council meetings to begin their presentations with a recitation of their relationship with the area. “We first began visiting before the local ski area even opened. We would drive up almost every weekend for years so the kids could ski. We eventually bought a condo, which we sold to buy a town home, which we have owned for 14 years. Now we spend six months a year here and hope to one day live here full time.” You can imagine how many variations on this theme there are. I swear, it sometimes sounds like Klingons reciting their various martial accomplishments when trying to impress the family of the mate they are wooing. I have long thought that it would make life in the Mountain Time Zone easier if there could be established a rating system, a way for people who have been “coming here to ski for 30 years” could lean upon an equation that established plus-or-minus common denominators with, say, people who were born here, but left for seven years, then came back two autumns ago, and people who were born in Iowa but who have been living here for 35 years, and people who live down in the city, but who come up every weekend to play. And then, just as that thought began to grow both branches and roots, I looked up above the Sluice’s back bar where, for more years than even local old-timers can remember, is hung a faithful copy of one of the single best pieces of art ever produced by the hands of man: The well-worn and well-known painting of the dogs playing poker (based upon a series of 16 paintings by C.M. Cooper commissioned in 1903 by Brown & Bigelow to help sell cigars). And my question was answered before it was even fully posed. Though I have never been a very good poker player (I’ve always preferred blackjack, because, when one wins, one does not draw down the bank account of one’s chums, but, rather, the evil house), for many years I participated in regular games — sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly, sometimes weekly AND monthly. Ergo: I have at least a rudimentary understanding of the hierarchy of poker hands, which, I reasoned sitting there in the Sluice in a pondiferous frame-of-mind, could, by way of a translation process that admittedly would likely not stand up to scrutiny by a professor of logic (unless, of course, that professor was a poker player), be applied to the sociology of the transient West. So, even while Big Del and the corpulent bubbas from the state that I shall not herein name began to ramp their contretemps back up, I pulled out a pen and reached for a stack of proletariat stationary: cocktail napkins. Before I proceed, it’s important to stress that there’s no way to compare poker hands to cultural dynamics without relying a bit too much upon aesthetics-based subjectivity, a subjectivity that, for example, rates a troop of dirtbag snowboarders living in the back of a camper well above a troop of well-coifed Boulder-based developers. This is not to say that decks of cards do not contain within their various suits and ranks the seeds of subjectivity. Verily, until the late-1700s, aces — the people’s card, as it were — were the lowest of the low, a reality that has partially survived the past 300-plus years by way of hands — such as straights — wherein an ace can still be used as either the highest or the lowest card. Until the earliest days of the French Revolution, the king was of course the highest card and it was near-bouts treasonous to suggest otherwise. As guillotines were dealing very effectively with royal pretensions, the people’s card displaced monarchal precedence. Moreover, the subjectivity of the deck continues with the assumption that higher numbers are somehow superior to lower numbers. Certainly, there are instances when and where such is the case. Having nine beers, for instance, is generally better than having two beers — unless, of course, you’re trying to talk your way out of a DUI. But, with cards, we’re not talking about anything save numbers printed upon heavy paper. There’s no inherent reason why 10s should automatically be “better” than 9s. Still, the deck we now play poker with is what it is; its subjective components are now neatly corralled into a stack of 52 cards that have a potential of 7,462 combinations, and the ranking of hands is based not upon aesthetics or personal political or numeric prejudices, but, rather, by the mathematical probability (or, more accurately, lack thereof) of a given hand occurring. Thus, the following rankings do not correspond seamlessly to real-life poker algorhythms. Still, if the transitioning of part-random, part-manipulated card combinations to real life was good enough for Dmitri Mendeleev, who was inspired in ways my non-scientific mind can not fathom by the hierarchy of poker hands when he invented the Periodic Table of the Elements in 1869, then it’s good enough for me as I’m trying to fit the round pegs of mountain-town sociology into the square holes of common denominators. And, as usual, if you have any Mountain-Town poker hands you’d like to add to the list, please fire them off to • Royal Flush: Technically, this is just the highest form of a straight flush, a 10, jack, queen, king and ace of the same suit. (Here we should note that suits, despite the opinions of many players, are not hierarchal. Exact hands of different suits — say, a 7-high straight spade flush and a 7-high straight clubs flush — are tied and thus split the pot.) The Mountain Country sociological equivalent of this hand is someone who lives in a cliff dwelling, a pueblo, hogan or tipi who still speaks Ute or Navajo as his or her first language. • Regular straight flush: Someone who still maintains enough Native blood coursing through his or her veins that they retain legal enrollment upon tribal rosters. The mathematical chances of being dealt (as opposed to drawing into) a straight flush, of which there are 40 possible permutations, is 0.0015%. • Four of a kind: Born in a mountain town, went to high school in a mountain town, moved back to the mountain town directly after college, kids enrolled in local schools, serves on numerous town boards because it’s the right thing to do rather than because of self interest. Chances of being dealt four of a kind: 0.024% • Full house: Same as above, the only difference being that you were not born in a mountain town, so you make up for that inexplicable cosmic oversight by diligently volunteering for trail projects and town clean-ups and such. Came to a town with enough money saved that you could get your toe in the real estate industry before prices sky-rocketed. Chances of being dealt a full house: 0.14%. • Flush: Grew up in a city within drivable distance of a mountain town. Family drove up to ski or hike almost every weekend. Always knew you were going to forego any semblance of a real life by moving to a mountain town minutes after graduating high school. Worked for years doing menial jobs and lived for years in a rented room the size of a closet. Now work for the town government in a quasi-respectable gig. Met your wife, a long-time local schoolteacher, on a chairlift. Have health insurance. Chances of being dealt a flush: 0.20%. • Straight: Moved to a mountain town with the idea of staying a season or two before moving back down to the flatlands, but ended up never leaving. Bought a condo, and rent rooms out to help pay for the mortgage. Still work at the ski area or in the restaurant industry in order to procure a season pass. Probably will end up one day moving back down to a city that’s close enough to the mountains you can still drive up to rub elbows with those who were once your neighbors and co-workers. Do not have health insurance. Chances of being dealt a straight: 0.39% • Three of a kind: Moved to a mountain town for no other reason than being offered a job, but realized after living in that town that you liked it enough to maybe stay, maybe forever. Chances of being dealt three of a kind: 2.1% • Two pair, high cards: Moved to a mountain town for no other reason than being offered a job and, though you’re making the most of it, will leave as soon as you’re offered a better job somewhere else. Chances of being dealt two pair: 4.75%. • Two pair, middling cards: Workers who come to a mountain town for one season and leave after one season, but who for the rest of their lives regret leaving. • Two pair, low cards: Visitors who live close enough to a mountain town that they visit often, and who dream about being able to move to the mountain town, but can never pull it off. • One pair, but high cards: Second homeowners who do not act like they are official residents of the mountain town in which their second home is located and who, despite their second-homeownership relationship with the town, volunteer for trail projects and town clean-up days. Chances of being dealt one pair: 42.25%. • One pair, but middling cards: Tourists who have traveled long distance for years to visit a mountain town and who love the mountain town and who are always in a good mood and tip wait-people well. • One pair, low cards: Workers who come to a mountain town for one season and leave after one season, and never regret leaving. • High card, face-card level: Second homeowners who act like they own the mountain town the minute they arrive, ones who immediately start attending town council meetings and castigating the locals for being rubes. • High card, middling: New resident to a mountain town who immediately wants to turn the town into the place he or she just left. • Seven high (the worst hand possible in poker): Carpetbagger developers who drive up to the mountains from the safety of their gated flatland McMansions to build ugly condo and retail complexes that they push through local town boards by utilizing hordes of lawyer whores who, while touting the supposed economic and aesthetic benefits of their proposed projects, tacitly hold the threat of legal action over the head of the community they’re invading should their development not be approved. • Lowball. Long-time locals who have forgotten that they too once rented rooms the size of closets just so they could ski every day. • Joker: People who think, just because they’ve lived in the Mountain Time Zone for more than 36 years, they are wise enough to reduce the sociology of the turf they inhabit to a series of poker hands, when, in actuality, that sociology has more in common with the Periodic Tables of the Elements. Mountain Gazette editor M. John Fayhee’s latest two books, “Smoke Signals: Wayward Journeys Through the Old Heart of the New West” and “The Colorado Mountain Companion: A Potpourri of Useful Miscellany from the Highest Parts of the Highest State,” can be purchased at your local bookstore or ordered directly from 

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Abbey and Thompson: Tribal Relations

Hunter Thompson “Dr. Jeckyl” Hunter S. Thompson, Shooting / Woody Creets, Colorado / 1968, Photo By Bob Chamberlain

Part 1

A few years ago, my friend Ken Wright invited me to speak at a gathering at Maria’s Bookstore in Durango commemorating the 20th anniversary of Edward Abbey’s passing. It is a matter of record — rather than just yet another example of my faltering memory — that I attempted to decline. Understand, please: It does not take much to convince me to visit Durango, one of my favorite towns and the only place I know that successfully mates the alpine aesthetic with the Southwest/desert aesthetic. But to speak to a gathering of Abbey aficionados about, well, Abbey? That was a bit off-putting for several very compelling reasons, not the least of which being that, compared to the Abbey faithful, I am particularly unversed in Holy Scripture. I mean, I read several of his books like 30 years ago and am of course basically familiar with the man, his philosophies and his work via devotee osmosis. But, do I raise my arms toward the heavens while gyrating and singing praises of Cactus Ed? Sorry. Not to worry, though, Ken assured me, all I’d have to do was wing it for a few minutes and mention that Abbey and I had once shared an enjoyable chitchat (about, of all things, Mountain Gazette) (I was tripping on acid at the time, which made the chitchat a bit more eventful in my mind that it likely was in Abbey’s mind) and everything would work out just fine. So, OK, I make the eight-hour drive to Durango, hook up with a couple of cohorts in journalistic crime, consume a few pre-event beverages, show up at Maria’s at the appointed time, notice that the place is packed, settle in, consume another couple beers and only then eyeball the official program — where (and here I think it’s fair to say my bloodshot orbs popped out of their sockets) I learn the name of the featured speaker: Me! Fuck! You have got to be goddamned kidding! Ahead of me are four other speakers, all of whom spend 10 or so minutes bearing knowledgeable witness about Abbey and the profound, DNA-level effect Abbey’s writings have had on their lives. They could all quote Abbey passages by heart! They all had tears in their eyes! Members of the audience, all of whom looked, from my inebriated vantage point, like they had just gone on a shopping binge at, were, likewise, tearing up and nodding their noggins contemplatively, reflectively and knowingly. And I’m sitting there in the figurative green room soiling my decidedly skivvies. It was like one of those horrible dreams, where you’re on a stage, about to perform in a band in front of a large audience, but you don’t know any of the songs. You don’t even know how to play whatever instrument it is you’re holding. To make matters worse, Art Goodtimes, who is now MG’s poetry editor, but who, until that point, I had never met, whispers into my ear words to the effect that he had talked to several people prior to the event about how much they were looking forward to hearing me speak about Abbey. You want to talk about a mind that suddenly found itself racing, though, given all the beer I had consumed, “racing” at that juncture was decidedly a relative term. Then, inevitably, the last of those four pre-M. John speakers starts winding down and Ken stands before the crowd and introduces me with a bit more fanfare than I deserved. As I took my place to a round of very courteous applause, I still did not know what I was going to say. Usually, I am a very prepared public speaker. Not this time. This time, it was pure extemporaneous discourse at its most rudimentary, delivered with a decided slur. Fortunately, my ass was at least partially saved by the fact that this was not the first Abbey event I had interfaced with. Several years prior, I attended (as an audience member only) some sort of memorial service for Cactus Ed (maybe it was the 15th anniversary of his passing) at Ken Sleight’s astounding ranch outside Moab. (Ken is the person upon whom the Seldom Seen Smith character was at least partially based in “The Monkey Wrench Gang.”) There was some conceptual contretemps between the organizers. From what I remember (and forgive me if I don’t have this quite right), the event was supposed to have been a somewhat informal assembly, wherein numerous of Abbey’s old drinking and poker cronies would sit around the campfire telling Abbey stories. Somehow, it morphed (or was co-opted, depending on whose version you lean toward) (I lean toward neither) into a fundraiser for the Glen Canyon Institute, with an admission fee and a set agenda of speakers — some of whom barely knew Abbey — and such. This morph affected me personally not one whit. I had a great time and very much enjoyed hearing various Abbey tales related by the lofty likes of Katie Lee, Ken Sanders, Jack Loeffler, David Peterson and, most of all, the incomparable John Nichols, who is simply one of the most entertaining public speakers it has ever been my pleasure to enjoy. What I brought with me from Ken Sleight’s ranch — besides a rum-induced hangover — was a keen awareness of Abbey-based sectarianism. More than that, as one of my friends — a Moab resident with a finger on the sociological pulse of all things Slickrock Country based — observed, the event was defined by intra-Abbey fractures. The Old Testament Abbey-ites versus the New Testament Abbey-ites. The Abbey fundamentalists versus the born-again followers of Cactus Ed. The drinking and poker-playing apostles versus the worshipful newbies. Though I did not comprehend the specifics, it was clear, even from the comfortable sidelines, there was some bad blood circulating in the heart of the Abbey tribe. “Tribe” — that was the operative word/concept, and it sprang forth from my lips as I stood there, borderline speechless, in front of those Abbey fans at Maria’s Bookstore in Durango. I began by relating some very hastily concocted (read: on the fly in very surreal real time) observations about the notion of tribalism as it relates to writers and their fans. I then asked those gathered if they knew the name of the only other contemporary Mountain Time Zone-dwelling writer whose work/persona resulted in the same kind of life-defining/re-defining influence that Abbey inspired, the kind of influence that makes people drop out of school, quit their job, leave Providence or Utica, buy a beater pick-up truck and head West sans plan. Foreheads scrunched, but no answer was forthcoming. I gave a hint: Recently passed away. Dozens of hyper-literate faces contorted and mental gears turned. Lived in Colorado for more than 30 years. Nothing. I was a bit surprised, because the name was so obvious that, when I finally answered my own question, people slapped themselves on the forehead. Hunter S. Thompson was another writer whose power and influence was so inspiring that people, untold thousands of people, changed the way they looked at their lives and went about living as a result of that power and influence. With Hunter, fans, especially those aspiring to be writers, modified the cadence of their narratives, both literary and personal. People began to believe that, unless you drank huge quantities of alcohol and ingested significant quantities of recreational drugs, there’s no way you could ever truly be a wordsmith. The first person jumped headlong into the world of journalism, with every entry-level reporter from Findlay, Ohio, to Whitefish, Montana, trying desperately to cover school board meetings the way Hunter would. “We were somewhere around the approval of the agenda when the drugs kicked in.” Words like “screed, ”“gig,” “greedhead” and especially “gonzo” hit the lexicographic mainstream like a freight train. People started dressing in Hawaiian shirts, drinking Wild Turkey, even if they hated it, and venturing forth hajj-like to the Woody Creek Tavern in hopes of touching the hem of Hunter S. Thompson’s Bermuda shorts. As I have already indicated, it was thus with Abbey also. Though I do not believe Abbey had as much stylistic influence over aspiring writers, he certainly greatly inspired the subject-based choices of many slingers of prose. “Nature” writing lost a lot of its nerdistic spin as a result of Abbey. You no longer needed to just opine about the beauty of mountains, deserts and rivers (though that still had to be part of the equation, often ad nauseum); you could also now write about drinking beer and chainsawing billboards amidst the beauty of the mountains, deserts and rivers! It may be hard to conceive now, but that was a big stylistic breakthrough, certainly as much as of a stylistic breakthrough as Hunter Thompson’s self-immersion within stories that, from the perspective of the old school, really had nothing to do with him. Abbey’s influence was also gravitational, in that people actually packed up and moved to the places he wrote about, to the point that many folks now believe Abbey unwittingly contributed to the Californication of the West by way of his effusive verbiage. (Certainly, there was some of this with Hunter, but not as much.) Like Hunter, people adjusted their personal styles to mimic Abbey’s. They wore clothing that looked like what Abbey wore. They drove vehicles that would meet with Abbey’s approval. They tossed beer cans out of truck windows because Abbey did. They shot their TV sets, just like Abbey. I have over the years often wondered if Abbey had written and/or said that people ought to wear tutus and bang their heads against a brick wall, if we wouldn’t have suddenly found our emergency rooms filled to overflowing with perplexingly attired concussion victims. Likewise, if Hunter had written that he was now smoking Pepto-Bismol paste, I wonder how long it would have been before every Bloody-Mary-bearing hipster in Aspen was walking around with bright pink lips and a minty cough. I asked the crowd at Maria’s that night if they knew of any other writers who boasted such tribal followings. Certainly, none in the Mountain Time Zone, at least not in our generation. Even expanding the search parameters yielded only a few possibilities. Some felt that perhaps Hemingway and his Lost-Generation cohorts had significant lifestyle-based followings that perhaps reached tribal-esque proportions. And maybe Salinger influenced a tribe of Holden Caulfield wannabes, though, by definition, a Caulfield wannabe would not be enthusiastic enough to form tribal bonds. Certainly, the Beat writers had near-tribal followings that moved along the road toward the same points-West that Kerouac and Cassady followed, but that was a bit before my time (though not by much). Contemporary to my aging corpus delecti would maybe be the late Bruce Chatwin, whose “In Patagonia” and “The Songlines” inspired a sub-generation of erudite, mostly Continental travelers with likely contrived interests if Sotheby-ish historic arcania to start buying and bearing Moleskine notebooks as they wound their way through the bleak Argentinean steppes and the parched Australian Outback. And that was about all I could come up with. So, the question, then, that begs asking is: What was it about Edward Abbey and Hunter S. Thompson that resulted in these tribal followings? Before delving into the difficult process of attempting to answer that question, I guess I should point out that, more than any other publication, Mountain Gazette existed/exists at the nexus of the Abbey and Thompson camps. Abbey wrote literally dozens of pieces for the Gazette in the 1970s. To this day, we count among our bylines people who were some of Abbey’s closest friends — Bowden, Lee, Peacock, Loeffler, Peterson, among others. And, though Hunter only ever wrote three pieces for us (all after our resurrection) (and even that’s something of an exaggeration, as those three pieces were all piles of disjointed notes that were frantically pasted together with deadline looming), the Hunter camp is intertwined into our ink-stained circulatory system even more than Abbey’s was. The man we list in our staff box as our Guardian Angel Emeritus, the man responsible for the very existence of Mountain Gazette, George Stranahan, sold Hunter the land that became the infamous Owl Farm outside Woody Creek. Stranahan used to own the Woody Creek Tavern, and, upon many occasions, helped Hunter out fiscally. MG’s second editor, Gaylord Guenin, was very close with Hunter, as were Curtis Robinson — who partnered with Stranahan and yours truly to resurrect the beast you now hold in your hands — and the late-Donna Dowling, Curtis’ wife, who was responsible for coming up with the idea for the compilation volumes of Hunter’s letters. Curtis was a regular at Hunter’s Monday Night Football gatherings and attended his final, cannon-based send-off into the hereafter. Thus, I believe we have some karmic right, if not obligation, to presume to entertain, if not answer, the question already posed: What was it about Edward Abbey and Hunter S. Thompson that resulted in tribal followings? Tribal followings that continue to grow, 24 years after the passing of Abbey and seven years after the passing of Thompson. I mean — and there is no tactful way to say this — I know of very few people, even the staunchest members of Thompson’s and Abbey’s respective camps, who would contend they were the best writers (whatever that means) of their generation and/or area. Yet, while there is no shortage of fans of Wallace Stegner, Cormac McCarthy, E. Annie Proulx, Terry Tempest Williams, Jim Harrison or Wendell Berry, I don’t believe we have throngs of groupies picking up and moving to Henry County, Kentucky, because Berry lives there or adjusting their clothing styles to meet those of Harrison when he’s wintering in Patagonia, Arizona.

Part 2

It might be interesting, if not illuminating, to compare and contrast some subject/writing-based perspectives of Abbey and Hunter, who, from what I have gathered, never met each other. Consider this a warm-up exercise for the real meat of the story.


One of the most-famous photos of Abbey was of him posing, self-satisfactorily, rifle in hand, next to a TV that he had just shot to death. Thompson was a notorious TV addict, with newscasts and sporting events being his on-air drugs-of-choice. “How to Overthrow the System: brew your own beer; kick in your Tee Vee; kill your own beef; build your own cabin and piss off the front porch whenever you bloody well feel like it.” — Abbey “The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.” — Thompson “There are times, however, and this is one of them, when even being right feels wrong. What do you say, for instance, about a generation that has been taught that rain is poison and sex is death? If making love might be fatal and if a cool spring breeze on any summer afternoon can turn a crystal blue lake into a puddle of black poison right in front of your eyes, there is not much left except TV and relentless masturbation. It’s a strange world. Some people get rich and others eat shit and die.” — Thompson “The room was very quiet. I walked over to the TV set and turned it on to a dead channel-white noise at maximum decibels, a fine sound for sleeping, a powerful continuous hiss to drown out everything strange.” — Thompson


I once sat on the hood of Abbey’s old pick-up truck, and Mountain Gazette once ran a story about his old Cadillac being auctioned off on eBay (there were no bids). Despite the anti-car-ism displayed in many of his wilderness-based writing, Abbey seemed very Cactus-Ed image conscious regarding his rides: Beat-up, gas-guzzling and large. Hunter was more of a performance guy. He liked fast. The opening scene in “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas” establishes some common ground with Abbey, in that it takes place in a Caddy. The one time I ever saw Hunter drive off into the sunset, it was on a motorcycle. “The longest journey begins with a single step, not with the turn of an ignition key. That’s the best thing about walking, the journey itself. It doesn’t much matter whether you get where you’re going or not. You’ll get there anyway. Every good hike brings you eventually back home. Right where you started.” — Abbey “My concept of death for a long time was to come down that mountain road at 120 and just keep going straight right there, burst out through the barrier and hang out above all that . . . and there I’d be, sitting in the front seat, stark naked, with a case of whiskey next to me and a case of dynamite in the trunk … honking the horn, and the lights on, and just sit there in space for an instant, a human bomb, and fall down into that mess of steel mills. It’d be a tremendous goddam explosion. No pain. No one would get hurt. I’m pretty sure, unless they’ve changed the highway, that launching place is still there. As soon as I get home, I ought to take the drive just to check it out.” — Thompson


“Whatever we cannot understand easily we call God; this saves wear and tear on the brain tissues.” — Abbey “God is a sound people make when they’re too tired to think anymore. There has got to be a God; the world could not have become so fucked up by chance alone.” — Abbey “I have never seen much point in getting heavy with stupid people or Jesus freaks, just as long as they don’t bother me. In a world as weird and cruel as this one we have made for ourselves, I figure anybody who can find peace and personal happiness without ripping off somebody else deserves to be left alone. They will not inherit the earth, but then neither will I… And I have learned to live, as it were, with the idea that I will never find peace and happiness, either. But as long as I know there’s a pretty good chance I can get my hands on either one of them every once in a while, I do the best I can between high spots.” — Thompson


Here we have common ground. Abbey certainly seemed to enjoy his rifles. Hunter, of course, was into anything that boasted significant firepower. “The tank, the B-52, the fighter-bomber, the state-controlled police and military are the weapons of dictatorship. The rifle is the weapon of democracy. Not for nothing was the revolver called an ‘equalizer.’ Egalite implies liberte. And always will. Let us hope our weapons are never needed — but do not forget what the common people of this nation knew when they demanded the Bill of Rights: An armed citizenry is the first defense, the best defense, and the final defense against tyranny.” — Abbey “America… just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.” — Thompson “Do I have any illegal weapons? No. I have a .454 magnum revolver, which is huge, and it’s absolutely legal. One day I was wild-eyed out here with Johnny Depp, and we both ordered these guns from Freedom, Wyo., and got them the next day through FedEx. Mainly, I have rifles, pistols, shotguns; I have a lot of those. But everything I have is top quality; I don’t have any junk weapons. I wouldn’t have any military weapon around here, except as an artifact of some kind. Given Ashcroft and the clear blueprint of this administration to make everything illegal and everything suspicious — how about suspicion of being a terrorist sympathizer? Goddamn, talk about filling up your concentration camps. But, yeah, my police record is clean. This is not a fortified compound.” — Thompson


No doubt, the preservation of the wild world was a large part of Abbey’s shtick. He could scarcely pen a paragraph without including some ode to nature untrammeled. Hunter was more against development, especially if there was greed involved, which there almost always is. He campaigned against the expansion of the Aspen Airport, using the wonderful slogan, “There is some shit we won’t eat.” One of his platforms during his unsuccessful run for sheriff of Pitkin County was tearing up the asphalt in downtown Aspen and restoring it with sod. “Why this cult of wilderness?… because we like the taste of freedom; because we like the smell of danger.” — Abbey “Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” — Abbey “It will be the policy of the Sheriff’s office savagely to harass all those engaged in any form of land-rape. This will be done by acting, with utmost dispatch, on any and all righteous complaints. My first act in office — after setting up the machinery for punishing dope-dealers — will be to establish a Research Bureau to provide facts on which any citizen can file a Writ of Seizure, a Writ of Stoppage, a Writ of Fear, of Horror … yes … even a Writ of Assumption … against any greedhead who has managed to get around our antiquated laws and set up a tar-vat, scum-drain or gravel-pit. These writs will be pursued with overweening zeal … and always within the letter of the law. Selah.” — Thompson


Abbey, a flute player, wrote quite a bit of his love of classical music, while Hunter was more of a rock-and-roll guy. “Music clouds the intellect but clarifies the heart.” — Abbey “Grand opera is a form of musical entertainment for people who hate music.” — Abbey “I feel the same way about disco as I do about herpes.” — Thompson “Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel. I have always needed Fuel. I am a serious consumer. On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.” — Thompson


Both Hunter and Abbey were considered serous ladies’ men, though Abbey wrote more about women than did Hunter. Abbey was married five times, Hunter twice. I’ve met both Hunter’s widow, Anita, and Abbey’s, Clark. They both seemed like very nice and — dare I say it? — normal ladies. “A pretty girl can do no wrong.” — Abbey “Sex without love is as hollow and ridiculous as love without sex.” — Thompson


Serious differences here. “Football is a game for trained apes. That, in fact, is what most of the players are —retarded gorillas wearing helmets and uniforms. The only thing more debased is the surrounding mob of drunken monkeys howling the gorillas on.” — Abbey “Baseball serves as a good model for democracy in action: Every player is equally important and each has a chance to be a hero.” — Abbey “I am more than just a Serious basketball fan. I am a life-long Addict. I was addicted from birth, in fact, because I was born in Kentucky.” — Thompson “There is a progression of understanding vis-à-vis pro football that varies drastically with the factor of distance — physical, emotional, intellectual and every other way. Which is exactly the way it should be, in the eyes of the amazingly small number of people who own and control the game, because it is this finely managed distance factor that accounts for the high-profit mystique that blew the sacred institution of baseball off its ‘‘national pastime’ pedestal in less than fifteen years.” — Thompson


Here I fear to tread, because I both Abbey and Thompson zealously resisted categorization. I’m sure there have been doctoral dissertations penned about this. From the sidelines, it seems fair enough to say they were both individualists who loathed the centralization of political power and the corruption that centralization spawns. While Abbey would keep his distance from politics, Hunter jumped headlong into its midst, especially if there was any change of free booze. “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.” — Abbey “Anarchism is founded on the observation that since few men are wise enough to rule themselves, even fewer are wise enough to rule others.” — Abbey “Civilization is a youth with a Molotov cocktail in his hand. Culture is the Soviet tank or L.A. cop that guns him down.” — Abbey “Grown men do not need leaders.” — Abbey “The brutal reality of politics would be probably intolerable without drugs.” — Thompson “All we have to do is get out and vote, while it’s still legal, and we will wash those crooked warmongers out of the White House.” — Thompson “I miss Nixon. Compared to these Nazis we have in the White House now, Richard Nixon was a flaming liberal.” — Thompson “Politics is the art of controlling your environment.” — Thompson


Abbey and Thompson were known to imbibe. “A drink a day keeps the shrink away.” — Abbey “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.” — Thompson “Good people drink good beer.” — Thompson “Crack is ruining the drug culture.” — Thompson

Part 3

The previous section was more than just a gratuitous excuse to incorporate a slew of Abbey and Thompson quotes into this story. It serves — at least I hope it does — as Exhibit A regarding why these two particular writers have fan bases that almost resemble cults. Both Thompson and Abbey were masters of provocative bon mots, easily quotable one-liners that were more than just pithy examples of wit; rather, they were distilled versions of operational literary and lifestyle philosophy, palpable quips that were far more than the sum of their meager syllabic parts. When it comes to cult establishment and maintenance, nothing beats easily quotable material that can be transferred to T-shirts and posters, and both Thompson and Abbey were in a league of their own — and not just by contemporary Mountain Time Zone standards. I’ll put Abbey’s and Thompson’s aphorisms up against those of Will Rogers, Dorothy Parker, Ambrose Bierce and maybe even Mark Twain any day of the week. There is, of course, much more to it than that; there is the substance of the quotes, the context of those quotes and what those quotes represent relative to the two men who transcripturally birthed them. The above-listed quotes show several personality characteristics that I believe are critical components of the tribal mentality that defines the followers of Cactus Ed and Dr. Gonzo. • Both these men had big balls. They were not just in your face at a safe literary distance; they were brave, even confrontational out in the real world. Sure, they each wrote some shit just to get a rise out of people, but they also wrote shit that needed saying, shit that few other people had the stones to put on paper. Abbey spoke in favor of wolf reintroduction to ranchers in rural Montana. Thompson hung with the Hell’s Angels. At the same time, they both enjoyed agitating the ants’ nest. Provocation was not just a moral calling for these two literary icons; it was also a form of recreation. • They both redefined literary genres. For Abbey, it was the “nature” writing label he apparently disliked so much. For Thompson, it was mainly political reporting. Neither arena was ever the same again once Abbey and Thompson got done with them. I guess it can now be argued from the safety of temporal distance that their genre-bending/expanding was short-lived enough that, today, it might be referred to as “influence” rather than “redefinition.” But, as one who is old enough to remember the impact of these gentlemen, as one who can remember days when newspaper reporters still had to refer to themselves as “a visitor” in their own stories, I can’t stress enough the near-tectonic shift that Thompson and Abbey caused on literary styles we now consider status quo. Sure, both of them had their styles co-opted to the point of dilution by others, but that was not their fault. • They both were creators of fiction and non-fiction, though, with Thompson, with the exception of “The Rum Diary,” the line was a bit more blurry than it was with Abbey. This versatility gave both writers the chance to cover more potential groupie ground. Many are the fans who count “Desert Solitaire” as their favorite Abbey book, while many are the fans who prefer “The Monkey Wrench Gang.” Many Hunter fans prefer “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas” — which even the Good Doctor admitted was mostly a work of fiction, while others prefer the more non-fictiony “Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.” • Both of them were as much literary figures/characters as they were writers. The biographers of both Cactus Ed and Dr. Gonzo have spent considerable verbiage dissecting this pre-requisite for the cultish followings that gathered, and gather still, at their feet. I personally do not believe that either Thompson or Abbey set out with the idea of establishing their literary alter egos. Neither employed marketing firms to hone their image. Neither, to my knowledge, launched any lines of “Fear & Loathing” luggage or “The Monkey Wrench Gang” action figures. Still, at a certain point in their careers, Edward Abbey became, in the eyes of his followers, Cactus Ed, and Hunter Thompson became Dr. Gonzo. And these alter egos are perhaps the most crucial underpinning of the tribalism that separated Abbey and Thompson from writers of equal critical standing, from, say, John Nichols and William Eastlake. Of course, not every writer wants a literary persona, especially if it comes with a cult following. Most don’t. But both Abbey and Thompson seemed to wear the trappings of Cactus Ed and Dr. Gonzo well. At least until those trappings became frayed. Abbey said he was done writing about the Southwest. Maybe he had simply run out of material. Maybe he had grown tired of always having Cactus Ed along for the ride. And Hunter … shit .. can you imagine having to live up to the image of a man who snorted coke for breakfast? At least Abbey could still maintain his Cactus Ed image by simply walking through the desert and muttering something about development being like cancer cells. In order to keep Dr. Gonzo alive and kicking, Hunter had to maintain a physiologically unsustainable lifestyle, which he apparently did, until that fateful day in February of 2005. Of course, even his most ardent admirers will admit that his writing suffered greatly as a result of Dr. Gonzo’s inebriated presence. It’s painful to read in the various biographies how difficult it had become for Thompson to write anything. I guess, though, from the perspective of a devotee, all that is necessary is that, once upon a time, Hunter S. Thompson wrote a book called “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.” That alone raises him to mythic proportions. It is too easy to dwell upon endings, about Hunter being shot out of a cannon and about Abbey being carried off into the desert. While those endings are certainly fitting, when it comes to the tribes that follow them both, the scripture was writ in stone well before those emblematic journeys into whatever’s next. Edward Abbey and Hunter S. Thompson, though undeniably themselves influenced by the lives, works and thoughts of others before them, were their own men. They created iconic essays, articles and books on their own terms, and, as a result, their legends grew to the point that those legends defined them in the eyes of many. They blazed trails that every artist would do well to tromp upon, if only to understand that everything you create ought to be brave and honest. But I think both Thompson and Abbey would want people to remember that influence and emulation are two entirely different things. After that, a whole slew of us left Maria’s Bookstore and walked across Main Avenue to the El Rancho and drank more beer. Read about Fayhee’s list of things we have won and lost since 1972.  

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Arrested Development

The unassailable, DNA-level disdain that I harbor toward law-enforcement certainly has roots that grow back to my criminal childhood, a time during which I did not look at police officers so much as enforcers of laws (most of which I happened to disagree with), but, rather, as fun mitigators, the pendejos who came a-runnin’ after I had just participated in, say, a spate of recreational windshield-smashing. There was, not surprisingly, enough resultant heavy head-butting that lifelong stereotypes were indelibly seared into my psyche. But understanding the roots of my personal contempt for law enforcement does nothing to mitigate the reality of the situation: in my little world, all cops are guilty until proven innocent, and very few are ever proven innocent. Sure, there have been a couple times in my life when I have become chummy with a badge-wearer. While living in Colorado, I came to really like Bob Broadis, Tina White, Jim Walsh, Gary Robinson and Tom Wickman, all decent people who were more interested in making sure that everyone got home in one piece than they were in making arrests. Those, however, have been rarities in a life defined by the perception that I cannot remember a single interface with law enforcement that was made any better by the presence of law enforcement. Most have been made worse. You would think, as I approach my sixth decade, that this seemingly immature example of personal overt anti-authoritarianism — which includes not just cops, but pretty much all uniformed people (even Burger King employees and marching band members are somewhat suspect) — would soften, if not dissipate entirely. Quite the opposite, however. In these increasingly dark days of the war on drugs and MADD-based DUI-enforcement madness and DARE-based “1984”ishness and the lengthening arm of Homeland (in)Security, I find my anti-law-enforcement bile rising both more frequently and more intensely than ever. The difference that increasing age has brought is that I no longer have the energy to confront the Badges as vehemently as I used to. Twice in my life I have been handcuffed and hauled off because of my stubborn refusal to essentially kiss the ass of the cop I was dealing with, which points to yet another issue I have with the thin blue line: They often spend more time forcing people to submit to the power and glory of law enforcement than they do actually enforcing laws. Admittedly, there are plenty of folks who would argue that, given today’s worldwide terror-based circumstances, cops ought to be cut more slack than ever. There are those who observe the death knell of the Fourth Amendment by pointing to lower violent crime rates (or so those who aggregate crime statistics would have us believe). What I see is more cops on the highways and byways, more enforcement staff in national forests and parks, more military-like posturing by those whose job it supposedly is to do nothing more, nothing less than “serve and protect” — more roadblocks, more muscle flexing, more preening. It’s like law enforcement has become yet another inane Xtreme sport, with sleek body armor, blade sunglasses, tattoos and tricked-out SUVs. Where I live, with the ongoing, over-militarized war against illegal immigration, life can sometimes be trying for people like me who would be happy as a pig in slop if I never ever again rubbed elbows with a person wearing a stinking badge. If you take a drive anywhere near here — on your way to go hiking in the Chiricahuas, near the Continental Divide Trail route at the base of Big Hatchet Peak, even on the remote roads of the Gila National Forest —  you run the risk of being stopped for no other reason than you are where you are. Your very presence is considered a suspicious activity. Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Show us your papers. What I hate more than ANYTHING about our immediate law-enforcement reality down here in Border Country is that most of the clamor for increased vigilance comes from slack-jawed lawmakers who dwell in places far away from the implementation of the increasingly draconian law-enforcement policies they legislatively demand. To the senators from Kentucky and Utah who don’t seem to mind the fact that, for millions and millions of us in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas who have to deal with the ramifications of their politically motivated fear of poor brown people, let me say: Well, first, let me say: Screw you! Second, let me say that this is not Honduras. I’ve traveled in Honduras. I’ve dealt with that Third-World authoritarian “show-me-your-papers” nonsense, and I do not expect, as an American, to have to deal with such nonsense as I go about my day-to-day business. And it’s certainly not just me. Many and varied are the tales we all have heard from our various cohorts who recount having been pulled on their way back from a day on the slopes or the crags because a taillight is out, and, next thing anyone knows, there are three cop cars and a drug-sniffing dog on the scene and all manner of non-taillight-being-out action is transpiring. I have heard about people politely refusing to consent to a vehicle search and having that refusal used as probable cause to search the vehicle. I have heard about law-abiding citizens consenting to requests to have their vehicle searched, only to find themselves two hours later stranded on the side of the highway with their car seats resting upside-down on the shoulder and their luggage strewn about. Like I said, though, my fist-shaking days are likely behind me — days when I would respond to questions posed at illegal roadblocks by refusing to hand over my papers and telling the officers they have no legal right to stop me — so I now resort to more subtle (some would say masturbatory) means of making my point, though, truth be told, the cops I’m making those points to are probably too dim realize they’ve just been fracked with. I suspect most people, understanding that there’s no way they can go toe-to-toe with the long arm of the law without being dragged off to jail and consequently losing their job and custody of their kids, choose to bite their lip and answer the questions and voluntarily allow their vehicles to be searched by the American version of the Hitler Youth and maybe even say thank-you after they have been stopped by a pimply faced piece of crap who would look right at home goose-stepping in front of the Reichstag. All that considered, I faithfully convey my last few encounters with law enforcement. All immature and flaccid, yes. But recreational nonetheless. I recommend you look at these as tips and add your own personal spin when next you’re stopped for no probable cause whatsoever on a lonely desert or mountain highway by someone who’s not intellectually qualified to work at a car wash much less carry a badge and a gun. Consider this to be a primer. • B. Frank and I were making our way toward Big Bend National Park last October and, 70 miles east of El Paso on Interstate 10, there’s a permanent Border Patrol checkpoint through which all traffic must pass. When our turn came, we were asked by a young black Border Patrol Cub Scout if we were American citizens. Thing is, this young man spoke so fast, his words were barely comprehensible. Barely. I knew what he had asked us, but, just for the pure fun of it, I told him that, since he was talking so rapidly, I did not understand the question. Would he mind repeating it a bit more slowly. The young man seemed genuinely shocked. He literally took a step back and had to regain his composure. He re-posed the question almost like he was talking to a developmentally disabled kindergartner. “Are … you … American … citizens?” This example of toying with a uniformed child did nothing whatsoever to stem the erosion of the Fourth Amendment. But it sure did make me feel good. When you get to be my age, you find satisfaction in small acts of random recalcitrance. • On that same trip, B. and I were driving north toward Marfa from Presidio. I was paying less attention than I should have been to my rate of speed and was justifiably pulled by a zygote employed by the Texas State Highway Patrol. As soon as the Highway Patrol zygote approached the passenger-side, where B. was innocently sitting, I had license, registration and proof of insurance, all current and ready for inspection. This seemed to confuse the zygote. Stinking Badges prefer to control every aspect of their interactions with the huddled masses. It’s funny to see the look on their faces when they don’t. He was prepared to make his customary first contact, which undoubtedly consisted partly of asking for my papers, and, before he could do so, he had my papers in hand. He then asked me to turn my stereo down, which I had just cranked up as he approached the car. I turned it down about one thousandth of a knob turn. He asked me to roll down the back window, which I did about two-tenths of an inch. The flustered zygote then took my papers back with him to his Xtreme police-mobile and returned shortly thereafter and informed me that he was going to let me off with just a warning, a statement that’s supposed to elicit a thankful response. I grunted. Truthfully, I’m at a point in life where I did not care if he threw the book at me, and he seemed to know that. Then he asked me if B. was a friend of mine, and, to this day, I am miffed at the opportunity for further cop mind-games that was presented on a silver platter at that moment. Basically, I was caught off guard. I answered in the affirmative (B. later told me that they are legally prohibited from asking for ID from passengers at a traffic stop without probable cause or exigent circumstances; I did not know that), but regretted mightily that I did not put my hand on B.’s leg and say, no, he was my lover. Ugly as B. is, those would have been some tough words to spit out straight faced, but I’m sure the reaction from the zygote would have made the effort worthwhile. The zygote then asked me to sign the warning, which contained about 600 words of two-point print. “What am I signing here?” I asked the zygote. “The warning,” he responded. “But what’s all this fine print say?” It was clear he did not know. “How fast was I going, anyway?” I asked. “75,” he responded, with a look on his face like, “Damn, I was supposed to have mentioned that somewhere along the line. “What’s the speed limit? I asked. “70.” “OK.” With that, I drove off. No thanks, no promises to drive more slowly, no faux-friendly banter. He was still standing there on the side of the highway looking confounded as we accelerated to 73. • A few minutes later, we approached the permanent Border Patrol station south of Marfa, which looked for all the world like something straight out of Nicaragua during the heyday of the Sandinistas. Mine was the only vehicle in the queue, which was manned by two agents. “Where you going?” the one with the most zits asked. “So, what’s Marfa like?” I responded. Law-enforcement people really hate it when you answer one of their questions with a question. That this interrogative response to an interrogative was also deflective in nature apparently did not sink into the cranial mainframe of the agent with the most zits. “Well, there’s not much there, just a couple gas stations and a few restaurants,” he responded. “Well, we’ll check it out,” I said. “Have a nice day.” We drove off, and I’ll bet it was at least a half hour before the agents realized that they did not control that conversation at all, except, of course, for the fact that they were manning a legal roadblock and could have shot me in the head and probably won an award for so doing. I get it that Border Patrol agents and cops are not necessarily looking for answers to their questions; they are, rather, looking for body-language cues. Still, it feels good to drive away thinking that, even in a small way, you just got over on a child soldier. You just hope they don’t retaliate on the next guy. • It had been a miserable visit to Las Cruces, the closest city to where I live. I had driven down on a summer day to do some unavoidable and long-overdue urban errands, and everything had gone badly. I couldn’t find most of the places I was looking for, the ones I did find were closed or didn’t have what I needed and I ended up eating an awful lunch in an awful truck stop. It was also about 120 degrees. There is a permanent Border Patrol checkpoint between Las Cruces and Deming, and one of the main reasons I avoid driving to Cruces is my visceral hatred of that checkpoint, even though, almost every single time, I have just been waved through with nary a syllable exchanged. This time, I was stopped, and the midget agent asked if I was an American Citizen. Would have been easy enough to simply answer the question and drive off. But my mood was foul. “Yes. Are you?” I responded. I thought the midget’s head was going to explode. “What … what …do … you … mean … by … that?” he stammered. “Well, I’ve done quite a bit of traveling in Central America, and you look Honduran to me.” Indeed, he did look as though he came from Mayan ancestry. As his face got redder and redder, I added a bit of fuel to the fire: “Well, I figure I have as much right to ask you that question as you do to ask me.” The overall negative vibe must have been strong, because, right then, a supervisor came dashing out of the little tollbooth-looking station. He and the red-faced midget Mayan exchanged a few words, and the supervisor came over to me and said, “Sir, you have yourself a nice day.” As I drove away, I looked in the rearview mirror and saw that supervisor waving a finger about three inches under the nose of the Mayan. Probably, the supervisor was saying to the Mayan, “Look, shit for brains, next time someone does anything except answer your question, Taser him right in the eyeball.” But maybe I’m getting soft, because I’d like to think he was saying, “Hey, these people have every right as Americans, as humans, to be miffed about having to stop at a roadblock and answer questions. They have every right to be in a bad mood. So, unless you suspect them of criminal behavior, no matter what they say, you respectfully bid them a good day and return your attention to finding the real bad guys.” Here’s the thing about all four of the encounters I have herein related: The people I am essentially bragging about messing with were all friendly and professional. So, what does this say about me? It says: I don’t care if the hungry, undocumented hordes break upon our borders like a ravenous tsunami of humanity; I do not care if every man, woman and child in the nation becomes a crack addict working full time for the Zetas, if the alternative is my country turning into the police state it is clearly already turning into. Friendliness and professionalism on the part of the Stinking Badges amounts to nothing more than putting lipstick on a pig.

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Letters #192

Reader Letter

Envelope: Rod Tatsuno, Idaho

We’re in the market for decorative envelopes to help beautify our Letters pages. If you’ve got an artistic envelope bent, pull out your weapons-of-choice, decorate an envelope with our snail mail address on it, mail the resultant envelope to us, and, if we print it, we’ll give you a year’s subscription to the Mountain Gazette.

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MJF: Inspired by your “Arrested Development” column (Smoke Signals, MG #186): In late 1976, I was a Physics major at CSU. My wife was working at some mundane vitality-sapping job with a bunch of lifeless zombies to pay the bills and concurrently put her husband through school. I was at my desk, fulfilling homework requirements and feeling weighted-down by whatever I figured the oppressive demands of the quotidian sought to drain from my soul. Like rainwater, my attention went from the textbooks to listlessly turning the pages of a CSU general information booklet. I flipped through the requirements for other degrees, and, lo and behold, there was a certificate I was well on the way to fulfilling, which was somewhat similar (maybe only in name only) to that which I had two years yet to attain. I could graduate with this other degree in one year. I felt better already.

Physical Science. I already had the biology (a prior attempt at another major), all the math (hard-core physics mandated an additional four or so courses), most the miscellaneous requirements, except for two categories. Humanities and upper-division courses.

I became an expert at upper-division humanities without prerequisites. I believe I took all classes in that category that the university offered. History of Jazz. Introduction to Formal Logic. The Nature of Culture. History of Ancient Israel (at least I had to, finally, read the entire Old Testament, among other things). The only non-post-grad-level Linguistics course. And Politics and the Environment.

Politics and the Environment was intended to be somewhat “left-leaning,” in that the professor who had always taught it was of the viewpoint that The Environment usually got screwed when coming up against Politics. The first day of class, Professor Meeks took the lectern and made his introduction. Apparently, the usual teacher for this course was missing in some foreign country or something like that, so the university procured a last-minute stand-in. And he announced that, though he did not share the other teacher’s view of the environment needing some assistance in the fight with politics, he’d try to present the material as even-keeled as he could.

He was an enthusiastic lecturer. He’d pace back-and-forth on the stage (the venue for the class was a small auditorium) gesturing and debating points, usually smoking a cigarette, with a NO SMOKING sign high on the wall over-head. He’d finish each smoke, looking down to crush the butt under his heel while maintaining his monologue. I’d look around at the three or so dozen other students, most of whom appeared to be in a trance, or between bouts of light sleep. It seemed incongruous — no, not the smoking — that he’d be pontificating loudly, sometimes waving his arms to make a point, and we’d seem to be … well, so dead.

One day I sat for coffee with him after class. I mentioned the seemingly strange phenomenon of him lecturing enthusiastically, while most or all the class sat there quietly, as if in a stupor or something. I said that I’d been considering doing something to liven up the class. I had a starter’s pistol at home (used to start running races) and thought of staging a mock assassination as he lectured. I am pretty darned sure that he was not adverse to this idea.

THE VERY NEXT DAY the lecture topic was Politics and Overpopulation. And, I had packed the aforesaid starter’s gun in my daypack. Professor Meeks paced back and forth as usual, puffing on a cigarette every few sentences. He progressed toward the scenario of a regime in a country deciding that having many more citizens would be an asset. Out-number the neighbors, more bodies for the army.

“Now, imagine that I am the dictator of your country. I am not a democratically elected leader; I have seized control through ruthless  means. And I appear on the national media and issue an edict: YOU MUST HAVE MORE CHILDREN! How would you REACT?”

I’m sure he looked right at me. “He’s calling my bluff!” I thought. Professor Meeks repeated the ultimatum. “You must have more children! How would you react?”
“Why, I’d shoot you,” I said as I stood, aiming the pistol at him and pulling the trigger. As expected, the class was stunned, and it’s safe to say everyone was awake. The Professor did not miss more than half a beat.

“That fellow would shoot me,” gesturing in my direction.  “What would the rest of you do?”

“I’d complain and write to my congressman,” announced a girl. A few other classmates joined in the discussion. This was more group interaction by far than this class had ever had. I thought my job was done, until the next day.

I should not have continued to carry the pistol in my knapsack, but after class the following day, several town and university officers were waiting for me to leave the room. I was arrested, and led away in handcuffs. After telling my story, more than once, ending up with the chief of the University Police, most of them thought that this circumstance was not only ironic, but a little silly. Arrested for shooting Hitler. The Chief was surprisingly human, and in spite of the uniform, very much like a normal open-minded reasonable person.

I was called a few days later and told that the charges were dropped. The CSU police had consulted with the County D.A. Charges? “Using a facsimile weapon in a manner intended to cause stress and alarm.” Oh, the things I do to help make class interesting.

Rosco Betunada,
Whitewater CO

High Praise for MG’s Covers

J. Fayhee and Gazette Crew: Congrats on your 40th anniversary! It is great to see that, after so much time, you continue to put out quality articles, pushing the edge of political correctness and imagination. Although I have not been alive as long as my dear Gazette, I have been an avid reader since my late teens, first drawn in by the visual appeal of your covers.

I was pleasantly surprised after reading through my first Mountain Gazette, and was glad that you were more than just a pretty face. I grew to love your covers, and love your stories. It was around issue #104 that I stopped throwing away the covers and started papering the walls of my college dorm with them. The covers have been torn from wall after wall only to be rehung in new locations. They have graced my ski bum cottages, houses in Colorado, Utah and Florida, and they all now reside in my classroom, where I am an 8th grade science teacher in Aspen (minus certain issues, specifically #113, which would distract the 13-year-old boys in my class for a long, long time). After covering my cabinets, they have slowly snaked around the room.

One day, while the kids were taking a test, I let my eyes drift through the beautiful artwork you all have created through out the years, and I made a rough estimate that I will be set to retire around issue #490. I am looking forward to reading that issue, but more importantly, I look forward to pinning that cover up in some off-the-grid cabin deep in the mountains, where I only have to visit with folks when I come into town to pick up the new Mountain Gazette.

Until then, thanks for all you do.

Brandy Keleher

Cover contest angst

Dear Mountain Gazette, I will not be voting in your cover contest today. I am too disappointed in the cover choices that you made available to voters. When I saw the “Cover Contest” headline on Facebook, I jumped to the MG page knowing exactly which cover I would vote for, but it was, alas, not on the list of options. The cover I reference, and have framed and hanging in my house, is from issue #96. It is a photograph of an ancient old man standing atop a rocky crag high above a mountain lake. He is wearing a rack of climbing gear and is tied into the end of a climbing rope. He looks cold and exhausted and utterly happy. His giant hands are gnarled and probably aching. His furrowed brow exclaims the feat he’s just endured. It’s a great moment captured by whoever had the pleasure of climbing with the tough old gent. And, in my opinion, it deserves a spot on the list of options for cover contest, as it captures mountain life at its finest moments. Maybe you could replace one of the five half-dressed female figures on the list (Fayhee’s picks no doubt) with #96.

Jeannie M. Barton

Editor’s note: The cover photo referenced was of none other than Fred Beckey.

Futile Book Search

M. John (I can call you that, can’t I?): Although we’ve never formally met, I feel like we’ve known each other for years, being that I’ve read the Mountain Gazette and your columns since its resurrection. In fact, you may not recall, but at the time you were bringing it back to life in ’99, I was living in Summit County and working in the marketing department at Copper Mountain — “working” being a relative term, if you call being cooped up in an office during Summit County summers for nominal pay “work”; more like … well, anyways, it was soon after that that I saw the light and spent the following six years working outside in the county every day, like the Postal Service says — through rain, sleet or snow — tons of snow during a good winter and tons of sun, followed by afternoon rain storms that operated like clockwork in the spring and summers.

Anyways, getting back to my tangent before I get to my point for writing … you were calling the Copper Mountain marketing department and trying to line up meetings with the director in order to figure out a way Copper could support the Gazette’s return and since I was the hired summertime help that answered the phone, all your calls usually went through me and I helped you and whoever it was that you were working with at the time line up those meetings. Not that you don’t know the rest of the story, but the Gazette opened up shop shortly thereafter on Main St. Frisco and I’ve been a reader ever since. I’d see you around town — usually at the Moose Jaw and other watering holes in the county, and, as typical in Summit, recognized you as one of the locals, but we never really interacted. I’ve been from the county to the California coast and now in Boulder for the last six years, where I never fail to snag a copy of the Gazette whenever I see it. Which brings me to why I’m writing …

I remember seeing the ads not too long ago in the Gazette for the book that was published that’s a collection of your writings — the “Colorado Mountain Companion” — we’ll I’ve searched all over. You name the local book store, and I’ve looked there; you name the used bookstore, and I’ve looked there; you name the big-box book retailer, and I’ve looked there; you name the internet site, and I’ve looked there. I give up. I can’t find it anywhere. I’ve been told it was printed in limited quantities and is out of stock (Amazon will even sell it to you for $25 and send you a copy “if” it gets one); but this is Colorado, and I know there’s gotta be a copy somewhere. I’m not the one to give up easily … and I’m patient, so I’m still determined to find it. I like to consider myself fairly intelligent, resourceful and intuitive, but not so much when it finally dawned on me to email you and ask if YOU could tell me where I could get a copy???

Hope you get back to me, keep up the good work, and one of these days I run into you somewhere in these hills I’ve always told myself I’d buy you a beer for being one of the contributing forces behind a magazine like the Mountain Gazette, which has shaped and articulated and reflected so much of my experience of living in Colorado.

Thanks. Let me know.
Andrea Meneghel

P.S.: By the way, where is the Mountain Gazette’s office these days??? In the masthead, there’s a Boulder P.O. box listed with a Virginia phone number. What’s up with that?

Editor’s note: Thank you for your diligence. The book to which you refer, “The Colorado Mountain Companion: A Potpourri of Useful Miscellany from the Highest Parts of the Highest State,” has finally been released. As to the P.S., our sister publication, Elevation Outdoors, has an office in Boulder. Therefore, we use that as our mailing address. The company that owns us both, Summit Publishing, is HQ’d in Charlottesville. Ergo the Virginia phone number. MG operates as a virtual office. Yours truly lives in the Border Country. Our art director lives in Oregon. Our ad people are spread all over the place.

Let there be light

Dearest Mountain Gazette,

I am just partaking in your 40th Edition and lovin’ every minute of it. 1969 was a year of innovation. Bob Gore developed Gore-Tex, but, being skiing dirtbags we were still in the 60/40 material era, what rocked our world was Bob Smith’s new goggle. I was working at Pete Lane’s in Sun Valley, a gathering place for the old-world cognoscenti of skiing. We had tried everything to see in the powder: Boutons, Uvex, Carreras with Band-aids over the air inlets. Bob walked in with some prototypes, which we fought over. The result: Let there be light! We could see. We proudly displayed Smith Scars on the bridges of our noses for the season, a result of going over the front in the deep snow with our narrow Head Standards, the powder ski of choice in those days. The goggles were a bit stiff and unforgiving in their earliest stages, but we didn’t care.

Keep up the good work, showing the fun side of the mountain experience.

Steve Riley,
Ketchum, Idaho

Monkee Voodoo on Halfmoon Creek

Dear M. John: Greetings from Half Moon Road. We read the most recent Smoke Signals with great interest (“The Fire Rings of Halfmoon Creek,” MG #190). We are the only people that truly reside on Half Moon Road. We have the purple barn with the United States and Peace Flag flying. We do hope you noticed us. We have been here 18 years in August and are heading into our 19th winter. We have seen it all.

Interestingly, we know very little of what goes on up Half Moon Road. We have other, better options. Our local friends refer to it as “Little Denver.” We do have many tales of the general public visiting our spectacular, easily accessed piece of the Divide.

We ate dust for years until we figured out that this road was illegal for Colorado Air Quality Standards. Too much traffic.

An endless parade of RVs, macho SUVs, beat-up pick-ups, ATVs, dirtbikes, plain old cars and bicycles and runners. Trying to get away from it all and simultaneously bringing it all with them.

2,375 “trips” past this house in seven days of rain following the 4th of July, 2007.

We got recycled asphalt laid down and improved the air quality by leaps and bounds.

Another problem was the tendency to plow to our house and stop in the winter. This created a winter trailhead, literally, outside our front door.

The general public has a tendency to keep going through unplowed snow until they get stuck. Or they forget sunscreen. Or water. Or gloves. Our favorite is the group that came knocking on the door at 4 a.m. looking for a pipe so they could get stoned for the sunrise in January.

Oh the stories!

We have resolved the trailhead issue through many years of battle with Lake County.  We have an awesome county commissioner now who has worked with us to fix things.

We have direct access to private land and the federal wilderness beyond. That place is our cathedral.

We know nothing of the fire rings up Half Moon Road. We laugh hysterically at your descriptions. We are not surprised. We love reading about your interpretation of Halfmoon. We have gone up there a few times and have run into some real Monkee Voodoo. It is ridiculous, the traffic going up into the campgrounds!!

We love this place. We belong to it. It belongs to us.

If this letter were to be printed, we are not sure we are comfortable with our full names being attached. This is a funny place to live in terms of being both isolated and very public.

Therese and Rocky

Gun Thoughts

John: I’m not a climber, but enjoyed #189 about those who do — dog issue is still the best  — but, thinking about topical issues, have you ever considered one on guns?  I’ve lived in the Colorado mountains most of my life. I own guns and I used to hunt. But, ever since I was a Boy Scout in the 1950s, it has never occurred to me to carry a gun when I camp, fish or hike. Lately, I have become aware of several acquaintances who do carry weapons in their backpacks, even on short day hikes. Is this becoming the norm these days? It might make an interesting issue just to try to find out how your readers feel, experiences they’ve had, etc. You have at least one reader who’d be interested.

Roger Miller,
Nathrop, CO

Parodied Parody

John: When I first read the “Rumble in Hawai’i” story by Craig Childs  in #187, I thought it was well-done and useful, a cautionary tale of how easy it is to get on the wrong side of the locals even in your own country and with the best of intentions. But I have to give credit where it’s due. Robert Shepherd’s parody of the “ugly Coloradan” in #189 — booted, backpacked and obtuse — is brilliant. I especially loved the conceit that if a natural disaster — fire? flood? windstorm? — wipes out your gazebo, your land becomes everybody’s. A perfect expression of cultural arrogance. (I’m just glad he didn’t identify himself as a Californian. We already have a bad enough reputation!) OK, kinda mean but definitely funny.

Walt Read
Fresno, CA

J-Tree Paradise

John: Charles Clayton’s “Jesus and the Joshua Tree, or How I Almost Became a Climber” (MG #189) reminded me of J-Tree’s effect on this non-climber. While not a religious experience per se, I certainly thanked Gawd for that place during my visit. It’s a park that always held some level of enchanting curiosity for me. If I had to place on objective attraction on it, it’s the desert Seussical landscape, groves of goofy-looking lily relatives resembling toy poodle arbors, the botanical reincarnate of the Muppets’ “Animal” in the hugantic desert palms, and, of course, the rock formations, some literally appearing as vertical  geological jigsaw puzzles or even ice cream cones. I recall one that was a perfect V cut into the cliff with a perfect sphere cradled perfectly in the top! J-Tree was all I’d hoped for.

What I didn’t expect was the climbing-friendly rocks! I am not a climber and have little, if any, interest in (though appreciate the skill involved) scaling up walls and back down when I could be coursing in and out of canyons seeking oases and staking out austere mountain passes looking for desert bighorns. However, by the amount of climbing one sees there, you can’t help but feel some sort of tacit peer pressure, and the fact that the large-grit sandpaper rock surfaces make for fairly easy jaunts up 89-degree surfaces made me a dilettante free climber for that week.

In the mornings and after dinner, all I’d have to do is put a boot up and lean forward and upwards to start my way to some outcropping 100 feet above me. It was on some of these perched rock jumbles I have some of my fondest J-Tree recollections. The friendly free-climbing allowed me to scale up to vantage points to see the solar carpet and purple shadows see-saw with each other across this fantastic landscape — a religious experience of its own kind.

Tony Smith
East Longmeadow, MA

Editor’s note: Given the fact that our snail mail address is two states away from where our editor lives, handwritten, typed and scrawled Letters to the Editor often take a while to reach the Official Desk. These next three letters were sent our way last spring. The stagecoach to Gila Country is running slower than ever.

Even More Colorado Songs

Hi, Mr. Fayhee: The Colorado Songs article was wonderful. (Smoke Signals, “Colorado Songs,” MG #185.) It was surprising how many songs exist referencing Colorado. Many of those listed are new to me. And you are right, in that this reader and others can come up with more. Here’s one: A group called Grubstake has a folk-oriented tune that might be called “The Colorado Song”. Harry Tuft, a local folk legend, is one of Grubstake’s musicians, along with three or so others.  He runs the Folklore Center in Denver.

The song deals with visitors to CO that stay, thereby adding to the population.

I recall one stanza running something like: “Now we’re having trouble with the jet set/Them lazy no good bastards love to ski/ And they all want fly to Colorado and buy up all our mountain scenery.”

The chorus is roughly: “Oh you can visit now and then/Bring your money and your friends/Just don’t forget to leave when you get through.”

I suppose other Western states enduring an influx of folks have similar songs and sentiments.

Thanks again for a fun article,

Rainer (Said Ry’-ner) Hantschel
Denver, CO

Utah Songs

Hello: I live in Colorado. I know all these Colorado songs and like them, but let me make a suggestion for the finest song about our neighbor to the West. “Utah,” by the Osmonds, off of their hard-rockin’ 1972 album “Crazy Horses.” It is one of the most amazingly non-specific songs ever written … no references to anything that might make Utah a special place, except that the Osmonds live there, and they are going back there because it’s home and “the place to be.” (The least they could have done is make a pro-Mormon pitch like they did on their follow-up album, “The Plan”). That said, it’s a good solid rocker by a truly astounding and underrated group of young men.

Dan Groth
Durango, CO

Shouldn’t have got that MBA

Dear John, Hey — I figured I could call you John as 1) I love the Mountain Gazette, 2) Sometime in the ’80s, my ex-wife & I were just coming down from hiking Greys Peak ( I believe … at 57 now I can barely remember my name, much less which 14ers we hiked) and you were hitchhiking down the road + we gave you a ride, 3) I’m re-reading your book, “Up At Altitude” 4) I pick up this great copy of MG at Ken Sanders’  Rare Books — EARTH FIRST!

Hey — great magazine — A. Stark’s article, “Cosmic Justice” (MG #185) strikes a cord — in 1975 myself + ex brother in law + other best friend camped up the rock north of Nederland + hiked Arapahoe Peak — then, as the road was too tough to drive a fucking Ford Fairlane back down to Boulder to get booze (before Pearl Street was rebuilt) my pal + I hiked from Rainbow Lakes to Nederland to hitch to Boulder. I too noticed these cows, all smarter than me — all trying to deter me from getting my MBA.

I should have listened.

Anyway, I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your publication — like Bowden’s “Tucson City Weekly” in the ’80s — like Jim Stile’s Moab Rants — like DeVere Hinkley’s ’80s single-spaced typed eight-page missives from Cowley, Wyoming — “The Cowley Progress” — the must-read “A Man Can Believe Anything.”

Take Care – keep it going!

In the Service of Her Majesty — Mother Earth! EF!

Dave Naslund
Loving life behind the ZION CURTAIN

A Sport That Encourages Drinking & Smoking!

Hi! Well March did come in like a lion in these parts — but it sure seems way to lamb-ish too soon! Snow is certainly fading fast — faster than ever I’d bet! Some would claim it’s been mud season all winter. Of course, we’re spoiled here with our geographic advantage — skiing’s been fine to great — alpine @ Wolf Creek and nordic all over our little corner of the state. I don’t mind the mud — it goes away on ground and shoes —eventually. I only hate the wind — the Chinese claim it’s evil — I won’t argue that. I am looking forward to hiking now, I must admit, though, I suspect the beetle-killed pines may pose a real danger when the winds rip!

In the meantime, there’s disc golf — I think you’d really like it ,M. John F. You can smoke & drink before, during & after and throwing things at a target satisfies the primal urge — hunting?

Anyway, I wanted to send in a decorated envelope, haven’t gotten to fully digest the dog issue of MG and didn’t want to wait for the next issue. Love ’em all — only wish they were LONGER — with more info, fotos, etc.

If you want to play Pagosa’s sweet disc golf course, look me up and I’ll get you discs & show you around the course — it’s truly a sweet one! Won’t be ready for a bit of course, got to dry up the ice, snow & mud!

Happy Spring!

Addi G.
Pagosa Springs

Editor’s note: The following two Letters were addressed to long-rime MG contributor George Sibley in response to his article, “The Colorado: The First River of the Anthropocene,” which appeared in MG #188.


Hi George: Greetings from Silverton, where the aspens in my yard finally popped their buds just yesterday …

Really enjoyed your piece in MG and the turning two-by-four studs back into trees analogy! Thanks for injecting this much more useful perspective into the mind-numbing litany of “woe is us” literature on the River.

FYI — CSAS, in discussing our organizing premise, talks about the “anthroposphere” and the “music of the spheres” (atmos-, litho-,cryo-, and anthropo-spheres) … the anthropocene is the context for all this!


Chris Landry, Executive Director,
Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies

Silverton CO

George: Beer or wine? I want to know what to buy you in appreciation of your latest work. In fact, whiskey is not out of the question.

I thoroughly enjoyed this essay each time I read it and only curse the Gazette’s format for the difficulty of scanning it so I can distribute it to my fellow members on the Grand Mesa Water Conservancy District board — even if it’s to watch them choke on the word Anthropocene. Congratulations on another fine job.

Thanks again.
Jim Durr


Mountain Media #192

Salt to Summit

Books: “Salt To Summit: A Vagabond Journey from Death Valley to Mount Whitney,” by Daniel Arnold

As the crow flies, 84.6 miles separate Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States, from the lowest in North America, Badwater Basin in Death Valley. One could choose to bridge the distance between the two points with roads and established trails in 146 miles, but you would miss the raw power of the landscape they circumvent. It is for precisely that reason that writer and vagabond extraordinaire, Daniel Arnold, decided to take the route less travelled, which he chronicles in his latest book, “Salt to Summit.”

Determined to link these natural wonders in his own way, Daniel escapes Los Angeles by bus and hitchhikes the last stretch of road into Death Valley to begin his adventure. After topping off his 85-pound pack, lovingly nicknamed “The Goblin,” with water, he sets off across the same salty flats that drove uninitiated pioneers to madness and death. Aimed at the summit of Mount Whitney, Daniel lets the need for water, the curves of unfamiliar canyons, the trails of daredevil sheep and the oppressive sun determine his path to the summit.

This is more than a tale of climbing Mount Whitney from the very bottom. It’s a tale of how the wilds have always found handholds in us and what is possible when we follow the pressure. Before Arnold, the Shoshone, the Paiute, John Muir, Mary Austin, mysterious hermits and legendary 49ers all chose to survive by the rules of this desolate country to reach one end or another.  Daniel uses these mostly forgotten histories to shade the story of his excursion with a depth that tugs at the reader’s sense of adventure and makes them wonder why they aren’t out exploring the same wild spaces before it’s too late.  $17.95,

— Cole Lehman 

souls and water

Short Film: “Of Souls + Water,” by Forge Motion Pictures

Forge Motion, a small film company founded in 2007, attracted the attention of many in the paddling community with its 2011 film “Wildwater.” Billed as a “journey into the mind and soul of whitewater,” the initial trailer for “Wildwater” featured stunning HD video footage of one of the most impressive feats in modern whitewater kayaking — a record-high June 2010 run of Idaho’s North Fork of the Payette. By combining off-the-charts production values and filming techniques, talented athletes and thoughtful interviews, Forge Motion produced a landmark achievement in paddling cinematography.

Now, a year later, Forge Motion is back with another project for the paddling community. Produced in association with NRS, “Of Souls + Water” is a series of five video shorts released monthly starting in April 2012. The films consist of gorgeous, slow-motion shots that at times feel more like photography than film, accompanied by a monologue delivered by the nameless subject. The jaw-dropping visuals go a long way toward anchoring the somewhat abstract philosophical musings that anyone who has spent time on the water can relate to, but ultimately hardcore boaters accustomed to watching tightly cut sequences of stout drops with a pulsing Dub Step soundtrack will likely be disappointed by the slow pace and lack of a narrative. Those looking for an artistic examination of how the waterways we love share the human experience, however, will find Forge’s newest work thought provoking, inspiring and deeply memorable. Free,

— Ben Peters

reveal the path

Film: “Reveal the Path,” by Mike Dion

In Mike Dion’s latest mountain-bike film, “Reveal the Path,” he and three compatriots (including Tour Divide record holder Matthew Lee) travel on a global bikepacking trip to ride new trails, meet new people and challenge themselves at every turn. While it’s missing the built-in narrative of Dion’s previous film, “Ride The Divide,” “Reveal The Path” does a wonderful job at inspiring a little wanderlust, which the film declares to be its objective in the opening scene. Mission accomplished, then, right? Mostly.

I was left wanting more stories at every stop, and specifically, more about the inter-destination travel. The four riders flew from the U.S. to Wales to Switzerland to Morocco to Nepal to Alaska. Anyone who’s flown more than a couple states away knows that the farther you travel, the greater the likelihood of lost baggage, missed planes, surly customs agents and interpersonal discord. How difficult was it to bring four mountain bikes and all the gear between countries?

That said, the time the riders spent in Nepal looked like just about the most fun you could have on two wheels — until they flew to Alaska and broke out fatbikes for some beach riding. The smiles in the Alaskan segment likely did as much as the rest of the film to inspire folks to go ride a bike and find their own path. $29.99,

— Brian Bernard

Après ski, the party at the end of the slopes

Apres Ski Party

Sundog of Steamboat Springs photo by George Fargo

You just shredded every possible stash of new powder, so the need for après-ski brews, grub and the exchange of grandiose snow tales is well justified. A little music wouldn’t hurt either. Lucky you — après-ski drinking and music are synonymous and plentiful around the slopes of every resort mountain town. Ever since there’s been après ski, there have been musicians trying to book a gig at it. On stage for the past decade or three are those same musicians cranking out mostly the same tunes for so long that they’re back in vogue. They can play the same music every afternoon because the majority of the faces change every few days. Order up another beer because these timeless troubadours are actually making you look very cool and lyric savvy with their popular songs that everyone knows every word to.

Although the set lists between musicians vary slightly, there are some who venture beyond the island genre of Jimmy Buffett, since apparently it doesn’t matter whether the H²O is frozen or if there’s a beach involved, because it’s all about vacation mentality.

Arnie J. Green has been funking up the stages of après ski venues for twenty years with his quartet Arnie J. Green with Shoes. “I didn’t need shoes living in the Bay Area,” he explains of his move from San Francisco and the band’s name. “I had a couple pair of sandals and two pairs of socks when I moved up to Grand Lake and at 8,700 feet. Shoes were no longer optional.”

There were many gigs throughout the 1990s at the Derailer in Winter Park (where the crowd is still blowing off steam when that whistle blows). “The après stuff was usually solo, or me and a drummer who sang bass lines and tenor harmonies. It was nuts, but people loved the old R&B stuff because we could create a dance groove,” Green says. “We didn’t get a lot of typical requests because we weren’t your typical après line-up. Most people were playing Buffet, the Dead and John Denver. It’s not the stuff I wanted to play, so I didn’t do it. I don’t think too many people were offended.” (Arnie is along-time mainstay performer at the Dillon Dam Brewery in Dillon, CO.)

Tourists on vacation tend to be more tolerant of different types of music, even if it’s not their style, as long as it’s played well. But the majority of resort bars prefer a smorgasbord repertoire, since their guests range from young families to mezzo-centenarians to the college crowd who will request Taylor Swift to Willie Nelson to Tupac.

Bill Dowell has been playing après-ski gigs since he landed in Crested Butte in 1982, back when there were more venues. As an acoustic soloist, he covered a lot of Jackson Brown, Dan Fogelberg and Cat Stevens. Since most of the tourists were from Texas, Oklahoma and points south, the requests were for popular classic country tunes. “Back then, they loved to hear ‘Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw’.”

Bill verifies the après need for anything Buffett and, when combined with a country twang, it was all the rage to make you feel good and tap your feet. His current band, High Nowhere, is still rocking slopeside at Butte 66, the only après ski with live music on the Crested Butte mountain. The tastes haven’t changed all that much, Bill says. “They like the stuff they’ve heard and listened to for years, but there are a lot of younger kids, who, as they were growing up, their parents listened to the Beatles, the Stones and other now-classic rock, and those kids recognize and appreciated that music as the foundation for the music they’re listening to today.”

Ski Town USA, aka Steamboat Springs, has veteran-of-the-après clan, Randy Kelley, who has been entertaining the throngs of snow people since 1979. “I’ve seen a few seasons,” says the founder of the band Sundog. “First, we were right at the base of the mountain at Spaces, which became The Inferno. We’ve been playing at the Bear River, bottom floor of the Sheridan, right where you take your skis off, three and four days a week.” His band has been covering the required eclectic music from jazz to bluegrass, classic rock to classic country for twenty-three years. He boasts that they’ve forgotten more songs than some bands have learned. Randy does wonder though why one of the most requested songs from eight-year-old kids seems to be “I Love This Bar.”

Most musicians love the après-ski gigs … there’s no pressure, everyone’s elated about a fine day on the mountain, and it’s great fun to watch the crowd get happier as the brews get poured, the ski clothes come off and everyone’s down to dancing in boots and long johns. Hell, yes, bring it on.

Dawne Belloise is a writer, photographer and vocalist who has performed more après-ski gigs than she can recall. She has currently taken leave of the real world to move back to her clan in Crested Butte. Contact 

Taos Hum

MG 192 Brew Notes

Sometime late in the last century, rumors of a mysterious low-level hum audible in and around Taos, NM, grew loud enough to draw national attention. Congress ordered an inquiry, and some of the brightest minds from institutions across New Mexico descended on the hapless village to get to the bottom of this “nonsense.” The scientists eventually focused on a group of roughly 1,500 people, and determined that, at most, two percent of the population perceived a low-level rumbling noise with no discernible source. The “hearers,” as they became known, were consistent in their descriptions of the phenomena and tests ruled out physiological reasons as a possible cause.

The scientists left baffled, concluding that the evidence could not disprove the existence of the hum. Later, sources not interviewed by the Congressional team emerged, and firsthand accounts agree the root cause of the hum in Taos was likely a series of Grateful Dead shows that went down seventy miles to the Southwest in Santa Fe, NM, September 10-13, 1983. A quick listen to “West LA Fadeaway” from the night of the Sept. 11 confirms it: weirdness was rampant, magick unleashed. While science cannot explain the exact meta-geophysical mechanism by which the energy and glow of thousands of hallucinating individuals writhing together to the cacophony of their manic screams mingled with music blasting from deafening amplifiers actually caused certain layers of the Earth’s crust to resonate around the city of Taos, agreement is unanimous that, “well, the shit must have been real good”.

It is well known by locals that sitting down for a pint of the fresh after riding the fresh is an excellent way to relax and tune in to the cosmic vibes emanating from the hills around. To that end, a new venture, Taos Mesa Brewing opened its doors recently. With a menu created by local rockstar chef Scott Barady and a state-of-the-art venue for live music, they plan to have the valley rocking and the beer flowing in time for the season opener this year. In addition to brewing beer, private-label wine sourced from regional producers is also available. It is uncommon to find this in combination with a production brewery, and the wine offering adds a degree intrigue to their operation. Clearly, these people have heard the siren call of the hum, itself perhaps a beacon for the wisdom of the Age of Aquarius, the bringer of water and sign of the times (see MG #191).

A short distance from the historic old-town plaza, Eske’s Brewpub offers excellent fare and fine brews in a century-old building. Of note is the chile beer that is offered. For those unaware, the famous green chile grown near the towns of Hatch, Socorro and Lemitar, NM, while bearing some physical resemblance to what marketing teams from the Golden State have hoodwinked your average grocery store conglomerate into believing are “Anaheim Chilis” (note the misspelling as well), in fact bear no flavor resemblance at all to the pusillanimous Anaheim. First off, they are fucking piquant. Not in the melt-your-face-off manner of the habañero or tabasco, but in a solid full-tongue-engulfed-in-nuclear-hellfire kind of way. Yes, milder varieties are grown, but this seems to be dependent on rainfall rather than genetics. Eske’s has taken these chiles and infused the subtle smokiness from their roasted flesh along with the right amount of heat into a simple base beer that reflects these qualities cleanly. Many have attempted this feat, but few have achieved harmony like Eske’s has between these flavor aspects.

It is possible that finding the proper balance of flavor and heat in a chile beer is, in fact, impossible outside of the state of New Mexico. In his treatise on anatomy, the prominent Western philosopher Rene Descartes (the “I-think-therefore-I-am” dude), wrote that the heart was a pump for heat, pushing this life-giving blessing throughout the body and thus sustaining life in all creatures. While modern medical science has proven his theories to be slightly off, it is possible that, in the Land of Enchantment, the heat from the chile, like the mysterious hum of Taos, courses through the hearts and minds of the people and mountains and sustains the spell that makes this place so fascinating.

Erich Hennig lives in Durango, CO, and is always on the lookout for excellent green chile. Drop him a line: 

Ski Good Or Eat Wood: White Grizzly Adventures


It was dark and cold on a March Sunday at 4:30 a.m. outside the Sawtooth Hotel on Ace of Diamonds Street in Stanley, Idaho, many days the coldest town in the continental U.S. Right on time, Karl Weatherly, the well-known, fine ski/mountain photographer, pulled up in front of the Sawtooth in his 2002 BMW M3 which, I was soon to learn, he drives, as noted in my journal that night, “…with skill but like a maniac and I am really uncomfortable in the car with him.”

Maniac. Uncomfortable. Really.

Karl and I had met a few times but didn’t really know each other when he asked if I was interested in going to White Grizzly Lodge near Meadow Creek in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia for a few days of cat skiing. I checked out its web site, which proclaims “Hibernation is for wimps.” It seemed interesting, different, quirky and, you know, worth a try, and so it proved to be. We all live in Ketchum, but my partner Jeannie Wall and I spent that weekend at the Sawtooth for a book reading/signing at the hotel, some backcountry skiing on Banner Summit and the best food in the Sawtooth Valley in the company of friends. So I rose early and left lucky Jeannie to her sweet dreams and another day in the backcountry and joined Karl in the BMW. He had made the hour drive from Ketchum in 45 minutes and we had 12 hours to do the 15 hour drive to catch the last Ferry across Kootenay Lake in order to be at orientation and dinner at White Grizzly, but I didn’t know any of that until we were on the road and words like “maniac” and “uncomfortable” were sliding through my mind the way the BMW was (skillfully) sliding through the twisty black ice corners of Highway 75 on what is known in daylight hours as the Salmon River Scenic Byway. Committing to long drives with casual acquaintances is never risk-free.

After one particularly unnerving slide, Karl noticed my discomfort and immediately assured me with his soft North Carolina accent that, because of the superiority of the car, the tires on the car and the skill of the driver of the car, there was nothing to worry about. Everything was under control. After all, his car is equipped with radar detector and GPS. Besides, he explained, he likes to drive fast and outlined the time constraints involved in catching the ferry and, with what I have come to know as a particularly Karl Weatherly (maniacal?) smile, he immersed himself in what he likes to do, a trait I recognize, admire, practice and, my own discomfort notwithstanding, consider healthy for both individual and society. Still, it was a wild, stressful (for the passenger), amazing ride I’ll not soon forget, and, as I learned, a perfect warm-up and introduction to White Grizzly Lodge cat skiing.

We made the Kootenay ferry with 45 minutes to spare and dinner that night was worth the drive.

White Grizzly Lodge is a labor of love and the love of labor of its owners, Carole and Brad Karafil, who, though they have university degrees in things like biology, special education, business and accounting, have devoted their lives to skiing. They met in 1990 when Brad was 19 and Carole 29 and have been together ever since, and, in my view, they are both personally and professionally wonderful. They have owned and operated White Grizzly since 1998. I have been skiing for more than 60 years in a wide range of mountains, terrain, snow conditions, skiing pursuits and challenges, and I’ve never experienced anything quite like what Brad and Carole offer.

I mean, White Grizzly Lodge is not for every skier, not even for every good skier, not even for every very good powder skier. The lodge is rustic and spotless and the food exquisite, but among the many souvenirs, oil paintings, mugs and skiing accessories for sale are two revealing bumper stickers: SKI GOOD OR EAT WOOD and KEEP UP OR FUCK OFF.

Brad puts it this way: “I’d rather have eight skiers with the skills and experience to enjoy what we are offering here, than have eleven where three of them struggle and hold up the group because they aren’t fit for the terrain … We screen our guests because we aren’t willing to take those risks on the mountain. It’s about finding a balance. I value safety because I want to keep on doing what I do, and we only bring in guests that love steep powder, so my reward is being with them on the mountain every day.”

According to Carole, the French Canadian: “It’s the art of experience really, paying attention to all the details. What we do is a labour of love, and I want to celebrate that. I would really like to see more creative works coming through cat skiing. It’s all about carving the white, however you see it. It’s a very subtle thing.”

Carving the white is subtle, but skiing steep, deep powder in closely spaced trees in the company of 15 yelping, yodeling closely spaced other skiers (some of them sometimes a bit spacey) is as exhilarating as Karl’s driving, as subtle as one can make it. There is room at White Grizzly for 12 guests. One of three snowcats is used every day and each customized (by Brad, a master metal worker) snowcat is big enough for the guests, four guides and a driver. The lodge tends to get repeat customers, often repeat groups. The week we were there, I was one of two White Grizzly neophytes. The main group of seven Canadians had skied together for 25 and more years and consisted of Andrew Buck, Jay Wilgar, Matt Walker, Chris Andrews and Matt Stemerdink, who grew up in Ontario and learned to ski on the 200 vertical feet of Chicopee Ski Hill as boys; Tom Kusomoto of Calgary; and Darin Cox of Vancouver, B.C. Stemerdink and Wilgar had skied together since they were three years old, and the tradition of an annual road ski trip to an exotic location was started by Stemerdink’s father, John, before the boys were old enough to drive. John is reported to be looking forward to the tradition continuing with the grandchildren. Responsible, respectable, traditional, energetic members of middle-age mainstream society, all but one of them family men, the seven gather once a year for a holiday (sometimes at White Grizzly) break of hard skiing and partying with a fervor and return/regression to youthful abandon that made Karl’s driving seem comparatively tame. The lone bachelor, Kusomoto, is engaged to be married and the group is plotting a 10-day bachelor party for him in Chamonix in 2013.

White Grizzly
Carole and Brad Karafil, owners of White Grizzly. Karl Weatherly •

French Canada was represented by two Quebecers, Francois Morin, the lone snowboarder in the group, the only one besides myself unfamiliar with the scene; and Jean Francois Racine, a talented artist who painted snow-covered mountain landscapes of the area to sell and, for an additional fee, will include you in the painting making your best powder turn of the day.

The U.S. was represented by me and Karl and Tony Crocker, a California ski journalist, blogger and actuary who rolled skiing-related statistics, risks and costs off his tongue as easily and blithely and with as much obvious pleasure as he danced through the spaces between trees in deep powder snow, carving the white.

Francois and I had more than neophyte status in common. We were both Buddhists and vegetarians and, I surmised, were suspect members of the group of three Brad referred to, candidates for holding up the group. Francois was not only the lone snowboarder, but he admitted to me that he had never before boarded in powder. My deficiency was that, with the exceptions of Karl, who turned 60 that week and who skis as well as he drives and with a similar ethic, Tony, who was 59 and experienced in steep, deep powder in the trees, and Carole, 51, who lives for carving the white, I was 30 years older than anyone in the entire group. I suspect I passed Brad’s screening on Karl’s recommendation.

Thanks, Karl. Thanks, Brad.

Like snowflakes, clouds, people and parties, no two turns on a pair of skis are ever the same, and each run and day at White Grizzly was different from the others, while, at the same time, being remarkably organized, scheduled and thought out, an orchestrated improvisation worthy of Art Tatum, Keith Jarrett, John Coltrane or Jerry Garcia. (I’ve already alluded to my age.) The schedule got the most out of a day: up early, eat, 20-minute car ride to the staging area, load into the cat, hour ride to the top of the White Grizzly Peak adjacent to the Goat Range Provincial Park and 11,000 skiable acres that receive an average of 11 meters of snow each season. Unload. The cat leaves. Saddle up. Ski down about 1,000 vertical meters on a different route each time to where, miraculously, we popped out of impenetrable woods onto a road where the cat was waiting. Load into the cat for a 30-minute ride back to the top. Repeat. Repeat again and again until 5 p.m. Gourmet snacks, drinks and lunch during the five to eight rides a day, depending on tree well burials, lost skis, lost skiers, photo ops and photo set ups. Then back to the lodge for evening festivities, which will be described shortly.

The White Grizzly learning curve for me was as steep as its terrain and not nearly so soft as the powder. The first morning I went up with my backcountry randonee set-up, the one I normally use for powder days in Sun Valley and for all backcountry adventures. The skis are wider and shorter than I normally use for lift-serviced Baldy groomers and even moguls when they are covered in fresh white. They have served me well on Baldy powder days, where I ski with a circumspect velocity and trajectory suitable to the natural governor built into the muscles and reflexes of age. I have, of course, observed with interest the young dudes and dudettes skiing the bowls of Baldy on powder mornings with a verve and velocity I fully appreciate and vaguely remember with a mixture of nostalgia and envy, the best of them on HUGE twin-tip rocker boards, each nearly the size of a monoski. Such big boards require more strength and better reflexes than mine and I never gave them a second thought for personal use until I’d spent half a White Grizzly morning skiing the heaviest, deepest powder to my arm pits that I’d ever skied (and I grew up skiing in the Sierra Nevada). The steepness and the trees were manageable, though I managed (sic) to get clipped three times by my faster comrades in powder, but it was clear I would not last a day, much less a week, at armpit exertion levels. (Four feet of fresh powder had fallen in just the previous three days.) Karl had suggested switching to larger skis during our drive the day before, but I was too fixated on the present moment’s velocity over which I had no control to focus on the subtleties of a future over which I had even less than no control.

After a few runs, Brad made the identical suggestion to Karl’s of the previous day and he had a couple of pairs of giant twin-tip rockers on the back of the cat, just in case someone lost a ski or an old guy came to his (literal) senses. I put them on and life in the trees and powder of the Selkirk Mountains immediately became easier, more enjoyable and worthy of carving the white. After a few turns on the giants, I was only sinking to my knees in powder that miraculously wasn’t quite so heavy, and I knew I had knee-deep energy and would be able to carve the white and make it back to the lodge for dinner. And so I did.

And each night it snowed. And each morning we rose early, ate and went back up to fresh powder on White Grizzly Peak. Group dynamics, always interesting to the attentive participant/observer, range from the harmonious worthy of the Grateful Dead or the Sun Valley Summer Symphony to the cacophonous worthy of the U.S. Congress. I have been on climbing expeditions that ended with some members of the team never speaking to each other again and others that formed lifelong friendships, and, when strangers are brought together even for something as enjoyable as powder skiing, it can go either way. During the cat rides between runs, this group easily engaged in a comfortable, harmonious dialogue of story-telling, jokes (among the seven Canucks often at the expense of one of them), questioning and philosophy, and, in truth, Brad and Carole were master conductors and the core group of Canadian friends treated everyone as family. As the elder of the group with the most mileage both on and off skis, I was sometimes called upon by the conductors to recount an exotic tale or two from earlier days of skiing and skiers. Judging by the intensity and intelligence of their questions and responses to my remembrances, as well as their skiing skills and enthusiasm, it was clear that my comrades were true lovers of the well-carved turn, the adrenaline high and the satisfaction and personal growth that can only come to those who pursue what they like to do.

Because slopes are steep, snow deep, trees closely spaced and branches loaded with snow that drops like a bomb from time to time, there is ample opportunity for skiers to get in trouble at White Grizzly. And, given enough time and turns, those who ski hard, like those who party hard, always get in trouble. Thus, at White Grizzly, the buddy system is used. Skiers are paired up for each run and encouraged to stay close to each other, as all pairs are encouraged to stay close to the other pairs. A skier, for instance, who fell and was trapped upside down in a tree well and could not get out on his/her own, would not likely survive the hour and a half it would take to make another lap and track him/her down. Almost every year, someone dies in a ski area boundary from the tree well scenario, in a more skier-friendly environment than the Selkirk Mountain woods. At White Grizzly, skiers keep track of each other for good reason. Each person also chooses a yell/yodel/yelp/woof/call/song/sound to emit from time to time so that the partner and the others have an auditory idea of location. My yell was HEEEE HAAAAA!!!!!! Others were more imaginative and melodic.

One guide always took the lead with instructions to stay close to and either left or right of his tracks and to give him a head start. Then, in pairs, with a few turns in between the teams blasted into the powder snow magic of the woods of British Columbia.


Through tight trees we skied, carving the white with none of the ballet-like grace of vast solitude and wide-open slopes of the powder skiing of dreams. White Grizzly powder skiing is less ballet and grace, its carve through the white more like break dancing in the Bugggggaaaaa Bugggggaaaaa Bar on a Saturday night in the company of a pack of serious break dancers. It works and it is great fun to dodge trees and other skiers in a skier’s dance in powder, and, as the slowest except, sometimes, Francois, I was always alert to the possibility of OH-DI-LAY-EE-OH or WOOOOOOO WOOOOOOO meeting me head on coming around a tree. There were some close misses, but no true encounters and, despite a few crashes, tree well burials, snow bombs dropped, lost skis and a few temporarily lost skiers, we always managed to meet the snowcat for the ride back up, the stories, laughter, hot and cold drinks, snacks, good food and good will. For me, the accent in skiing has always been more on the solitary, even meditative aspects than on group dynamics, but that isn’t possible or advisable at White Grizzly, and I wasn’t alone in having one of the best skiing weeks of a long life of skiing.

One day, Jean Francois spent the entire day at the top of White Grizzly Peak with his easel and paints. We checked his progress after each lap and gained run by run a better appreciation of the rigors, techniques and skills of the art of landscape oil painting.

Several times, Karl set up shots, so that, one by one, two by two, and three by three, skiers could have powder photos taken. Some of these adventures involved cliffs, rocks and other large drops into bottomless powder that cushioned equally the nailed, inelegant and the hopeless landing, all to the whoooooops and laughter of spectators. I refrained from air time, but thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle. Since there were a couple of web cams on helmets in the group of seven, most flights were recorded from both air and ground perspectives, and the day’s events were shown/relived/celebrated/cheered/booed late into each night in the lodge after proper preparation.

Like the days, nights at White Grizzly were a series of different improvisations on a theme. On arrival back at the lodge, there were hors d’oeuvres, hot tub, drinks, showers, naps, the internet, even reading. There is no smoking allowed in the lodge, so, despite fatigue from the day’s efforts, some of the boys took long walks of smoking indulgence before dinner. The entire crew, including Brad and Carole, dined together and wine, stronger spirits and conversation flowed freely. Long retired from the delights and demons of dipsomania, I sipped water and paddled only in the conversations, and when the talk and the emerging party moved to the lounge, I usually retreated to my room upstairs for reading, jotting in my journal and, when possible, sleep. Karl and the web cammers showed their day’s work to that most appreciative of audiences — the subject of the work — and the sounds cheers, boos, laughter and comments that made their way through the floorboards were muted enough that I usually but not always fell asleep before my roommates Tony and Karl arrived. Soon after, the muted sounds of serious partying were lost in the honking/snorting/earsplitting/unbelievable snorts of Tony’s snoring, sounds unlike any I’ve ever heard before. Still, despite snoring sounds one imagines could be made by wrestling or copulating elephants, I managed enough sleep to rise each morning with sufficient energy to continue to carve the white.

Downstairs, the party continued.

Hard and long.


Difficult for the non-participant to know what transpired at the downstairs party each night, though imagination can easily fill in the blank spots. One Canadian gentleman was so overcome from each day’s carved white exertions and dark night’s indulgences that he managed to fall completely asleep on one of the lounge couches every night. His nightly slumber inspired his best and oldest friends to unbutton his shirt and decorate his face, belly, chest and arms with demonic, humorous and even obscene black paint works of art that were not so easily removed when he discovered them in his morning mirror.

Still, he and everyone else was ready for the morning cat to the top of White Grizzly Peak and a day of carving the white.

On the last morning, after skiing was finished and we were getting ready to leave, I noted in my journal, “Skiing is over and it has been a unique and wonderful experience. I am filled with good will towards and connection to all the people here.”

That feeling alone is worth every and all effort and drive the labour of love of carving the white requires.

Long-time senior correspondent Dick Dorworth is the author of “Night Driving” and “The Perfect Turn.”   

Concrete Memories

concrete memories

One of the paradoxes of driving on concrete in search of powder is that what you search for is not a thing you wish to encounter any sooner than necessary. A snowy road may mean a day spent laying down fresh tracks on the mountain, but it also brings the risk of not getting there — soon or ever. Every drive has its dangers — even those not rooted in mountains and deep snow — dangers often hidden beneath a veneer of familiarity. Maybe your trek takes you to your local hill with little more vertical drop than a playground slide. Perhaps it crosses sun-soaked fruit fields in California en route to some snow or consists of sliding on ice in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. Together, these travels often fade into a fabric of monotony, leaving in their wake little more than themes around which memories with rounded edges cling. Yet, some events may crystallize into something more — the time you picked up the hitchhiker who didn’t kill you, the time your truck pulled a rodeo and landed perfectly in a streambed or the time you took a friend riding for the first time. Whether your road time is in pursuit of manicured booters in a terrain park or a trailhead cloaked in powder and begging for a bootpack, you share a common language with anyone who has ever headed down the road in search of a little snow.

Who hasn’t laughed uneasily while driving down the road listening to weather forecasts that warn that travel should be reserved for emergencies? Any Midwesterner who has made the pilgrimage to Summit County in a snowstorm — and for that matter anyone who has put in interstate time in the middle of winter — can attest to the otherworldliness of a freeway right after a storm. There are plenty of jackknifed tractor trailers and upended cars to remind you of the fragility of steel and glass and your own mortality. Roadside ditches and medians are littered with half-buried cars, often flagged with orange tape to announce that people are no longer inside. Growing up in Iowa, every few years, you would hear of an old timer who had been missing for weeks only to be discovered by hunters peacefully frozen in a car far from the road from which it slid. The roadside aftermath of a storm also creates strange tasks for the mind, begging answers to questions like: How did that truck get there or what was that driver thinking?  Once on Interstate 80, I saw a boat blanketed with snow and upright in a median, twenty feet from an overpass abutment. No tracks, no trailers and no trucks were in sight. It was a strangely peaceful scene, as though a family had decided to moor their craft to the overpass and step out of the bow to picnic and make snow angels.

If you slip away into the backcountry a fair amount, your avy shovel probably bears more scars from digging your truck out than buried bodies. In a single weekend, I broke in a shovel in Silverton by first sliding off the edge of a county road, later submerging my car in a snowbank on the horseshoe turn that leads back into town and then digging out some travelers beached on a scenic overlook on Molas Pass. I’ll always shudder when I think of how I feverishly dug my Jeep out on that horseshoe turn. I had just begun shoveling when headlights illuminated the ice-covered road and two vehicles began sliding in my direction. As I scrambled off my knees to jump out of the way, I envisioned my body with a hundred broken bones and pinned in a pileup of sheet metal. Needless to say, the vehicles made it through the turn and I took note of the new tires I needed to purchase.

Perhaps you have held a strange and tense form of communion with thousands of other drivers who have inched forward for hours, attempting to descend into Denver or Salt Lake. Perhaps you have slammed on your brakes only to be passed by your board as you realize you failed to secure your roof rack. Perhaps you have bagged a buck with your bumper and windshield, emptying your pocket of the money earmarked for lift tickets. Perhaps you have attempted to steer your car while leaning out the window to wipe down the windshield and study exit signs in order to acquire washer fluid. Perhaps you pulled your first 900 not in a terrain park, but on a two-lane highway. Perhaps you have had to surrender your dignity and give up shoveling to call a tow truck. Perhaps a great day on the mountain has been marred by red and blue lights flashing in your rearview mirror.

Yet, time on the road is not inherently an exercise in disappointment, defying death or perfecting one-finger salutes. It is just as likely to be a comforting routine. For three years, I dedicated nearly every weekend to driving from western New Mexico to Flagstaff, Arizona, to ride Snowbowl and the adjacent backcountry. I caught countless sunsets framed by the Painted Desert and the San Francisco Peaks. I miss those days. I also miss the smaller details that helped forge my memories: letting my mind drift while watching the chutes of the San Francisco Peaks fade away in my mirrors, pondering the ways in which my weekly four-hundred-mile pursuit of snow threatened the very thing I was seeking, questioning how much longer petrified wood and “real Indian jewelry” could be sold to tourists from wooden tepees out of place in the desert, and stopping at the same desolate exit each Sunday to piss on an access road partially obscured from the interstate.

All routines, however, begin as something new. For those who have spent some time hitchhiking in order to ride lines along roadways, each ride back to the summit can quickly become faceless. Although I have forgotten many of the rides I have thumbed, the first ride remains. As I leaned against a tailgate, wedged between a pile of skis and boards, I remember noting how much colder negative-five feels in the back of a truck kicking up snow at forty miles an hour and developing a strong desire to find something to hold onto in preparation for the tailgate rattling lose. I also remember the smiles shared with a good friend and a handful of strangers in the cramped bed of that truck as it careened up Loveland Pass. I remember thinking I have to do this again.

As meaningful as each day on the mountain can be, much of its beauty is owed to the minutiae that is so easily overlooked: the conversations on the chairlift, the free meals of ketchup and crackers in the cafeteria, the sunburn you claimed would be impossible to acquire on a partly cloudy day or the pristine kits toppled like dominoes when a four-year-old snags a board with his pint-sized skis. This is equally true for the concrete pilgrimage that leads to snow. Memories surface from the suicide concoction of gas station hot chocolate flavors, the smiles shared with new friends, the spring waterfalls that flank the road, the rare glimpse of the Northern Lights or the innovative uses of duct tape pioneered by travelers on America’s roadways. Sometimes the miles spent staring through an ice-caked and cracked windshield emerge as the story and it is the riding that fades away and is forgotten.

Michael Sudmeier is a writer based in Jackson, WY. He can be reached at