Letters #183

by Mountain Gazette on November 2, 2011


Envelope: M.L. Ward Moab UT 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.

Envelope: M.L. Ward, Moab UT

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.

A Zen Duality Thing

Dear John, I recently barfed on my copy of MG #182. No, I’m not asking for a new copy, just wanted to say what I thought of the mag. Look forward to the next issue, really!

Tom Slagle,
Moab, Colorado Plateau

More Scar Tissue

Mountain Gazette #183 Letter to the editor

Dear Jeff [sic]:  I read your commentary in MG #179 (“Scar Tissue,” Smoke Signals) that I picked up at our Ketchum library and I thought I’d give a try at serious scabbing.

Poor right clavicle, usually referred to as a collarbone, though it has never even approached the collar at the base of a size-sixteen neck, has experienced more than most of its contemporaries, even the twin attached to the opposite shoulder. At a relatively youthful four years of age, it suffered the indignity of fracturing when its host slipped down the sidewall of a bunk bed and caught on the bottom bed frame after having reached a state of blissful repose late one night. There had only been single cots in tar-papered internment camp barracks previously, so falling had never been much of a problem. A few weeks in a sling occasioned a great respite from everyday activities. For over a dozen years, the clavicle managed through innumerable scrapes on a trampoline, wrestling mat and in the odorous and humid confines of a football jersey. But life was too easy for a right-hander.

Mountain Gazette #183 Letter to the editor

Following a great week of activities with the nubile female counselors in the rarefied air at Camp Bluff Lake, located up a dusty and windy road from Big Bear Lake in the Angeles National Forest and high above the hot San Bernardino and Riverside cities of southern California, clavicle began the long drive back to San Jose and more athletic endeavors on the judo mat at San Jose State College. With temperatures exceeding one hundred degrees in the moving oven of an excuse for a car, it did its job to help keep the car pointed down the arrow-straight highway and the wind rushing through the almost-solid heated air. Even the crickets were smart enough to lay low till the sun said good night. The unending monotony of traveling over the tire hum of concrete through the Central Valley on Highway 99 was close to being an afterthought when the sign for the turnoff to the Pacheco Pass Highway and Highway 101 finally appeared. The main torso was uplifting off the sticky vinyl seat too often for a tired body part to tolerate. A little bit of zigging and zagging on a winding mountainous road was looking pretty good.

 

Forward progress was interrupted by a car pulling a vacation trailer and moving well below the posted 35-mile-per-hour speed limit. A straight stretch of road beckoned the in-need-of-a-shower-rest-and-food body to pass the laggard road tortoise. Unfortunately, the beast’s shell obscured the double-S curve sign, and unable to slow down or follow the curve to the right, the chariot of fire was soon airborne amid the rapidly passing shadows and silhouettes of the trees that appear in cowboy movies filmed in California. It couldn’t have been more than a heartbeat, but clavicle felt the incline in lush green grass its host had back landed feet first on, as if on a good ski jump out run, amid clouds of dust suspended in the still air. A few arm reaches to the left was a rocky outcropping that resembled the incisors of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and on the right was one of those movie trees, only a few yards away. Eight feet above and behind was a three-strand barbed-wire cattle fence. Rock music emitted from the silent hulk of the car below, adding some levity to the scene. The ribs were complaining that they couldn’t expand for breathing, as if a huge boulder were positioned directly on them. People sounds became evident, as rescuers quickly scrambled down the steep hillside. Attempts were made to push the knees to chest down, but were rebuffed because the chest could inhale better with them up. A trucker said that the car had spun three times in the air and clavicle was ejected during one of the rolls. The road knight tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but his smoky breath only nauseated the body. The sound of an ambulance’s siren rent the air and real help soon arrived. The host matched insurance demographics of a young male driver within 25 miles of home.

At the hospital, it was determined that two ribs were broken and a lung punctured with some internal bleeding, but there were no visible external trauma marks. Clavicle had to wait until four days later when its host sat on an aluminum chaise lounge, which collapsed and it suddenly met a knee and fractured. X-rays had not been taken high enough to show the slight fracture, which became larger and deformed it for the rest of its useful life. Sling time again for a few weeks of leisure.

A few years ago, on the television program, “You Want To Be A Millionaire,” a contestant failed to answer a question correctly, and clavicle could have given the right answer, if it could talk. The question was asked, “A private individual sued a major American corporation over a product liability issue and a book was written about the case.”

What was the book? A woman had lost her fiancé in an auto accident on Pacheco Pass, within yards of the host’s accident site and only days before during the same week, and she sued General Motors. Ralph Nader wrote a book entitled: “UNSAFE AT ANY SPEED,” about the inherent dangers of the Chevrolet Corvair. Host had been driving his father’s 1960 Corvair. So much for phone lists.

Life was good and clavicle managed to stay in one piece during the years of physical duress in the U.S. Army in basic training and through the rigors of OCS at the Armor School in Fort Knox and the near misses while traveling over rough ground in a tank. Even when a 100-pound periscope sight in the commander’s cupola somehow loosened and fell into the host’s lap during the main-gun live-fire exercise at Grafenwoehr near the Czech boarder south of Nuremberg. And also when it took a Nantucket sleigh ride in the tank down a steep and winding snow-covered road with steep drop-offs while spinning 360s for almost a mile during another training exercise. The three- or four-inch-thick trees would not have stopped over 65 tons of heavy armor from plowing an alternate route down into the valley. Other than acceding to the demands of C rations heated over hot engine manifolds, clavicle felt relative comfort, knowing it wasn’t sweltering in some Far Eastern jungle and dodging I.E.D. mines or excrement-coated bamboo stakes hidden in foliage-covered pits.

Many years of helping with pole plants during rapid and continuous descents down Bald Mountain in Sun Valley and numerous other resorts, as well as backcountry climbs in the Sawtooths, strengthened clavicle and it felt invulnerable. There had been the occasional eggbeater falls down The Bowls and other venues during four decades of zestful endeavors, but luck held and clavicle scraped by with élan. Even after a fall following a drop into Corbet’s Couloir at Jackson Hole onto solid ice. The past two decades had been kind of a bummer because it was only needed to help right up the body from a sitting or kneeling position when snowboarding became the main means of transport. The less clavicle and its arm were used, the better. And it was always in the background while left twin got to lead the way in a regular stance. Oh, it was needed when releasing the back foot for lift entries, but only helping lift beginner boarders upright gave it a sense of purpose. Especially after the host was able to make many non-stopper runs from top to bottom without a rest.

The winter of 2009 began late with little snowfall to cushion the firm man-made snow. Few runs were open. One morning, the opening of Canyon Run was welcomed by avid locals, though the surface was more suited to the Sun Valley ice rink. After a couple of ski runs, host decided to forego searching for the Smith sunglasses that had been lost the day before while looking for a Christmas tree on the steep hillsides that encircled Adams Gulch. It had fallen off the ski hat when an icy patch occasioned a hard backside landing and it only became apparent when the huskies later pulled a found tree into bright sunlight and there were no glasses to shield the eyes. This was a case of not stopping in mid-stream, continuing whatever it was that you were doing. Returning to the locker room, host pulled out a snowboard and proceeded to ride the new gondola up to the Roundhouse top station, from which Canyon Run dropped precipitously down. Rated as a blue run, under these conditions it was more a black designation. Carefully tracing arcs down the pitches and using any upswing in the terrain, of which there were few, host carefully descended, much slower than he had on skis with their two edges for greater purchase. As the terrain leveled out for entry into 42nd Street, host sped up in a straighter line. Suddenly it felt like a patch of Velcro below a snowgun and a forward slam happened, with no time to take any evasive actions. A sudden deceleration with helmet and goggles hitting first and followed by the upper body. Like being kicked not only by two mules, but Sister Sara in spiked heels!

Clavicle felt instant pain and gratefully accepted the body’s lack of motion for what seemed an eternity. The lungs had the wind knocked out of them and the whole body felt like the front defensive line of the Boise State Broncos football team had run over them. People stopped to ask if they could be of assistance or if they should call the ski patrol, but host declined. Finally managing to get upright without clavicle’s assistance, host began slowly heel-side sliding down to the Number One Lower River Run lift. Bending over and using the left arm to release the K2 Cinch back binding lever helped keep clavicle from screaming bloody murder, if it could have. The lift down ride seemed interminable and the feared bottom station landing was soon a nightmare become real. Left clavicle had to do the honors of helping carry the snowboard back to the car and the short drive to St. Luke’s hospital began after a slow Native American-style of tiptoeing traverse of the parking lot.

At the E.R., the charge nurse was a stranger to host and she was very curt in her actions with him; the regular ward nurses knew him because he often volunteered as a music therapist, playing his harmonica and mainly conversing with patients, who were in the only facility after the morgue that locals and visitors avoided at all costs. After X-rays, a figure-eight strap was applied and some of the pain subsided, allowing clavicle to somewhat relax. Too bad that host was too macho to use all of the pain pills that were prescribed. Easy for him when it was clavicle that had taken the major beating, aside from all of the skin tissue that was rapidly resembling members of a Motown funk soul band. Two days later, host engaged in a required snow sports school boarding rehire clinic, of all things. Clavicle would have much preferred a ski clinic and not had to do the up and down routine. But how could it complain when the right Achilles tendon, which had been damaged the previous year when stomped on by a trenching machine, accepted its lot and trudged on, though often in intense pain? Host believed that he could muscle through most injuries, and usually he was right. But not this time. Dr. Woz would have to surgically repair it the following year.

Clavicle managed to avoid the knife and eventually healed well. However, the carefree days of mountain biking on local single-track trails or wakeboarding at Redfish Lake took on a misty moments-in-the-past feeling. Clavicle somehow transcended the normal
channels of physiological connections
and managed to alter the host’s perceptions of hell-bent-for-leather
behavior. An occasional night of riotous dancing to good classic rock music at Whiskey Jacque’s was tolerated, but clavicle and the rest of the body would pay dearly the next morning …

Rod Tatsuno,
Sun Valley, ID

Forgetfulness

John: In response to your call for stories about forgetting stuff (“Don’t Know What you Got ’Til It’s Gone,” by Mark Plantz, Mountain Notebook, MG #180): One time out at Elephant Rocks, in the San Luis Valley, after an eventful morning of hiking, lizard chasing and rock scrambling, we called the dogs back to the truck and loaded up the kid for town. The trip back to town was full of talk about what we would do with the rest of our day. So many options! The advantage of getting out early is you still have an entire day ahead, right?

Well, we get back to our place in town and unpack our stuff. I open the tailgate of the truck and out jumps one dog. I look in the back of the truck, dumbfounded. Did the other dog turn invisible on the way home? Panic sets in. Running not like a chicken with its head cut off, but maybe more like a two-headed chicken, with one head cut off about to get the other head cut off if caught. I grab the kid — back in the truck. I grab the not-left dog — back in the truck. I grab the wife, explain what is happening in three mumbled words out of the side of my mouth — back in the truck.

If ever there was hauling ass, this was it, meanwhile sweating, swearing, fretting. What if he chased us all the way back? What if he got to the highway and got hit? What if what if what if? A cloud trail of dust followed the truck as we fish-tailed into the winding roads of Elephant Rocks. Eyes bugged out looking for the telltale markings of our pet. To our relief, there he was, sitting patiently, waiting. He was dehydrated, so much he wouldn’t drink, or maybe he was just disappointed with his owners. Boy, we were glad to see him. We swore we would never tell the story to anyone. Don’t tell my wife.

Sean O’Friel

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