Is Kerry Trying To Lose Us Another One?

October 31, 2006

John Kerry’s comment to students at Pasadena City College in California on Monday:

“You know, education — if you make the most of it, you study hard and you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well.

“If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

Senator Kerry: please please please think about what you are saying. There’s only a week left before Election Day. Yes, it’s true that the armed forces are struggling to make their recruiting quotas, and that recruiting standards are being lowered as a result. Yes, it’s true that for every Pat Tillman, there are a lot more American men and women who are fighting in Iraq because they didn’t have many other options open to them out of high school. And yes, it’s true that someone with three Purple Hearts ought to be able to make this observation without it being interpreted as an insult to our armed forces.

But you can’t. So please think about what you are saying, at least for the next week. Better yet, don’t say anything at all….

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Going Out Doing What You Love

October 21, 2006

Morgan and I rafted the New River Gorge yesterday during Bridge Day and had a great time. I will post on the trip once we get the photos – we brought a film camera instead of digital so will need to get the photos developed and scanned.

For the time being, I should acknowledge a sad and sobering event that took place while we were there. Brian Lee Schubert, a 66-year old BASE jumping veteran and apparently a pioneer in the sport, died when his chute failed to open until 25 feet prior to impact. Our rafting group was eating our riverside lunch about a quarter mile upstream from the bridge, watching the jumpers, when it happened. Fortunately, Morgan and I were on the upstream side of a large house-sized rock during Schubert’s jump, so we were spared actually witnessing it. Many in our group were eyewitnesses, however. As Morgan and I were eating our sandwiches and basking in the sunshine, the collective gasps and exclamations that we heard from those in our group sitting on the top and downstream side of the boulder told us that something had gone horribly wrong.

One has to be wired a certain way to skydive at all, but Bridge Day jumpers are a unique breed. Not content to simply jump off of the bridge, many ramp up the risk (and resulting adrenaline) factor by throwing in a somerault or back flip, or by jumping in tandem or groups of 3 or 4. While this video clip has a happy ending, it shows just how dangerous it can get.

There is a lot of Bridge Day video out there, but I think this one is particularly insightful. It does a good job at capturing the preparation, reflection, and emotional buildup that leads up to the bravado of the jump itself. I’ve signed many a liability release form in pursuing my weekend warrior activities, but I’ve never had to read the text of the waiver on videotape.

Back to yesterday – after Schubert’s fall, jumping was suspended for about a half hour. After the authorities concluded that there were no adverse weather or site conditions that had contributed to the incident, jumping resumed. My hunch is that Schubert would have wanted nothing less.

Rest in peace Brian. May we all follow your example of pushing our limits and living life to its fullest.


Bridge Day opportunity

October 17, 2006

So… I sent a note to the outfitter that we used for the Gauley Reverse trip, thanking them again for the great time. (Additional post(s) on the trip are forthcoming, by the way – just haven’t gotten the experience all processed and blog-worthy yet).

Anyway, imagine my surprise when I got an email reply from the owner:

“What are you doing this weekend? Would you like a free trip on the lower New river for Bridge Day Saturday?”

Wow. Talk about great customer service (and building customer loyalty)! Bridge Day bills itself as “the largest extreme sports event in the world” – every year on the third Saturday in October, the 876′ tall New River Gorge Bridge is opened up to parachutists and rapellers, along with some 200,000 spectators assembled to watch the craziness. The best seat in the house is from a raft on the Lower New, which passes directly under the bridge. I’ve always wanted to experience Bridge Day (though not from a parachute – at least not yet), but haven’t had an opportunity. Now, out of the blue, I’ve been offered a free trip.

Responsibility, however, reared its ugly head (see the “Toast” post) – too much to do, and after all, I went rafting just two weeks ago. So, when I mentioned the offer to Jennifer, I told her I planned on telling the outfitter “thanks but no thanks”, and suggested that I might take Morgan (our 13 year old daughter) next year. Her response: “I could work things out around you being gone this Saturday.”

Double wow. The outfitter offers me a free trip, and my wife redirects me to the present tense and opens the door for me to take them up on it – not next year, but now.

Which leads me to Morgan. I would love to provide her with this experience – both the spectacle of Bridge Day, and the whitewater adventure. While the New isn’t the Gauley, it does have some very solid Class IV rapids – what a confidence builder that would be for a 13-year old girl! However, the last thing I want to do is get Morgan into a bad situation. I’m not worried about her safety – although I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to breathe completely easily until we were off the river at the end of the day – but I don’t want her to spend the day wet, cold, and scared. Wet certainly, and cold probably, but not scared.

I tested the waters (no pun intended) with Morgan, and her first question was “How big are the rapids?” So, we turned to the internet. I found a nice representative video on YouTube – big bouncy wave trains, smiling rafters, and no flips or “carnage”. I did the Lower New a few years ago, and that was the way I recalled it.

So far, so good. Then, I clicked on one more Lower New video clip, and it was a raft surfing on a hydraulic. Fun stuff. At least until the raft turned sideways, dropped the upstream tube and dumped several rafters. Still no great trauma, until we saw that one of the dumped rafters had managed to get his foot stuck in the webbing running alongside the tube – his foot was pointing straight up, trapped in the webbing, while the rest of him was pointing straight down – underwater in the middle of the hydraulic. They eventually got him untangled and back in the boat, but not before he had spent more time than he cared to upside down in the spin cycle. For the life of me I can’t figure out how he managed to get himself tangled up that way.

Anyway. Not exactly the type of video footage that I was hoping to find, but it didn’t seem to scare Morgan off of the idea. I told her to sleep on it, and we’d talk about it in the morning. Hopefully she’s not having nightmares….


Too Much Toast

October 17, 2006

Great run on Sunday. I ran the Charlottesville 10-Miler course Galloway-style (9 minutes running, 1 minute walking) and ran it in 1:33, which was faster than I’ve run the actual race the last three times. Admittedly that’s not saying much, as the last few times I’ve run the Cville 10-miler I’ve run it without much in the way of training ahead of time, but I was still pleased with the result. My goal for the upcoming OBX race is to run the half-marathon in under 2 hours, so I’m on pace for that.

I’m always amazed at what a good long run will do for my general outlook on life. It generally takes me about 3 miles to work out the kinks, but after that, I often start to get into an endorphin-assisted groove where I can pretty much go on autopilot and don’t have to think too much about running for another 4-6 miles. It’s during this part of the run that that things start to make sense. While I go through most days feeling like Bilbo Baggins (“like butter spread over too much toast”), a long run will generally provide me with some much-needed perspective.

So why oh why can’t I stay on a more consistent running schedule? Too much toast, I guess.


Gauley Season – Pretrip

October 14, 2006

Every fall for the past several years I have been organizing a trip to go whitewater rafting on the Gauley River in West Virginia. During the 6 weekends following Labor Day, known to paddlers as “Gauley Season”, the Army Corps of Engineers oversees a controlled release of water from the Summersville Reservoir that is designed to lower the water level in the reservoir by 75 feet. All of that water needs to go somewhere, and where it goes is into the Gauley – at a rate of 2,800-5,000 cfs (cubic feet per second). The result is a world-class whitewater river that is ranked 2nd in the U.S. (behind the Arkansas in Colorado) and 7th in the world. The Gauley boasts scores of Class III-IV rapids, but the highlights are the five Class V rapids found on the Upper section. Class V is as high as you can go, at least in a commercial raft.

I fell into the role of trip organizer by default. In 2000, I was invited to be the token 30-something on a Gauley trip with my dad and several of his friends. That was enough to get me hooked, and after Gauley season came and went without me in 2001, I figured that if I wanted to go rafting, I needed to take the initiative. So, I sent out an email to everyone I could think of who might be up for the trip. The responses that I received generally fell in one of two categories: enthusiastic affirmation, or incredulous rejection. There were a few lukewarm responses as well, but after following up on these I realized that most of them were just folks who were too polite to tell me straight up that they had absolutely no interest.

Once I had the group lined up, we did a 2-day Gauley trip in the fall of 2002, and before we had even left the river, we were talking about the next year’s trip. So, I sent out a similar (although more targeted) email in 2003, and we returned for Gauley season that fall. In 2004 we switched to the New River Gorge, but that was a bit of a letdown after the Gauley, so we headed back for Gauley season in 2005.

Which brings me to 2006. Despite having run the Gauley four times, I had a bit of apprehension nagging at me as plans for the trip began to take shape. My thoughts kept going back to an unnerving swim that I had taken during the 2003 trip. I had been pitched out of the raft, and managed to breathe in more water than air as I went under.

When I bobbed up, I saw that the guide was motioning vigorously for me to swim back to the raft. That was a hint that I was heading for trouble. I took a couple of strokes, hampered by the paddle that I was still holding onto, and then I got smacked in the face by a wave, with my mouth wide open – not good. I went down again and got caught in the faster current running underneath the surface.

I tumbled along for what seemed like an eternity, and when I finally did come gasping back up to the surface, was considerably downstream from the raft. I managed to swim to a neighboring raft, they hauled me in, and after a bit of coughing and shaking, that was the end of the ordeal. Despite the happy ending, a bit of the panic that I had flirted with as I was caught in that underwater current stayed with me. That, I suppose, was the reason for my disquiet as our October 7 trip date drew near. That was also the reason that I knew I had to go. (To be continued….)