Hiking Lessons

My friend Don and I have been hiking together on weekends for a few years. Several months ago he exclaimed “let’s climb Half Dome next year,” ‘to which I replied, “you mean climb the face of Half Dome? Have you lost your mind? Ropes and carabineers? Definitely not happening dude.” Once he clarified that it was a 17 mile 5,000’ elevation trek at 8,840’ altitude that wound around the back of half dome and not the face of it, my dread to excitement meter pointed to guarded anticipation with a healthy dose of fear.

Over the following weeks we discussed Half Dome and Yosemite quite a bit and at some point Don said that his trainer suggested Panther Trail, arguably Austin’s most challenging hike. Round trip, the Panther has about 2500’ elevation change and 10,944 stairs over only 6 miles. In order to fully prep for Yosemite, we’d have to do this hike 3 times in a row.

It had been raining for several days before our first hike. The creek was high, the path was muddy and my feet got soaked. It was exhilarating. We named the hardest parts of the trail “ass-kicker one” and “ass-kicker two.” We kept after it every weekend and about 6 weeks in started going round trip twice. Officially dubbed the “double Panther,” this was a whole new level of hard. After a few double panthers, ass-kickers one and two evolved into “kick ass one” and kick ass two.” Getting your ass kicked to kicking ass was a major psychological hurdle involving a deep new mantra of gratitude to the hardest parts of the trail for making me stronger. The most beautiful parts of the trail were named “middle earth one” and “middle earth two;” cedar and dirt steps straight up & down with a 3’ wide creek-bed at the bottom. Glanced from either side they are a sight straight out of Lord of the Rings.

In addition to feeling the happy endorphins kick in when done, I have gained a new sense of emotional wellbeing from simple realizations along the path.  Here are a few of them:

-Don’t look at the mile markers along the way.
-Stop cursing the hard parts; tell them you love them because they are making you stronger.
-Enjoy being out in nature whatever the weather.
-Recognize natural markers along the way and give them funny names.
-Time the hikes & see if you can do better next time.
-Relish the happiness and sense of accomplishment when done.

The biggest challenge of all will be applying these hiking lessons to the rest of life. I’m grateful to be alive and the rest of my life will be an endeavor to do just that.

Imagining, Balancing and Letting Go

A few months ago Kate & I had a Sunday off and I had an itch to go on a Hill Country day trip. I didn’t have any idea where we’d go, so I Googled for happenings in the towns to our west. There was something out in Llano that sounded interesting if not kinda hippie-dippy;  “World Rock Stacking Championships at Llano Earth Fest.”  Probably not something we’d plan in advance, but a hippie festival might be a good spur of the moment guilty pleasure. As we headed out on the beautiful drive up 71 past Pedernales State Park we were amazed at the amount of development stretching beyond Spicewood. Thankfully that tapered off around Horseshoe Bay. We had passed through Llano but had never stopped there before.  

The first things we saw after parking the car were a row of classic 1960’s VW vans and lots of tie dye, peace signs & ponytails. Then we walked down towards the river and saw them--big & small stacks of rocks balanced in precarious ways that defied nature. It was stunning. People had come from all over the world to artfully, expertly play with gravity. There were all sorts of whimsical sculptures in every shape and size woven around the Llano River. We strolled around the stones, and the stoned, noticing that in between all of the ‘professional’ stone structures, visitors were stacking as well and many of those were exquisite too. I started stacking by the riverbank. It was only when I started that I understood: this was a mind-clearing geological stack habit in the making. Carefully choosing each stone by its weight, shape and texture, sculptures appeared as I envisioned them. The creative flow caught me off-guard in a really good way.

After we had our fill of meandering through the balance garden we stopped at the town square, got some lunch and headed home. It was twilight when we pulled up to the house. I went straight for the backyard to start stacking. I’ve been addicted ever since. These creations are an ephemeral phenomenon—it’s okay when they tumble in the process. Imagining, balancing and letting go is what it’s all about.

Meeting Mr. Watts

One afternoon while up at summer camp in Maine, our camp counselor took us on a trip to the nearby town of Naples. It started to rain and he decided to take us to the movies. Bringing a bunch of pre-pubescent 12-year-old boys to see a flick about a high school grad having an affair with his girlfriend’s mom was a pretty ballsy move on his part, but it was 1969 and The Graduate was the only thing playing at the one theater in town. Afterwards, with Mrs. Robinson swirling around my head, we went out for ice cream. I have an imbedded moving-picture memory: I was standing out on a big wooden deck at some sort of outdoor cafe. It was around twilight. There was a view of a lake and everything was bathed in blue neon light. A song blasted on the radio, vibrated through my body and thundered across the water. It had a hypnotic testosterone tinged groove that gave me a feeling I’d never experienced before. The song was Honky Tonk Women. From that moment I was driven to play drums and drums drove my life.
In 2006 I had the privilege of opening for The Rolling Stones with my friend, Bump Band leader, and former Faces & Stones* keyboardist Ian 'Mac' McLagan. After we finished playing the set our guitarist Scrappy Jud told me that Charlie Watts had been sitting right behind me the whole time. Good thing he told me afterward and not beforehand. Later on Mac brought me backstage to meet Charlie. As we approached him, the sound of that cowbell, kick & snare echoed across the lake and drifted through time. In an out-of-body haze I stammered a heartfelt "thank you" to mylife-long hero.

* Some Girls, Tattoo You

The Magic Wedge

In the midst of all the political turmoil going down how about a fluffy little piece about PF Flyers?  PF what? Back when I was a little kid there were two things I wanted real bad. One was a telescope from Edmund Catalog, which I eventually got and the other an ever-elusive pair of sneakers with a “Magic Wedge” that could make you run faster and jump higher. The shoes came with a “Secret Decoder Ring” so I had to have them. I’m betting they were twice the price of Thom McAn’s house brand and more than Keds too. Keds weren’t cool. I must have driven my mom crazy. I don’t remember how it came up but I was telling Kate about this the other day.  I explained that when I was seven I absolutely had to have them. Before I could finish telling her about it, she found the TV ad that successfully brainwashed me into believing that an ordinary arch support was a mystical magical wedge. A wedge? Really? Check-out the early 1960's brainwashing technique successfully employed to convince me that I would run faster and jump higher in my ever-elusive PF Flyers. see: https://goo.gl/xddfBX 




Jonesey Paid it Forward

Facebook can be a time-dump but it is powerful. I received a message a couple of months back from a woman named Jonesey in Los Angeles. She asked me to call her about some stuff of mine that she had found. Jonesy had been hired to remove an enormous collection of belongings hoarded in a house near Crescent Heights Boulevard. Then she told me the house had belonged to my ex wife. Hmmm. I was apprehensively intrigued. I’d split up with her almost 30 years ago, just before my move from the so-called City of Angels to the soon-to-be-touted “Live Music Capital of the World.” The house had fallen into disrepair, was recently sold and was about to undergo renovation. Tasked with sorting through everything, Jonesy came across a box with my name on it and she wanted to know if she could send it my way. Having no memory of said box of stuff, I readily agreed and offered to pay the postage. She declined saying “I’m getting paid quite a bit and consider this part of the job. I like to pay it forward.”

Weeks flew by. I forgot about it. A parcel arrived via UPS. “Oh yeah.”

Kate & I sat together and I opened it. We decided that I’d toss anything way too personal onto a “confidential” pile. The plan was to make categorized stacks to sort through later. Upon opening the box I was hit with a kind of old grandma house odor, the stale air molecules released from what was really a time capsule. I worriedly wondered what kind of re-discovery was in store.

Disappointment. The first things I sifted through turned out to be utility bills, canceled checks, and a matchbook with obligatory phone number scrawled on it from Club Lingerie circa 1981. The stand out item was a hand written receipt from my first car purchase, a 1974 Ford Mustang from that period when Mustangs were more like souped-up Ford Pinto’s. I also found the repair bills to keep it running; serial replacements of a problematic fuel pump that made me smile now that all this time had gone by. The trash pile was getting taller while the other stacks were barely stacks at all. I skimmed the first few lines of a love letter and immediately chunked it. Better where it was, stored in the way back “lessons learned” folder of my brain.

A yellowed envelope full of photos appeared. The mother-load of early eighties rock & roll pictures of me playing The Starwood, The Troubadour, The Lighthouse and The Roxy. What is it with Los Angeles and all of the “The” clubs? And of course there had to be the “oh I remember her” pictures with old girlfriends. Kate was thrilled. Old Harvey Family photos were stashed between some black & white 8x10s taken at Madam Wong’s East. Some were of my Mom in the 30’s and others of Dad in his Navy whites. And then there was this photo of Mom & Dad standing on a dock beside a tall, regal sailing ship. This one grabbed my attention; I had no recollection of it and no idea where it was taken. They looked so happy and in love. I’m guessing it was taken by the time David, Rebecca and I had grown up, well, maybe me not so much, but that’s another story. Out of the box I had one precious photo accompanied by the realization that Kate and I are in a similar phase of our lives now and very much in love. I was feeling very thankful.

The next day I gave the picture to Mom. I anticipated she might get teary-eyed since Dad passed away back in 2006. As the tears welled-up she said they were tears of joy. Her expression revealed myriad layers of emotion. It felt good to give Mom that picture, and it was liberating to deep six almost everything else from that box.

So Jonesey, thank you from the bottom of my heart.