07 June 2016

In other news, the stoke has been ample

Since my last photo-dump in November... and despite our recent sadness... there have been other moments, too, where fortunately the stoke has been ample.

These are some of them.

25 May 2016


Jack was a consolation, as was Jackie, which preceded it for a time.  A nod to his mother's side of the family, the Jacksons.

He was Jack every day of his life.

But John was his given name, as it is mine.  Eldest sons on the Coe-side of our family have bounced around in naming between Percy and John for many a generation.

Like all good dads, he was full of stories.  And lessons.  Patience.  And advice.

He died yesterday.  Peacefully.  In my mother's arms, his wife of 52 years.  It was beautiful.  And so sad.  The way death should be.

And he had everything ready.  The bills.  The insurance invoices.  The bank statements.  All of it.  We weren't surprised by this, as we looked through his desk.  But we shook our heads and smiled,

"Somehow, he knew."

"He had to have known."

It was like him not to have said a word.

I'm going to miss him terribly.  His stories.  His advice.

His dirty Saturday T-shirts.  His well-worn, deeply imprinted backyard flip-flops.  The scent of his cologne.  His Brylcreemed hair. The way he said, "John," whenever he got on the phone with me.  How he always seemed so genuinely pleased to spend any amount of time with my wife and, most especially, our daughter.  His compulsion to talk to his dog.  The way he never really needed to be with anyone other than my mom.  How he mourned forever the loss of his old Corvette.  The way he would perseverate over the clarity of the water in his pool.  And speak broken farm-hand Spanish to the crew who cut his grass. Or select just the right song for a given context, and sing with great accuracy every word of the lyric.

Wise men say...

I aspire to be a dad such as he was, and hope to be remembered by my own kid, when my time comes to shuffle off, with the same sort of sincere affection and abiding, poured-out sense of loss that I feel for him.

Here's to happy endings, Pop.

10 March 2016

Archival footage: My ghosts engraved on this landscape

The following post was originally published at FlagstaffBiking.org in March 2004.

Carroll Ballard is one of the best film directors you've probably never heard of. But it's quite likely you've nevertheless been consistently impressed, as I have, by his movies -- cinematically gorgeous depictions of the natural world -- each of which speaks, I think, to how we humans often find ourselves humbled and awestruck by our insignificance. 

Remember the sea of caribou in Never Cry Wolf? The brilliant contrasts of water and sand on the island in The Black Stallion? The mysteriously compelled formations of Canadian geese in Fly Away Home? All beautiful examples, each composed by Ballard, of how unremarkable humankind is when viewed against the expansive backdrop of the natural world.

Like geese following an ultralight, I too am mysteriously imprinted and compelled. Often I'm totally surprised by what's imprinted me and on whose behalf.

Out in the woods, there is a long climbing section of singletrack that always reminds me of Wade. There's a difficult rock trap that recalls Chris to my mind and a log that always bears Lyle's name. There are also various overlooks, well-kept secret trails, twisty paths through widely spaced trees, and remote waypoints as well, all of which awaken long dormant but distinct memories of longtime and mostly long-gone friends like Ken, Shawn, Scotty, Mark, Huge, T-roy, Hils and the Bens. 

The recollection of friends, the ghostly apparitions these places and trails conjure, is profound and impressed upon me repeatedly, whenever I ride them.

Some rides have special moments, you see, where we become awestruck and imprinted. That's what I believe. Like images in a photo album, memorable passages from a familiar story, or notes jotted indelibly on the palm of my hand -- I will not, cannot forget these memories. Almost daily, I find myself both humbled by and grateful for their powerful influence on my life. 

They are my ghosts and they are engraved on this landscape.

21 February 2016

Give me rainclouds

Give me darkness when I'm dreaming
Give me moonlight when I'm leaving
Give me shoes that weren't made for standing
Give me treeline 

Give me big sky 
Give me snowbound
Give me rainclouds

-- Gregory Alan Isakov, 3 A.M.

Dark clouds poured rain over the untarped load, the entirety of my material possessions, stacked-and-tied in the back of my buddy Kevin's red Toyota pickup the day I moved to Flagstaff.  

In my mind, the dark clouds that hung over my life that day were nearly as oppressive. In the figurative wake of my old friend's ersatz moving-truck, as of the fifteenth of August 1991, I wasn't just leaving Scottsdale behind, I was also leaving a still-bitter fiancé and the smoldering remains of one truly bad relationship, a hardly-started career that I'd nevertheless washed clean out of, as well as every friend I'd made during the first 24 years of my life, including my best-friend, Kevin, who would within the hour turn his truck left onto Blackbird Roost, out of my run-down studio apartment's parking lot and, quite literally, out of my life.

I settled into my new, mostly solitary, life in Flagstaff with greater ease than I had expected to. Each weekday morning, with a tattered blue pack on my back, the same one I'd used for years while in journalism school at ASU, I climbed through the rough, kicked-in hole in my apartment complex's wooden back fence, walked across the Greyhound station's dirty, potholed tarmac, and then down the short dark alleyway behind Andy Womack's Flamingo Motor Hotel to bolt across Route 66 near the Dairy Queen in order to get to my classes in the College of Ed Building at NAU.  Each evening I walked back, often via the same route, but sometimes along Butler to Clay past the Furniture Barn after taking a detour from campus up to Southside, to get some slice at NiMarcos, a cup at Macys, or to drop in at Cosmic Cycles to smell the tires and Triflow and wander the floor lusting after new bikes.  

It is no small thing to say: the course of the remainder of my life was, quite literally changed forever, when, on one of my first visits to Cosmic Cycles, I spent a few of my then very-limited funds ($5.95+tax to be exact) on an early edition of a little day-glo green self-published book entitled Fat Tire Tales and Trails written by some dude who called himself Cosmic Ray.

As a lovely parting-gift, on the eve of my departure from the Valley, my parents had purchased for me, at their local Price Club warehouse store, a new Motiv mountain bike to help me get around in Flagstaff.  I'd been on several mountain bike rides in Phoenix on borrowed bikes in the years prior to moving to Flagstaff, but I'd never owned one of my own until now. 

I had absolutely no idea where to ride my new bike when I first moved to town. During my first weeks in Flagstaff, I bumped around my neighborhood, downtown, and campus on my bike, and I'd even ridden down the narrow dirt service road that ran beside the railroad tracks for a few miles, as far as a big red-sandstone tunnel, but I hadn't really found a good way into the woods at that point

Cosmic Ray's little green book changed all that.  

Having no TV (and this being the last silent decade before the cacophonous Internet replaced the bookish solitude of my life with cat videos), I spent that evening quietly poring over Ray's book, fascinated by every crudely-drawn map and the promises they each bore of new trails to ride and new places to discover which Ray related in a gregarious narrative voice that somehow felt familiar to me. "This is a guide to that elusive trail disappearing into the woods. That trail leads to the heart of the imagination... our childhood dreams of wander," he wrote in the introduction. As someone who had spent his childhood roaming around in the woods, I immediately understood Ray's intent.

The very next day I "followed" his Observatory Mesa "map" out my front door and into the woods.  It was this one:

I did the ride backwards, in a clockwise direction, because the end of the loop, per Ray's directions, was just down the street from my apartment, right where the pavement ended and down the service road to the big tunnel under the tracks that I'd ridden to once or twice before.  I figured I could piece together the rest of the ride, working the route out turn-by-turn by reading Ray's directions in reverse.

I was mostly right about this.

Tom Bean's photo of the "Big Meadow" on Observatory Mesa
Used without permission
Also, it rained a lot on that ride, hailed some too, none of which I was adequately prepared for, but through which I persevered undaunted and undeterred though too-near hypothermia in the end to consider the ride a victory.  But it sure was awesome!

The next day I spent a few more of my meager funds on a cheap green plastic rain-shell, purchased from a friendly guy named Mark at the Inner Basin Ski Shop which used to occupy the long, narrow storefront right next door to Cosmic Cycles.  Carried it with me thereafter, always at the ready, for years.

Over the years, I bought each new revision of Ray's book whenever it came out and used all of them faithfully to find cool new trails and interesting places to go on my bike.

Better still, I got to know Ray.  At first because, as the sole distribution rep for his books, he often came into the bike shop where I worked in the summertime to check on our inventory and sell us more books.  The first time I met him, I told him how much his books had meant to me. And then, a little later on, I had the chance to publish a few reviews of both his bike and hike books for Flagstaff Live when I was the outdoors editor there for a time.  I was able then, too, to convey to our readers the special role Ray's books had played in helping me reshape and redirect my life.

I saw him out riding around town yesterday on his stealth Coconino.  He didn't see us, even though we were out driving around in our not-so-stealth Forester.  But I was reminded, in that moment as we passed him: we've been on some good rides together, Ray and I, some when he was right there riding along side me, and a whole bunch more that he inspired me to go on by writing about them so cleverly in his books.

I'm glad that I've been able to tell him, both now and then, how much his books have meant to me.

And I'm honored to say, he's included a mention of that fact in the introduction to the most recent edition of his book.

15 November 2015

"It has been reported that I was seriously ill..."

"It has been reported that I was seriously ill -- it was another man; dying -- it was another man; dead...
As far as I can see, nothing remains to be reported." - Mark Twain

Whenever I stumble back upon a blog I've not read in some time, only to find it has languished, unposted to, since my last visit, I tend to wonder.  I wonder what the reasons are that the blog has not seen words, that posts have gone unmade for so long a time.  And I worry.  I worry that perhaps some tragedy has struck in said blogger's life, and that this is the reason for their absence from the 'net.

It strikes me that you may have worried and wondered the same on my behalf as well. Rest easy, dear reader, for just as Twain also is once said to have said, "The report of my death was an exaggeration." 

Since my last post, I truthfully have not suffered much, but for the rigors of long hours hard at work, and the soaring costs of repair to the slow entropy that must come naturally as a part of the ownership of material things.  Otherwise, I can report, we are all blessed to be well and in good health and that I have, in the main, had little else to say that was, as I deemed it, particularly worthy of note.

As my Facebook page and Instagram feed will both attest, a portion of which I will now repost here below for the record, I have likewise on occasion been able to enjoy life, as time-off, time-out-of-doors, and time-spent-with-friends-and-family have all been had in great abundance since my last update in July.

I hope this post finds you equally well.