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Stories

Check out the articles I’ve written, curious to hear your thoughts on them.

Lost and Freezing on Mt Meeker – A winter ascent of Mount Meeker in Colorado was nearly deadly.

No Help in Tibet – Here’s a story about myself and a British friend hitchiking from Everest base camp to meet our driver and others – via horse and buggy, plowing contraption, trucks, etc. for three days – we intended an afternoon.

Chicago to Mackinac Sailing Adventure  Actually got this one published in a magazine and got paid for it – great adventure – racing for 60+ hours on a sailboat 330 miles up Lake Michigan.  Good times and scary times.  Click here to see it on the site that paid me for it – pictures too.

Somehow I couldn’t figure out how to link more stories – so posted the below about inadvertantly setting an island on fire while I was on it in the middle of winter.

 

INFERNO

I watched, covered in soot, with a mix of horror and detached curiosity as the angry fire raged through the dry grass on our small island.  The beast grew and rapidly became more powerful, the spawn of our friendly lunch fire.  The manic wind encouraged the flames hatred and hunger as it gusted from all different directions.  The inferno was a crazed brute, raging with uncontained fury one way then another across the island.  Smoke billowed into the sky as we snatched our gear from the jaws of the demon.  We scrambled onto and over the piles of ice on the banks to the safety of our canoe and the open river.

 

The adventure had begun with a text message to my adventure buddy, Jeff, on Friday morning, “up for an adventure this weekend?” which was quickly answered with a “what u got?” 

 

“How about canoeing”, I suggested on the phone as we simultaneously planned an ice-climbing trip to northern Michigan a few weeks in the future.

“Sure”, he replied. 

“It doesn’t bother you it’s February and we’re in Chicago?” I asked.

“No problem”, he replied, “we’ll just dress for it.”  And we did.

 

I called the first canoe livery that came up on my Google search, and a very nice lady said sure, we could rent canoes from them.  Knowing I’m not into doing too much research, and though I was already sold I asked her what made her outfit special.  Why should we go with C&M (it’s an hour from downtown Chicago, what could she possibly sell me on?)  She paused for a second then said, “Well, we’re run out of a tavern.”

 

We walked with short, jerky steps down a steep, muddy path leading from the weed-choked and litter-strewn parking lot of an abandoned restaurant down to the Fox River.   As we struggled with the awkward and heavy  aluminum canoe, we joked about what we were getting ourselves into.   Gray skies canopied ramshackle houses that squatted across the river.  A rusted iron bridge spanned the muddy water upstream.  Just as I figured, I thought to myself.  What could I really expect this close to the city in the flat, industrial heartland?  Ah well, I reassured myself, at least I’m not watching TV or recovering from a hangover, cooped up in my apartment.  This will be at least a little more interesting than that.

 

We were bundled up with five layers and several pairs of socks, and had carabinered our  small climbing packs to the canoe’s crossbeams, just in case.  We paddled downstream with the surprisingly swift current.  Several small factories and more than one run-down trailer park slipped by, all of which confirmed my suspicions that one must go much further from Chicago to have any kind of wilderness experience.  I pulled off a glove and tested the near-freezing water.  We’d been asked by Kathy at C&M if we had any kids with us.  She thought it was good we didn’t as “the water’s too cold for children.”  Too cold for children, we later laughed, how about grown-ups!  As I felt the water, the thought of capsizing certainly added some spice to the outing.

 

Jeff and I paddled along, gradually getting into a rhythm and becoming used to the pace of the river as it swept us along.  The stresses of the city dropped slowly away.  Conversation came easily and drifted from our latest misadventures with women to joking about attempting 18,000 foot Mt. Orizaba in Mexico in only four days the previous December, having taken a four wheel drive vehicle to a hut at 14,000 feet two days after leaving Chicago and experiencing (duh) excruciating headaches and debilitating altitude sickness.  What respect we gained for the mountain and certainly wouldn’t make that mistake again.  Jeff was suffering from cracked ribs due to a nasty snowboarding accident.  He had been unable to join me at the climbing gym the last month or so.  Working a few hours a week at the gym was my escape from the horizontal in the Midwest and had been the key to finding adventurous friends in the city and being so lucky as to instruct Jimmy Buffett on his annual trips through town each summer.  As we drifted past run-down river houses in various states of disrepair and vast cornfields, the clouds gradually gave way to blue sky, and we shed a layer or so.  I was pleasantly aware that the exertion of paddling kept me quite comfortably warm.

 

As we paddled on, setting a good pace, I noticed we hadn’t seen a house in the last half hour.  Small limestone bluffs rose periodically from the banks.  On many occasions flocks of geese and beautiful wood ducks would honk and fly off, sounding loud warnings to their fellows as we noiselessly approached them.  The braver ones would wait until we were nearly abreast of them before launching off across the water, wingtips splashing with each flap until the birds gained enough speed to lift off and make good their escape.  A sleek dark muskrat slipped off a bank with barely a splash into the water as we made our way around one of the many islands.

 

Hunger came upon us and we ran the canoe full speed onto a gravel beach at the tip of an island about the size of a basketball court.  Clambering over a six-foot thick ice embankment curiously adorning the upriver edge of the island, we gained the interior, which was devoid of snow.  It sported a thick layer of dead and matted grass with a few large logs crisscrossing the open space.  Choosing a spot for the fire, I cleared away some grass downwind of a large log.  I gathered branches and built a teepee of twigs, stuffed some of the dried grass underneath, and lit it.  The grass burned beautifully and we soon had a nice fire going.  We contentedly munched our sandwiches and thoroughly enjoyed our lunch as we watched the ‘caveman TV’.  Jeff sometimes stomped out an errant flame as it snuck into the surrounding grass. 

 

As we finished our meal and were laughing over a particularly funny tale, a flame crept away from the fire.  Out of curiosity I asked Jeff to let it go for a bit.  It gradually gained confidence as it grew after just a few seconds.  We decided that was enough and began stamping it out just as a gust of wind blew in.  In no time the wind transformed our little experiment into a vortex of swirling flame and smoke.  I kept stamping through the growing smoke and heat, squinting my eyes against the thickening smoke and holding my breath until my lungs were screaming.  I stepped away and gulped a few quick breaths of fresh air and jumped back into the fray.  I stamped harder, fighting against the increasing fury of the flame.  Jeff was stamping away opposite me, and I have a somewhat hazy image of him pouring a full beer we had found onto the conflagration.  Needless to say it didn’t soothe the rising demon.  We realized our friendly little lunch fire had grown to an insatiable and uncontrollable beast.  We scrambled to gather up our gear and rushed to the safety of the ice.  Adrenaline coursed through my veins.  Once in the canoe, we floated past the growing inferno we had caused.  Figuring it couldn’t jump the river, we fled downstream.  Looking back at the hungry flames and billowing smoke, guilt overcame me.  I convinced Jeff we needed to paddle back upstream to make sure the fury was held captive by the river surrounding it.  The monster had raged briefly across the island but burned out as quickly as it had come.  It hadn’t the strength to entice the fallen trees or even the small bushes to join in its short rampage.

 

The sun continued to shine and we were soon paddling with just our base layers on.  The excitement of the recent battle gradually wore off and we again relaxed with our pretty surroundings. Two majestic bald eagles startled us as they took flight from trees directly overhead.  We watched, transfixed by their splendor as they coasted in lazy circles over our heads.  Beautiful bluffs rose from either side of the river, and still no more signs of human habitation.  We pulled up close to one bluff to see if it was climbable but the rock proved to be too sandy.  A flock of turkeys flew across the river (yes, wild turkeys can fly, I didn’t believe it either) not thirty feet in front of us, one after the other.  We floated through the beautiful landscape, and it was easy to imagine we were Lewis and Clark seeing the country for the first time.

 

We paddled on, thinking we had hours to go, as we had chosen the longer twelve-mile trip.  Around a bend we saw a huge factory rising high, belching smog into the air.   Just past it was the C&M Tavern!  I was more than a bit disappointed the wonderfully surprising adventure was finished and our journey into the wild was over.  We headed into the bar and enjoyed beers and some delicious gumbo, brought in by a local for his friends to enjoy on a winter afternoon in Illinois.  One of the patrons asked us if we’d caught anything.  “No,” we told him, then later joked that, yes, we had caught an island on fire.

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