Saturday, October 17, 2009

Refuel in New England

Chris was feeling blue in the days following surgery…drifting in and out of a haze probably caused by painkillers, lack of exercise, and much more TV than he was used to. A change of scene was the remedy, and in this case the scene was New England in early fall. Upon reflection, this turned out well for two very good reasons. First, a major change of environment provided much-needed relief from the incessant nagging from two opposing agendas: to remain immobile and heal from surgery per doctors orders, and the need to efficiently buy items for Tao’s “high-priority” upgrades and get down to Mexico as quickly as possible. Second, although unaware of this himself, the human care and companionship he received while visiting both family and friends during the early weeks of his recovery turned out to be the critical elements he needed to regain his capacity to enjoy life in the moment.

Chris’s first stop on the way East was in Denver, CO, to visit his good buddy from graduate school, Monte Lunacek (giving one of his better Zoolander "Blue Steel" impressions, photo right) . Monte is a different man from the one he new at Colorado State University, only a few years back (OK, maybe 8). He has forsaken his “dirt-bag climber” lifestyle (at least for the moment) and is currently working as a post-doc with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, home of Coors now turned hip Denver border town. Incredibly, Monte no longer lives out of his car. He just finished purchasing his first home, a spacious condominium only a few minutes from downtown Golden. In addition to good dialogue and some local hiking, Chris and Monte were able to catch up with another Colorado State University classmate and good friend, Melody Bourret, who is now living and working in Boulder, CO.

From Denver, Chris flew to Boston and caught a bus up to Bangor, ME, where he met his father, Dave, for a ten-day visit to beautiful family property in Penobscot Bay. He has fond memories of summers spent with his father and sister, Sarah, in a small, undeveloped wooden cabin overlooking the water along Eggemoggin Reach on Little Deer Isle. The water, beach and roughly 30 acres of dense forest were great for exploring, hiking, clamming, canoeing, windsurfing, sailing, and just about anything else a couple of kids could imagine. This year, highlights included a 3-day sailing cruise around the islands of Penobscot aboard his father’s boat Mouette, a 31 foot Dufour (furry first-mate, photo right); spending calm evenings watching sunsets on the north porch; putting together puzzles with his stepmother, Anette; taking long walks in the forest; and watching boats navigate down the reach each day.

Leaving Maine, Chris traveled south towards West Barnstable, MA. There, he visited his mother, Jane, and stepfather, Abe, at their house on Cape Cod. While there, he enjoyed neighborhood walks and lengthy discussions with his mother; going out to favorite eateries and watching Red Sox games on TV together; and wholeheartedly enjoying the rare opportunity to spend time with his globetrotting mother and stepfather. Crisp, clear weather foreshadowed the changing seasons, and provided a good reason to cozy up to fires in the Franklin stove. Last, but certainly not least, he also made it to two Red Sox games at Fenway Park in Boston, taking him back to memories of ballgames with his stepfather as a young kid. Amazingly, the Red Sox won both games, but not without some of the good drama you would expect.

Chris spent the final few days of his East Coast trip at a wedding on Long Island, NY, with friends from Occidental College. While at Oxy, he enjoyed surfing with the groom, Jason Graetz, and another close friend in attendance, Matt Gehrke, at various California and Baja Norte breaks. Jason was married to his beautiful bride, Rania, out in the fields behind a cleverly restored barn near Riverhead, Long Island. Following the reception, Chris traveled with Matt down to his newly purchased townhouse in Wilmington, DE. Although the visit was short, it was good to finally see Matt settling into a good groove at work and home.

At the end of a month in New England, Chris was revitalized and his injury was well on its way to full recovery. He was finally prepared to get back to the West Coast and tackle the work ahead; work that he hopes will eventually lead to a life together with his greatest loves: Shawn, Grizzly, and Tao. After a long day of air travel, he couldn’t have been any happier to see Shawn at the airport when he arrived in San Francisco on September 23rd.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Summer in Idaho

"Whatever I feel like I want to do. Gosh!" Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Chris’s primary motivation for leaving TAO on the hard this summer was to work with his close friends at Canyons, Inc., the Idaho river company he has been an integral part of since 1999. The river has always been a part of Chris’s life, beginning with day trips on the Kern River in California, and multi-day private trips with his family on the San Juan River in Utah as early as 1978. Chris started guiding professionally in 1994 and, to this day, still soaks in the revitalizing energy of the river on every trip. As river seasons in Idaho go, 2009 was a relatively wet year and Chris saw rain on most of his trips, sometimes with only one day of sun over the course of a six-day float.The additional water kept rivers up, the hills green, and also provided excellent kayak surf conditions on his days off. Chris and his friends spent many blissful hours surfing in the perfect white pile of Gold Hole at 10,000 cfs, located in the very last rapid of the 6-day Main Salmon River run.

Apart from fun on the river, there were a couple of hallmark events worth mentioning. First, his dear friend and coworker, Greg McFadden (flexing some serious muscles in pic below), has made a successful bid to buy Canyons, Inc., from employers, Les and Susan Bechdel. The Bechdels have captained the Canyons ship from day one almost 25 years ago, building the company into one of the premier river companies to offer multi-day trips down the Middle Fork and Main Salmon Rivers.Chris and the rest of the Canyons crew have full faith that Greg will continue the tradition of exceptional river running in the largest and one of the most spectacular wilderness areas in the lower 48 states (

Finally, the event that capped off Chris’s summer was a little more painful, to say the least. On another rainy day 3 at Big Mallard camp on the Main Salmon, Chris slipped and fell between two rafts while unloading gear. He quickly caught himself by grabbing two shipped oars, one on each raft, but was caught suspended between the two boats slowly drifting apart. While lowering himself to the ground, he suddenly heard a distinct popping sound in his shoulder and felt searing pain. He hobbled out of the water and immediately saw the left side of his chest swell into a B-cup “man-boob.” Pain management and stabilization were the immediate chores on order; nothing that a few painkillers, ice, sling and swathe couldn’t solve. His injury was monitored for any signs of change, major hemorrhaging, or loss of feeling in his left hand. Despite several hope-filled dreams that symptoms had disappeared over night, morning came and he knew there was absolutely no chance he’d be able to row the last few days of the trip. Twenty-four hours and several satellite phone conversations later, Chris was flown off the river from a short, steeply angled dirt runway with a harrowing, over the river take-off.

After medical evaluation, Chris was told that he had most likely torn the better part of his left pectoralis major muscle off of the upper humerus where it normally attaches. He needed surgery to gain back what he had lost. He had open surgery on August 17 and the surgeon indeed found that he had a “complete avulsion of the pec major tendon from the insertion point on the humerus.” They drilled ten “bone tunnels” into his humerus and used “baseball/whip/locking stitches” and four knots to reattach his pec and reestablish his “native anatomy.” He is still recovering from this setback, with physical therapy and, eventually, muscle rehabilitation. It’ll be a 5-6 month process but, luckily, he and his surgeon expect a 100% recovery. Special thanks go to Drs. Patrick Knibbe and Michael Curtin, as well as the entire Canyons, Inc., team for making Chris’ journey to recovery as smooth as possible.