Monday, November 29, 2010


What a week in Arizona. I’ll let some pictures do the talking here for a moment.

Trip highlights? An awesome feast and leftovers for miles. Great times with family and friends. New dirt! - Slim Shady, Highline, Pigtail, and Hangover. Someone is a builder out there in a big way, and Sedona just keeps getting better.

Bonus highlight? Guitar Hero. Rental houses have interesting perks sometimes.

Yellow, yellow, Green, red. WHAMMY BAR!

Probably the worst part of the trip - how fast it flew by. The way that vacation time has begun to accelerate for me is a little alarming. 11 days away is just not enough somehow. I am spoiled rotten.

On a related, more somber note - it's three years ago this week that Evel Knievel died at his home in Florida, suffering and finally wrecked by diabetes and the lung disease, Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. He was 69 when he died, and he left behind forty busted bones as the pioneer of motorcycle daredevil entertainment along with record books full of dangerous hucks that he barely survived.

Evel, he was a wild one.

Interestingly enough, Mike Janelle died that same week in 2007. You might not know Mike's name - he was a fit, 40 year-old bike racer, and he passed away while sleeping after Thanksgiving dinner at his home in Vail. Mike was a health nut, an amazing racer, and a role model. Evel outlived him by 29 years.

Looking back on it now, their passing in the same week under such radically different circumstances gave the world a collective pause, the sort of stutter I made all week in Arizona when I was explaining something to Danny O and I would suddenly realize that I didn't know what I was talking about. That seems to happen a lot now.

Moreover, being in Arizona last week I came to realize something about the life-philosophy that you can't help but inherit a little when you're there: you always think you have time. It’s just how the West makes you feel. Maybe it’s the open spaces, the sense of infinity you get when you look from here to the mountains to the sky and back. Maybe it’s the endorphins, just drugs in your veins.

Another slightly low point of the trip - someone once thought that two lanes of traffic through Oak Creek Village between I-15 and Sedona would be enough, probably the same way that Evel Knievel calculated the width of the Snake River from an airplane, or how we, as humans, think we understand the breadth of being alive. Traffic crawls there now, every day, 365 days per year. They've put in about 100 roundabouts, though, to speed things up. Interesting.

So yeah, Mike Janelle. He was amazing. You can dig more about him here:

For me, I met Mike Janelle exactly once, after a race in Winter Park where he’d passed me on a long, steep climb going up beside Tipperary Creek. I was 23, new to racing, and he streaked by me on an inside turn with a big smile and a “good work, man.” He appeared to be going about 100 miles per hour. I crossed the line about an hour behind him and sought him out - “how do you go that fast?” I wanted to know. He laughed and talked with me for an hour about riding, racing, Colorado, swimming holes, nachos, anything.

He didn’t give two shits about how fast he was. He was, in a word, exuberant. Someday, I told myself on my drive home, I’d like to be able to ride a bike like that. So in 2002, I set about learning to do it the way Mike recommended – “just ride as much as you can.” I rode to work, rode home, rode singletrack loops through the mountains from my house in Boulder. In Mike, I had something I wanted to emulate, a kind of reckless speed that had always seemed to work for him that didn’t always work for me. I crashed a lot. I built scars and calluses to document the effort. But I got faster.

The day I found out Evel Knievel died, I was driving a slow interstate mile down I-25 in Denver in recalcitrant traffic, humming something from the Rolling Stones, and thinking about Mike Janelle. The radio reported that Evel had passed away, and I realized that he'd outlived Mike by 29 years and 3 days. I was physically jarred by that. The sun set, horns sounded, and traffic crawled. It occurred to me that life, like forward motion, is not a measurement, not the flow of traffic, or the span of a great chasm. It’s an estimate, and sometimes it’s wrong.

In June 1966, Evel came up short on a big jump, hung his rear wheel on the top of a cargo van parked at the end of 12 cars in Missoula, and he wound up broken in a hospital for days. He recovered, and on New Years Eve 1967, he shorted his carefully planned fountain jump in front of Caesar’s in Vegas, put himself in a Coma for nearly a month.
But he awoke, and at the pinnacle moment of his career, September 1974 over the Snake River, Evel’s rocket-powered motorcycle prematurely deployed an emergency parachute and drifted dangerously back across the river. He crashed hard, just feet from the water on the same side of the canyon where he started, but he was unharmed.

I wonder about it now - what did Evel Knievel think that day when he took off to jump the Snake River? Not the first thing, not that easy affirmation we all make, “Yeah, I can stick that.” I mean after that. What did Evel say to himself just as he took to flight, in the act of trying to huck an entire canyon, hanging between life and death?

Speed up, he probably wished. If anyone in the history of the human species has ever had a good feel for the benefits of inertia, it was Evel.

Conversely, and yet inextricably linked by their deaths, Mike Janelle won the Bicycle Race Across America 3 times. He won the 24 hours of Moab twice. He represented the USA at Marathon Worlds in 2005, and he rode a stiff aluminum hardtail to the brink of safety and sometimes a little farther. When you watched him ride, it was like speed for him was some kind of an accident, like somehow his ability was the serendipitous result of something else he hadn’t planned on – like maybe he’d forgotten to eat donuts for breakfast, or he’d just been too lazy to brake.

But having worked for years to get a little speed myself, I now see the effort that it took. Mike Janelle worked his ass off to get that fast. So what did he say to his wife and son before he went to sleep on Thanksgiving night in 2007 and never woke up?

Slow down, I imagine him saying, these days are going by much too fast. But really that’s just me. The distance from the top to the bottom is deadly, but much shorter than we sometimes think.

Long way around to my point; Arizona kicked ass, but get out and rally this week anyway, boys and girls. And SAVOR it. You never really know. It's almost December, getting Arctic cold around here. Maybe there too, wherever there is, where Evel and Mike get to ride around waiting for us.

1 comment:

  1. Dave, you are an amazing writer.

    I remember the shock of Mike Janelle passing and vaguely remember the news of the great Evel Knievel's death, too, but I didn't make the connection of them being so close in time and the juxtaposition of two men who were at the peak and post-peak stages of their lives.

    Rocking pics, too. I wanna be a Guitar Hero. And ride a bike!