Monday, June 27, 2005

Eulogy for John Davis

The memorial service for John Davis was yesterday in Claremont. I had written the following, and then Stan Davis asked if I'd read this at the service. I was honored, and said so.

There was a large turnout, I was sitting with Andy Roth & Liz Boyd on one side, Kenny Hamada & "Uncle" Hal Winton on the other.

There were 5 speakers. In relay terms, I was the anchor.

Earlier that day Andy & I had taken a memory loop over the top of Baldy, where we covered all matters sacred and profane. We took the short route up the mountain, using the Helen Klein Memorial Offramp up to the Sierra Club Hut. The streams were running full, and the Bighorns were smoking Pall Mall straights and shitting in them, despite the wails of the Sierra Club dorks who were doing their first solo unaided summit bids.

I hope you are doing well!

Eulogy for John Davis

This eulogy is for John Davis, from a man who met him late and knew him not well enough. This tribute is seen through the prism of ultrarunning, and makes no claims beyond that narrow scope.

John Davis died this past Sunday June 20 after a short, fierce battle with cancer. The specifics are mercifully brief, and he died proud and upright, with his wife Carolyn, and sons Stan and Ken in attendance. He is preceded in death by Phyllis, mother of Stan and Ken. He was 71 years old.

I last saw John on June 11, appropriately enough at a birthday run at Claremont’s Wilderness Park. I knew he had cancer, and was touched to see him stride to the start line in his inimitable gangly stride. After he finished, he began to quote the finer points of standard deviance in statistical analysis with piercing logic and comedy. I knew right then that the meds had not gotten the better of him.

John came to running in the early 1970s, while he was one of many harried, overworked aerospace engineers working on manned and unmanned space projects. The demands of the job were making him a cranky customer at home. One day his wife Phyllis went to Big 5, bought him a pair of “jogging shoes”, gave them to John, told him in her inimitable soft Tulsa voice to put them on, and come back when he felt better. And he did.

He began to trace the running arc from the 5k and 10k, through the marathon, and arrived at the ultra portal. I don’t know where and how, but there he was. I know that by the time I met him in 1989, he was an iconic figure in California Ultra circles; one of the First Generation Old Timers like Norm Klein, Baz Hawley, Ken Hamada, and Bob Holtel.

Baldy Peaks 50k was one of his legacies. The Inaugural "Zero-eth" Baldy Peaks was run as a trial effort in December 1988. There was no snow that month on top of Baldy. When the day was ended they all came home and Phyllis Davis made the lads dinner. Phyllis was a key element of the race that ended only with her sudden and untimely death in December 2000. She was missed by all of us.

This race is a blend of the artistry, precision and eye to maximal sensory overload that can only come from the mind of an aerospace engineer (John) and a classically-trained musician (Ken). Stan (the computer guy) provided SysOps support.

Joe Franko, a long-time family friend added " I recall, the credit should go to John's son Ken, who laid out the course as part of a college project at Cal Poly, Pomona. We were students together then. He was an undergraduate in mathematics and I a graduate student." So who said that science, math and pain don't mix?

Baldy Peaks became a rite of passage for many runners including Scott Jurek, Gabriel Flores, Karl Meltzer, Brandon Sybrowsky, Ian Torrence, Ben Hian, Jim O’Brien and Tom Nielsen for starters. The amazing women who’ve come and made their names include Sherry Johns Mahieu, Krissy Moehl Sybrowsky, Julie Arter, and Lorraine Gersitz, to name several.

The race was always a family affair, with a civic focus. It was a benefit for charities like the Pomona Valley Dental Clinic, which brought elementary dental care to the underserved working poor.

John decided to retire the race after 2000. At this point Andy Roth and Larry Gassan took it over. Both had run Baldy as their first ultra.

John was one of the founding members of the Southern California Ultra Series, back when there were only eight races on the calendar.

John was a fast friend to many others in ultras. He was a hard-working friend to the Western States 100, Angeles Crest 100, Javelina 100, and numerous other 50s and 50ks here on the west coast. When he didn’t drive, he flew his own plane up to Auburn, for instance, worked the HAM radios, then turned around and flew home.

Any more on the business of running becomes a cascade of numbers, splits, and statistical drizzle. Let’s pull back and look at the real man.

The world is generally unkind to men who are tall, gangly, and don’t settle matters with mendacity and blunt force. John was a stand up man in a bent world. He was a true friend to the people in his life. He knew that some took advantage of it, but refused to think small.

I knew John as a complex, multi-faceted man who did things his own way. Sometimes the very things that made him unique were maddening, and yet endearing to the people around him. His training and viewpoints as an engineer sometimes made the sociology of his decisions “interesting”, but his intentions were good and his heart was in the right place when he made these calls.

Finally, John once told me that when he was fifteen, he was on a train, and saw his flickering reflection in the window. He wondered who he really was—there was an awkward boy’s face with glasses was staring back at him. In that instant, I really knew who he was. He was a deeply caring man who shared his heart with his family and friends the best way he knew how; which was to let them discover all that they could do, which was what they never thought they could. That moment of awareness stayed with him to the end of his life.

God keep you, JED.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

A Beginner's Guide To Western States

A Beginner's Guide To Western States

Yes, it's that time of year again, when Young Ultrarunners Everywhere Like You®™ turn their fond attentions and deficit-disorders to Western States 100. You've been to Kamp n0Rm, you've sat thru the Blister Show, and been anointed in Knowledge. But to help you along in your Epic VisionKwest®™, I have compiled some of the Ancient Secrets that will help You and You Alone. These are cryptic and hermeutic. As Don Juan Castaneda once said, "This will put the plomo in your Lapiz".

It will be dark and cold. Your nipples will be very perky. This is a good time to be a detached bystander, but you arent, so there. You'll have past-life memories flooding your consciousness, and be incredibly desirous of taking a leak in the bushes.

The gun goes off. Maybe its a howitzer. In any event, the shell goes long, and a hidden meth lab over the next ridge gets buried in an avalanche. You're Off! Most of you love-guns will FLY out of Squaw!

Relax! Don't do it. Stroll up and over Emigrant Pass. You've got 5 miles of a leisurely climb. Have a Pall Mall Straight. Drift along in someone else's flashlight beam. Have that stick of butter with the pickle juice you've saved. It'll come in handy later.

Yes, we've had a spectacular winter. There will be snow. Think of it in a new light: Mr Snow is giving Mr Trail Dust a big butt-hug. It'll keep your sox from getting dirty. This will go on for a while. Make sure not to eat any yellow snow. Unless it's some you brought with you from home.

By now you are in a panic that you've lost all that time slipping around. "Wee-wax", says Emer Fudd. Now it's getting warm. Guess what? It'll stay that way for the rest of your natural-born WS100 Kareer. You may have noticed that the canyons run in a WSW direction. The net effect of this handiwork is that it focusses Mr Sun's Rayz as effectively as parabolic mirrors and heating coils. This was all by Gawd's Hand. Its all for you. Be at One with this.

Here's a fact: it'll be at least 1000 degrees Celsius. Now is the time to wear those Ice Pants you bought at the WS Gear Expo at Squaw. Fill them with 20lbs of ice, and they'll keep you in fine form until you get to Devil's Thumb. If you forgot to buy them, you'll be able to strip them from the carcass of an expired WS runner. Be sure to swap bib numbers.

This is where you really find out some fun things about ultrarunners, and your training. Despite everything you may have inhaled on or off the List, utlrarunners are not your family or friends. This thesis is best tested in the following manner. Be dehydrated. Feel your quads locking up and that pounding in your kidneys, as if squirrels are standing on your back and swinging tiny 5-lb mauls. In cadence. There is a roaring in your ears. You are doubled over. Count the number of people running past you, even though its uphill, like you had Ebola. Its One Big Happy Fambly after all.

The good news about Michigan Bluff is that this is the first Epic Trail Betty View Point. All the Trail Betties within a 200-mile radius are gathered here. The bad news is, they are hooked up with Someone Else, and are definitely not interested in a dust-covered, snot-stained, proto-delerious Loser like yourself. Maybe with a shower, possibly. Enjoy the sights and keep moving.

Many fond memories flood through my Fragile Eggshell Mind when I think of Foresthill. They devolve around lithe and lovely young women in hula skirts and halter-tops. One friend of mine, experienced a similar vision, only it was a large shaggy man in a similar outfit. Maybe it was a bear on a day pass. In any event, This is the point Where Many Dreams Die. The sun is beginning to set, you've shot yr wad in the Canyons, and the Siren Call of Motel is luring you into a Life of Vice. If it comes with an MGL Guarantee, go for it. Otherwise, calorie up and be off.

You may have picked up your pacer here. Oh joy. They might be fired up and full of piss-n-vinegar. Or they may be terrified because this is their first Night Run Ever. They've got their tasers and crocodile guns at the ready, and be loaded down with a full pharmacopia they found on ebay. In some instances they might be carrying a tow rope. They most likely will NOT have jumper cables. And they'll be staring at your hairy ass for the next 14 hours. What's not to like!

This particular stretch of trail may have anywhere from 3-9 aid stations, named Cal 3, 5, , or 4.5. Some of them may have The Haunting Melodies of Aulde Native American Skin Flute wafting thru the poison oak. This is designed to soothe the Angry Chi of some of you, others it may induce a fatal Yanni-esque Coma from which Ther Is No Recovery. Stumble Away! Take me to the River!

You arrive at the River. In your mind you'll be doing the Epic Crossing. But you'll be holding on to a steel cable, held by 41 upright neoprened Chorus Manly Men. You make it to the Other Side. Climb! Climb up to Greengate. Observe the barf-splats in the dust! You might see pacers holding flashlights scrutinizing the urine streams of their hapless runners. Usually this is a misdemeanor offense in some municipalities, but is waived for the duration of the WS100.

The alert monkey mind at this point has begun to notice that the trail is less rocky, more smooth, and the terrain more gentle than what has transpired earlier. This is the Kosmic Joke of WS. You've humped and pumped like a horny sailor on the wham-bang downhill sections. Now your quads are shot. Foolish squirrel! This is where you get to let your freak flag fly! Pass all those smart ass losers who busted out of Emigrant! Smoke 'em! Show them the true meaning of sportsmanship. Here is some sample dialog to try out:

"Damn! Your dick *really* is in the dirt!"
"You look really shitty! Maybe you oughta drop!"

And so forth. Improvise! Be Creative!

I mentioned pacers earlier. You'll be seeing and hearing a lot of really interesting interactions which cover the full range of Honesty and Emotion [ie Dr Phil to Montel]. Take notes, and use it on your next Marriage Encounter Weekend.

You have just cashed in every last IOU. Your family, friends, SO's, fuck-buddies owe you NOTHING. They are not interested in how much you hurt. Promise. YOU are in their mortal debt for as long as they can make it swing. Lip off to your spouse/whatever--start looking for a dumpster to live in. Be sure it has a Dish so you can watch low-grade porn while sipping your Vintage Lady Lee Vodka.

And with that my little chickadees, you're off to the races!

--Bone Regards,
Mr Trail Safety

"Tanned, rested and ready
from his Secure, Undisclosed Location"


Listen up!

This message is being sent by or on behalf of Mr Trail Safety. It is intended exclusively for the individual or entity to which it is addressed, excluding non-specific incarnations and bardo-state entities. It contains concepts that may challenge you. You will adjust. This communication may contain information that is proprietary, privileged or confidential or otherwise legally exempt from disclosure, certain to cause cerebral flatulence and conceptual infarctions among the simple-minded and comedy-challenged. If you are not the named addressee, you are not authorized to read, print, retain, copy or disseminate this message or any part of it, including channelling the aforementioned to spirit-bodies, Taiwanese Dream-Catchers, Heritage Barbie Dolls or Dale Earnhardt Collector plates. But go ahead, live dangerously, drive left-of-center and give it your best shot. If you have received this message in error, you are SOL and deserve it--you'll have subsequent incarnations to work out the kinks.

Here, have some salt.