Archive for the ‘No shit, there I was.’ Category

Is it worse to say you want a drink, or you need a drink?


Sometimes I want a drink. And, sometimes I really, really need one.


Facing down a thousand foot, near-vertical ski slope, peering into the depths of the glacial abyss, it was both.




Thus goes the ongoing story of my weak week trek into the frozen frontier of Prince William Sound and the surreal setting that is Points North Heli-Adventures.


        flight up high


My first foray into telling the tale of my Alaskan heli-skiing adventure was intended to give an overview from a lofty perch at 38,000’ in our Alaska Airlines 737, as we descended down to sea level and the A-Star helicopters waiting to whisk us to the freshly coated, untracked powder-covered slopes.


     frank blower day


The story revealed, what I lacked in skiing skills (yes, that is me in the picture), I attempted to make up with a little leg hugging of our cute, redheaded heli-guide.


In my subsequent post, I hinted at the physical and mental stamina required to ski at this level, and by hinted, I admitted being basically bereft of both.


My woeful performance alone would not explain the impressive abundance of alcoholic beverages nightly in NEFCO mess hall, which topped the tables like the snow blanketing the nearby slopes.


     NEFCO crowd


Since the vast majority—in other words, everyone but me—displayed the requisite prowess of boarding and skiing skills, their consumption was clearly more celebratory than consoling in nature.


     boys and booze


I would tell myself that I only drank to mitigate the pain of the marred meniscus of my right knee, and hoped that I wouldn’t appear in the next Warren Miller blooper reel of blundering buffoons.


     second person down


All this is not to say that the skiing conditions are always easy-peasy on the perfect pow. It may be surprising to the uninitiated, but this is not a snow-covered Disneyland-like winter playground where everything is safe and predictable, nor would most of us wish it were.


Just like everywhere else on the planet, the snow up there sometimes develops a hard crust, and sometimes the lighting becomes flat and you can’t see where you are going, and sometimes the depth of cover is less than desired and reveals where the rocks live in summer.


To wit, here is a short YouTube video, taken during our time there, as my new buddy Pawel “narrates” the conditions he encountered on one particular run.

(It also shows the area above the snow, where the helicopters live and play, and it is not just the skiers who can’t always see where they are going.)



Given ever-increasing stories of the loss of artic ice, thankfully, currently there is no lack of glacial ice in Cordova, as our last “heli-stop” of the day was to pick some up for the evening’s applications.


        ice for drinks 


Those are chunks of it on the slope, just outside of the A-Star windshield.

Our heli-guide is outside the ship trying to find a large piece he can physically manhandle into the basket, yet not so heavy that it requires the pilot to offload my fat ass so the copter can lift off the glacier.


Back at the lodge, reducing it to a usable (whiskey glass) size took a suitable weapon of mass reduction.


        glacial ice


Given the uncertainty that Climate Strange© has ordained on the future snow situation for any given place and time, you just have to be prepared for whatever might portend.


I am not sure what pre-arrangements the wife-person might have made with the nice folks up at Points North, but they seem to have been prepared for my questionable skiing curriculum vitae and whatever final disposition of me might become necessitated, with just one “muliple-purpose rescue device.”


     ski pine box


Hopefully, it comes equipped with a nice bottle of single malt to see me off.

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Whoa. This is some seriously scary shite I’ve gotten myself into.


     PNH heli crevasses


I wasn’t as concerned about being faint of heart, letting a helicopter drop me off on the top of a near-vertical slope, strewn with seemingly bottomless crevasses, and patches of exposed diamond-hard, luminescent blue glacial ice.


Primarily, because I lack the primal mental acuity when to know better.


No, it was more being feint of physical ability and skiing agility, to handle the massive mountains of much sought-after deep blankets of fresh powder.


     frank going down

    That’s actually me almost looking like I know what I am doing. Thanks Photoshop.


To summarize, the conditions were steep and deep.


Unfortunately, I was proven to be weak and meek.


     guide guidance


My last post presented an overview, but there was more…much more.


While not necessarily the case in all things, when it comes to this heli-skiing stuff, getting up was much less an ordeal than going down.


Out in the play zone, getting up was quick and thrilling, while going down took ignoring the obvious and pretending that it felt good.


     heli base pickup


Points North Heli-Aventures makes it almost as easy as falling off a barstool, whisking us up from the lodge base in one of three, sleek, dark blue helicopters in a matter of minutes, up to almost unlimited possibilities of downhill runs.


     where next


The choices abound.


There are massive open slopes where skiers and boarders can make fresh tracks, day after day after day.


    skier on big slope


Or, for those with even less faintness of heart—or a total lack of primal survival instincts—there are narrow, steep paths, rimmed with razor-sharp rocks, known as couloirs, which is French for, “ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR EFFING MIND?!?”


     PS FB pic1


Apparently, going down only once was clearly not enough for somebody.


So, instead of looking down (which I now find, sometimes scares the shite out of me), looking ahead to our next AA meeting (A-wannabe A-heliskier), I will reveal the coping strategies of this support group in this vertical winter playground.


Hint – it involves ice.


     ice balls

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      Into the heart of the my soul.


The campfire crackled in the cool evening air alongside the banks of the swiftly flowing river, as I read out loud from my pieced together notebook pages.

I wanted to get it right.


This was less of an attempt at hitting the perfect pitch for a personal travel essay, but more my chance to say what I really thought about him.


As they say, this time it was personal.


The “him” was Tim Cahill. And the fireside reading was my final assignment of our five-day white water raft trip and writing workshop hosted by Cahill, along with the highly regarded and world recognized travel writer Michael Shapiro.



     Yes, that's a Miller High Life in my hand.

             Enjoying the high life on Johnson Peak: Michael, Owen, Tim, and Frank


You may have read the earlier piece I did immediately after the voyage. That was about the trip. This story is about my longtime love affair with the written word that both inspired me to travel the world and attempt to write about it to move others.


The following is more-or-less verbatim from my chicken-scratched handwritten river trip notebook pages. I had to interpret a few passages that were scribbled during late night insomniac writing sessions.


As you will soon see, you could call this,


  *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

             My Ode To Tim Cahill 


Our 37-minute flight from the small airport in Salmon, Idaho, had me wondering if our trip to the storied Middle Fork of the Salmon River was going to be worth it.


Or, if our trip to the River of No Return would become the trip to the river of never got there.


While a white water raft trip was ostensibly the purpose of this flight, to one of the few remaining pristine rivers in this country, the impetus for my participation was similarly, crystal clear. I was there to learn the craft of travel writing from my longtime mentor and inspiration, the legendary Tim Cahill.


But first, we had to get there.


My initial cause for concern was when I noticed that our pilot, Jerry, was drying his hands from the air vent on the ceiling of the eight-passenger Islander aircraft, just as we were cresting the 10,000-foot jagged mountain range en route.


I thought, “Wait, our pilot has sweaty palms?!?”


Thus, I began to wonder, was this trip going to be worth it?


Then came our approach to the dirt landing strip at the Indian Creek put-in. A straight path to the runway was blocked by a small stand of ponderosa pine trees, necessitating the pilot to “crab” the plane in order to avoid them.


Then, to lose sufficient altitude to land the aircraft, the pilot had to make, not one, but two, hairpin banked turns that I thought would surely leave tire tracks on the steep slopes of the river canyon walls.


Was this trip really going to be worth it?


So began our five-day journey into the depths of the Salmon River canyon and to the heart of my 30-year relationship to the writings of Tim Cahill.



     Forget Waldo, where's Frank.


Between rambunctious river runs through foaming rapids, and daily gourmet table fare prepared by our tanned, young guides with their river-honed muscles, we wannabe writers got group and—more than ever dreamed of—personal one-on-one time with the master of the evocative travel adventure personal essay genre.


Cahill created a desire in me not only to travel to far off exotic locales, but a fantasy that I might write like him and make my readers feel like he made me feel.


This goes back to the early years, when Cahill was the founding editor of the groundbreaking Outside Magazine, when quality travel adventure writing was virtually unknown between the covers of a monthly magazine.


While growing up, our family car camping trips, and later as a Boy Scout, started me down the trail of adventure travel, it was Cahill’s writing that pointed a path to see beyond simply the mechanics of the travel. Cahill shown a light that allowed me to see how those special locations were not just places on the planet, but were the secret to my soul.



                      Secrets of the river: hot water, cold beer, good friends.


During my recent rafting adventure, I endured hours of writing in the middle of the night. Tim had done such a good job of inspiring my writing, my racing brain won the battle of not allowing me—though tired from hours of white water paddling—to close my eyes and get some much needed sleep.


So, was the not-really-all-that-harrowing flight getting there still worth it?


Hell, I got to hear the statured story teller, Tim Cahill, sing William Shakespeare dialog as a country-western song after consuming two fingers of straight Bombay Sapphire gin…O.K., it was four fingers of gin.

(I would know…I poured it.)


Yeah, you’re damn right it was worth it!


(Cue thundering applause, bring up the theme music, dim the river scene and roll credits.)


  *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Thus ended the recounting of my blessings how I spent six decades of getting to this special place in my life.


And after all that paddling, fly fishing, drinking, eating, drinking and, of course, writing, there was only one thing left to do.


      Too much fun.


Finally, here is a fantastic video of our trip put together by one of my new river friends, Mark L.


Where next, everyone?

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I left for a five-day white water raft trip down the storied Middle Fork of the Salmon River as a wannabe travel writer.


And now I have returned, as a wannabe travel writer with a bunch of damp, dirty river rafting clothing, sore muscles, and short a full bottle of gin.


I am sitting here in the dawn of the next day, in our motel in Salmon, Idaho, along the same river that we took out from yesterday at lunchtime.


Our room has a color television, a refrigerator and microwave, a really nice soft bed, and a toilet that does not necessitate carrying a rafting paddle to use.


No more hard ground to sleep on; no more putting on cold and still wet rafting clothes in the chilly morning air, no more getting sprayed in the face—and other sensitive body areas—with freezing river water as we careen through foaming Class IV rapids; and no more concerns about rattlesnakes, bears, and poison ivy around every corner of the camp.


I miss being on the river.


     canyon rapids


I have many pictures to process, stories to prepare, and lies to tell, but this morning I wanted to thank the IRJ crew and the 13 guests who traveled from San Francisco and New York, from Montana and Alabama, all who put up with my stupid jokes, mindless banter, and late-night snoring.


Thanks to Skip, our trip leader, who at a third of my age, showed tremendous maturity as he bore the responsibility of keeping my sorry ass alive.


To his younger brother, Matt…I mean older brother…sorry Matt, Skip made me ask you if you were the younger brother after I had asked him the same question; thanks for making me feel I didn’t suck as much as I know I do at fly fishing.


To Nate, whose therapeutic massage technique hurt so good. Nate darted around the river in his bright little colored toy-looking kayak with tremendous agility and was quick to your side if you ended up in the river instead of in your water craft.


To Rachael, our someday-to-be flight nurse, who can get through anything and I would trust her to navigate any rapid on any river that I would care to float down.


To Marshal, our tall, tanned, semi-redneck, fulltime merrymaker, who kept us entertained on the river, as well as in camp.


And finally, to Mary, the heart and soul of Idaho River Journeys, whose broad and beaming smile has the brightness of a lighthouse beacon and the warmth of a cozy down comforter.


The impetus for the title of this blog post will become more clear in the upcoming days as I regale you with my not-really-all-that-harrowing river lies stories.


Here’s to paddles up after that run through a perilous rapid,

but to never a missing paddle during a urgent post-coffee run to the grover.


     paddles up

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