Wednesday, August 08, 2007

End of a life

Sometimes writing is a good way for me to deal this crazy life. Guess this is one of those times. It's been a rough couple weeks filled with some great things and some not so great things.

Picking up from last entry, and keeping with the racing, I wrapped up the local Wakefield series in the Masters class with a very close 2nd after having a solid race. I had held first for most of the race and in the last 200 yards, I was trying to get around a guy from the single speed class and he stacked into a tree instead of letting me pass and I got caught up in his bike. My 10 second lead over the next guy evaporated in a flash and I got second for the race and second for the series. Guess that's bike racing.

Next came some solid training rides preparing for the Wilderness 101. I ran down to Harrisonburg to refresh my mind on the first half of the Shenandoah Mountain 100 with Kenny. In typical Gripped fashion, Ken and I were both late and we didn't depart from Stokesville until about 4pm. Not the best idea when looking at a 4-5 hour ride. Did I mention the ominous thunder and darkening skies in the distance? Ken assured me the showers would be "localized" so we set out. The first mountain was easy and fun - which is odd considering at last year's race it was painful and long (never try to keep up with pros). We were starting to climb the second mountain when the localized squalls found us and unleashed some fury from above. We changed our plan and took to the road for the climb up Reddish Knob. This would be an easier climb but would go for about 1000 ft. more than the path but since the paths had turned to streams it made sense. Once at the top we realized how brilliant it was to not bring so much as a pair of arm warmers (I was freezing) but luckily Ken did pack an industrial-sized trash bag. We split it in two and I wrapped it on like a man-bra under my jersey.


I was instantly warmer but we had 6 miles of screaming, technical and slippery downhill ahead of us. We made it back as the darkness settled into the valley then hit up Luigis for some local pizza and brew.

Something must have been jarred loose or open or something as I woke the next day with my elbow resembling a tennis ball. Clearly I had not done a good enough job cleaning out my Michaux 100 memento, or perhaps racing for 7 hours in the dirt and dust with a gaping wound had something to do with it...but I thought for sure the bandaid and superglue was every bit as good as stitches.


Only days away from the Wilderness 101 I immediately hit the Dr's office. They gave me a script for some huge pills that should have done the trick but 2 days later the infection was worse. Here began the daily visit and daily shot in my ass. The notion that racing 100 miles hopped up on anitbiotics with a worsening infection in my arm was a bad idea slowly began to creep into my mind. Good thing I paid the $160 already. I called Poz and asked if he'd like to take my place but earlier that day he crashed hard on a training ride and declared he was out. Even Chris decided to bail due to his own fight with an infection. So that took care of that race. But that was ok since the flip side of doing that race meant having to postpone visiting my buddy Dave in the NYC hospital he'd be in for a week after getting his kidney transplant on Thursday. The date of this transplant wasn't known until after I had signed up for the 101 and I didn't like the idea of not being there soon after Dave's operation but once you get your head wrapped around doing a 100 mile race, you feel the need to see it thru. It's odd how now when I look at it, I should have changed plans the second I knew the date for Dave's operation. Guess it all worked out ok in the end. I got to see Dave and I think he appreciated my effort. His surgery went well for him and his Dad who donated his kidney. Dave even started to smile again!


The last bit of story here is the disrupting news that a friend who had been a huge influence on my life had died last week. I don't know why I feel the need to mention this but as I said earlier, writing sometimes helps a person to deal. Part of me honestly thinks I owe it to Chuck. He earned some praise, some credit for being the person he was.. Even if only on my measly blog. Don't worry, I don't plan to waste these words with typical cliche's or the usual melodrama that accompanies a reflection of a friend after their death. And that's precisely why something should be said.

Chuck Tanguay didn't die doing what he loved. He blew his head off with a shotgun. But that was what I'd expect from Chuck. No second chance with that one. It was a very sure move. I think I would have put money on a jump from a tall building as his way out of life since he didn't even like guns but I think that decision had more to do with how he felt about himself in those last days. Back in the 90's when I briefly worked for Chuck rebuilding church steeples (www.steeplerestore.com) he said more than once that the best way to exit life would be in a fall. "Think about it, you get a great rush before you smack - one more ride to enjoy before it's over. " This from a guy who 6 months before I met him had fallen off a steep church roof and impacted into the grass just inches from a concrete walkway 46 feet below. Anyone who lives to tell such a tale deserves credit but his tale only grew from there. Chuck was larger than life, a shorter version of Patrick Swaze in Point Break. He was a solid skiier, mountain biker, windsurfer, accomplished mountaineer, class V kayaker with more than one rapid named after one of his multiple first-decents. Rock climbing lead him to a profession of steeplejacking. Self-taught and very successful he would work during the summers and travel all winter chasing adrenaline around the globe. He despised in-active people. He saw the value in working hard and playing hard. He had no patience for the typical overweight and consumption-driven American. He was a very vocal person and found joy in arguing points with anyone who would get in the ring with him. He was a passionate person to say the very least. But this also had a way of working against Chuck. He had sustained a head injury in '85 while skiing which left him chemically imbalanced for life. I don't know much about that injury but I got to see first hand how it plagued him. The medications he required to keep a positive outlook on life made him nausious so he would replace them with adrenaline. This worked for the winters but upon returning from big adventure to a regimented Spring of work, Chuck would enter what I called, "the Dark Place" where logic went out the door and his passion turned into sheer, grinding anger. After a week or two in the Dark Place Chuck would resume his meds and slowly get back on track.

After working for him and feeling the brunt of a visit to the Dark Place I quit and didn't see much of Chuck in the years to come. We would e-mail occasionally and keep each other up to date on our adventures. Me running around Europe filming mt. bikers and Chuck kayaking in South America or New Zealand (his adventures always trumped mine). We last spoke about 3 months ago as I drove home to Rochester. He had moved to a town outside of Boulder, CO and asked when I would be visiting. I was honest when I replied, "... hopefully very soon."

In his final letter to those who touched his life, he listed the places he had been and some of the adventures he had lived, noting that the depression spells were getting longer and more frequent. From his departing note:
"...There has been kayaking in Nepal, New Zealand, South Africa, Ecuador and in every whitewater state in the US. I’ve skied all the west and Canada, leaving very few snowflakes unturned. I’ve sailed the breaks of Maui, Taranaki, West Oz, South Africa, Mexico and the two coasts of the US. I’ve climbed mountains of New Zealand, Canada and the US. And I’ve mountain biked, well, everywhere… I’ve lived in different countries for 13 winters. A lot of this I did after the illness started, as I used to have long periods of health in between the utter earthshaking hell of the depressions. "

Some jackass Doctor had even mentioned institutionalizing him in the not-so-far future. Some souls were never meant to be caged and here I'm sure, is where the line was drawn.

I'm still going thru the typical "anger" and "sorrow" phases. Conversely I also can't help think about how much Chuck influenced me. Here is where this entry connects to 24 Solo. It connects to ORTA, and to anything else I've done since meeting Chuck Tanguay in 1990. He was one of those people who would bring everyone around him up a notch. He would motivate you to question your position, your views, your self. He would never be satisfied with status quo and ridiculed those who were. His logic, while sometimes skewed in it's delivery, was usually undeniable. He made me believe in myself and forced me to face my fears, even when it was he I was afraid of. He was one of the first people I went mt. biking with. He pushed me to risk more and take chances when others would stay behind in doubt, always wondering. He was the first guy to convince me into following him onto the ocean, thru the 8 foot crashing shore break at Cape Hatteras in the winds of an approaching hurricane. We windsurfed waves for 10 miles downwind to the lighthouse and survived, hitch hiking back to our trucks. He knew very few mental boundaries and I was in awe of him for that. In 1994 I had planned to leave my home town, quit my job, leave my girlfriend and drive out West to try something different. Many people scolded such a move but Chuck was all for it. "Follow your heart Jason. Always follow your heart. Even if you go into debt, even if you lose friends - because people flock to a person who is following their heart and everything will eventually fall into place. So go, and don't look back."

Chuck lived his dreams, never wondered "what if" and stuck to his words when he said, "If life isn't an adventure, it's not worth living." He was the stuff legends are made of and I will always think of him when pushing myself or following my heart. As always, thanks for reading.


Chuck Tanguay
1954-2007

4 Comments:

Shana said...

So I used to think you were fairly attractive until I saw the picture of your garbage bag bra...

Jason looks great, and it's good to see that smile. Thanks for the update.

I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend. Isn't it amazing how so many people change the direction of your life? And we don't always take the time to reflect on that until they are gone.

4:23 PM  
SquidBuzz said...

At times like these, I imitate the Klingons and yell at the sky.

It gets weird looks, but really does make you feel better.

12:12 AM  
Marty said...

Damn, we both lost a friend to suicide this year. That ain't right.

I'm so sorry, Jason.

I'm glad to see that you're racing well and that Dave got a transplant! Sweet!

4:24 PM  
camps said...

Nice words,
I'm glad I could read them.

Hope to see you at the next 100s

10:02 AM  

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