Nervously, I bent my knees slightly and leaned forward. All that kept going through my mind is: This is going to hurt. This is going to really hurt. It was my first time going off a jump in a terrain park, and I didn’t want my buddies to know that I had no idea what I was doing.
I awoke several hours later in the passenger seat of my car.
“What is going on? Graham, why are you driving my car? “
“Oh my God, not again,” muttered my other friend, Sabo, sitting in the back.
“Dude, we were skiing at Snowshoe,” Graham explained. “You went off a jump in the terrain park, got a concussion, and dislocated both of your shoulders.”
“Shut up,” I said. “Seriously?” I notice for the first time that my left arm was in a sling and I could barely move my right.
“How many kids do you have?” Graham asked
“You have two daughters. Your second daughter Cassandra was born last month.”
“If I have to listen to this one more time I am going to walk home,” Sabo says.
Apparently, I was bouncing in and out of consciousness and had repeated the same conversation twenty times.
Moments later, I yelled to Graham, “Pull over! Pull over quick!”
I proceeded to puke all over route 219 in the Monongahela National Forest.
“Okay, okay, I feel a lot better now,” I said afterwards. “Should we get some beer?” I ask the boys. The doctor told Sabo that puking was a very bad sign, but hell, I was alive and this was the end of a fantastic weekend. We stopped at the next gas station and bought beer.
If you live in a city, I feel sorry for you. Move. Move to a mountain town or outdoor paradise now. You probably won’t understand what I am talking about until you do. I used to live in a city and while I had friends, some very good friends, nothing compares to the bonds that I currently share with my fellow mountainous brethren. Sitting on the couch and watching football, not going to happen when you have Pisgah, DuPont and the Smokies and all of their wonders outside your door. I moved to Asheville four years ago and haven’t watched a single football game since and I am damn proud of it. Seldom do I talk about what I do for a living; instead I discuss what I do to live. My friends are living with me, experiencing adventure, natural beauty and exploring the human condition everyday. I used to have friends in the city that I kind of liked. I tolerated psychological and social shortcomings to hang out with them, just to get away from the stress of trying to keep up with the Joneses, I was defined by my car, my house and the piles of crap inside of it. Sure I work, but it no longer defines me. And of course I still go to bars to drink and vent about the stressors of my life, but when I am sitting in the Westville Pub looking at my muddy compadres after a two-hour night ride at Bent Creek, life is just better.
Alcohol and most of my adventures tend to go hand in hand. My friends and I believe in the combination so strongly that we have even created a society based on two mantras: 1. Consume alcohol while doing outdoor events and 2. Never say no. Society is probably a bit too strong. Really we just get together, enter races and challenge ourselves to physical tests of skill while drinking. Sometimes beer, sometimes shots, sometimes some sort of crazy concoction that you really can’t even stand to smell let alone imbibe. We are alcoholic non-discriminators. You may have spotted Skippy Titsworth (oh yeah, that is us) at the 24-hour Blue Planet Run or the 12 hours of Tsali or the sadly missed NightTrain 12 hour mountain bike race. You have not lived a full life until you have done a shot of Jaeger before running a 5-mile lap in a 24-hour race. Keg stand before a lap, no problem. A shot of Jaeger wages a digestive battle following your system from the esophagus to the stomach, through the intestines, ending…well, not well at all.
After this year’s race season, we were looking for a little more excitement. We needed one more bite of the forbidden apple of adventure before winter set in. So we decided to construct a mountain bike skills park around my house. Officially dubbed the Skippy Titsworth Mountain Bike Skills Park (address withheld for liability reasons), we were ready to stage our own event, which would obviously involve a wee bit of drinking. Ten contestants showed up at 10 a.m. one glorious Saturday morning ready to test their mountain biking skills all while under the influence of a slight buzz. We had four very large, very steep water bars (that actually moved when you attempted to ride over them), a two and half foot jump, a switchback course (not even remotely rideable), a log ride that would scare a squirrel, three bunny hop bars and a few other goodies designed to toss all competitors over the handle bars. Each contestant had to “attempt” every obstacle and consume at least one beer during his timed trial.
What ensued was the most fun two hours of my adult life post college. Snapshots of carnage include: Jeremiah landing on his back in the street (after an 8 foot drop to the road), and then the bike landed on him; Gabe hitting a tree so hard his equilibrium was off, he stumbled around for over a minute and couldn’t get back on his bike; and yours truly endoing a total of four times in two minutes. Two contestants (Andy and Erik, wimps) opted out and have been kicked out of Skippy Titsworth for life for violating rule number 2. They said no.
I still have the bruises from the Skippy Titsworth Mountain Bike Skills Park Challenge. What’s more is that in the last four years I have at least a dozen similar stories about adventures mountain biking, camping, climbing, cross country skiing, caving, bushwhacking up some ridiculous ridge in the Smokies, and even skateboarding on the Blue Ridge Parkway (which I highly recommend, it will scare the crap out of you.) Many of our stories start with, “This one time in Pisgah…” and continue down a path of humor, human carnage, humility and I’m gonna say it, love. I never talk about it, but it is there. I live in nature, revel in it and push myself to find experiences that define me. And my friends are right there with me. They have forced me to do a keg stand before a night lap during a 12-hour mountain bike race; pushed me to ride 90 miles from Bent Creek to DuPont State Forest. And they literally saved my ass as I was falling off a 5.10 climb.
You know what I am talking about and I’m guessing you have felt it too. Maybe you’ve been coerced into hiking the Art Loeb in a day or pulled from the Narrows on an unsuccessful attempt to run the Green or your buddy convinced you that you could definitely clean that log ride or one of your friends said, hey, I’ll take some pictures of you going over that big jump in the terrain park. You feel it. Accept it and embrace it. Now I’m not suggesting that you pick up the phone and proclaim your love to your best bud; but rather the next time one of them asks you for a beer, look at him in the eyes, smile, shake up the beer behind your back and say, “Man, here’s to living in the mountains!” He’ll know how you really feel.