Tuesday, November 17, 2009

True Tall Tales of Benjamin Johnson

(Luke and Ben, respectively)

All-man but I'd swear he had some machine parts in him that are fueled by that black oil-like liquid he soaks up in the mornings. To say that Ben, a great friend and Gunny guy, uses a 20 pound sledgehammer to grind his coffee in the morning is perhaps a little far fetched, but upon further inspection, you realize his graces - while huge in generosity and humbleness - often take on the form of simple life for him. The cardiac muscle residing in his strong chest is probably no larger than his hand when curled in a fist, but you'd swear it was twice that size. Often in human anatomy, generalities are made about certain organs; i.e., the small intestine is approximately 9 feet in length. A similar generality could be made about Ben. Sliced post-mortem, his heart would make enough Love & Care sandwiches to feed a small group of about 4 or 5 people, and perhaps have a tid bit left-over for bedtime snack. Who's hungry?

Along parallel lines, Ben's heart doubles as an engine - fueling a great machine. Knowing not where this voluminous power plant first beamed it's potential, I will start where I am in the know: My first experience with Ben was convoluted in that there were too many people to single out the strong riders; but I, being new to "mountain" biking in the literal sense, found that Ben was easily towards the front of the pack. A natural leader, as was to be discovered in subsequent rides alone with him - most notably at the favorite spot of the locals: Hartman's Rocks. One recent memory materializes. Riding up Bambi's to meet our good friend Luke Mehall (climber extraordinaire/philosopher/great friend), I easily had a 2-3 minute head start on Ben and he still managed to crush my lead within 5 minutes of my start. He seems to need little warm-up and even more limited notice that exercise/activity is about to commence.

Ahh, which brings to thought the experience of this past weekend. While on a short road trip to Ouray (read: Winter May Come, posted 11/16/09), Ben, Luke, and I decided that a run up into Box Canyon would be appropriate while the ladies of our party proceeded to "get their soak on" at the Orvis Hot Springs. After the short jaunt past the hot springs into Ouray and up the other side into the Canyon, we arrived at a reasonable point to park. Said parking completed and changes of clothes later, the 3 of us advanced up the seemingly steeper incline of the would-be climb. Being of an Exercise and Sport Science background, I knew that without a proper warm-up I'd be sluggish and depleted of available ATP in a short matter of time, and voiced my desire to start slow. Ben, being the Ever-Start battery of the group, saw no sense or potential excuses with the hill ahead and chirped along at his usual starting pace - which for some can be surprisingly fast. Luke, being brave and willing to try the unknown, attempted to maintain purchase with Ben, but soon found himself alongside me power hiking the remaining incline. Minutes later and with Ben well out of sight, Luke and I both commented to the effect of Ben being a machine and having this insatiable drive despite the conditions - which on this day were mid to low 30's, shaded and cooler alongside the cliffs we traversed, with a foot and a half of snow.

Where do the tall tales end and the real ones begin? With Benjamin Johnson, one may never know and it only seems tall tale-ish because he continues to peak after the good have plateaued. He is not limited by mortal thoughts of failure - though like any good human, he is only good for so long before he needs his black oil-like liquid, coolant of the clear oft blue-appearing sort, and a scrumptious treat of his own creation. Nonetheless, Ben appeared back to the car at the reasonable place we had parked only 10 or so minutes after he said he would. For him, that is a feat sometimes of atypical completion. With the 3 of us in complete company again, we proceeded down the canyon to the hot springs and into the memories of our minds.

While reading of one instance may not be sufficient for those unfamiliar with Ben, one instance with him in the flesh will positively indicate physically what he represents mentally; especially in my mind. Although, Ben may struggle to read sentences about his own self, I think it only appropriate that he receive an eulogy of his efforts in order to continue his humble approach to living. Keep on keepin' on Ben. You have influenced others undeniably and will continue to do so: mind over matter.

And so concludes the true tall tales of Benjamin Johnson...

...at least for this week. May humble be thy name.

Below is Luke's blog about Ben...(which was to overlap and approach the subject from his perspective)...enjoy:

The Leader, Ben Johnson

When I run with Ben Johnson I know he’s always going to be gone, like Forrest Gump running across that football field in Alabama. He was a state champion high school runner, two-time winner of the local 2.6 mile sprint up W Mountain in Gunnison, and probably has a list of victories I don’t even know about.

When I’m road biking with Ben there’s a couple tricks that ensure I can keep up with him. Well, one trick really with two outcomes. If I let him stay in the lead I can simply stay right behind him and draft, which basically means he does all the work and I can reap the benefits and use gravity to my advantage. This ensures that I stay with him while riding, and also enables me to save energy.

This past weekend, mid-November high in the Rockies, I had the good fortune to bike with Ben one day and run with him the next. Well it wasn’t just us, our good friend Al Smith, a bad-ass in his own right, was along for both adventures as well.

With outdoor adventures I typically both love and hate Ben, with the hate always being a short term emotion because Ben typically pushes me past my perceived limits, and the love always lasting.

I think I was probably hating Ben Saturday afternoon, when we were road biking up Taylor Canyon, with an hour of sunlight left, on icy roads on skinny tires and my fingers were so cold they were going numb. This was a leisurely workout for Ben, a 40 mile afternoon ride in winter-like conditions. Freezing and complaining he even offered up his warm pair of gloves and an extra jacket, which I gladly accepted.

Things really got epic as we rounded Almont, ten miles out from Gunnison, and Al got his second flat of the day. We didn’t have an extra tube between the three of us, so like any good Coloradoan Al stuck his thumb out and hitched a ride back to town. Four miles to go there was barely any day light as I looked over to see a buck running parallel to our bikes. The deer hopped with us as we rode till he made a dramatic dash across the road and then jumped over a fence to safety in a rancher’s field.

As the sun set and we still had four miles to go Ben turned on a light on the back of his bikes so that the passing vehicles would see us, at the same time the darkness fell it began to snow. I suffered through this as my feet froze up and felt like ice blocks. When I finally arrived home I could barely waddle up the flight of stairs to my house. I sat inside with a nice adrenaline rush, and felt incredibly alive (then I spent the next half an hour warming my feet up). If I didn’t have Ben Johnson in my life I probably would have stayed inside and been lazy that cold mid-November afternoon in the Rockies.

The next day we were headed to the Orvis Hot Springs to soak and recover from the ride. Ben suggested to me and Al that we should, “go for a little run before soaking.” We agreed and I pictured running for a little while around the town of Ouray.

Ben took us past the Box Canyon in Ouray up to a dirt road and then drove back for a few miles. He parked his car and I looked up the road. It was a steep hill, covered mostly in snow. Al remarked how steep it was and that it would be a shock to the system to start the run with such a dramatic incline. Ben shrugged it off, making a masculine comment inappropriate for the tone of this blog and just started running up. I tried to hang with him for about five minutes and then soon Al and I quickly lost him as he ran into the hills.

Al and I power-walked some of the sections and a couple miles into it the road became a small cross-country ski trail in a foot and a half of snow. Two hundred foot ice falls to the left on four hundred foot rock walls. Ice climbers dangled off an overhang to the right. We couldn’t see him, but we knew Ben was still running.

We headed back, running and walking for the hour time slot that we agreed upon. After an hour we knew Ben wouldn’t be back exactly on time, but ten minutes after the hour had passed he was there. “Good workout,” he said in his Colorado way of talking, a hybrid of Boulder and Gunnison in words.

Yes it was Ben, it always is with you.

Luke's blog can always be followed at http://lukemehall.blogspot.com/
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