Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oldie but Goodie: Hanging with Ben Johnson

Note: I miss several things about living in the Gunnison Valley, Colorado, but what I miss most is the recreation with my many dear friends, including this guy, Ben Johnson. Here's a story I wrote a couple years ago about a "normal" winter weekend with Ben. Enjoy.

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 III, 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.


Al said...

Thank the powers that be for people like Ben-jamin' Johnson who push us to be better, actualized people!

Miss you fellas and am very glad to call you my dear friends. Will see you soon.

Much love,

Luke Mehall said...

No doubt Al! Is that guy coming to Creekster? We gotta lock that down. Psyched to see you buddy bear!

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