Sunday, November 3, 2013

BEAR TACO...first rough draft

Sometimes a writer just needs to lose their AP Style Guide and Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style and just type, letting their thoughts and desires flow from their brain, down into their finger tips and onto the screen. When you’re smacked in the face with inspiration, just sit down and bang it out.

If you notice that I start too many sentences with “I” or start and end them with a preposition, I chalk it up to poetic license. It’s not proper, I’m aware of it, but I’m also not getting paid to do this and don’t have the benefit of a professional copy editor. Jumping between past and present tense? Guilty as charged. It is what it is. Just push all of that aside and enjoy the story.

The mixing of fact and fiction.

Bear Taco Facts:
I was born in Winona, MN and raised in Rochester.
Snowball fights do turn into rock fights when the other side packs their snowballs with rocks.
We ate icicles all the time.
I did break my collar bone jumping a frozen gopher mound.
I currently reside in Georgetown, just north of Austin, TX.
I have made the drive up I-35 from Texas to Minnesota, both as a passenger and as a driver.
My dad does work at the Mayo Clinic and commutes on a bus from Winona.
I do owe my parents a lot of favors.
There is a “rock” overlooking Winona known as Sugar Loaf.
I was raised in a Czech household.
Barges really do make those sounds when passing in the night.
Based on internet searches, Robe Lake Lodge in Valdez, Beaver Sports Bike Shop and the Bristow Group are all real.
I am 40-something.
Based on an internet search, Bristow Group’s final contract in that area expires next May.
Brown bears can reach 1,500 pounds with four inch claws.
I have never been to Alaska but would like to visit at least once in my lifetime.
I have been known to have nightmares about bears.

Bear Taco Fiction:
Pretty much everything not mentioned above.

I got a little carried away with this one so grab a coffee and lose yourself in my rough draft of Bear Taco.

Alaska in February; what can I say? The first 10 years of my life were spent in southeast Minnesota; born in Winona…raised in Rochester, I’ve made my share of ice forts. If you want to know how a snowball fight turns into a rock fight give me a call. We ate icicles for after school snacks. I broke my first bone jumping a frozen gopher mound while sledding behind our house. Yeah, I snapped a collar bone but you should have seen the sled; shattered. It was so epic, they say the Rollingstones wrote a song about it. In short, I thought I knew cold. We’ve had some history together but nothing like I experienced in Alaska.

New product launch test riders live a charmed life. I’ll admit that things have been pretty cozy since writing my first review of The Chub, Australia’s answer to the fat bike, so I thought it was time to get back in touch with reality, fore-go the convenience of an assistant and plan my next trip all by my lonesome.

To help re-acclimate myself to cooler temps, I would need to spend some time in my home state. Splitting the continent right up the gut, I took I-35 all the way from Austin, Texas to Rochester, Minnesota. 1,100 miles later, my timing was spot on, arriving at the Mayo Clinic just in time to pick up my dad for lunch. This logistics thing isn’t so bad after all.

My dad usually takes the bus, commuting in from Winona. I would be returning many favors by being his chauffeur for once. We arrived in Winona with Sugar Loaf reliably keeping a watchful eye on the Mississippi valley below. Snaking our way up the winding driveway, we were greeted by my mother who just put the finishing touches on dinner. Dumplings, sauerkraut, brown gravy…growing up in a Czech household has its advantages.

Since this was a weekend visit, the bike stayed packed, as did my laptop and assortment of wool. For two nights I insisted on sleeping on the patio. Overlooking the Mississippi, I was lulled to sleep by the sounds of barges passing in the night. The water slapping then gently falling onto itself, the lights and the inevitable horn blast, I really miss that. My job was to convince myself that cold is just a number, a state of mind. If I was to survive Alaska, enduring a few nights on the patio in Winona was a mandatory prerequisite.

Sunday arrived in a flash. My parents surprised me by making all of my flight and rental car arrangements. We said our good-byes and before I knew it, I was boarding a flight from St. Paul to Anchorage. My bike would make the trip via UPS.

Arriving at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, the first order of business was to secure the rental and make my way to Robe Lake Lodge in Valdez. Just as planned, my custom fat bike was waiting for me at the main office.

The log cabin style accommodations, a view of Robe Lake and the Chugach Mountains all reminded me of home. I was going to be fine. It was in the teens already so I would definitely be sleeping indoors…maybe leaving the windows cracked open just for fun.

Waking around 11:00 am, I took a deep breath and exhaled…watching the vapor kiss the ceiling fan before reaching room temperature then dispersing into nothing. First stop, continental breakfast. No cheese curds? Where are the breakfast tacos? As a Texan with strong ties to Minnesota, my cravings are all over the place. The second order of business was to reserve some hot tub time…9:00 pm should do. Not too early, not too late. I have a feeling this adventure is going to push my 40-something physique to its limits.

When you travel as much as I do, it can be a challenge flopping around as the constant fish out of water, always feeling your way around unfamiliar streets and landmarks. My immediate goal was to locate Beaver Sports Bicycle Shop. They were holding the frame and fork proto-type that would eventually morph with bits and pieces from my bike. At this stage of production it was still un-named. I was honored to be involved so early in the process. There was a repair stand in the back, the carbon frame already clamped in place and poised for wrenching. I felt right at home.

“The bathroom is over there…coffee is by the cup only. We’ll keep the door closed so you won’t be disturbed.”

This is what bike dreams are made of. I was getting a red carpet treatment that I neither expected nor deserved. With my chin planted firmly in my palm, leaning on the workbench as brake cable fragments pierced my elbow, I grinned and nodded, acknowledging their hospitality with a simple yet sincere, “Thank you.” Seconds later my eyes latched on to a stack of magazines, about 10 or so, each opened to one of my articles. The magazine on top had a note attached that read, “Please autograph.” Little did they know that I felt the same way about them. Without them I would have nothing to write about.

No sooner had I removed myself from the bench, a helicopter made an appearance behind the shop, blowing snow and debris through the opened back door, flipping the magazine pages so violently, they broke the staples’ grip before the entire stack surrendered and scattered into a disorganized mess on the shop floor. I clawed my way to the threshold and caught a glimpse as the chopper faded into the mountains. It was the Bristow Group. The news had reported this morning that their last mission under contract in this area would require them to assist in tracking and locating the beast that had been terrorizing this area for the last two months. 1,500 pounds and four inch claws. They were tracking a brown bear.

The chaos created by the chopper was followed by an empty and haunting silence. I walked to the front of the shop and it was completely dark and void of anything that resembled life; like an old west saloon, abandoned right before a gun fight. That’s exactly what it felt like.

It would be awkward to continue the build in the shop all by myself, so I headed to the back to retrieve my things. Not wanting to leave the place a complete mess, I picked up one of the magazines and thought I would sign at least one copy. As I reached for my bike luggage, the remaining light was completely snuffed out. I looked up and there she was, an angry brown bear, head down and what seemed like gallons of saliva puddling on the floor. When our eyes met, I could almost hear the bear thinking out loud, “Let’s do this.” My response? “Give me something hard to do!”

As this greasy sow shuffled forward, she stood up just before reaching the repair stand, her fur was outlined with a subtle glow, compliments of the sunlight reflecting off the snow out back. A split second after going back to all fours, I could have sworn she kicked that door closed on purpose. All of that time changing flats in the dark would pay off today. With a lock ring removal tool close at hand, I slashed into the blackness with a fierce right hook, then back again, missing the first time, but snagging her jugular with the second swipe. Soaked in her blood, the thick skin and coarse fur ripped that spanner right out of my hand.

Suddenly weakened, she showed me her ivory and curled her lips in defiance. She wasn’t going down easy. I quickly introduced her to a rusty chain whip, slamming it upright between her chin and snout, putting her tongue and teeth on permanent display. With one weapon eliminated, the claws were next on the list. My left hand was already gripping a Landing Gear BMX fork just seconds before her backhand grazed my chin. I’ve always liked that Landing Gear font. “Stop day dreaming!!!” I inhaled the blast of air created by her paw, then planted that fork deep into her chest, squeezing between two ribs and finding its way into her lungs. Perfect landing. She fell limp at my feet as if to thank me for ending her pain. Exhausted from the adrenalin rush, I whispered to myself, “You’re welcome.”

Minutes later the chopper, shop owner and a few customers returned. The proto-type review would have to be rescheduled. I left through the back door but not before cutting away a sliver of bear skin as a souvenir. My bike fiction has already elevated me to legend status in cycling circles; I didn’t need this incident to add to my legacy. It just wouldn’t be fair to the other journalists.

On the way back to the lodge I stopped by a Taco Bell hoping to get a little taste of Texas before calling it a day. Arriving at the lodge just before 9:00 pm, my swollen feet carried me to my cabin and eventually to the hot tub. At last, I found myself in a human soup bowl, soaking my tendons and loosening a stiff lower back. I dug around for my tacos and discovered they forgot to throw in the salsa packs. As a master of improvisation, I reached for the slice of bear skin, squeezed it tightly in my hands until the fat succumbed to my body heat and ultimately gravity, seasoning the taco meat in the process. Bear grease is not your ordinary salsa, but this was no ordinary adventure.

I’ll return one day to complete the review. Maybe by then they’ll have a name for that proto-type.

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