Because John must have left his 11 gram back-country cardiac defibrillator
at home ("a good thump on the chest is as good as that glorified electrocution
device"), he was forced to let me take a 5 minute rest after I went into ventricular
tachycardia on the way up to a first ascent of Pachyderm Peak, my first hike.
Copping this little rest was great because it was the first time I really
could take in the spectacular beauty of the Panther Creek watershed. Two months
before that crystal clear September day in 1984, John had suggested this climb
up into Raged Ridge in order to rescue me, I suspected, from my post-divorce
ennui. (John seemed to know about divorce.) When I first heard him make the
offer, I immediately collapsed on my sofa as I had never before ventured out
of doors in the daytime. Pathetically, I begged off, but thankfully reconsidered
a few weeks later. This was to be my second major rescue by John in our 34-year
friendship. The first rescue took place at our first meeting in Dan ang harbor
in 1969 when he yanked me off a ladder leading down into the bilges of a decrepit
and soon- to- be scrapped Navy support ship, the US Washburn, or something
like that. I fancied myself a fearless antiwar activist struck side'da face
by Richard Nixon for saying I believed in the Bill of Rights, but a less grandiose
explanation was probably more like it. Instead of the narrow rope hammock
which awaited me under the water line, John offered me a bed in his comparatively
luxurious officer's stateroom for the long trip back to San Diego after he
found out I was the "Marine doc the Navy was shitcanning". It was great for
me; the stewards served me hot dogs from sterling silver platters in the officers'
mess and I could record all of John's LP's onto my reel-to-real tape deck.
The third rescue (I'll skip the others) was during a white out on the Tasman
Glacier in New Zealand where I learned the value of a good altimeter from
watching John and then following him dutifully. My apotheosis from Couch Potato
to Mountain Potato was one of the many Great American Stories directed and
produced by John. In addition to these adventures, Mount Whitney, Gypsy Peak,
the Matukituki, Mount Ruapehu, Langtang and other mountain saunters, my friend
the mountain drill instructor taught this acolyte the simple wisdom and profound
metaphor in "John's Rules for Walking in the Mountains": Every ounce of
gear you can leave behind will make the enterprise less uncomfortable; ..walk
at a pace, no matter the speed, that you can maintain all the day (because
you will);.. if you loose your foothold, gain another; quickly!... don't even
leave footprints. There were others, but you know most of them if you've
ever been with him.
But the first time I saw him out in the forest was in 1971 when he danced,
no, flew, effortlessly through the trees like a pixie on acid, all the while
singing: " Green is Good, Green is Good. "
The last time I saw him in the forest, the song was "I love the 900 highest
peaks as determined by the '200 foot divided by the square root of 7 over
the distance in meters from Bellevue ' rule".
Most of the time I'm thankful he's my friend. All of the time I love him.
Copyright 2004, John W. Roper.
All Rights Reserved.