First Since Freedom

First Since Freedom

Swimming at Red’s Lake, our favorite spot

Swimming at Red’s Lake, our favorite spot

Four years ago today, I lost the best dog that ever lived. Freedom was much more than a dog. He saved me from self-destruction. When i did not want to live or get out of bed, i got up to take care of him. He gave me purpose, direction and companionship on the lonely island of learning to live with a disability. He was the smartest, yet laziest dog you could ever meet. He wanted to sleep til noon and would look at me despairingly at the concept of running, but could get beers out of the fridge, differentiate between my driver’s license, keys and phone amongst a pile of treats and just seemed to understand complex concepts that he was not even trained for.

Always down to carry a basket of bunnies

Always down to carry a basket of bunnies

The best instance of this happened on a windy evening when we lived in Mammoth. I had just gotten my first adaptive mountain bike and after our first ride with it, i fell backwards while loading it into the back of my 4-Runner, my chair rolling about 25 yards away. No one was around. Just the wind whispered. Scooting all the way to it, my boney pelvis scraping along the jagged asphalt, would have meant sure injury. Now, the previous evening, while sitting on the floor assembling the bike, i worked with Freedom on pulling my wheelchair. He knew the commands Get and Tug and we spent about ten minutes getting and tugging my chair. That was it. Just ten minutes!

I sat on the ground in defeat. Freedom stood next to me, seemingly wanting to help. In a last ditch effort of desperation, i pointed at my chair and said, “Get Buddy! Get!” He looked at me and then the chair. “Ya ya! Go get it, Buddy! Get!” pointing. He walked over slowly, sniffed it and looked back. “Get, Buddy! Get it!” Remember, our work the previous evening was the first time we had ever done anything like this, it was for only a few minutes AND was in close proximity. I was right next to him, able to touch the chair and encourage him. This was from across the parking lot, about 25 yards away!

He gingerly nibbled at the ankle strap. “Oh yeah, Buddy! Get it! Tug! Get! Tug!” His floppy ears sort of waved in the wind and he just seemed to know what to do. With seeming intention, he decisively grabbed ankle strap and started pulling. Just like that. Tears welled up. "Oh my god, Buddy! Yeah! Tug! Tug it!” and he pulled that thing all the way to me. I broke down crying right there, sitting on the ground. I hugged him, letting my face nuzzle into his soft black fur. This is just one incredible story of many. He was an angel sent to rescue me and when his job was finally done, he left us with beauty and grace. The cover photo for this blog is him running to me, into the sunset, while I am coming in from surfing. Freedom forever!

Gizmo at the dog park.

Gizmo at the dog park.

The past four years without him have been painful and I have not wanted another dog. What dog could live up to that! I am changed for life. Fast forward to Christina and I living together and our new upstairs neighbors moving in. Their roommate: a 20lb, stinky, noisy, so ugly he’s cute, French Bulldog named Gizmo moved in with them. Christina fell in love with him immediately, a dog lover because she a lost a Freedom-type Buddy Face earlier in life too. I had never seen her laugh so much then when taking Gizmo to the dog park. He is just so full of character and looks and sounds so funny! Everyone at the dog park loves him too. This turned into scrolling Instagram for Frenchies and laughs. If you don’t follow @walterjoffery, you MUST! Absolutely hysterical! This lead to a fascination with ugly but cute and full of personality Frenchies and culminated with me arriving home one day with a 3.4 lb fuzzy surprise for Christina’s birthday, his little head poking out of the cardboard box the first time she laid eyes on him.

Just over 3lbs

Just over 3lbs

Enter Rigden Wiggle Bottoms, my first dog since Freedom and Christina’s first dog since losing her guy. He is smart, seemingly preprogrammed with Sit and Wait, but he’s a feisty little Frenchie with fearless attitude and nothing like the gentle intelligence of a 85lb Black Lab. It is a different experince to say the least, but there is certainly no shortage of laughs in our home now. He just wants to be close all the time and is so damn loving and cute. Life with a dog is better and I am grateful for having taken the plunge into the next journey. If you are curious, i introduced Rigden in the latest UNPavement episode. See him for yourself!

A Wedding, A Birthday, Four Rides & 2600 Miles

A Wedding, A Birthday, Four Rides & 2600 Miles

When our really good friends, Syd and Macky Franklin, invited us to their wedding in New Mexico, we figured, “Might as well make it a bike trip!” They were, understandably, very busy before the big day, but agreed to show us some trails a couple days after. We settled on an itinerary that included Sedona on our way out, a night in Flagstaff with friends, a place called Ghost Ranch for the Wedding, Las Cruces to see my brother for his birthday, and two days of riding in Santa Fe with Syd, Macky and my good buddy Xavier. Here’s a little photo essay of the trip.

The Route. Lots of driving. Over 2600 miles!

The Route. Lots of driving. Over 2600 miles!

Working on my bike about 2mins into the ride in Sedona. Ride #1.

Working on my bike about 2mins into the ride in Sedona. Ride #1.

The wedding was in place called Ghost Ranch. Beautiful.

The wedding was in place called Ghost Ranch. Beautiful.

We were here

We were here

Macky and Me. Sounds like the name of a children’s book.

Macky and Me. Sounds like the name of a children’s book.

Isn’t she gorgeous? Such good beer. Oh ya Christina too!

Isn’t she gorgeous? Such good beer. Oh ya Christina too!

Hangin with the newly weds

Hangin with the newly weds

Christina takes cool photos

Christina takes cool photos

Someone used to sit here and soak in the view

Someone used to sit here and soak in the view

Christina makin magic

Christina makin magic

Little McGhee loves his truck!

Little McGhee loves his girlie drinks. Happy Birthday Lil Bro!

Little McGhee loves his girlie drinks. Happy Birthday Lil Bro!

Xina and me with Xavier

Xina and me with Xavier

The Crew. Ride #2

The Crew. Ride #2

The lookout at the top of Lookout Trail

The lookout at the top of Lookout Trail

Poser

Poser

Aren’t we cute?

Aren’t we cute?

Aftermath of Christina’s awkward dismount. Wish we had it on film.

Aftermath of Christina’s awkward dismount. Wish we had it on film.

Tailgating! Ride #3.

Tailgating! Ride #3.

Friends who wheelie together, stay together.

Friends who wheelie together, stay together.

Meow Wolf art exhibit in Santa Fe is weird, interactive and crazy cool. Dod i mention its weird?

Meow Wolf art exhibit in Santa Fe is weird, interactive and crazy cool. Dod i mention its weird?

Meow Wolf

Meow Wolf

Taos is crazy beautiful

Taos is crazy beautiful

Afternoon walk in Toas

Afternoon walk in Toas

View from outside Taos hotel room

View from outside Taos hotel room

Road Trail 18 in Taos with Syd and Macky. There was a little bit of mud. Ride #4.

Road Trail 18 in Taos with Syd and Macky. There was a little bit of mud. Ride #4.

Macky in his happy place: Burrito Land

Macky in his happy place: Burrito Land

Watch the latest UNP video about riding Glorieta with Syd and Macky

Running in My Heart

Running in My Heart

How many people can say “I have found my life’s purpose”? It took me 42 years, but here i am, finally understanding what my contribution to this world is. Did it happen by accident? Well, it happened because of an accident. I was paralyzed in a motorcycle wreck in 2001. The desire to get out on the trail led me to get my bike. My bike is how i get out on the trail. I have run into trouble on the trail. Now i am mapping trails for adaptive riders. Boom! There it is.

First year playing football at 12 years old. (I can’t believe i shared this!)

First year playing football at 12 years old. (I can’t believe i shared this!)

In recent years, I have struggled to get up in the morning, feeling semi-purposeless with little direction. Now, i find myself at dinner, thinking about getting back to work early the next day…one trail at a time.

Incorporating my personality into it all has been an interesting part. You see, i sort of missed my calling as a thespian. My life took a turn when i decided to play football instead of following my heart, which pulled me towards running and theatre. I did not have the parenting that equipped me with the tools to find the true man within. It was a free-for-all, directionless survival. For most young people, the most powerful influence is whatever breeds expectance, being cool, having friends, people liking you. There are a select few who seem to have a preprogrammed nature that compels them to rise above all that nonsense, but I was not one of those. Never have been. Whatever i do, i need to work very hard for and, without direction as a young man, i just followed the current.

As i turned the corner on the road to manhood, in my middle school years, i started fighting at school and with my younger brother. Early in life, my father had shown me that anger and violence were the way to solve problems and i followed suit. When football came into my life, that all ended abruptly. I gave it my heart, winning Most Dedicated every season. I took pride in my role as a special teams head hunter and third down specialist. My one claim to fame occurred when Michael Pittman, our star running back who ended up playing the game of his life in Super Bowl XXXVII, came up to me after practice one day and said, “I’m kinda afraid of you, McGhee.”

Football was good for me. It gave me an outlet for my aggression, but i was injured a lot and i rode the bench my junior and senior years on varsity, despite having the most sacks on the team (I had to throw that in there). My body was just not built for it, a lanky stride and slow feet obvious evidence that my aspirations of playing college football were far fetched and high school was the end of the road for this sport in my life.

The garage studio

The garage studio

I could run though and i really enjoyed drama class. If only i had the parental guidance to help me see, understand and accept these things. What would my life look like if i had chosen to run on the cross country team and had joined the drama club?

Fast forward two and a half decades and i am making videos for adaptive mountain bikers. If you have watched any of these, you will see that I narrate some of the story from a studio in my garage, but recently, I have been watching other mountain biker YouTube channels in an effort to learn how to do things the best i can. I started trying to do the same as them, talking to the camera on rides, narrating my experience as I go, eliminating the need for a post narration element. Then, i caught myself, the inner thespian clawing his fabulous way out of a pickle. “Not this time!” he claimed. I am different than they are. My videos are more than just mountain biking and they totally have an acting element to them. I get to be myself, goofy in front of the camera and have fun with it.

The latest video

I have found a way to be fully myself with a clear direction and this gets me up in the morning with excitement, something my life has been missing for a while. Also, the tech nerd in me gets to learn about video editing and gadgets and cool computer stuff. And of course, the inner runner gets to get out on the trail as part of all this too. Not literally running, but I am running in my heart, the way i can.