Peter Shelton

Summit Day

Posted in Personal History, Ski evolution, Uncategorized, Weather & Climate by pshelton on January 4, 2016

The wind was not so loud I couldn’t hear the words of the volunteer patrolman at the top of the Summit Chair. My hood was cinched tight, and for the last thousand feet of the lift ride I’d held my gloved hand up to shield a bit of exposed cheek. It was a sunny morning, single-digits cold, with the wind ripping out of the southeast, rivers of snow like airplane banners streaming from the peak, gusts rolling over the mountain’s ribs like waves breaking over jetties. (more…)

A Live-In Work of Art

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on January 13, 2013

The front door of the house opens into a gallery, a high, white-walled room that was once the center bay of the barn. Antonio Marra’s abstract sculptures people the space. There are bronzes and plaster studies that have yet to be cast. Some were inspired by the movement, and womanly forms, of ballet dancers Marra observed in his past life in New York City. Others recall great angular slabs of sandstone sheared from the cliffs in canyon country west of Ridgway, the sculptor’s new home. (more…)

Veteran Receives his Medals 68 Years Late

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on September 7, 2012

World War II veteran Cleo Elliot got his Purple Hearts, three of them, and his Bronze Star for valor, 68 years after he earned them on Iwo Jima. (more…)

A Modest Proposal for Michael Phelps

Posted in Olympic Games, Uncategorized, Watch columns by pshelton on August 12, 2012

When Tyler Clary talked that smack around the time of the Olympic trials, about Michael Phelps not working his hardest, and coasting on his talent, I just had to laugh. What does Tyler Clary know? And look at Michael now: 18 gold medals. I mean, come on!

I like to think Michael and I bonded in 04, before he became famous, before he won his first six golds in Athens. And yes, I was the one who took that picture of Michael huffing on a bong after Beijing.

I sold it for some sweet moolah to that English tabloid. But I feel bad about it, I really do. I didn’t mean for Michael to get in trouble. I just wanted to encourage him to follow through on that deal we talked about the time he visited my grow-op out in Mendocino. He was just 19; he didn’t have the big sponsorships he has now: Visa, Subway, Nike, AT&T. And, of course, he hadn’t yet discovered his mystical connection to the dolphins.

I told him I was willing to take a chance on him. If he would be spokesperson for my Mendo Medicinal, it’d be a win-win for everybody. I’d supply him with bud. My licensed, legal-in-the-state-of-California grow-op would prosper. And the acceptance of herb nationwide would get a boost. He seemed enthused at the time.

Here’s what happened that day. We were sitting on the beach out by Gualala, and Michael’s telling me about all the pressure on him to be perfect. He was just a kid, you know, but the pressure was huge, from his coaches, from his mom, and already from the media. He swam five hours a day, every frickin’ day. Fifty miles a week. Talk about chlorine brain. He barely had a life, you know? Everybody telling him he was blessed with the perfect swimmer’s body, the biggest flipper feet and the hugest lungs. They expected so much. And he wanted it, too. But he didn’t know what it was.

So I fire up the ole bong and pass it over. He takes a drag, and I mean he drains the whole bowl. And then he holds it in for I don’t know how long. After about 30 seconds I bust out laughing, and he’s still going strong. Like it was nothing, like he could hold his breath forever. Like he was Superman, or a fish or something. Which he was, I guess. Sort of. In the pool.

Anyway, he does finally exhale about five minutes later. And he’s got this little smile on his lips, and we pound a couple of PBRs and some chips. And then he stands up and rips off his shirt and his jeans and starts into the shore break. I followed the best I could but, you know, he’s Michael Phelps. And pretty soon we’re bobbing out beyond the break, laughing and looking at the sunlight sparkling off the water.

And then we see fins.

At first I thought, Shark!, and my limbs made involuntary moves toward the beach. But Michael stroked straight out toward them with those pelican arms of his. And like that he was in with them – dolphins – arching their backs, diving and leaping over one another, ripping around. And then they disappear. All of ‘em. Michael too.

And I’m trippin’ over rocks working my way back in, and looking out to sea at the same time and just tongue-tied, you know. I mean, what was I going to do, call for help? There was nobody for miles. And I’m sitting there shivering, hugging my knees, thinking this didn’t just happen, when way off I see this clean wind-milling of arms. And it’s Michael, alone, just a speck at first but comin’ fast, cruising back in.

“They know,” he said when he was finally sitting beside me in the sand. “They showed me. You have to embrace the water.” And that’s when I figured I could hitch my water pipe to this kid’s wagon, as it were.

So, Michael, if you’re reading this, now that you’re a retired gazillionaire at 27, I’m sorry about the tabloids, man. No harm intended. I understand you had to say what you said, that it was just a youthful indiscretion and that you promise your sponsors and fans that you won’t do it ever again. You had to say that. You were on the frickin’ corn flakes box. I know that. But I was hoping maybe now we could rekindle our friendship. You know, hang out, fire one up, maybe go for a swim.

You could go in a different direction, sponsorship-wise. Instead of Speedo, see, you could go with Quicksilver, or Da Kine board shorts. And instead of corn flakes you could lend your name to a granola. And maybe to one of my premium sensimillas? See what I’m sayin’?

You could be the man, Michael, the truth-telling man. Our last three Presidents admitted to smoking pot. Half the people on the planet smoke weed. They say it isn’t a performance-enhancing drug. But you know better. You and the dolphins.

Medal Count Fever: An Olympic History

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on August 3, 2012

I still get a patriotic tingle when I look at the Olympic medal count. The emotion runs deep, like rock-and-roll, like “The Silent Service.”

As I write on Monday, Day 3 of the London Games, China and the U.S. each have 17 medals, but the Reds (sorry, old habit) have more golds than we do: 9 to 5.

It used to be the Russians we were up against, or rather the Soviet Union. You see, the roots of the obsession go back to the Cold War. They should have been expurgated – I thought they would have been erased completely by the injustices of Vietnam and the shame of Bush II – but apparently it’s still there, this identification with a national sporting “we.”

As a kid in the 1960s, it was war. The chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A” hadn’t been invented yet. Neither had the term American exceptionalism come to roost with conservatives as a way to justify war: We do it because of America’s special mission (sacred even) to lead the world to liberty and democracy.

Back then, it was purely us versus them, bombast and bomb shelters, Ralph Boston versus Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, John Thomas versus Valeriy Brumel. The 1960 Games, in Rome, were the first ones we watched on TV. That summer the Soviets crushed us 103-71 and 43-34 in gold medals. Long jumper Boston soared past his pale Soviet rival, as did Thomas in the high jump. But Soviet giantess Tamara Press put the shot way farther than our girl Earlene Brown.

We lost the medal race in boxing 4-5, but made up for it when Cassius Clay took the heavyweight gold. In gymnastics, we got skunked: the Soviets won every available medal but three; we took exactly none to their 26. We turned the tables in swimming (bourgeois capitalists have way more swimming pools?), winning the medal war 15-0. Wrestling produced a funny result. (I wasn’t aware of this at the time; only Wikipedia reveals it now.) The Soviets took all three Greco-Roman golds; the freedom-loving Americans took all three in Freestyle.

The Games on either side of 1960 were a disappointment for red-white-and-blue boys like me. In 1956, we got handled, 98-74 by the state-sponsored, plucked-from-the-cradle iron men and women with CCCP on their shirts. In Tokyo in 1964 the final tally was closer, but we still lost 96-90.

1968 brought big changes, in me and in the Olympics. I was 19, just two years away from the end of all college deferments and the waiting draft. Civil rights and Vietnam were turning my assumptions about the country inside out. In Mexico City a transcendent event was overshadowed by a courageous political one.

I competed in the long jump in high school, so when Bob Beamon, on his first attempt, uncorked a leap that was almost two feet longer than anything in history, extending the world record to 29’ 21/2” (a mark that stood for 23 years), I cheered in near disbelief. Then came the men’s 200 meters and the gold and bronze performances of Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos. It wasn’t the race itself that upended the Olympics’ (supposed) apolitical innocence, it was their raised-fist black power salute during the national anthem that rocked the world. They were, of course, banned immediately from the village, the team, and the Olympic movement.

That’s when things began to fall apart. Munich in 1972: The massacre of 11 Israelis by a Palestinian terrorist group dominated the news. That was also the Games when, out of nowhere, suspiciously masculine East German women crushed everybody in swimming.

In 1980, we boycotted the Moscow summer Games in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. So those medal numbers don’t count. Neither, then, should the numbers from Los Angeles in 1984, when the Soviets returned the favor. L.A. was the first tasteless, over-the-top capitalist Games, during which McDonalds’ “When the U.S. Wins, You Win” campaign could net you a free Big Mac.

No one with blood in his veins could have resisted the “Miracle On Ice.” When a bunch of scrappy U.S. college boys beat the Soviet Red Army pros in ice hockey in 1980, that was indeed a miracle. But not long afterward Ronald Reagan usurped the symbolism to declare an end to the national nightmare of Vietnam and the return of American pride, American exceptionalism. The trouble was, as a Californian who had suffered through his governorship, I knew him to be a bully, a genial-sounding liar. We purposely didn’t own a television then. I couldn’t look. Blind patriotism, Olympic or otherwise, had become anathema.

The nadir came in 2004. The summer Games were in Athens. George Bush was about to be reelected. The U.S. had decided on a path of preemptive war, torture, and domestic wiretapping. On a trip to Chile that summer I was, like the Dixie Chicks, embarrassed to be an American. A sympathetic stranger put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I am so sorry.”

But the Olympics that year somehow transfigured both the world and my mood. Michael Phelps won his first eight medals, six of them gold. The U.S. women’s 4×200 swim team eclipsed, finally, the world record set by those East Germans. In a measure of justice the U.S. men’s basketball team lost for the first time since NBA players had been allowed to participate.

And finally, in 2004 China won its first-ever gold medal in track and field, when the automatic gazelle Liu Xiang took the 110m hurdles, foreshadowing a dominance to come.

But, crucially, we won the medal count, 102 to 63, over the Red Chinese.

Compassion Fest: Grumpy Pete Hangs Back

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on July 27, 2012

My wife attended the Compassion Festival in Telluride last week.

I didn’t go. My mother’s maiden name is Cross. Enough said?

We Crosses are a critical bunch. We renamed a maiden aunt Grumpy Mae because she was so caustic. With her gravelly laugh, waving her ever-present cigarette, she went along; she knew the name fit. She was very funny in a Dorothy Parker, black-humor way, even to a ten-year-old. But very dark. Unforgiving.

And that’s what Ellen came home from Telluride talking about, forgiveness and empathy. These things, when you can muster them, are good for your brain, good for everyone, they said. And one way to foster compassion, to open the door to it, is to meditate. The audience at the Opera House was even led in a guided meditation. Ellen said she could see, with her eyes closed, that it could lead to good places.

My meditation is movement through space. I suspect a lot of people who have chosen to live in the mountains do the same. I’m talking about skiing and hiking and my current summertime favorite, boulder hopping up nearby dry arroyos.

I suppose one could get a related benefit from tennis or hockey. But the best out-of-body experiences, in my experience, happen beyond the courts, in the natural world with its surprising terrain and infinite patterns underfoot. These things are not games; they don’t have winners and losers. But they do have consequences. You don’t want to fall down out there in the wilderness.

So you pay attention, you give the task at hand – ascending this ridge, jumping this creek – the full engagement it deserves. The action itself wipes clean the chalkboard of verbal clutter. The combination of hyper-focus and continuous movement creates the blank mind. Or, as the Buddhists say, the mindfulness.

I like another Buddhist term I’ve heard: liberating discernment. You’re not just going through the motions out there. I haven’t talked to Hilaree O’Neill about walking on the edge at 28,000 feet, one foot in Tibet and the other in Nepal, but I’ll bet she feels pretty darned discerning while she’s doing it. And pretty liberated.

I went up the third arroyo today, and it was extra focusing thanks to the recent rains. Some of the streambed boulders had been loosened by the brief, violent flows; they weren’t as trustworthy as they might have been. Others wore a frosting of beige adobe mud. If you stepped on wet adobe, that sole was greasy slick until it wore off. Not good when you’re jumping from rock to rock and trusting your feet to stick.

The object is to hop from boulder to boulder without touching the ground in between. Lickety-split when possible, in tai chi slo-mo where necessary. Sometimes I can go a hundred yards without touching dirt. And on the best stretches, the bounding flows without stops, syncopated by the spacing of the spilled, gully-bottom boulders. My job is to keep going, unconscious, like water – water flowing uphill.

There are always awkward moments, balance gaffs, but the best sections move like a guitar riff that has no gaps in it, nothing extra and not a note out of place. Afterwards, I think about riffles in a river. Do the words have a common root?

Does meditating – sitting or bounding – make you a better person? I don’t know. Does it work to take selfish time in order to become a less selfish person? I’m not sure it works that way. Ellen does say, when I come back from carving on skis or rock hopping on the hill, that I am a happier husband.

It may lead to addiction. Look at those nut cases in the Arizona desert, on silent retreat for three years, three months, and three days. One of them murdered. The world left behind.

The Compassion Festival wants, I think, for us to be in the world, to try to improve our communities, and the planet, through listening and empathy and altruism. Their program listed an event called “Bodywork as Compassionate Service to Humanity.” The speaker was a Rolfer, so I’m pretty sure they meant that bodywork on other people’s bodies is compassionate, even noble work.

So, does bodywork on ones own body count? Given that we know the mind and body are one? And that endorphins, born of pointless, graceful movement, make me feel magnanimous and mellow? Even though I am a Cross?

Grumpy Pete.

In Which the Author Wins a Stage

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on July 19, 2012

Peter Shelton (Team Boulder-Rock) won the ninth stage of the Tour d’Ouray bicycle race Sunday with a bold solo assault on the Beyond Category Col de Piñon. (more…)

When Nature Is Nurture, Part 3

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on July 12, 2012

In 1964 Harry James decided he was too old and retired the Trailfinders Camp for Boys. He didn’t retire from Trailfinders, he ended the franchise. He had no heir apparent. (He and his wife Grace had no kids of their own.) It was a one-man show from start to finish. (more…)

When Nature Is Nurture, Part 2

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on July 5, 2012

How do we end up where we are, who we are?

Harry James read to us occasionally, even though the youngest Trailfinders were probably 11 and the oldest 14 and 15. Once in the shade of a yellow pine (I know it was a yellow pine because he had us put our noses to the vanilla-scented bark) he read us Chapter 10 of John Muir’s The Mountains of California: “A Wind-storm in the forests.” The archaic language of 1874 only added to the drama:

“Being accustomed to climb trees in making botanical studies, I experienced no difficulty in reaching the top of this one, and never before did I enjoy so noble an exhilaration of motion. The slender tops fairly flapped and swished in the passionate torrent, bending and swirling backward and forward, round and round, tracing indescribable combinations of vertical and horizontal curves, while I clung with muscles firm braced, like a bobolink on a reed.”

Muir, of course, did more than climb trees in windstorms. He founded the Sierra Club and helped create Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. He’s the one who said: “Climb mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.”

We climbed mountains, and trees, that summer in Yosemite’s high country. We took over the group camping area in Tuolumne Meadows. Harry set up his kitchen. We all picked our sleeping spots on the pine-needled forest floor.

We were close by the Tuolumne River, which flowed around granite boulders between meadow-grass banks. The water was astonishingly cold. We were not far from its headwaters in the Lyell Glacier. But because we were boys, and because we hiked many miles most days and didn’t have the pond on Indian Creek to rinse off, we edged out into the current and took the plunge.

I decided for some reason to see how far downstream I could swim underwater. The sunlight beaming into that golden world drew me on. There on my right was a rainbow trout holding in the lee of boulder. Another one on the left, in the dappled shade, gills waving. Breast-stroking with my belly inches from the golden sand, I kept going, riding the invisible current.

When finally I popped up I had the biggest ice-cream headache of all time. It alarmed me. I thought my brain might freeze, or explode. But I worked my way back up the bank to do it again.

We did riskier things than that. Near the end of the fortnight, when we had become trail-hardened and nearly immune to thirst – sucking on a pebble was a suggested sublimation – we hiked in to Cathedral Peak and climbed its dragon-back ridge. We carried no ropes. This was not Outward Bound. Harry was not a technical climber. It is remarkable to me in retrospect that he let us do what we did. The climbing was not especially difficult, no more than a class 4 on the Yosemite scale, but the exposure was horrendous. Slip off and it would have been certain death. Harry just assumed that none of his 40 boys would be so foolish as to slip. It was part of his worldview, his insistence (we might call it naiveté in today’s litigious world) that the correct path, the only conceivable path to success, be cleaved to.

Because Harry didn’t worry, or show it, I didn’t worry either. All I felt on that knife-edge was the elation of movement through space, pure movement through rarefied air, focused, consequential movement.

On one of our nights in Tuolumne, I woke to a sound I couldn’t figure out – wet and scratchy, nearby. When my eyes adjusted at last to the darkness, I saw, not 15 feet away, a full-sized black bear sitting up with his legs outstretched holding a tin can between his paws slowly licking the flavor from its inside.

I tried to think through a logical best strategy. It wouldn’t do, surely, to bolt up out of my bag, or even to try to slither out and steal away. So, I decided to lie as still as I could, keep my breathing slow and calm. It worked like a charm. I fell back to sleep and didn’t stir until the sun was on me.

At the end of his wind-storm essay, John Muir wrote: “We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men; but it never occurred to me until this storm-day, while swinging in the wind, that trees are travelers, in the ordinary sense. They make many journeys, not extensive ones, it is true; but our own little journeys, away and back again, are only little more than tree-wavings – many of them not so much.”

Why do our journeys take us where they do? Some stay close to home. I grew up at the beach, a bustling place of cars and surfboards and the sounds of volleyballs smacking the sand. I could have stayed. Or come back. Much of my family stayed on the California coast.

On that Trailfinders trip to Tuolumne I took dozens of snapshots with my Brownie box camera. I didn’t have an eye. They all came out looking the same: dull, black-and-white landscapes of trees and rock and sky. But I loved what I was looking at through the viewfinder. I was pretty sure I wanted my “tree-wavings” to happen in the mountains, with all that the mountains could offer up.

To be continued.

When Nature Is Nurture

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on June 28, 2012

Every time I splash cold water on my face I think of Trailfinders. And a Hopi lullaby. And how one man’s disappointment in me led, at least in part, to who I am. (more…)