Sunday, July 9, 2017

Douche Shoulder: The Beginning

Baseball players are weeeeeeird. 



If you’ve ever watched closely or have ever known a baseball player personally… you probably have picked up on their unique little routines and quirks. We all had them. Like the batter that adjusts both batting gloves, crosses his chest and shoots up a quick prayer to the baseball gods, taps the bat twice with his left hand (once with the palm and the other with his wrist), steps in the box with their left foot, digs in the dirt approximately 3 times with their right foot, gently sways the bat before coming set with a Jack Parkman shimmy. 



Every single player has their own routine and way of doing things and I was no different. I had my own little unique routine on the mound… hell I even had a certain way I would hop across the base line. I would do it EVER SINGLE TIME. That’s just the nature of the game.

Another thing that makes baseball players weird is all of their crazy superstitions. For example… if the scoreboard reads all 2s…  (2 outs with a count of 2 balls and 2 strikes)… everyone in the dugout must take their pointer and middle fingers from the right hand, place them on the bill of their cap and rub… and when the pitcher releases the ball everyone must quickly remove their hats and hold them out as if they were trying to catch something in their hat. The process is deemed “successful” if the pitcher throws a ball or the batter gets a base hit.

Why do we do this? No one knows… but everyone must comply. 



May God have mercy on your soul if the batter gets out and someone turns around to find someone NOT doing the magical 2-2-2 hat rub. The culprit will receive ALL blame for the batter getting out and will receive verbal abuse and more than likely receive physical abuse as well. We don’t play around when it comes to superstitions. Like this one time where we didn’t have anything to stir the PowerAde powder into our cooler so we decided to use an old, dirty fungo (bat used for taking pre-game infield).  We happened to win that game so of course we had to stir our PowerAde with the same nasty ass fungo until we broke our winning streak. Delicious. My own personal superstition was that I always had to have some form of currency in my back left pocket. Whether it was a penny or a $20 bill… I didn’t matter… I just needed some kind of money. There you have it… the secret to being a successful pitcher. Money.


If you have concluded that the root cause for Douche Shoulder stems from my baseball career… you are correct. But it wasn’t from wear and tear from pitching…

Look closely at these 2 pictures and tell me if you notice anything strange (other than my face)?





“Hmmmmm…. Why does he have ice on his left shoulder when he is a right handed pitcher?”
Well once upon a time… on the plains of the great state of Texas… a small Division 2 baseball team from Alabama was batting in the top of the 9th inning playing in the 2006 Regional Championship game….

PING!!

BJ drilled a single up the middle and we all cheered as Fultz crossed home plate to give us a 9-8 lead over Incarnate Word. Like any normal close game… as we headed into the bottom of the 9th … I grabbed my glove and headed to the mound.

I really enjoyed being a closing pitcher. I loved going into those tight, uncomfortable situations and battling head to head with batters. Other than the comradery… it was practically the only thing I truly loved about the game. I liked the game enough but I was never one of those “baseball is life!!” type of guys.

Taking the mound with a one run lead in the bottom of the 9th in the Regional Championship game felt the same as throwing a practice bullpen or pitching in a scrimmage game. I always had the same mindset when I took the mound regardless of the situation. I had an uncanny ability to remain cool, calm and collected even in the most intense scenarios… which I believe was the key to my success.
Per my usual routine… I scrapped the top of the mound with my right cleat, took my stance, eyed the sign from my catcher and delivered a pitch.

PING!!

Easy first out.

Though striking out batters was always the highlight of being a pitcher… strikeouts were never the main focus. The main goal was to throw smart and to throw as little as possible. Drawing light contact for an easy out early in the count remained king.

I felt good. Everything felt as smooth as butter when I had warmed up in the bullpen during the 8th inning. As weird as it sounds… I already knew the outcome of the game if we pulled ahead going into the bottom of the 9th.

I have never been a cocky person. I always did my best to remain humble in every aspect of the game because I knew the baseball gods were always watching and waiting for a chance to strike me down. On the mound, I very rarely showed any emotion. I would keep the same composure and the same blank facial expressions whether I just gave up a walk off home run to lose the game or struck out the side to win. This lack of emotion came as a result of bad mouthing an umpire in some random summer league game when I was like 8 years old…



The umpire was garbage and had missed a call. Like a punk… I smarted off to him and ended up not getting a single call the rest of the game. He was purposely not giving me calls to prove a point. Well… I continued bath mouthing this guy until the game was over. Without going into detail… let’s just say after the game the encounter with my dad instilled in me a new-found respect for umpires. From that day forward… I never once showed up another umpire (and if I ever thought I did cross one for any reason… I made it a point to apology with a handshake after the game). That little bitty life lesson from my childhood seriously became an everlasting theme of my life. I think Sawyer Brown said it best…

“I gotta thank Mama for the cookin’… Daddy for the whuppin’… the Devil for the trouble that I get into..”

So yea… thanks Dad. I truly appreciated the whuppins’ and life lessons as a kid… ;)

The second batter from Incarnate Word stepped up to the plate and within a few pitches he hung his head and returned to the dugout with a strike out next to his name.

From the fans in the stands to the players on the field… I could feel the excitement mounting. I glanced over into the dugout and caught eyes with Coach Goff. One of the first things I ever noticed about Coach Goff was his eyes. Goff has these piercing eyes that can convey an emotion without saying a single word. Now those emotions can range from “super happy and content” to “I’m going to rip your f’n head off”... I’ll let you come to the conclusion of which was shown more.



But in all seriousness… he’s got an intense fire and passion in his eyes that is truly one of a kind. But when I caught eyes with him in this moment… it was different. I kinda smirked and flashed a smile because it was one of the few times I had ever seen him appear even remotely nervous. I mean I get it… we were one out away from making school history and clenching a spot in the Division 2 World Series… but still found it kinda funny in that moment.

I reeled back in my focus and took the mound to deliver a pitch.

I popped Myrick’s catcher’s mitt.

STRIKE 1!!

I didn’t waste any time.

POP!!

STRIKE 2!!

We were now one strike away from a Regional Championship.

At this point I was fairly confident that a swooping breaking ball would leave this batter watching the 3rd strike with his bat on his shoulder.

Myrick flashed 2 fingers and I started my windup. I released the ball and immediately started walking off the field. Boom. Perfect location. Perfect breaking ball. Perfect pitch. Game over.



BAAAAALLLLLLL 1!!!

The umpire’s loud words were followed by an enormous grown of disapproval from the crowd. My face remained blank as I whispered to myself…

“MMMMMMMMM…. damn man. Ya missed that call.”

Myrick asked for a time out and was smiling as he jogged out to the mound.

“Boy he missed that call didn’t he? He wanted me to let you know that he knows he missed that call.  Get the next one close and he’ll make things right.”

Myrick didn’t even bother flashing the sign. We were going with the same exact pitch. I released the pitch and though it was a little bit higher in the strike zone than I intended… I knew he wouldn’t swing at it.



STRIKE 3!!!!

The dugout cleared and everyone started rushing the field.

We had discussed this in detail before I took the mound. Since I was a wee little guy… I was to hop over towards the first base side and once the dog pile started… I could hop on top. There have been way too many instances where players get hurt during a celebration and are forced to sit out the next series due to a dumb ass injury...

As you can see from the picture below… everything was going according to plan.



I hopped over towards the first base line and jumped into Myrick’s arms.



The next thing I knew I was slammed to the ground and was left staring at the rest of the team charging towards us. I remember thinking “oh shit… this is going to hurt real bad.”

I was right. It did hurt. Real bad. I could hardly breathe and was trying to stay calm as each player hopped on and added to the pile. There came a moment where I could feel something start to give way… 

POP!!

Only this time it wasn’t the glorious sound of the catcher’s mitt… it was my clavicle snapping...

We ended our celebration...  


Shook hands with the other team and started in with the pictures...



By the time we got out of the stadium I knew my shoulder was jacked up. It’s pretty obvious from the picture below that you can tell that the adrenaline had worn off and the pain had set in…  



Instead of running straight to Coach Goff to let him know what had happened… I kinda just bit my lip and dealt with the pain. The school had NEVER made it to a College World Series before and I sure as hell wasn’t going to pass up a chance to pitch. So…. I pitched with a broken clavicle.

I couldn’t really move my arm much past my elbow so anytime Myrick threw the ball back to me it had to be damn close to my glove. Despite the broken clavicle… I still pitched well! If you fast forward to 2:18 of the below youtube trailer for the UM World Series DVD… you will find some clean-shaven punk with his hat cocked to the side. You can tell while I’m jogging off the mound that I had already informed the team to please… for the love of God… not hit my left shoulder…



Though we didn’t end up winning the whole shebang…. We did walk away with a lot of great memories, a 3rd place finish and one of those big ass rings.



This was the beginning of Douche Shoulder. After the World Series was over I went and got it checked out. Since I waited so long and there was so much bruising… it was really hard to tell if there was anything torn but it was clear that there was a break. Since there’s not much you can do for a broken clavicle… I just opted for the “let it heal on its own” route. From that moment on my shoulder would occasionally dislocate and slip out of place but it almost always slipped right back into its correct slot. However… about 5 years ago… I was swimming and it dislocated pretty badly. It was extremely painful and it kinda freaked Kati out a bit to see it so mangled and out of place. Thankfully I popped it back in after a few minutes, did some at home rehab to regain some strength and it was back to the occasional slippage.

This past March I was out flagging a route for our Make a Wish Trailblaze Challenge group hike at Red Mountain Park. Since I was a big lazy and didn’t flag it the night before… I got up really early, threw the mountain bike into the Element and set out to flag the route before the group hike at 8am. I would ride until I needed to mark, hop off, throw down a flag and carry on to the next location. Everything was going smoothly until it wasn’t. After riding over a small bump my shoulder dislocated. Since this wasn’t really out of the ordinary I didn’t really panic or freak out. I just hopped off the bike and started to massage my shoulder. USUALLY it would just slide back into place. I still wasn’t too worried when it didn’t immediately go back into place… I just thought it was just being stubborn and needed a little extra guidance. After a few minutes of trying to find the slot… the pain started to creep in and I came to the conclusion that this dislocation was a tad bit different than the others. I calmly walked in circles going through my options while trying to force my shoulder back into place. I was roughly 5 or so miles from the trail head and had no intentions of walking all the way back without my bike and with my shoulder dislodged. At the 13 minute mark I decided to make one final attempt to pop it back into its slot.

I immediately fell to my knees and then laid on my back. It was in. The relief I felt in that moment was the same relief I felt when DrBeard popped a dislodged rib back into place that I somehow managed to get from the Grindstone 100. Instant relief.

Though my shoulder felt extremely weak… I gently rode back to my car, managed to sloppily get my bike into the back and set out on our 11 mile group hike. I figured it would be like any other dislocation... I’ll just suck it up, go hit up the FARM for some rehab and strengthen the muscles around it. No big deal.



After about 3 weeks of rehab and what not… I KNEW something was up with my shoulder. I could climb and lift weights just fine… but it was still extremely weak and it felt like it wanted to dislocate in the weirdest scenarios… like…. when I would reach over to my night stand to turn off my lamp before bed. Your shoulder should NEVER feel like it is going to dislocate while doing this. This is when I knew it was bad and needed more serious attention.

One afternoon I was doing squats and it could feel my shoulder start to dislocate. My buddy Scoot said I may have a torn labrum and should probably get it checked out for real. A quick phone call to my old college trainer got me into a MRI real fast.



Result? Torn labrum. Posterior AND anterior. Just like that… surgery was scheduled for May 30. They wanted to do it sooner but I had some stuff to take care of like…

A surprise mountain girls weekend w/ Ash and Jenna







Climbing sketchy ridgelines and not dying…









And the Douche Shoulder Extravaganza w/ Dayquon… (aka worst trail day eva for ole Nighqwon)






All of which I still need to freaking write about….

But there ya have it… the beginnings of Douche Shoulder. Next up… “Douche Shoulder: Mask Off”











x

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Ultra de LeCoontay

**Invite only. Must bring a growler of beer and ingredients for a potluck as an "entry fee."**

I fired off a text to OJG last Tuesday afternoon...

"So just kinda sunk in that I'm not a backpacker... 
Do you happen to have an actual backpacking pack and some trekking poles?" 

Though I've spent countless miles and hours roaming mountain tops and tramping through forests... I have NEVER actually put on an actual backpacking pack and hiked in gear for an overnight stay. Most of my long efforts have been a single push with the absence of sleep. Though backpacking (mostly fastpacking) has always sparked my interest... I just haven't broke down and invested in the gear. Thankfully I have adventurous and generous friends that will let me borrow their gear from time to time.

"Don't think I'm going to make it to Oak Mtn... Hump has the backpack and poles." 

I met Hump Thursday afternoon at Oak Mtn to pick up the pack and poles and for a chilly night trail half marathon...



Once we wrapped up... I scooted on over to the Beer Hog and filled up my favorite growler with some local goodness for the fun run...



Since I had to take a half a day off on Wednesday to spend 4.5hrs getting 6 crowns on my top teeth... I couldn't bring myself to ask off a half day on Friday. So as soon as the clock struck 4pm I headed home, made a quick dinner, grabbed my gear and hit the road for the 5hr drive to the Smoky Mtns.
Initially I had hoped for that half day off so I could get up to the Smoky Mtns mid afternoon and up to the lodge a little after dinner. The late departure would have had me starting my hike up the mountain around 11pm and I didn't want to disturb anyone who was already asleep by rolling in around 1am. Instead... OJG offered me a place to stay at their cabin near the NOC. Even though it was an hour away from Alum Cave trail head... it was nice to throw down the sleeping bag in a warm environment opposed to the back of my car. I arrived at the cabin a little after midnight, laid out my gear for the weekend and finally fell asleep around 1am.

My first alarm went off at 430am. I turned on the lamp and dozed in and out of sleep until my 3rd alarm went off at 500am. I heated up my breakfast burrito and was on the road by 515am heading towards the trail head.



I started my hike up Alum Cave around 630am. I knew it would be slow moving with the heavy pack and ice on the trail so I gave myself a 2hr window for a leisurely hike up to the lodge. It was an absolutely gorgeous morning! I got up to the Alum Cave Bluff as the first light started hitting the distant mountains. I made sure to stop and take a Candice Burt Selfie for Matty Fierce...



There was more ice on the trail than I expected. Most of it was very visible but I managed to find a well blended sheet  and took a pretty hard fall which bloodied my thumb a bit. But like the old saying goes... "a bloody thumb is better than a busted growler."



It was evident as I made the last turn up towards the lodge that we had been blessed with a picture perfect day for fun run.



I arrived at the lodge about 30 minutes before the fun run was supposed to start. I walked around a bit searching for signs of life and finally heard a muffled voice coming from a room off the main dining hall. I walked around back and opened a door to a small room full of people. Though I had actually never met a single person in the room... the atmosphere was warm and inviting... it was like walking into my Mamaw Tiny's kitchen full of close family members. I firmly believe there is no such thing as "strangers" among mountain lovers and adventurers. Initially Ash and Dan were going to join me for the fun run... it was to be a DayQuan/NighQwon/Phootwan adventure... but life happens and unfortunately they couldn't make it.

After JP finished his spiel about the details of the fun run... he showed me to my cabin where I quickly changed clothes and packed my vest. After a few introductions and a quick picture... it was time to set out for a long, fun day on the trails!



We started down the Trillium Trail...



It was a little slow moving at first with the ice and clustered group...



The ice started to disappear and people began to spread out once we really got into the descent. For the first couple of miles I got to chat with a super chill guy named Seth. I was almost disappointed to tail away from him when we arrived at Trillium Gap. He continued down Trillium and continued straight towards Brushy Mountain.


What I really love about these types "fun runs"  is the flexibility and non competitive attitude behind them. If you wanted to run hard you could run hard. If you wanted to go check out sights and places that were not on the route... you could venture off as you please. If you wanted to stop at the half way point and start drinking colbeer... you could stop at the halfway point and drink colbeer. From the get-go I had looked at this fun run as a laid back, enjoyable but tough effort in the mountains. I hadn't really had a long outing in the mountains since October and was looking to get a lot of solid climbing and time on my feet. Since I hadn't been up to Brushy Mtn in years I took advantage of the fun run flexibility and opted for the half mile or so out and back to the summit. I did not disappoint. This summit is especially beautiful in the summer when the rhododendrons are in bloom! 


I removed my jacket before heading back down to rejoin the Trillium Trail. Once I got back on the trail I started the long descent passing Tori (I think?). After scaling a downed tree... I managed to misplace a step and take a tumble. Good news: Tori didn't see my fall... Bad news: I tweaked my ankle a bit. Though the ole ankle felt weak the rest of the day and would still be a little bruised and swollen come Monday morning... it loosened up by the time I hit Grotto Falls.



After connecting a trail over to the start of the Rainbow Falls trail... I met up with a group that was chilling at the start of the trail.

I spent the entire ascent of Rainbow with this group (Jeff, Ted, Chas Scott, Ryan)





Just before we arrived at Rainbow Falls... we came across Jennifer Pharr Davis soaking up some warm sunshine with her youngest. It's always cool to see complete badasses out and about :)

We continued the ascent and passed through some areas that had been scorched by the recent fires. Still can't believe the devastation they caused....


When we got back to the lodge (roughly the half way point) I stuffed my face with some donuts and mini Snickers. I had eaten the second half of my Arby's roast beef sandwich during the Rainbow ascent but was still hungry. After refilling my soft flasks I set out down the Boulevard Trail towards Charlies Bulge with the Indiana crew: Jeff, Ted and Chas.



Charlies Bulge (aka: Charlies Bunion if you want the technical and real term) was packed with tourists. The Bulge is easily accessible from Newfound Gap which makes it one of the top destinations along the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee.





After hanging out a bit on the Bulge... we started the trek back up towards the lodge.



The trail was mostly ice free but there were a few semi sketchy spots where it took some slow navigating...


Those pinks shorts tho.... how can you not love this guy?!


The fun run just so happened to also be Chas's 29th birthday! We calculated that a quick little out and back to Myrtle's Point would just so happen to perfectly allow Chas to run 29 miles... so of course... we Myrtle'd it up!



I am extremely grateful that the Indiana boys let me tag along with them all day!




We took the final steps down to the lodge to wrap up a glorious 29 mile/ 7700ft gain fun run!


After a quick change into warm clothes, we all grabbed a beer and hiked up to the Cliff Tops to watch the sunset.



Once the sun disappeared over the horizon we hiked back down to the lodge in a soft blue-orange glow.


We all crammed into the kitchen for a delicious mac and cheese dinner!


After singing happy birthday and presenting Chas with a birthday brownie...



The "entry fees" were put to good use...



It was fun talking and getting to know so many people. I spent a good amount of time talking with Ryne and Jeff of Nashville. It turned out that we had a few mutual friends and great passions for "fun run" self supported type adventures. I'm really looking forward to venturing out with these guys in the future!

After my fair share of "entry fees" I was ready to call it an early night. Maybe it was the lack of sleep or the 34 miles/10,000ft of gain day... but I found myself saying goodnight and walking back to my cabin far earlier than expected. The city lights twinkling in the distance were pretty... but the sky was gorgeous. A bright thumbnail moon and a million stars lit the frigid walk back to the cabin. It didn't take long before I was warm, cozy and drifting to sleep in my sleeping bag.

I woke up a little after sunrise the next morning and headed down to the kitchen for some breakfast. JP and company cooked up some delicious maple glazed cinnamon rolls and an egg-kale-bacon blend that was heavenly. After some warm conversation and hot coffee I said my goodbyes and started the run/hike back down the mountain.


I am so thankful to have been a part of what I have dubbed the "Ultra de LeCoontay." These are the types of weekends that reignite my love for mountain adventures and the culture and people that come along with them. Long, hard efforts in beautiful Appalactic terrain with not so stranger-like strangers... this is what mountain running is all about.