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Spinning my wheels

Cyclist storms through first century ride

?My mom taught me two important lessons growing up: Always cover the entire slice of bread with peanut butter when making PB&Js; and never, ever doubt yourself. Both came in handy last weekend at the West Georgia 100, a century bike ride through the rolling hills and farmlands of the Georgia countryside.

About 70 cyclists showed up in Carrollton on a drizzly Sunday morning, most of them wearing brightly colored Spandex and fancy clip-in bike shoes. Their meaty quads and calves made my legs look like toothpicks. And my clunky, bottom-of-the-line bike seemed out of place beside their slim, streamlined cycles - fully equipped with aerobars, disk wheels and ultra-lightweight titanium frames. This is one sport where competitors can definitely buy speed.

But I wasn't out to beat them; I was trying to join them as a full-fledged member of the century club. Biking 100 miles topped my list of things to do before I die, and I was looking forward to cruising wide-open country roads without the cars and congestion of city cycling. On the long ride, I hoped to get out of my cerebrum for a few hours and clear away some mental pollution.

It was a symphony of sound at the starting line: first the blast of the start horn, then the percussion of thumb-clicking gears and shoes clipping into pedals, followed by the wind instruments spinning down the street. A steady rain pattered against the pavement, accompanied by thunderous bass drums rumbling overhead.

In the first few miles, I splashed past tandem cyclists, mountain bikers and even a couple of hand-pedaling cyclists cranking up the steep inclines. I jabbered with riders at the first rest stop while snacking on a chocolate Star Crunch. But for most of the ride, I was by myself. The only spectators along the course were a handful of farm dogs (including a Husky that gave chase for about a half-mile), pockets of wild, blood-red lilies crowding the shoulder and golden hay fields doing the wave in the wet wind.

To pass the time, I counted churches (11), tractors (18) and windmills (6). When that got boring, I hummed Mozart's Divertimento. I listed the names of all my grade school teachers, starting with kindergarten. I had a long talk with an ex-girl friend. I thought about this homeless guy named Brian, and how goddamn lucky I was to have legs and arms and good health. My mind roamed the pastures with the cows and lost itself in the green landscape.

Then, halfway through the ride, the rain started falling harder. Rooster tails sprayed from my back tire, and I could see my bike's watery reflection in the flooded road. As I hydroplaned down hills, raindrops felt like rock pebbles plinking against my forehead. In the downpour, I missed a turn and wandered four miles off course before backtracking. It was slow going, and by the time I reached Mile 60, I was knackered.

For the first time all morning, I thought about calling it quits. My chafed crotch ached in the stiff saddle, charley horses galloped through my calves and my hands were bruised and blistered from clasping the grips too tightly. I was completely waterlogged. I hated cycling and vowed never to ride again. But I knew my Mom's I'm-proud-of-you-anyway smile would hurt worse than cramped legs and crotch rot, so I kept on pedaling.

With 30 miles to go, I'd run out of things to think about, and I sure as hell didn't feel like singing anymore. So I concentrated on form: spinning my legs in circles, tucking down hills and maintaining a steady cadence on the climbs. Next, I tried shaking my legs loose and standing in my stirrups every few minutes. When that didn't work, I started bargaining with God: "If you get me through this one, I swear I'll start going to church. I'll even throw a few extra bucks in the collection basket to make up for the money I took from it when I was in second-grade."

My tongue was dragging in my spokes, my heart was about to jump out of my chest and I was sucking wind like a vacuum cleaner - when suddenly I saw an orange jersey up ahead, and I took off after it. Pretty soon, I caught up to another cyclist, and then another. I forgot about how much pain I was in and focused on the next pack of riders up ahead. Cycling was easy, once I stopped thinking so hard. I unclenched my grip on the handlebars and glided down the slick streets toward the finish, crossing the line in a little under six hours.

Saddle sore and stiff-legged, I hobbled back to the car and guzzled a bottle of Gatorade. The rain had finally tapered off, and sunlight glowed behind a veil of cloud. I loved cycling again. I unwrapped a homemade peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, sunk my teeth into a crusty corner, and thought about nothing. Nothing at all. ??





More By This Writer

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  string(5069) "Tim Willis' life hangs by a string — a blue shoestring wrapped around my index finger. "It's like a leash, and you're my seeing-eye dog," Tim says, pinching the other end of the shoelace and wiping sweat from his sightless eyes.   I'm Tim's guide runner this morning on a six-mile loop around his neighborhood. By tugging on the string, I signal to Tim which direction he needs to turn. We wind through subdivision streets for the first few miles, then cross a major four-lane highway. "Step up," I shout, pulling the shoestring tight. Without breaking stride, Tim leaps over the cement curb and back onto the sidewalk.

Tim's high school coach developed the shoestring technique so that Tim could run cross country. Fifteen years later, Tim is the world's fastest 10,000-meter blind runner and one of the country's top blind athletes. Our six-mile run this morning is the first of two workouts he has scheduled for today. Tim has been consistently putting in 70 miles a week to prepare for Sydney, his third straight Paralympic appearance.

"When I lost my sight, I decided that's all I would lose — and nothing more," he explains. As a child, he was diagnosed with Coats' Disease, a retinal blood vessel disorder that gradually occluded his vision. By age 10, he was completely blind in both eyes.

But that didn't stop him from wrestling in high school or running in college. He competed in Division I cross country for Georgia Southern University and won the 1994 world 10,000-meter championships in Berlin. He currently holds 13 national records and two world records, including a blistering 32:27 personal best in the 10,000-meters. That time would have placed him in the top 50 overall at Peachtree this year.

Tim also took home four medals in the 1996 Paralympics — three bronze medals and a silver in the 10,000-meter run. Now, Tim has set his sights on Paralympic gold.

"Let's pick it up a bit," Tim says, four miles into our loop. We're already running six-minute miles, but Tim wants a little more tempo this morning. I open up my stride and try to hang with him.

Without sight, Tim's other senses are sharpened. He hears approaching cars several seconds before I do. He smells flowers in neighborhood yards and identifies my deodorant by brand name. He even knows when I've missed a turn.

"I think we were supposed to make a left on that street back there," he observes, only a few yards after I pass it.

Tim has run this same six miles with dozens of different guides over the past 15 years. When he can't find a guide, Tim gets in a treadmill workout or runs hundreds of laps by himself around his small, grassy front yard.

"I usually run the yard at night so my neighbors don't think I'm crazy," Tim says.

He holds my elbow as we cross the four-lane highway again. Once we're back in the subdivision, I pull on the shoestring, and we veer left up a steep hill. I call out potholes, storm drains, overhanging limbs and cars parked in the road. He puts his complete trust in me — a stranger he has never seen — to guide him through the bumpy boulevards and crowded, curb-cluttered streets around Atlanta.

We finish the final two miles of the loop at a pretty good clip. Tim hopes the speed work at the end of his runs will improve his kick, which faltered in the final laps of the 10,000-meter run in the 1996 Paralympics. He and a Mexican runner broke away from the pack early, and Tim took the lead midway through the race. But with six laps to go, the Mexican caught him. Tim couldn't hold the pace in the final mile and ended up with a silver medal.

"I didn't run smart in '96. I think my tactics — and my kick — will be a lot better this year."

Afterward, we cool down with a few 100-meter strides at the neighborhood park near his house. The basketball rims are busted, and the ball field behind the playground is now a parking lot. But Tim still remembers what the park looked like before he lost his sight. The 29-year-old runner still sees the world through a 7-year-old's eyes.

We stride back and forth, side-by-side, across the old ball field. For a few seconds, I close my eyes and run in the dark with him. Instantly, I'm lost and frightened and vulnerable. It feels like I'm about to collide with a tree or a telephone pole any moment. Five seconds feels more like five minutes, and the slender shoelace becomes my lifeline. Finally I snap open my eyes, flooded now with safe, secure sunlight.

For the rest of the workout, I'm not sure who's guiding who. Tim seems to know every contour and crevice of the field. His eyes may not work, but he still can see — with his feet, his skin, his ears, his memory. We run a couple more strides together, the blind leading the blind, the blue shoestring hanging loosely between us.

The U.S. Association of Blind Athletes is always looking for guide runners. Contact Wade Council, the USABA's guide running coordinator, at <a href="mailto:"councils@gateway.net">councils@gateway.net, or check out the USABA Web page at www.usaba.org


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Tim's high school coach developed the shoestring technique so that Tim could run cross country. Fifteen years later, Tim is the world's fastest 10,000-meter blind runner and one of the country's top blind athletes. Our six-mile run this morning is the first of two workouts he has scheduled for today. Tim has been consistently putting in 70 miles a week to prepare for Sydney, his third straight Paralympic appearance.

"When I lost my sight, I decided that's all I would lose -- and nothing more," he explains. As a child, he was diagnosed with Coats' Disease, a retinal blood vessel disorder that gradually occluded his vision. By age 10, he was completely blind in both eyes.

But that didn't stop him from wrestling in high school or running in college. He competed in Division I cross country for Georgia Southern University and won the 1994 world 10,000-meter championships in Berlin. He currently holds 13 national records and two world records, including a blistering 32:27 personal best in the 10,000-meters. That time would have placed him in the top 50 overall at Peachtree this year.

Tim also took home four medals in the 1996 Paralympics -- three bronze medals and a silver in the 10,000-meter run. Now, Tim has set his sights on Paralympic gold.

"Let's pick it up a bit," Tim says, four miles into our loop. We're already running six-minute miles, but Tim wants a little more tempo this morning. I open up my stride and try to hang with him.

Without sight, Tim's other senses are sharpened. He hears approaching cars several seconds before I do. He smells flowers in neighborhood yards and identifies my deodorant by brand name. He even knows when I've missed a turn.

"I think we were supposed to make a left on that street back there," he observes, only a few yards after I pass it.

Tim has run this same six miles with dozens of different guides over the past 15 years. When he can't find a guide, Tim gets in a treadmill workout or runs hundreds of laps by himself around his small, grassy front yard.

"I usually run the yard at night so my neighbors don't think I'm crazy," Tim says.

He holds my elbow as we cross the four-lane highway again. Once we're back in the subdivision, I pull on the shoestring, and we veer left up a steep hill. I call out potholes, storm drains, overhanging limbs and cars parked in the road. He puts his complete trust in me -- a stranger he has never seen -- to guide him through the bumpy boulevards and crowded, curb-cluttered streets around Atlanta.

We finish the final two miles of the loop at a pretty good clip. Tim hopes the speed work at the end of his runs will improve his kick, which faltered in the final laps of the 10,000-meter run in the 1996 Paralympics. He and a Mexican runner broke away from the pack early, and Tim took the lead midway through the race. But with six laps to go, the Mexican caught him. Tim couldn't hold the pace in the final mile and ended up with a silver medal.

"I didn't run smart in '96. I think my tactics -- and my kick -- will be a lot better this year."

Afterward, we cool down with a few 100-meter strides at the neighborhood park near his house. The basketball rims are busted, and the ball field behind the playground is now a parking lot. But Tim still remembers what the park looked like before he lost his sight. The 29-year-old runner still sees the world through a 7-year-old's eyes.

We stride back and forth, side-by-side, across the old ball field. For a few seconds, I close my eyes and run in the dark with him. Instantly, I'm lost and frightened and vulnerable. It feels like I'm about to collide with a tree or a telephone pole any moment. Five seconds feels more like five minutes, and the slender shoelace becomes my lifeline. Finally I snap open my eyes, flooded now with safe, secure sunlight.

For the rest of the workout, I'm not sure who's guiding who. Tim seems to know every contour and crevice of the field. His eyes may not work, but he still can see -- with his feet, his skin, his ears, his memory. We run a couple more strides together, the blind leading the blind, the blue shoestring hanging loosely between us.

''The U.S. Association of Blind Athletes is always looking for guide runners. Contact Wade Council, the USABA's guide running coordinator, at councils@gateway.net, or check out the USABA Web page at [http://www.usaba.org|www.usaba.org]''


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Tim's high school coach developed the shoestring technique so that Tim could run cross country. Fifteen years later, Tim is the world's fastest 10,000-meter blind runner and one of the country's top blind athletes. Our six-mile run this morning is the first of two workouts he has scheduled for today. Tim has been consistently putting in 70 miles a week to prepare for Sydney, his third straight Paralympic appearance.

"When I lost my sight, I decided that's all I would lose — and nothing more," he explains. As a child, he was diagnosed with Coats' Disease, a retinal blood vessel disorder that gradually occluded his vision. By age 10, he was completely blind in both eyes.

But that didn't stop him from wrestling in high school or running in college. He competed in Division I cross country for Georgia Southern University and won the 1994 world 10,000-meter championships in Berlin. He currently holds 13 national records and two world records, including a blistering 32:27 personal best in the 10,000-meters. That time would have placed him in the top 50 overall at Peachtree this year.

Tim also took home four medals in the 1996 Paralympics — three bronze medals and a silver in the 10,000-meter run. Now, Tim has set his sights on Paralympic gold.

"Let's pick it up a bit," Tim says, four miles into our loop. We're already running six-minute miles, but Tim wants a little more tempo this morning. I open up my stride and try to hang with him.

Without sight, Tim's other senses are sharpened. He hears approaching cars several seconds before I do. He smells flowers in neighborhood yards and identifies my deodorant by brand name. He even knows when I've missed a turn.

"I think we were supposed to make a left on that street back there," he observes, only a few yards after I pass it.

Tim has run this same six miles with dozens of different guides over the past 15 years. When he can't find a guide, Tim gets in a treadmill workout or runs hundreds of laps by himself around his small, grassy front yard.

"I usually run the yard at night so my neighbors don't think I'm crazy," Tim says.

He holds my elbow as we cross the four-lane highway again. Once we're back in the subdivision, I pull on the shoestring, and we veer left up a steep hill. I call out potholes, storm drains, overhanging limbs and cars parked in the road. He puts his complete trust in me — a stranger he has never seen — to guide him through the bumpy boulevards and crowded, curb-cluttered streets around Atlanta.

We finish the final two miles of the loop at a pretty good clip. Tim hopes the speed work at the end of his runs will improve his kick, which faltered in the final laps of the 10,000-meter run in the 1996 Paralympics. He and a Mexican runner broke away from the pack early, and Tim took the lead midway through the race. But with six laps to go, the Mexican caught him. Tim couldn't hold the pace in the final mile and ended up with a silver medal.

"I didn't run smart in '96. I think my tactics — and my kick — will be a lot better this year."

Afterward, we cool down with a few 100-meter strides at the neighborhood park near his house. The basketball rims are busted, and the ball field behind the playground is now a parking lot. But Tim still remembers what the park looked like before he lost his sight. The 29-year-old runner still sees the world through a 7-year-old's eyes.

We stride back and forth, side-by-side, across the old ball field. For a few seconds, I close my eyes and run in the dark with him. Instantly, I'm lost and frightened and vulnerable. It feels like I'm about to collide with a tree or a telephone pole any moment. Five seconds feels more like five minutes, and the slender shoelace becomes my lifeline. Finally I snap open my eyes, flooded now with safe, secure sunlight.

For the rest of the workout, I'm not sure who's guiding who. Tim seems to know every contour and crevice of the field. His eyes may not work, but he still can see — with his feet, his skin, his ears, his memory. We run a couple more strides together, the blind leading the blind, the blue shoestring hanging loosely between us.

The U.S. Association of Blind Athletes is always looking for guide runners. Contact Wade Council, the USABA's guide running coordinator, at <a href="mailto:"councils@gateway.net">councils@gateway.net, or check out the USABA Web page at www.usaba.org


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Article

Saturday July 22, 2000 12:04 am EDT
Atlanta's best sightless runner eyes Paralympic gold | more...
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  string(47) "Hiking from dusk till dawn on Cumberland Island"
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  string(5005) "My pupils swell in the midnight forest. Without a flashlight, I am reduced to instinct. Darkness hides here, sliding along the backs of wild palms and breathing a heavy silence through the pines. A shriek. I freeze. Two screech owls glide between trees, leaving shrill whistles to mark their territory. I listen to the ribbons of sound disappear into the dark.

I'm on an all-night, 18-mile hike through the Cumberland Island Wilderness — an 8,800-acre web of enchanted forests, windswept marshes, and virgin-white beach along the Georgia coast. It's one of the largest  barrier island wilderness areas in the country and — thanks to its thick live-oak canopy — one of the darkest.

During the day, hundreds of visitors ride the ferry over to the island. Couples comb the beach collecting seashells. Children climb in the arms of 300-year-old oaks bearded with Spanish moss. Artists set up easels atop 50-foot dunes to admire a pallet of sky colors reflected in the surf.

But at night, the day-trippers go home, campers hide in their tents and, for a few hours, wild animals can wander freely through the woods. They cram their wildness between the evening ferry's departure and its morning arrival. Tonight I've decided to join them.

In the tar-black Cumberland night, every experience is heightened. Twigs in the trail are timber rattlers. An armadillo foraging through the leaf litter sounds like a wild boar crashing toward me. Even after 20 minutes of hiking, I still can't see my hand in front of my face.

Then, as I tromp past Whitney Lake, I hear an alligator's deep-throated bellow rolling across the water and my whole body tightens. I stand still, my eyes slowly adjusting, until I can see a pair of unblinking red eyes above the surface. They disappear a few moments later.

I hike — a little faster now — toward the beach. Along the way, I pass a bloated raccoon carcass, its eyes picked out by vultures. The margins of life and death are narrower out here, and bleed into one another. Back on the mainland, death is pushed to the shoulder of the road or hidden in wooden coffins. But on the island life and death are knitted together, stitched into the same fleshy fabric. Coon becomes vulture, vulture becomes marsh grass, grass becomes deer, deer becomes gator. Life doesn't stop out here — it only changes shape.

Finally, the dark forest gives way to sky-spreading dunes. The island is morphing, too: soil slipping into sand, oak limb rotting into forest floor, tides sculpting the soft beach, boundaries dissolving into one another.

I chase the beach hungrily, my ears ringing with the roar of the ocean, and dive naked into the wild water. I float on my back and watch the stars spin above me. It's orgasmic. The hairs on my neck bristle. My scalp tingles. My eyes roll in their sockets. I climb out of the ocean and sprint down the beach, the cool ocean breeze drying me clean, the bubbly surf popping between my toes.

If you've ever seen Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" video, you'll understand what it's like to run on Cumberland's beach at night. With each step, phosphorescent phytoplankton break apart beneath my feet scattering flecks of light across the beach. My footprints glow in the summer sand.

Suddenly, I stop dead in my tracks. Five feet in front of me, a loggerhead sea turtle is crawling out of the ocean. I scamper downwind and hide in the dunes to watch. Slowly she drags her ancient body through the sand, pausing every few minutes to catch her breath. Her winding, meandering tracks across the beach and along the dune ridge look like a "Family Circus" cartoon. Finally she plops down on a dune and digs her nest. She's breathing hard — I can hear her grunting and heaving from 20 yards away. Gooey tears drip down from her eyes as she drops her clutch of eggs one by one into the cavity.

She'll never see her hatchlings emerge, never see them break through their ping-pong-ball shells and scamper out to sea. Instead, she covers up the nest and slowly crawls back into the ocean, entrusting her offspring to the protection of the island.

"Don't worry, momma," I whisper. "I'll keep an eye out for you."

Tints of twilight are already blushing the horizon. In a few hours, I have to catch the morning ferry back to the mainland. Before leaving, I perch myself atop the tallest dune I can find and watch the sunrise over the ocean. After the black-and-white night, I'm suddenly swallowed up in color: the sapphire sky, the golden sea oats along the dunes, the clouds hanging like pink fluffs of cotton candy above the water.

I am alive, so completely alive. And I'm a little wilder, a little more pure and a little less afraid of death since I last saw the sun.

The ferry blasts its horn and all across the island animals slink back into the shadows. I have one more thing to do before I go. With my heel, I carve a word into the wet sand: THANKS. Moments later, the tide washes over it and carries it to sea.


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I'm on an all-night, 18-mile hike through the Cumberland Island Wilderness -- an 8,800-acre web of enchanted forests, windswept marshes, and virgin-white beach along the Georgia coast. It's one of the largest  barrier island wilderness areas in the country and -- thanks to its thick live-oak canopy -- one of the darkest.

During the day, hundreds of visitors ride the ferry over to the island. Couples comb the beach collecting seashells. Children climb in the arms of 300-year-old oaks bearded with Spanish moss. Artists set up easels atop 50-foot dunes to admire a pallet of sky colors reflected in the surf.

But at night, the day-trippers go home, campers hide in their tents and, for a few hours, wild animals can wander freely through the woods. They cram their wildness between the evening ferry's departure and its morning arrival. Tonight I've decided to join them.

In the tar-black Cumberland night, every experience is heightened. Twigs in the trail are timber rattlers. An armadillo foraging through the leaf litter sounds like a wild boar crashing toward me. Even after 20 minutes of hiking, I still can't see my hand in front of my face.

Then, as I tromp past Whitney Lake, I hear an alligator's deep-throated bellow rolling across the water and my whole body tightens. I stand still, my eyes slowly adjusting, until I can see a pair of unblinking red eyes above the surface. They disappear a few moments later.

I hike -- a little faster now -- toward the beach. Along the way, I pass a bloated raccoon carcass, its eyes picked out by vultures. The margins of life and death are narrower out here, and bleed into one another. Back on the mainland, death is pushed to the shoulder of the road or hidden in wooden coffins. But on the island life and death are knitted together, stitched into the same fleshy fabric. Coon becomes vulture, vulture becomes marsh grass, grass becomes deer, deer becomes gator. Life doesn't stop out here -- it only changes shape.

Finally, the dark forest gives way to sky-spreading dunes. The island is morphing, too: soil slipping into sand, oak limb rotting into forest floor, tides sculpting the soft beach, boundaries dissolving into one another.

I chase the beach hungrily, my ears ringing with the roar of the ocean, and dive naked into the wild water. I float on my back and watch the stars spin above me. It's orgasmic. The hairs on my neck bristle. My scalp tingles. My eyes roll in their sockets. I climb out of the ocean and sprint down the beach, the cool ocean breeze drying me clean, the bubbly surf popping between my toes.

If you've ever seen Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" video, you'll understand what it's like to run on Cumberland's beach at night. With each step, phosphorescent phytoplankton break apart beneath my feet scattering flecks of light across the beach. My footprints glow in the summer sand.

Suddenly, I stop dead in my tracks. Five feet in front of me, a loggerhead sea turtle is crawling out of the ocean. I scamper downwind and hide in the dunes to watch. Slowly she drags her ancient body through the sand, pausing every few minutes to catch her breath. Her winding, meandering tracks across the beach and along the dune ridge look like a "Family Circus" cartoon. Finally she plops down on a dune and digs her nest. She's breathing hard -- I can hear her grunting and heaving from 20 yards away. Gooey tears drip down from her eyes as she drops her clutch of eggs one by one into the cavity.

She'll never see her hatchlings emerge, never see them break through their ping-pong-ball shells and scamper out to sea. Instead, she covers up the nest and slowly crawls back into the ocean, entrusting her offspring to the protection of the island.

"Don't worry, momma," I whisper. "I'll keep an eye out for you."

Tints of twilight are already blushing the horizon. In a few hours, I have to catch the morning ferry back to the mainland. Before leaving, I perch myself atop the tallest dune I can find and watch the sunrise over the ocean. After the black-and-white night, I'm suddenly swallowed up in color: the sapphire sky, the golden sea oats along the dunes, the clouds hanging like pink fluffs of cotton candy above the water.

I am alive, so completely alive. And I'm a little wilder, a little more pure and a little less afraid of death since I last saw the sun.

The ferry blasts its horn and all across the island animals slink back into the shadows. I have one more thing to do before I go. With my heel, I carve a word into the wet sand: THANKS. Moments later, the tide washes over it and carries it to sea.


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  string(5275) "    Hiking from dusk till dawn on Cumberland Island   2000-07-15T04:04:00+00:00 Talk of the Town - Wild night July 15 2000   Bill Harlan 1223531 2000-07-15T04:04:00+00:00  My pupils swell in the midnight forest. Without a flashlight, I am reduced to instinct. Darkness hides here, sliding along the backs of wild palms and breathing a heavy silence through the pines. A shriek. I freeze. Two screech owls glide between trees, leaving shrill whistles to mark their territory. I listen to the ribbons of sound disappear into the dark.

I'm on an all-night, 18-mile hike through the Cumberland Island Wilderness — an 8,800-acre web of enchanted forests, windswept marshes, and virgin-white beach along the Georgia coast. It's one of the largest  barrier island wilderness areas in the country and — thanks to its thick live-oak canopy — one of the darkest.

During the day, hundreds of visitors ride the ferry over to the island. Couples comb the beach collecting seashells. Children climb in the arms of 300-year-old oaks bearded with Spanish moss. Artists set up easels atop 50-foot dunes to admire a pallet of sky colors reflected in the surf.

But at night, the day-trippers go home, campers hide in their tents and, for a few hours, wild animals can wander freely through the woods. They cram their wildness between the evening ferry's departure and its morning arrival. Tonight I've decided to join them.

In the tar-black Cumberland night, every experience is heightened. Twigs in the trail are timber rattlers. An armadillo foraging through the leaf litter sounds like a wild boar crashing toward me. Even after 20 minutes of hiking, I still can't see my hand in front of my face.

Then, as I tromp past Whitney Lake, I hear an alligator's deep-throated bellow rolling across the water and my whole body tightens. I stand still, my eyes slowly adjusting, until I can see a pair of unblinking red eyes above the surface. They disappear a few moments later.

I hike — a little faster now — toward the beach. Along the way, I pass a bloated raccoon carcass, its eyes picked out by vultures. The margins of life and death are narrower out here, and bleed into one another. Back on the mainland, death is pushed to the shoulder of the road or hidden in wooden coffins. But on the island life and death are knitted together, stitched into the same fleshy fabric. Coon becomes vulture, vulture becomes marsh grass, grass becomes deer, deer becomes gator. Life doesn't stop out here — it only changes shape.

Finally, the dark forest gives way to sky-spreading dunes. The island is morphing, too: soil slipping into sand, oak limb rotting into forest floor, tides sculpting the soft beach, boundaries dissolving into one another.

I chase the beach hungrily, my ears ringing with the roar of the ocean, and dive naked into the wild water. I float on my back and watch the stars spin above me. It's orgasmic. The hairs on my neck bristle. My scalp tingles. My eyes roll in their sockets. I climb out of the ocean and sprint down the beach, the cool ocean breeze drying me clean, the bubbly surf popping between my toes.

If you've ever seen Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" video, you'll understand what it's like to run on Cumberland's beach at night. With each step, phosphorescent phytoplankton break apart beneath my feet scattering flecks of light across the beach. My footprints glow in the summer sand.

Suddenly, I stop dead in my tracks. Five feet in front of me, a loggerhead sea turtle is crawling out of the ocean. I scamper downwind and hide in the dunes to watch. Slowly she drags her ancient body through the sand, pausing every few minutes to catch her breath. Her winding, meandering tracks across the beach and along the dune ridge look like a "Family Circus" cartoon. Finally she plops down on a dune and digs her nest. She's breathing hard — I can hear her grunting and heaving from 20 yards away. Gooey tears drip down from her eyes as she drops her clutch of eggs one by one into the cavity.

She'll never see her hatchlings emerge, never see them break through their ping-pong-ball shells and scamper out to sea. Instead, she covers up the nest and slowly crawls back into the ocean, entrusting her offspring to the protection of the island.

"Don't worry, momma," I whisper. "I'll keep an eye out for you."

Tints of twilight are already blushing the horizon. In a few hours, I have to catch the morning ferry back to the mainland. Before leaving, I perch myself atop the tallest dune I can find and watch the sunrise over the ocean. After the black-and-white night, I'm suddenly swallowed up in color: the sapphire sky, the golden sea oats along the dunes, the clouds hanging like pink fluffs of cotton candy above the water.

I am alive, so completely alive. And I'm a little wilder, a little more pure and a little less afraid of death since I last saw the sun.

The ferry blasts its horn and all across the island animals slink back into the shadows. I have one more thing to do before I go. With my heel, I carve a word into the wet sand: THANKS. Moments later, the tide washes over it and carries it to sea.


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Article

Saturday July 15, 2000 12:04 am EDT
Hiking from dusk till dawn on Cumberland Island | more...
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  ["title"]=>
  string(11) "He got game"
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  string(78) "Having no tickets doesn't stop stealthy sports fans from getting into the game"
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  string(7110) "Playing sports is an all-out, action-packed adrenaline rush. Nothing beats stepping to the plate in a ninth-inning nailbiter, swishing a fade-away jumper at the buzzer, or netting the game-winning goal. Watching sports isn't quite as dramatic. Sure, the occasional foul ball gives us a chance to be heroes. But for the  most part, being a spectator is pretty tame. There's not much risk in buying a ticket and filing through the turnstiles.

Unless, of course, you try to sneak into the stadium.

I've snuck into just about every major Atlanta sporting event in the past five years — the World Series, the Super Bowl even the Centennial Olympics. I saw some good games and impressive athletic feats. But mostly I wanted to see if I could sneak in without getting caught.

My sneak-ins started in 1995, when the Braves were about to win their first — and only — World Series in Atlanta. I was in college at the time, and I couldn't afford a stadium hot dog, much less a $1,000 ticket to the Series. So I headed down to Fulton County Stadium for the final game, hoping to catch some tailgate parties. I had never witnessed a World Series championship live, and I at least wanted to be near the peanut-shell and spilled-beer smells of the stadium when it happened.

It was a chilly, windy October evening. For the first few innings, I circled the stadium with thousands of other fans. Almost all of them held up one, two or three fingers — indicating how many tickets they were hoping to get their hands on. I tried waving a finger for a few laps. No luck.

I kept walking in circles. It was getting really cold. I was ready to head back home and watch the rest of the game on the tube when, suddenly, I saw my ticket inside. Beside Gate E, a television station had propped a small crane lift like those the telephone company repairmen use to reach blown transformers. Its mechanical arm, bent at the elbow, had a platform fist at the top, and the stadium ramps were right across from the platform. It was asking to be climbed. But the lift was only 20 yards from a ticket gate guarded by three security officers. I scouted out their movements and summoned up courage for another half-inning.

Just as I was approaching the lift, a drunk bum with a scraggly yellow beard shuffled over to me, carrying a bottle of whiskey in a paper sack. I was expecting him to beg for money, but instead he raised his eyebrows and asked, "You gonna climb it?"

I nodded my head once, and a big, toothless grin spread across his face.

"I'll see what I can do 'bout them security guards," he said.

My new-found accomplice stumbled over to the gate guards and started talking to them. Somehow, he got the guards to turn their backs for a few seconds. I had to act quickly, so I shimmied up the lift's arm, grabbed the edge of the platform like a chin-up bar and frog-leg kicked my body to the top. Then I jumped across the two-foot gap that separated the platform from the stadium. I couldn't believe it was me — college-educated, law-abiding me — climbing two stories up in the air onto a wobbly platform so that I could illegally vault into Fulton County Stadium.

Suddenly, I heard a shout below. Two guards ran toward the lift, while the other headed up the ramp. I never looked back, and they never saw me again. I sprinted up the ramp and disappeared into the crowd. A few minutes later, I was even lucky enough to find an empty seat in the nosebleeds — just in time to watch David Justice's Series-winning homer clear the right field fence.

That was just the beginning of my career as a sneak. The following summer, I slipped into several Olympic events, which doesn't say much for the souped-up security surrounding the Centennial Games. I watched Muhammad Ali light the torch, Michael Johnson scorch the track and the Dream Team slam-dunk the Slavs. I even caught a few Olympic soccer matches in Athens, including Nigeria's victory over Argentina in the gold medal game.

But my toughest sneak-in was last year's Super Bowl between the Tennessee Titans and the St. Louis Rams at the Georgia Dome.

Born and raised in St. Louis, I was obligated — as my father's son — to get into that football game. St. Louis never had a winning season when I was growing up, but my dad and I religiously checked the standings every Monday morning and memorized back page statistics on all the players. He used to take me to the stadium after home games so that I could get their autographs. We suffered through years of cellar-dweller seasons together. Now, St. Louis had finally turned things around and was going to the Super Bowl for the first time.

I headed down to the Dome wearing a tie and sports jacket, and carrying a clipboard with some blank sheets of paper. I caught the door behind a media crew and crept into the World Congress Center adjacent to the Dome. Inside, pre-game bands and halftime performers were tuning their instruments.

There was only one corridor between the Congress Center and the Dome: an outdoor walkway lined by at least 50 cops and security guards. They stood in two parallel rows and checked each person entering and exiting the Dome. It didn't look like I could get any farther.

Then I heard a faint hymn echoing through the parking deck above the walkway. It grew louder and louder still. Walking down from the deck were 100 large black women from the Georgia Mass Choir singing the praises of God.

Divine intervention.

I mixed myself in with the choir — a skinny, white boy surrounded by a sea of big blue robes — and pretended to escort them through the security lines. I smiled, tried to look important and never, ever made eye contact with a security guard. We passed through the last security post and walked through the ground-level doors to the Dome.

I was in.

The choir gathered in one of the tunnels and was about to walk onto the field for their pre-game performance. I was wedged in with them, headed for the field. Through the tunnel, I could see Rams QB Kurt Warner warming up on the turf, and the referees huddled at midfield. I started to panic. For a second, I felt like The Naked Gun's Frank Drebin about to impersonate Enrico Palazzo singing the national anthem. But I stepped aside at the mouth of the tunnel and scribbled something on my clipboard, while the choir proceeded past me onto the field.

I had to get out of that tunnel fast. It was crawling with cops and security guards, who were checking for proper Dome credentials. I held my clipboard across my badge-less chest and ducked past them. Then I quickly found a service elevator and rode with three beer vendors up to the seating.

I watched the game from an empty usher's seat on the Rams goal line where Mike Jones would make his last-second, game saving tackle. Afterward, I dialed up my dad on the pay phone outside the restroom:

"Dad! We won the Super Bowl! Can you believe it?" I told him where I was, and I promised to bring him home a few souvenirs.

My dad — a police officer — had never been more proud of his son.??


"
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_raw"]=>
  string(7049) "Playing sports is an all-out, action-packed adrenaline rush. Nothing beats stepping to the plate in a ninth-inning nailbiter, swishing a fade-away jumper at the buzzer, or netting the game-winning goal. Watching sports isn't quite as dramatic. Sure, the occasional foul ball gives us a chance to be heroes. But for the  most part, being a spectator is pretty tame. There's not much risk in buying a ticket and filing through the turnstiles.

Unless, of course, you try to sneak into the stadium.

I've snuck into just about every major Atlanta sporting event in the past five years -- the World Series, the Super Bowl even the Centennial Olympics. I saw some good games and impressive athletic feats. But mostly I wanted to see if I could sneak in without getting caught.

My sneak-ins started in 1995, when the Braves were about to win their first -- and only -- World Series in Atlanta. I was in college at the time, and I couldn't afford a stadium hot dog, much less a $1,000 ticket to the Series. So I headed down to Fulton County Stadium for the final game, hoping to catch some tailgate parties. I had never witnessed a World Series championship live, and I at least wanted to be near the peanut-shell and spilled-beer smells of the stadium when it happened.

It was a chilly, windy October evening. For the first few innings, I circled the stadium with thousands of other fans. Almost all of them held up one, two or three fingers -- indicating how many tickets they were hoping to get their hands on. I tried waving a finger for a few laps. No luck.

I kept walking in circles. It was getting really cold. I was ready to head back home and watch the rest of the game on the tube when, suddenly, I saw my ticket inside. Beside Gate E, a television station had propped a small crane lift like those the telephone company repairmen use to reach blown transformers. Its mechanical arm, bent at the elbow, had a platform fist at the top, and the stadium ramps were right across from the platform. It was asking to be climbed. But the lift was only 20 yards from a ticket gate guarded by three security officers. I scouted out their movements and summoned up courage for another half-inning.

Just as I was approaching the lift, a drunk bum with a scraggly yellow beard shuffled over to me, carrying a bottle of whiskey in a paper sack. I was expecting him to beg for money, but instead he raised his eyebrows and asked, "You gonna climb it?"

I nodded my head once, and a big, toothless grin spread across his face.

"I'll see what I can do 'bout them security guards," he said.

My new-found accomplice stumbled over to the gate guards and started talking to them. Somehow, he got the guards to turn their backs for a few seconds. I had to act quickly, so I shimmied up the lift's arm, grabbed the edge of the platform like a chin-up bar and frog-leg kicked my body to the top. Then I jumped across the two-foot gap that separated the platform from the stadium. I couldn't believe it was me -- college-educated, law-abiding me -- climbing two stories up in the air onto a wobbly platform so that I could illegally vault into Fulton County Stadium.

Suddenly, I heard a shout below. Two guards ran toward the lift, while the other headed up the ramp. I never looked back, and they never saw me again. I sprinted up the ramp and disappeared into the crowd. A few minutes later, I was even lucky enough to find an empty seat in the nosebleeds -- just in time to watch David Justice's Series-winning homer clear the right field fence.

That was just the beginning of my career as a sneak. The following summer, I slipped into several Olympic events, which doesn't say much for the souped-up security surrounding the Centennial Games. I watched Muhammad Ali light the torch, Michael Johnson scorch the track and the Dream Team slam-dunk the Slavs. I even caught a few Olympic soccer matches in Athens, including Nigeria's victory over Argentina in the gold medal game.

But my toughest sneak-in was last year's Super Bowl between the Tennessee Titans and the St. Louis Rams at the Georgia Dome.

Born and raised in St. Louis, I was obligated -- as my father's son -- to get into that football game. St. Louis never had a winning season when I was growing up, but my dad and I religiously checked the standings every Monday morning and memorized back page statistics on all the players. He used to take me to the stadium after home games so that I could get their autographs. We suffered through years of cellar-dweller seasons together. Now, St. Louis had finally turned things around and was going to the Super Bowl for the first time.

I headed down to the Dome wearing a tie and sports jacket, and carrying a clipboard with some blank sheets of paper. I caught the door behind a media crew and crept into the World Congress Center adjacent to the Dome. Inside, pre-game bands and halftime performers were tuning their instruments.

There was only one corridor between the Congress Center and the Dome: an outdoor walkway lined by at least 50 cops and security guards. They stood in two parallel rows and checked each person entering and exiting the Dome. It didn't look like I could get any farther.

Then I heard a faint hymn echoing through the parking deck above the walkway. It grew louder and louder still. Walking down from the deck were 100 large black women from the Georgia Mass Choir singing the praises of God.

Divine intervention.

I mixed myself in with the choir -- a skinny, white boy surrounded by a sea of big blue robes -- and pretended to escort them through the security lines. I smiled, tried to look important and never, ever made eye contact with a security guard. We passed through the last security post and walked through the ground-level doors to the Dome.

I was in.

The choir gathered in one of the tunnels and was about to walk onto the field for their pre-game performance. I was wedged in with them, headed for the field. Through the tunnel, I could see Rams QB Kurt Warner warming up on the turf, and the referees huddled at midfield. I started to panic. For a second, I felt like ''The Naked Gun'''s Frank Drebin about to impersonate Enrico Palazzo singing the national anthem. But I stepped aside at the mouth of the tunnel and scribbled something on my clipboard, while the choir proceeded past me onto the field.

I had to get out of that tunnel fast. It was crawling with cops and security guards, who were checking for proper Dome credentials. I held my clipboard across my badge-less chest and ducked past them. Then I quickly found a service elevator and rode with three beer vendors up to the seating.

I watched the game from an empty usher's seat on the Rams goal line where Mike Jones would make his last-second, game saving tackle. Afterward, I dialed up my dad on the pay phone outside the restroom:

"Dad! We won the Super Bowl! Can you believe it?" I told him where I was, and I promised to bring him home a few souvenirs.

My dad -- a police officer -- had never been more proud of his son.??


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  string(7349) "    Having no tickets doesn't stop stealthy sports fans from getting into the game   2000-07-08T04:04:00+00:00 He got game   Bill Harlan 1223531 2000-07-08T04:04:00+00:00  Playing sports is an all-out, action-packed adrenaline rush. Nothing beats stepping to the plate in a ninth-inning nailbiter, swishing a fade-away jumper at the buzzer, or netting the game-winning goal. Watching sports isn't quite as dramatic. Sure, the occasional foul ball gives us a chance to be heroes. But for the  most part, being a spectator is pretty tame. There's not much risk in buying a ticket and filing through the turnstiles.

Unless, of course, you try to sneak into the stadium.

I've snuck into just about every major Atlanta sporting event in the past five years — the World Series, the Super Bowl even the Centennial Olympics. I saw some good games and impressive athletic feats. But mostly I wanted to see if I could sneak in without getting caught.

My sneak-ins started in 1995, when the Braves were about to win their first — and only — World Series in Atlanta. I was in college at the time, and I couldn't afford a stadium hot dog, much less a $1,000 ticket to the Series. So I headed down to Fulton County Stadium for the final game, hoping to catch some tailgate parties. I had never witnessed a World Series championship live, and I at least wanted to be near the peanut-shell and spilled-beer smells of the stadium when it happened.

It was a chilly, windy October evening. For the first few innings, I circled the stadium with thousands of other fans. Almost all of them held up one, two or three fingers — indicating how many tickets they were hoping to get their hands on. I tried waving a finger for a few laps. No luck.

I kept walking in circles. It was getting really cold. I was ready to head back home and watch the rest of the game on the tube when, suddenly, I saw my ticket inside. Beside Gate E, a television station had propped a small crane lift like those the telephone company repairmen use to reach blown transformers. Its mechanical arm, bent at the elbow, had a platform fist at the top, and the stadium ramps were right across from the platform. It was asking to be climbed. But the lift was only 20 yards from a ticket gate guarded by three security officers. I scouted out their movements and summoned up courage for another half-inning.

Just as I was approaching the lift, a drunk bum with a scraggly yellow beard shuffled over to me, carrying a bottle of whiskey in a paper sack. I was expecting him to beg for money, but instead he raised his eyebrows and asked, "You gonna climb it?"

I nodded my head once, and a big, toothless grin spread across his face.

"I'll see what I can do 'bout them security guards," he said.

My new-found accomplice stumbled over to the gate guards and started talking to them. Somehow, he got the guards to turn their backs for a few seconds. I had to act quickly, so I shimmied up the lift's arm, grabbed the edge of the platform like a chin-up bar and frog-leg kicked my body to the top. Then I jumped across the two-foot gap that separated the platform from the stadium. I couldn't believe it was me — college-educated, law-abiding me — climbing two stories up in the air onto a wobbly platform so that I could illegally vault into Fulton County Stadium.

Suddenly, I heard a shout below. Two guards ran toward the lift, while the other headed up the ramp. I never looked back, and they never saw me again. I sprinted up the ramp and disappeared into the crowd. A few minutes later, I was even lucky enough to find an empty seat in the nosebleeds — just in time to watch David Justice's Series-winning homer clear the right field fence.

That was just the beginning of my career as a sneak. The following summer, I slipped into several Olympic events, which doesn't say much for the souped-up security surrounding the Centennial Games. I watched Muhammad Ali light the torch, Michael Johnson scorch the track and the Dream Team slam-dunk the Slavs. I even caught a few Olympic soccer matches in Athens, including Nigeria's victory over Argentina in the gold medal game.

But my toughest sneak-in was last year's Super Bowl between the Tennessee Titans and the St. Louis Rams at the Georgia Dome.

Born and raised in St. Louis, I was obligated — as my father's son — to get into that football game. St. Louis never had a winning season when I was growing up, but my dad and I religiously checked the standings every Monday morning and memorized back page statistics on all the players. He used to take me to the stadium after home games so that I could get their autographs. We suffered through years of cellar-dweller seasons together. Now, St. Louis had finally turned things around and was going to the Super Bowl for the first time.

I headed down to the Dome wearing a tie and sports jacket, and carrying a clipboard with some blank sheets of paper. I caught the door behind a media crew and crept into the World Congress Center adjacent to the Dome. Inside, pre-game bands and halftime performers were tuning their instruments.

There was only one corridor between the Congress Center and the Dome: an outdoor walkway lined by at least 50 cops and security guards. They stood in two parallel rows and checked each person entering and exiting the Dome. It didn't look like I could get any farther.

Then I heard a faint hymn echoing through the parking deck above the walkway. It grew louder and louder still. Walking down from the deck were 100 large black women from the Georgia Mass Choir singing the praises of God.

Divine intervention.

I mixed myself in with the choir — a skinny, white boy surrounded by a sea of big blue robes — and pretended to escort them through the security lines. I smiled, tried to look important and never, ever made eye contact with a security guard. We passed through the last security post and walked through the ground-level doors to the Dome.

I was in.

The choir gathered in one of the tunnels and was about to walk onto the field for their pre-game performance. I was wedged in with them, headed for the field. Through the tunnel, I could see Rams QB Kurt Warner warming up on the turf, and the referees huddled at midfield. I started to panic. For a second, I felt like The Naked Gun's Frank Drebin about to impersonate Enrico Palazzo singing the national anthem. But I stepped aside at the mouth of the tunnel and scribbled something on my clipboard, while the choir proceeded past me onto the field.

I had to get out of that tunnel fast. It was crawling with cops and security guards, who were checking for proper Dome credentials. I held my clipboard across my badge-less chest and ducked past them. Then I quickly found a service elevator and rode with three beer vendors up to the seating.

I watched the game from an empty usher's seat on the Rams goal line where Mike Jones would make his last-second, game saving tackle. Afterward, I dialed up my dad on the pay phone outside the restroom:

"Dad! We won the Super Bowl! Can you believe it?" I told him where I was, and I promised to bring him home a few souvenirs.

My dad — a police officer — had never been more proud of his son.??


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Article

Saturday July 8, 2000 12:04 am EDT
Having no tickets doesn't stop stealthy sports fans from getting into the game | more...
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  ["title"]=>
  string(44) "Talk of the Town - Cliff hanger July 08 2000"
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  string(47) "Rock climbers scale river bluffs around Atlanta"
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  string(47) "Rock climbers scale river bluffs around Atlanta"
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  string(4549) "Terrell and I hang our bare feet off a jagged, 40-foot face of gray granite and watch the river through the trees. The morning sun slowly melts the mist off the water. Then Terrell ties an anchor rope around an old-growth oak and climbs down into the thick, green forest. I rappel spider-like down the granite cliff behind him, landing on a carpet of crushed pine needles.   No, we're not in the north Georgia mountains. We're inside the Perimeter, rock climbing a bouldery bluff along the Chattahoochee River.

For the past five years, Terrell has been coming to this secret grove of rock and river to climb. The bluff is pockmarked with flakes and finger holds that are just as challenging as any mountain climb. And unlike indoor climbing walls, this is real rock, with spider webs and bat dung and all the shin-scraping, vein-popping, vertical hangs you could ask for.

Today, he and I are attempting a class-five climb up a steep sheet of granite. The route involves three technical moves: a burly boulder scramble at the base of the cliff, a hanging arm walk along a horizontal seam of rock and then the crux move — an all-out roof grab over the bluff's brow.

Terrell goes first. After yoga stretches and a set of finger-tip push-ups, he ties himself into the top-rope and begins climbing. He glides gracefully up the granite, swinging and pirouetting across the rock. It's a boulder ballet, and the dancer loses himself completely in the dance. Athleticism becomes art.

He ascends the cliff, popping deadpoint holds and dyno lunges. With each lunge, his hands and feet completely leave the rock for a split second, while he reaches for a golf-ball-sized chunk of granite above him. He snags it with one hand and pendulums toward the top.

He comes back down to Earth, purified and hands me the chalk bag.

"Your turn," he says.

This is my first live climb on the bluff, and I don't have any of Terrell's fluid finesse. I step awkwardly into my Swami belt — a hand-made harness fashioned out of lime-green webbing.  Then I knot a few figure-eight loops into the climbing rope. Terrell is holding the other end of the rope, ready to take up slack through his belay buckle.

After calling out the safety checks, I start my climb. I pull myself up the first rock ledges but can't get past the bottom boulder. I dig my fingernails into a crack above the boulder, hang by my fingertips for a few seconds, and fall back down.

"You look like a white boy on the dance floor — all arms and no legs," Terrell laughs. "Use your whole body."

I climb clumsily back up to the boulder. This time, I kick my right heel over my head, and it catches. I focus all of my energy into my right heel, and like a lever, it lifts my body over the boulder. Terrell whoops and whistles below.

Finger-cramped and jelly-armed, I pick my way along a diagonal crimp in the rock. When I can't find a finger hold, I smear the rubber soles of my climbing shoes against the boulder. It gives just enough grip to get me onto the overhanging prow. I brace myself against the rock ledge and look out across the treetops.

I didn't think I'd make it this high. From here, I can see the river — a brown squiggly line with willow and birch bending over its banks. A heron wings across the open water and perches on a river rock.

The next two moves are the hardest, and I'll need every scrap of strength I have left. So I stall for a few more minutes atop the rock ledge. I chalk my hands — bloody and blistered from the gritty granite — and shake my arms loose. Then I study the narrow flake of rock that I'll be dangling from.

After a few false starts, I gorilla out along the flake and hang there, fingers pinched around the thin crack, legs flailing beneath me. Hand over hand, I pull myself across. I'm breathing hard and purse-lipped, like a weightlifter on his last rep of bench press.

"Breathe, baby! You've gotta get O-2!" Terrell shouts.

The golf ball of granite juts out from the boulder above me. If I can grab it, I think I'll be able to pull my body to the top of the bluff. My arms are shaking, my teeth are clenched. I'm in fourth grade P.E. class again, hanging from a chin-up bar.

"Hold on! One quick, explosive burst and you've got it!"

My fingers are starting to slip off the flake. But I'm an arm's length away from golf-ball rock. All it takes is one more move, one last gutsy grunt to the top. In the distance, I can hear the river's water dance. I take a deep breath, let go of my grip, and lunge for the rock.


"
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  string(4519) "Terrell and I hang our bare feet off a jagged, 40-foot face of gray granite and watch the river through the trees. The morning sun slowly melts the mist off the water. Then Terrell ties an anchor rope around an old-growth oak and climbs down into the thick, green forest. I rappel spider-like down the granite cliff behind him, landing on a carpet of crushed pine needles.   No, we're not in the north Georgia mountains. We're inside the Perimeter, rock climbing a bouldery bluff along the Chattahoochee River.

For the past five years, Terrell has been coming to this secret grove of rock and river to climb. The bluff is pockmarked with flakes and finger holds that are just as challenging as any mountain climb. And unlike indoor climbing walls, this is real rock, with spider webs and bat dung and all the shin-scraping, vein-popping, vertical hangs you could ask for.

Today, he and I are attempting a class-five climb up a steep sheet of granite. The route involves three technical moves: a burly boulder scramble at the base of the cliff, a hanging arm walk along a horizontal seam of rock and then the crux move -- an all-out roof grab over the bluff's brow.

Terrell goes first. After yoga stretches and a set of finger-tip push-ups, he ties himself into the top-rope and begins climbing. He glides gracefully up the granite, swinging and pirouetting across the rock. It's a boulder ballet, and the dancer loses himself completely in the dance. Athleticism becomes art.

He ascends the cliff, popping deadpoint holds and dyno lunges. With each lunge, his hands and feet completely leave the rock for a split second, while he reaches for a golf-ball-sized chunk of granite above him. He snags it with one hand and pendulums toward the top.

He comes back down to Earth, purified and hands me the chalk bag.

"Your turn," he says.

This is my first live climb on the bluff, and I don't have any of Terrell's fluid finesse. I step awkwardly into my Swami belt -- a hand-made harness fashioned out of lime-green webbing.  Then I knot a few figure-eight loops into the climbing rope. Terrell is holding the other end of the rope, ready to take up slack through his belay buckle.

After calling out the safety checks, I start my climb. I pull myself up the first rock ledges but can't get past the bottom boulder. I dig my fingernails into a crack above the boulder, hang by my fingertips for a few seconds, and fall back down.

"You look like a white boy on the dance floor -- all arms and no legs," Terrell laughs. "Use your whole body."

I climb clumsily back up to the boulder. This time, I kick my right heel over my head, and it catches. I focus all of my energy into my right heel, and like a lever, it lifts my body over the boulder. Terrell whoops and whistles below.

Finger-cramped and jelly-armed, I pick my way along a diagonal crimp in the rock. When I can't find a finger hold, I smear the rubber soles of my climbing shoes against the boulder. It gives just enough grip to get me onto the overhanging prow. I brace myself against the rock ledge and look out across the treetops.

I didn't think I'd make it this high. From here, I can see the river -- a brown squiggly line with willow and birch bending over its banks. A heron wings across the open water and perches on a river rock.

The next two moves are the hardest, and I'll need every scrap of strength I have left. So I stall for a few more minutes atop the rock ledge. I chalk my hands -- bloody and blistered from the gritty granite -- and shake my arms loose. Then I study the narrow flake of rock that I'll be dangling from.

After a few false starts, I gorilla out along the flake and hang there, fingers pinched around the thin crack, legs flailing beneath me. Hand over hand, I pull myself across. I'm breathing hard and purse-lipped, like a weightlifter on his last rep of bench press.

"Breathe, baby! You've gotta get O-2!" Terrell shouts.

The golf ball of granite juts out from the boulder above me. If I can grab it, I think I'll be able to pull my body to the top of the bluff. My arms are shaking, my teeth are clenched. I'm in fourth grade P.E. class again, hanging from a chin-up bar.

"Hold on! One quick, explosive burst and you've got it!"

My fingers are starting to slip off the flake. But I'm an arm's length away from golf-ball rock. All it takes is one more move, one last gutsy grunt to the top. In the distance, I can hear the river's water dance. I take a deep breath, let go of my grip, and lunge for the rock.


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For the past five years, Terrell has been coming to this secret grove of rock and river to climb. The bluff is pockmarked with flakes and finger holds that are just as challenging as any mountain climb. And unlike indoor climbing walls, this is real rock, with spider webs and bat dung and all the shin-scraping, vein-popping, vertical hangs you could ask for.

Today, he and I are attempting a class-five climb up a steep sheet of granite. The route involves three technical moves: a burly boulder scramble at the base of the cliff, a hanging arm walk along a horizontal seam of rock and then the crux move — an all-out roof grab over the bluff's brow.

Terrell goes first. After yoga stretches and a set of finger-tip push-ups, he ties himself into the top-rope and begins climbing. He glides gracefully up the granite, swinging and pirouetting across the rock. It's a boulder ballet, and the dancer loses himself completely in the dance. Athleticism becomes art.

He ascends the cliff, popping deadpoint holds and dyno lunges. With each lunge, his hands and feet completely leave the rock for a split second, while he reaches for a golf-ball-sized chunk of granite above him. He snags it with one hand and pendulums toward the top.

He comes back down to Earth, purified and hands me the chalk bag.

"Your turn," he says.

This is my first live climb on the bluff, and I don't have any of Terrell's fluid finesse. I step awkwardly into my Swami belt — a hand-made harness fashioned out of lime-green webbing.  Then I knot a few figure-eight loops into the climbing rope. Terrell is holding the other end of the rope, ready to take up slack through his belay buckle.

After calling out the safety checks, I start my climb. I pull myself up the first rock ledges but can't get past the bottom boulder. I dig my fingernails into a crack above the boulder, hang by my fingertips for a few seconds, and fall back down.

"You look like a white boy on the dance floor — all arms and no legs," Terrell laughs. "Use your whole body."

I climb clumsily back up to the boulder. This time, I kick my right heel over my head, and it catches. I focus all of my energy into my right heel, and like a lever, it lifts my body over the boulder. Terrell whoops and whistles below.

Finger-cramped and jelly-armed, I pick my way along a diagonal crimp in the rock. When I can't find a finger hold, I smear the rubber soles of my climbing shoes against the boulder. It gives just enough grip to get me onto the overhanging prow. I brace myself against the rock ledge and look out across the treetops.

I didn't think I'd make it this high. From here, I can see the river — a brown squiggly line with willow and birch bending over its banks. A heron wings across the open water and perches on a river rock.

The next two moves are the hardest, and I'll need every scrap of strength I have left. So I stall for a few more minutes atop the rock ledge. I chalk my hands — bloody and blistered from the gritty granite — and shake my arms loose. Then I study the narrow flake of rock that I'll be dangling from.

After a few false starts, I gorilla out along the flake and hang there, fingers pinched around the thin crack, legs flailing beneath me. Hand over hand, I pull myself across. I'm breathing hard and purse-lipped, like a weightlifter on his last rep of bench press.

"Breathe, baby! You've gotta get O-2!" Terrell shouts.

The golf ball of granite juts out from the boulder above me. If I can grab it, I think I'll be able to pull my body to the top of the bluff. My arms are shaking, my teeth are clenched. I'm in fourth grade P.E. class again, hanging from a chin-up bar.

"Hold on! One quick, explosive burst and you've got it!"

My fingers are starting to slip off the flake. But I'm an arm's length away from golf-ball rock. All it takes is one more move, one last gutsy grunt to the top. In the distance, I can hear the river's water dance. I take a deep breath, let go of my grip, and lunge for the rock.


             13000484 1225213                          Talk of the Town - Cliff hanger July 08 2000 "
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Saturday July 8, 2000 12:04 am EDT
Rock climbers scale river bluffs around Atlanta | more...
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  string(4666) "I was hanging upside-down underwater, trapped in a flipped-over kayak. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't think. And I certainly couldn't remember the roll technique I'd just learned. The cold current was spinning me downriver, where another foaming rapid bared its rocky teeth. So I did what any other air-breathing animal would do: I panicked. I bailed out on my paddle and started flailing my arms in a desperate attempt to get above water. When that didn't work, I pulled the release strap on the skirt and wiggled out of the boat. I popped to the surface moments later, blue-faced and foggy-headed, and grabbed onto Gene's kayak to catch my breath.

I was trying to Eskimo roll on the Nantahala, a loud, hard-flowing whitewater river in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains. My friend Gene — a class V kayaker — had already talked me through the roll technique dozens of times that morning: Tuck your body, cut your paddle, snap your hips. It seemed so easy above water. But every time I flipped, the words fell out of my head and washed downstream, and all I could do was flounder in the freezing flow until Gene rescued me.

"Stay relaxed out there," he suggested. "Next time you flip, clear your head and count to three."

On shore, I tried to knock the water out of my ears, which were still ringing with the underwater sound of the river. Then I climbed back into my kayak — an oversized Dagger from the early-70's that looked like a long, ripe banana — and paddled out into the current.

Veils of morning mist still shrouded the river. In the gray gauze, Gene and I eddy-hopped through Patton's Run — a bouncy rapid with a 90-degree bend, and played in the splashy wave train below Jaws, a fin-shaped rock in the middle of the river. At Delabar's Rock, we haystacked over large tongues of whitewater. My head still felt cloudy, but it was starting to shake loose.

Next up was Whirlpool — a sudsy, squirrelly rapid with a great surfing wave. Gene demonstrated a few Eskimo rolls in the rapid, then asked me to give it a try.

The wave knocked me over instantly, and my mind was swallowed up again in the underwater surround-sound — a dull, low-pitched ringing that drowned out my thoughts. It reminded me of lying on my back in a bathtub while trying to listen to a radio in the other room. Only this time, the radio was my own muffled brainwork.

Nothing was getting through the river's garbled static. I frantically flapped around underwater — like a hooked fish fighting the line — then squirmed out of the kayak again.

Usually, after I wet-exited, Gene tried to come up with something positive and encouraging to make me feel better: "You almost had it ... You're getting closer ... Your set-up looked really good ..." But this time, he told it to me straight: "You're scared."

It took a few seconds to sink in. He was right, dammit. I was scared to death. I wasn't trying to roll — I was trying not to drown.

We paddled silently downstream for a while. Steep granite cliffs blocked all but a sliver of sky. Ahead, I could hear the churning, crashing sounds of Nantahala Falls — a class III rapid with swirling suckholes and skull-cracking rock ledges.

Gene whirled his index finger in circles, signaling me to eddy out above the rapid. I ferried across the river and paddled toward the pocket of calm water — when my kayak unexpectedly skimmed a rock and flipped. It caught me completely off guard. I didn't have time to think about my roll. I didn't get a chance to get scared. One second I was talking to Gene, the next I was blowing bubbles.

Once again, the hollow hum of river water clogged my ears. I started to panic. I reached for the release strap, then stopped myself. I counted one ... two ... three ... and suddenly, in the river's voice, I heard my own. It said: tuck, cut, snap.

Keeping my body close to the boat, I twisted my paddle and flicked my hips toward the surface. I felt the kayak rotate. And the next thing I knew, the river was below me again.

I pumped my fist and screamed — a deep, throat-scorching screech that sounded strangely like the ring of the river. Gene hugged me, and I almost flipped over again. We high-fived our paddles and slapped them against the water. Not even the noisy Nanny Falls could drown out our hoots and howls.

We finished our run down the Falls, snaking smoothly along a seam of current and splatting onto the frothy foam below. The sun had burned off the mist, glossing the water with white light. I wasn't scared now. And for the first time all morning, my mind was as calm and clear as the river below me.??


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I was trying to Eskimo roll on the Nantahala, a loud, hard-flowing whitewater river in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains. My friend Gene -- a class V kayaker -- had already talked me through the roll technique dozens of times that morning: Tuck your body, cut your paddle, snap your hips. It seemed so easy above water. But every time I flipped, the words fell out of my head and washed downstream, and all I could do was flounder in the freezing flow until Gene rescued me.

"Stay relaxed out there," he suggested. "Next time you flip, clear your head and count to three."

On shore, I tried to knock the water out of my ears, which were still ringing with the underwater sound of the river. Then I climbed back into my kayak -- an oversized Dagger from the early-70's that looked like a long, ripe banana -- and paddled out into the current.

Veils of morning mist still shrouded the river. In the gray gauze, Gene and I eddy-hopped through Patton's Run -- a bouncy rapid with a 90-degree bend, and played in the splashy wave train below Jaws, a fin-shaped rock in the middle of the river. At Delabar's Rock, we haystacked over large tongues of whitewater. My head still felt cloudy, but it was starting to shake loose.

Next up was Whirlpool -- a sudsy, squirrelly rapid with a great surfing wave. Gene demonstrated a few Eskimo rolls in the rapid, then asked me to give it a try.

The wave knocked me over instantly, and my mind was swallowed up again in the underwater surround-sound -- a dull, low-pitched ringing that drowned out my thoughts. It reminded me of lying on my back in a bathtub while trying to listen to a radio in the other room. Only this time, the radio was my own muffled brainwork.

Nothing was getting through the river's garbled static. I frantically flapped around underwater -- like a hooked fish fighting the line -- then squirmed out of the kayak again.

Usually, after I wet-exited, Gene tried to come up with something positive and encouraging to make me feel better: "You almost had it ... You're getting closer ... Your set-up looked really good ..." But this time, he told it to me straight: "You're scared."

It took a few seconds to sink in. He was right, dammit. I was scared to death. I wasn't trying to roll -- I was trying not to drown.

We paddled silently downstream for a while. Steep granite cliffs blocked all but a sliver of sky. Ahead, I could hear the churning, crashing sounds of Nantahala Falls -- a class III rapid with swirling suckholes and skull-cracking rock ledges.

Gene whirled his index finger in circles, signaling me to eddy out above the rapid. I ferried across the river and paddled toward the pocket of calm water -- when my kayak unexpectedly skimmed a rock and flipped. It caught me completely off guard. I didn't have time to think about my roll. I didn't get a chance to get scared. One second I was talking to Gene, the next I was blowing bubbles.

Once again, the hollow hum of river water clogged my ears. I started to panic. I reached for the release strap, then stopped myself. I counted one ... two ... three ... and suddenly, in the river's voice, I heard my own. It said: tuck, cut, snap.

Keeping my body close to the boat, I twisted my paddle and flicked my hips toward the surface. I felt the kayak rotate. And the next thing I knew, the river was below me again.

I pumped my fist and screamed -- a deep, throat-scorching screech that sounded strangely like the ring of the river. Gene hugged me, and I almost flipped over again. We high-fived our paddles and slapped them against the water. Not even the noisy Nanny Falls could drown out our hoots and howls.

We finished our run down the Falls, snaking smoothly along a seam of current and splatting onto the frothy foam below. The sun had burned off the mist, glossing the water with white light. I wasn't scared now. And for the first time all morning, my mind was as calm and clear as the river below me.??


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I was trying to Eskimo roll on the Nantahala, a loud, hard-flowing whitewater river in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains. My friend Gene — a class V kayaker — had already talked me through the roll technique dozens of times that morning: Tuck your body, cut your paddle, snap your hips. It seemed so easy above water. But every time I flipped, the words fell out of my head and washed downstream, and all I could do was flounder in the freezing flow until Gene rescued me.

"Stay relaxed out there," he suggested. "Next time you flip, clear your head and count to three."

On shore, I tried to knock the water out of my ears, which were still ringing with the underwater sound of the river. Then I climbed back into my kayak — an oversized Dagger from the early-70's that looked like a long, ripe banana — and paddled out into the current.

Veils of morning mist still shrouded the river. In the gray gauze, Gene and I eddy-hopped through Patton's Run — a bouncy rapid with a 90-degree bend, and played in the splashy wave train below Jaws, a fin-shaped rock in the middle of the river. At Delabar's Rock, we haystacked over large tongues of whitewater. My head still felt cloudy, but it was starting to shake loose.

Next up was Whirlpool — a sudsy, squirrelly rapid with a great surfing wave. Gene demonstrated a few Eskimo rolls in the rapid, then asked me to give it a try.

The wave knocked me over instantly, and my mind was swallowed up again in the underwater surround-sound — a dull, low-pitched ringing that drowned out my thoughts. It reminded me of lying on my back in a bathtub while trying to listen to a radio in the other room. Only this time, the radio was my own muffled brainwork.

Nothing was getting through the river's garbled static. I frantically flapped around underwater — like a hooked fish fighting the line — then squirmed out of the kayak again.

Usually, after I wet-exited, Gene tried to come up with something positive and encouraging to make me feel better: "You almost had it ... You're getting closer ... Your set-up looked really good ..." But this time, he told it to me straight: "You're scared."

It took a few seconds to sink in. He was right, dammit. I was scared to death. I wasn't trying to roll — I was trying not to drown.

We paddled silently downstream for a while. Steep granite cliffs blocked all but a sliver of sky. Ahead, I could hear the churning, crashing sounds of Nantahala Falls — a class III rapid with swirling suckholes and skull-cracking rock ledges.

Gene whirled his index finger in circles, signaling me to eddy out above the rapid. I ferried across the river and paddled toward the pocket of calm water — when my kayak unexpectedly skimmed a rock and flipped. It caught me completely off guard. I didn't have time to think about my roll. I didn't get a chance to get scared. One second I was talking to Gene, the next I was blowing bubbles.

Once again, the hollow hum of river water clogged my ears. I started to panic. I reached for the release strap, then stopped myself. I counted one ... two ... three ... and suddenly, in the river's voice, I heard my own. It said: tuck, cut, snap.

Keeping my body close to the boat, I twisted my paddle and flicked my hips toward the surface. I felt the kayak rotate. And the next thing I knew, the river was below me again.

I pumped my fist and screamed — a deep, throat-scorching screech that sounded strangely like the ring of the river. Gene hugged me, and I almost flipped over again. We high-fived our paddles and slapped them against the water. Not even the noisy Nanny Falls could drown out our hoots and howls.

We finished our run down the Falls, snaking smoothly along a seam of current and splatting onto the frothy foam below. The sun had burned off the mist, glossing the water with white light. I wasn't scared now. And for the first time all morning, my mind was as calm and clear as the river below me.??


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Article

Saturday July 1, 2000 12:04 am EDT
Kayaker learns Eskimo roll on the noisy Nanny | more...
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