Winter Games Indeed

WOW! I didn't know Naked Skiing was a new event at the Winter Olympics this year! I understood the Olympics were hurting for ratings, but if they really wanted to compete with American Idol, Bob Costas and Katie Couric should have talked about this more and really promoted the new event. I'm disappointed that I only found out after the fact when NBC broadcast the footage of Andrea Vianello (pictured above) competing. I REALLY would have liked to have seen the Swedish Women's Team competing in this event. Oh well.

Actually, I guess the event was a one-shot deal. Andrea Vianello lost his pants in a bet with the U.S. Ski Team technical coach Patrick Riml. They spoke together and Vianello said that if Julia Mancuso won a medal, he would ski down in his underwear. Surprise! Mancuso won gold, so off came his pants and down he went.

But I think we're on to something here.... Next time Chad Hedrick & Shani Davis or Tonya Harding & Nancy Kerrigan have a score to settle, they just need to place the following bet: Loser skates naked! I think the bets should be encouraged--they'd certainly be a lot more fun to watch if no less entertaining than watching a bunch of childishness. I'm also sure that Naked Skating or Skiing would massively improve the ratings of the Winter Games as well. Hey! It's a thought!

Well, the Winter Olympics are just about over folks, and as usual, they have provided their share of drama and inspiration. From the worst: Chad Hedrick vs. Shani Davis; to the best: Joey Cheek donating his $40,000 he won for winning gold and silver to charity. From the worst: Lindsey Jacobellis showboating and losing gold to the best: the Turkish figure skater's triumphant skate in the ladies long program.

I have enjoyed the diversion and focus on athletes and sports I really only get to see every four years. It's been amazing. Highlights I'm looking forward to in 2010:

1. Will Michelle Kwan and Irina Slutskaya attempt to make comebacks?

2. Will Sasha Cohen be able to pull it all together and win Gold?

3. Will Belbin and Agosto be able to break the Russian lock on Ice Dancing Gold they have had since 1984?

4. Will Bode Miller win an Olympic Medal?

5. Will Jeret Peterson's Hurricane win Gold in Aerials?

6. Will Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick become friends before Vancouver and compete as team mates, or will their fiery egos once again clash on the Olympic Oval?

7. Will the high profile of NBC's Curling Coverage cause Curling clubs to sprout up all over the place and push the US to Gold in Vancouver?

8. Will USA Hockey ever get it right again, and will Chris Chelios still be the US Captain?

9. Will Naked Skiing become an Olympic event?

10. Will Katie Couric overcome her love affair for Italian Gold and Fashion and Architecture and Food and Dessert and be able to promote Vancouver the same ways she has promoted Torino?

Time will tell. Enjoy the closing ceremonies Sunday night!

And now, back to our regularly scheduled blogging. Thanks for reading.

Olympic Medals: The Means to an End?

The United States has not met it's 2006 Winter Olympics Medal Expectations. It has been disappointing for athletes, coaches, friends, family, sports teams, Katie Couric, and the casual observers among us who tune into the Olympics every four years to watch the drama unfold and then go back to our usual program until the Olympic flame is lit once again.

Consider The United States Ski Team, self-described as "The Best In The World" has only won two gold medals, and Bode Miller has yet to win one.

Consider the Freestyle Ski Team has only managed one bronze in moguls when freestyle skiing was invented in the United States.

Consider Figure Skating where two Americans had a chance to win medals in the men's event and where Gold was Sasha Cohen's for the taking.

Consider Hockey, in which the extreme disappointment was written all over Captain Chris Chelios' face.

Consider Speedskating in which Chad Hedrick scored a Gold, Silver, and Bronze but was really gunning for five golds.

The list goes on and on and on. Among all the great stories of these Winter Olympics, it seems that Torino will be remembered more for underachievement than for Olympic Glory. And I have to ask: Why is that?

My stab in the dark is that it's because too much effort in the United States is put on hype. Politics are no longer a driving force in the Olympics. In our global community, viewers really don't get excited anymore about an US vs. THEM match. US vs. Canada, US vs. Russia, US. vs. Australia or Georgia or Israel or Turkey. There really isn't that much play in building up a fake rivalry anymore when none exists on the world stage.

It wasn't always this way, of course. During the time of Hitler the Olympic Games of Berlin were very much intended to be a showcase of German superiority. Of course, it backfired when Jesse Owens won an Olympic Gold Medal. And few Olympic Games epitomized the Cold War more than the 1980 Lake Placid Games when the US and USSR competed head to head in Hockey and Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner were to compete head to head with 9-time World Champion Irina Rodnina in Pairs Figure Skating.

With the end of the cold war, politics has really faded away from the games as an interest driver. What remains is Madison Avenue's attempts to build rivalries or to create stories and drama out of nothing in order to drive viewership and advertising revenue. The biggest commercials airing during these Olympics are still commercials by VISA and Coke that feature Michelle Kwan. Somebody should really send a memo to NBC...Michelle Kwan is not a participant in these games.

So instead of politics, the media has created stories and hyped them to death, and to the point in which I believe they have been detrimental to United States athletes. Consider the following:
1. Sasha Cohen. Thank you Katie Couric, but have you really helped this young lady's confidence by asking her ad nauseum about her propensity to choke in a major competition?
2. Bode Miller. Yes, it's his own fault for talking the talk, but do all of his off the mountain exploits need to be covered like a presidential candidate on the campaign trail?
3. Jeret Peterson. Hype about the Hurricane. The most difficult trick in aerials. We all knew he was going to attempt it a week before the finals. Why couldn't we just back off and let him attempt it without adding the pressure of reminding him that it was the most difficult trick in aerials.
4. Hedrick and Davis. Without that handshake on the medals podium do you think either of them would be receiving any endorsement contracts? Talk about self-destruction.
5. Lindsey Kildow. Wasn't it enough that she still wanted to compete after that horrific fall during a training run? How would you like to see that footage over and over again if it happened to you? Don't you think it would get in your head?

The Olympic Games are the most amazing spectator event in the world, but for the athletes, there is no bigger pressure cooker. Our media attempts to foster the slightest of hopes, inflate our medal chances, dwell on the most insignificant details or the most unsportsmanlike behavior and create real distractions for the athletes who are out there just trying to do their best. It's scrutiny that very few can really thrive in. I'm thinking maybe Madonna and Bill Clinton who are masters of media manipulations.

It's a shame that we really need to be our own worst enemy. All I know is that I was rooting for Fabris in the 1500 m over Hedrick and Davis because they were being anything but Olympian. And as for Hockey, I just stopped caring. I'm from Detroit and I'm a Detroit Red Wings fan. Red Wings were on the US, Canadian, Swedish and Russian teams. I guess I'm rooting for Sweden because I'd like Nick Lidstrom to win a Gold Medal. Contrast that with 26 years ago when the whole country was rooting for the US over Russia in the Miracle on Ice. The two experiences just don't compare.

Today it's all about media exposure and hype and possible endorsement deals. Sasha Cohen lost millions when she fell on her triple lutz to start her long program Thursday night. Hedrick and Davis lost millions by feuding and not living up to the five gold medal hype. Bode Miller lost millions by not delivering what was expected. Ah well, there's always Season 6 of The Apprentice. Maybe Hedrick or Jeret Peterson will get selected for the show and have a shot to work for The Donald. Both of them are in the running, and in Hedrick's case, I think he would fit right in.

Thanks for reading.

In Awe of Olympians

At the U.S. Nationals last month when Sasha Cohen won her first U.S. National Championship, she was skating with the flu. Though I had been holding out for two years, two days ago, the flu knocked me out cold. Yesterday, I slept for nineteen hours! I awoke only to watch the Short Program in Ladies Figure Skating and the much hyped Men's Speedskating 1500 meters. But I just as easily could have slept through them as well.

The pressure on my forehead was intense. The coughing was painful and it felt like my ribs were breaking. The fever, the chills, the dizziness when I tried to move--I decided it just wasn't that important to drive to work to get my paycheck. Hell, I decided it just wasn't that important to get off the couch to brush my teeth.

So when I hear stories of athletes, Sasha Cohen or anyone else, competing with the flu, or stomach illness, or head colds, it's like WOW! How are you functioning, let alone competing at the top of your sport? All I know is that whatever it is that sick Olympic caliber athletes have that allows them to compete while sick, it is something that I would pay good money for. I've been lucky, I was off work yesterday and today. But somehow I'm going to have to drag myself out of bed and head to work tomorrow. If I can do that with a head that is mostly clear and lungs relatively free from congestion, tomorrow should be a good day.
And how 'bout those performances last night in the Ladies Short Program! Sasha, Kimmie, and Emily: Knock 'em dead tomorrow night!
6:00 am--8:00 am: Live women's biathlon relay final; USA
7:00 am--10:00 am: Live women's curling bronze medal match; MSNBC
11:00 am--2:30 pm: Live women's curling gold medal match; USA
4:00 pm--5:00 pm: Women's snowboarding parallel giant slalom; NBC
5:00 pm--8:00 pm: Women's curling gold medal match; CNBC
8:00 pm--midnight: Figure skating women's free skate; freestyle skiing men's aerials final; snowboarding women's parallel giant slalom final; NBC

Thanks for reading.

Of Black Auras and Brilliant Stars

Oh my God! Johnny Weir was right! Not only do Black Auras exist, but they show up in this doctored photo of US Speedskating's Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick!

Okay, so maybe the auras don't exist, but there certainly is a feeling of blackness surrounding these two US Skating stars. When the world's nations can usually agree to an "Olympic Peace" and a cessation of hostilities in celebration of the Olympic Games and its ideals, it's pretty embarassing and downright obscene when two US skating sensations are openly at odds, if not at all out war, with each other.

The last time I checked, there was no "I" in "Team." Davis and Hedrick are on the US Speedskating Team. But far be it for them to support each other and make decisions that are best for the team. Both are in it for "I" alone. Davis only wants his individual glory, and despite Hedrick's rhetoric to the contrary, he is only interested in his individual glory--specifically five gold medals that now are not possible, and at best, will only number three.

It's a good thing the 1980 US Hockey Team learned to put aside individual differences and become a team to win the Gold Medal. It's a good thing the Detroit Pistons learned to pump up each other and rejoice in each other's success instead of their own--otherwise they would be like the Kobe show in L.A. It's a good thing Michelle Kwan's interest was in fielding the best possible Olympic Team for US Women's Figure Skating, otherwise young Emily Hughes would not have her spot and Kwan's reputation as a legend and icon would have been tarnished.

Unfortunately, Davis and Hedrick can't see beyond their Golden Medals. And if for a moment you think Hedrick is out for the glory of sport and challenge, think again--he's a leading contender to be featured on Donald Trump's Sixth Season of The Apprentice.

Black Auras or not, there certainly is a black cloud hanging over the US Men's Speedskating Team. But over in Ice Dancing, all the clouds definitely have a silver lining! Sunday night Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto of the United States skated the most difficult Original Dance technically in a competition filled with uncharacteristic falls and moved up from sixth place to second with only the Free Dance left Monday night.

Less than 1.5 points out of first place, GOLD is in sight for the Reigning World Silver Medalists. Most remarkable in that no American Dance Team has won an Olympic Medal in thirty years. But again, I have to emphasize the word "Team." For that is what Tanith and Ben are. Neither would be in this position without the other, and neither would be in this position were it not for a bill signed New Year's Eve by President Bush making Tanith Belbin a US Citizen.

Four years ago, Belbin and Agosto qualified for the Salt Lake City Olympics, but as Tanith was a Canadian citizen the couple could not compete. During that time, Tanith and Ben came to the realization that what they wanted most out of skating was to be the very best that they could be, and to be the best, it meant skating with each other, not looking for other partners with a nationality that would allow either of them to compete for their own country.

So Belbin and Agosto took the long road and matured as a team, winning the silver medal in the 2005 World Championships, putting them in a position to win the first US medal in Ice Dancing in thirty years--most likely a silver, but with a real shot at the gold. Should that happen, the reverberations in the skating world will be Tsunami like in proportion, and overshadow both the French Judge Scandal from the Salt Lake City Olympics and the Tonya and Nancy debacle from 1994.

Ah, figure skating...what other Olympic sport routinely provides such high quality drama? This time next year no one will remember Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick, but Belbin and Agosto will be international stars, and their pictures will be plastered all over Wheaties Boxes everywhere--unless Sasha Cohen or Emily Hughes should win Gold in the Ladies event later this week. Stay tuned, folks. Stay tuned.



8:00 am--11:00 am: Live men's curling, USA vs. Canada; USA

10:30 am--1:00 pm: Live women's hockey bronze medal game; MSNBC

1:00 pm--6:00 pm: Live women's hockey gold medal game; women's bobsled; NBC

5:00 pm--8:00 pm: Women's curling, USA vs. Britain; CNBC

8:00 pm--11:30 pm: Figure Skating Ice Dancing Final; Alpine skiing men's giant slalom final; freestyle skiing men's aerials; ski jumping K125 large hill team final; NBC

Thanks for reading.

Showboating Americans Pay Olympic Price

You're out in front. The Gold is yours. All you need to do is play it safe and get to the finish line. So what do you do? You turn a history making run in the Inaugeral Olympic Women's Snowboard Cross into the equivalent of an NFL Touchdown Victory Dance or an NBA Slam Dunk...except that it backfires, you fall down, and lose the Gold. You get tackled at the one yard line. You hit the rim of the of the basketball net and shatter the bones in your hand.

That is what Lindsey Jacobellis did Friday in the Final of the Snowboard Cross. She had a huge three second lead, the finish line was in sight, and she pulled out a method air--a halfpipe trick--landed funny and fell down, losing the Gold Medal. This wasn't even the agony of defeat, because nobody beat Jacobellis. Rather, she counted her chickens before they hatched. She miscalculated.

Unfortunately, this miscalculation seems to be a trend for American athletes at the Olympics this year. First and second most dramatically, Bode Miller vocally made his presence known even well before the Games began. Perhaps if he had put his vocal energy into his skiing, he would have had a better result.

And Second, and most dramatically, Johnny Weir gave the most unbelievable excuses for not skating well in the Men's Free Program Thursday night. First he claimed the City of Turin changed their bus schedule without telling him, so he arrived at the arena late, which threw him off. And second, he claimed his aura was black, and with black all around him interfering with his positive energy, he couldn't skate well.

Mother of God! Mother of Pearl, even! Have you ever heard of a bigger prima donna than Johnny Weir? How can people with such talent just blow it all away on the largest Sporting Stage in the world? You gotta give Tonya Harding some credit here. She wanted the gold, she tried to take out Nancy Kerrigan to ensure her victory. She was caught, she paid the price, she did some time and she was banned from Figure Skating for life. But you know what? Tonya Harding has far more guts than Johnny Weir. Actually, I don't think Johnny Weir has any guts at all. It's time he took off his Swan Costume and became a man for a change. Instead of blaming bus schedules and auras, he simply needs to own up and say he choked, or he just skated poorly, or today wasn't his day. Whatever. But take some responsibility, Man! Blaming a loss on an aura. Oh my God!

The fact of the matter is, however, is that all three of these top contenders: Lindsey Jacobellis, Bode Miller, Johnny Weir...each and every one of them was guilty of showboating. Each and every one of them focused more on the idea of winning than the act of winning. And can we really blame them? Aren't we the nation that cheers and oohs and ahhs when there's a spectacular catch in football followed by the obligatory endzone dance exclamation point? Don't we go gaga over Slam Dunks? And, haven't our children been raised with these types of victory celebrations rather than being taught that it is the better part of valor to excercise some level of humility?

I dunno. Lindsey Jacobellis lost the Gold Medal. It was hers, and she lost it. She'll have to live with that. But perhaps all of should think more about how we win, and how we lose. I'm missing Michelle Kwan now more than ever. Michelle knows how to win with humility, and lose with grace and dignity. If Michelle had ever had an opportunity to explain this basic approach to Lindsey Jacobellis, Lindsey would have been on the podium last night singing the Star Bangled Banner in victory.
Meanwhile, in Ice Dancing, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto are in a disappointing sixth place after the compulsary dance. Their skate wasn't their best, and they are within a point of the medals--which at this stage in the competition is rather meaningless.

I'd be more concerned, however, if there is a backlash to Belbin and Agosto's bid to become the first American Ice Dancers to win an Olympic medal in thirty years. Belbin and Agosto were not supposed to be here. When they won silver at the 2005 World Championships, it was with an understanding in the world community that they would not be competing in Torino because Belbin was still a Canadian citizen. However, December 31, 2005, Congress passed a law and President Bush signed it, making Belbin a US citizen. So could their sixth place finish in the compulsories be some kind of backlash against them? Stay tuned: we'll know more after the Original Dance Sunday.

5:00 am--1:30 pm: Live men's hockey--Russia vs. Kazakhstan, Italy vs. Germany, Canada vs. Switzerland, Sweden vs. Latvia; CNBC
8:00 am--11:00 am: Live men's curling, USA vs. Germany; USA
Noon--6:00 pm: Cross-country women's relay final; biathlon men's pursuit final; live men's hockey, USA vs. Slovakia; short-track speedskating women's 1,500 semifinals; NBC
3:00 pm--5:30 pm: Live men's hockey, Czech Republic vs. Finland; CNBC
5:00 pm--8:00 pm: Women's curling, USA vs. Italy; MSNBC
8:00 pm--11:30 pm: Alpine skiing men's super-G; short-track speedskating men's 1,000 final; women's 1,500 final; speedskating men's 1,000 final; ski-jumping K125 large hill individual final; bobsled two man, NBC

Thanks for reading.

MTMD Welcomes Our Newest Tenant: "I am!"

Soto is her name and blogging is her game. I first stumbled across Soto on her new Top 100 blogs website while seeking avenues to promote my blog:
(Please click here to see this rapidly growing list of some really fine blogs.)

And naturally, I have run into her quite a bit on Blog Explosion, and I daresay we have voted for each other a few times on Battle of the Blogs. It's all about reaching a wider audience for our writings.

In Soto's case, she writes about her various hobbies, her family, her ups and downs, and whatever else tickles her fancy at the moment--not too different from the majority of blogs out there, including my own. However what really impresses me with Soto's blog is her wit and humor and positive attitude combined with strong writing and point of view. "I am!" is a most enjoyable blog to read, and I encourage you to check out her work.

Thanks for reading.

Seth Wescott Wins Olympic Gold!

Men's figure skating had all the hype, but Men's Snowboard Cross was where all the action was on Thursday in Torino! Reigning World Champion Seth Wescott of the United States dominated in every heat until the final where he had to come from behind halfway down the exciting course--that I like to describe as snowboarding meets bobsled--to take the lead and win Gold by the narrowest of margins in what was nearly a photo finish.

Snowboard Cross is head-to-head competition with four snowboarders racing each other down the mountain over a series of jumps and turns and inclines in the tradition of BMX Bike Racing. First one that crosses the finish line wins. No time penalties, no judge interpretations, no convoluted scoring penalties. Cross the line first and you win. And that is exactly what this Maine Native did in his history making final, becoming the first ever Olympic Snowboard Cross Champion.

Perfecting his snowboarding skills by backcountry boarding in Alaska on mountains only accessible by helicopter, Wescott actually has faced down several avalanches and has lived to tell about it. As a master of Alaska snowboarding, grace under pressure is a given, and that experience serves him well in head-to-head competiton. Thursday it proved to be the winning combination for success. Congratulations Seth! We're proud of you!
In Men's Figure Skating, Johnny Weir skated an uninspired program and fell to 5th place. Meanwhile, Evan Lycasek was brilliant and moved up from 10th to 4th--had he not fallen on his triple axel in the short program Tuesday night, Evan would have won the silver medal. Matt Savoie was 7th.

4:00 am--1:30 pm: Live women's snowboardcross; men's curling match; live women's curling, USA vs. Russia; live women's hockey semifinal; bobsled two-man training runs; USA
3:00-5:30 pm: Live women's hockey semifinal; MSNBC
5:00 pm--8:00 pm: Men's curling, USA vs. Switzerland; CNBC
8:00 pm--11:30 pm: Figure Skating: Ice Dancing Compulsaries; women's snowboard cross final; Alpine skiing women's combined (downhill and slalom); skeleton men's final; ski jumping K125-large hill individual; NBC

Thanks for reading.

Toby Dawson Scores Bronze in Moguls

In an event invented and dominated by Americans for years, it's disappointing that those who have dominated the World Cup in the Moguls event for years were shut out of the medals in Torino.

Jeremy Bloom, former football player for the University of Colorado and NFL hopeful was expected to challenge for gold; but a less than perfect landing off of his second air doomed his chances.

In the end, it was Toby Dawson with a lightning fast run through the middle section of the course, two amazing airs including the one pictured here, and a silky smooth run through the moguls that resulted in his triumphant finish, to the joy of his mother and all the members of his fan club cheering from the stands. Awesome Dawson! Congratulations!

Today's Olympic Highlights

1:30 am--5:00 am: Prime-time replay; NBC
6:00 am--11:00 am: Live biathlon women's 7.5 K sprint final; live men's curling, USA vs. Sweden; men's snowboardcross; USA
6:00 am--4:30 pm: Live men's hockey--Finland vs. Italy, Czech Republic vs. Switzerland, Sweden vs. Russia, Slovakia vs. Latvia, Canada vs. Germany; MSNBC
3:00 pm--6:00 pm: Live men's hockey, USA vs. Kazazkhstan; USA
4:00 pm--5:00 pm: Cross-country women's 10K final; speedskating women's team pursuit semifinals; speedskating men's team pursuit semifinals; NBC
5:00 pm--8:00 pm: Women's curling, USA vs. Sweden; CNBC
8:00 pm--midnight: Figure Skating Men's Free Skate; men's snowboard-cross final; speedskating women's and men's team pursuit finals; skeleton women's final; NBC

Thanks for reading.

Love Is a Many Splendoured Thing

Far be it from me to ever say: "I told you so." So I won't. Instead I'll just say that I met a very lovely woman at a restaurant this evening while watching Figure Skating on TV, and then we went back to her place for drinks.

We will be seeing each other again.

I just made a quick redesign of my blogger template. I am in the process of learning CSS. This is a first effort. Give me time. But isn't the background waterfall perfect?

Today's Olympic Highlights:

5:00 am--4:30 pm: Live men's hockey-Sweden vs. Kazakhstan, Canada vs. Italy, Finland vs. Switzerland, Germany vs. Czech Republic, Russia vs. Slovakia; MSNBC
8:00 am--11:00 am: Live women's curling, USA vs. Denmark; USA
3:00 pm--6:00 pm: Live men's hockey, USA vs. Latvia; USA
4:00 pm--5:00 pm: Speedskating women's team pursuit; short-track speedskating women's 500 semifinal; NBC
5:00 pm--8:00 pm: Men's curling, USA vs. Italy; CNBC
8:00 pm--11:30 pm: Alpine skiing women's downhill; freestyle skiing men's moguls final; short-track speedskating women's 500 final, men's 5,000 relay semifinal and men's 1,000 prelims; luge men's doubles final; Nordic combined team final; ski jumping large hill; cross-country women's team, 4x5K relay; NBC

Thanks for reading.

Happy Valentine's Day Mom!

Olympic Valentine's Day Trivia Questions

#1: Did you know that more women than men tune in to watch Figure Skating during the Olympics?

No really! It's a fact. More women than men tune in to watch Figure Skating. It's been all over the news, especially since Michelle Kwan withdrew from the Ladies event. Now that the Olympics have lost their star name, even VISA has had to shuffle around their commercials to eliminate the ones featuring Kwan. Which leads me to....

#2: Aren't you kind of surprised that nobody has asked why this is?

Seriously, for all the discussion that Figure Skating lures more women to the television than David Hasselhoff in his Red Baywatch Speedo, how come no one has tried to explain this curiosity?

Well my friends, I have the answer why; and because it's Valentine's Day and I'm feeling ... in the mood, I'll explain it to you.

It's biology. That's right, biology. It all comes down to sex and romance and wooing women--the same reason Robin Williams explains in The Dead Poets Society that men write poetry. And if you think about it, it makes sense.

In the animal world, it's the biggest and the strongest and the flashiest male that gets the girl. Lions have their manes. Elephants have their tusks. Peacocks have their colorful tails--which are really just a freak of nature, but an effective one. Man has his Onyx American Express Card and Donald Trump has his tower. ( I can't believe I just wrote that, but hey, it's 12:40 am.)

In Men's Figure Skating, the Top Male Figure Skaters have their frilly costumes. You know, for the longest time, I just thought that those costumes were a non-politically correct expression of their sexuality. But those costumes are actually just peacock feathers. Big, bright, frilly peacock feathers made of lace. And guess what? THEY WORK!

Think about it! Women flock to the television screens by the millions to watch Men's Figure Skating. It's because of those costumes! Those costumes scream: "Hey Baby, Look at my peacock!" What woman could possibly refuse such a romantic invitation?

I dunno guys; but honestly, wouldn't you dress up in a little lace to have fifty million women in the U.S. alone watching your acrobatic mating dance? Think of it as...Dancing With The Stars, but alone, and on ice. Okay, think of it as Dances With Wolves for all I care, but millions of women can not be wrong! Can I get an AMEN?

Let me just offer you just this one hint: Tonight, Valentine's Day in America, no single lady wants to be alone. I don't want to be alone either. So tonight, at around 7:30, I'm going to seek out a sports bar somewhere that will be broadcasting the Olympic Games. I'm going to sit next to some lonely lady at a bar and I'm going to watch Men's Figure Skating with her. I'll report back here sometime on Wednesday and let you know when my second date is.

Today's Olympic Highlights:

3:00-11:00 am: Live women's curling, USA vs. Canada; live biathlon men's 10K sprint final; live men's curling, USA vs. New Zealand; luge doubles training runs; Alpine skiing women's downhill timed training; USA
7:00 am-2:30 pm: Live women's hockey, Italy vs. Russia, Canada vs. Sweden, Switzerland vs. Germany; MSNBC
2:30 pm-5:00 pm: Live women's hockey, USA vs. Finland; USA
4:00 pm-5:00 pm: Cross-country women's team sprint final; luge women's singles; NBC
5:00 pm-8:00 pm: Women's curling, USA vs. Japan; CNBC
8:00 pm-11:30 pm: Figure Skating men's short program; Alpine skiing men's combined; speedskating women's 500 final; luge women's single final; NBC
12:05 am-1:30 am: Cross-country men's team sprint final; medals plaza award ceremony; NBC

Thanks for reading.

Visions of Michelle Kwan

I got home from work about two hours ago, and I'm watching the rebroadcast of the prime time Olympic events. They just showed a repeat of Michelle's exhibition skate from the 2002 Salt Lake City Olmpics to the music: "Fields of Gold." As Michelle was finishing her final spiral, the camera zero-ed in on her face, and the tears streaming down. Michelle finished third in Salt Lake City, once again denied the gold medal. But throughout the perfomance, her smile never wavered. What a champion!

Thanks for reading.

MICHELLE KWAN: The True Heroine of the Olympics

The Agony of Defeat. The Thrill of Victory. Michelle Kwan has had her fill of both. Thirteen years worth from 1993 when Michelle first competed in the US Nationals and 1994 when she was bumped off the Olympic team by Nancy Kerrigan through this year when she bumped Emily Hughes to journey to Torino; only then to give up her spot to Hughes when she realized yesterday that she would not be able to compete due to injury. No athlete has epitomized the Olympic Spirit and lived the Olympic Credo: "For the glory of sport," more so than Michelle Kwan.

Although the one triumph Kwan has dreamed of most, The Olympic Championship, has eluded her; Michelle's career stands head and shoulders above all others. Consider this impressive tally: Nine U.S. Championships, Five World Championships, Four World Silver Medals, and Olympic Silver and Bronze Medals. For a dozen years, Michelle Kwan has remained at the very top of the skating world, and no other skater is a bigger role model or icon.

Olympic Champions come and go. Tara Lipinski, Olympic Gold Medalist, was a wunderkind who competed for two years. She snatched the gold from Kwan in Nagano and disappeared. Sarah Hughes, another wunderkind who competed for two years snatched the gold from Kwan in Salt Lake City, and, disappeared. Of all singles skaters in recent memory, only Katarina Witt from 1984 and 1988 has been around long enough to threaten and/or win gold in at least two Olympics. Kwan was ready to threaten in four. 1994 as a 13 year-old kid, but the Tonya and Nancy scandal took precedence and Kerrigan, and rightly so, bumped Kwan. She was narrowly defeated in 1998. She stumbled in 2002, and 12 years later, Kwan was still here and ready to threaten in Torino. Until yesterday. That length of a competitive career is unprecedented in figure skating. You need to go all the way back to Sonja Henie, who won ten consecutive World Championships to find anyone else who competed this long. But even the great Sonja couldn't skate like Michelle Kwan.

While other skaters have come and gone in their pursuits for Olympic glory, "the glory" has never been Michelle Kwan's focus. Michelle has always skated for the pure joy of gliding across the ice and the love of the sport. From the time Michelle first put on a pair of skates until her announcement to withdraw from the Torino Games, Kwan's main motivation has always been pure and driven by her passion to be the very best that she could be. When you love what you do, as the old adage says, you will be successful and reap the rewards of what you love to do. While other skaters have pursued medals and skating honors and lucrative endorsement contracts, Michelle has only pursued a love of skating.

Withdrawing from the Torino Games, Michelle Kwan elevated her legendary and iconic status into the stratosphere, and she will be remembered with the greatest Olympic Champions forever. Her actions and her conduct and her grace have made her the greatest heroine of these games. Rather than hope she'd get better, rather than hold onto a fleeting dream, rather than giving it one more try for her legions of fans; Michelle opted to withdraw early enough so that Emily Hughes, the alternate, has time to fly to Torino, adjust to the time change, and practice on Olympic Ice. Michelle can't give the Torino Games her best shot, but she's making sure Hughes will have hers. As she has said, "because she respects the Olympic Games too much not to compete if she can't compete at her best." Well done, Michelle. Well done.

And lest you think that this was some careful ploy, consider that NBC offered Michelle a chance to sit in the broadcast booth and comment on the figure skating event. Michelle turned the offer down because she did not want to be a distraction to the skaters competing in the events. That's pure class: both on the ice and off.

Gracious in victory on the world and national stage. Gracious in the agony of defeat on the Olympic stage. Michelle Kwan continues to impress, and it will be a very long time, if ever, before we see someone else of her talent and character on the ice again.

Thanks for reading.


3:oo am--11:00 am: Live men's curling, USA vs. Norway; biathalon women's 15K final; women's curling, USA vs. Norway; USA
9:00 am--2:00 pm: Live women's hockey, Sweden vs. Italy and Finland vs. Switzerland; MSNBC
4:00 pm--5:00 pm: Luge women's singles; NBC
5:00 pm--8:00 pm: Men's curling, USA vs. Finland; CNBC
8:00 pm--11:30 pm: Figure Skating Pairs Free Skate; snowboarding women's halfpipe final; speedskating men's 500 final; NBC
12:05 am--1:30 am: Medals plaza award ceremony; NBC

Today's Olympic Highlights

10:30 am-1:00 pm: Live women's hockey, Canada vs. Russia; CNBC
1:00-3:30 pm: Live women's hockey, USA vs. Germany; USA
3:00-6:00 pm: Speedskating women's 3,000 final; cross-country men's and women's pursuit, luge men's singles; NBC
7:00-11:00 pm: Alpine skiing men's downhill final; short-track speedskating men's 1,500 final; ski jumping K95 individual final; snowboarding men's halfpipe final; luge men's singles final; NBC
11:35 pm-12:30 am: Short track speedskating women's 3,000 relay and women's 500; medals plaza award ceremony; NBC

Thanks for reading.

Throw Triple Axel Makes Olympic History!

Now this is the reason why I watch Olympic Figure Skating! Today, for the first time ever, a pairs team in the Olympics not only attempted a Throw-Triple Axel, but they landed one as well. And it wasn't the Chinese, it wasn't the Russians, it wasn't the Germans. Rena Inoue and John Baldwin, U.S. National Champions, accomplished this feat to the deafening roar of Olympic applause and scored the second highest technical mark of the night and finished sixth overall in the short program. Behind the Russians and Chinese as expected, but only five points back. This means that should Inoue and Baldwin skate their best in Monday night's long program, they have a real shot at a medal.

Any medal would be beyond belief for an American pairs team. No medal was expected, and no medal has been won in this event since Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard scored a bronze in Calgary. Incidentally, Peter Oppegard is Inoue and Baldwin's coach. Also of note, Watson and Oppegard trained at the Detroit Skating Club under Johnny Johns, who is Hinzmann and Parchem's coach, but left the DSC for the Birmingham Skating Club in 1988 to train with Rita Lowerie before the games. I just love these Michigan connections! Unfortunately, Hinzmann and Parchem fell in the short program and finished 13th, way out of medal contention.

Meanwhile, it was a disappointing day in Torino for US Gold Medal hopeful Hannah Kearney in the women's Moguls event. Kearney was favored to win gold, but she failed to qualify for the final held Saturday evening, and the US women finished a disappointing 10th, 11th, and 18th.

Also, it was a disappointing day for Michelle Kwan as she had a miserable practice session on the ice, leaving in doubt the bid for that elusive Gold Medal by the most decorated and well-known skater in U.S. history. C'mon Michelle! We're pulling for you!

But you know, that's why we conduct sporting events. You can be the best in the world at what you do, you can be the best in the world over a period of ten years. But if you don't bring it the day of competition, you're out of luck. That's competition. That's sport. And that's what life is all about--bringing your best every day to what you do. Maybe we don't compete for Olympic Gold and Glory every day, let alone once in our lifetimes, but there are things we do compete for every day for ourselves and our families. It's those things that drive us to get up and go to work each and every morning, even on those days when we much rather stay home. And it's about the sacrifices we all make for the moments of grace in our lives. Olympic athletes do make sacrifices in their lives. Many of those sacrifices are greater than you or I will ever make. But reward is usually directly proportional to the depth of our sacrifice. And having seen and touched an Olympic Gold Medal, and in just being next to a friend who has earned one and seeing the unbridled glee and joy in eyes, makes me just a bit more focused on pursuing the goals I have set for myself in life.

Thanks for reading.

Today's Olympic Highlights

7-9 am: Live biathlon men's 20K final; USA
7-noon: Live women's hockey--Finland vs. Germany; Sweden vs. Russia; CNBC
Noon-2:30 pm: Live women's hockey--USA vs. Switzerland; USA
2:30-5:00 pm: Live women's hockey--Canada vs. Italy; CNBC
3-6 pm: Luge men's singles; Nordic combined individual final; Alpine skiing men's downhill timed training; NBC
8-11:30 pm: Figure skating pairs short program, freestyle skiing women's moguls final, speedskating men's 5,000 final; luge men's singles, Alpine skiing men's downhill training; NBC

Thanks for reading.

Out of the Closet At Last!

The Olympic Rings Fireworks Display from the Opening Ceremonies Friday night.

The secret is finally out. I admit it. I'm a man, and I like to watch Olympic Figure Skating. There! I've said it. What a relief! To finally get this off my chest and out in the public is liberating beyond belief. But I gotta tell you, it's all my parents' fault.

That's right, another thing to blame ole Mom and Dad for. You see, one of my earliest memories was watching Peggy Fleming win the Gold Medal in the 1968 Olympics. Yes, I remember that. I was three years old. No, I don't really remember Peggy's long program, and I certainly can't recall if there was a French Judge on the panel; but I do remember the impression of my Mom and Dad being really excited watching Peggy Fleming skate, and the cheering and the loud words exclaiming: "Peggy Fleming won it!"

As a three year-old, I had no idea what this meant, but it was a cause for celebration and chocolate chip cookies. And that was it right there. If you can equate figure skating and chocolate chip cookies in the mind of a three year-old, that three year old will grow up loving figure skating. Just like I grew up loving the Detroit Tigers, the Detroit Red Wings, the Green Bay Packers and the Wisconsin Badgers (before I got older and realized I lived in Michigan and that I should be supporting the Wolverines like every other sane individual.) Thanks to my parents, I learned to appreciate all sports, and art, and theatre, and music, and literature, and then.....the Summer Olympics. My next really big Olympic memory was Olga Korbut in the 1972 Munich Games. Of course, those Olympics were also the Olympics of Mark Spitz and 7 gold medals, and the assasination of the Israeli Team, which is the topic of the current Oscar Nominee "Munich", but I digress.

In any case, I was hooked on the Olympics, and I am a Winter and Summer Olympic junkie, but I really love the Winter Games. So now, here we are again, all the excitement, pageantry, and hoopla--which is all encapsulated in Olympic Figure Skating.

Marcy Hinzmann and Aaron Parchem, U.S. Silver Medalists, Ready to Skate Tonight in the Pairs Short Program.

The Detroit Skating Club in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan is one of the nation's premier Skating Clubs. Olympians come out of Detroit as they do other legendary skating clubs, like the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, and Lake Arrowhead in California. Detroit's most recent Olympic Champion was Tara Lipinski. But the Detroit Skating Club has never had an entry in the Pairs event until now. Marcy Hinzmann and Aaron Parchem, the current U.S. silver medalists begin their quest for Olympic glory tonight in the Pairs Short Program. Hinzmann and Parchem will have plenty of family support during the competition. Hinzmann, whose family lives in Columbus, Ohio, has about 10 relatives in Torino to cheer her on, while Parchem, from Chicago, will have close to 20.

Though the odds against them to even crack the Top 10 are steep, they are thrilled with the opportunity of competing. Aaron Parchem also holds the distinction of being the first African-American male to participate in the Winter Olympics in figure skating.

I'll be reporting on figure skating and some of my other favorites through the next two weeks, but the Pairs Short Program is just the tip of the iceberg. Bigger stories will be emerging just a few days from now, culminating with Belbin and Agosto's chance to win the first American Ice Dancing medal in thirty years and the classic showdown between Sasha Cohen, Irina Slutskaya, and the redoubtable Michelle Kwan in what is sure to be the most spectacular ladies event of all time.

Thanks for reading!

Let The Games Begin!

It's Olympic time once again, and tonight the Opening Ceremonies of the Torino Games (or, if you're from outside of Italy, the Games of Turin) take place. Isn't it amazing how a city can change its name for marketing purposes?

Just four short years ago we were in Salt Lake City enjoying the scandals of Figure Skating and the French Judge. Isn't it amazing how Figure Skating has had so many scandals lately? First it was the Battle of the Carmens and the Battle of the Brians from Calgary, then came Tonya and Nancy, then came the French Judge. This year, there was already a minor scandal when US Ice Dancer Tanith Belbin received her US citizenship in the eleventh hour so she, along with her partner, Ben Agosto could compete. Who knows what further scandals we will see in Figure Skating this year. Tune in and find out.

But this year, I'm interested in quotables. What will Bodie Miller say next? Will Johnny Weir trash talk his way to a medal? And what about Apollo Anton Ohno on the short track speed skating rink? Interesting how he's remained under the radar after his high profile incidents in Salt Lake...or, has everyone forgotten that already?

No matter, in this Winter Olympic fortnight, we'll have drama, we'll have quotes, we'll have high flying snowboarders and aerialists and mogul jumpers. We'll have the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. We'll have Katie Couric and Matt Lauer playing in the snow with Bodie Miller or trying to ice dance with Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto. Won't that be special?

Prediction: Watch out for the French Judge...she might have been banned by the International Skating Union, but I heard she's started a cell and is working undercover for an unnamed political entity.

Let the games begin everyone. Let the games begin!

Thanks for reading.


A huge shoutout and thanks go to Blog Explosion's T (positronict) and Shelly (ShellyS) for their help with CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). With their help I was finally able to fix the image of Meral's Pool and get it to display correctly at the top of the page of this blog! As a token of my thanks, I will soon be linking to their sites in a special section under my Blog Roll that I'm creating just for them: "Blog Helpers". These two ladies rock, and I can't thank them enough.

Welcome Jeremy C. Shipp and Haunted House Dressing

There's a great community of bloggers out there, and in the short time I've been blogging, I've had the chance to make several new friends already interested in sharing parts of their lives and exchanging ideas. It's in that spirit that I started participating in Blog Explosion, and it's been most rewarding so far.

Blog Explosion offers this amazing opportunity to earn credits to pay for unique member services to help promote and develop your own individual blog site. Earlier this evening, I signed up to participate in "Rent This Blog." In this program, the renter agrees to host a thumbnail and a link of a tenant, and in return the rentee pays the renter credits the renter can use for member services on the Blog Explosion Site. It's very cool.

Anyway, I have my first blog tenant: Writer Jeremy C. Shipp. For the next week I'll be featuring his unique blog:
Haunted House Dressing over on my sidebar. I hope you'll check out his site. It's very unique and provocative, well-written, and well-designed. If you like my writing, I'm pretty sure you'll be impressed with Jeremy's content.

Welcome aboard Jeremy. I'm glad to have you here.

Thanks for reading.

Meral's Pool: What This Blog Is All About

The image above is of Meral's Pool on the Tuolumne River just outside Yosemite National Park. Meral's Pool marks the end of the Class V+ Cherry Creek section and the beginning of the Class IV-V Main Tuolumne, and I believe it is the perfect image to encapsulate what this blog is all about.

The first two words in my description of this blog in the left margin are "River Journeys." We are all on a journey in life, and we are all at different stages. Some of us are at the beginning, some are in the middle, and some are near the end. Meral's Pool is halfway down the Tuolumne, as I am halfway, or just over halfway in life (at least I hope that's where I am).

If you are interested in taking a river journey on a whitewater river, you can expect to do no better than a Three-Day Wilderness Trip on the Tuolumne. Starting at Meral's Pool, you will travel eighteen river miles and have the opportunity to see some of this nation's most breathtaking scenery from deep inside Jawbone Canyon, as well as experience a legendary Class V drop known as Clavey Falls. The Tuolumne, and the Clavey River which joins the Main Tuolumne just above Clavey Falls, are currently threatened with new dams to augment the water supploy of San Francisco. You can find out more at the Tuolumne Trust Website.

Meral's Pool is truly a special place, and not just for it's awesome beauty and remoteness. It's here that the rushing waters of the pristine Tuolumne River pauses for a rest after descending Cherry Creek before continuing on down the more gradual Main Tuolumne, just like a rest stop between the fast pace of youth and the more gradual pace of middle age. Every time I look at this picture of Meral's Pool, I am drawn into the image like few photographs I have ever taken.

This blog is like Meral's Pool. It's a place to stop and reflect, either for a brief moment, or an extended period of time, of where my life is headed. Meltwater. Torrents. Meanderings. Delta. I think I named this blog better than I originally thought. Adding the image of Meral's Pool to the top only cements that sense of certainty for me.

Thanks for reading.

What's Up With Blogger?

Hey, I know there's been some hardware issues lately, but I'm having a problem. I just posted a review of the new Disney movie 8 Below, and I have a picture from the movie poster right before my text. In AOL, the picture disappears after 2 seconds. In Internet Explorer 6 and 7 Beta, the picture disappears after 2 seconds. In Firefox, the picture stays and I have no problems. What gives?

Can someone offer an explanation, or better yet, tell me what I need to do to fix the page?

Thanks for reading.

Eight Below: 4 Paws Up!

Saturday night I saw a Sneak Preview of the Forthcoming Disney Movie Eight Below that will be in theatres February 17th. As a dog lover I, of course, was hooked by the preview. Eight Sled Dogs left at an Antarctica Base for what was supposed to be three hours and ends up being six months. And it was based on a true story! Even better. The only question I had about seeing the movie was what possible motivation could Hollywood justify for abandoning eight dogs for six months? Without giving away the story, I will tesify that it was sufficiently contrived, but will work for the millions of kids that will see this wonderful family film.

But the art and beauty and emotional wallop of this film is not the circumstances that cause the dogs to be abandoned. It's not the desperate efforts by Paul Walker as their Sled Team Driver and Owner to go back and save them, it's not the wonderful comic relief offered by Jason Biggs of American Pie Fame; all of that is incidental to the story. But rather, it's in the drama and the beautiful footage of the dogs trying to survive on their own and dealing with the harsh Antarctic environment: a confrontation with a leopard seal in a battle for food, learning how to hunt on their own and capture birds that could easily fly away, watching them dance in excitement and joy at seeing the Southern Lights or ponder the meaning of a shooting star. These moments are exciting and magical, and they are balanced by the tragic missteps the dogs make that mortally wounds one, seriously maims another, and causes another to be separated from the pack (which in this movie, is a very strong metaphor for family) when one dog just refuses to leave another dog that has just died.

The way the dogs are portrayed when they are on their own is very much in the tradition of March of the Penquins, but unlike that movie, it is very clear that scenes are staged--like the dogs watching the shooting star moment. But you forgive Eight Below for that as you are caught up in the struggle of the dogs survival as you don't forgive the juxtapositions of the human characters and their trials and tribulations and mountain moving just to get back to Antarctica--not to save the dogs in some desperate hope that they might be alive, but to put their own personal demons to rest.

Make no mistake, the stars of this movie are the dogs. They have the most developed personalities in the movie, and it is they that are cause for celebration. See this film.

Thanks for reading.

Michigan Travel Links Updated

I have updated the links to major Michigan travel and information sites on the sidebar. I have begun the long process of compiling major links to U.S. travel destinations organized on a state-by-state basis. If anyone would like to suggest a major travel resource for inclusion on this national link list, please post a comment or drop me a line. I would greatly appreciate it.

Thanks for reading.

Top Ten Trivia Tips About Matt

I was randomly browsing blogs this afternoon and found one that generates random trivia about people. I found it pretty amusing, at least at the time, so I figured I'd post it here. I figured after the weight of the Joyce Carol Oates review it might be time to laugh at myself for a minute. At the bottom, you too can generate random trivia about yourself. Have fun, and thanks for reading.

Ten Top Trivia Tips about Matt!

  1. Donald Duck's middle name is Matt!
  2. The only Englishman to become Matt was Nicholas Breakspear, who was Matt from 1154 to 1159!
  3. The deepest part of Matt is over 35,000 feet deep.
  4. In Eastern Africa you can buy beer brewed from Matt!
  5. If you lie on your back with your legs stretched it is impossible to sink in Matt!
  6. Reindeer like to eat Matt.
  7. The colour of Matt is no indication of his spiciness, but size usually is.
  8. The ace of spades in a playing card deck symbolizes Matt.
  9. Pound for pound, hamburgers cost more than Matt.
  10. 68 percent of all UFO sightings are by Matt.
I am interested in - do tell me about

THE FALLS by JOYCE CAROL OATES is the Very First Selection of the Meltwater Book Club

Who knows what directions are lives will take? Who knows what events will transform and shape our lives into versions of ourselves we never thought possible? And who knows what forces are out there that move us forward and drive us inexorably to the precipice of the most profound decisions that will either save us or damn us (or perhaps both) for all time?

Such is the power of The Falls, in which the Niagara River, its rapids, its whirlpools, and its mighty Horseshoe, Bridal, and American Falls, is a constant underpinning current of the narrative, and perhaps, even a character in its own right.

"You realize that the speed, the proplulsion, has nothing to do with you. It is something happening to you."

Oates is dead on in her description of what happens when you're in the Niagara River and you pass the Deadline. You are caught up in something that is happening to you. I don't know if Joyce Carol Oates has ever gone whitewater rafting, but I raft Class IV and V rivers about thirty days a year. I'll never forget my first experience out of the raft right at the Deadline of Class V Insignificant. Insignificant is a misnomer. There is absolutely nothing insignificant about Insignificant.

The naming of Insignificant is legendary. Early explorers of the Gauley River simply arrived at this point below a long rapid of rushing water, house-size rocks, violently crashing five-foot waves, sudden ledge drops, holes and nasty pourovers and proclaimed: “there’s nothing significant above this point.” Even to this day, with all the advancements in whitewater equipment, and clothing, and protective gear; and with the increasingly capable and experienced guides and outfitters who run the Gauley so routinely that many of the most formidable rapids that were once considered unrunable have been downgraded from “dare-devil and life-threatening” to “experts only” to “advanced” to “intermediate” levels of difficulty; Insignificant remains categorized as a true “experts only” Class V rapid.

To put the significance of Insignificant in perspective for those of you who have never gone whitewater rafting or kayaking, a typical exchange between a guide and rafters after cleaning Insignificant might go something like this:

“Wow! That was awesome! What class was that?” Asks the adrenalinized rafter.
“That was a true Class V,” answers the bemused guide, who has been asked this question a thousand times in the last two weeks.
“That was a Class V? Wow! Is there anything bigger?”
“Oh yeah, there are lots of rapids that are bigger, longer, steeper, more dangerous.”
“Really? Have you rafted any of them?” Asks the wide-eyed rafter.
“A few,” the guide answers coyly.
“Have you ever fallen out?” Asks another rafter, a little shaken by Insignificant.
“Oh yeah, I’ve had my share of nasty swims.”
The rafters remain silent, presumably contemplating what a swim of Insignificant might have been like if one of them had fallen out of the raft.
“But Insignificant isn’t the most difficult rapid we’ll see today,” the guide says. “There’s still Pillow Rock, Lost Paddle, Iron Ring, and Sweet’s Falls.”
“Are they bigger than Insignificant?” Asks the timid rafter, now certain that he’s in way over his head.
“Not necessarily bigger,” answers the guide. “Lost Paddle is longer and more dangerous with more undercut rocks. Pillow Rock is bigger in every way, but safer. Iron Ring is short, fast, and steep; and Sweet’s Falls is the highest.”
“And…they’re all Class V?”
“Actually, only Lost Paddle is still a Class V. The other have been downgraded to Class IV+.”
“My God!” exclaims a fourth rafter. What would a Class VI be like?”
The guide takes a long pause and makes eye contact with each rafter in the raft. “Niagara Falls,” answers the guide with a sly grin.
The raft goes silent.
“Paddle forward!” Commands the guide.

I admit it. I wasn’t ready the first time I rafted the Gauley. I was overweight. I was relatively inexperienced, having rafted only two previous times on Class III and IV rivers. But at least I thought I knew what I was getting into. I read books on river hydraulics, I learned the names of all the rapids on the Gauley, I learned what the hazards on the river were and what to do if I found myself out of the raft and heading towards one of them.

The day of my first Gauley adventure dawned cold, overcast, and with the threat of rain. It was forty-two degrees outside and the water temperature was only forty-eight. Wet suits, thermal underwear, wool hats and socks were all required. I felt apprehensive, but believed I was ready. I even had a carabiner clipped to my life jacket to clip onto a throw-rope if I found myself in a life-threatening situation. It’s laughable to me now. In a life-threatening situation, a carabiner is pretty useless and downright life-threatening in its own right if you clip on to a throw rope. But I still carry that gold carabiner with me on every rafting trip. It’s my security blanket. It’s my good luck charm. It’s the repository for my confidence while I’m on the water. Hey, if you think it’s funny, check out some hockey player superstitions.

As it turned out, only two of the seven other rafters in my raft had ever rafted before. I was the experienced one. Kristina had rafted with Joey Anderson, our guide, the previous weekend on the Gauley. My friend Matt had rafted in Colorado once, although not a river this difficult. The other five yahoos had never rafted before, but they were determined to go whitewater rafting, and they were determined to raft the best there was. Lucky me.

We got in the raft and Joey had us practice our paddling strokes. If we were going to make it down the river without flipping or any other serious incident, we had to learn to paddle together as a team. Unfortunately, the tiny fifty-plus year-old woman in front of me didn’t know her left from her right, nor forward from backward. So when Joey called “all forward.” She paddled backward—or at least she attempted to paddle backward. Her paddle barely scratched the surface of the water, not helping propel or control the raft at all.

The woman in front of her got nervous and froze when a command was called, afraid of screwing up. So when Joey called a command, she hesitated so long her strokes were always out of sync with the rest of the raft. She would hit her paddle against the guy’s in front of her or the frail fifty year-old woman in front of me, further hampering the movement of the raft and making Joey’s job of guiding more difficult.

The man in the front on the left of the boat proclaimed himself to be an experienced expert rafter. He proved himself to be nothing but hot air in the first warm-up rapid when he extended his paddle and pushed off rocks that passed by or kept paddling when Joey called for a stop. You might think pushing off rocks makes sense, but in rafting, sometimes rocks are used as aids in maneuvering. Instead of helping the raft, this guy was constantly pushing us out of the line we needed to be on to negotiate the oncoming rapids or turns.

The woman behind this man, while full of bravado and excitement on the bus to the put-in, quickly became an irritating whiner after the first warm-up rapid; incessantly complaining: “It’s cold…I’m so cold. These waves are so big! We’re all going to die, aren’t we? I don’t want to die!”

I kid you not. A whitewater river isn’t like an interstate highway. You can’t exactly stop at the next exit and get off at the mall. I turned around and looked at Joey and Kristina. We didn’t say anything. We just locked eyes with each other. We knew we were fucked.

Setting up for Insignificant, Joey told us the line we would take through the rapid. Joey told us about the undercut rock on the right, that if we fell in, we needed to swim away from the rock. Joey told us how important it was for us all to paddle together. This was a major Class V, and we needed to listen and respond to his commands. Joey told us to brace in and make sure we stayed in the raft. It was going to be bumpy at the top of the rapid, and no matter what , do not fall out at the top of the rapid. Alright, here we go. Paddle forward!

I responded and leaned forward to dig my paddle into the water. Unfortunately, the woman in front of me extended her paddle backward and fouled her paddle in mine. It’s the process of digging into the water that actually keeps you in the raft while you paddle. My paddle never touched the water. All my weight and strength I intended to use to move the raft forward went into a great big air stroke. It doesn’t matter what your intentions are if you violate a law of physics. In this court, I was guilty and I was going in. At the top of Insignificant.

Time froze instantly as the intense cold of the water penetrated my wetsuit, paddling jacket, and thermal underwear. Surprisingly, there was no fear. There was no conscious thought. No thinking: “Oh shit! I’m going to die.” No thinking: “Swim away from the rock!” No thinking: “Hang on to your paddle,” or “swim to the raft!” All there was was a feeling of intense cold, a moment of shock, and then a flood of adrenaline and warmth as my body shifted into survival high gear. And then, just perception and reaction as the primitive portions of my brain that act on instinct alone took over.

I remember every indelible moment as if my eyes, ears, and skin suddenly became digital recorders. I remember the bubbles in the gray-green water. Rising to the surface, gasping for breath in the trough of a wave just before its crystal tentacles crashed over me and dragged me under again. The feel of a rock lightly brushing the soles of my shoes before the bottom fell out and I tumbled over into deep water and then popped up to the surface again—just in time to catch a breath and close my mouth before a towering five-foot wave crashed over me and ran up my nostrils, popping up again, spitting out water, taking another quick breath, another monster wave…. And then the voice shouting: “Swim to the raft! Swim to the raft!”

Consciousness returned like a fog burning off, but all my strength had been sucked out of me by the cold water and my body’s struggle to stay alive. I extended my paddle shaft towards the raft and immediately was surprised I was still holding on to it. Cruelly, the other rafters couldn’t figure out it would be helpful to grasp my paddle and pull me towards the raft. Instead, they extended their paddle blades once they realized I was there, but which are impossible to grab hold of. Finally I slipped towards the back of the raft and Kristina and Joey grabbed my life jacket. As we reached the calm pool below Insignificant and I was no more at the mercy of the ender waves, I let go of my paddle and Joey was able to pull me back into the raft.

I collapsed on the floor of the raft, panting hard, completely out of breath. Joey asked if I were alright. I couldn’t talk, so I nodded. My glasses were still on, and much to my disbelief, I didn’t even get a scratch. Joey told me I had just missed the undercut rock. I was informed by a guide in another boat that I had been swept over the nasty pourover—where my feet had brushed against the rock—and that the other guides thought I would be trapped in the nasty hole below the pourover. And I was informed that I did a good job of swimming towards the raft and that everyone was amazed that I hung onto my paddle. I don’t even remember trying to swim. Chalk one up for primal instincts.

After a few moments rest while pulled over against the river bank, Joey helped me back to my seat. I put my arm around his back and then resumed paddling. Over the next twenty minutes while I slowly recovered and we headed towards Pillow Rock I didn’t get worried or scared, but instead I realized that I now had a glimmer of understanding of what being an animal must be like—without conscious thought, just possessing instinct, perception, and reaction. A lion stalking its prey does not think about how good a zebra would taste for dinner. A lion perceives hunger, lies in wait, and reacts to a zebra passing by; not thinking about the hunt, but rather just acting on instinct and learned behavior to make the kill.

Deep down inside, I realized that with conscious thought or not, human beings are animals that evolved in the wild. We might sit in front of computer screens and televisions in our climate-controlled offices and homes, but we aren’t meant to. We are meant to be physically active and to run and to hunt and to interact with our environment—not to stalk cold cuts in a deli. I’m not saying that I would choose a wild existence. But swimming Insignificant—or rather, being swept helplessly down the rapid like a lifeless twig—was the most primal, powerful, and humbling experience of my life. And I have never felt more alive than in that eternity of battling for survival—which as the VCR proves conclusively, lasted a mere twenty-two seconds.

And I also realized, probably for the first time, how fragile my life was. A few feet left or right, an instant sooner or later, and I could have crashed into a rock, been forced under an undercut and drowned, been trapped and recirculated in a hole like a sock in a washing machine’s spin cycle or like a piece of paper being flushed down a toilet. Swimming a Class V rapid is merely a euphemism. No one swims a Class V rapid. You are swept to wherever the river wants to take you. Insignificant is most definitely a misnomer. Next to the power of Insignificant, I was about as strong, or important in the general scheme of things, as a speck of dust.

Now multiply that by a thousand and you have the Niagara River and The Falls. Joyce Carol Oates is masterful in capturing the allure of the river and its ironclad grip on the psyches of those who visit it or who live in close proximity to it, in retelling its most famous myths and legends, in revealing its many layers and secrets, and its greatest horrors in the best tradition of on the scene eye-witness reporting. And that is actually a theme or a device Oates has turned to repeatedly in her writing. In We Were The Mulvaneys one of the sons was a newspaper reporter. In The Falls, newspapers report the vigil of Ariah Littrell waiting for Gilbert Erskine's body to float to the surface and create the legend of the Widow Bride of the Falls. Later, as Ariah's oldest son Chandler tries to talk an old acquaintance from school out of a gruesome murder, the eyewitness account mirrors CNN and network on-the-scene footage. And finally, old newspapers are the key to unlocking the past by recounting the day-to-day history of Dirk Burnaby's crusade in taking on the Love Canal case--an event that just happened to him, but which swept him away to his death as inexorably as crossing the Deadline of the Niagara River.

The basic structure of The Falls is very much a reporting of profound events and sometimes impulsive decisions that shape the lives of the Burnaby family in ways none of them ever imagined nor believed was possible:

--On his honeymoon, Gilbert Erskine throws himself into the Niagara River within 24 hours of their marriage.
--Ariah Littrell begins a stoic vigil, during which she is transformed into the legendary Widow Bride of the Falls.
--The manager of the hotel the Erskines were staying at in Niagara Falls calls his friend, respected lawyer and playboy Dirk Burnaby to come to his aid to help deal with the situation of the widowed bride.
--Over seven days Burnaby becomes smitten with Ariah.
--Erskine's body is recovered and every tiny detail is revealed. Ariah returns to Troy, New York.
--Burnaby impulsively drives to Troy to woo her, impulsively stopping to franticly pick up wildflowers to present to Ariah.
--Ariah unexpectedly transforms from a frigid bride to a sex addict in Burnaby's arms.
--Against all odds and while almost being shunned by both their families, the newlywed Burnaby's begin a family all their own.
--Burnaby encounters Nina Olshaker, takes up her cause and transforms himself from a good ole boy prosperous attorney to a pro bono pariah launching the first major class action lawsuit in the nation's history--to the detriment of his family's financial health, his professional reputation and ultimately his life.
--On the night before his marriage, Royall Burnaby has sex with a lady in black in a cemetary and comes to the realization that he can not get married.

None of these major events are directions any of the characters would have ever forseen their lives would take. All of the decisions made by the characters completely altered their lives. But none of these events or decisions were really deliberate or rational. The events just happened and the characters were swept helplessly along for the ride, like a log, or a body, or a rafter in the powerful current of the Niagara River. Just like the families that were victims of Love Canal.

Of course, while newspaper reporting can be informative, it is rarely art. The power of Joyce Carol Oates is her magnificent prose and her ability to create and draw characters like no other. As events happen to all of the characters of The Falls and their lives transform, Oates gets into each character's head and draws out every nuance of their thoughts and feelings. Their hopes, their dreams, their fears, their grief, their triumphs, their failures, their secrets, and how all of these things weigh upon their minds, the decisions they must make, and the paths that their lives must take.

As readers, we are swept along for the ride with no clue where Oates is going. As in a Class V Rapid, we go to wherever Oates wants to take us. And at the end of every hundred pages or so there is a penetrating insight--if we are paying close enough attention.

If you have been reading my blog, you know that while on my way to Denali on January 19th, driving south from Fairbanks, I was in a rollover car accident. It was an event that just happened right out of the blue, and it started my head spinning. When you survive something like that without a scratch, you think a lot about God and "what ifs." If you are injured in something like that or worse, if you injure someone else, it can really work you over emotionally and lead to self-destructive habits. I believe the lesson, or real insight, of The Falls is that when events happen that dramatically change our lives, there are times when we are caught up in the event and that we literally risk the danger of being swept away. Our saving grace comes when we realize that we are not prisoners of events that just happen to us, like a rollover car accident or falling out of a raft in a very bad place. After swimming Insignificant, instead of being fearful and afraid of whitewater rivers and adventure, I embraced rafting, and through rafting, life itself. In The Falls, Ariah's and Dirk's children are being swept away by the secrets of their past. It's only after Royall starts investigating the events surrounding his father's death and confronting the past Ariah has shielded them from since childhood that the Burnaby family can escape from a series of events that has swept them along like a log in the river since a distant Burnaby ancestor plunged to his death while walking a tight rope over Niagara Falls. It's only then that the process of redemption can begin, and the Burnaby family can fulfill the promise of their lives. It really is a lesson for us all.

Okay, that was not a short review, but it was my very first for a very special novel by one of the world's great authors. And I believe it's only fitting for my very first selection of the Meltwater Book Club.

Thanks for reading.

ANNOUNCING: The Meltwater Book Club!

While every one else is talking about President Bush and the Academy Award nominations today, I'm going to do something different and launch a monthly book club. That's right Oprah, today you have new competition. Currently very minor competition numbers-wise, but competition nonetheless; and I'll put my selections up against the best of any of the book clubs out there. I'll even offer a money-back guarantee. ;-)

The first of every month I'll choose a new selection and post a short review on my blog. For anyone who wants to read the book, there will be a link on the section of the sidebar, and then we can read, debate, discuss, and analyze to our hearts content in weekly updates posted on the blog--but not in the conventional sense. While literary merit will remain a key criterion of the Meltwater Book Club Selections, there will be absolutely no pretension, no fluff, no popularity contest, no obscure hidden meanings at the expense of a great story; and the overriding criterion for me, and hopefully for you as well, will be personal relevance.

There is an amazing amount of good writing out there, and all of us read for a variety of reasons: escape, adventure, vicarious thrills, relaxation and more. But not only does the best writing do all that, it does so in ways that each of us can relate to and learn from. It's fine to read a book to escape, to be entertained, to relax, to learn, and even just to revel in the language of words and rhyme. But when a book transcends all that and the experience of reading and learning leads to a new way of thinking or an insight that we can capture for our very selves and call our very own, then I believe that the book becomes a classic for the ages.

To me, a book does not have to be a Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award Winner or a New York Times Notable Book or receive a starred review from Publisher's Weekly or Booklist or Library Journal to be that classic. To be that classic, the book just needs to resonate in the soul. And that is no short order. When a book does resonate in the soul and can move people in very personal and private ways, it's a moment to rejoice and celebrate. The books that I choose for the Meltwater Book Club accomplish just that, and so much more.

I'm excited about my personal journey of self-discovery this enterprise will take me on. Won't you take this journey with me? The very first selection of the Meltwater Book Club is The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates.

Thanks for reading.