An empty hole where my heart was….

 

On Saturday November 20th 2010 my best friend,  Chris “Haliku” Pruchnic  was killed in a tragic ice climbing accident in Rocky Mountain National Park.

 Next fall we would have known each other for 25 years. Chris was more than just a friend- he was a kindred spirit, a brother to me. I never would have imagined that two people unrelated by blood could become so close.

 My heart has been broken. His family has been devastated, and so have I. They say that “time heals” but if anything, as reality began to push denial away, I felt worse, not better. There is an empty place in my heart which I am afraid will never ever go away. A part of me has been lost.

It has taken me months to be able to reflect on our friendship and the profound effect it has had on my life. It has taken me even longer to have the strength to sit down and write all of this without crying. There were many times where I did have to stop and have a moment before going on.

It’s been very difficult to express everything that I feel in words – so this post is really more of a flood of memories as they came to me than anything else. 

There are many other things that I would like to say-I just can’t find the exact words right now.

F & M 1990

Chris and I first met when we were i  college in Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. We knew of each other through several mutual acquaintances. It wasn’t until we learned of each other’s deep love for nature and the outdoors that we became friends.

As many college kids will do, we went paintballing with others. We soon realized that when partnered up on the paintball field, we were a pair to be reckoned with. Without words and hardly as much as a gesture, each knew what the other was thinking and responded accordingly.

In one game, our team was eliminated by a sudden ambush from the other side within the first few minutes of play. The twelve or so remaining members of the other team thought it would be easy to finish us off. Many of them were eager to get Chris and I back for our previous sniper attacks that had taken them out of games earlier that morning. Because they out-numbered us,  they were overconfident.

They were in for a big surprise. 

Who is who? Does it matter?

As city kids and suburbanites, their limited knowledge of the outdoors and stealth came from watching movies such as “Rambo.”  Chris and I, on the other hand,  were truly children of the forest. Both of us had spent many hours of our childhoods exploring the woods, tracking and stalking deer and other wildlife. Despite the numerical advantage, the odds were not in their favor.

Slowly and surely Chris and I picked off the other players one by one until we were the last two standing. With only minutes to spare, we captured the other team’s flag as the clock ticked down. Eliminated players from both sides cheered us on.

After that, Chris and I only became closer. We spent many hours hiking, climbing, camping and exploring.

A favorite place for us to go on an afternoon free from classes was the Pinnacle Overlook. We’d find pawpaws in season and gorge ourselves on them. We’d  stalk quietly through the mountain laurel, skinny-dip in the cold clear streams on hot days and explore hidden caves we found.

Sometimes inside the caves, we’d discover turkey vulture nests complete with fuzzy-white fledglings hissing and snapping their beaks at us.

Don’t annoy them too much, we learned, or they will regurgitate the fetid-vile contents of their stomachs in self-defense!

It was near here that Chris and I cut the bamboo that later (with the assistance of my Dad) became my first Native American Flute I ever made and played. I still have that old squeaky flute but have upgraded to more musically-sound and better-tuned instruments made by  flute-makers more skilled than I.

As a pre-med student, there were a number of required classes I had to take. My electives, however, were open to almost anything that I desired. Chris and I took many of the same classes including archaeology and anthropology. We sat in the front row, occasionally correcting the professors on mis-statements they made (you could say we were archaeology and anthropology nerds).

It was here that Chris’s passion for archaeology began. We both had an interest in natural history, living off the land, and Native American history and lore. As former students of Tom Brown’s Tracking and Wilderness Survival School , we were inspired to practice our knowledge in real world settings.

We experimented with flint-knapping stone points and foraging for our own food.  Chris is the only person I have met besides myself who could recite the 8 common uses of the cattail plant from memory. We would test each other by bringing each other to a tree with eyes closed and then see if the other could guess the species of tree by the feel of its bark. While almost everyone else thought of my encyclopedic knowledge of edible plants as a bit odd- Chris instead valued it as a useful outdoor skill.

We went for night hikes in all kinds of weather without headlamps or flashlights. Sometimes we would have a little fun by suddenly and silently appearing  next to others in camp who were not as aware or outdoor savvy as we were.

Is it possible to run through a pitch-black forest at night without artificial light and without hitting anything? 

Yes, it is possible as Chris and I demonstrated to each other. We avoided trees and other objects by “feeling” the trail with our feet through our moccasins. We listened for the sound of our footsteps bouncing off of objects in a kind of primitive echo-location.

Chris and I were ultra- and trail runners even before we knew what those were.

We would often go camping with no more than a tarp, a blanket for each of us, our knives and the clothes on our backs. We once spent a wonderful long weekend in the Clear Shade Natural area near Johnstown, PA. Despite bringing with us no more than a sack of potatoes as backup food, we ate well. 

For us, living in the outdoors with only what nature provided was about doing what our ancestors have done for hundreds of thousands of years.  It was not about “Man vs. Nature” or any kind of manly survival challenge  as so often portrayed by the media and in novels.

If anything,  living off the land and being at ease in nature was about “being one with the Earth” as so many indigeous peoples around the world have believed and practiced for generations. As much as we modern humans would like to think of ourselves as being “advanced” compared to previous generations, in truth we are no different- physiologically, intellectually or spiritually- from the hunter-gatherer ancestors in our past.

Nature is neither evil- nor is it benevolent- it just is. If you play by the rules of nature, you are careful and you don’t do anything stupid- you can live well on the land. On other other hand, if you are arrogant and think that you are smarter or more powerful than the forces of nature-  you will lose every time. Sometimes, even despite the best of your preparations, bad things still happen. Don’t take it personally, it just is how it is.

Once while on a white-water raft trip with the F&M Outdoor Club on the Youghiogheny River, one of the guys in our one of our rafts fell into the water.

We pulled him out after no more than a minute. But it was early spring and the water  was ice-cold snow melt.  The day was cold and gray in the 40-50s. He shivered- quickly he became cold and pale and his lips turned blue.  He began slurring his words.

Chris and I realized that hypothermia was setting in. As co-leaders of the trip, we  made a unanimous and mutal decision to stop and build a fire to warm him up.

As we collected sticks, twigs and dry wood to build the fire, one of  the other rafters questioned our reasoning. He warned us that making campfires on the edge of the river was against the rules and if a park ranger came by, we would be in trouble.

Well, we were miles from the nearest road. Indeed, if a ranger did pass by, we would have no trouble explaining our situation- we would welcome their assistance.

The last thing that guy said as we pushed him aside to get the fire going was,  “Well, you know, I’m an Eagle Scout!” We finally told him to either start helping us out or just shut up.

After a few minutes, we started our fire- no matches- we used flint and steel of course. The soaked rafter slowly warmed and we offered him clothing off of our own backs to keep him warm. The remainder of the afternoon, although chilly was uneventful.

Ever since then, an inside joke between Chris and I when confronted with an over-confident, outspoken, but inexperienced individual in the ourdoors was, “He must be an Eagle Scout!!!”  

Paddling in the Quetico

The summer before I began medical school, Chris and I took a few weeks and traveled to the Boundary Waters Recreational area of northern Minnesota. From there we paddled by canoe across the US/Canada border into the Quetico Provincial Park of northwestern Ontario.

Quetico has over 600 lakes and is a 1,180,000-acre wilderness where only non-motorized travel is allowed. It is a backwater canoeists’ paradise. We saw very few other human beings while there, these were mostly seen at the borders in and out of the park.

From one lake to another

Another beaver dam!

 

Portage
A little firewood

Instead of one large canoe, we decided to travel with two lighter solo canoes.  It would be safer in the event that something happened to one of the craft. We also would have the freedom to paddle where we wanted to. Plus a solo canoe would be much lighter to carry than a two-man boat.

Quetico, the Boundary Waters and nearby Voyageur National Park are a system of lakes, streams and rivers carved out of that granite by glaciers during previous Ice Ages.

When we were fortunate, we were able to find streams connecting the lakes. At other times, to get to others we had to carry our canoes and gear overland- this is known by the term the French Voyageurs use: portage.

Our longest portage was several miles one way around a particular treacherous set of rapids that were flowing in the wrong direction. We each had to make three trips total: one for our boats and two for our gear.

By the time our portage was over, the sun was beginning to set and it was time to make camp.

Despite the sweat, mud and mosquitoes, these photos of Chris are exactly as I will always remember him in the outdoors. He was always smiling, no matter how tough or unpleasant the situation.

Looking for pictographs
Taking a closer look

Quetico  is quiet and empty of human life now but has been inhabited for thousand of years by indigenous people, some of whom left traces of their lives here before us.

On certain rock outcroppings, it is possible to find red  pictographs of  moose, caribou, other animals, canoes, and geographic designs.

 Chris and I greatly enjoyed searching for these pictographs on likely looking rock outcroppings we passed.

Chris and I soon settled into our daily schedule of packing the boats, traveling to our destination, perhaps stopping on an island or at a portage for a light lunch and then finding our next night’s camp by early afternoon. 

Camp cook

Then before the evening meal, we decided whether we would like to eat out of our food supplies or instead have something fresh- if the answer was yes- eat something fresh- I would go out to catch some fish or forage for any wild greens that could be harvested. Chris would then prepare my catch and what I had gathered.

It was better than anything one could order in the finest restaurant!

Although I am a skilled camp cook myself, Chris loved cooking in camp so much that I admit that I became pretty lazy over the years.

Why should you bother when there’s someone else who loves to do it and does it so extremely well?

During our trip, we were always careful to pay attention to the afternoon cloud formations. This was summer and thunderstorms occurred almost every afternoon. We had a few close calls and some heavy paddling into the wind.

 Fortunately, however,  were never caught out on open water during a storm.

Once we had hail the size of quarters. As we rushed to make sure our boats were secure and then into our tent, we were struck by several painful pieces that left bruise marks. Afterwards, we wondered what we should do with all the ice lying around.

We made ice tea!

At one camp, I walked down to the lake in the evening to get some water. I noticed a snout of a turtle break the surface and jumped in after it. Having grown up in the creek bottom lands, swamps and marshland- I had captured turtles by hand many times before. It was nothing new for me.

Snapping turtle

Turtles, however, are somewhat like ice bergs. One never really knows what lies below from what you are able tosee above water. As I approached, I was shocked to see how big it was- it turned and started crawling on the bottom towards me- and towards my bare feet. 

I jumped and grabbed its tail to keep control of it and so I would know where its head was.

You see, I  didn’t like the idea of losing any toes.

Once it realized I was bigger that it was, the turtle would have none of it and literally started dragging me to deeper water. I struggled to catch my footing on the slippery algae-covered rock.

I shouted out loud, “Turtle!”

Chris grabbed his ever-present camera and ran over to me. Being from western Pennsylvania, he expected a few inch long painted turtle- not the 40 or more pound snapping turtle I was wrestiling with.

I’ve caught many snappers before and since- but this was the biggest I have ever caught. Look at it’s neck- it’s as thick as my leg!!!

We wondered how old he or she  was? 50 years old? 100 years? Even older? In this ancient land of cold water and short summers, there was no telling how old such an behemoth might be.

Chris and I promised that if we were ever back in this part of Quetico- we’d make an attempt to see if we could find this giant again.

Maybe someday I’ll even come back to show my son or daughter?” I wondered. I always assumed that Chris would be with me if I ever did.

Chris and I prided ourselves in the ability to make a fire in all kinds of weather and by all methods, including by friction in the traditional manner with a bow-drill. I haven’t made a fire with a bow drill for 20 years- I think it’s time I re-learned that skill and passed in on to my son, Nathan.

I had hoped that it would have been Chris and I to pass these outdoor and wilderness skills on together to my son. Having no children of his own; Chris was a caring and loving uncle for Nathan.  

We talked often about the adventures he, Nathan and I might share in future years:Wilderness survival experiences? Persistence hunting for big game? Ultrarunning in Europe, Africa and Asia? Canoeing in the Boundary Waters and Quetico? Riding with the nomads in Mongolia? 

We talked about someday doing these all- and more.You name it, if it involved travel and/or the outdoors, Chris thought about possibly doing it some day.  Many of his dreams he actually acheived- but he was not ready to die- there were many other dreams not yet realized which he looked forward to pursuing in the future.

 It makes me sad to realize that of any outdoor adventures we may end up doing- Nathan, Jeanne and I will now be doing them without him. Chris subsequently went on the get a Master’s degree in Archaeology and spent some time working on archaeological sites in the Southwestern US.

It was while working as an archaeologist in the Southwest that Chris was given his nickname: “Haliku” which is Zuni for “Bighorn Sheep” because of his predisposition for climbing up and down rocks.  

Yes, as long as I’ve known him, Chris was most definitely a Haliku.

I remember admonishing him, even when we were still back  in college: “Now you be careful and don’t stand so close to the edge, I don’t want you to fall or something.”

Chris had a hat that resembled the one that Indiana Jones wore. Unlike Indiana Jones- Chris was the real deal: he was a real-life archaeologist, adventurer and explorer. The hat was given to me and fits me perfectly- our body types were similar enough that many of our clothing and gear fit each other.

I hold and look at that hat now and tears fill my eyes.

I don’t want any of these material things of his. I just want Chris back. I want to see him wearing that hat again with that smile he always had while doing the things he loved.

Sam, Chris, Me, Ryan and David

When Jeanne and I married, Chris was the best man at our wedding.

Later, when we went on our 6 month “honeymoon” horse-riding and mule-packing trip along the Continental Divide Trail from the Mexican border through New Mexico and Colorado towards Wyoming, Chris provided logistical support mailing packages of supplies to pre-arranged mail drops.

Chris was always great with organizing trips and logisitics and only became better with time and experience.

Home sweet home in the Bighorns
My cross cut saw and I

While in Wyoming, Chris and I went on several elk hunting trips with varying degrees of success.

However, for him as well as for me, the hunt was not about whether we brought home any meat or not. It was about the experience, being part of nature and so on. Some of the best hunting trips we ever went on were ones on which we never had a chance to shoot anything.

On one trip, we packed on our horses into the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. What was more important to us than success in our hunt was getting far enough away from the roads so we wouldn’t see any other humans.We packed a wall tent for our gear and for us to sleep in.

I brought my cross cut saw to cut wood and the timbers to set up the tent. Unlike a chain saw, a cross cut is quieter, lighter and does not use gasoline for fuel.

Chris hiked in while I led the horses who carried our tent, gear, food and other supplies. After Jeanne and my adventure horse packing across the west, there is one thing that I definitely do know how to do- and that is how to pack a horse and tie a diamond hitch.

Brandy, Jezzy and Lady on the Highline 

Bighorns Elk Camp

At nights and went in camp, we tied the horses up to the highline so they would stay in camp and not wander off. In the evenings and times we were in camp and not riding, we would picket or hobble them out in a meadow so they could fill their bellies.

One day we hunted separately. I came across Chris’s footprints from earlier in the morning. A group of ten or twelve elk were heading down off the mountain. Chris followed them. I also noted that mountain lion tracks came later following the elk- and Chris.

I continued on my hunt until dark. I expected Chris to walk into camp any minute but he did not. We had two-way radios but all I heard in response to my calls was empty static. I saddled Lady and Brandy- I rode to where I had last seen Chris. It was pitch black dark- around 9 PM.

No sign of him anywhere.

The mind does funny things in the dark solitude of a cold mountain night.  I knew Chris could take care of himself in the outdoors- but I also wondered if anything had happened. Could he have sprained an ankle? What about that mountain lion?

There was no point in me blindly going down into the canyons where he had gone. I stayed on the high ridge where the trail back to our camp was. I called on the radio every 15 or 20 minutes. I listened for a response.

Nothing.

 Hours later, I was extremely relieved to finally hear his faint voice come through the static of the radio.

He was OK!

Into the high country

After 30 minutes of riding and slipping on the snow covered trail, I picked him up with the horses. It was 2AM before we finally made it back to camp.

Chris told me his story. He had seen a bull elk and chased him in a cat and mouse game- we estimate by looking at the maps the next morning he covered at least 20 – 30 miles total. The bull elk would stay just out of sight, just out of rifle range- until darkness fell and Chris had no choice but to turn around.

Years later we wonder- could he have caught that bull elk if he had been a trained ultrarunner as he was later in life? We dreamed about someday returning and finding out.

Chris and I shared many other similar adventures in the outdoors- some were eventful and some not. But every single one of them are part of our shared memory- a memory that no one else but us two share.

After leaving archaeology to find a “real” job, Chris eventually became a manager of disaster preparedness for Qwest since 2002 and was a member of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Association of Contingency Planners – a group that prepares disaster contingency plans. He had contingency plans for his contingency plans.

Despite his love for outdoor sports such as alpine and ice climbing which many would consider inherently risky, Chris was always known as being thoughtful, prepared and cautious. That has made his death even more of a shock and a surprise.

Chris was always eager to help out with any work or chores that needed to be done around our place. On our ranch in Wyoming, Chris eagerly volunteered to help with laying irrigation pipe and fixing fence (only a really good friend would volunteer to help out with that- and for no pay).

We always enjoyed when Chris, Ash and their “kids” (ie canine children) would come visit us. We’d get some work done, do fun stuff, eat well, and just generally enjoy each other’s company (dogs and humans included).

This spring, Chris helped me dig holes to plant our 124 grape vines here in South Dakota. After Nathan and I found a flint spear point in our vineyard while preparing the soil, Chris came up with its future name: “Lithic Vineyard.”

We dreamed of what type of lithic points we might put on labels of future vintages. Chris already had plans to use a different series every year. For example, we’d put Clovis points on the label one year and the points of another culture the next.

It makes me sad that he will not be able to share in the fruits of that labor when we finally open our first bottle of wine from that vineyard, I hope in 4 or 5 years. Whenever it is that we open that first bottle, it will be dedicated to his memory.

Our log cabin is heated primarily with wood which we cut ourselves on our Black Hills property. Splitting firewood by hand is a great upper body workout which Chris always enjoyed. When I purchased a hydraulic  wood splitter this fall, he reminded me to make sure to leave some of the wood unsplit so he could do it by hand next time he came up to visit. I promised him I wouldn’t split all our wood with the new splitter. I’d leave a wood pile just for him. 

The day Chris died, but before we learned of the sad news, Jeanne and I were returning with a load of  firewood from our forest. I mentioned to her about me needing to make sure to not forget to leave some wood for Chris to split. 

I will fulfill that promise. There will be a pile of wood in our forest, forever left unsplit, forever waiting for him.

Chris was my favorite homebrew beer taster. He gave me frank comments about the quality- or lack thereof- of all of my creations.He offered to do almost any chore around our places, as long as I had homebrew to re-pay him with afterwards. Fortunately for both of us, I always had plenty of tasty-cold homebrew on on tap for us to enjoy.

 He came up to our annual Oktoberfest celebration and beer tasting this year. Little would we know, it would be the last time Jeanne, Nathan and I would see him alive.

I have a number of friends- I cherish the friendship of each of them. However, often what happens with friendship is that as life moves on, and so too do friends. We each go in our separate and different lives and slowly drift apart. Perhaps we stay in touch with an occasional email or a Holiday letter but that’s about it.

Unlike most friends, however, Chris and I stayed close in the years and decades after college. We spoke via email 4 or 5 times a week, sometimes more. We spoke by phone and saw each other in person no less often than every several weeks. As our lives and careers took us in varying directions, we always found some connection, some way to stay in touch and keep doing things together.

We knew each other so well- we could easily finish each other’s sentences. Chris knew what I was thinking, often before even I did.

I am a unique, passionate, stubborn, complex, driven, multi-faceted, slightly-eccentric individual. Although there are many who know a part of me, there are very few people who know and understand all of me. Chris was one of these few people. He understood and loved me as a brother, despite my flaws, my idiosyncracies and my faults.

I realize now, that our friendship is the exception rather than the rule. Most people never are fortunate to find a kindred spirit as we did. Many are never even as close to members of their own family, much less to a friend, as we were to each other.

I am grateful that we had the friendship we did- but am extremely sad that I won’t see him again in this world.

Chris developed many interests including climbing. He was proud of summiting Denali last year and was looking forward to going to Iran in June 2011 as part of an invited climber’s exchange. He was actively involved as Chair of the Front Range Chapter of the American Alpine Club. I am sure that had he lived, he would’ve been someday bound for the Himalayas. He loved scuba diving and went on to become an open water instructor.

I never got into the climbing or diving as Chris did. I was hesitant to climb, partly because of my concerns about staying alive and safe for my son and partly because of my own physiologic-limitations which prevent me from doing well at altitude.   I did not want to be the “weakest link”- as I know I would have been. I would have been the one holding everyone else back.

As for diving,  Chris told me I would have enjoyed it as a naturalist and biologist. I am sure he was correct.  I would have loved exploring the underwater world. However, I don’t have gills; there is something just a little disconcerting about going deep underwater beyond where you own held-breath can take you…. as amazing and as beautiful as I know it must be.

Nevertheless, Chris and I found many other things to do together: running ultramarathons, hiking/camping, elk hunting and so on. When I say we “ran ultramarathons together,” what I mean is that we traveled to races together and ate/recovered together afterwards. Chris was a strong mid- to front-pack runner; I shuffle along in the back-of-the-pack.

Despite this, and despite having to always wait up to for me at the top of the hill, he never made me feel less than adequate. If anything, he inspired me to never give up and do my best within the limits of my own physiology.

When we traveled back to his hometown of Johnstown, PA this spring to run the Laurel Highlands 77 mile trail ultramarathon- it was a great chance to spend some time with Mom and Dad (Carol and Bill). 

Before the race, while driving from the airport,  I remember a conversation we had. We couldn’t believe we were now in our early 40s. We certainly didn’t feel like it.  “I can’t believe our lives are half-over. Life is so short.” is what he said to me.

How little did we both know.

During that hot, humid and difficult race, I was pulled at that for missing a cut-off but Chris ran the entire distance. As he limped around with a cane after the race, I kidded with him: “The only chance I have in keeping up with you is if  I make sure you’re tired and sore from running 77 miles first!”

20 years ago

20 years later

Carol took a photo of us standing next to her red Mazda Miata- a re-enactment of a previous photo she had taken of us 20 years earlier.

We both had no doubt that we’d pose for a similar photo in another 20 years.  

Sadly, now that will never be.

Chris at Boulder 100

I could not have succeeded in running my first 100 mile ultramarathon at Lean Horse this summer, were it not for his support and encouragement. Above all else, Chris was loyal.

I tried twice before at running 100 miles and I failed. The third time he waited a long time (in my case a VERY long time) while he crewed and paced me so I eventually could get it done.

My only regret is that I could not be there when he attempted his own 100 mile ultramarathon at Boulder, CO this past October. I am grateful that our mutual ultrarunning friend Barry Reese could be there. Before the race, Chris was unsure if he could do it. I was confident that he could- and told him so. I predicted a sub-24 hour finish. He crushed it in 22:41!! I was am so proud of him!

More than anything, Chris loved to travel, to experience new cultures, and to see the world. As long as I have known him, his goal was to see all seven continents which he did.  He wanted to see and experience Antarctica firsthand- so he went there to do the only job he could find- as a cook.

A favorite phrase of his was “Get out and explore the world!”

Yes, Chris, we promise we will.

The night I learned of his death,  I went out into the darkness alone. Snow was falling quietly through the pines. It was the same kind of quiet night that he and I would often go out for a night hike in the past.

Waves of tears fell into the cold white pure snow.

I played my Siyotanka (Native American Flute) until my fingers were numb and I could play no longer.Click on the photo to the left for a link to my video tribute.

I later played Amazing Grace at his memorial service.  That song has always brought tears to my eyes. To get through that song without breaking down and sobbing during the memorial service was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life.

I was glad to make the acquaintance of so many of the others whom Chris had made an impact on- many of whom he had spoken to me about but whom until then I had never met in person-  but not the reason for which we finally met.

It makes me sad to think that I will never see him again.

I cannot believe that I can’t email him or call him up on the phone to tell him about the next crazy idea I have for future outdoor adventures- such as yet another even more challenging ultramarathon I thought we should try.

Indeed, one of our last email exchanges was about moving up from traditional single-stage ultramarathons to multi-day adventure running events.As always, Chris was up for any new and difficult challenge. He lived his life with a zeal that few others have. In his short life, he saw and experienced things that most of the rest of us only dream of.

Chris made me promise that if something ever happened to him while he was doing what he loved, to not be sad but instead to celebrate his life. He told me if he had to,  he would much rather die on a mountain than in a car accident or from a terminal illness.

It is one thing, however,  to promise a loved one something when they are standing there asking you and entirely another thing to follow through with that promise after the unthinkable happens. Chris said he understood the risks and was willing to accept them. He said he’d be OK with it if something happened and he asked for me to be OK with it too which I said I would.

Well I take that promise back- I’m not OK with it!  I’m not OK with it at all!  I was looking forward to 40 or so more years of friendship together!  42 years old is too young to die!I will miss being able to see and talk to him again. I will miss all of the future potential memories we could have made with each other.

Some people, trying to console me, tell me to not forget that he will always live on in my heart and in the memories I have. It is true that Chris and I did things that few others have. It is true he had a profound effect on my life and I shall never forget him. However, although I know why people try to console me by saying what they say and I understand what they mean by it, as of yet, it is still difficult to take comfort in it.

I have finally  accepted that the situation is what it is and that I have no control over it.

I still have trouble, however, accepting that I will never see him again.

As we see things given to us from him over the years and memories continue to flood my heart- I’d like to imagine that he’s not really dead- he’s just out there on one more last grand adventure. We all are simply taking care of his gear and other stuff until he gets back.

On top of Denali 25May2009

 

Every ultramarathon, trail run, hike, or other outdoor adventure I ever do for the rest of my life will be dedicated to and will be done with him in mind. If anything, I will be even more likely to pursue some of those experiences that we had schemed and dreamed about in the past.

 I haven’t signed up for any races this year and I’m not sure if I will- it’s just too painful to think about doing them without him.  I will again-someday- just not now.

This January I got a mountain lion hunting license and have been attempting to run one down on foot. It is the sort of crazy, impossible outdoor adventure that Chris and I would have done together; now I must do it alone. I have felt very ambivalent about hunting mountain lions – normally I would never hunt anything I wasn’t planning on eating, or which wasn’t planning on eating me. Being predators, they think a lot more like humans than most other animals in the forest.

I’m still not sure how much I want to shoot one. What I was looking for was a reason to get out into the high wild places in the winter to be alone with myself and my thoughts. Maybe on some level even be closer to Chris?

But that will be a story for another time….

The living must go on living; Chris would’ve wanted us to.  It  just makes me so very sad that he won’t be able to be here with us when we do the things he would’ve been doing with us.I know that somehow his family and I must go on.

I know that with time our pain must improve. I just can’t see that happening right now.Actually, I have trouble seeing it ever happening. 

Every where I look and in every thing I do, there is something that reminds me of him. He is still with me even though he’s no longer with me.  Gosh I miss him.

There’s an empty hole where my heart was….

Mitakuye Oyasin

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24 responses

  1. A beautiful tribute to a fantastic brother Tom.
    May the energy be with you my friend, may the sunshine of the spirit shine up you once again as you get through this process. My heart breaks for you. My prayers are with you.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    • Thanks Steve. Someday there will be happier days and I shall run again. I know it is what Chris would’ve wanted. When I do, I hope to see you out there on those trails. Take care.

      February 12, 2011 at 1:16 pm

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this news with me. I am actually crying as I read/write this.

    It was the first thing that caught my eye this morning after I logged on. The morning after I finally with much struggle, finished my first Marathon. Haliku would have been one to celebrate my achievement, though I was not so happy with it. He would have been one to put it all into good perspective.

    All I could think of was this Post..http://mizunogirl.wordpress.com/2010/11/18/lifes-little-updates-11/#comments
    ..where Haliku came on and just gave me some simple advice. The funny thing was that advice got me through the training and I repeated it to myself several times during the race. I am not just a little creeped out that I responded to him on the day that the accident occurred.

    It makes me angry that I can not share with him how important his little comment on my writing was to my running.

    My heart breaks for you as well. To lose a friend that spanned the years is something that words can not describe. It is hard to find comfort at these times as you know. And whatever words I might offer you would simply sound patronizing or worse. So I will just let you know that I share your sorrow, and know the deepness of your grief.
    If there is a way, I would like to express to his family in a note or some such the value he added to my life.
    and thank you…for sharing so much of you.

    February 7, 2011 at 3:50 am

    • I was wondering how to let everyone Chris had known only through the bloggosphere about what had happened.

      He touched a great many people in a great many ways.

      It’s been tough to cope with this- I am so fortunate to have the love of my family and friends- I just don’t know what I would have done without them.

      Thank you so much.

      February 12, 2011 at 1:23 pm

      • just a note to check in on you. I’ve been thinking of you, and would like to hear how you are doing, either here or you can use my email….

        March 13, 2011 at 5:10 pm

      • I’m hanging in there… it is and continues to be difficult. I haven’t run much for months. I just don’t feel up to it.

        Finally I was down in Texas for a meeting this past weekend and the warm days got to me. There were trails at a quiet 1,100 acre nature preserve near the resort.

        I only brought my shoes not my Vibram Five Fingers but suddenly had the urge to feel the warm ground under my feet. So I took off my shoes and hid them in some brush.

        It felt good to run a few miles barefoot in the forest. I felt at home, even though Texas is far from my home. I was careful to avoid fire ant nests, prickly pear, sharp rocks and copperheads. The run itself felt good but I was sore afterwards. It is amazing how fast one detrains and becomes soft.

        If Chris were here, he would’ve run with me- on some level I feel he is still with me- it is as if sometime I will come around a bend in the trail sometime and be surprised to see him sitting on a rock smiling at me with that grin he always had. I miss him.

        Thanks for checking up on me.

        March 14, 2011 at 4:52 pm

  3. This is heartbreaking news. I had been in email correspondance with Chris since early last year when he found my blog. I’m an archaeologist. He told me all about his background and I shared mine with him. We also chatted about our lives and families. He mentioned you several times and his love for you was obviously profound. He always referred to you as his brother. Chris consoled me when my grandmother passed away in July. His support was selfless and genuine and it truly helped me.

    The last email I received from him was in mid-November, telling me of his planned trip to eastern Europe over Thanksgiving. When he hadn’t posted to his blog or emailed me again, I assumed he was busy, hopefully with fun new adventures but I also feared that one of his parents had gotten sick again. I emailed him shortly before Christmas to wish him happy holidays.

    I can’t believe he is gone. I never met him in person, but the force of his personality came through his emails. I cannot even comprehend the profoundness of your loss. He only touched my life briefly, but its affect will be lasting. I am so sorry for you and your family. Please accept my heart felt condolences.

    February 7, 2011 at 8:44 am

    • I am glad that you found this… I knew that you and he had been in contact. I just did not know how best to let you know. There is no best way of passing on this kind of news.

      This is the post that no one ever wants to write. It has all been so heart-breaking and so tragic.

      There is so much more I wanted to say but between my tears, I am at a loss for words. If Chris were reading this, right now he would’ve been smiling and kidding with me: “Tom at a loss for words? Never!”

      Thank you so much.

      February 12, 2011 at 1:34 pm

  4. Mary Vaught

    Tom,

    What a wonderful tribute to Chris and to your friendship. I hadn’t planned on starting my Monday in tears. I too am having difficulty with Chris being gone. After 20 years of knowing and loving Chris as an amazing and wonderful friend, I still expect to see him on facebook, receive e-mails and talk with him on the phone. I can still hear his laughter and the warmth of his voice in my heart.

    Thank you for sharing your amazing friendship with me. I know he felt the same way about you and truly loved you as a brother.

    Mary Vaught

    February 7, 2011 at 9:12 am

    • I too have moments where I think: “I can’t wait to tell this to Chris!”

      That thought is then suddenly followed by the realization that I can’t.

      It all makes me so sad.

      Thank you.

      February 12, 2011 at 1:38 pm

  5. How devastating. I’m so sorry.

    I would think the best tribute to Haliku would be to pick one of your adventures, plan to make it happen and do it. He would want you to fill that empty hole, no matter how hard. You owe it to yourself and your family to be whole and to be a living tribute to a man who was so full of life.

    Nothing will ever replace a friend as wonderful as he. Once again, I’m so sorry.

    Dusty

    February 7, 2011 at 9:31 am

    • Yes, someday I will do some of the adventures we had dreamed about, either on my own or with others. It is as Chris would’ve wanted it.

      Right now, my emotional well is empty- it will take some time before I feel ready to do anything other than my usual routine. But someday I will.

      I hope to see you at a race or other event sometime.

      Thank you and take care.

      February 12, 2011 at 1:42 pm

  6. Carol

    Tom, that was beautiful. Bill and I are thankful that Chris had such a wonderful friend. I still can’t believe that Chris is gone. I have a big hole in my heart. Chris was always a loving and thoughtful son. Chris thought of you as a brother, and we will always think of you as a son. Love, Carol

    February 7, 2011 at 10:39 am

    • Just as Chris was a second brother to me- you and Bill have been second parents. I love you both. Take care of yourselves. Tom

      February 12, 2011 at 1:44 pm

  7. Tim

    A beautiful telling of a beautiful friendship… I couldn’t read it all in one pass, but would rather savor the beauty of the telling of one who has passed on. Thanks, Fearless…

    February 9, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    • This was hard to write- it was even harder to go through all the old pictures and the flood of memories associated with them.

      Now as I sit down and re-read what I have written above, it is hard to get through it all at once.

      Fearless- I didn’t think anyone would ever call me by that name ever again….

      Thanks and take care.

      Tom

      February 12, 2011 at 1:48 pm

  8. Thanks for your kind words. I’m pleased that I was able to complete, and that I remain uninjured.

    I bubbled up with enthusiasm at your suggestion of running an Ultra, the 50K kind, not the 100 Mile kind!

    I am very much interested, while I did not have the relationship with Chris that you did, I feel the need to do something special in his memory and to honor him.

    I know you don’t feel like lacing up much right now. Soooooo, If you can see yourself doing this….let’s be in touch to plan. I have a half in October and my Second Marathon (ha I enjoyed saying that) in November. I do not know much about the ultras, so I would rely on your choice for one that is doable. (Please no climbing on my hands!). Of course, I would prefer something that is beautiful single track….not asphalt, or those that have you run on a track for 12 hours (WTH? run in circles?)
    I’m going to post the exact same comment over at your blog now, just in case you don’t see this on my blog….

    Know that I am still thinking about you. You and Chris have been on my mind ever since I got the news.

    February 15, 2011 at 1:31 pm

  9. I am so sorry, I missed this post last year. You have written a great tribute to a friendship that many of us will never know.

    My hope is that you find peace in the coming months. Thank you for sharing.

    March 13, 2011 at 9:04 am

    • Yes, thanks.

      It’s been difficult…. the only time I am not thinking about Chris are moments when my mind is occupied by something else. Otherwise I think of him all the time.

      March 14, 2011 at 4:38 pm

      • Just checking in on you. I find myself still thinking of Chris as well, usually when I am thinking about running….I want to run Comrades with you in 2013…in his honor….

        July 23, 2011 at 6:30 pm

  10. Tom

    Thanks for checking up on me. I haven’t posted anything or checked out anyone else’s blog because I’ve been so darn busy. I think I should post a short update. It would be the same- I’m still sad but there’s not anything I can do about it. I’d love to do Comrades- do you know if it will be an “up” or a “down” race in 2013? It seems so far away but it will l be here before we know it. Chris and I talked about doing Comrades (and many other races). The main factor will be if Nathan and Jeanne can come (If I go, I will definitely insist that they do).

    July 24, 2011 at 10:07 am

    • 2013 is an “up” race. It is easier on the quads and requires less control. I think a trip like that without your family would be pointless! I’m still in recovery (now with Tyson Gay in the same rehab place as me, wow…) from my hip surgery, but I do seem to be doing well.
      Glad you have been busy and hanging in there.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:16 pm

  11. gooddogbill

    Thanks for the wonderful piece. I’ve been going through a bit of a bad patch recently, but as I went through some of your writing this morning–especially this one, I felt some peace come over me. Kind of like being out in the woods or on the mountain alone and having all the “noise” turn off. I much appreciate the time you take to explore things and put your interior out there to share this miraculous opportunity we sometimes take for granted. Nice going.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:25 am

    • Thank you. Tomorrow will be the Lean Horse Hundred 2011. I am not running this year, except as a pacer. I just didn’t have the strength in my heart to commit to training for such an arduous endeavor this year. But I will be volunteering, crewing and pacing a friend. Giving back can often be an important part of the healing process. I hope in 2012 I will be back running events of some form again. All the best. Tom

      August 26, 2011 at 10:03 am

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