Thursday, December 15, 2005

It's Christmas to me

Well, I tore into the Christmas care package my parents sent me today. For the record, I let it sit almost 18 hours before I finally thought to myself - I'm 26 years old and I'm spending the holidays 3,000 miles from home. I'll open my Christmas gift whenever I want.

On top of a generous helping of calorie and nostalgia-laden peanut butter balls was a pair of CZIP Gloves. They were a cool surprise because they actually are so perfect for my two favorite winter sports - ice biking and snowboarding. Plus, they are unforgettably linked to my long past of physical limitations and subsequent accomplishments.

See, the gloves were designed, patented and are now being marketed by my playground nemesis, Eric Vaughn. I went to kindergarten with this guy, as well as every grade thereafter. And before my childhood experiences faded into the gloss and glamour of memory, he held a special, cold place in my heart.

I was always the kid who was bad at sports - threw the baseball in the dirt five feet in front of me; couldn't launch a kickball to save my life. He used to tease me for it. That's all, really, but these things tend to stick to impressionable minds. I once owned a notebook with at least five pages full of the repeated sentence: "I hate Eric Vaughn."

Eric, of course, grew up to be a athletic, charming, good-looking guy. I didn't play sports in high school, but I started long-distance hiking. I took up snowboarding. I never played kickball again, and I got over it.

In October 2004, my dad and I were planning a trek across the Grand Canyon. We latched on to the annual excursion of the Vaughn clan, including - (cue obvious plot twist) - Eric Vaughn. Hiking the Grand Canyon from rim to rim isn't exactly a Sunday stroll. It's about 26 miles long, with an elevation drop (and subsequent gain) of 6,000 feet. October temperatures at the rim can hover just above freezing. Temperatures can also climb to 100 degrees at the river - during the same day. It's a tough hike. Some might say a physical accomplishment. And there I was, 24 years old and and hiking with the kid who teased me for planting baseballs when I was 6. So, needless to say, I was feeling pretty competitive. I decided that day, no matter what, I was finishing that hike. I wasn't going to let any donkey drag me out of there - not unless I was fully and irrevocably unconscious.

And I think I did pretty well, all said and done. With a relaxed pace, we finished in about 11 hours, including breaks and time spent waiting for people who had to drag a little more. I felt energized when it was done. And, with Eric pulling just ahead of me - a little bit redeemed.

Now he's a big-time outdoor merchandising entrepreneur. And, I gotta say, he designed a really good pair of gloves. The upper glove is attached to a zipper so you can free your fingers without removing the glove - perfect for quick flat tire changes or stuffing down a Powerbar. With a thin pair of neoprene liners, they may be perfect for the Susitna 100 - if for nothing else, to remind me that I gotta keep plugging away. Lest I want to go back to being that picked-on kid, staring at a baseball in the dirt and wondering if it will ever go any further.