In the late ‘sixties an acquaintance of mine had heard that I liked to do things outdoors. He heard correctly. I enjoyed fishing, hiking, hunting, canoeing, etc. I didn’t enjoy baseball, skiing, football, golf, etc. It seemed that Hank was a lot like me, if it connected with nature, it needed exploring.
Hank and I decided we needed to talk about this obsession of ours in a fishing boat. We drove out to my grandparent’s lake home and launched one of the boats and motored over to the tulles where bass were known to hide. Unfortunately we had a third party in the boat with us—my Uncle Sam. I’m just glad Hank turned out to be blessed with an abundance of patience.
Sam was the first and last word on everything fishing. Come to think of it, he was every word in between also. Sam knew that I could fish, so he devoted his time to teaching Hank how to fish. And Hank went along with it. But the reality is that Hank caught a lot of fish that day just because he listened to Sam.
On the way home that evening Hank commented that I was very lucky to have a fishing partner like Sam. It was the one thing he longed for but could never come up with. I said I’d be more than willing to go fishing with him anytime. This was the start of four years of adventure.
Hank was one of the fortunate few with absolute financial stability. He worked, but not for a living. He just wanted to be part of “normal” society. So it was that anytime I could spare to go fishing, Hank was usually available. But Hank wanted to do more than go fishing. His draw to the outdoors was as big as mine, but with a small twist. On one fishing trip Hank mentioned we should try mountain climbing. Mountain climbing?? What did this have to do with fishing? I told him that I just couldn’t see any reason to climb a mountain unless there’s a fish at the top.
“Where’s your sense of adventure, David? I think it will be fun.”
“Oh, come on. I dare you.”
That did it. No one dares David without seeing David go into action. “Okay, I’ll do it but let’s place some money on who will chicken out first.”
Three or four weeks later we were enrolled in a climbing school in Colorado. My job prevented me from pursuing the education full time, but over a period of several months, I completed the two-week course. Hank, naturally, completed it in two weeks. Then we started looking for something to climb.
We found a few low cliffs along the riverbanks, and we even rappelled down the side of a building in downtown Fort Worth. We sought out anything we could go up or down on, but the first real climb for us was near Farmington, New Mexico. Shiprock had been a climbing destination for some fifty years, but only thirty years earlier it had been climbed the first time by a team of Sierra Club members. We gathered together a team of very experienced climbers to join us on this ascent, and each and every one of them tried to talk us out of it.
“It’s too difficult for novice climbers.” We must have heard this fifty times, but no one refused to go with us. So we did it. I look back on that ascent and subsequent decent and think to myself, “That was one of the dumbest things I ever did.” But Hank and I made it just fine, and we liked to think we pulled our own weight the entire time. The following year (1970) Shiprock was closed to all climbers by the Navajo Nation. I don’t know for certain, but we may well have been the last group to legally make the climb.
Since neither Hank nor I backed down from the climb, we had to find another way to settle the wager. I challenged Hank to a climb up Yosemite’s El Capitan. Near the foot of this edifice was a campground where for several years some of the best climbers around would gather to work out new routes to the top. We joined them and soon we were making a two-day climb with a sleepover about half way up. That climb made Shiprock seem like a stroll in the meadow. Well, I’m writing about it, so I must have made it to the top.
Hank and I moved on to other challenges. We spent some time learning to Scuba dive. White water kayaking became first and foremost for a while. We did some hunting, and of course we did some fishing. Then came the challenge to skydive.
The lessons were pretty basic. We had to learn to pack our own parachute. We had to practice jumping off an eight-foot platform and rolling when we hit the ground. I really don’t remember much else. I’m sure there were more instructions, but for years I’ve tried to push this entire memory out of my mind.
Then it came time for the first of the three jumps we were to take. The plane took off and in a few minutes had reached the altitude for first time jumpers. We hooked our static lines to a bar near the doorless opening in the side of the plane, and when he got the signal, Hank jumped.
I stepped into the door and froze. I wasn’t going out of the plane for any amount of money. I planted one hand and one foot on each side of the opening, and when the signal came to jump, I didn’t. The jump captain began to push me, but I was well planted and determined to stay on board. Then the pilot turned the plane on its side and shook it like a can of spray paint until I fell out.
I fell for a lifetime, and then the parachute opened. I continued to fall, just a bit slower now. I watched the ground get closer and closer, and when I hit, I dropped and rolled just like the instructor had taught me to do. I unbuckled the parachute, gathered it into a bundle, and climbed onto the waiting jeep where Hank was sitting and watching the show.
“Man, I can’t wait for my second jump.”
I grabbed my wallet and pulled a twenty from it and handed it to Hank. “Here’s ten for the bet, and ten more to keep you from making any more challenges.”
Yes, I lost the bet. If that company is still in business, I have two jumps coming, but something tells me I’ll never take them. I enjoyed the other challenges and would probably still be doing them with Hank, but a few days after he took his final jump, he died from a brain aneurysm.