Friday, December 21, 2007

Carl was the master

I moved here in 1992, and since then I only came in once ahead of Carl Praeger in a classic ski race at Lake Creek, where he chose to double-pole on his skate skis. The only time.

Another time I thought my time had come was in the Boulder Tour on a very cold day when he was seized by a coughing fit just after the old road crossing. I muttered "Good luck, Carl," and sped away. I was later denied on the flats approaching Murphy's Bridge. He went by in his lanky, long V-2 skate style. I was glad. He was an icon. I didn't deserve, ever, to beat him, except fairly.

Carl, if you ever saw him skate ski, had this long, lazy glide phase. For years we passed one another on the North Valley Trails in the opposite direction. I knew it was him coming from afar, and I know I wasn't the only one to try to emulate his style, or his lifestyle. The ready smile that made one feel that we were all comrades in this life, and the belief that skiing, running and biking were sane ways to make sense of it. Yeah, he exuded life; somehow he was bigger than life.

And, of course, he was so good at everything. If anyone truly owned Baldy, it was him. Take the Baldy Hill Climb. His signature white gloves, which he used to press and relieve the strain on his knees as he climbed quickly ahead of all of us. We all used Carl's time and place to rank ourselves by—to how close we came to him. The reward, not just finishing this grueling race, was to see Carl on top, donning warm clothes and smiling: "That was fun, huh?!" We knew, then, we shared part of his secret. Forever, we should rename it "Carl Praeger's Hill Climb."

So, forgive me, if my tears have splattered these pages—the courage and excellence of his last race against the cancer is an uplifting story for all.

Now I can't wait to get outside and practice what the master has taught: To run, ski or bike is to pursue life.

This from the Tao Te Ching, No. 15: The ancient masters were subtle, mysterious, profound, responsive. The depth of their knowledge is unfathomable. Because it is unfathomable, all we can do is describe their appearance. Watchful, like a warrior crossing an icy stream. Alert, like men aware of danger. Courteous, like visiting guests. Yielding, like ice about to melt. Simple, like uncarved blocks of wood. Hollow, like caves. Opaque, like muddy pools.

Who can wait quietly while their mud settles? Who can remain still until the moment of action? Observers of the Tao do no seek fulfillment. Not seeking fulfillment, they are not swayed by desire for change.

Thank you, Carl.

Daniel H. Pastick


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