When you are a 58 year old kid like I am, and you have a habit of engaging in adrenaline fueled fun, you collect a number of friends along the way who are, for lack of a better word,”characters.” I always talk about grabbing life by the horns and enjoying all that life has to offer. Well a lot of my friends take that rather literally. Bart Raitano, my 75 year old skiing phenom friend in Vail who has a knee replacement and skis like a 30 year old is a good example. I have told you about my friend Mike Smith the pilot, skydiver, skier from Lake George who always has the gas pedal to the floor. But to illustrate the word “character” I would like to tell you the story of three of these friends who define the word. My friend Eric Durfee used to laugh when I would bring these guys up to New England and he would say,” Pat- where do you find these guys?” Oh, I found them and here are their stories.
Rich Monti, a dentist friend, broke his back skiing at Boyce Park which is a pimple of a hill outside of Pittsburgh. How you break your back there is a mystery, but this wild man somehow did it and resumed his skiing life with me at …..Tuckerman Ravine. The picture above shows the Ravine up in New Hampshire which I spoke about in an early post. It is a rather daunting place where you hike to ski. Monti wanted to accompany me there one year. Fast forward- we are all sitting at “Lunch Rocks” which is where everybody drinks their beer and eats their sandwiches that they haul in their packs. This is also the heckling place for everyone who watches the thrills and spills taking place on the gulleys and headwall of the Ravine. Undaunted, Rich gets into his skis and gradually traverses the face of the bowl and picks up speed along the way. His skis are wavering due to his maiden voyage after his injury and the adrenaline of the event fills Rich as he sails towards the pucker brush and rocks on the opposite side of the Ravine. The crowd starts to cheer him on as he begins to show signs of an impending, spectacular crash. True to form, he hits the puckerbrush at full speed, and all we see are his skis rocketing to the sky and a whiteout of snow in the distance. Silence pervades until we all see him stand up and give a two fisted salute of victory. The crowd went wild!! Rich walked back to the rocks and never put the skis on again on that trip. Broken back to Tuckerman Ravine traverse at full speed. I am proud to have him as my friend.
We did a bike race up at Mt. Washington,NH one year called appropriately “The Mt. Washington Hill Climb”. It begins at the Auto Road entrance at the bottom of the mountain in temperate conditions. When you reach the halfway mark of the climb, the temperatures are usually in the 40s with low visibility, and when you finally reach the summit of the auto road, it is upper 30s and often sleeting or snowing. Crazy weather up there. My friend Jack McArdle did it with me and I casually asked him about his climb after we had finished. As he took off his clothes in delirium at the summit, he revealed Superman briefs to the crowd with the “S” showing proudly right in front of the briefs. He told us how thirsty he was on the climb and how he found water. He simply dipped his water bottle into the split 55 gallon drums on the side of the road which collected rain water for overheated radiators for cars ascending the auto road. All the spectators at the summit were flabbergasted not only at the casual revelation of the Superman briefs, but how he could survive the climb drinking the filthy water collected in the barrels. Jack took it all in stride and never was worse for the wear on the ride back down in the van. Jack is an adventurer and I am pround to say he is my friend.
Finally there is Michael Dunlay. I met Mike through my wife Janet.They were Penn State friends. He played on the 1982 championship football team and is the guy carrying Joe Paterno on the famous Sports Illustrated cover commemorating the victory. Mike is a character. He owns 7 restaurants in Chicago. If you are there, check out his flagship restaurant http://www.dunlaysonclark.com and experience not only good food and drink but experience “The Dunz.” My memories of the Dunz came on PSU alumni ski trips where he would tirelessly cook for all of Janet’s girlfriends and their husbands. He would sling English muffins 20 at a time and line them up putting eggs, bacon and cheese on all of them and scream at the top of his lungs for all of us to get in there and eat!!! He was and is today high energy. One day while we were skiing, he rocketed over a ledge with his 210 Atomic GS skis and all we saw was a white cloud of snow, a vertical ski flying through the air. Again, silence pervaded until we all saw Dunz’s outstretched arms with a champagne bottle in tact in his cold large hand. On a related side outing to Killington to ski with my friend Eric Durfee and his ski racing phenom of a son Travis, Dunz showed up with wrap around sunglasses, a gaudy ski jacket and Cincinnati Bengal billowing pants. As he raced down the runs with the Durfees and me, he would start to brake about 500 yards from the lift. He is a big guy and carries a lot of momentum on the 210 GS skis. We all remarked how we have to stay real clear of the Dunz as he rockets down the hill and defintely do not want to be in his way during the braking phase of the runs. Everyone thought he was a professional football player and the Durfees again remarked,” Pat- where do you find these people?” Dunz eventually ripped those pants on a crash and threw them into a chairlift tower. He skied the rest of the day in his long underwear with his red hair flapping in the breeze and the wrap around sunglasses reflecting not only the sun but hiding the wild look in the Dunz’s eye as he tried to beat the national class ski racer down the hill. A hilarious sight -fast smooth racer turns followed by a roaring freight train of a man trying to keep up. Eric and I observed that this guy is quite the character. I am proud to have him as my friend.
Cherish your friends. The wilder they are, most likely the more passionate they are not only in life, but in their loyalty and love to you. These guys among others, may not have all the oars in the water, but they sure are fun and hopefully they are saying the same about me. Do something nice for your sweetie this week for Valentines Day. Thanks for reading!