Bachelor, an elated teen. I felt really good. A half-year earlier, the former J-2 National Champion, then 17, was riding an emotional high that culminated with a pair of fourth-place finishes at the U. Freestyle Selections in Steamboat, Colo. On Day 3 of the event, however, that dream screeched to a halt with one miscalculated launch. It was a good decision on his part, or else it could have been a lot worse. Hickman remembers it well — the ill-fated takeoff, his surprisingly simple thought process in the air, the jarring impact and the frightening aftermath.
Hickman was rushed to a local hospital before being transported to Denver Health Medical Center, where he underwent more than eight hours of surgery to repair a T7-T8 spinal cord injury. He had suffered a compression fracture and dislocated vertebrae, which caused a pinch to the spinal cord. Doctors inserted 10 screws and two centimeter rods into his back. Nevertheless, Hickman was down and out, and facing the reality of an uncertain future.
Not only might he not return to the sport he loved, he might not ever walk again. It was a sketchy situation there for awhile. With an army of supporters rallying behind him, Hickman said keeping a positive attitude in spite of his misfortune was not difficult. And I had so many ski friends who were all super helpful. They knew kind of what I was going through.
At the beginning of my latest Indian adventure, the twentieth in nineteen years, I had a dream. I was on the edge of a precipice, the drop below me was infinite, indeed it was the Void. We cruised in a car up into the Himalayas, to Badrinath, site of a major temple to Vishnu the Preserver and his female counterpart, Laxmi the Munificent. We wanted to make it for the closing Pujah on November 17, for the snow-line was creeping ever closer, but halfway there my friend, Pankaj got a phone-call imploring him to attend a family wedding, in a village high up on a mountain ridge.
We raced up a snaking, pot-holed road, a vertical ascent with a 7 thousand foot drop to the right of us.
Buckle up for a bumpy ride at Hendrick next year
The driver, Deepak, drove like he was trying to make it to Hell before his time, fast and cocky, as if he were a champion Formula 1 driver, the wheels on the right-side barely skirting the crumbling dirt track. I swear I saw a wheel at times skating across thin air. One second from death: maybe Vishnu the Preserver was watching over us? Love, kindness, generosity, strength, loyalty, honesty, compassion, harmlessness, calmness, patience, these values are worthy of admiration and emulation.
Epic myths like The Mahabaratha and The Ramayana have layers of existential messages woven within them that all people attempting self-improvement can take note of. In Hindu mythology Vishnu had flown from the southern oceans where He had been dreaming the dream of the world and existence and at the end of days had flown up into the Himalayas, to create and dwell in the celestial abode, the staircase to which is hidden somewhere in the heights above Badrinath.
Rama and Sita, benign king and queen, avatars of Vishnu and Laxmi, reputedly made pilgrimage to the site and themselves disappeared up the Celestial staircase when it was their time to enter heaven. Driving carefully, with a crushed right front, we got to the wedding late, it had descended into a shambles, the peasant men had all gotten drunk and were dancing uproariously, many grabbed a hold of my arms and legs and, in the attempt to make me dance, nearly t ore me limb from limb.
I hate drunks, they groped, grappled, pushed and shoved so that I had to run for the car and lock myself in with them chasing after and banging at the windows.
We made our escape and headed down the mountain ridge then up the rocky trail towards our goal, only we got stopped about 3a. Not long after dawn we rumbled into the sacred city. Rich babus handed out blessed free food, Prasad , puris with chick peas and chai. Just out of town, on our way back down the mountain, we stopped at a Hanuman temple to pay our respects to the pagan monkey god, hoping some of His strength, loyalty, honor and tenacity would rub off on us. After all, without his help Rama would never have rescued his kidnapped wife, Sita, from the ravages of Ravana, king of the demons; maybe I could get rescued from my own demons as well.
They were great company and played Jimmi Hendrix as we zoomed amid the Tolkien crags, music which made my day. Eventually I set off down south, the only train available was from Nizamuddin, a grungy station some distance from the center of Delhi.
Buckle up for a bumpy ride at Hendrick next year
I should have been warned, a bad omen presented itself as I got down from my taxi , a dead black cat rotting in the middle of the road The station was in an uproar, thousands of passengers crowded in every nook and cranny, all trains four to six hours late. And so I sat upon the crowded platform for an eternity, eyeballing the comings and goings of ordinary Indians, people-watching one of my favorite past-times. When at last I lay upon my berth, my express train crawled slowly or halted at side-lines, every other train having priority, we were ten hours late into Mumbai and, not fed on the 2 nd day, I was crawling up the wall by the time of our arrival at 2 a.
My good friend from last year, Ravi, met me in Mumbai. Ravi had tried working in a hotel in Bangalore, slaving there for six months without pay, the boss always promising the money would come in a month, the bank was holding onto it. In reality he was building a second hotel and not paying the wages of any of his workers in the first hotel, feeding them with promises, dahl and rice.
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When the unpaid staff went to the police the hotel owner simply paid the cops a bribe, much cheaper than the back wages, and the complaint was ignored. Thus I had to save Ravi from starving, sleeping on the street and getting lost in the vast crowd of impoverished India, that is, I got him back home to his village.
In Mumbai we had a great time going to the movies and pubs and then we were off to Goa on the sleeper bus. For a whole year we had waited with bated breath for the party season and now we were about to go for it. The owl is ridden by the Goddess Laxmi and She was trying to warn me to take care, the preservation of my well-being was at stake.
At the Pub the bouncers refused Ravi entry onto the dance floor, they were practiced at spotting drunken fools who might try touching up the girls. He was furious and wanted to fight them, I had to drag him away and again we argued on the way home. While I constantly nagged him to be careful in Goa, that it was full of goondas, drug dealers and cheats and an innocent like him would be eaten alive, that he should listen to direction from a wise old traveler like me, he smirked and said he knew all about Goa and he could very well handle himself, thank you very much.
I told him repeatedly I was too old to take drugs, they were bad for my health and managed to fob him off. I told him not to get too carried away as it would merely be a warm-up exercise for the big parties at Christmas and New Years. We danced for awhile amid the mostly Russian crowd, the best looking Russian hooker even sat next to me on a chai mat and gave me the cheesy smile, and I figured it was all good practice for the coming big events at the Hilltop where the hottest music was soon to be had.
Maybe it was this that decided him to try and fuck us. Ravi got the guy aside and whispered earnestly to him, they both yak-yakked and gesticulated meaningfully, and then the idiot spun away into the crowd. I told Ravi not to speak to the d ickhead, to have nothing to do with him, in fact not to speak to anyone as nobody could be trusted at these parties.