Washington Post outdoors writer and copy editor John Mullen died on July 24 while kayaking in West Virginia. Here are some excerpts of his writing:
For some, the urge to light out for the territory is hard to shake. It's one thing when you're young, and don't own much, to pull a Huck Finn and push off on a small raft with everything you need right next to you.
Your raft could be a live-in van or a one-way airplane ticket. . . . I used to love living like that. The self-absorption was total. By choice I was one of those half-educated entitleds who pitched up in beautiful places and thought the world owed them "clean air and money," as Thomas McGuane so memorably wrote. What did it matter if you washed dishes at night for a living? You had all your days to fool around on a ski slope or river or stream. . . .
In time it became clear that I wasn't floating but was, in fact, sinking. Work at a desk eventually fixed that, I think. As the years stacked up the Peter Panisms were shoved to the weekends. Time once spent skiing and paddling turned into wanderings along Route 1 in search of bathtub hair strainers and toilet plungers, or moping in my apartment.
Of course it didn't have to be this way. I'd left the mountains rudderless and in an overcorrection tended to disqualify the natural gifts surrounding us right here. Just go look at stunning Great Falls or, an hour or so up the road at the edge of West Virginia, go to the Shenandoah River, down which, with the two people closest to me, I floated in an inflatable raft for the first time last week.
May 27, 2001
Good rowers, with their synthesis of balance, strength and patience, make the difficult look tantalizingly easy. [Painter Thomas] Eakins, said to be a skilled oarsman, captured in his on-water portraits done over 100 years ago the essence of a sport that hardly has altered. That is one of its allures. As you push off a dock in early morning, with the faded moon still overhead and the river silent and calm, a transformation comes over you. It's a sense of peace, of being off the clock. It is a place where you want to belong.
May 20, 2001
There is a phrase from an old book that comes to mind when I think of what it feels like to wear the gear -- the waist-and-leg harness, the tight-fitting shoes, the length of knotted rope that runs from the harness to the top of a wall and back down and serves as your safety line -- that you need when you rock-climb: in dreams begin responsibilities.
Climbing, an intensely personal form of expression for those who have committed to it, also is a sport in which you put your life in the hands of those who are with you, and that can be the scariest part of all.
November, 3, 2002
While resting on shore after an ill-advised surfing trip in freezing winter waters this year:
I was approached by a middle-aged woman in a bulky coat. She told me she was a scuba diver and, to her chagrin, realized the wetsuit I had on was the same thickness as the one she wore while underwater in the warmth off Fiji.
I didn't tell her I had on layers beneath the neoprene. I didn't feel like talking. My hands were killing me and I wanted to get out of there.
She continued looking, in a way that suggested she'd stumbled upon something egregious, a mutant in a windswept place, then said bluntly:
"Are you on medication?"
March 20, 2005