Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

On Missing the Super Bowl

February 6th, 2020

On Missing the Super Bowl

One January day in 1967, my family gathered in Lacey and Margaret Boyer’s basement around a grainy black and white television with a rabbit ear antenna to watch the NFL/AFL Championship game, the first Super Bowl. The result was as expected. No team from the upstart AFL was going to beat Green Bay. I was 10 and found Lacey’s workshop immediately adjacent to the television more interesting. In those days, TVs were usually located in out of the way places. They certainly didn’t belong in living rooms. I remember a 4 foot wooden octagonal beam with metal screw tops nailed on the faces. Screwed into the tops were pint jars containing different size nails, screws, and bolts. When spun it seems to contain an entire hardware store fastener aisle. At halftime I went to the driveway to admire his Karmann Ghia, the closest thing to a European sports car to be found in our rural town. As for the game itself, the outcome will out, Lombardi and Stram coached with the passionate masculine intensity one expected from coaches of that era. There were no instant replays or Jumbotron, few camera angles. The game viewed on the screen was more or less the same static shot a viewer in the stands would have. Still, there was a sense in that basement room that something special was happening. Ever since—for 53 years— I have found my way to a television to watch the game. Every year until this one.

Two years after that opening game, the first celebrity football player, Joe Namath, wearing white football shoes, a long fur coat and Brut aftershave (maybe the Brut came a little later) guaranteed an AFL victory, something preposterous on the face of it. He and the Jets delivered, and the modern league was born. In the years since it has transformed from game to spectacle. At some point I realized watching yearly had become a personal tradition that had to be upheld regardless of inconvenience. The year the Panthers played the Patriots, I was in a French ski lodge, where in the middle of the night the desk clerk tuned the lobby television to the game. He and his English friend watched the first half, asked some questions about the rules, then bored, they drifted off. 

When I was young, it was never difficult to find that television. One of the linebackers of the dynastic Steelers teams of the 70s went to the local prep school coached by the man who lived across the street. All the kids in the neighborhood took up the Steelers —  Bradshaw, Harris, Swan and Stallworth, and of course the legendary Steel Curtain defense. They have remained my team. Following those years, the television spectacle exploded, and the day for many became more about the halftime show and commercials than the action of the field. Viewing parties involved complicated bets about events unrelated to the game itself, and the halftime shows became increasingly elaborate and finally preposterous. The year the Bears finished out their magic season (coached by Mike Ditka doing his very best throwback coach imitation), a friend invited me to his lake house. He had a satellite dish and we watched on the Armed Forces channel, so instead of commercials featuring the Budweiser Clydesdales, we were treated with PSAs warning about stealing government pencils. I longed for some of the spectacle that year. 

The quest for the game has sometimes been more difficult. My job often takes me to New Zealand in January, so I’ve had to get used to Super Bowl Monday—mid-morning to be precise. In the early 2000s I could usually find a nearly empty sports bar open for the game, but as the century has progressed, the crowds have grown, requiring early arrival for good seats. Spending a Monday morning drinking beer and watching a game is a peculiarly Kiwi thing to do. One year I wandered into a likely viewing place and sitting at one of the tables were some vaguely familiar faces. Ryan Adams and his band The Cardinals were in Wellington for a concert, so a friend and I watched an amazing game with the band and some of the roadies. Their namesakes that day lost in the last minute to the Steelers. An exciting game for any football fan, for a Steelers diehard it was pure joy. 

When not watching every Super Bowl, I spend much of my time long-distance hiking. This year I find myself in Tasmania on game day. I wanted to tramp their “Overland Track,” generally regarded as the best seven day walk on the island. It requires a reservation for the start day, and the only one available put me in the middle of the bush at kickoff. A few years ago, I would have cancelled and found a sports bar in Hobart, but instead I decided to call an end to the streak. I was torn between a lifetime’s commitment and a game that is increasingly difficult to love. The game day activities verge on the ridiculous. In many ways the sport has passed me by. As far as I’m concerned, it’s still the Baltimore Colts, the Browns are not the Browns, the Ravens are and they should be back in Cleveland, Miami and Seattle are just expansion teams, the Rams have always played in LA, and whenever the Redskins play the Cowboys I still hope they both lose.  

Then there is our increasing awareness of the physical and mental toll the game takes on the professionals, as well as the legions of university, high school and little league players who look to the Super Bowl Sunday as a career goal. All of that was brought home one day in class when a student, an offensive lineman on the University’s team—a bright engaging person—looked at me and said he would have trouble participating for the next few weeks because his “brain was bruised.” 

I’ll probably track down a TV to watch the big game next year, but my streak is broken, a pause that has prompted me to think hard about the game I have invested so much in. Not the television extravaganza, but football as pure play. What I remember best is from those early years: a cold winter Sunday, gathering at the field next to the town’s tennis courts. Kids of different ages, sizes, and abilities pick teams. Running, passing, catching, tackling, we roll in the mud — laughing. 

T. Hugh Crawford

In Tasmania Day 2 Huon Campground to Junction Creek

January 25th, 2020

Day 2

Jan 15 Huon Campground to Junction Creek

Becoming reacquainted with real sweat. Today’s trek was short but hot and in the mud. The swamps teem with insects. I sit here writing this in a cloud of huge buzzing flies. They don’t bite, don’t even land much, just buzz around my head. I could get angry and swat at the, ineffectually, or adjust. I’ve decided to just talk to them today. Jay Griffiths In Savage Grace talks of visiting the outback near Alice Springs and discovering these same flies: “They droned with a dull and horrible persistence. They hunched themselves into your nostrils, they swarmed in their hundreds, stupid squadrons of dumb nuisance. The only two things which made them desist were wind and sunset.” She spoke the truth, though I could only confirm over the next days—up on a ridge in the wind, the buzz stops. In the evening, they crowd the tent screen humming so loud they sometimes sound almost like humans talking in the distance, and only sleep when darkness arrives.

I’m reminded of hiker filth— about three days out, you stop feeling sticky, smelly or bothered by insects, it is strangeLy liberating. Tasmania doesn’t have a long-trail, but at least according to the maps, it has some amazing 5-10 day treks out in the bush. Yesterday was mostly organizing food and transport to the trail head and back from the end. The first leg is the Port Davey trail, 40+ miles in the Southwest. Amy at Wilderness Adventures drove me out. Like most Tasmanians I’ve met, she was engaging— a strong concern for the environment and its history. Born in Hobart, she knows the island well, particularly hiking and rafting, but she was also deeply engaged Tasmanian environmental movements, particularly protests of the many damns built in the interior and the clear cutting of old growth forests. The eucalyptus here are fascinating, Seuss-like on the horizon. In particular I want to learn of the Huon Pine—native to this place and currently endangered, it was prime building material with amazing rot resonance. She drove me to the northern trail head of Port Davy which I hope to cross in five days, and at Melaleuca airstrip pick up a resupply box I left at the local small plane airlines to deliver there. There was an old tin mine at Melaleuca and apparently it is an important bird habitat. There I plan to continue on the South Coast trail for another 60 or so miles, following at times the beach back toward Hobart.

Today’s hike was low key— only 7 km across fairly easy terrain. Lots of deep mud holes and blazing hot field crossings but nothing difficult. Had to stop early as the next campsite is a full day’s trek which is just as well. I’m completely out of trekking fitness and still testing my newly replaced knees on uneven terrain. I was happy to arrive at the campsite early afternoon to rest some already sore legs and get my gear organized in a way that suits the trek   Anticipating rain and a lot of mud, some difficult stream and river crossings over these next days, but also looking forward to solitude. All of the people I met today are doing an 8 day loop hike of the Western Arthur Range, some steep climbing which is definitely out of my skill set just now. Unlike them, I turn west to follow the river valleys eventually to the coast, and will probably make that part of the trip alone.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

 

In Tasmania Day 1

January 14th, 2020

Day 1 Jan 14

Woke to cool overcast skies, stark difference from yesterday’s bright shocking Tasmanian heat—the transition from Seattle weather was abrupt as well. After many visits to Wellington NZ, Hobart has a familiar feel. A harbor stocked with boats—wooden sail and fiberglass glitz—ringed by old trade buildings: stone warehouses near the water now storing tourists and selling fried sea creatures. Monumental stone government/insurance/medical institutions piling up as the land rises from water’s edge. Charming is both a quaint and condescending term, but here it is spot-on. A flat white on water’s edge at the fully-licensed award-winning Harbor Lights Cafe reminds me to start the day and the trek at a walker’s pace. There are preparations to attend, but first comes the slow, due attention demanded by place—Tasmania, another end of the world.

T. Hugh Crawford