Danny Middleton, you fucking asshole. All those things we did. Nobody saw any of it but us. Clearlake, motorcycles, mountains, forest, cabins in the trees on the ski runs, skiing, more skiing, getting stoned, and more stoned. Durango.
You taught me how to ride a motorcycle – stupidly and dangerously. I saw so much because of things we did that I never would have been able to see otherwise. Riding those bikes through the weather up to Silverton and then back over the passes – Bear, Ophir. Fuck, we rode far. Fuck, were we stupid. We could have died a million times and yet it was one of the best things I’ve ever done or ever will do. I can still smell it. If I sit back and close my eyes I can feel it. Hermosa Creek Trail. You can’t turn around even if you want to. I learned how to commit myself on that trail. Maybe I knew some, but that taught me more, taught me that I can make it if I jump, if I jump hard and fast and don’t look back or hesitate.
You were light as a feather on that bike and in those skis. Grace, if grace could be a complete disaster in every other way, genuine, honest, if honest meant knowing most of your limitations. Late… fucking always late. Sitting in the car, waiting so we could beat the traffic up to the ski area, so we could park well… so we could ski fresh out back; and late, always late, but it ended up working out anyways. I used to get so mad.
Ready to go? Let’s get our helmets on and do this before the buzz wears off and I lose my courage. Revving bikes, passing joints, Colorado in our noses, lungs, and heads. My heart pounding, a tunnel through the trees. You can’t turn around. Twenty years later dreaming about that ride still wakes me up at night.
So may places… It was like nobody had ever been there before. A dry creek bed up to the top of a mountain, a lake, bright yellow spring flowers, clear, clear water, greenish, brownish reflecting trees and rocks and snow in July. Blessed to see it, to take one photo, to share it – Danny Middleton you fucking asshole. Thank god there’s a photo. At least one fucking photo.
Who will I look up when I go back to Durango? Fuck. If I go back to Durango? What’s in Durango for me? Nothing but old dreams and no proof, no one to reminisce or relive with. Maybe, yeah, I know my way around – there was my old apartment, and another time I lived across the river over there. This is the grocery store I went to. They had good sushi sometimes, well as good as it’s going to be. I was lonely in that bar over there, that one too. Danny’s bar was there on the corner. They had bands sometimes. I never met any girls there, well, Terri. Anyway…
Life is so stupid. I remember riding our bikes up 550 heading north, past the valley and going up, sun to our right and behind us. I’m following – mostly because I’m somehow less stupid. You’re in front leaning back on the bike, feet outstretched spread-eagle, top gear, full throttle, uphill. It’s cold and warm at the same time. The sun is on your back. I see the black seat, the orange rear fender, the license plate dirty, the light broken. I remember we’d go all the way to Silverton. It would take an hour, then we’d tank up, smoke some, eat a sandwich or something and then ride into the woods. No map, no compass, no cell phones, nothing but jackets a knife or two, some rope and a trail. Stupid. Beautiful. Hours, slowly. Sometimes I fell, sometimes it rained. Sometimes I was scared of what we were trying to do but I did it because I didn’t know what else I’d do if I didn’t.
Do you remember that ski jump where we flew over that blind ridge, caught air and then shot over and across the green trail that was going down? Fuck. I still have nightmares about that one too. I don’t know how fast we went. In my dream or memory or whatever it is, I remember how we tucked, got speed, shot around, took a last look between the trees to see the crossing trail hoping it was clear – but it was already too late – then launched ourselves over. So fast, so fast. Any mistake, anything out of the ordinary and that’s it… and silence on the lift back up. Pass the pipe. Want to get some pizza? No, let’s do that again, this time over the bumps off course and through the trees. Fuck it. Grace and lightness I worked so hard for, struggled for and never had. Meet my force, push and focus on nothing else. Give me your two minutes of adrenaline straight down, nothing to think about except the next bump, ridge, patch of ice or powder, ditch, trees, more trees, rocks… release control and let the skis run. Sure Danny, I’ll follow you. Sure. Fuck it.
Denny’s at three AM? Why not? We’re about drunk and it’s just there on the way. It will be better to eat something before going to sleep. Want to ski tomorrow? That was a good band. Thanks for letting me in.
Danny Middleton died in 2009 in a fire in his apartment. The last time I saw him was in 2001. I moved to London in 2002, then back to Savannah in 2004. I learned about his death from Google in 2013 before a trip out west with my (now) wife.