Throw that Axe, You’ll Feel a Little Better

Who would have thought axe throwing would be so badass? Well, probably quite a few folks who’ve been doing it a lot longer than me. It’s not just the badass-ness of the sport that is so intoxicating, the act of throwing just feels good.
While in my hometown of Chicago, I was able to hit a Cubs game and the annual Lung Run, which I’ve run every year since we lost my grandmother to lung cancer. My weekend would have been complete had I done nothing else, but a friend suggested we try axe throwing.
“Sure, why not,” I said, totally game.
Not only could axe throwing be a useful skill in a zombie apocalypse or in a SHTF situation, but I was curious how well I would do. It was for these reasons, I found myself at an axe throwing bar around 10pm on Saturday night taking a lesson from twenty-something year-old Ashley at Bad Axe Throwing on the north side of Chicago.
The place was set up like batting cages but a little closer together. You don’t need that much room to throw axes, just a high (or protected) ceiling, strong flooring, and some fencing that will hold. The back wall had a couple of wooden planks with bullseyes drawn on them.
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After we signed a few waivers, Coach Ashley gave us a quick lesson.
“Hold it straight above your head, keep your wrists straight, and release so it rotates once and then hits,” she said.
She released the axe and the blade landed on the board with a resounding, whack! My friends and I nodded and exchanged glances. We were impressed. There’s a satisfaction in hearing the axe land right into the wood and stick.
Although it’s a little fuzzy, as all history seems to be, axe throwing was used in war mostly as far back as the vikings, Celts, and other cold climate hooligans. They actually go way back to the Neolithic period.
In general, warriors didn’t throw them, unless they were urgently trying to kill someone before that someone killed them and wanted to avoid hand-to-hand or axe-to-axe fighting, but axe-making and usage in combat was in full swing thousands of years ago.
Even with that violent and bloody history of the axe, I still wanted a piece of the action.
It did not disappoint. There was a feeling of toughness, self sufficiency, primitive strength, and badass-ness that went into the motion.
And when you hit a bullseye, boom!
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There was a feeling that came over you, like being in what psychologists call flow or the zone, but you feel — no, you know — it’s going to hit as soon as you let it go.
When it didn’t it, or when it was dumb luck, it was a different feeling. But, that right there, that knowing in flow or presence, was so worth the time and money.
In Chicago, we paid $20 an hour plus tax and we tipped our coach, which came out to around $28 per person.
For an hour or so, I was completely present learning, throwing, watching my friends, celebrating, and throwing some more. I worked up a nice sweat too. Not only was it fun to learn a new “sport,” but the repetition and physical exertion made any anxiety or stress I might had been carrying melt away.
Almost anyone can do it. It’s about technique, not strength or athleticism. Way more interesting than darts, and blows any other target games away. Take a seat, skeet ball.
Axe throwing – highly recommended. Go do it. Pick up that axe and let it fly. You’ll know what I mean when you hit the bullseye.

An Ode to Montana

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Montana is an incredibly beautiful, not to mention enormous, state. From east to west it’s about the equivalent of driving from Chicago to New Jersey. Crazy big.

About a decade ago, I had the opportunity to do some backpacking inside Glacier National Park. It was one of the most memorable backpacking trips, from seeing a massive and somehow majestic moose standing only a few meters away to crossing a waist-high, ice-cold mountain river hoisting my camera and the rest of my pack above my head in an attempt to keep it dry. We also came across a mama bear with her two nine-month-old cubs. Luckily, no mauling ensued.

When I arrived in Bozeman earlier this month, the little airport felt welcoming and cozy. It was built like a mountain lodge with raised wooden beams supporting a roof that takes on an average of seventy-two inches of snow each year. Outside, the Montana that I recalled entering many years ago, with it’s clean air, grand mountains nestled on an eternal horizon, and impossibly large clouds somehow not blocking the warm sun that fell on my face, greeted me kindly. Although many years ago, I had landed in Kalispell almost three hundred miles away, this was the same big sky country. It felt like an embrace from an old friend.

We stayed at a newly built dwelling called the Sage Lodge in Pray, MT. They were still putting the finishing touches on the rooms. When we checked in, we were missing oddities like lightbulbs and the sliding screen door handle. Strange, but the staff were mostly friendly and you couldn’t beat the location, which was almost on top of the Yellowstone River and a thirty-five minute drive straight across the Wyoming boarder into Yellowstone National Park.

Since taking on the minimalist way of life, there wasn’t much packed in my suitcase. It was light as a feather. Two t-shirts, an athletic long sleeve pullover, a SmartWool shirt, hiking pants, jeans, socks, hiking shoes, sandals, pjs, undergarments, a hat, sunglasses, and a toiletry bag. (Minimalism aside, I was glad the lodge we stayed in had laundry because by the third day, I needed them all cleaned.)

I’ve heard fishing is good for the mind, body, and soul, and we were in the best fly fishing spot in the world, so I figured why not. And it did not disappoint. On the Yellowstone River, there are rules about which fish you can keep, which you must release, and others you must keep or kill. According to the law, we released all our catches.

Every time I’d get a bite, I’d “set” my pole, which basically means pull it up as hard and fast as you can, and hope there’s a fish on the other end of it. I missed most times, but managed to net two beautiful rainbow trout. The experience of pulling them in, feeling their weight on the other side of the pole, and then guiding them gently into the net was invigorating. I’d wet my hands, hold them for a quick picture, and then they went back into the water hopefully a little wiser for the wear.

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We also spent a day in Yellowstone. Did a six-mile hike out and back to the Imperial Geyser, saw a few bison, a bighorn sheep, and watched good ole Ole Faithful do its thing too. Impressive.

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When the four days were over, I was sad to leave Montana. There is a rugged wildness, a real wilderness, about the state. And yet, I felt safe and supported by the mountains, the rivers and streams, the vast earth. Maybe it was just nice to get out of the city and see the stars. Whatever it was, I want to go back.

People say Montana winters are a “dry cold,” which I guess is supposed to be less cold somehow. I don’t know about that, but I might go back this winter just to test out the theory. I’m thinking snowshoeing or cross country skiing. Anything to get outside, even in the freezing temperatures, to be with those mountains and rivers, and under that big sky again.


Big book

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It arrived. The Big Book of Marathon and Half-Marathon Training by Jennifer Van Allen, Bart Yasso, and Amby Burfoot. Its 290 pages promise to guide me to marathon success. The back cover boasts an inclusion of all the “essentials” and “best advice” for helping me every step of the way in my training, eating, and avoiding injury. I wonder if it addresses avoiding hershey squirts and toenail loss. I want all bases covered.

The big book delivers on its title. Shaped like a phonics workbook and weighing twice as much, it instills confidence that upon completion, I will be ready. If only I could read my training runs too. The words like steps, punctuation speeds and slows, pages like miles all pass under my feet as the print crosses my eyes. How simply wonderful it would be to train. But if running was like reading, almost everyone would do it, and it would lose a part of its magic. And that would be tragic.

Instead I remember my purpose, my vision, and goal. Breathing deeply into these images and out a confident resolution. Regardless of my trepidation, I’d still rather venture down the road less-taken with the Big Book in hand, my grandmother in my heart, and start running.