Posts Tagged ‘Harrison Walter’

Fathers and sons: Going the distance

November 2, 2018

Harrison “The Blur” Walter hits the creek crossing at the 2018 Colorado cross-country championships. | Photo: Hal Walter

Kicking off his interview with John Cleese last week, Marc Maron talked briefly about being invited to play guitar alongside Slash and Jimmy Vivino while hosting a benefit show for The Blues Foundation and The Americana Music Association.

Maron plays, but not at that level, and noted afterward: “The thing I always seem to learn over and over when I am around real musicians is they have committed their lives to a magical art. I am always amazed and excited at how consistently they nail songs and take you on that journey.”

Hey, I can dig it. Now me, I’m a professional rumormonger, which is to say that I get money to mong rumors, mostly by writing, occasionally by cartooning. And after more than a few decades of practice, practice, practice, which has yet to get me to Carnegie Hall, I can mong a quick rumor with keyboard or pen at the drop of a hat full of cash.

And a very small hat it usually is, too. More of a cap, actually. The sort one might find on a pint of Jameson or a bottle of Advil.

But podcasting? It feels like typing with boxing gloves, or drawing with a banana.

So, yeah, I get it when Maron — who is a podcaster, among other things — says of his hobbyist guitar-playing: “I can show up, and I can play, but I’m gonna clunk up something … that is not my craft, that is not my art, that is not my form. …”

Which is the long way around to saying that yes, we have another episode of the distinctly unprofessional and gratuitously hobbyist Radio Free Dogpatch on tap. It is quite literally an amateur hour, and you might need the Jameson and Advil to get through it.

In this one I chat at some length (and some distance) with my old comrade Hal Walter about his son Harrison, who just wrapped his first year with the high school cross-country team.

It was an up-and-down season for the 14-year-old, and he didn’t qualify as a varsity athlete for the state championship meet, held last Saturday in Bibleburg. But as an autistic athlete it seems he was eligible to race an event for special-needs kids.

Now, Hal prefers to keep Harrison in the mainstream whenever it’s possible and practical. But Harrison had been talking all season about going to states, and while he hadn’t made the varsity cut, he did have a strong finish to the regular season.

This left his dad with a tough call to make. Give it a listen.

• Technical notes: This episode was recorded with a Shure SM58 microphone and a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB audio interface plugged into a a late-2009 iMac, using Ecamm’s Call Recorder for FaceTime, which apparently will not survive Apple’s transition to macOS Mojave. I edited the audio using Apple’s GarageBand. The background music is “Matador’s Entry” from ZapSplat, and the race-day audio was stripped from a couple video clips forwarded by Hal Walter.

The long run

February 25, 2018

Harrison Walter (#575) competes on his school’s
cross-country and track teams. Photo | Hal Walter

The Walter family’s struggle with autism came in for a little attention in the press over the weekend.

My friends Hal and Mary and their son Harrison have been enduring the tender mercies of the Medical-Industrial Complex as mom and dad strive to get their teenager the expensive behavioral therapy that may help him with the impulse-control issues common among the neurodiverse.

Harrison focused on his schoolwork. Photo | Rebekah Cravens

Regan Foster of The Pueblo Chieftain — where Hal and I first met back in the Eighties — wrote about the Walters’ difficulties in a straight news piece and a more personal sidebar; both made the newspaper’s home page this morning.

The details of this particular tale of woe may be new to you, but the overarching theme is all too familiar: What happens when circumstances upend a hard-working American family that earns a bit too much to qualify for public assistance, but not enough to cover the out-of-pocket costs associated with private insurance?

“A $3,000 deductible plus a 30 percent co-pay is the same as not having insurance, except you have to pay for the insurance,” said Hal.

Harrison is designated as disabled, but does not qualify for a Children’s Extended Services waiver for Medicaid because his sleep habits, “while not great, are not entirely horrible,” according to Hal.

The amount of paperwork required in raising a neurodiverse kid (like appealing a Medicaid waiver denial) would be enough to put anyone to sleep.

That this is a stumbling block instead of a side note seems absurd; Harrison’s abilities as a student and athlete can be offset by his impulsive, occasionally violent behavior, which seems a greater concern for society than how many Z’s the family bags nightly. Someone is definitely on the nod here, and it’s not the Walters, who are appealing the decision to deny a CES waiver.

Hal and Mary are both long-distance runners, with all the stamina that requires and then some, but theirs is a race against time. Harrison is 13 going on 14, and as special-ed teacher Carrie Driver notes: “We have four and a half years to get him ready for life and to give him skills that are appropriate for him to be independent.”

• Editor’s note: You can read more at Hal’s blog, Hardscrabble Times (which is updated irregularly), and in his column at Colorado Central.

Recycled 5: The best of ‘Mad Dog Unleashed’ 2017

December 30, 2017

• Editor’s note: Since my Bicycle Retailer and Industry News column won’t survive into the New Year, I’ve decided to resurrect a six-pack’s worth of this year’s “Mad Dog Unleashed” screeds between now and then. This is No. 5, one of those rare columns that actually managed to elicit a comment (and a positive one, too) from one of my editors.

Harrison Walter expanding his horizons. Photo courtesy Hal Walter

The wheel goes round, whether pushing up or coasting down

“I wanta bicycle in hot afternoon heat, wear Pakistan leather sandals, shout in high voice at Zen monk buddies standing in thin hemp summer robes and stubble heads. …”—Japhy Ryder in “The Dharma Bums,” by Jack Kerouac

By Patrick O’Grady

“The Zen of Standing Around,” he called it.

Nobody would describe the Tour de France like that. But my friend Hal Walter wasn’t talking about the Tour, which isn’t even a blip on his sporting radar screen. He was talking about a stop-and-go mountain-bike ride with his son, Harrison.

“An hour and 45 minutes for four miles,” he noted. “About an hour slower than I usually run it.”

A short, slow ride with your kid, even on rugged, single-track horse trail, probably doesn’t sound like a big deal to you. And strictly speaking it wouldn’t be one to Hal, either.

His idea of a good time is the annual World Championship Pack-Burro Race out of Fairplay, Colo, a 29-mile run to the summit of 13,185-foot Mosquito Pass and back. He’s won it seven times.

Hal has some experience racing the bike, too, most of it from the Mount Taylor Winter Quadrathlon in Grants, N.M. The 43-mile Quad starts and ends on the bike, but in between competitors run, ski and snowshoe up and down 11,301-foot Mount Taylor.

So, yeah. Four-mile mountain-bike ride with your kid. No big deal.

Unless your kid is autistic—or as Hal prefers to say, “neurodiverse.”

Then every mile deserves its own milestone.

Saddling up. Hal came late to the bike. He was about 7 when he taught himself to ride his mom’s three-speed step-through, which was too big for him.

Hal recounted the experience a couple years ago in his column for Colorado Central magazine.

“I remember one day taking this hulking steel steed out to the sloped driveway behind the duplex where we lived, determined to learn to ride it. I started at the top with my feet to either side and shuffled along astride the bike while coasting down the short drive. Then I pushed it back up and tried again. Over and over.

“Each time I was able to coast a little farther between steps. It seemed like hours went by, and then suddenly I coasted the entire driveway.”

Rock and roll. Pushing it back up. Trying again. Over and over. Welcome to Team Sisyphus.

I learned how to ride early, with my dad’s help, in Canada. After the old man got transferred to Texas in 1962 we went for regular evening rides around officers’ country on Randolph AFB. It was a nice slice of family time, and remains a fond memory.

Here in Albuquerque a neighbor would like to get in on a little of that. After asking me for advice she and her husband have been bike-shopping, hoping to squeeze in some rides with their daughter before she goes back to college.

I can recommend it. And so can Hal.

Sport as medicine. I expect Hal wondered whether he’d ever be able to share his love of a good sweat with Harrison, who was late to a lot of things, not just cycling.

He’s had at least four speech therapists, but still has trouble with communication and comprehension. This frustrates him, and he lashes out, sometimes physically.

But with a little assistance, and a lot of patience, Harrison has been able to attend school like all the other kids—it helps that the Walters live in rural Custer County, Colo., near a very small town with an equally small school—and he’s inherited enough of his parents’ aptitude and appreciation for running to participate in the track and cross-country teams.

Spinning your wheels. The cycling is mostly recreational. Hal rides as a respite from the pounding of long-distance running, and he thought he might share this activity with Harrison, too.

But like his old man, Harrison took a while to master the technique, enduring failure after failure, until one day the nickel finally dropped and the music started playing.

He quickly progressed from a BMX bike to a Diamondback mountain bike, and got to where he was comfortable logging some serious gravel mileage alongside Hal as he ran one of his burros around and about.

Harrison raced the school triathlon, and started exploring the neighborhood single-track. And this summer dad gave him a nice attaboy, trading in the old Diamondback at Absolute Bikes in Salida for a used yellow Specialized Hardrock.

The truth(s) of the matter. None of this means Harrison will be chasing a famous jersey to match his new-used yellow bike.

He’s a skinny 13-year-old who’s been known to stop on training runs to call an imaginary friend on an imaginary phone. He can be loud, and occasionally unsettling. Your finish line may not be his.

The kid is doing his own race, at his own pace, and sometimes makes his own rules. Hal’s along for the ride, and if it takes nearly two hours to cover four miles, well, that’s how long it takes.

While Harrison fusses over the stickers in his socks, Hal practices the Zen of Standing Around, like Kerouac’s Ray Smith contemplating the first of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths (all life is suffering) and the third (the suppression of suffering can be achieved).

“The funny thing is he seems to have no problem pushing that thing,” says Hal. “Like it’s just part of the deal. You push the steep stuff and ride the downhills.”

• Editor’s note v2.0: This column appeared in the Aug. 15, 2017, issue of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News.

Endurance

June 17, 2016
Hal Walter and Spike in 2000, after winning what I believe was their second world pack-burro championship in Fairplay, Colo.

Hal Walter and Spike in 2000, after winning what I believe was their second world pack-burro championship in Fairplay, Colo.

My man Hal “Mr. Awesome” Walter, who races burros and raises an autistic son, is the subject of a profile over to Narrative.ly, just in time for Father’s Day.

You might think that managing what Hal prefers to call a “neurodiverse” child would be heavy lifting. But like burro racing, it has more to do with endurance, which just happens to be the title of a newish short book the man is hawking between his other chores.

Like father, like son: Young Harrison has his very own burro circa 2005.

Like father, like son: Young Harrison has his very own burro circa 2005.

Hal and I first met back in the Eighties on the copy desk of The Pueblo Chieftain, where we also dealt with varying degrees of neurodiversity and as a consequence enhanced our capacities to endure just about anything.

I went on to become an extraordinarily prosaic amateur cyclist while professionally lampooning leg-shavers, dope fiends, and leg-shaving dope fiends, while Hal became a world-champion pack-burro racer and author.

But we’ve remained friends despite our class differences, and thus I recommend that you read the profile and buy the book.