Tapping into the Soul

by Eric Blehm
Heart of Winter 2006

I vaguely remember two people in white sliding me onto a cold, narrow, metal bed underneath a sterile white cube that was hinged like an elongated mechanical arm. There were lights – menacing darkened orbs that seemed to want to look into my very being. A television monitor clicked on with a hum, as if to say, “You can watch.”

I felt them thump, thump, thumping a tube into the femoral artery in my groin. Through the haze, it looked like a snake as it threaded its way upstream toward my heart. It paused there, before thrusting forward into the opening and closing ventricle, where it seemed an eternity before I was told over an unseen intercom to hold my breath. At that, an odd, hot sensation radiated through my chest as some machine shot dye into the left chamber of the largest muscle in my body that pumped it dutifully on through to my lungs.

Awake? Yes. Alert? No way.

Then, I was riding. It was powder, and never ending. It was bits and pieces of personal snowboarding history. Runs I’d forgotten, and runs I’d only dreamed about. I discovered then, more than ever, that riding is a part of my soul; it kicked in when I needed it most, and got me through over an hour of sketchy, sub-conscious “exploratory” hell. An hour-long powder run – snow laden evergreens, wide-open bowls, gullies made to order, cliff drops – where I stuck every landing, never fell, and never turned around to look at my tracks, because there were none.

It was over abruptly and some guy with a surgical mask was applying thumb pressure to the hole in my leg. His whole hand was shaking, he was pressing so hard on that artery to stop the bleeding, and yet I didn’t feel a thing. The doctor came in and announced that a pulmonary embolism had partially collapsed one of my lungs, and with this knowledge, breathing, ironically seemed a little easier. No heart attack. No tumors. Just dangerous, but treatable clots had blocked the flow of oxygen-rich blood into my lungs – the highly unusual complication of a shoulder surgery I’d undergone a week earlier to repair a chronically dislocating wing. An injury, coincidentally, that had plagued me since a serious fall in 1989 – snowboarding. Funny how things come full circle.

Before this, I hadn’t thought snowboarding could get any more fulfilling than in-the-moment face shots. But after that waking dream, I realized the roots of my passion lay deep, far deeper than I had known: all the way down to a secret untracked glade on the other side of consciousness.

About the Author

Patagonia contributor, and former TransWorld SNOWboarding editor Eric Blehm is known for writing about his backcountry snowboarding escapades, but for the past eight years, he’s also been researching the extraordinary life of backcountry ranger and wilderness activist Randy Morgenson, who disappeared mysteriously in the High Sierra in 1996. Blehm’s forthcoming book: The Last Season (HarperCollins) will be released April 2006. For more info visit thelastseason.com.