There was still a ton of snow on St. Mary Peak (9,350 feet), but on July 20th, we really thought there wouldn’t be enough to be an issue. I mean, it hasn’t snowed for more than six weeks.
About 3/4 of the way up, still way below 9,000 feet, the trail was completely blocked by deep snow. The snow was on a really steep slope, so it would’ve been really dangerous to try and traverse it. Yayyy. No use going on! Time to turn back.
Nope, someone had tied some pink ribbons along the whitebark pines. We followed the ribbons, bushwhacking up the side of the mountain.
“You told me you should never bushwhack,” I said. “That’s how people get lost and die, you said.”
“These ribbons must be here for a reason,” my boyfriend said.
We went STRAIGHT up the mountain, following the pink ribbons for 200 or 300 metres. I had gone to the top of St. Mary Peak before, so I knew the trail eventually did a big switchback, and we were headed in the direction where the trail was supposed to be.
About every 40 or 50 feet, there would be another pink ribbon tied to a tree. It was like following a trail of breadcrumbs. It was a little spooky because the whitebarks were about head high and so you couldn’t really see much of where you were going. Looking behind, you couldn’t see the trail at all anymore. Just a steep CLIFF.
Sure enough, after slogging up the mountain for 10 minutes, we found the trail. Sure enough, some Good Samaritan or maybe the Forest Service, had put those pink ribbons on the trees for a reason — to show hikers the way. From then on, the trail was clear. It was very, very cold, but easy walking. I couldn’t believe how much snow was still up there. The Heavenly Twins were just covered in snow. I really think some of that snow will not melt AT ALL this year. I hope the Canadian Rockies aren’t so snowed in!
“Almost everyone knows that ‘smoking is bad for you.’ The purpose of Smoke Damage is not merely to repeat this message. Certainly, one purpose is to show, in concrete terms, how tobacco-related disease changes people’s lives for the worse, causing not just debilitation and premature death but also death but also emotional suffering for those who are connected to tobacco users,” Schwalbe writes.
This is a powerful book. Really one of the best anti-tobacco books I’ve come across. It really blew me away. And Schwalbe is not a professional writer.
Schwalbe simply allows people to tell their stories with no editorializing on his part. The book is a series of one-page interviews with a number of subjects involved in tobacco, with a stark full page black-and-white photo opposite the text. There are several professional anti-tobacco advocates that I’m personally familiar with included in the book, but most compelling are the stories from people physically devastated by their smoking habit; people breaking through holes in their throats, people hooked up to oxygen. This brings the reader up front and personal with what the war against tobacco is all about. I urge everyone to buy this book or check it out at their local library. You will not be the same afterward.
A common theme comes through all the stories — suffering, self-flagellation and most of all, anger. Anger at the tobacco companies for lying and allowing its customers to be poisoned. A common questioned asked by several of Schwalbe’s interview subjects, “Why was the industry allowed to do this..?”
Rather than give you my two cents, I’ll just let you read their stories yourself. Here is a sampling. These are perhaps about 20 percent of the stories in the book:
“They’ve still got people smoking in the movies. Actors and tough guy detectives — people who look sophisticated. And the people smoking in the movies are romancing the kids who watch them … That’s what makes them smoke. Nobody smokes for nutrition. They smoke for romance, in the head, in the mind. It’s a big game. We fall in love. It can’t be helped.”
— John Eastman, emphysema sufferer who lost his career in radio due to his disease
“I said to my son, ‘Smoking killed your father. It killed your grandparents. It killed your cousins. It killed you aunts and uncles. Why are you doing this?’ And he said between coughs, ‘I don’t know, Mom, I like it.'”
— Monnda Welch, who lost 10 family members to tobacco-related diseases
“I believe that if an alien from another planet — or historians, hopefully, a hundred years from now — were to look at the period from 1964 through to today, they would ask how a society knowing what we knew about what tobacco did — and does — could do so little. The leaders of our scientific and health communities in the 1960s had the incredibly mistaken belief that once the surgeon general had condluded unequivocally that smoking caused lung cancer and other diseases, society would respond. I don’t think it dawned on them that there could be an industry run by people wou would respond with such callousness and disregard. When you examine it, you recognize that if didn’t dawn on them was kind of unscrupulous, amoral foe they were facing.”
— Matt Myers, Campaign for Tobacc-Free Kids
“A lot of people who have laryngectomies wear stoma covers. I go out with mine open. I wear tank tops, sleeveless tops. And the more people that see me and are aware of it, the more who are going to be aware of the facts. I’m going to be like this for the rest of my life, and I don’t want to hide it. The first questions they usually ask me is, did you smoke? And I have to say, yes, because that’s the truth.”
— Terrie Hall, smoker who contracted mouth and throat cancer
“(Teenagers today) buy the illusion that I bought, which is presented through the marketing of the product, that smoking is cool. That if you smoke, you’ll be successful. You’ll be hip. You’ll be rocking. You’ll be macho. You’ll be sexy. You’ve be accepted, wanted, loved. When I do a presentation, I go through that whole list. And then, I go, ‘Bang! Lies! All lies! Don’t believe a word of it.’ I tell them what a con job it is, what’s in the product, the chemicals and carcinogens. You’re making them rich and you’re dying.”
— Alan Landers, former “Winston Man” who died of lung cancer
“When I started smoking, I thought I was bulletproof. What I found out is that I was vulnerable, that life is a fragile thing. I think it’s a gift from God. We’re blessed to have it. As long as smoking was good for me, the heck with anybody else. I didn’t see anything wrong with it. I didn’t think it was bad. I never thought it would touch me. I didn’t realize John Wayne died from it. I didn’t realize Babe Ruth died from it. Nobody puts out a coroner’s report that says, ‘Hey, it was cigarettes that put John Wayne in his grave.'”
— Wade Hampton, survivor of larynx cancer
“Maybe, I’m naive, but I didn’t believe the United States government would allow a product like this to be sold and be legal, if they knew it was going to kill you. I also didn’t believe a big gigantic company like Philip Morris would sell ’em if they knew they were going to kill you. I didn’t believe they would lie under oath to the Congress of the United States. But then all these documents started coming out. And I said, ‘I was stupid.’ It was tobacco (that made me sick), beyond a doubt. I had bought their story. I admit, and I feel bad about it. But, I had bought into their lies.”
— Frank Amodeo, throat cancer survivor who has not been able to eat or drink through his mouth for 18 years
“I started looking into the issue and noticed there was very little in the overground press. All that magazines told you was what the ads told you. There was very little in the newspapers. I just thought, what’s going on here? This thing (tobacco) is killing hundreds of thousands of people a year, and nobody wants to talk about it? It looked like a great big fat conspiracy. That’s when I started getting involved in it and looking into things.”
— Gene Borio, former smoker and founder of Tobacco.org, which is where I get most of my tobacco news
“There are some people who disbelieve the connection between heart trouble and secondhand smoke. You’ve got the hardcore smokers who believe they’re not hurting anybody. With them they think it’s a right to smoke. I once had a doctor, he was a guest at my restaurant, tell me he’d seen no studies that could prove that secondhand smoke was harmful to anyone. The guy was a medical doctor. He was a smoker, too. Thank God he was not someone giving me professional help.”
— Mike Clark, non-smoker, bartender who required an angioplasty after breathing secondhand smoke most of his life
“The tobacco companies have hidden the truth from the American public. They have lied, deceived, cheated and caused a tremendous amount of grief and misery. They don’t care aobut our welfare or our health. They only care about profits. And that to me is one of the most unforgiable sins — to benefit from someone else’s misery, simply because of money. I can understand killing for revenge or jealousy. But not greed. I can’t understand that. And that’s what they done for years and year.”
— Shannon Suttle, who lost both parents in their 50s to smoking-related diseases
“It’s the most difficult thing in the world to stop smoking, and that’s what frightened me so much. There were moments that I didn’t think I could because it’s …. more difficult to stop than it is for a junkie to kick smack. From what I went through, where I felt every single nerve-ending on fire and this desperation to get this thing, this feeling back — I understand it. That’s why — and I feel the exact same way about the drinking — that’s why you know, I will take it day by day until it ends, and I will keep looking over my shoulder.”
— Hollywood script writer Joe Eszterhas, cancer survivor, former chain smoker and now an active campaigner to get smoking out of film
“When my wife’s sisters were diagnosed with cancer and one of them died not to long after that — well, one day when I was thinking about it, and something just tore away and I knew I had to leave tobacco alone. That was my cash crop. That was a hard decision. And I have never regretted it. I think it was the right — well, I know it was the right thing to do.”
— O.K. Bellamy, former tobacco farmer who lost several in-laws to lung cancer
“I’m an economist and I ever much believe in the free market. But the free market only works if there are rules that the competitors have to comply with … in the case of tobacco, we’ve totally dropped the ball. So it isn’t really the industry that we can expect to heal itself or fix itself. It’s us. It’s our responsibility … Someone at this morning’s session was talking about their leaders being evil people. Well, maybe their evil. But, if so, they’re evil in virtually every major corporation in the country, because the leadership is interchangeable.”
— Ken Warner, University of Michigan dean, chair of editorial board of Tobacco Control
“What’s beautiful about a long trial is that the jury is not getting snapshots, they’re not getting soundbites, they’re getting the total picture. And the (Engle) jury basically came to understand that the tobacco industry was a bunch of liars. The jury saw through the lies and the duplicity and realized that their intelligence was being insulted. So they knew when they were being bullshitted.”
— Stanley Rosenblatt, attorney for the plaintiffs in $145 billion Engle lawsuit
The High-Flying Life of Evel Knievel: American Showman, Daredevil and Legend”
Leigh Montville is a former sports columnist for the Boston Globe who has written books about American sports legends such as Ted Williams, Dare Earnhardt and Manute Bol. In his latest book, “Evel,” he tackles one of the most complicated American sports legends ever in Butte’s Evel Knievel. “He was from Butte, Montana, and his life was a grand, sloppy American saga.
“He was from Butte, Montana, and he traveled a long way, met a lot of famous people, made and spent a lot of money, kissed a lot of girls. He was from Butte, Montana, and he never left, no matter where he went,” Montville writes.
Montville uses this kind of breezy, conversational columnists’ style in relating anecdotes about Knievel’s wild and controversial life. He also does a good job of detailing the old days of Butte, still more or less a Wild West kind of town in the mid-20th century, and how this hardscrabble, alcohol-soaked blue collar city came to shape Knievel. “The charm of Butte always was the fact that there was no charm,” Montville writes.
He breaks up his narrative every few pages with “… a story,” about Butte, Knievel or one of Knievel’s friends. My favorite, “… a story,” was about Jean Sorenson, a foul-mouthed bar owner in Butte who shot down two former husbands and eventually went to prison when she shot a man dead in the 1970s — after she refused to serve a black soldier and he objected. She returned to Butte as the same bar fixture she had been when she was sent down the river. “This is the city where Robert Craig Knievel was born on Oct. 17, 1938,” Montville writes.
Part of what is entertaining and surprising in these early chapters is that former congressman Pat Williams was Knievel’s first cousin and grew up alongside him in Butte.
Knievel was a supremely confident fast talker, a con man, who always seemed to be working on an angle, or worse, a scheme. He was a thief, a bank robber and even an extortionist (he had a highly lucrative protection racket in Butte for a time), yet he always managed to avoid getting caught. His charm came to his rescue repeatedly. In this day and age, he likely would have been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Knievel tried to go legit as an insurance salesman, but grew bored and burned bridges. He began racing motorcycles throughout the West, but was actually (surprisingly) a poor rider. Finally, in the early 60s, he came up with a harebrained scheme to jump a motorcycle over a pair of mountain lions and a box of rattlesnakes. It was a disaster, but he made money and found his calling.
Knievel truly hit the big time in 1968 and it was for a failure. However, it was a spectacular failure. His attempted jump over the Caeser’s Palace fountains is what made Knievel a household name, especially after an amazing slow-motion footage of his crash was released. Virtually everyone has seen this footage at one time or another.
One of the secrets Montville reveals is that it was widely believed Knievel was gravely injured in that crash and was in a coma for weeks. He suffered several broken bones, but Knievel and his people exaggerated the extent of his injuries simply to drum up publicity. He never was in a coma.
Knievel made more money jumping now, but he really hit the big time when he agreed to allow a toy company to make an Evel Knievel action figure. Another surprise. Most of Knievel’s wealth came from a toy, not his jumps.
As Knievel became a bigger attraction, his ego grew bigger and the events of his life became even more outrageous. Montville has great fun relating the details of the 70s hedonism and violence that swirled around Knievel’s failed Snake River Canyon jump.
During the Snake River period, Knievel’s personality turned darker. The sly con man’s charm wore thin. Montville finds numerous sources that absolutely hated Knievel and spoke of his increasingly large ego, his anti-Semitism and his abuse of the people around him, both verbal and physical.
The worst of Knievel’s abuse was directed at his wife, according to multiple sources. He not only beat her, but constantly boasted of his sexual conquests with other women, often times directly in front of her. Knievel, never one to turn down a party, also began to drink more and more heavily, and grew more erratic and unpredictable. Finally, his whole world came crashing down around him when he beat his former publicist with a baseball ban, breaking both his arms. He was sent to jail, but more devastatingly, lost his toy contract and his gravy train. When he came out of jail, he was radioactive … and before long, broke.
At this point, Montville’s book feels like a big, long hit piece on Knievel, but “Evel” takes an interesting turn at the end … a turn that is weirdly uplifting, yet slightly disappointing. What is disappointing is more attention isn’t given to Knievel’s apparent life transformation toward the end.
The last several years of his life, Knievel’s hard living came back to haunt him. He often needed a wheelchair from his multitude of injuries. He needed a liver transplant from his years of hard drinking. He became a diabetic. He developed a severe lung disease (Ironically, despite his hedonistic life, he never smoked.) which eventually killed him. And his wife, sick of the years of abuse, finally divorced him. He was alone and lived in constant pain, and it was that pain that changed the daredevil into a very regretful and frightened man at the end.
Knievel expressed remorse many times during his final years for his choices. The man who spit in death’s eye a hundred times finally had his preternatural confidence shattered by pain. A few months before he died in 2007, he appeared to sincerely and genuinely become a devout Christian.
Montville breezes through this long sunset period of Knievel’s life in just a few pages, when I found myself wanting to know much, MUCH more about these final years and the radical alteration in his life view. That is my only disappointment with of “Evel.” Perhaps Montville found it too painful or invasive, but I personally think much more drama is to be found by a person’s spiritual awakening than the debauchery at the Snake River Canyon.