Walking the 22-mile Skywalk across the Sandias with Chuck Hosking is a bit like showering with a loofah, or eating a dandelion salad: a bit raw, a bit rough, but seriously good for you.
On the verge of turning 72, Chuck Hosking’s body and mind retain the virile appearance and functioning of a younger man.
This is due not to Pilates or gym workouts or supplements, but to Chuck’s guiding principles, which he has abided by for decades: eschewing screens and motors.
If Chuck Hosking wants to volunteer at a South Valley farm for a full day of weeding and planting as he does several days a week, he doesn’t drive, but pedals a single-speed bicycle.
One of the first things Chuck did following the death of his wife, Mary Anne, more than 20 years ago, was to sell their car. He has relied on a bicycle ever since, no matter the weather, using it to travel for his weekly hikes in the Sandias, as well as for longer journeys, such as to Grants to visit a 90-year old friend who no longer travels at all.
Chuck rarely has reason to enter a business or store of any sort, and when he does, it is only briefly and for an item related to his bicycle, such as inner tubes, patches or tires. Really, the only establishment Chuck enters on a regular basis is the Mennonite Church on Girard.
Nearly all of Chuck’s needs, including all of his food and clothing, are provided by routine trips to area dumpsters, which have provided not only for him, but for area neighbors who live with him in the historically black and brown neighborhood of Cesar Chavez and Broadway in Albuquerque.
Countless Albuquerque motorists have observed Chuck pedaling with boxes of reclaimed food, often stacked so high on the handlebars that he has to peek around the edges to observe the road, all while steering with one hand, in all kinds of weather.
This is an elective lifestyle. Hosking’s job as a note taker for CNM students with disabilities, as well as his social security disbursements, which he waited until 70 to begin withdrawing, provide sufficient income that Chuck could go to the store as needed, and even purchase and replace a car every few years.
But Chuck’s approach to life, which many would consider extreme, even for a “path less traveled” Burqueño, is driven by principles and values that are at odds with prevailing societal norms. For Chuck, this doesn’t begin and end with living off the trimmings of an affluent society via dumpster diving. Despite his modest earnings, Chuck elects to donate the vast majority of his income (roughly 90 percent) to charities established to address the inequities of global wealth distribution, which he sees as inextricably linked with the unfolding crisis of climate change. Thus Chuck chooses to live, and has done so for many years, happily and with conviction, on just a few thousand dollars a year, while giving the rest away to the less fortunate around the world.
This is because Chuck is relentlessly focused on existential threats to life on earth, including the threat of over-development, over-industrialization, over-consumption, and over-exploitation. Having lived for five years in Africa with Mary Anne, Chuck is deeply aware of the global inequality unfolding around the world, and his efforts, which he believes to be modest, are designed to reduce his complicity with what he views to be a flawed and unsustainable system.
It is this topic we continually return to during the 22-mile Skywalk, an annual memorial walk held the second Saturday of every May since 2010 along the length of the Crest Trail from Tijeras to Placitas. The walk is held in memory of the highest ranking whistleblower of the Iraq War, Colonel Ted Westhusing, my former commander.
Although Chuck is a Quaker, his sense of the “afterlife” diverges from the commonly held beliefs of others, including other Quakers. Chuck believes that our afterlife is defined by the extent to which we continue to live on, after death, in the minds and behaviors of those who survive us. In the case of Chuck’s wife, who shared his commitment to principles of social and global justice, Chuck believes that Mary Anne continues living her “afterlife” through his persistence in honoring the ideals that she cherished.
“I am addressing climate change and global inequity in a way that may appear extreme to many, but keep in mind I’m doing it for two.”
In past years, a handful of others have joined us on the walk, including Brant McGee, who served as a teenage medic in the highlands of Vietnam, as well as people who knew Westhusing personally, such as fellow cadets from West Point. Westhusing was a distinguished cadet and his career began with him serving as the Honor Captain for his senior class, a title reserved for that single cadet who best embodies the military virtues of honesty and integrity. As an Infantry Officer who went on to serve with the 82nd Airborne Division, Westhusing gained a reputation for exacting adherence to the warrior code of selfless sacrifice.
Westhusing was not only a warrior but a scholar, committed to continued learning and education. He would go on to write a dissertation on Socrates during a stint at Emory on his way to serving as a professor, in later years, at his alma mater of West Point.
It was from West Point that Westhusing would be called upon to serve in the Iraq War.
In 2005, following a number of months overseeing the training and supplying of Iraqi troops, Westhusing chose to sound the whistle on corruption, human rights abuses, and war crimes taking place at the hands of coalition forces and mercenaries in Iraq. Encountering indifference in the senior leadership he informed, which included General Fil and General Petraeus, Colonel Westhusing found his most deeply held convictions of integrity and honor challenged in a fundamental way.
Colonel Westhusing would never return home from this betrayal of his warrior code. Unable to remain complicit with a mission that violated his personal code of conduct, and encountering only indifference in his senior leadership, Westhusing made the ultimate sacrifice at a secretive training facility at Camp Victory, surrounded by private contractors and mercenaries he had long since ceased to trust.
As a soldier turned medic and ski patroller, I carry on despite the loss of my commander, knowing that my remembrance of Westhusing’s sacrifice is a way of repudiating my complicity in the unjust and illegal war that claimed his life, and the lives of thousands of others, including innumerable innocent civilians and non-combatants. Skywalk remains a repudiation of comfort, inaction, and complicity in the face of ongoing tragedy, injustice and abuse, whether associated with elective war, climate change, or global inequity.
We are always relieved to reach Tunnel Springs, at the northern end of the Sandias, before dark. The last mile is a scramble down a steep canyon, in which every step must be chosen with care. We rely on a persistent and steady pace to reach our destination, with the calm assurance that any challenge can be met with grace and overcome through a methodical and studied approach. This walk of determination, repudiation, and affirmation remains the highlight of my year.
I am grateful for all those who join me in making these modest steps in the name of decency, justice and peace, walking softly on the earth as we must.
Alex ‘Telemón’ Limkin is a member of the Angel Fire Patrol in New Mexico. He serves as the patrol’s health and wellness officer, and is a co-founder of the Sangre Academy of Telemark & Nature. He is a 2019-2020 NSP Subaru Ambassador.
Learn more about National Ski Patrol’s vision to increase membership diversity in our 2019 Annual Report, pages 4 & 5.
We all have our reasons for protesting the murder of Mr. Floyd by police officers in broad daylight in front of cameras on May 25, 2020.
As a veteran, the growing militarization of our police forces has been alarming for me. Our cities and towns should not resemble war zones.
Seeing the treatment of peaceful protesters in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s slaying by police seems as though the police are doubling down on the murder.
Even after a citywide ban on tear gas and other “chemical irritants” in Seattle, the police continued to use them.
The police position themselves “above the law” through openly murdering people of color without fear of reprisal or retaliation.
We are at a crisis point as a nation.
It was only after massive street protests that anyone was arrested for the murder of George Floyd. This is an unacceptable.
If we as a society do not work to “reboot” the system, and address the militarization of our police and the systemic and structural racism that girds it, the abuses will continue.
For a better understanding of the systemic problems that face the police forces across this country, please review this article, written by a former 10-year veteran of the “boys in blue”: Confessions of a Former Cop, published June 6, 2020.
As a veteran, I have started two other memorials. One is the annual Skywalk, now in its 10th year, a 22-mile annual walk across the Sandia Mountains of Albuquerque in memory my former commander, Colonel Ted Westhusing, the highest ranking whistleblower of the Iraq War.
The second memorial is Larkin’s Loop, an 8-mile memorial hike around the Williams Lake Cirque in Taos, in memory of legendary Taos freeheeler and environmental and social justice advocate, Patrick Larkin, who was lost to us as a result of senseless gun violence.
This third memorial, the George Floyd Ocean Beach Memorial, is intended to occur not once a year, as Skywalk and Larkin’s Loop, but every Sunday at 7:30pm.
While there are yet many among us unable or unwilling to face the ongoing dehumanization of people of color, we gather at the George Floyd Ocean Beach Memorial and confront racism whenever and wherever we encounter it; whether in the open streets in broad daylight, or in the unlit corners of society: the backrooms, the boardrooms and the courtrooms.
This patch of wall, sand and water looking out to the western sky is now sacred ground in the vital resistance against the systemic and structural racism that plagues our nation and undermines our national security.
We will not just mourn. We will also dance and sing and spread the love that is in our hearts for our collective humanity.
At dusk, hundreds of California Brown Pelicans journey past the George Floyd Ocean Beach Memorial. In addition to resourcefulness, the pelican totem symbolizes social responsibility and the attributes of teamwork, generosity and friendship.
We know that there are many other names that could be added to the George Floyd Ocean Beach Memorial, perhaps as many names as there are pelicans in the sky.
As the Health and Wellness Officer for the Angel Fire Ski Patrol, which has its fair share of AARP members, I am asked now and again what kind of routines I find helpful for managing my health as it relates to aging, as well as mental, physical, and emotional well being.
Without any hesitation, I always start by extolling the obvious benefits of sustained physical exertion in combination with the great outdoors: parks, woods, wilderness areas, oceans, beaches, mountains, rivers, lakes, etc.
As a veteran, the outdoors has been an invaluable source of solace, comfort and healing for me. I would say I am outside as often as possible, with trips to natural settings at least several times a week. When I can’t travel very far, I go for long walks right out my front door. My nearby neighbor’s property borders on public wilderness, so with his permission, I am able to pass through his land to gain access to miles of trails, streams, and mountains.
Of course, one of the great advantages of serving as a ski patroller is that we are out exerting ourselves in the mountains all the time. But just as important as my strenuous outdoor activities is my yoga/meditation practice, which can be every bit as strenuous. If you have not tried it, you may surprise youself. Without a doubt, although yoga came into my life later than the outdoor physical activity, I recognize in the power of yoga, particularly as it relates to cultivating and maintaining an “inner calm” in the face of adversity, an incredible ability to further tap into inner recesses of power, resiliency, and hope.
Given the requirements of social distancing associated with the ongoing pandemic, I have had to modify my yoga practice to rely primarily on on-line classes available on YouTube. I have found that I enjoy doing yoga every bit as much on the floor of my living room as I have ever enjoyed in a formal yoga studio. In fact, it is so good, that I would not have a problem if all the yoga I could do was yoga on the floor of my living room in front of the woodstove.
To make matters even better, I have found on YouTube a rich resource of classes and instructors. One class in particular, entitled, 45 minute Intermediate Yoga Flow, referenced in a previous blog, has become my go-to class.
Additionally, my yoga practice, particularly the emphasis on focused breathing, has helped me in my outdoor exertion. I make it a point to try and breathe through my nose and exhale through my mouth, just as I do in my yoga practice. I find that this helps settle my mind, sharpen my senses, and even improves my balance. This is particularly helpful when you are engaged in climbing mountains, as I often am.
I find that climbing mountains helps soothe and calm me, gives me a sense of purpose, and helps me process and deal with the great anxiety and heart pangs that I am living with. For the last five years, I have been engaged in a challenging effort to maintain a relationship with my youngest boy. Even with the help of the best attorneys in the world, the road to maintain contact between us is long, arduous, and filled with obstacles.
In order to endure, and not descend into the depths of despair, which would serve neither me or my son, I have to sip religiously from the chalice of hope and positivity. And I have managed to do this through maintaining healthy practices and embracing outdoor living and physical challenge, including the practice of telemark and mountaineering, which I have also blogged about.
It is no wonder that I have become so practiced at sustaining my own resiliency, and cultivating equanimity and “inner calm,” that I have been named the Health and Wellness Officer for the Angel Fire Ski Patrol, a position which fills me with great pride and satisfaction, even in the face of my other hardships and grief.
For to be sure, part of managing one’s health and wellness is managing one’s grief. There is no doubt that yoga and meditation and outdoor exertion and otherwise healthy practices go a long way to managing grief and promoting mental health.
For all those out there dealing with the challenges of COVID-19, the solitariness, the social distancing, the isolation, perhaps even the virus itself, keep fighting your impulse to give in to despair. This can present itself as over-eating, inaction, excessive screen time (TV, smartphone, social media, movies, etc.), morbid passivity, and withdrawal from the concerns of life.
It is never too late to start developing good habits.
If you are not in the habit of walking, start taking walks. Even if all you do is walk around the rooms of your home for an hour, that is better than nothing. Ideally, you should be able to walk outside safely, perhaps wearing a facial covering of some sort, but ideally positioning yourself in areas far enough away from others, that a facial covering is merely a precaution, and not necessary. Start taking care of some plants. Maybe seedlings. Put up a bird feeder or a hummingbird feeder.
In a word, start paying attention to all the living things that have a stake in this world and this life besides yourself.
And then, keep on keeping on. With each meditation session, each yoga session, each mountain climbed, each hummingbird sighted, each excursion into the bosom of Mother Nature, you will feel an increased sense of health welling up inside yourself, an enhanced sense of connection to all living things, and even an appreciation for your own resiliency, and ability to persevere.
For persevere you must, my friend. There remain canvasses to be painted, waves to be ridden, and mountains to be climbed. And somewhere out there is a young boy, reading your crayon-scribbled letters, counting on your strength, positivity, and enduring love.
As your Health and Wellness Officer, I would like to share with you some thoughts and ideas on how to help navigate these challenging times of COVID-19.
1. Online Yoga: As you know, our community center yoga with MB has been canceled. Keep in mind that there are tremendous amounts of yoga classes that can be found online, such as on YouTube. Here is a 45 minute intermediate flow session that is my go-to. I like the ocean in the background, and the occasional bird that flies by. I find this class very calming and relaxing, while still providing adequate intensity and challenge: https://youtu.be/TWSo_Z4j3N4
2. Area Beautification: This is a simple thing that can be done just outside your door, and is a good excuse to get out and walk a bit. Consider going outside with a garbage bag and picking up cans and debris and litter that may have sheltered beneath the snow all winter but has since been exposed. It may not seem like much, but the positive feelings associated with beautifying your neighborhood, yard, stretch of road, etc, can go a long way to maintaining a positive mood and attitude. Remember JCs heroic efforts on Upper Domingo? While he was cleaning up the lift line, endorphins were flowing.
3. Gardening/Yard maintenance: This doesn’t have to be involved. It can be as simple as pulling a few weeds, getting rid of brush piles that have accumulated, or planting some flowers. Anything to get you outside and take a break from any “cabin fever” that may be developing.
3. Heart Monitor/GPS: For years I have relied on orienteering skills to navigate the my woods and wilderness areas. Recently I have become interested in being better able to better monitor my activity on the trail via a heart monitor. Having used it now for several outings, I find it indispensable. Combining the heart monitor with a GPS makes wilderness travel safer. It is now possible to plan a route on the computer, transfer the data to the watch, and then have all that information and guidance at your fingertips. It is also fun to record the location of terrain features you come across, such as possible bivouac sites, rock formations, water crossings, etc. That way you can return to them anytime. In these times of COVID, anything we can do to make our outdoor recreation safer is a good call, and a GPS watch/heart monitor is a clear advantage. Once marketed for $400 or more, models can now be had for half that or less. I recently picked up a heavily discounted Suunto Ambit3 Peak with heart monitor, and after using it for a week, I am blown away by all the functionality it possesses, and consider it worth every penny. It even provides a recommended amount of “recovery time” in hours after you get back from your hike or walk or activity, etc.
4. Wilderness Outings: We are all practicing good snow-cial distancing, as far as I can tell. What this means to me is no carpooling, no lingering at trailheads, and keeping group activity to three or fewer individuals (four at the most). I have also been avoiding crowded trailheads, or going very early in the morning to avoid any bottlenecking in the parking lots or on the trails. Yes, we must practice responsible distancing. Yes, we must exercise due caution in wilderness areas. But outings to the wilderness are an essential part of my routine to ensure mental and physical well-being. I am able to access the woodline out my back door with a short walk through my neighbor’s yard, so with reasonable adaptations, I continue with wilderness excursions on a regular basis. The only thing I would add is that I think we should avoid any significant travel to distant trailheads. For instance, areas in Colorado I would not think twice about visiting in past years are now off the radar. I think somewhere around 50 miles should be our upper limit. Stay local and low-key as much as possible
5. Hummingbird feeder: This is a small thing you can do that can be a source of additional good feelings. I noticed my first hummingbird of the season on April 7. It returned again yesterday. I suspect it won’t be long before I have a crowd gathering. The little guys are continuing to make their way up north as we speak.
6. Surf and ski videos: Watching some videos can be a nice way to relax and cultivate some good vibes in the face of all the anxiety associated with this pandemic. Jamie O’Brien is a surfing legend who has been surfing Pipeline for roughly 30 years since the age of 7. His refined sense and feel for the waves and the ocean are truly extraordinary. “I definitely consider myself a spiritual person because I talk to the ocean and I talk to my surroundings. I start telling it, ‘Hey, I’m committed to you, I live here, I love you. I just want to…just serve me that wave and I’ll do my best to please you’.” He is responsible for putting out weekly video blogs on YouTube that are always high-action, exuberant, and feature amazing waves and beautiful ocean scenes. For my part, I find videos and images of the ocean very calming and soothing at this time. Here is a good video introduction to @whoisjob and the impact he has had in the surfing world: https://youtu.be/fxz-6seHm3w
5. Stay Connected: Continue reaching out to your friends and family, other patrol members, etc. This is not just for us, but for them as well. I am now able to video chat with my sons a couple times a week. It isn’t the best arrangement, but it is for sure better than nothing. My sons are both out of school and facing challenges of their own with the significant disruption of their routine. The increased amount of social distancing and challenges that we are all facing can weaken our resiliency, attitude, motivation, etc. My cell signal can be intermittent based on the weather, with texting unreliable at times, but you can always reach me via email at email@example.com. Additionally, with the extended periods of time that many of us are spending indoors, we are spending a lot of “screen time.” Probably too much. I would suggest trying to limit your “screen time” where possible. The news of the day can be disheartening, so limiting your exposure to negative news can be helpful to cultivating and maintaining a positive attitude. (And let’s face it, any activity outdoors beats sitting on your phone!)
6. Alright! That’s it for now! I am going to have some lentils and rice for lunch, my go-to protein source, and get out there and pick up some trash on the highway!!
Stay healthy, and stay psyched! We’ll be back out on the mountain in no time!
On a day off, I stoke a fire, brew coffee, and sit down on a chair fashioned from split kindling. Ranger, a shaggy-haired buddy who lives down the road, comes by for a scratch and to piss on my snow tires. I gave him a ham bone on Christmas Day, which he has been unable to forget. So now I am a fixture on his neighborhood rounds.
Which is fine by me.
My involvement in a war I consider unjust, illegal and immoral has been costly. As an infantry captain serving under Colonel Ted Westhusing, whose tragic death is surrounded by controversy, I had my moral compass shattered.
Four years after returning home, plagued with guilt, reckless and out of control, I struck a tree, and shattered my body.
I could easily have become a statistic on January 31, 2009, and died from a fractured pelvis, sternum, tib/fib, and lower vertebrae. Yet one more unremarkable veteran casualty. But somehow I lived. I lived in part thanks to the mountains that I began climbing a year later, following an arduous period of recovery confined to a bed, then graduating to a wheelchair, then to a walker, then to crutches, and finally regaining the ability to walk half a year after my hospitalization. The following winter, I started going to the rodeo grounds in Santa Fe and participating in a therapeutic riding program run by Gus Jolley. This program, known as Listening Horse, as well as my friendship with Gus, a veteran of the Vietnam War, has been an additional source of strength and support over the years.
In 2011, a puppy came into my life, Abigail Benally, born into a pack of seven on the windswept steppes near Shiprock. She became my spirit partner, going everywhere with me. In 2014, after I obtained a Wilderness First Responder certification at the Outward Bound basecamp near Leadville, we began ski patrolling together. My gear was rudimentary telemark gear: a two-buckle Scarpa boot, some Hardwire bindings, and a 10th Mountain Karhu ski with fish scales–68mm underfoot. Two years after my accident, I taught myself to telemark ski in the Sandias as a way to help regain range of motion in my right ankle. Together, we wandered countless miles through the snowy woods.
I lost Abigail to cancer in 2018. She died at the cusp of a shutdown of all of our national forests as a fire precaution due to severe drought conditions. It was as though she didn’t want to hang around for all the trailhead closures and red tape drawn across every forest access road. Abigail left me too soon, but her impact and presence could not have been more beneficial. On Wheeler Peak at the age of 4 months, to the top of Blanca Peak a year later, she was my lodestar, my “bringer of joy.” She accompanied me everywhere, including every weekly trip to see my son in Albuquerque.
I have a pair of skis that feature her paw print and silhouette. I briefly wrestled with the notion of keeping the skis pristinely hanging on the wall, but eventually realized that the right place for them is in the mountains, where we roamed free.
Every May for the last decade, I do a memorial hike across the Sandias, known as Skywalk, in honor of my commander, Colonel Ted Westhusing, who died at the age of 44.
I no longer bear arms; the only war I now wage is against the mountains with my legs. On mornings when I am not patrolling, I wake up at 3:30am, make a bowl of oatmeal with chia seeds and golden flax and hemp hearts, and head out to gain a glimpse of heaven on earth in the high mountains at first light.
I will continue to ski patrol as long as I can and spread telemark through the Sangre Academy of Telemark and Nature, founded in 2016 with fellow ski patroller, Jonah ‘Drift’ Thompson.
My dream is for more children to be exposed to telemark, and for our academy to expand. I have helped coach chess to kids in Albuquerque for the last couple years with the local chess academy, and I believe telemark would be a wonderful addition to chess, as both activities cultivate thoughtfulness, mindfulness, concentration, and good decision making.
Drop knees not bombs.
Alex ‘Telemón’ Limkin is a member of the Angel Fire Ski Patrol in New Mexico. He serves as that patrol’s health and wellness officer, and is a co-founder of the Sangre Academy of Telemark & Nature. He is a 2019 -2020 NSP Subaru Ambassador.
This was the catchphrase of Patrick Larkin (1956-2019) whose last contribution to Facebook, on August 5, was an admonition on gun control. Three weeks later, in the dawn hours, Patrick, 63, in his non-mediocre prime of life, was cowardly set upon by a gun-wielding neighbor with a vendetta, and–in a single instant–leveled.
Guns are for cowards.
I say this as a soldier who specialized in gun violence, from everything from dinky 5.56mm cartridges that you could carry by the hundreds, to 105mm shells weighing 100lbs a piece, that you cradled in your arms one at a time.
Guns are for cowards.
I say this as a soldier who slept with guns, who cradled guns like infants, who oiled guns in his sleep.
Guns are for cowards.
A mediocre Fixed Heeler is locked up in jail today, and a legendary Free Heeler has been lost to us, due to a senseless proliferation of guns, permitted to flood from the battlefield into every nook and cranny and crevice of our domestic lives.
Guns are for cowards.
Never stop speaking out against mediocrity, against cowardice, against injustice, against madness, stupidity, and moral turpitude.
Thank you for your example, Patrick Larkin.
Thank you for your grace and beauty in the mountains above.
And for staring rottenness in the face without flinching in the valleys below.
Even as we mourn your death, so too do we celebrate your life.
Without the extra postage the letters come back covered in marker admonishing me.
So I am careful to align two stamps dress right dress.
I am also careful to eat no more than a few of the gummies.
I feed my son things my sister would never feed her children.
She judges me for it as I judge her.
I have seen my sister eat an entire chocolate bar numerous times.
Not suddenly. But bit by bit until nothing is left.
It's actually not that unusual. I have done the same but faster.
It's silly to feud with your sister when there are so many others worth fighting more.
So I offer her things I spot around Avia's kitchen: a cup of chai, some chocolate, a bit of cheese.
Things she has bought. But still.
Our mother taught us how to love.
This is too important to ignore.
Using my phone my son takes pictures of Avia's garden.
35 pictures he takes.
Of stone turtles hanging chairs the upper half of a pine tree snapdragons a colony of mint a plastic dinosaur a small mound of rocks covering a tree stump the side of my head the front door but from a distance.
It is silly to feud with your sister when there are so many others worth fighting more.