News from Pete KJ

Ivy Baldwin
April 12, 2017

William Ivy was born on July 31, 1866 in Houston. He left home at age 10 and became a paperboy for the San Antonio Light and Express.

That was my first job too! Except I worked for the Seattle Times. I wish kids these days had more opportunities to do that kind of thing. Long ago, paper routes got taken over by adults, and then newspapers got taken over by something else. Such is the way all things change and become. Anyway, the paper route is where me and Ivy’s lives diverge – or maybe not. I hope not.

In San Antonio, Ivy got good at walking across a high-wire strung across the San Antonio River. He also dove off a bridge to win bets, and did trapeze stunts hanging from a tree branch over said river. Naturally, when the Thayer Dollar Circus came to town, Ivy ran away with it. It was 1877; he was 11. Actually he’d already run away from home, so this was just the next phase of development.

In the circus Ivy hooked up with two brothers named Baldwin to do high-wire and trapeze. He changed his name to Ivy Baldwin became one of the Baldwin Brothers.

Balloon stunts were getting big in circuses in those days. One day in Terre Haute, one of the balloonists got drunk and didn’t show up for work, so Ivy filled in. At 5’ 3.5” and 120 pounds he had a great build for it, as well as an innate desire to be up in the air.

Balloons in those days were made out of something like a bedsheet, held over a stack from a wood fire in a covered trench by 20 or so men. The soot from the fire would cling to the interior seams and help to seal them. When the balloon was hot enough to ascend, it would go as high as 3,000 feet and slow to a hover as it cooled.

As the balloon went up in front of spectators, one of the men would get “caught in the ropes.” That was Ivy. He’d hang from a bar by his knees, or by his toes, and perform acrobatics as it went up. At about 2,500 feet he’d let go, free-fall, and pull a parachute from a sack.

With the Baldwin Brothers, Ivy traveled all over the world doing all kinds of stunts. In 1890, the Emperor of Japan was so impressed that he had a special kimono sewn for Ivy depicting balloons, parachutes, and crazy leaps.

Ivy broke from the Baldwin Brothers in 1893 and went solo, basing himself in Denver thereafter. He’d already gained a strong affinity for Colorado as home; in 1890 the Baldwins had been a major part of the opening of Elitch Gardens Amusement Park. Ivy became something of a Denver fixture. Say, if a new saloon was opening, he would be seen walking between rooftops. This was free-wheeling, wild west Denver. When he did the same stunts back East he had to comply with local regulations, which often stipulated a net. One time in Baltimore, to stay legal he ran out and got an old fishing net at the last minute and laid it on the ground beneath his tightrope.

In 1894 Ivy joined the Army Signal Corps to help get its balloon program going. This was the very early days of the “air” force, and the Corps was near to giving up when Ivy and his wife Bertha sewed up a new balloon in their living room. He became a sergeant in charge of ‘the’ military balloon, and went with it to the Cuba to serve in the Spanish-American war. In 1898 he and an associate were shot down near enemy lines a day before the Battle of San Juan Hill near Santiago de Cuba (on the southeast coast near Guantanamo). This made them the first American aviators to get shot down. They landed in a river and survived. Ivy finished his enlistment in 1900 and was honorably discharged. Later, he served in World War I.

A contemporary of the Wright brothers, Ivy in the early 1900s got involved in the design-build and testing of prototype aircraft – and in the many crack-ups of them. But he never lost his life, nor his affection for ballooning, parachuting, and – especially – his first love: tightrope walking.

In 1906 or so, Ivy began a long association with the El Dorado Springs Resort in the stunning El Dorado Canyon, which is 9 miles southwest of Boulder. This is where I “met” Ivy, while doing research for my hiking book a few weeks ago. El Dorado is now a rustic state park with hiking trails, and has been a rock climbers’ mecca since the inception of the sport. But in the early 1900s it was a major commercial resort. On summer days, El Dorado attracted tens of thousands to its artesian water-filled swimming pools and carnival atmosphere. Fine hotels such as the New El Dorado catered to honeymooners such as Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower. Glenn Miller played the dance hall.

There is a spot in the El Dorado Canyon entrance that cries out for a tightrope walker. This is the span between Bastille Rock, on the south side, and Wind Tower on the north. It’s about 600 feet across and almost the same amount of feet high.

Ivy did the walk more than 80 times over decades. Sometimes he did it backwards. One time he had to stop and hang by his knees for about an hour to let a storm pass.

Ivy said his act was “the greatest poison in the world” because “one drop could kill you.” But it never did. He died at the age of 87, in bed in his house in El Dorado Springs. By then his daredevil life had exceeded standard expectancy by 45 and 20 years, respectively, of what it was when he was born and when he died.

A few years before, in 1948, on his 82nd birthday, Ivy walked El Dorado Canyon for the last time. The wire was set lower than usual and for a shorter span, but only on the insistence of his daughter. The event was filmed by LIFE Magazine, and you can watch the video here. The best part is seeing smiling, fit Ivy step off the other end, wave, and climb down the rocks.

One source said that Ivy felt so good after his “final” walk that he did it again the next day.

This is the part where me and Ivy’s life stories will re-converge. I’ll keep on changing, becoming, and exploring, all my life, and when I’m 82 I’ll keep doing the shit that I love to do, including the shit I loved to do when I was ten years old. Call it poison. And get up and do it again the next day.

It would be nice to die in bed, but we don’t have a say in that matter do we. Or to quote Maggie (Molly) Brown, another oddball Coloradan who I wrote about last month:

"I am a daughter of adventure. This means that I never experience a dull moment, and never know when I may go up in an airplane and come down with a crash, or go motoring and climb a pole, or go off for a walk in the twilight and return all mussed up in an ambulance. That's my arc, as the astrologers would say. It's a good one, too, for a person who had rather make a snap-out than a fade-out of life."

(written shortly before she died in bed in her sleep)

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Malted Molly
March 13, 2017

“As we reached a sea as smooth as glass…I saw that it was necessary for someone to bend the oars. I placed mine in the oarlocks…”

--Margaret Brown, reporting to the Newport Herald in May of 1912, a month after the Titanic.

I visited the Molly Brown House after work one day last week. The historical Denver house-turned-museum on Pennsylvania Street, which the Browns bought in 1894 when it was six years old, was on my way home. I had a couple of motivations for stopping by.

One was research. I’d already been to the house once, a year ago with my kids when I didn’t know I’d be performing in the Broadway – and phony – version of Margaret’s life. Nowadays, three nights a week I play a French prince smitten by Molly. I chase her, woo her, and get her to say she’ll marry me. And each time she ditches me in the penultimate scene. I stand there singing and crying in a blue spotlight while SHE gets on the Titanic and goes back to Colorado to live happily ever after with her husband. Which isn’t what happened. Well, she did get on the Titanic, and by most accounts she lived happily, but not ever after, and definitely not with husband. All this I knew. But still I wanted to spend some more time in the house and presence of Maggie (she never went by the name “Molly”).

I was also looking for inspiration. I’m now in week eight or so of working on a book about 101 hikes along Colorado's Front Range. I’ve written almost twenty, and with each one I get slightly less of a feeling of “what have I gotten myself into?” But only slightly. And as I walk and walk (and walk), I’m getting pickier. My hike reject rate keeps going up. It’s approaching 30%. Part of this is because I don’t read anyone else’s info. I go into each hike ‘cold’ and I collect my own data and impressions.

On the day of the Molly Brown House, I was on my way home from a reject: Waterton Canyon. Why a reject? I’ll save that for my sequel: “50 ½ Hikes Not to Bother Doing Along Colorado's Front Range.” Suffice to say it finally got good at mile 7. At mile 8 it got great, and I had to tear myself away. I wanted to keep going! But this is a book about day hikes. People don’t want to walk twenty frigging miles in one day.

I was tired and feeling kind of defeated by the time I called in on 134 Pennsylvania Street for the tour. It was hard for me to see walking all day to throw a hike in the trash as progress. Like rowing to stand still and not get sucked into the vortex of the Titanic. “Energize me, Maggie!” I said as I came through the door. And she did, with that bit about dipping your oars in the water and keeping going. In the real life of Margaret Brown, that moment added energy and a platform to her many passions, which she continued to pursue with verve.

Passions are good. I like passions. “Only touch the things that turn you on,” says my friend Jane Siberry. “Let whatever makes you dark and dull and drained be gone. Even if people criticize and say you’re wrong.”

So yeah, I am rowing away at this book thing. Whenever I find myself looking too far ahead, I tell myself to cut it out. To go one week at a time, one hike at a time, one article at a time, one step, one pen-stroke at a time. And kicking a hike off the list is progress. It’s 101 hikes, not 202!

Who am I to groan? Most of the time my problem is that I walk too much amazing stuff and build up an onerous backlog. I got to watch it. I’m already doing three hikes in one day sometimes, and daylight is getting longer. “You are not allowed to hike again until you get caught up on writing,” I tell myself.

And I am meeting great people as I walk, many posthumously. A couple Thursdays ago I was on Mount Galbraith, just outside of Golden. I came out of a gulch and headed up a grassy hillside, and the behemoth Coors Brewery came into view. That sucker is gigantic. And I finally wondered, “Who was the dude who started that?”

A pretty incredible dude, to tell you the truth. Adolph Kuhrs was orphaned at age 15 while working as apprentice at a brewery in Germany. A few years later, in 1868, he stowed away on a ship to the USA as an undocumented immigrant. He moved to Denver, worked as a gardener, saved his pennies, and got control of a bottling business. With passion for brewing re-invigorated, he and a partner converted a tannery in Golden City to a brewery. Damn was that tannery beer good! And when prohibition hit in 1916, and lasted 17 years, did Kuhrs quit? No way. Using his customary ingenuity and adaptability, Adolph diversified into industry-leading malted milk, near-beer, chemicals, and other products including porcelain. The porcelain business survives to this day. In fact, Coors quarried clay for its porcelain on 75 of the acres of the Mount Galbraith Park I was walking on.

Mount Galbraith is a great hike! It’s going to be in the book.

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Year of the Rooster
February 12, 2017

Happy Lunar New Year! Or Tet, or Chinese New Year, or whatever you'd like to call it. Friday night, January 27 was New Year’s Eve. We have left behind the Year of the Monkey and entered the Year of the Rooster!

It caught me a little by surprise. Last year I enjoyed Tet festivities in Hanoi, and I had it in my head that Tet happened in February and was a “spring” thing. After all, the fifteen-day sequence of celebrations is often called “Spring Festival” in Chinese.

But the exact dates shift around a quite bit, and definitely tilt towards winter. Lunar year begins on the first new moon between 21 January and 20 February, which means it is usually only two moons after the winter solstice.

To be more precise, we have entered the Year of the Fire Rooster, since in the twelve-year cycle the animal components are modified by the five elements. What does this mean? Lots of things, if you wish to dig into astrology. This might be a good year to be punctual, trustworthy, and to manage your money. But hell, every year is good for that isn't it. Also, people might be a little more polite this year, be a little bit less stubborn, and keep up with their tendency to complicate things. I’m gonna work on the first two and ditch the third.

Zodiac aside, one thing’s for certain: The Rooster crows. The Rooster is a WAKE UP CALL.

And that’s a good thing. Maybe it was an essential thing if you lived in the days before alarm clocks.

I like to think of the Year of the Rooster as an ongoing invitation to wake up. Be present, be aware. And to keep asking myself, “What am I learning here? What is my life teaching me? And what am I going to do, right now, in this moment?”

On a sort of different note, we opened "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" at the Jesters Dinner Theater last night, after several delays for several reasons including not having a kitchen until yesterday. Talk about awareness! Negotiating myriad scene and costume changes while remembering lines and songs was all good fun, and I can’t wait to go back and do it all again plus wait tables today.

For all you lovers out there, we have a special performance of this Colorado love story coming up on Tuesday night, in celebration of Valentine’s Day. For tickets you can go to the Jesters website, or call 303-682-9980. We run the show into April.

In other news, I recently signed a contract to write a book about 101 hikes in the Rocky Mountains close to Denver, scheduled for publication in 2019. To get started I made a list: 140 hikes to walk and whittle down. I’ve got a lot of work to do! And I am on it.

Speaking of…does anyone want to go hiking with me? Let me know, I’d love to have you come along. I am out there several times a week all through this Year of the Fire Rooster. Also, you can be in the book if you want to – your beautiful front or backside, your choice. My publisher wants people in the pictures we include with the hikes, so readers can ‘see’ themselves on the trails.

One thing I am certainly waking up to thanks to this project: There is a ton of truly great hiking to be done here all year round.

Who needs to wait until summer? It’s been a great gig so far: say on a Thursday morning, walking up through scented ponderosa forest in sunshine, patches of snow, mule deer hopping around and ogling me. Doesn’t suck, for a job.

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Arbor Day in Enero
El 11 de enero (January 11th), 2017

I swung by my town’s tree limb diversion center today to drop off a few bags of leaves. Typical Colorado, after New Year’s snow we had a warm dry spell last week before it chilled down and snowed a foot, so I had a window to rake the back yard. I was out there in shorts and a tee shirt doing it.

Autumn leaf collection around here can be challenging. Lots of times it snows before the leaves all fall off. Other times they fall and then it snows on top of them, and it is easy to never get around to it until spring (that’s what happened with me last year). This year was a bit different: I took off traveling at the beginning of October and didn’t get back until a few days before Christmas. But the leaves called to me during those warm dry days last week and I went out and got them.

I never did get a Christmas tree this year since I got back so close to Christmas. This was the first year in I don’t know – a couple of decades? – that I didn’t have a tree. Even when I lived in India I had a little tree in my apartment. Since I was in Vietnam and its environs this year in the run-up to Christmas, I saw only an occasional pink or blue decorated plastic tree in stores and coffee houses dotting the cityscapes. Then I got back to Colorado and got with the X-mas spirit, acting in “Scrooge” at the Jesters Dinner Theater. There were lots of decorations there and that was my tree this year.

But today, I got showered in Christmas trees! At the tree limb diversion center I was greeted by a whole mountain of them.

It was wonderful. I suppose you could look at this in a different way and see it as not so wonderful, but to me it was lovely. And they still smelled like Christmas! And sure, it was only a massif of unwanted evergreen, but I found myself standing and gaping. So many trees, hundreds, thousands of them. It’s weird. I felt the power of each one. Each individual tree had been the objective of an outing by someone, or by a family, and selected (usually after some debate), brought home (not easy!), decorated, and loved for so many days and nights. Each one. Each had been an object of happiness and delight, and probably a majority had been loved by children. Standing there faced with them all, I felt the cumulative power of the love and toil and celebration that had been involved with each one, including their planting, cultivation, harvest, and transport. Though they were simply discarded drying-out hunks of organic matter, each one radiated energy.

It’s true: I did not have a Christmas tree this year. I had a thousand Christmas trees!

In other news (I just got back from rehearsal), I will perform the role of Prince Delong in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” at the Jesters for the run of the show, from February 3 through April 2nd. In addition to having a single-cast Prince we have a single-cast Molly, so hopefully she and I can develop some chemistry. Actually I know we can. The lady playing Molly also played one of the Fantines in “Les Miserables” – the one who hit me so hard in the face that I had trouble chewing for three days. She’s a great actress! Her voice is even better.

For info, please go to the Jesters' website or call them at 303-682-9980.

Also, I’m still planning to kick out my new novel soon. Probably in a couple of weeks.

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Hanoi Home
December 12th, 2016

It was fiesta time again when I got back to Hanoi yesterday on a gorgeous fall Sunday morning. Something to do with lanterns. I took the sleeper train from the city of Vinh and it arrived late, which was perfect because by the time I walked over to the Hanoi Home Hotel, although Mr. Che was not expecting me, my room had just come available and they were cleaning it. Yay! So nice to be home. For the record, the room has been renumbered from 502 to 403. But it is still the same groovy crash pad way up above an alleyway near Saint Joseph’s.

Then I went over to Hoan Kiem Lake for a run, where I joined the crowd and the party. The perimeter street was closed off to traffic which made it fantastic for running, and I dodged lots of children driving around in electric toy cars. Paper lanterns hung everywhere.

Happy belated Thanksgiving week y’all. I hope you had a great one. Mine was spent in Saigon, careening the avenues and alleyways on the back of a motorbike and eating, eating, singing karaoke, and eating. We also hit a wedding and a funeral. FYI karaoke is a different than in the States, there are all these emporiums where you go into private plush rooms with your group and sit on couches and sing, and they bring in crates of beer and buckets of ice. Beer is drunk over ice. We never ate turkey, but one night at 1 AM after a karaoke fest we went for Peking duck. It was the whole nine yards, first the crispy skin carved up into strips for rolling into little rice burritos with pepper and cucumber, and then the rest of the bird brought in various noodle and rice dishes along with a pile of bone-in.

To get north I came up through Cambodia and Laos. Wow. That’s what I need to say about Laos. WOW. That was a quick scouting trip. I will be back. Then I dropped down from the mountains to the northern Vietnam city of Vinh where my American friend Cher was working.

I finally heard my first Christmas carol on Saturday, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” played from a shop as I rode on the back of Cher’s moto through the streets of Vinh. I am feeling a little disoriented because I’ve been on the road since October 3rd (I was in Africa for six weeks before coming to SE Asia). I have not much of a concept of what time of year it is. But I’ll get with it soon, I’ll be onstage next week in “Scrooge” at the Jesters in Longmont, singing Bob Cratchit. My dates there are Dec. 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, and 29.

This journey has been very much about working on new fiction and I am happy to report it has come off okay. I basically did back-to-back nanowrimos (National Novel Writing Month), turning off the internal editor and generating word count every day. I recommend this method. What you get is crap, but if you do it every day you get a lot of crap which you can then begin to work with. I now have 97,700 new words of crap.

Aside from that I still have a new novel. The Rooster’s Hindquarters, which is still “finished” (I hope), which I still plan to kick out early in 2017. I also might start working with a publisher on a Colorado hiking book. I did a shitload of hiking and climbing this past summer. In May I decided I would drive nowhere far until I climbed everything I could see from my house...and then I proceeded to nearly do it.

Best to you! Happy holidays.

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Kick It Out
November 11th, 2016

Third novel is complete, edited, and road-tested! But I've decided to let it sit a bit longer before I release it. Look for The Rooster's Hindquarters to come out in early 2017.

The title makes sense once you read the book, but in truth I owe it to my beloved sister-mama Ann Wilson of the rock group Heart. She wrote a song back in the 1970s which she didn't think much of, and kept referring to it as "The Rooster's Hindquarters." But her band thought the song was great and wanted to record it. So they did, and we have the song "Kick It Out." I used Ann's earlier song title as my working title all through the writing. It really helped, especially in the early stages when I was just trying to "kick it out" and the new writing often felt like a complete piece of shit and was. But now that I've love-labored over this manuscript for nearly two years, I like it! I look forward to kicking out what I hope will be a very fun story in just a few months.

In other news, I'm writing a new novel (that's not news). Also, I will reprise my role as Bob Cratchit in the musical "Scrooge" at the Jesters Dinner Theater in Longmont, Colorado in December. If you're in the area, don't miss watching Scott Moore give his iconic annual performance as Ebeneezer! He's really great and the whole show is lovely, a Longmont Christmas institution for nearly three decades.

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