Dave & Greg's Excellent Adventures
When board junkies go skiing with the Army.
Thursday, December 27, 2001
It''s 3pm on a December Friday afternoon, and the ski rental department at the Presidio''s Outdoor Recreation Department is going nuts. Snowboard manager Dave Chappell, his reddish curly hair pulled back in a ponytail, finishes setting up a snowboard for a fatigues-clad soldier.
"Are you ready to shreddy?" Chappell asks him with a laugh. Ski tour manager Greg Mackrill makes sure that the volunteer drivers have shown up to prepare the 15-passenger vans for the trip up to Tahoe. Josh Doss, Chappell''s best friend, fellow MPC student and a ski tech, waxes a snowboard and sharpens the edges.
The vans bear the logo MWR, or Morale, Welfare, Recreation, reflecting the intention of the Presidio''s Recreation Department to provide a relief from the intensity of soldierly duties. "It''s a safe and healthy release for military members," says Outdoor Recreation Director Terry Siegrist. "The whole purpose of this program is to ensure that our service members have a structured outlet through recreation, and the activities we offer also provide skills that keep up military readiness."
Siegrist''s program, run entirely with "soldier dollars," has just been named the most successful military outdoor recreation department in the world. Each year, 10,000 customers stream through the ski department doors to take advantage of the discounted rental prices and trips such as this one.
It''s almost 5pm and skis and snowboards have been loaded on the roof racks of the vans. Everything runs on precise military time, with departure at 1700 hours and two stops on the way scheduled like clockwork. Mackrill and fiancee Holly Blakenship, who does PR for the outdoor program, hop in the van with the military folk for the six-hour haul. Doss and Chappell will head up later, after work. Clifton Archuleta and Manije Irani, Arabic students at DLI, are among the soldiers on the trip. Others include military dependents, NPS students, and military retirees, some as old as 78.
"There''s a very big diversity on the trips," says Siegrist. "By the end of the trip they realize that they all share the same resource and it takes away some barriers."
Chappell agrees. "Before I worked here I called the students walking trees in their camo, the whole stereotyped thing. Then I realized they are just kids looking for an opportunity to grow." Chappell appreciates that his permanent grin and propensity toward bear hugs bring a bit of levity into the soldier''s lives. "The kids are so stressed out. They''re our age, but they''ve got major studies," he says. "Greg and I are like a breath of fresh air. We can make them laugh and make sure they have a good weekend and aren''t just deep in books."
It isn''t until 9pm that Doss and Chappell head out of Monterey, after a quick coffee stop at Starbucks. At 11:30pm they refuel at the ski trip''s first official rest stop in Santa Nella, and the two perform their traditional celebratory handstands outside of McDonald''s. It''s 2am when they start climbing Highway 50, and 4am when they reach the condo that''s been reserved for them. Mackrill and Blakenship are long since asleep. The guys unroll sleeping bags and hit the sack.
Two hours later, at 6am, Chappell is playing tribal music and drumming the bed, walls, and tables as he plunks a cup of coffee next to Doss, who tells him to shut up. Mackrill checks the snow conditions at the resorts, then phones Siegrist to decide the best place for the group to ski today. Today''s choice is Heavenly, based on 18 inches of new snow and proximity to the group. Mackrill drives the van to a local motel and picks up the military group at 7:30am.
Everyone is quiet and orderly as they load into the van. At Heavenly, lift tickets are distributed and people break apart in little groups to ski together. Blankenship, Doss, Mackrill and Chappell end up skiing with soldiers Irani and Archuleta. Chappell pats Irani''s arm affectionately after taking her through the deep powder in the trees for the first time. "I gave her tips and less than a year later she''s shredding!" he says.
"On the board I feel like I''m flying," says Irani.
The groups reshuffle after a quick lunch break at the lodge. Some discover the giant innertubes and go tubing, while Doss and Chappell head over to the snowboard park to ride the half-pipe with Archuleta. At the end of the day, the group reconvenes at Chevy''s for dinner and cranberry margaritas, drivers abstaining, and discuss the day.
"It was sick!" Chappell exclaims. "Choice pow-pow," Mackrill agrees, rubbing his arm where he smacked into a jump. At 10pm this group is tired and hits the sack early in preparation for day two. This time Sierra Summit is the plan, since the wind has picked up and it''s in a protected bowl. Mackrill''s dressed for the occasion in tie-dyed rainbow long johns and a Jerry Garcia bearded face mask. The military customers are unfazed. It''s all part of Dave and Greg''s excellent adventures.