© by Russ Walling
I first espied Miles during the lull of a violent snow and rainstorm at the Cochise Stronghold in Arizona. It was 11 p.m. and I was holed up in my van, a victim of not only partner mutiny, but what the newspaper said was a series of storms to rival those of biblical times. Having no animals to pair up, nor wood with which to build a ship, I decided to sit it out...alone. Then Miles showed up. My first glimpse of Miles should have steered me away from any further involvement. He was standing outside my van...inside a ring of fire. I peered hard through my foggy windows to get a better look, for even though I was from L.A., this was worth seeing. The flames leapt skyward and were engulfing his outstretched hands while dangerous tongues of fire embraced the sleeves on his well worn coat. He didn't seem to care. He just stood there in center and slowly rotated, giving equal opportunity to the entire circumference of flame to lick away at his garments. He was a small man, with a thick trunk and longer than they should be arms. A ballcap was set far back on his sloped head and revealed a wild shock of hair that would have looked more at home on a scrub brush. The fire threw an eerie, unflattering light onto the cruel simian features that made up his head...this was not a pretty man. Initially I thought his stunt was a poorly planned suicide, but there was clearly more to it than that. The fire died out and Miles produced a bottle from inside his knapsack, then poured out an unknown liquid to reestablish the area of the first ring. A quick spark from a lighter got the whole deal going again, and there was Miles, right in the middle, luxuriating. When the flames went down this time, so did Miles. He pulled a blanket from his pack and curled up in the center of the circle, and went to sleep...on the newly dried ground. I figured it would be a good idea to just let him be, and if boldness permitted, take it up with him in the morning. Part II Morning always seems to come earlier when it's freezing outside and there is a maniac on the loose. I woke up in my van and just laid there, listening...hopeful that character from the previous night had either passed away, or passed on through... either would have suited me fine. Since I heard no sounds outside, this was the cue to get out of the van and peruse the perimeter of my campsite. I cracked the double doors and slowly pushed my head out the opening. The spot where the ring of fire ceremony went down was empty. Well, I figured he must not be dead, unless he had the common decency to crawl away to die, for the campsite was quiet and apparently vacant. I slipped on some duds and a pair of blown "Jordans" then exited the van to look around. The storm had luckily dropped only a dusting of snow and some of it had already started to melt by the time I had the espresso going. I took a seat and poured out the first cup of 'spro and tried to form a plan. My rat-fink partners had deserted me, so roped climbing was out for today. I guess I could go bouldering, or God forbid, hike around. Before I could take an initial sip from my cup, another mug was pushed under my nose, "Hey, how's about sharing the wealth...partner?" I reared back in shock and tried to take in the whole package. It was the kook from the previous night. "Sorry to startle you pal," the kook went on, "but I nearly froze my ass off last night. Ya know, it was just like that forced bivy Twight and I had to make back in... hell a while back anyway, up there at 19,518 ft. I sure could use a warm drink to get the old engine to turn over...whaddya say?" "Yeah, yeah...sure." I grabbed the 'spro maker and filled the guys cup, then eyeballed him hard. Him and Twight? What's this guy talking about. I couldn't tell how old he was, but this definitely wasn't his first night out. He was fully weathered and his face looked like it had been exposed to hardship too often. Deep lines around his eyes and mouth mimicked poorly tooled leather. The general effect made me think of a gunnysack with eyes. His hands were big, fleshy, strong and scarred...the kind of rigs that belonged either in a Joshua Tree fist crack, or around some pretty young things neck. "Damn fine cup of Joe!" he blurted and broke me from my stare. "Got any more?" he inquired in a lighter tone, and offered up his cup. "Sure, sure," I said and poured all that was left into his cup. He took another sip and matter factly asked if I were a climber, and if I were, what was my name. I confirmed that I was a climber and my name was Julius Porcine. Feeling a bit bolder, I asked the same of him. "Yep, sure enough. Been doing it a while now." He took another sip and continued, "Must be close to twentyfive years since Higgins... some little French guy... and myself were ditching class to go bouldering at Stoney Point. Yep, taught them boys nearly everything they know." Twight, Higgins, Stoney Point, Jeez what a line of bull. I've known this guy under three minutes and already he's spinning whoppers. He went on to tell a few more stories, and I use the term literally, and finally got around to telling me his name..."Miles Glorious, from points unknown." The points unknown part seemed like the only truth I'd heard all morning. Being desperate for some time on the crag, I asked Miles if he wanted to go with me and try some crack behind camp called Dominatrix Without Mercy. I told him it was a short approach, might be in the sun, and should be pretty good from what I'd heard. "Dominatrix without who?" Miles inquired then rubbed his head. "I think I've done it already...in fact...I did the first ascent of that pile!" "Oh come on! That's a line of bull!" "No, no, it's all coming back to me now. Yeah, yeah, me and Cilley and that John Sherman guy did the thing. I had to bark beta to those guys all day to get them up it. Man, it was a piece of work...took me two tries and all... 'bout fifty for them other guys." I've heard guys spray before, but this was terminal. I held my tongue and asked if he would go and belay me anyway, that is if he had nothing better to do. He agreed and even offered to show me how to do it if needed. I said that would be fine, got the rack and rope ready, and headed out. The "Dominatrix" was in the sun and looked pretty good for a shorty. I laced up my boots and tried to block out the beta Miles was spewing. Miles put me on a hip belay and I started to work the jams up and left toward a flared pocket at mid-height. Miles made sure I didn't block any handjams with pro...like that Sherman guy did...and suggested I rest at the flare and then gun it for the top. After a shake-out at the flare, I kicked into a handrail lieback job and exited around the top. Miles let out a hoot and took me off belay. I set up a funky anchor over the top of the 'Natrix boulder and returned to the start. I told Miles that to clean this, we'd need a back rope/top rope deal. I set it up, and asked Miles if he was ready to climb. He checked the single bowline around his waist and positioned himself at the base. He chalked up and placed a hand into the initial jam, gave it a wiggle, and started to put it under load. "Just a second; give me some slack here," he said, then went over to his knapsack, rustled around inside, and pulled out a long kitchen variety thermometer. He returned to the crack and placed the thermometer into the first jam, told me sit tight for a couple of minutes, and started to spin another tale. Five minutes later he extracted the thermometer from the crack, gave it a look, and said, "Nope, too cold...guess you'll have to do it again to clean it." He then took off the bowline and offered me the ends of the cord. I started to lose it. "Say what...too cold? Thermometer? Are you nuts? I grabbed the cords and tied in, convinced he was nuts, and that was that. As I cleaned the pitch, Miles spewed forth the pressure and temperature limits on human epidermis and the corresponding gobie factors, as told to him personally by Dr. Stephen Hawking, astro-physicist and black hole specialist. I dismantled the top rope setup and packed up the gear just as the sucker hole that gave us this sunny spot started to dwindle. Miles gave me a barometer reading according to how afflictive his C4 region was, and declared the weather would be much worse within 42 minutes. I checked my watch and started down the trail just as Miles started to tell me how he hurt his C4 originally. Seems that the first American solo of the Eiger was going to be a tandem solo, just him and Wilford. Better than half way up, Wilford gets off route and just kind of freezes in place, aghast. Miles creeps over to Wilford and talks him back onto the standard route. Just then, rock fall wipes out Miles and he takes a fearsome ripper, for as he told it, close to 2700 feet. Luckily, as he flew by, an ice tool got permanently detained in an old sling wedged into a crack, which abruptly stopped his descent. He was unhurt and ready to try and catch up with Wilford when yet another rock, Honda car sized, caught him flush on his pate. This one did the damage to the ol' C4, and from that day on he could tell what the weather would do, plus or minus 5 minutes. When we got back to the car it started to dump snow and rain. I looked at my watch and as sure as it's an $8.00 Timex, 41 minutes had passed. It made me wonder. I decided to get out of this Cochise place and go to Hueco, immediately. I informed Miles of my plan and reluctantly offered him a ride... if he wanted to go. Miles said he was on his way to Hueco anyway and this would suit him just dandy. Within five minutes we packed up and were on our way toward Texas. Part III The drive from the Stronghold to Hueco is, to put it mildly, boring. As Miles droned on, I longed for the peaceful comfort that boredom brings on drives such as these. Miles described to me, at full volume, the time he got a flat tire out near Lordsburg, with his wife-to-be, Morgan Fairchild. Owing to the fact he wore only the full length mink Morgan had bought him...and his being buck naked underneath "cause that's the way she liked it"...she had to change the tire...in the rain. That little incident is why she dumped him. Miles continued to pour on the whoppers...How last time he drove through this area he didn't heed the signs warning motorists "not to pick up hitchhikers" because of the prison nearby. He picked one up, and guess who it was? Yep, Charlie Manson out for a joyride...Miles made a rugged segue from Manson to sports hero's...claimed he showed Nolan Ryan how to hold his heater just right...taught Joe Montana the secrets of a tight spiral...beat Michael Jordan in a one on one game on some Bronx blacktop. Miles never skipped a beat. He would start at taking Shelley Presson to the Prom and end up being Nixons' pool man back when Uncle Glorious was mayor of San Clemente. I hated to think the man a liar...before all the facts were in...but some of this stuff was pretty far out. I stopped to get gas at the Shell station in Demming. I needed a break from Miles more than I actually needed the gas, and looked forward to pumping it myself. Miles needed to use the head and ferreted out the attendant to get the key from him. I could hear Miles blabbing to the attendant right through the bathroom door. "When Dustin Hoffman needs pointers on method acting, who does he call? Yep, the guy sitting on this throne in here...Speaking of thrones, the Sultan of Oman told me the other day...says he came by this very station, to see how his oil was being used...said you boys did nice work." To say the attendant was a little disbelieving would be an understatement. I payed the man for the gas and waited for Miles to finish his business. Miles waltzed past the attendant, plopped the key in his hand, and told him he'd say "hi" to Madonna and Springsteen for him. As I drove out of the station I narrowly missed running over the attendants' jaw. We were back on the road for maybe two minutes, in silence, before I did the unthinkable. I pointed at his lap and told Miles his fly was open. Normally this would be no big deal, but it got Miles going again, "Fly open? Well hell, speaking of flying, did you know I'm the one who talked Tom Cruise into doing Top Gun?" Miles continued with verbatim dialog from the movie and explained the effect a negative-G dive has on the capillary system, duodenum, and the blood brain barrier of test pilots...of which he was one...of course...for a short while before.... Part IV Finally, we roll into El Paso. My ears are ringing from the onslaught of the last few hours, and luckily Miles has eased off a bit. The thirty minute drive out to the Tanks was uneventful, for Miles had dozed off, and there were no lies in his snores. I beached my bucket at Mexican Petes in a makeshift campsite, booted Miles out of my rig, then watched as he made his way into the brush to bivy. I'm thinkin' good riddance. The next day was flawless from the word go... I slept late, had fine weather, no noise and no Miles. Good day to roll into the Tanks and do some craggin', perhaps a spot of bouldering, then check out the local talent. After getting past the front gate (no easy feat) I headed straight for the Front Side and laced up the boots. A quick solo of the Sea Of Holes was fine for a warm-up, closely followed by a tremulous ascent of Malice. I goofed around on some new boulder problems on the top of the Main Formation, got turned back numerous times for lack of talent, and then bouldered my way back toward to the car. Just when all seemed well, Miles popped up and was waiting for me by the car. He asked what I'd been doing, so I told him...save for the lack of talent part. "Jeez-howdy!" Miles exclaimed. "I did that Sea O' Holes rig with one of them there Head brothers, Mike I think, anyway, fact is I think we both soloed it for the first ascent. Could'a been in 1977 or earlier. I do remember that my left Huarache fell off about eighty feet up and edging in my Argyles was quite a buzz." "Quite a buzz?" I inquired, somewhat disbelieving, but what else is new? "Yep...Quite a buzz." Miles left it at this, grabbed his pack and headed off to do some bouldering at a new area he was "developing". My guess?...He had a bottle he just wasn't up to sharing. That night found us back at Petes' for the standard burrito feast. Miles was laying it on pretty thick for some visiting Swiss Climbers. I tried to stay out of most of the gibberish, but every now and again Miles would point over to me and ask "Ain't that right Julius?" To which I'd just nod politely and keep both eyes on my plate. I overheard how he and Bobbi Bensman talked seriously about having a super-climbing-hav'ta be gorgeous-neo-grassy-love child. Then, just when they had the mechanics of it all worked out, Miles remembered that this was his "celibate year" designed for massive strength increases. A Soviet boxer sold Miles on this technique after an impromptu ten round championship bout...that Miles won... back when Miles was visiting Chernoble to see if he could "just help out." The next whopper was about when he went to Juarez, Mexico. A "Weeping Velvet Elvis" was drawing huge crowds daily to "Don Gusanos', Casa de Sin" on the seamy lado of town. When Miles walked into the room...at least as he told it...all the velvet in the place started gushing with tears. The clowns wept, the bulls wept, Jesus wept, the mega-meloned women wept...in fact all the velvet within a two mile radius was at least humid. For this he was jailed as a Heretic and sentenced to fifty years hard labor. His sentence "could be" reduced to a bottle of Sotol, his watch, and around thirteen dollars, if he confessed. This was fair to Miles so he fessed to the lesser charge of being available...and a gringo...when the cops needed a little money and some booze. With the deal done, Miles bolted for the border, post haste. The Swiss climbers must have lost most of this crap in the translation for I know I did. Miles didn't skip a beat and started right in with another tale. As I slipped out the door I heard something about Miles and his buddy Roy McClenahan, Exotic Dancing for $700.00 a night in some Las Vegas nightclub, that's where they met Wayne Newton and went out for drinks and then... Part V The next day found me doing the routine of Kings again...sleep late, coffee, soloing, bouldering, and lounging. I returned to my car around noon to find a note under the wiper blade. It was from Miles, and I quote, "Julius: Gotta' ride outta here with my old girlfriend. Gotta' check on some new route action back home. Heard there's some big numbers going up in my own backyard, and I wouldn't want to miss out. Thanks for the ride and all the fine hospitality. Yours, Miles Glorious." I thought this note to be a fake for it seemed so genuine and down to earth. Then I spotted the P.s. at the bottom. "P.s....Soloed the Walking Spanish, Legends, and Cowboyography this morning...all on-sight. Nice scrambles. Ciao, M.G. Esq." Now I truly believed all the facts were in. This Miles guy is perhaps the biggest liar on this or any other planet. I crumpled up the note and chucked it into my front seat of my van and drove around to the Mushroom Boulder to get humiliated on one of the El Murrays...again. I was nineteen pulls and two flappers into sending that damn El Murray problem back to Hell when a portly tourist snuck up on me with a video camera glued to his eyeball. Using this intrusion as an excuse, I popped off from mid-height and landed like a sixty year old at the base. "Hey! You were looking good right until the moment you pooped!" the tourist said enthusiastically. "The term is popped...not pooped," I scolded, and gazed down at my oozing flappers. The tourist continued filming, zeroed in on my flappers, and handed out some peculiar advice. "You should get some Mandrake root and slap a poultice on those...right away. That is what you guys put on those flippers, right?" "It's flappers...and no, we don't put Mandrake root on nothin!" I was getting a bit steamed. "Well," the tourist continued, "this fellah I filmed climbing this morning told me about the Mandrake poultice and he was sportin' a flipper just like the one on your left hand there. Said he used it all the time and it usually healed them overnight." I was in no mood for this banter with the gallery. My tips were toast, my flappers were bone deep, and my pride was ailing. The last thing I needed was some Midwest BBQ master telling me how to take care of flappers. The tourist fiddled with his camera, then pushed it under my nose. "Here... I've cued the tape to where the guy is telling me about it." I put an eye to the viewfinder and watched as...who else but Miles...talked about the sanctified roots legendary healing power. Miles showed his flapper to the camera, and then expounded on the various methods of healing...including the Mandrake poultice. I asked inquisitively, "You say you filmed this fellah doing some climbing this morning also?" "Sure did," said the tourist proudly. "Got some pretty good footage too. Here. . .I'll cue it up for you." The tourist took the camera from me and squinted into the viewfinder while working various buttons and switches with less that intimate knowledge of the machine. "Just a sec...I'll have it in a minute." The tourist continued to squint and fumble. I was like a six year old waiting for Santa to come with that damn pony I always wanted. "Here we go..." The camera was pushed under my nose and then, in the viewfinder, I saw it... Miles floating the El Murrays...Miles floating the Mushroom Roof...A tennis shoe ascent of the Micro-Pope... And then, Miles...gulp...freesoloing the Cowboyography. I was stunned. The next scene was where Miles talked about the poultice, and then more jolting visuals...Miles waving goodbye and driving off in a flame-red Shelby Cobra convertible, with...I hate to say it...Morgan Fairchild. I gave the camera back to the tourist and mumbled a thank-you. I dashed directly to my van, started it up, and headed toward town at warp speed. I had some Mandrake root to find before dark.