There was once a time when the ground of the forest was clear, and trappers and other users of the forest could cover miles in a day without breaking a sweat. There were no snaking, snagging branches catching your boots or tripping your step. Through this marvellous woodscape strode a great hero by the name of Lloyd. Lloyd was a mighty warrior, an intrepid explorer, and an above average bridge player, but above all else he was long. His length was said to be equal to the tallest spruce, and his stride covered tens of metres with ease. Great horned owls nested in his eyebrows and wisps of cloud were strewn over his shoulders like a great grey cloak.
Lloyd heard there was a great beast terrorising the Shakwak trench in the Yukon, and being the great hero he was, he set out to subdue this foe. Lloyd’s long length carried him there quickly, and he discovered it was a giant lynx stalking the people. This lynx (not so much large as huge, less lumbering and more thundering, not even loud but cacophonic) had paws the size of ponds, and teeth like shards of glacier. Pure white fur bristled along its body and in its throat rumbled a terrific yowl. It had been trashing villages, chewing up winter stores, a belittling peoples’ dreams all year, and it was time for this to stop. Lloyd found the beast not far from Kluane lake, and they did battle.
Lloyd and the beast raged at each other for months. Up and down the trench they duelled, Lloyd’s longsword clashing with frenzied tooth and claw. The lynx was vicious and quicksilver, while Lloyd was strong and agile, and so when one would land a blow, the other would counter and return the favour. Eventually, each weakened by a thousand cuts, they came to at the brow of a hill a final time. Lloyd’s longsword dealt a savage blow, lacerating the lynx’s liver and lancing its lung. However, the lynx’s claws found Lloyd’s throat and tore it open. His long length came crashing down, stretching along the side of the hill where, in aeons to come, a highway would be built. The lynx, crippled by the final blow, slunk away under the hills cursing the world of men from the bowls of the earth.
The world is different now, and many of these great deeds are forgotten. But the long length of Lloyd can still be found where he fell, down a hillside in the Shakwak trench. The lynx lives, but it resides in the depths of the earth nursing its wounds. Although it does not terrorise the land anymore, its whiskers have penetrated to the surface. There, in the form of small shrubs with yellow leaves, they tangle the feet of trappers and other forest users, reminding us of the lynx that lurks below and the great evil that used to stalk the realm. And this is how it will remain, until a hero of long length returns, to clear the land for good.
On Saturday, 1st April, there was an event which gave you a few more stories than most Saturday nights. It was the 22nd, and my 2nd, instalment of Dynamite fights, a series of boxing matches organised at the TNT Boxing Academy in Guelph, Ontario. Read a rather breathless summary of the last one here. If it was anything like that last one, this means the potential for thrills and technical kills, displays of superior skill and brutal power. This one carried an extra special edge to it however, as TNT got international. Thanks to Boxing Canada, one of the fights featured a boxer specially flown in from England. Jade Ashmore arrived Thursday to face Canadian Olympian Mandy Bujold. Given that Bujold is a ten-time national champion and a two-time Pan-American champion, while Ashmore has recently been elevated to the GB Podium Potential squad, expectations and excitement were running high. A sprinkle of glamour to complement the scent of canvas and sweat.
The promise of a trans-Atlantic war wasn’t the only thing that had got the locals excited. Got them skipping dinner to head down to the ring at 5:00pm to grab the last of the seats. Got them snapping up every ticket left, right and centre. Some 200, maybe 250 in attendance. They were drawn by the prospect of epics, of grudge matches, of super heavyweights, young unknowns and old favourites. It’s a heady cocktail, and the place was buzzing. Standing room only, onlookers jostling on benches at the back, craning necks round corners to catch a glimpse of the action. Hungry for a taste of it, feeding off the glamour, the aggro, the coiled energy from the boxers stalking though their warm-up routines. There are many different routes to a properly entertaining fight, and we were blessed with a full range of match-ups.
First there are the unknowns. Three fights featured two out of town fighters, so their prospects were harder to judge prematurely. We scrutinised the fighters beforehand, trying to judge who was faster, cleaner, meaner, by their warm-up and the set of their jaws, like watching thoroughbreds out in the circle before the Derby. The bell rings and we lean forward eagerly, keen to have our hunches upheld or quashed. In the first we’re proven right, Dustin Howick of Caged Dragon, living up to the gym’s name, came out like a hurricane, flying into Hansel Espino, Gideons, from the off, cashing the cheques his uber focused warm-up wrote. This brutal assault won applause from the crowd, but a puzzling lack of response from Espino in blue. His corner exhorts him to get over his trigger shyness, but he never does, and Howick takes the unanimous decision.
The other two fights involving non-TNT boxers follow similar patterns to each other. Jean Benoit, Celtic Hammer, and Daniel Payne, Battle Arts, both had a reach and a class advantage over their opponents: Erik Hodgons, Paschtime boxing, and Adrian Calestani-Winacott, Celtic Hammer respectively. Payne looks good, fast and with some crunching blows that lead to three standing eight counts in the 2nd round, the last of which ends the fight. Benoit also looks tidy, ripping out rapid strikes that repeatedly have the crowd groaning. Hodgons, in his first fight, does well to last it, having some success when he gets in close, but ultimately is unable to pin down his opponent. He takes an eight count, and a call from his corner to “walk in with something, not just your head”, while Benoit takes the unanimous decision.
A good match has ebb and flow, attack morphing to defence, big leads cut down by resolute resistance. The first fight of the night followed the latter path, getting the crowd going, suggesting the pre-night promise would be met. Kyle Allen, TNT, gave us a scare against Mathankan Ivanjan, Gideons. For the first two rounds crashing over-hand rights weren’t quite enough against the slicker Ivanjan’s rapid combos. Still Allen came on, his connections drawing roars from the crowd, Ivanjan’s corner bawling at their man: “Don’t stand in front of him!” (“Stand in front of him!” is the reply from a wag in the crowd). For my money Ivanjan is up heading into the final round, but Allen digs deep in the third with a heroic effort, chasing him around the ring, giving everything. Was it enough? We wait on tenterhooks. Yes, by split decision. Thrilling.
Unfortunately, two TNT fighters can’t quite pull off such comebacks. Craig Bongelli probably needed one more round to complete a turnaround, but as it was his giant (225lb/102kg) opponent, Randy Bynol, Battle Arts, took their super heavyweight contest after some heavy blows in the 2nd led to a standing eight count, and ultimately the win. There was a case for Greg Holley, TNT, having done enough at the last against the tall, cocky O’Neil King, Dewith’s. In a classic clash of styles King evidently did just enough off the back foot to take a split decision. Desperately unlucky for Holley, but definitely an improvement over his last fight.
Contrast the raucous crowd for these duels with the pin-drop silence for our international events. Sheer anticipation gagged the crowd for two fights featuring TNT’s past and prospective Olympians. In the latter category, Sara Haghighat-Joo is a big draw, the gym’s golden girl, having won a recent international event in Sweden, and generally considered a medal chance that the next Olympics. She faced Ali Rosen, representing Caged Dragon, who flew up from Miami. Rosen is taller and heavier than Haghighat-Joo, and perhaps this worries the crowd, who are deathly quiet. They needn’t have been, Haghighat-Joo is clearly faster, and stays on top throughout a cagey encounter to take the unanimous decision. Her career marches resolutely on. Mandy Bujold, Team Canada, also looks faster than Jade Ashmore, Team England, in the eye-catching trans-Atlantic bust-up. At one point Bujold darts in an in a flash delivers a three punch combo the English woman can’t even get her gloves up to. The crowd, whispering at the start, get louder as the result becomes more clear: Bujold on all cards.
This was not lacking from the remaining two fights. What adds a bit of spice to any encounter is a touch of history, and that came in the fight between home favourite Carolyn Redmond and Max Turcotte-Novosedlik, Celtic Hammer. They had previously met in the provincial finals, with Redmond beaten to gold by Turcotte-Novosedlik. A bit of a grudge match then. Huge roar from the crowd for this one. Its a hell of a fight too; two very good, very well-matched, very committed boxers putting it all on the line. Perhaps it’s the desire for vengeance, perhaps it’s the roar of a home crowd; Redmond takes the fight to her opponent, demanding that gold back. She never lets up. Turcotte-Novosedlik was the champion. Past tense. Redmond takes the unanimous victory, crowd going wild, 10/10 on the volume.
Somehow though, it went up again for the final fight. Before the night, and aside from the international element, this was main thing people had been talking about. Brock Stumpf, TNT, and reigning Canadian heavyweight champion, against Daniel Akota, Dewith’s. We had been promised entertainment the value of the entire admission alone from this one by half a dozen people. Appetites whetted by the previous nine courses, we still hungered for a 10th. They didn’t disappoint; I’m not sure its in them to fight cute. Even all the little extras were there to make it particularly enthralling; chest bumps after the bell, sparks of outrage when it is his punches, but not yours, that are slightly out of order, corners adding their words of the maelstrom of action. Alongside this side-show the fighters are doing their best to drop bombs on each other, that one huge punch to fell a man and make the crowd howl. Stumpf gets his gum shield punched out, but to the tune of 200+ people chanting “Brock, Brock, Brock” he launches himself forward in a flurry of punches. We double up with nerves when we hear it’s a split decision, but Stumpf takes it. The crowd roar with delight for a final time. We grin at each other, and eventually start clearing out. A fitting end to a dynamite night.
Online bear-awareness courses are a bit of a laugh. See a bear? Try to ascertain the species, whether it has seen you or not, and it if is behaving aggressively or defensively. Presumably while praying that you did leave your family pack of Snickers back home. And not in your ruck-sack. Oh dear…
At least they haven’t given me a false sense of confidence if I do come in contact with a bear. Perhaps that was the intention all along. Maybe there used to be a really good, informative online bear awareness course, with interactive videos and challenging scenarios and a scratch-and-sniff section, to prepare you most fully for a bear encounter. Perhaps this lead to too many hikers boldly striding up to bears, pointing out to the bear that it is merely a lone black bear and not a mother with cubs or a grizzly, and so that it is unlikely to attack said hiker unless it felt threatened, which of course lead to much mauling and rendering of expensive Gortex jackets and the soiling of expensive sweat wicking underwear and that sort of thing. So they did away with it and went back to the 1980s version. With questionable hair styles, questionable shot transitions, and more prosaic advice. The only good encounter with a bear is no encounter with a bear. Announce your presence by singing, walking loudly, or saying “Woah bear” every few strides. Noted. Thank you.
Now I am sure you are pleased that those striding into contact with bears will be prepared for it. Possibly elated. But why was I doing such a course? Well, as luck, ambition, and a first shaky step on the academic ladder would have it, I am heading up to the Canadian Yukon to carry out field work for my first post-doc after my PhD in evolutionary biology. “WITH BEARS?” Erm, nope. With a closely related mammal, the North American Red squirrel (coming from working on crickets and before that fruit flies anything quadrupedal and fluffy is pretty closely related.). I’m joining a bunch of other researchers, graduate students and volunteers up near Kluane national park to carry out the work that has, in part, been continuing for over 25 years, monitoring a population of the little ginger squirrely blighters. And as it’s a bit out in the wilds of Canada, there is indeed the small chance of encountering a bear. Hence the mandatory training.
Its always a bit daunting heading off on field work, especially when its new (I’ve blogged about this a little before, nice to see nothing has changed). Have I packed the right stuff, will I make the plane, will the camp be as rudimentary as some make out, while the work be easy or hard, will I learn quickly or drag everyone down? Exciting, but nerve wracking. But its what I am here for, so the bag is packed and my loins have been gird up. Lets go.
I may be able to do the odd blog post or upload the odd picture while I’m away, but no promises. So don’t assume silence means I did indeed encounter a bear, and failed to enact my training:
“Hmm lets see, humped shoulders, slightly upturned snout, large claws, yes indeed. Ooh, it’s seen me. Aggressive and defensive, bit of a box-to-box midfielder. And I brought my pack of Snickers. Oh shit wait, that’s not quite ri…”