Popular Adventure Writer Pedals Back From The Brink With New Story Collection, Founds Iron Overload Action Network
Hemochromatosis, the world’s most common deadly genetic disease – that few have ever heard of – tried to put Joe Kurmaskie, AKA The Metal Cowboy, a popular writer and travel adventurer, in the cemetery.
But it’s hard to kill a man who’s pedaled 200,000 miles on five continents; out sprinted charging elephants in Botswana, been hit by the smallest car in Ireland, and lost all his possessions playing darts in an Outback bar… only to win them back in a mountain bike race.
Following a year of hospitals and treatments that included weekly bloodletting, Kurmaskie’s back and better than ever. He’s using the launch of his latest book, A Guide To Falling Down in Public, Breakaway Books, June 1st 2016, to cast light on this orphaned disease that affects 1 in 9, but only 2 in 10 know about. Stories in the new book, told in Kurmaskie’s Mark Twain meets David Sedaris voice, highlight the fragility of life and the resilience of the human spirit in motion around the world.
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“We all fall down, physically and metaphorically, but it’s the getting up, with style, courage, grace, or just getting the hell back up that provide the most boisterous, bittersweet and telling stories. It’s an absurd, sublime, twisted and radiant harvest.” said Kurmaskie.
Hereditary hemochromatosis – which causes the body to store dangerous amounts of iron in organs, leading to 12 cancers, liver and heart failure, Alzheimers, diabetes, arthritis and heart attacks – took down Beethoven, Hemingway, Steve McQueen and Patrick Swayze.
“It’s an insidious disease that mimicks so many vague symptoms of middle age; fatigue, headaches, joint pain, impotence, but simple screening to detect it was removed from routine blood work in the 1990s, for cost savings by a profit driven medical industry.” Kurmaskie said. “Since only 1 in 4 get early symptoms, it’s a nearly silent killer. A time bomb passed generation to generation. In my case, a nondrinker who was only a year or two from liver cirrhosis.”
The good news, caught it in time it’s treatable, without drugs and offers a normal life expectancy. But right now the current system catches a tiny percentage. Many doctors incorrectly state that it’s a rare disease when it’s very common, but rarely diagnosed.
“We could prevent upwards of 20 percent of cancers, heart attacks, liver failures, diabetes if we got serious about diagnosing and preventing iron overload. The tactical error this disease made was… not killing me,” noted Kurmaskie.
In Kurmaskie’s case, the combination of a healthy lifestyle, sharp doctor, regular physicals, luck and tea consumption saved his life.
“The average diagnosis takes 10 years, and every doctor in the world lets a case walk in and back out of the office undetected every 7 days. Wrap your head around that. As an athlete who doesn’t smoke, drink or choke down fast food, I was playing the right cards, and still it was going to kill me. My tea consumption with meals helped slow the amount of iron I absorbed, or I would have been dead years ago.”
The system missed Kurmaskie’s elevated liver tests for 6 years, until a sharp doctor decided to order simple blood tests, once routine. It was just in time.
“This disease should not be left to luck and scavenger hunting style medicine. The loss of life and suffering from chronic illness is too great.” Kurmaskie noted. “I nearly widowed my soulmate and left four wonderful sons before we were done getting into all sorts of good trouble.”
Rather than count himself lucky and move on, Kurmaskie founded ironitout.org – an iron overload action network with four specific projects;
An early success for ironitout.org, getting the FDA to lift a procedural waiver/ban on HH blood donations.
“We have a population of motivated blood donors – up to 52 pints a year that could save lives while saving the donor’s own – HH blood is no different then the general population, but for the past 15 years hospitals and blood centers and the Red Cross in the USA threw away our lifesaving blood.” Kurmaskie said. “It made no medical sense. The pressure we put on the FDA forced their hand. A win/win.”
A Guide to Falling Down In Public is the 5th book in Kurmaskie’s Metal Cowboy series and the first in five years. The series has been optioned by Emmy Award Winning producer Chuck Roseberry, for Alsea Entertainment. A film and television series is in the works. Kurmaskie is the author of nine books, a syndicated columnist and performs and speaks around the globe.
For review copies of A Guide To Falling Down in Public – email@example.com
For media interviews contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 971-544-7752
A year of touring and performances kick off with
The world is full of frauds, corner cutters, and outright cheats, but sometimes, due to circumstances beyond your control, you just get in over your head and it’s you they’re calling out.
What did Elvis Costello once say? “It’s nobody’s fault, but we need somebody to burn.”
Look at Boston Marathon pariah, Rosie Ruiz. Here’s a woman who went from being crowned the winner of the world’s most famous race to wearing a crown of thorns and character crucifixion when just hours later it was discovered she had not crossed most of the checkpoints and took a cab for part of the race.
Open-and-shut case there right? Not so fast. Could it have been a poor sense of direction and the infamous cab-driving mafia that is Boston’s transportation-for-hire industry?
I used to think Rosie was a debased creature until I found myself on the other side of this sort of equation. Now I reserve a little place in my heart for doubt. It’s possible that the biggest cheat in Boston Marathon history was simply a victim of that city’s confusing layout and impatient, incompetent cabbies. By the time the driver dropped a frustrated Rosie at what she thought was the start, she was only a few miles from the finish. Only Rosie knows for certain.
But I can tell you the unvarnished truth and lay out the facts about the time I became the Rosie Ruiz of the Seattle to Portland ride, aka STP. It was a five-mountain morning when I brought out our bike train to make the 2.5-mile pedal to the finish-line party in Cathedral Park. A five-mountain day in the Pacific Northwest is one so clear and bright that it affords a panoramic view of tips and tops of five mountains at once . . . across two states and hundreds of miles.
We were coming off our own high as the lead-out bike float and honorary marshals of the Mississippi Avenue Independence Day parade. Our bike touring train was still awash in confetti, roman candles, colorful streamers, and neon pool noodles. red, white, and blue pinwheels spun from the handlebars of the trail-a-bike, and the Chariot bike carrier was pimped out in strips of colorful fabrics com- plete with a sound system featuring Grand Funk Railroad and KC and the Sunshine Band. I jammed three hundred pounds of books in the rig. A sandwich-board-sized poster of one of my book covers stuck out the back end of the Chariot like a JUST MARRIED! sign.
I handed out Risky Business–style Ray-Bans all round. Pushing the sunglasses up the bridge of my nose, I channeled the ghost of Belushi and that playful outlaw spirit of the Blues Brothers for a few moments.
“We’re on a mission, boys. I don’t know who it’s for, but we’re on one!”
I pushed off. We coasted that ramshackle rolling carnival along the bluff with little to no effort. There was talk about taking a longer route, adding a hill or an incline, anything to break a sweat, but I was scheduled to perform at noon so the real exercise would have to wait. Even meandering our way to the party, stopping to see if I could get the sound system working long enough to groove out to “Play That Funky Music, White Boy,” it didn’t take us ten minutes before we could hear the finish-line festivities.
I shifted down for the first time that day and upped my effort to clear the little rise. The rest of it would be a screaming descent to the riverfront park.
And that’s when it happened. Our bike train was joined by waves of riders who had just pedaled their rigs two hundred miles from Seattle, Washington. People who deserved the cheers, hoots, and applause of family and friends lining the end of the route. Like a salmon fighting against the current, I made one attempt to go against the flow and get out of this sea of cyclists. I did not want it to look like I was part of the ride, that I was muscling three hundred pounds of bike train across the finish line in front of most of them.
But it was no use. We were caught in the slipstream. And nothing about us was low-profile.
Riders to our left and right actually gasped when taking in the length and breadth of my burdens. They made room, hollering out statements of respect and appreciation for what I had not accomplished. Some rang bells; many hooted uncontrollably.
“Dad of the year, right there!”
Smiling, I shook my head and tried to wave them off. This show of humility had the opposite effect.
“Jeez . . . there’s a second kid on board!”
“Dave, get a load of this!”
“Way to go, man . . . legs of steel!”
Mind you, we had crossed the length of America the previous summer on this same setup. Seattle to Portland is a mere two hundred miles, whereas me and my boys had rolled it over the rockies, crossing the continental divide six times, managed the roller-coaster- like hills of the Ozarks, taken on the inclines of coal country to the east, and pedaled all the way up to the Lincoln Memorial.
For a few seconds I was conflicted.
Wait, none of that mattered. We hadn’t even broken a sweat today. This was all wrong, but before I could end the charade the high school drum corps drowned me out, that and concert-sized speakers blasting, I shit you not, the Chariots of Fire theme song.
As we crested the hill people were high-fiving my sons from the sides of the road. Cameras flashed; a group of riders formed a sort of wedge in front of us so the gap created between us and them formed a focal point with our technicolor float at its center.
Moms held up babies, people put their hands to their hearts, veterans saluted, and family members looked beyond their deserving relatives to get a better look at this spectacle of athleticism and heart. And off to the side I thought I saw the one Native American, familiar to us from the 1970s anti-pollution commercials, a lone tear running down his face as we passed.
The drums, the theme music, kids running alongside us. I tried to make myself as small as possible. But now something was happening behind me that kicked the crowds into another gear. They cheered in the manner one would a rock concert encore.
I turn to find that Quinn has produced a plastic lightsaber and is balancing on his bike seat, waving it at the hordes. Not to be outdone, six-year-old enzo, who’d learned how to detach himself from the five-point safety harness system somewhere across Missouri, has thrown open the Chariot carrier flap and is standing with one hand holding the roll bar, waving with the other. He’s turned that Chariot trailer into a Popemobile. And though she’s been dead for years, Enzo has his Princess Di wave down cold.
“Down, boys, down!” I whisper-yell. But it’s too late. As we bring the whole catastrophe in for a landing, we’re mobbed by well-wishers. It’s like a Mexican border town, children trying to sell us Chiclets and dried flowers. The drums build, the theme song crescendos, someone is blowing one of those vuvuzelas you only hear at world Cup matches. Still, I decide I can weather this heat-of-the-moment, caught-in-the-flood crazy misunderstanding, until the ride director comes through the crowd carrying medals.
At this, I hang my head. The only way I can avoid a medal ceremony is to hop off the bike and beat him to the punch. I come in for a big bear hug. In a panic, I offer him some Italian air kisses before whispering, not unkindly, into his left ear, “We have not just pedaled from Seattle to Portland today on that bike.”
With this he holds me at arm’s length, shaking a little, looking me in the eye, before saying with a proud, booming voice. “It’s okay if it took you two days!”
If I’ve learned anything in this world, it’s that if you present a mob, angry or jubilant, with the truth or the show . . . they’re gonna take the show every time!
The crowd goes wild! I do manage to avoid the medal but that’s only because Quinn, proudest SOB on the planet at that moment, presented his chest for the director. You know what that kid was thinking: It’s about damn time! I spend a healthy chunk of my childhood pedaling around this fine country with my father, rescuing damsels, slaying dragons, and battling dark sides of the Force from a bike, and finally you see fit to throw me a parade and put a medal on me. What took you so long?
At least the lie is contained to a few thousand cycling friends. I manage to roll the bike train behind the stage and try to center myself for my show. Put the whole incident behind me and get right with myself. I’ve been hired to entertain the Lycra troops with stories from the road and inspire them with my accomplishments on bike.
“Boys, could we not wear our medals on stage?”
And that’s when the whole thing goes supernova. What I hoped would die a quick death has been picked up by Kelley Day of Fox News. She’s with her cameraman hunting for a solid soundbite story before deadline, she knows me from other studio appearances, and she must have heard about our entrance.
“It’s the Metal Cowboy . . . and his little boys!” She points where she wants the cameraman to stand. “Hoist one of ’em up on your shoulders, Joe. This will only take a minute. In three, two, one . . .”
I would love to tell you that when that little camera light went from red to green, I found the character and courage to set the record straight, that I felt shame and a measure of guilt and confessed my sins to the tristate viewing audience. Instead, I channeled my inner Bill Clinton, felt a blanket of calm and peace wash over me. I knew what is, was, and always would be. I felt in control.
Kelley nailed it on the first take. The cameraman worked his lens slowly across the length of the bike train to settle on us—Enzo at my hip and Quinn on my shoulder holding that medal up for the camera—while Kelley asked, “Cowboy, how does it feel to have pulled all this . . . precious cargo, all that way?”
What I said next, while technically not a lie . . .
I took my time, gave Kelley a confident, warm, road-weary smile, I may have even winked at the camera, I know I gave a nod, and in a voice that had more than a little Bill Clinton hospitality twang to it, I said,
“I’ll tell you, Kelley, it feels like I just left my doorstep ten minutes ago.”
Another ring in Hell may have to be added for me, but you can’t throw that sweet changeup at me and think I’m not going to swing. Back home, I decided to use the events of the day as a teaching mo- ment. I put on warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” got out the dictionary, and called Quinn into the study.
We looked up the word fraud together. He got it. “Like playing make-believe.”
“Yes, you could say that, but when adults do it they have two career choices. Making license plates at the local prison, or presidential candidate.”
He went to bed in his medal, so here’s hoping it sinks in over time. I relaxed, but that didn’t last. I realized with a sick certainty that the evening news was about to come on and the only real jury of my peers who mattered, my wife Beth, was upstairs within reach of a tv remote. I put more effort into the run up two flights of stairs than the whole day of cycling.
God love her, when I arrived in our bedroom she was reading a book the size of War and Peace and the tv was off. I slid across the comforter, palmed the remote, jammed it under the mattress, and marveled, not for the first time, that I had wed so, so far above my station.
Preorder a signed, numbered, limited edition of the new book here:
Disregard fonts and colors of words and type positioning – those will be reworked. We’re just looking for feedback on best image for the new cover. Tick Tock Let me know by 2/18 by typing 1, 2, 3 or 4 Also can list them in order of preference. Or submit your own favorite image. We haven’t locked in the final cover yet. An Arkel Seat Bag raffled, winner selected from everyone who enters with preference. Confusion to our enemies, Joe Metal Cowboy Kurmaskie
One Bike – Good For a Lifetime
There is a saying nothing lasts forever, but try telling that to Nancy Blackman. The Carterton octogenarian’s faithful Raleigh bicycle is still proving to be her preferred mode of transport, even after 67 years.
While spare parts are nigh on impossible to find Mrs Blackman says her trusty black bike is still serving her well.
She was given the bike brand new as a 15-year-old. Living east of Carterton near Parkvale she biked the metal road into town everyday to go to work.
Nearly 70 years later she is still biking a similar distance from the north of Carterton to the south where she helps with “granny reading” at South End School.
Mrs Blackman owns a car, but only uses that for trips out of town.
“I much prefer pedal power,” she says. Her late husband rode a three- speed. Mrs Blackman says she has always been content with the single gear.
“These days some bikes have 10 gears.”
The big advantage of a bike over a car is that they are “quick and easy”.
The bike has been stolen once, taken from outside of church, only to resurface a couple of days later, found leaning on a power-pole.
While motorists are not as courteous as they once were and the roads are a lot busier with traffic, Mrs Blackman says cycling is still relatively safe.
In all the years that she has been pedaling she has only had a couple of spills, and they were usually the fault of inconsiderate motorists.
As for advice for any young budding cyclists, or people of a similar age: “Keep to the left and keep your eyes open.”
– Wairarapa News
While cycling through a sliver of five countries in Africa, I happened upon a mobile flea market/art fest.
The cars and makeshift cargo bikes and pushcarts formed a wagon train circle brimming with handmade crafts and folk art and recycled wares that could all be closed up and rolled on at a moment’s notice.
Khumbu stood at least 6 ft 3 or 4, but his laugh made him taller. I took a shine to his work and he could tell. When I pedaled back around a third time he said, “You coming in for a landing or more circling?”
The clothe these were painted on… mismatched sizes, draped from the tailgate of a VW van older than me – and carrying the man’s worldly possessions was my guess. When I asked how much for the bike shack, he grinned, then actually reached out and tossled my hair the way Bill Murray did Glida Radner on SNL, stepped back, drank something out of a flask I had not noticed until then, offered me a swig, when I waved it off, he threw out a ridiculously low price. I countered with four times his asking price and said I would like the one of his van as well, if he’d part with it. He looked at me for what felt like a long time, like the first time. Still smiling, he asked,
“You’re so money, then?”
For a second I could see my white privilege on full display. I’d just announced, to the entire market really, that I didn’t need to bargain. In fact, I would pay above asking price. I felt like I’d farted in church…. the embodiment of A Bull In A Pushcart China Shop.
I lowered my voice a notch to outdoor level and pointed at my bike. “I’m American so of course I’m loud and graceless and act like I’m money… but among my people, I’m the opposite of money.”
It was silent for too long. Then Khumbu was joined by his friend one pushcart over, and without missing a beat they proceeded to do the “Baby, you are so money!” scene word for word from the film, Swingers. At this point, relieved but suffering serious cultural vertigo, I closed it out with a solid, “Vegas, Baby, Vegas!”
Laughter and nodding all around. Khumbu made a place for me on the bumper. We chatted for the next 20 minutes. He ask me if I wasn’t money, then who was I? I explained about my travels and my writing and the charity bike ride I was embarking on for Children In The Wilderness, and the cover story for Bicycling Magazine. We bonded over the creative arts.
In the end, Khumbu got me to drink from that flask, and as I choked down the liquor he said, not unkindly. “So we are the same, except you have the world.”
I told him I would try to get my publishers to use his artwork on the cover of the anniversary edition of my first book. I asked him if that would be OK and where we could send payment if it happened. He explained that most of them were artists exiled by Mugabe and on the run. Some had family running with, but his, a son and a wife, were back in Zimbabwe. “It’s no good running or staying, but I had to run.”
Only a few minutes earlier I’d been romanticizing the idea of a life in the traveling arts and crafts mercado. In those moments, I know that I know next to nothing about the nature of suffering.
“It is a lovely thought,” he said. “But I have no address.” He patted his van.
I paid my price for the artwork. He tossled my head one more time.
“But I do have an email, and Yumbo, he has Paypal.”
When the money was sent, I put the agreed upon subject line in the email.
Subject: Nigerian Bankers Are So Money!
If anyone wants signed copies of any of my books this holiday season just email me at email@example.com or message me on FB for pricing and shipping info. A portion of the proceeds goes to help send kids to our summer bike camps.
Chance to catch my antics live, and support quality community walking and biking programs.
Live show, advocacy, music, book signing, food, drink, prizes.
Benefit for The Oregon City Trail Alliance, Friday, Dec. 4th, 7:00 PM. These folks help out with my summer bike camps, and deserve all the support we can give em!
Benefit for The Oregon City Trail Alliance. A non-profit promoting better biking and walking in the Oregon City area.
I’ll be doing new material, classics, video, slides and Q&A. We’ll eat, drink and be merry!
This will be a ticketed event. I will post an update with any cover charge/cost or purchasing info. A chance to catch my act before next spring when the book tour launches. Come on out and kick off the weekend and the holiday season right!
more info: www.metalcowboy.com
And if you haven’t signed and shared my petition yet to save lives affected by iron overload disease, click here: Petition
New Date Added To The Metal Cowboy’s Book Launch/Performance Tour 2016
Broadway Books Tuesday May 24th 2016 7pm
Show, Signing, Mayhem for: A Guide To Falling Down in Public – I’ll cut loose and do my bar/club material, so it might get a little blue, but we’re all grown ups… and it’s more of a pastel blue.
I once did a hint of my bar show during a week of events in Missouri. Next day Morning Radio called me a button downed Dave Cappelle. I told them they needed to get out more. If anything, I was a button downed Bob Newhart.
Whoever I show up as, we’ll have a grand time at my favorite local Indie Bookstore.
See you there.
And be sure not to miss Indie’s First Day at Broadway Books, on November 28th 2015.
I’ll be there much of the afternoon with some of Portland’s best and brightest writers. We’ll be recommending our favorite books for holiday gift giving.
A Metal Cowboy Inspired Nutcase Helmet is on the horizon!
What a hoot! These awesome helmets, my Harley biker neighbor Dave wandering over, the spotty lighting, news that you can help us decide what a metal cowboy signature series nutcase helmet will look like… it was too much fun for one cloudy morning!