As the temperature drops and the days grow shorter and wetter, I find myself looking back on this past summer and generally feel pretty good about it. I didn’t get COVID. The Mariners made the playoffs. We completed a number of home improvement projects. I became a grandfather for the second time. Wendy and I made trips to Cannon Beach, Colorado and the Yamhill County Fair. I went to Scotland for a week to golf. All well and good, and I want to look back with contentment on a productive and satisfying summer.
Unfortunately, I am haunted by a headline I saw in July that casts doubt on just how productive my summer was. That headline said, “Colorado Man Successfully Pushes Peanut to Pike’s Peak Summit with Nose.”
For those of you who might have missed the story, it seems that Bob Salem, 53, from Manitou Springs, CO, broke the record for pushing a peanut up that peak with his nose, completing the task in a mere seven days, one day faster than anyone ever. Salem’s peanut adventure coincided with the 150th Anniversary Celebration of the City of Manitou Springs, although one wonders what other celebratory activity could match the odd combination of commitment and craziness of pushing a legume to the peak of a 14,115-foot mountain.
I don’t mean to quibble with greatness, but Salem started his epic journey on a trail that connects Manitou Springs with the summit of Pike’s Peak. Manitou Springs sits at altitude of 6,412 feet, which means Bob really only pushed his peanut 13 miles with an altitude gain of 7,703 feet. On the other hand, Bob made the trip up the peak without a support team, hauling his own backpack as he went.
Based on a quick peek at Wikipedia, Manitou Springs looks like a classic small town, one Minnesota writer Michael Perry describes as “having four bars and four churches and just enough sinners to keep them all in business.”
Bob’s the fourth person to push a peanut up Pike’s Peak with his nose. The first was Bill Williams, who did it in 1929 because he lost a bet. It took him 19 days. In 1963, rockabilly star Ulysses Baxter did it in eight days. But he used a wooden salad spoon tied to his head. For his labors, Ulysses appeared on the old Jack Parr TV show and the even older I’ve Got a Secret program.
Bob, however, has the distinction of being the first person in the 21st century to complete the Pike’s Peak peanut push. Bob chose an oversized black plastic spoon duct-taped to a C-PAP breathing machine mask to help him goose his peanut up the trail. Bob admitted that he used approximately two dozen different peanuts in the course of his climb, losing many of them to darkness, rodents and cracks between rocks. Bob crawled on all fours in his quest and said he did most of his serious pushing at night, partly to avoid the heat and partly to avoid being slowed down by well-wishers and peanut pushing-celebrity gawkers asking him questions and making him stand up to pose for pictures. You can see pictures of Bob in his full peanut-pushing regalia online. You will not be surprised to learn that Bob appears to be unmarried.
As his reward for crawling uphill for 13 miles over seven days, Bob received a small jewelry box in which to house his final peanut and two framed letters, one from the Manitou Springs City Council and the other from the mayor of nearby Colorado Springs. When asked, Bob said the effort left him a little tired but not sore, and that he was looking forward to getting home for a shower and a little TV, hopefully in that order.
I don’t know why I can’t get his story out of my mind. I flip back and forth between thinking that Bob is just a goofball with way too much time on his hands and seeing him as a sort of cultural hero, someone who provided the rest of us with a little comic relief during an unusually difficult time. Bob also proved that you can accomplish anything you set your mind (and your nose) to if you really try. Bob may not be remembered for the totality of his earthly accomplishments, but rather by the singularity of his greatest achievement, and that’s not such a bad thing. I have no peanut-pushing aspirations myself, but my to-do list for next summer will get a lot more thought thanks to the man from Manitou Springs.
Tom Tyner writes a weekly humor column for this newspaper.