Saturday, February 2, 2008


I just saw a profile on David Crosby of Crosby, Stills & Nash (and Young) (CSNY) fame on CBS’s Sunday Morning. Included in the interview was the appearance of Crosby’s bride of twenty years, Jan Dance. That little vignette brought me back many years to memories especially of Ms. Dance who had a role to play in the life of this writer. If she ever sees this narrative she might be surprised, but then again, probably not.

It all started out in 1975 when four Friends with a passion for the outdoors joined in a business venture called High Country Outfitters in Atlanta, Georgia. Those enthusiasts included Denny Mays, a pharmaceutical salesman from the Tidewater of Virginia; Gerald Marshall, paddler extraordinaire and outdoor store manager from central Georgia, Danny “Bubba” Sloan, accountant with the Royal Globe insurance company and yes, yours truly who was then a training manager with Equifax in Atlanta. High Country Outfitters is still a going and very successful business enterprise thanks to Bubba’s leadership.

The glue that bound us together was Denny Mays, a man of slight build though great strength who was one of the best rock climbers anybody had ever seen. He was one of the elite climbing fraternity captained by that brilliant misanthropic curmudgeon Yvon Chouinard (with whom I totally agree). With a balding pate and an ever present though apologetic smile, he was the leader and the best people person of the Team. His clipped Tidewater accent and demeanor just beamed sincerity and good times. Those qualities blended nicely with the rest of us who all hung out at Horace Holden’s American Adventures, the same store that became High Country in 1975.

Among other attributes we mostly shared one thing – a love of life and the great outdoors. I was pleased that, motivated by them, I conjured up the name High Country and the now famous twin peaks logo. I still have our original business cards and our tee shirt with our new logo that educated, “Chocks Protect Your Rocks.”

When I left work at 1600 Peachtree Street at 4:00 pm (closely followed by Bubba Sloan who worked across the street), we wound our way to Powers Ferry Landing to work the evening at the store, drink a few beers (which we readily shared with our customers) and used our stone fireplace as a climbing wall well before that concept was ever commercially conceived.

Denny and Jan were great Friends during this time and Jan would regularly visit the store. She had an infectious smile and demeanor that always said welcome. To me her eyes always seem to reflect an innate wisdom and some hidden truth like the location of the Holy Grail. She was one of those folks you just liked to hang with.

High Country was involved with the Georgia Canoeing Association and those who eventually went on to form the Atlanta Whitewater Club. These folks which included me assisted with the coordination and administration of the annual slalom & downriver races in Helen, Georgia and the now famous (yea, legendary) 100 mile Helen to Atlanta whitewater race on the Chattahoochee River and across Lake Sidney Lanier (then full of water).

The late great Dave Gale of The Wildwood Shop in Helen was the primary organizer of the Helen to Atlanta whitewater race with its unique LeMans start that saw serious competitors like Payson Kennedy and Robin Oscar of the Nantahala Outdoor Center and Gerald Marshall and Tom Bolen of High Country. There were fourteen other teams though most were weekend (sunshine and beer) warriors.

I remember that Payson and Robin as well as Gerald and Tom paddled flat water canoes (with lots of flotation) anticipating that the difference in the race would be that stretch across Lake Lanier. If they could survive the modest whitewater of the upper and lower Chattahoochee above Atlanta then they had a good chance to win. They were right as those with keel-less whitewater boats weren’t really competitive.

I had a fully tricked Toyota Land Cruiser station wagon with a million candlepower of headlights on the front and a full PA system that good Friend Dave Gale used to start many of the races. I accompanied my Land Cruiser and on one occasion Jan spent the day helping and assisting me with some of the more mundane race tasks. I got to really know her and we even had a chance to play and frolic in and out of the river. One of my favorite photos is me carrying all ninety pounds (maybe - soaking wet) of Jan across the Chattahoochee River on my back. That photo is safely tucked away (yes, I can’t find it) though that day and photo are forever etched in my mind. I think that I learned to laugh that day.

Jan later left the Atlanta area (seemed sudden) to pursue her dreams that apparently included the record business on the west coast where she eventually partnered with David Crosby. Though I heard that she successfully fought her own demons, I am assured that she provided much of the stimulus to Crosby to ultimately try to clean up his act – something he stated that he had accomplished after he got out of prison in 1986. Jan and David were married in 1987. Apparently while he needs Jan’s continuing ministrations and counsel, they looked content in the CBS interview.

By the way, it was Jan who facilitated Crosby’s donation of sperm used to produce two children through artificial insemination for friend and rock musician Melissa Etheridge and her then partner Julie Cypher, who carried the two babies. Etheridge and Cypher have since split up much to Crosby’s dismay.

Moving on, Denny found another special Lady in Hope and lived the great life until his untimely and premature passing because of brain cancer. His memory remains strong and the Conference Center at the High Country Whitewater Center on the Ocoee River in Tennessee proudly bears his name.

By the way that 1975 Helen to Atlanta race that wound its way down the upper Hooch and across Lake Lanier and again to the river to Powers Ferry Landing in Atlanta was won by Gerald Marshall and Tom Bolen of High Country in a time of 18 hours and thirty minutes. Their closest competitors were the now legendary Payson Kennedy and Robin Oscar who finished a distant second with a time of twenty-one hours and thirty minutes. Only two other teams finished and well in back of the two front runners.

Yes, Jan was there at the finish line in all of her glory to greet, congratulate and minister to the exhausted winners. I was recently reminded of David Crosby’s attempt many years ago to describe Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young though that statement seems to best sum up my feelings for Jan Dance and all she meant to Denny and the whole High Country crowd. Yes, she was “seven pounds of stuff in a three pound bag.” I will never forget her. You go Girl!

Thanks, Jan. All the best to you and David.


Ned Buxton

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