Matt Johanson Defines "Epic" 

Sporty interviews, from belaying to baseball.

Yosemite Epics is a book that will make readers hunger for outdoor adventure — or screw themselves in ever more tightly to their home uniforms, clutching their remote controls with the kind of fervor one could only describe as "extreme." An epic, according to author Matt Johanson, is "an unusually difficult outdoors exploit, often featuring an unexpected challenge along the way, like getting lost or inhospitable weather." And though he's spent some "long, cold nights on rock ledges and in the snow," Johanson's rock-climbing, backpacking, and cross-country skiing trips haven't been much serious competition for the death-defying twists and turns of the stories in Yosemite Epics — stories the Castro Valley resident, high school social studies teacher, and student newspaper advisor transcribed from interviews with some of the biggest names in outdoor sports.

The jargon can get a bit technical (there's a helpful glossary in the back) and the type is distractingly big, but the stories are harrowing nail-biters: Climbing legend Royal Robins tells of the wild kayaking trip that reinvigorated him after arthritis made his sport of choice well nigh impossible; modern mountaineering star Peter Croft leads a fellow climber halfway to drownsville along the side of Bridalveil Falls; Marty McDonnell saves a fellow whitewater rafter from Devil's Rock on the Stanislaus River. Lynn Hill, Steve Roper, John Bachur, Hans Florine, and many other sports folk share tales of just making it on skis, boats, and paragliders. "My experience writing about baseball taught me that the biggest stars are usually the least interested in sharing their time and stories with writers," said Johanson, who will speak and answer questions at the Albany branch of the Alameda County Library (Edith Stone Room, 1247 Marin Ave.) as part of its Brown Bag Lunch Speaker's Forum. "But that wasn't the case with the outdoors types. They were all as nice and helpful as could be."

Johanson will be talking about an older book, too — also released by his own imprint, Dreamcatcher Publishing — at the library series, Game of My Life: San Francisco Giants. Structured similarly to Yosemite Epics, Game of My Life features interviews with team greats by the lifelong Giants fan, each chapter spinning the yarn of "a special game from the perspective of a player who starred in it, from the first San Francisco Giants game in 1958 through the conclusion of the 2010 World Series." Subjects include Orlando Cepeda, Willie Mays, Felipe Alou, Mike Krukow, Will Clark, Kirk Rueter, Robb Nen, and Brian Wilson.

Perhaps the most unique story in the book is about a Giants-Dodgers game in 1997 that most fans remember for a game-ending home run by catcher Brian Johnson. But Johanson tells of another player's plight that thrilling day: beleaguered pitcher Rod Beck, who, while enduring heckles from fans, "wiggled out of trouble with a strikeout and a double play. He pitched two more shutout innings that saved the season from utter ruin." Beck died shortly after Johanson's interview with him. "I don't think he ever got his due for his successful career here, but he was still most gracious about it all when we spoke."

Interview the interviewer from 12:30-1:30 p.m. on Monday, December 19. Free. 510-526-3720 or

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