Ask Hank 12: Ultra Marathons

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A. Miller
I sat on a chair in the middle of my large grassy backyard yesterday in shorts and t-shirt. This morning I find myself in flannel shirts and long pants. Rain is descending from the sky rather than sun ascending over the horizon. The weather is changing and I’m looking forward to my first bowl of something heavily Latakia-based this morning.

I’ve had a few friends over who have asked to partake of a pipe lately and when I’ve shared, they’ve smoked less than half the bowl. I’ve tried to be calm about this. Happy my friends just want to partake. And it’s not like I’m short on tobacco.

But would you throw away gold?

I wouldn’t. And I just don’t get these “friends” of mine sometimes. Whatever. I can’t win them all.

Rather than getting an early start carving our pumpkins I’m sifting through the mailed in questions and fan-mail postcards you keep filling my smoking den with. Let’s get to it.

Dear Hank,

I’m of the class of folks my wife refers to as the creative type. I like to build, design, create, and make fancy, just about anything I can find. A few months back I created an Etsy shop and started selling corn cob pipes I had modified in some way. Some were just painted, some were franken-cobs. The shop did well and I decided I should go for more big ticket items. I’ve been experimenting with buying big name artisan pipes, painting them, chopping them shorter, connecting two billiards using PVC to make reverse calabash pipes etc…

Unfortunately, these pipes I’m buying for thousands of dollars and only marking up a small amount for my artistic additions, well, they don’t seem to be selling very well. What am I doing wrong?

Stay-at-Home Artist.

Dear Stay-at-Home Artist,

There are a few flaws in your thinking here. First of all, you need to use more quality materials. You can’t buy an artisan pipe, hack it to pieces and fix it together with PVC pipe, that’s just wrong. People would rather have the original than something with PVC. Consider materials more widely lauded as being of inherent quality. For example, almost everyone seems to love duct tape and super glue. I’m sure a simple switch to things like this will make a big difference in the perception of quality, value, and luxury.

Also, never make artistic changes and then do just a small price bump. You want people to pay heavily for your artistic additions, otherwise they’re essentially just paying you to be a middle-man to shuffle the pipes between the artisan carvers and themselves. My suggestion would be the double the cost of the materials purchase, even if your changes only take a few minutes. It’s all about perception. Tell people your ideas are worth thousands, or be destined to a life of mediocrity.

Finally, I want to encourage you to take your painted cob idea to the world of briar. While there are pipes out there with unbelievable grain, some folks want the craft of something like a high-grade Charatan without the straight lines. If you were to paint, say, Santa Clause, or Kanye West on some of these pipes, I think you could get a significant following.

Bang for your buck if you will.

That or you’ll soon be so poor you can’t afford Borkum Riff. Really it can only go one of two ways.

Trump and Hillary pipes will be huge even in to the 2030’s,

Dear Hank,

I recently joined a pipe and cigar club. The membership fees are closer to that of a country club than a pipe club. I do get two ounces of pipe tobacco and three cigars each month as part of my membership, but it hardly pays for itself.

The “inner room” I get access to as a member is pretty cool, leather couches, a locker to store some liquor in, huge televisions always showing some kind of sport, and at least two or three other people who aren’t idiots.

I have two questions:

1) Is paying a high fee for a membership to a place where all I do is what I could do at home for free, actually worth my money?
2) If places can charge such high fees, should I quit my day job (I work for Amway) and open my own clubs for a living?

Regional Sales Leader Franklin

Dear Regional Sales Leader Franklin,

1) Yes.

2) Also yes.


Dear Hank,

I’m an ultra-marathoner sponsored by a big brand you would know. My lifestyle is one of absurd discipline with tight controls on everything from, how many of the calories I consume each week must come from fish, to how many hours I sleep with my legs elevated at night.

About a year ago I was camping with some friends when one of them introduced me to a pipe and Captain Black Royal (still my favorite blend). I’ve been secretly smoking a pipe in increasing numbers of bowls-per-day, even going through great lengths (like walking through vinegar mists) to keep my habit a secret. I do this for fear that if my sponsoring brand found out about my new hobby, they would drop my sponsorship—and this my only source of income.

I already think I know the answer to this question, but is giving up a life of a professional athlete (travel, fame, leisure, etc…) worth it for a little Captain Black?

Please say yes,
Anonymous on a Trail Somewhere

Dear Anonymous on a Trail Somewhere,

I understand your concern. In this particular situation I feel I can best answer your question to me with a series of questions aimed back at you:

1) Does the wind blowing in your hair on a sunny day out on a path love you in the way smoke envelopes and hugs you back while sitting on a porch with your pipe?

2) Has your pipe habit ever dictated a diet to you?

3) When was the last time your pipe encouraged regular sleep over “just one more bowl”?

4) You speak of travel, fame, leisure, as though sitting on a porch and enjoying bowl after bowl of captain black weren’t equivalent. Are you somehow confused about what these words mean?

5) When you say, “professional athlete” and “absurd discipline”, I question your love of the pipe hobby. If you’re truly conflicted about which of the two to choose, are you perhaps, simply not “professional” or “disciplined” enough to join our pipe-smoking ranks?

6) When that friend on a camping trip introduced you to pipe smoking, did the heavens not open? Did a ray of sunshine not beam down upon you and show you the truth?

7) If that “big brand I would have heard of” finds out you smoke a pipe and drops your sponsorship, did you really want to be sponsored by them anyway?

Choose freedom. Choose joy. Choose pipe tobacco.

And, hey. I hear the Scandinavian Tobacco Group has been looking for some ultra-runners to sponsor. Nothing says “Captain Black” like a good 100 mile run….

You know we invented cars so we didn’t have to use our legs over long distances right?


My boat sank somewhere 100miles east of Tahiti and I’m stranded on an island with nothing but fruit. Send help.

Dear Person-Crying-SOS,

This is indeed a first where I have received a letter by means of a floating wine bottle. I’m not entirely sure how you knew I would be visiting Hawaii this week, but well played. You clearly know your tides and sea currents well to have targeted me so specifically.

I wish I had a little more information. I mean, I can package up some pipes and take a wild guess at your preference in tobaccos (I’m thinking I’ll lean heavily on Virginias as it’s probably hot where you are). It’s great that you have food—and a terrible tragedy to be stranded without tobacco.

Lucky for you a few of our site sponsors ship worldwide, although I’m sure you’ll understand that this package will need to be air-dropped in as it sounds like you’re somewhere without a regular mail service.

Take care of yourself out there. And I hope a few years worth of supplies will be sufficient. I’ll be sure to include a few pipe tools should you lose one over the course of the next few years. If you have more specific instructions, I’ll be on the same beach in Hawaii in May of 2019 for further correspondence.

The weather, calm, and food on these beaches sure is glorious,

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