November 19, 1997
Black Canyon, Arizona, USA
For breakfast, we dropped into the Gold Strike Casino, and each ordered a plate of pancakes. On our way out, I played a nickel slot machine for a few minutes. At one point, I had won my whole .35 cents back and broke even, then I lost it again. Oh well... maybe its better that I didnt hit the jackpot. They wouldnt be allowed to give it to me anyway. I am still under the legal gambling age.
Once on the road again, we crossed over the Hoover Dam and into Arizona(the last place I though Id be going on this journey). From Hoover Dam, it was a short drive to our put-in spot, at Willow Beach, on the bank of the Colorado River. Two hours later, our boats were packed, and we were on our way up the river. Yup... you read it right. We paddled up river, against the current of the mighty Colorado. We were going up river, because theres a year-long wait to get a reservation to paddle down the river, as well as user fees - which you dont have to deal with, if you are willing to paddle against the current.
At first, going up river wasnt all that hard, as long as we stayed close to shore in the back eddies. Most of the time, my eyes were fixed on the massive rock walls rising straight up out of the water on either side of me. I was hoping to look up and see dudes grooven on 500 foot hand cracks, or crankn on a hundred foot over-hanging jug-fests, with a perfectly distanced string of shiny bolts. A friend from home had mentioned to me that... "Theres an abundance of steep rock climbing in the area.", but I didnt see anything worth climbing. The rock was volcanic with lots pockets, but, unfortunately, most of it was loose and crumbly.
After a short stop for lunch, I suggested to Len, "Try out my boat for a little while. Let me know what you think of it...". Len and Madeline were paddling a Feathercraft folding double laden with gear. If we were going to make it to the camp ground before dark, I knew wed have to pick up the pace, so I paddled the Feathercraft with Madeline. With a normal flow rate, its a three hour paddle up river to the campground. Unfortunately, by the time it was dark, we still had another half hour of paddling ahead of us. To be honest... I was a little worried. Madeline was getting tired of paddling, and the current in the river had increased considerably.
Then... just before all hope was lost, I saw what looked like the flickering light from a camp-fire a half mile up-river. I figured it must have been the camp ground we were looking for, and coaxed Madeline, "Paddle hard!!! Dig-in!!! Well be there in no time!". Half-way to the campfire, we rounded a narrow section of the river, and were nearly overcome by the force of the current. We were fighting as hard as we could, but were barely moving forward. "Come-on!!! Dig-in!!!" I hollered. "Well take a break when we get to that beach just ahead...". Madeline pulled through like a champ, and in no time we were safely on the beach.
Len had been having problems keeping up with us, and was lagging five minutes behind. Stumbling through the dark, I found my way to a spot where Len could get off the river before hitting the narrow section. It was pitch-black, and I couldnt see him anywhere, so I called-out to him. He was quite a ways back, and I had to call-out his name several times before finally getting a response. I then turned on the strobe light, and told him to paddle directly towards me. When he reached me, we switched places, and I paddled around the corner into the rapidly racing current. By chance, the beach we landed on in desperation, was actually our intended campsite. The rest of the group wasnt going to arrive until the next evening, so after supper we went to bed early.
The next morning, I got up first thing to take photographs. Once the magic hour was through, I put my camera away, put on my climbing shoes and chalk bag, and went bouldering. I found a perfect area with hard rock, and lots of pockets. It was fun for awhile, but I tend to get bored of bouldering. I mainly climb because I like being scared.
A little later in the day, when the air temperature got a bit warmer, I went out on the water to play in the eddies, and practice Eskimo rolling. The water was very cold; much colder than the ocean water I have been in lately. Unfortunately, I did not have my dry suit with me. To make things interesting, I wore my scuba mask, didnt wear my life jacket, and before rolling over into the water, Id paddle into the spot where the current was flowing the fastest. It was a blast! I was upside-down watching fish and the river bottom zoom by as the current pushed me along; then I rolled up twenty-five feet later. The only reason I wasnt wearing a life jacket, is because it forces me up to the surface too early. After playing in that freezing water, a visit to the hot springs was definitely in order.
The hot springs are a natural wonder. To get there, we followed a narrow canyon with fifty foot walls, and climbed up through a series of small waterfalls, before finally reaching a fifteen foot steel ladder - which leads up to the main pools. The hot pools are made possible by two foot high rows of sand bags which block off the canyon. Directly above the pools, heated water seeps out from the depths of the earth. The pool was too hot to jump into. I had to ease into it slowly. I was very impressed.
By the time I got back down to the camping area, some of the other California Kayak Friends had started to arrive. I had a bunch of time to kill before supper, so I put on my running shoes and went for a jog. I ran along the shore until I found the entrance to a narrow canyon with steep walls. At the entrance, was a sign that read, "In case of flash flood... climb to safety!" I followed the canyon like a lab rat through a maze, until it emerged into a football stadium size area surrounded with cliffs bathed in a orangy-gold light. I then climbed to the top of a steep boulder field and peered out across my play ground.
Once everyone in the group had arrived, we sat around in a big circle, and gabbed, while snacking on chips, vegies, and dip. Len introduced me to the group, and throughout the rest of the evening, the group introduced themselves to me. When the night air became chilly, we relocated to the hot springs.
It was pure natural elegance. The pools were lit by dim candle light, and the majority went buck. I however, chose to retain my shorts. Most were going "with-out" only because "Its the thing to do...", not because they didnt have a bathing suit. Besides... sitting on pebbles hurts the tush!
In the course of the evening, I had an intriguing conversation with a cute 29 year old woman named Nadeen(That isnt her real name, Im just using it to conceal her identity. You will know why soon.) I asked Nadeen, "So... what do you do?" "I surf and like to make crafts." she answered. "Cool! Do you make a living at it?" I asked. "Not really..." she replied.
After a bit of prying, I learned that she has two masters degrees and a doctorate in Law; but has since decided that she really doesnt want to be a lawyer. Instead, she has written a book on how to make crafts from an empty toilet paper roll. "I liked going to school and learning about law, but I really didnt want to be a lawyer. I just did what I was expected to do.", she said, "My folks were footing the bill... They expected a lot from me... There was a lot of pressure." I found Nadeen fascinating. Her experience is a classic example of what I try to discourage.
The number one reason why I am on this journey, is because it gives me a chance to be totally selfish. I have set some general guidelines for myself, but within those boundaries, I can do whatever I want. For three entire years, I can eat when I want, sleep when I want, make a friend, ride a bike, brush my teeth, break a leg, take a photo, go to the movies, look for sharks, swim with dolphins, or climb a mountain. I dont have to ask for anyones permission. I just do it. It feels absolutely incredible! I think it is a shame more people dont allow themselves a period in their life to feel this way.
Now back to Nadeen. In her case, she was told, "Oh... youre so smart... you will make a great lawyer!". I see this happening constantly. Just because a kid is good at something in high school, it doesnt mean they are going to want to do it for the rest of their life. Theres a lot of pressure to go to a university; especially from successful parents who want "the best" for their children, so they can go "make something of themselves".
What I want to know is... why cant parents see the huge risk they are taking? What has a kid done in their juvenile life that they can be certain they want to invest $75,000 to $150,000, and four to seven years of their life. Some kids know what they want to be when they grow up, but most that Ive met havent a clue. People would think you were nuts if you blindly invested that way in the stock market. This three year tour of North and Central America is only costing me about $20,000 - the same amount of money that one year of university would cost me. "Ho... but university... thats different!", they say, "There is nothing more valuable than an education!"
Fortunately for me, both my folks have been supportive of my alternative educational path, and have been willing to help me financially. Before departing home, I spent my entire savings of $10,000 on new equipment for the journey. Beyond that amount, I have an estimated a budget of $9 a day - a total of $9,855 to carry me through the following three years; which, if needed, my parents would loan me with no interest.
The majority of students who graduate from high school, then go directly into university, have virtually no idea what they like, or dislike. Their experiences are extremely limited. They just want to get away from home - its a maturing stage. To those people, I ask, "Why sit in a classroom listening to professor blab, when you could be having fun while exploring the world and the person within you - for much less money?" Getting an education is not about getting a job... its about becomeing a person that someone else will want to hire.
I think it is crazy to paying $20,000 a year just so you can be free to get drunk and have sex when you want. Parents seem to enjoy peace of mine in knowing where their kids are located; mind do as well. But, just because you know where your kids are... that doesnt mean they are safe in their dorm studying physics. Folks often say to me, "It would not be safe for a girl to do what youre doing." I think thats bull...! A chic could get raped on a university campus... just as easily as she might if she were traveling.
You may be thinking Im anti-university ...but Im not! If a kid in kindergarten decides she wants to be a veterinarian, then follows through with that vision, and gets fantastic grades in school, earns a scholarship, and goes directly into university - knowing specifically what she needs to do to become the person she wants to be... Bravo! University is a vital part of society. I wouldnt let anyone operate on my cow unless they were properly trained to do so. The key is to know what kind of person you want to be, then figure out what you need to do to become that person.
The thoughts and opinions expressed in the previous paragraphs, were exactly those which I related to Nadeen while chin-deep in hot water. Through-out our conversation she was attentive and responsive. I enjoyed her company, and it seemed as though she enjoyed mine.
The following day, a group of us paddled up river another three miles to Hoover Dam. On the way back, we stopped at a sauna cave, and a hots springs(different from the hot springs I had been in the night before). The sauna cave is a natural wonder, that came about in a unnatural way. A few years back, there was an effort to dig a tunnel through the cliff, so vehicles could get down to the river. As they were drilling, they hit a hot water vein and construction was halted. So, now there is a fifty foot long hole in the cliff, five feet high and four feet wide, with steaming hot water pouring out of it. At the very back, there are boards laid down for benches.
That evening, while waiting for the turkey to finish roasting, we sat around the camp fire telling jokes, and talking amongst ourselves. The turkey was being cooked on hot coals, in a pit covered with sand, and took a lot longer than expected. Once again, I spent a large amount of time speaking with Nadeen. When the turkey was ready, we chowed down on a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings - sweet potato, stuffing, vegies, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. It was worth waiting for.
After dinner, most of the group headed up to the hot springs. On the way to the springs, Dirk(another friend I met the night before), and I, stopped at Nadeens tent as she requested, so she could walk up with us. She told us, "Im going to be a few minutes... go on without me." I told Dirk that I didnt mind waiting, and he carried on. Five minutes later, as Nadeen and I started to make our way up the canyon, she told me, "If I had met you ten years ago, I would never have become a lawyer." I was delighted when I heard her say that. It proved that I have gained the ability to speak effectively - a skill I will need to master if I am to be successful.
After a couple of hours, Nadeen, myself, and one other person, were the only people left in the hot springs. Just as I began to think it was time for me to leave, Nadeen asked me if I would like to join her outside. I say, "outside", because when youre in the pools, between the narrow canyon walls, it feels like your "inside". Thirty feet beyond the hot springs, the canyon opens up into a vast desert. The night sky was perfectly clear, and filled with billions of sparkling stars. There was no sign of any other humans on the planet. We sat and talked with eyes skyward on the lookout for shooting stars.
I asked her if she knew any jokes. "No jokes...", she replied, "But I do know some riddles." "Hit me with one...", I responded. "Okay... This is how it works..." Nadeen continued. "Ill give you a situation... then you must ask "yes or no questions" to figure the specific circumstances surrounding the situation. So here it is... A man is laying dead on the floor with 51 bicycles around him. How did he die?" I know riddles similar to this one, and basically knew what questions to ask, but I still had some trouble solving the problem. The 51 bicycles she was referring to, were bicycle cards. And the man was shot for cheating.
In return, I gave her a riddle that went like this: "A man is lying face down in a small pool of red liquid with two sticks in it. How did he die?" In the course of her effort to solve the riddle, she started to get friendly, and things began grooven. "MAX... I find you so sexy." she told me . "Thats a first...!" I chuckled.
I wasnt opposed to the attention at all, but I was getting rather uncomfortable, due to the fact that we had come from the steamy hot pools still in our swim suits, then spent twenty minutes out in the cool night air. I was looking forward to heading back into the hot springs to get warmed up again. I suggested it to Nadeen, and added, "If you wanted to go back to the tent later that would be cool as well..." I didnt want to lead her on, so I also mentioned that I was planning on waiting until I was hitched before having sex. "I couldnt ask my woman to do something I couldnt do myself." I told her. "MAX... thats great!" She responded. "You know... Im almost 30 and still a virgin as well." This didnt surprise me. Not that she isnt good looking... I remembered her telling me earlier that she is a strict Catholic, and that religion is a big part of her life. We walked back to the hot springs and continued on with the riddle. [The answer to the riddle is: The man was poisoned with a Popsicle.]
The guy who was in the hot springs when we left, was still there when we returned. I invited him to join in on the riddle. His name is Ken and he seemed to be a nice guy. As we carried on with the riddle, I noticed Nadeen, who was lying between Ken and I, fondling Ken(who was naked). I was rather intrigued by this, and wanted to see how far it would go, so I didnt say anything and acted as if I did not know it was happening. After a few minutes, I had seen enough. I told Nadeen, "When youre finished with Ken... Ill be in the other pool." I figured Id get a response from her, but there was none. I wasnt going to touch her again after that; I was waiting for her, because she was the only person with a flashlight between the three of us.
Fifteen minutes went by. It was quarter after one in the morning. I was tired and wanted to go to bed. I asked Nadeen, "Would you mind loaning me your flashlight so I can get back down safely? I will get another flashlight from my tent, and bring yours back up." Once again, I got no response from Nadeen, but Ken was a different story. He suggested that I should try going back down the canyon without a light. I told him, "Im not about to break my leg, just because of someone elses selfish behavior." He then hollered back, "If you dont shut-up... Im going to come down and punch your lights out!". The dude easily weighed over 200 lbs., was 63, and is a Vietnam veteran. I wasnt about to challenge him. I was looking forward to a black eye just as much as a broken leg, so I told him that I would wait patiently until they were finished.
I remember thinking, "This is like the crazy stuff that happens in movies. This doesnt happen in real life!!! Theyre going at it right in front of me. This is too wild!" I had no intention to be a bystander for any longer than I had to be, so I began to consider my options. I had my camera with me, and desperately wanted to have a little photo-shoot, but feared Id be putting my camera at risk of being destroyed. I also thought about blackmailing them into giving me the flashlight, by telling them what a great addition to my book this experience is going to make. I decided against that as well; feeling that it was important not to disturb the natural outcome of the event.
My only option was to talk to Nadeen directly, and nicely ask her for the flashlight. "MAX... I dont know where the flashlight is." she answered. Now I was pissed! "If you want me to leave... help me find the flashlight!" Then Ken blurts out, "You come here talking about death defying adventures... why dont you go have another adventure!" "Im not going unless I have the flashlight. I went out of my way to accompany Nadeen up here. I figured she would return the favor and wed go down together" Ken was not a happy camper. He must have figured I was keeping him from getting laid. He rose up out of the water, and started shoving me. "Go run home to Mommy you immature little brat!" he shouted. I backed away with my hands in front of my chest, ready to defend an attack. "Im not going to fight you! I want no confrontation! It isnt worth it... Im just going to sit down until its light enough to walk out of here." As I walked away, Ken stood naked, shouting at me, " Youre such a loser!!!" It was obvious who was the loser.
I sat quietly in the lower pool until two in the morning, listening to their moans and groans. I needed sleep, and knew I would not get any if I stayed, so I thought I should at least try to make an effort to descend the canyon on my own. I departed in silence. I figured theyd stay up there as long as they thought I was still waiting for them. While passing Kens clothes I had thoughts. I know what youre thinking... but that wasnt what I was thinking. I was thinking "What would the ultimate action hero starring in the story of my life do in this situation?". I know it sounds crazy... but it works. Millions of people go to the movie theaters on Saturday nights to watch glamorous and fantastic lives unfold on the big screen, then go back to work on Monday morning unchanged. Doesnt it occur to them, that they too can live adventurous and daring lives?
I have come to the conclusion that I can do anything I want. Ive also concluded that I can have anything I want, and say anything I want. The only catch is... before I do it, say it, or start to pursue it... I have to be able to personally accept responsibility for the effects of my actions. I believe that when any person applies this one simple rule to their life, they will live the life they are truly worthy of. A life without blame or regret. Keep that phrase in mind as you read through the rest of this journal entry.
So what did the ultimate action hero do in my story??? Before taking action... I accepted full responsibility for the effects of that action... then pissed over Kens clothes. It was pure pleasure without remorse. I laughed all the way back down the canyon. Getting down wasnt as hard as I thought it was going to be, but it was still tricky. There was no moon in the sky. It was as dark as a clear Arizona night sky could be. I was careful, and took my time, but I still managed to slip once.
Before crawling into my tent, I brought all my gear inside that I thought might be hard to clean - just in case Ken chose to retaliate. I was dead tired, but could not sleep. I had too much on my mind. I just laid there motionless, doing nothing but thinking for what seemed like hours. I was thinking about how crazy people become when the possibility of sex is involved. Ken is supposed to be a war hero decorated with Purple Hearts, but at the same time he didnt give a crap if I got killed finding my way down through the canyon in the dark; besides the fact that group safety should be top priority. If he wanted to get rid of me... why didnt he just give me the damn flashlight!?!
I wasnt angry with either Ken, or Nadeen, but i f I had the right to be upset with anyone, it would be Nadeen. Ken was just acting like a horny seventeen year old who thought someone was trying to steal his prom date. It amazes me how fanatical most people are about sex. I could have had it a long time ago if I wanted to; not that I didnt want to - I just thought it was too big of a risk. I am a notorious risk taker when it comes to outdoor adventure sports, but sex with a stranger is an adventure ya just dont know what youre getting yourself into(so to speak). Everybody lies(especially lawyers). At least when Im rock climbing or kayaking, its up to me how safe I am. These days it doesnt matter if youre "protected" or not. Sleeping around is like playing Russian Roulette. Ive felt incredibly intense emotions both climbing and Kayaking - possibly more intense than any sexual experience I will ever have. Theres nothing more gratifying than scaring yourself silly, then pulling through and surviving.
I could have filled a book with the thoughts that were flowing through my head as I struggled to get to sleep that night. Ive spent so much time writing over the past five months, I have begun to think in sentences with punctuation, and gather my thoughts in paragraphs. If I could instantly write down what Im thinking... at the moment I am thinking it.... Id have a bestseller in no time. I am sure of it. Once I finally did get to sleep, I kept waking-up in a cold sweat. I only got between two and three of hours sleep.
The next morning, Ken and Nadeen were the last ones out of bed. Nadeen walked by my tent without saying anything, so I called out to her, "Hey Nadeen... Did you get much sleep last night?" "No MAX..." She replied in a semi-cheery voice like nothing ever happend, "I actually got very little sleep...", then continued on her way. An hour later, as everyone was packing their boats to leave, I took a minute to speak with Nadeen. She was totally unapologetic, and had very little to say, other than, "I know I was a geek ...but I never said I was a person who deserved your respect." And lawyers wonder why they get no respect...!
On the drive home, I told Len and Madeline the whole story. They thought it was a hoot, and we laughed all the way back into Nevada. Len thought it was just what my journey needed. "Now youve got all the makings of a great movie...", he exclaimed. "You had the action and adventure, and now ya got the sex and drama. Itll be great!"
After a couple hours of driving, a few carloads of Kayak Friends met at a Chinese restaurant for supper. Nadeen was there. When Herb(the person she was sitting with) left the table, I sat down opposite her, and confronted her with the events of the previous evening. Once again, she had very little to say, and what she did say was very childish. "When I was younger I was put under a lot of pressure to be Mommy and Daddys perfect little girl. And now... sometimes I just like to be bad. I will even leave the country if I need to. Last night really wasnt that intense anyway. And besides... Ill probably never see Ken again... and youre gone." I was comfortably slouched in the booth. My feet were crossed and stretched-out under the table. My arms were crossed on my chest, with my shoulders pressed against the back rest. As she spoke, I slowly, shook my head back and forth as if to say, "Nadeen... I think you're full of *%@!"
When she finished, I sat up straight, put my elbows on the table with hands clasped, looked her in the eyes, and said "Nadeen... Im a writer." Her jaw dropped, and her eyes glazed over. I leaned forward. "You need to accept responsibility for your actions." I couldnt stop grinning. I was having way too much fun...
Thats when things got nasty. "I cant believe you have the nerve to threaten me like this!!!" she vented, "My whole career is based on my reputation." "Nadeen..." I responded sympathetically, "The reason why I confronted you with this, is because I was depending on your reaction to help me decide whether or not I should publish this segment of my journal." That was the last thing I said to her before getting up and leaving the table. The next day, back in LA, I sent her an email saying...
"Im sure you have thought about what I have told you, and have now seriously considered the effects of your actions. I am not out to ruin your life... Im just recording mine.
Remember what I told Ken in the hot springs when he was about to punch my head-in(and you said nothing)?... "Im a person of integrity." To prove it, I may choose to: Not use your real name, or mention the name of your book, and I could send you a copy of the journal before I send it to put on my web site. Put yourself in my place two nights ago, and tell me if you think that is fair.
Have Fun... ALWAYS! - MAX
I received her reply a few days later...
"I hope all is well with you and that you reached your current destination safely. You are an intriguing individual. Thank you for sharing your experiences and self. I enjoyed our conversations. I am so sorry if I fell short of your expectations of my character. I am so sorry if I caused you to experience negativity on that which is an otherwise positive journey. I request you not mention me [in a negative or positive manner] when you publish your journal. Perhaps I should have listened to your intentions more carefully. Had I known your intent was to document and publish your communication with the people you meet, I never would have interacted with you. Had I known a virtual tabloid reporter was going to be on the trip, I never would have come. How I regret doing just that. I wish you safety and health as you embark on the rest of your courageous expedition. "
-- (signed) XXXXX?