LOVE IS WHERE THE YURT IS

”I think that one of the things that you learn is that falling in love and being in love with someone is a rarity. That you don’t fall in love as many times as you think you’re going to. And when you do, it’s really special; it’s really important.” Julianne Moore

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Fifteen days. Fifteen very long, cold, snowy days, since my airport goodbye with the perfect stranger.

Even though we maintained constant communication via text, email, and phone, it wasn’t enough! I missed her and I wanted more than a friendship. Call me impulsive, may be even slightly pathetic. I didn’t care; I made my intentions known.

Regardless of the outcome, it felt like a win-win situation. I valued the sacredness of our friendship and I was committed to maintaining it. I knew romanticizing our friendship could complicate our lives. Somehow, I wasn’t worried; either way, friendship or relationship, it was a lifelong commitment.

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While many lesbians in my community joke about having U-Haul relationships, I wanted my friendship and potential romance to be different. I was invested; trading the U-Haul for the long haul!

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After receiving a positive response to my New Year’s video, the perfect stranger and I planned an immediate adventure. Consider it round two; no longer where we strangers, and we weren’t simply just friends.

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January 5, 2015 I left the snow melt of Vermilion Cliffs, bound for Prescott airport. Slightly panicked, as I had slept through my alarm, I could only hope the perfect stranger’s flight had been delayed; otherwise, I would be officially running late. 

Being late was out of the norm for me. It was unfamiliar as falling in love with a perfect stranger. Growing up in Australia, there were only two excusable reasons for tardiness. Either your mother was in the hospital or you had been killed. That was it! Any other excuses, explanations, or reasons were deemed unacceptable.

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As I looked at my watch, I made peace with the reality of the situation. I was going to be late. I had 3 hours to complete a four hour drive. Outside of refraining from roadside photo opportunities and limiting my bathroom breaks; there was simply no way to make up the time.

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Note to self – I do not recommend holding your pee on a long drive. The bladder strain and fear of peeing yourself while driving is not enjoyable. Airport entrances are not attractive when your hands are dam walling your urethra.

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After a loving embrace and an apology for being late, the perfect stranger and I headed to the Flagstaff Nordic Center. For the next few days we would be yurting in the Coconino National forest. That’s right, I said yurting!

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Like two excited kids waking up on Christmas morning, the perfect stranger and I headed into the Nordic Center for check in. As the only overnight guests, we were given free reign picking our yurt location. Still struggling with her knee injury, I suggested to the perfect stranger we ease up on the miles and stay in a yurt close to the lodge.

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She wasn’t having it! Not in this lifetime anyway. The perfect stranger insisted we hike to our yurt. Who was I to tell her no? She said she could do it and I believed her.

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After a quick lunch, the perfect stranger and I put on your packs and hit the trail. With minimal snow, snowshoes weren’t necessary; however, they were still a Nordic Center requirement.

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Less than a mile into our hike, we decided the snowshoes were more a hindrance than a help. Without adequate snow, it felt like we were dry-landing it in flippers. They had to go!!

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Celebrating our foot freedom, the perfect stranger took a selfie shot that captured the spirit of our connection. There was no denying it; we were a dynamic duo, a perfect pair, a true team. This is what happiness looks like!

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With the yurt in plain sight, the perfect stranger and I made a bee-line for base camp. Neither one of us had been backcountry glamping before; it was another shared first.

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After unpacking our gear, the perfect stranger and I took a late afternoon stroll through the forest. With less than an hour until sunset, we didn’t venture too far away from camp. We were on a mission though, in search of a pink sunset!

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During our maiden voyage, the perfect stranger explained to me that pink was not only her favorite color, it was a lifestyle!

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Can one color really inspire a way of life? Can one color determine your choice of attire, kitchenware, and car accessories? Who knew one color could bring so much joy. What better way to honor the perfect stranger than be giving her a sky of pink.

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As we left the yurt, I offered my hand to the perfect stranger. She responded by holding mine. While some may consider hand holding  a simple gesture, I consider it sacred. Out of all the people on the planet, the perfect stranger chose to hold my hand. Now that’s special!

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Patiently waiting for our pink sky, the perfect stranger and I made ourselves comfortable in the snow.

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Life for me has never been about personal milestones, it has always come down to magic moments. This was one of them!

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With her beautiful brain resting in my lap, not even the frozen ground could stop my heart from melting. I had helplessly fallen in love with a woman I had yet to kiss. How is that even possible? Is this the way love is meant to be? Could getting to know someone without fast-tracking physical intimacy be key to a long-term love affair? Our pending first kiss felt inevitable; it was more of matter of when than if. For now, my focus was finding a pink sky for the love of my life.

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Less than ten minutes down the trail, a pink hue sky appeared through the trees.

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Captivated, the perfect stranger stared into the pink empyrean as if it offered some type of cosmic healing. Perhaps color psychologists are right: pink is seen as the color of hope. Pink inspires warm and comforting feelings, creating a sense that everything will be okay.

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Pink is a symbol of compassion, nurturing, and love. It’s a color that represents the sweetness and innocence of the child in all of us. Pink is also said to be the color of uncomplicated emotions.

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I feel color psychologists had exquisitely described the perfect stranger. Perhaps she is more a pink goddess than my perfect stranger. Either way, I knew pink defined her. It made her happy and brought her peace.

Pink and the perfect stranger are my package deal in the most uncomplicated way. Here’s to pink! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BACKPACKING GEAR – WITHOUT BREAKING THE BANK

Are you new to backpacking and looking to purchase gear without breaking the bank? Perhaps you’re a seasoned hiker trying to cut pounds and ounces off your base weight? Owning backpacking gear is not cheap. For many of us it’s not affordable.

In the early 90’s I acquired gear piece by piece, paycheck by paycheck. My purchases came from Sierra Trading Post, Campmor, and Sportsman Guide mail order catalogues. Fast forward to 2015, I now buy all my gear online. Recently, I started contacting international wholesalers in search of better deals. Guess what, I found them!

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This is what $300 looks like in new gear.

NATUREHIKE TWO MAN TENT $100 (3.4lbs)

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To learn more and order –  http://www.ebay.com/itm/Naturehike-2-Person-Outdoor-Ultralight-Camping-Tent-Double-Layer-Waterproof-Tent-/231528136630?hash=item35e826ffb6%3Ag%3A7skAAOSw7aBVJzk

32f AEGISMAX DOWN SLEEPING BAG $100 (1.8lbs)

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To learn more and order- http://www.aliexpress.com/item/AEGISMAX-95-white-goose-down-UL-winter-sleeping-bag-camping-Urltra-compact-ultralight-down-sleeping-bag/32353719386.html?spm=2114.01020208.3.178.wQ1POq&ws_ab_test=searchweb201556_6_79_78_77_80,searchweb201644_5,searchweb201560_9

ULTRA LIGHT SLEEPING PAD $22 (1lb 13 ounces)

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To learn more and order- http://www.ebay.com/itm/Naturehike-Camping-Cushion-Outdoor-Mat-Ultralight-Moistureproof-Pad-NH15D006-X-/251678742920?var=&hash=item3a9938d988:m:mlU9ENNgXq96TGlGKzLs2sg

BACKPACKERS STOVE $11.99 (3.8 ounces)

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To learn more and order-http://www.ebay.com/itm/Mini-Gas-Stove-Camping-stove-only-100g-TR-008-/230919030338?hash=item35c3d8c642

BOUNDLESS VOYAGE TITANIUM MUG $20 (2.3 ounces)

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To learn more and order-http://www.ebay.com/itm/Boundless-Voyage-300ml-Titanium-Cup-Coffee-Mug-Folding-Water-Cup-66g-Ti1503B-/331706909487?hash=item4d3b45c32f

BOUNDLESS VOYAGE TITANIUM POT AND PAN $34 (5.36 ounces)

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To learn more and order-http://www.ebay.com/itm/Boundless-Voyage-785ml-Titanium-Pot-and-Pan-Ultralight-Portable-Camping-Cookware-/331709428907?hash=item4d3b6c34ab:g:ImcAAOSwT4lWSZU-

TITANIUM SPOON $10.99 (0.60 ounces)

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To learn more and order-http://www.ebay.com/itm/Keith-Titanium-Spoon-Folding-Picnic-Flatware-Outdoor-Camping-Cutlery-17g-KT305-/230954339637

Happy Shopping!

 

 

A DOG’S DAY AFTER THE STORM

“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating: there is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” John Ruskin

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How do you tell your dog that the snowstorm is over? It’s rather simple, take him outside!

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With my cup of coffee and camera in hand, I settled into the snow as a spectator. For the next few hours, I had the pleasure of capturing Shadow explore his world.

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Shadow and I shared a very adventurous 2014. Together, we experienced the many faces and flavors of Vermilion Cliffs.

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2015 was already looking bright. As a team we experienced our first snow storm together. I could only hope he had as much fun as me!

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JANUARY 1, 2015 – THE SOUND OF WHITE

“The New Year begins in a snowstorm of white vows” William E Lewis

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How did you spend the first day of 2015?  Do you remember where you were and who you were with? Did you find yourself committing to a New Year’s resolution? Was your resolution realistically sustainable? Are resolutions merely good intentions that never come to fruition? Would you be willing to trade a New Year’s resolution for a personal revolution? Name your revolution, what would it be? What would you change about yourself or your life?

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My New Year’s revolution was inspired by Janus; the two-faced Roman god for which January is named. Janus is usually depicted having two heads that face in opposite directions. One looks back to the year departed, and the other looks forward to the new and uncertain year ahead.

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Channeling my inner Janus it was clear that I had fallen in love with the perfect stranger during the final weeks of 2014. Over Christmas I kept it myself; however, it was time I made it known to her. A friendship was not enough, I wanted a relationship!

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Out of respect to Janus, I started my personal revolution on January 1st. My revolution was overcoming vulnerability. I have always struggled with vulnerability. I liked feeling strong. I’ve always had to be strong, growing up in an addictive family vulnerability felt like kryptonite to the soul. Over the years I have befriended kryptonite; still, it’s easier to wear a cape than carry around kryptonite.

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Dr. Brene Brown was right when she said, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of everything we’re hungry for.” I didn’t want to start my New Year malnourished. I felt a sense of urgency to tell the perfect stranger she was everything I hungered for! The million dollar question now was: how do I tell the perfect stranger who is on the other side of the country that I wanted her to be my girlfriend? I decide to braveheart my feelings and intentions via a video message. I felt protected by the spirit of Janus; he was the patron and protector of arches, doorways, and gates. There were no doors to close or gates to hide behind. The perfect stranger was one email and one click away from my New Year’s revolution: living without regrets by being vulnerable.

With my personal revolution set into motion, I decided to walk around the property and take some pictures. This storm was a once in a lifetime experience; I didn’t want to miss a single moment. I had been shooting in magical grey white conditions for two days. According to weather reports, blue skies could be heading our way in the next twenty-four hours. Mother Nature was manipulating the mood, textures, and lighting of the desert landscape. It was undeniable, I was living a photographers dream.

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After shooting pictures for a few hours I returned home to find Shadow passed out on the couch. Was he snow stormed out or was dreaming about his next hike? Perhaps he was contemplating his New Year’s resolution.

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I wondered what Shadow’s New Year’s resolution would be. Less anxiety? To be less fearful of men? Give up resource guarding? Finally catch the pack rat that has been hiding behind the fridge and under the bathroom sink?  Pursue his love interest, Coco? Perhaps he would have no resolution, being himself was enough!

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After a late afternoon snack and snuggle, Shadow and I headed outside for our first hike of 2015. Neither one of us could have foreseen our desert backyard turning into a winter wonderland.

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Barely a week before, this was the view from my kitchen window.

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Now, it was nothing but shades of white!

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With Shadow’s girlfriend Coco leading the way, we hiked out towards the property water tanks.

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After less than a mile on trail, Shadow traded his hiking boots for his track shoes. It seemed Shadow was committed to running himself ragged!

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I am not sure who was having more fun; me, capturing Shadow in full flight or Shadow footloose and fancy-free.

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With light conditions fading, Shadow and I took a final moment to honor the masterpiece Mother Nature created.

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This desert storm was a once in a lifetime experience: it may never happen again during my stay in Vermilion Cliffs. Fortunately, I had been able to document the storm. The million dollar questions: twenty years from now, would my photos be able to transport me back to the day of this storm? Would I remember the bone chilling winds blowing snow flurries across my face? Would Shadow remember the sensation of fresh powdery snow under his paws?

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As Shadow and I headed for home, I wondered how my friends were spending their New Year’s Day. Were they spending a quiet day at home or partaking in the shopping mall madness? How many of my friends spent their day outside? I thought about my nomadic Facebook friends who lived on the road; hopefully, they were stationed in a safe warm place.

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Since living remotely, I have found myself wondering about how other people live. Did this sense of wonder stem from no longer living by mainstream standards? Had my new way of life redefined my sense of normal? Living by mainstream standard now felt like a foreign concept. The majority of my friends seemed content with the stability and consistency of mainstream living, while I never did! Working in mental health I never felt a sense of job security. My work in high end rehabs was contingent on client census. Furloughs were common practice when business was slow. A few treatment centers failed to make payroll on several occasions. Without union representation and a backlogged labor board, staff went unpaid.

In many ways I feel the rehab industry has capitalized on codependency. By employing codependent staff members, companies could be assured of a one-sided loyalty.  Leaving employees feeling happy to have a job, even if they were underpaid or on some occasions never paid. Being of service does not mean working for peanuts at high-end treatment facilities. Ironically enough, the simplicity of living and working in an outpost town offered a job security that my former professional life couldn’t!

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With the sun starting to set, I snapped a few final pictures before heading indoors. On my evening to do list: sending my video message to the perfect stranger. Surprisingly, I felt no fear and was not worried about her response or the final outcome. My intentions were made clear. Here’s to 2015; the year of living vulnerable.

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WAKING UP TO A DESERT STORM

“For many years I was a self-appointed inspector of snowstorms and rainstorms and did my duty faithfully, though I never received payment for it.” Henry David Thoreau

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Have you ever spent an entire night chatting on the phone with a love interest? What starts as a well-intentioned goodnight phone call slowly evolves into an endless conversation about life and love. Is it commonality that bonds two humans over the phone or is it the soothing sound of a familiar voice? Is love founded in chemistry and bonded in chemicals? What fuels a marathon long phone call? Could oxytocin be to blame? Can the social bonding love hormone be activated during phone conversations? I am saying YES because I felt chemically altered after hanging up the phone with the perfect stranger. So altered, that I could not believe my eyes when I let Shadow outside to use the bathroom. I saw snow; it was snowing in the desert!

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Shadow and I left the front yard and headed over to Highway 89A. Being off season, there were no tourists traveling along the road. Vermilion Cliffs was silenced from a population stand point. The majority of seasonal workers had gone home for the winter. All that remained was a handful of staff members and a few local residents. This is what the dead of winter looks like in a remote outpost town.

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After our slippery walk along 89A, Shadow and I returned home to have some coffee and banana bread with Min. As tired as I felt, I decided to stay up for the day. Sleep could wait, there was so little time and too many photo opportunities. Snow outside my back door was a dream come true!

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Just before noon, Min, Shadow, and I headed through the backyard towards the cliffs. Based on the weather report, the storm would continue for another thirty-six hours. It made me wonder; how much snow could we expect in Vermilion Cliffs? Six inches, eight inches, a few feet? I didn’t care, bring it on! I felt so fortunate to be hiking in a desert snow storm.

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Through the fresh powder we followed the trail towards the water tanks. Our water supply does not stem from the Colorado River: a spring hidden deep within the cliffs is what kept our community and lodge guests hydrated.

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After less than a mile on trail we found ourselves in the eye of the storm. The snow was falling at over an inch an hour and the wind was starting to howl. Shadow didn’t seem to mind, perhaps he felt like a seasoned snow dog after his white Christmas encounter.

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Halfway up the cliffs we decided to take a break and shoot some pictures. The storm was now in full force, white out conditions were looming.

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Late in afternoon, Min broke the bad news to Shadow. How do you tell a dog it’s time to go home? You don’t, you just start walking!

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Taking one final view into the canyon, Shadow, Min and I made a beeline for the house.

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Leading the way and setting the pace, Shadow ensured our return in record time. Maybe Shadow was keen to get home and warm his paws by the heater.

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Less than a hundred yards from the house, I turned around to look at the cliffs. I was awestruck! There were no words to describe the view. Not even in my wildest dreams, could I have ever imagined a desert winter wonderland on New Year’s Eve.

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Neither could Shadow for that matter!

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IN SEARCH OF A WHITE CHRISTMAS

By definition; a White Christmas is having at least one inch of snow. Statistically speaking, the chances of having a White Christmas is 60% or better over the Northern Rockies, the Northern Great Plains, the Great Lakes, and most of New England. If you live in the southern third of the country, your chances of seeing snow are less than 20%.

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Living at an altitude of 4,000 feet, I looked to the town of Jacob Lake for a White Christmas. A scenic forty minute drive to Jacob Lake would not only double my altitude, but also increase my chances of snow.

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Jacob Lake offered an escape from the desert heat in the summer and glowing aspens in the fall. I was hopeful Jacob Lake would complete the trifecta of my seasonal experience, by giving Shadow his first snow encounter and a white Christmas.

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Before retiring to bed on Christmas Eve, I chatted with the perfect stranger and checked the weather forecast. The overnight temperatures were expected to drop below 30 degrees with a 50 percent chance of snow. I felt the odds were in my favor; White Christmas here we come!

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On Christmas Day, a sleepy-eyed Shadow and I headed out to the kitchen to make the morning coffee. From the back window, I could see the clouds hovering over the cliffs. The temperature felt colder than usual; it was starting to feel like snow weather.

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By mid-morning, the view from my front porch was nothing but grey clouds. A final weather check reported snow flurries on the Kaibab Plateau and up to four inches of snow at Jacob Lake. It was official; a White Christmas for Shadow!

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Outfitted in snow gear, Min, Shadow, and I left Vermilion Cliffs bound for Jacob Lake. Ascending over 3,000 feet, we traded the desert valley floor for a snow storm in the Kaibab National Forest.

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The snowy road conditions caught Shadow’s eye. He had never seen snow before, but it did pose the question: do dogs have an understanding of weather?

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Shadow was not a fan of hiking in the rain, yet he had no problem swimming in the cold Colorado River. Would Shadow enjoy the fresh snow under his paws? Well, we were about to find out!

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I am not sure who was more excited, Shadow, Min, or me!

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Dressed in his Michael Jackson Thriller vest, Shadow galloped through the snow. Min and I took turns playing photographer, as we both wanted to capture Shadow’s first snow experience.

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While Shadow continued to run himself ragged, thoughts of the perfect stranger ran through my mind. Had it only been one week since we said our goodbyes at Kingman Airport? Would you believe we had talked on the phone every day since? Call me selfish; it wasn’t enough! I needed to see her. I missed her company!

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Even though I felt fortunate to be spending Christmas Day with my family; Min and Shadow, it felt incomplete. My special someone was a few thousand miles away and it was snowing. I wanted to share my White Christmas experience with her too.

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With the snow continuing to fall at an inch an hour, Min and I decided to head back to Vermilion Cliffs. Neither one of us wanted to get stuck or stranded in the snow storm, although Shadow wouldn’t have minded. How do you tell this face it’s time to go home?

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As Min headed to the car, Shadow and I enjoyed our final run in the snow. Shadow was a natural in this winter wonderland, and I could only hope for more snow opportunities in the New Year.

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Perhaps Mother Nature could overnight a winter storm to Vermilion Cliffs. Ideally, she’d deliver several inches of snow to my desert front door. I wanted to experience a desert winter wonderland!

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Walking back to the road, I had so many questions running through my head. I wondered if Shadow would remember the sensation of snow under his paws. Would Shadow and I get the opportunity to share some winter adventures together? When would I see the perfect stranger again? How would I spend my winter break? None of my questions required answers; I was content to let life happen.

Letting life happen is a lifestyle that dogs model for humans on a daily basis. A dog owns nothing; they live in the moment, yet they seldom seem dissatisfied. Companionship is their currency to happiness.

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In recent years I’ve had friends tell me they are more likely to find companionship with a dog than with a human. It makes me wonder, has human companionship become such a foreign concept that we fear it as much as loneliness? Is it our lack of companionship that places the focus on consumerism at Christmas? Has Christmas become more about giving presents than offering our presence?

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I returned home to a clouded in Vermilion Cliffs. With the temperature dropping, I grabbed a hot shower and heated up some homemade soup. I spent the rest of my day camped out on the porch. Yes, this was how I spent my Christmas.

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A DOG’S YEAR IN THE DESERT- UNLEASHED

“Science has so far been unable to tell us how self-aware dogs are, much less whether they have anything like our conscious thoughts. This is not surprising, since neither scientists nor philosophers can agree about what the consciousness of humans consists of, let alone that of animals.” John Bradshaw

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When I first moved to Vermilion Cliffs I wondered how my urban dog would adjust to life in the desert. Would he miss the grass under his paws or embrace the desert dust, dirt, and mud? After nine months of desert living the results are in!

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Shadow has sprinted, jumped, climbed, swam, dug, and bathed in the Paria and Colorado River. He has experienced monsoonal storms, chased pack rats, befriended lizards, met a rattlesnake, and experienced his first fall on the Kaibab Plateau.

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Now, if only I can give him a white Christmas!

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THE PERFECT STRANGER- ROUND 13- AIRPORT GOOBYES

“Heavy hearts, like heavy clouds in the sky, are best relieved by the letting go of a little water.”   Christopher Morley

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After another conversation packed, sleepless night, the perfect stranger and I shared a late breakfast with our Canadian snow geese neighbors. Our breakfast backdrop: a river float plane, only reinforced the inevitable reality of the day. In a few hours, the perfect stranger would be boarding a plane bound for Long Beach, California and I would be returning home to a pending winter in Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona.

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On paper, our worlds couldn’t be anymore different. In practice, our hearts were kindred spirits separated by a zip code. I resided in a remote community that had one gas station and a post office. The closest supermarket was two hours away.

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The perfect stranger lived in Long Beach. I had forgotten what is was like to have access to the modern conveniences of malls and medical centers.

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The perfect stranger’s recreational playground was the Pacific Ocean while I had the Paria and Colorado River at my disposal.

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I gave up a career in mental health to pursue a simple life outdoors while the perfect stranger turned her passion into a non-profit foundation.

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As we packed up camp, the perfect stranger and I committed ourselves to a round two adventure. We considered our eight day maiden voyage as round one. Where would we spend round two? If I were lucky, I would get the opportunity to show the perfect stranger around my neck of the woods.

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Our 60-mile drive to Kingman airport was a mixed bag of emotions and round one reflections. The songs playing on my mp3 player felt more like a love story soundtrack than just an indie music playlist. The genius of song writing is when an artist captures your thoughts and sentiment in a song. Seldom do I hear limbically driven lyrics in mainstream music. Thank god for artists like Garrison Starr, Lovers and Poets, Vicci Martinez, and Jamestown Revival.

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As we exited Interstate 40 for Kingman Airport, the perfect stranger called her mother in North Carolina. Surprisingly, the perfect stranger introduced me to her mother via speaker phone. Her mother asked me about our adventure. I mentioned that the perfect stranger and I were finishing our trip with a fever and sore throat. How do you tell a mother you are sending her daughter home sick for the holiday season? You don’t! Instead, you jokingly threaten to kidnap her daughter for the holidays. The perfect stranger’s mother caught me off guard when she invited me to North Carolina for Christmas.

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If I didn’t have my dog child Shadow waiting at home for me, I would have booked the first flight out to North Carolina.

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Pulling into the Kingman Airport, the perfect stranger seized upon another photo opportunity. Looking more like a country general store, the Kingman terminal possessed real character and charm.

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As the perfect stranger approached the check-in counter, she was greeted with a lecture about tardiness.  We had arrived at the airport twenty minutes before the flight. This did not make the Great Lakes Airlines staff member very happy.

sadSmileyThe perfect stranger did her best to remove the somber look from my face while her ticket was processed.  I wondered if it was possible to be happy and feel sad at the same time? My happiness I embraced; however, the complete utter feeling of loss was overwhelming. How could I fall for someone in eight days? I was not looking for romance on this adventure; a new adventure buddy would have been enough.

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As her plane landed, the  perfect stranger was rushed outside to the TSA security check. There was no time for a long sentimental heartfelt goodbye; instead, it was a rushed embrace. All I wanted was simply to hold her.

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I had no words to convey how I felt. Perhaps tears are simply unspoken words that run down your face. I felt exposed and vulnerable. Thankfully, my sunglasses created a safe haven from public view. In my twenty’s and thirty’s I seldom cried in public. I could hold back a tear like a dam sustaining a flooding river. On this day, the dam broke and I would never be the same.

My drive home to Vermilion Cliffs was one of self reflection. Is it really possible to fall for someone in eight days? The answer is, YES!! Was I hopeful that I would see the perfect stranger sooner than later? Most definitely!

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I remember when I left southern California and my friends expressed concern about my future love life. How would I ever find Ms. Right living in the middle of nowhere? My answer was very simple. I wasn’t looking for love; however, I was hopeful one day she would find me.

THE PERFECT STRANGER – PART 12- LAKE HAVASU

“What breaks in daybreak? Is it the night? Is it the sun, cracked in two by the horizon like an egg, spilling out light?” Margaret Atwood

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Have you ever found yourself sharing a two person tent while you were sick?  Is it possible to silence a barking cough and contain a raging fever without disturbing your camp mate? Does internalizing a cough only lead to a delayed spluttering of germs? Would you offer to sleep in the car or continue to transform the tent into a germ invested hotbox? What is the appropriate course of action when you find yourself in this kind of situation with a  love interest? If you are lucky and truly blessed, your personal Florence Nightingale will take matters into her  hands and come to your rescue!

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Throughout our cold sleepless night, the perfect stranger’s tenderness and genuine concern warmed my heart and comforted my mind. Had I really found the ultimate adventure buddy, not to mention a potential future wife? Could our maiden voyage be a marriage vow test run? For better, for worse, in sickness and in health: we now had first-hand experience. To have and to hold, perhaps it was more a fantasy than reality, still, I was hopeful!

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After a relaxing beach side breakfast, the perfect stranger and I headed south on Highway 95  towards Lake Havasu City. Legendary for its wild summer boat parties and spring break shenanigans; Lake Havasu attracts  more than three million tourists a year. For a quieter Havasu experience, I recommend visiting during the snow bird winter months.

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Our first stop of the day was Mesquite Bay. Located within the city limits, Mesquite Bay serves as a launch point for kayaks and other non-motorized watercraft.

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Oh, and don’t forget your fishing! According to this young man, the fish were biting.

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As we walked along the fishing pier, I was mindful of savoring our last full day together. I wondered if we would ever get the chance to have a round two adventure? Would the perfect stranger’s work schedule permit her to travel? Who would look after her dog kids, Bear and Avi? How would we negotiate our travels once I returned  to work  in the spring? Were these just thoughts running through my mind, or was the perfect stranger entertaining her own set of questions too ? How realistic was it  to date someone who lives 600 miles away? Was our age difference a factor? Was my simple life too simple for someone who lived in the city?

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There were so many conversations we were yet to have. There was no rush: however, there was a limbic urgency for me. In some ways, it felt like jumping out of an airplane with no parachute. Perhaps I should enjoy the free fall and not worry about the landing. Life does not come with an insurance policy, and neither does love!

LAKE HAVASU CITY

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When I think of Lake Havasu City, the first thing that comes to mind is the London Bridge. The London bridge is Arizona’s second largest tourist attraction after the Grand Canyon. Without a doubt, London Bridge gave a remote, desolate, undeveloped town, an identity.

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As I walked across the bridge, I wondered who was the visionary that gave an undeveloped town an identity? Who deemed the barren land surrounding Lake Havasu hospitable? Robert McCullough did!

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As the owner of McCullough Motors, Robert McCullough, was flying over Lake Havasu looking for a place to test his new outboard engines. Even from an aerial perspective, McCullough thought Lake Havasu had real estate potential. In 1963, the man who revolutionized the chainsaw industry bought a 26 square mile parcel of desert land. At the time, it was the largest single tract of state land ever sold in Arizona. Robert McCullough’s land purchase became the official site for Lake Havasu City.

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To spur the growth of this newly established city, McCullough offered a fly-in, “see-before-you-buy” sales program. At his expense, McCullough flew in 137,000 prospective buyers to Lake Havasu City, in as many as a dozen flights per week, from cities all across the country.

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Potential buyers were treated to an all-expenses paid weekend that included: accommodation, meals, boat cruises, and fishing trips. By the end of the weekend, $2500 could make you an instant land owner,  or you could finance the investment for $25 down and $25 dollars a month.

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Four years later, McCullough started searching for  a  tourist attraction that would not only draw visitors to his town, but also give Lake Havasu City an identity. With a sinking London Bridge on the auction block, McCullough flew to London and bought the London Bridge for 2.4 million dollars. Each block of the bridge was meticulously numbered before being dismantled. The blocks were then shipped overseas through the Panama Canal to California, then transported from Long Beach to Arizona.

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London Bridge was officially opened in 1971. Lake Havasu now had an identity. In 1978, the city was incorporated. As a planned community, the city was designed to reflect a balanced economy based on 40% light industry, 40% resort and recreation, and 20% commercial services. Today, with over 53,000 residents, Lake Havasu has grown into the city  McCullough had once envisioned.

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With a pending sunset, the perfect stranger and I decided to follow the Bridgewater Channel  sidewalk. It was last minute; however, we had hopes of finding one of Lake Havasu’s miniature lighthouses. Yes, I said lighthouses!

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Lake Havasu is home to more lighthouses than any other city in the country. These miniature lighthouses not only pay homage to the greatest lighthouses in North America, but also ensure the safety of nighttime boaters and fishermen. Perhaps the Lake  Havasu Lighthouse Club was inspired by the vision of Robert McCullough; by turning a necessity into a prominent tourist attraction. More than eighteen lighthouses can be seen on the shores of Lake Havasu while others can be seen by boat.

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While I would have loved to have seen all the shoreline lighthouses, I was content finding the East Quoddy. Even though this was my second time visiting Lake Havasu, I was happy to be sharing my first lighthouse with the perfect stranger.

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Retracing our steps back to London Bridge, the perfect stranger and I headed to the movie theater to see “Wild”.

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Have you ever identified the exact moment when your choices, circumstances, and created opportunities  have collided?

Was this collision the necessary accident for fate to unfold, or was it simply happenstance?

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In this happenstance story, the author of “Wild”, Cheryl Strayed ,was an underlining figure. Two years ago, I had invited the perfect stranger to join Min and I on the John Muir Trail. Even though she had never thru-hiked before, I knew she had an adventurous streak. In her early 20’s, the perfect stranger spent six months backpacking around Australia. Unfortunately, the perfect stranger could not join us on the J.M.T. due to grad school commitments. So, Min and I headed out on the JMT, interviewing female hikers as part of Min’s sports psychology class.

These interviews grabbed the attention of Cheryl Strayed, which  led to being included in a New York Times piece about her books influence on the Pacific Crest Trail.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/20/fashion/the-call-of-Cheryl-Strayeds-Wild-on-the-pacific-crest-trail.html?_r=0

My experience on the  John Muir trail led to a life changing decision to live more and need less. In 2014 I left southern California and moved to a remote outpost town in northern Arizona.

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A year later,  I found myself on an adventure with the very woman who was unavailable for the JMT, and we were about to see Cheryl Strayed’s “WILD”.

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It made me wonder, what if the perfects stranger had of hiked the John Muir trail with Min and I?  Would it have been a love connection or the foundation for a beautiful friendship? Were we destined to have an adventurous outdoors romance? What if I hadn’t hiked the JMT, would I have still sought out a simpler life? Had I been working a mainstream job I would not be having adventures a week before Christmas with the perfect stranger. Instead, I would be working,  working for companies that seldom offered paid leave to their employees. Simplicity offered me the opportunity for romance and the potential for meeting the love of my life.

It’s amazing  how everything comes full circle, back to the way it was always meant to be, SIMPLE!

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THE PERFECT STRANGER – PART 11 – TOPOCK GORGE 2

“All love stories are tales of beginnings. When we talk about falling in love, we go the beginning, to pinpoint the moment of freefall.” Meghan O’Rourke

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With “needle-like” rock outcroppings in the distance, the perfect stranger and I continued our paddle down Topock Gorge. There were no other boaters or kayakers on the river. It was just us!

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Imagine having a 17 mile stretch of the Colorado River all to yourself? Every secluded beach, isolated cove, and quite backwater marsh was ours to share and explore. Could this be anymore romantic? Was this simply two strangers bonding and reconnecting with themselves, or was this the ultimate form of romance?  The word ‘romance,’ according to the dictionary, means excitement, adventure, and something extremely real. Without a doubt, this was real! What started as an eight day adventure trip had now evolved into the makings of a lifetime love affair.

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With the United States Geological Survey Department’s  gauging station in plain sight, we determined the nearby beach to be an ideal lunch spot.

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Our beach side kitchen was one of simplicity; a backpackers cooking pot and two stainless steel mugs. Dehydrated Spanish rice was lunch of the day, and I couldn’t have been happier. After nine months of living in an uncomplicated way, I had never felt so inwardly rich. I no longer operated in a currency of money; instead, it was time.

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How much time can you carry in your wallet? You can wear it on your wrist, you can see it on your phone; however, you can never buy time. Perhaps time is the one commodity we take for granted. I have always considered the tick tocking of a clock, as the symbolic pulse of time. Office wall clocks used to be triggering for me, perhaps they served as a reminder that I want to be somewhere else, like outside!

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Without the distractions of modern consumerism, my life was now one of being and becoming.  I had never made so little money, yet I had never been so content. It seemed all I  needed; was some change in my pocket, a camera, outdoor gear, and good company. My life had become simple!

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It seems my idea of rejecting consumerism and cashing in on simplicity is nothing new. The practice of voluntary simplicity has long been advocated in the teachings of Jesus, the early Christian Church, St. Paul, and St. Francis. Voluntary simplicity also has  roots in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, not to mention in the teachings of Gandhi, and even in the writings of Thoreau. So I guess the question beckons; if  theological teachings are based on simplicity , how did we permit ourselves and encourage society to be so gluttonous?  When did the focus become on having, as opposed to being and becoming? Is it humanly possible to live in the moment when our sense of self is fueled by consumption?

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Our serene lunch time siesta was interrupted by employees of the United States Geological Survey Department. Yes, the U.S.G.S. fellas pulled into the gauging station to check the depth and flow of the river. As friendly as they were, the perfect stranger and I were happier once they headed  downstream. We were both really tired and in desperate need of a nana nap. I started to wonder if we were both getting sick. Could our days and nights of endless conversation be wearing us down? Could I be coming down with strep? My throat was red raw, and I felt feverish. We still had twelve miles of paddling ahead of us, and another two days left of our maiden voyage. What greater way to get to know someone, than by being sick together on an adventure.

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With the toss of a rainbow flag, we packed up our picnic, and headed back out onto the river. Even though the perfect stranger and I were feeling under the weather, the majestic sand dunes of Topock Gorge seemed to reinvigorate us.

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On this trip, I had expected to see volcanic rocks rising into dramatic spires, however, I had not anticipated sand dunes. The sand dunes were surrounded by jagged rock cliffs that stood several hundred feet high. At their base, the dunes blended into the bright green reeds by the water’s edge. I wondered if Topock Gorge’s sand dunes sang like their neighboring relative, Kelso Dunes. There are over 30 locations around the world where sand dunes perform like musical instruments. Kelso Dunes have a musical range of  E, F, and G. I was fortunate to spend the night on Kelso Dunes earlier in the year. And yes, I did hear them sing! https://remoteleigh.com/2014/05/03/mother-natures-sand-box/

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With a current of 2 miles an hour, the perfect stranger decided it was time for a dip into the cold Colorado River. Remember, it’s December, it’s winter, and the water temperature is a bone chilling 48F. Fully dressed, and without a wetsuit, the perfect stranger revealed her love of the water.

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With our kayaks tied together, the perfect stranger swam over to say “Hi”. Foolishly, I reminded her not to tip the kayaks, as my camera gear was on board. I feared losing my camera. I wasn’t prepared to give up our adventure photos. I guess it all comes down to trust. Trust is when you hold something of value in your heart, head or hands, and your friend honors it. The perfect stranger felt the same way: so I trusted her. My camera full of memories would not become a drowning statistic; instead it was honored, valued, and held in high regard.

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Like a playful dolphin in the open ocean, the perfect stranger bear hugged the stern of my  kayak. Irresistible; is when a high spirited, rollicking, living in the moment kind of woman, asks to hitch a ride on your kayak. Joy; is when you witness freedom in action. Perhaps her  free spirited existence was the ultimate act of rebellion. The perfect stranger was  undoubtedly a rebel with a cause; the cause of my happiness.

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Our final beach stop permitted the perfect stranger to change into some dry clothes. Cold December winds blowing through wet gear is not pleasant, and there is no need to suffer. I would be miserable paddling in wet clothes. As someone who lives with Reynaud’s syndrome, I basically live in a constant state of cold. Beanie hats are my friend, even in summer. Wool socks aren’t  just for hiking, they’re a necessity for me when sleeping. With that said, I still enjoy cold weather adventures. I simply dress 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature.

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With a spiking fever and a barking cough, reality was setting in. I wasn’t getting sick. I was sick! We still had two more cold camp nights ahead of us. I wondered how the perfect stranger would manage a sick playmate. Chances were, she would get it too. Consider it the ultimate souvenir; processing our emotional connection while sick over the holiday season. Would she ever forgive me?  Who would take care of her?

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Two hours before sunset, the perfect stranger and I had calculated that we were ten miles from our exit point, Castle Rock Bay. We would need to maintain a 5-6 mile an hour pace down the home stretch. It was doable; however it did limit our picture taking.

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Our  instructions were to turn left at the Castle Rock Bay sign. From there, we would push to the right, heading towards the reeds. Helen, from Desert River Kayaks , told us to keep a watchful eye out for a small channel opening on the left. This was our route into Castle Rock Bay.

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A little before 5pm, the perfect stranger and I found ourselves bushwhacking with our paddles. I have bushwhacked  through the Everglades on foot, but never in a kayak. This was a first!

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Castle Rock Bay was now in clear view.  Even though I was sick, I felt very sad leaving Topock Gorge.

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Extracted from the solitude and silence of our paddle, left me keenly aware of pandemonium in my heart. With only two days left of our adventure, I wondered if we would ever get the chance to do this again. Jokingly, the perfect stranger suggested a National Guard kind of adventure plan; one weekend a month, two weeks a year.  One weekend a month would not cut it in my book, so I suggested it would make more sense to marry her. Yes, I did say it!

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Perhaps the wisdom for this situation comes from singer songwriter, Jay Nash. From his song, “Never Takes Too Long.”

True love never takes too long
True love shows up on time
So I’m gonna take mine
Gonna take my time
Gonna get it right
Gonna get it right