“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


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!


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.


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


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.


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!


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?


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.


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.


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!

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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.


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.


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?


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.



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.


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!


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


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!


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


Have you ever heard the sand sing?

Did you know recorded sand dune sounds fall into the musical range of an E, an F or a G?

Historically speaking, Marco Polo noticed the phenomenon of singing sand dunes in the Gobi Desert. Nomadic travelers heard the haunting and baffling sounds across the Sahara. Charles Darwin had no explanation for the serenading sands in the Chilean desert.

There are only 30 locations around the world where sand dunes perform like musical instruments. One of them is Kelso Dunes, in the Californian desert.

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Leaving my trail angel family, (the Ramos’s) I found myself reaching for my mp3 player. For me, it seems for every situation in life there is a song that has been written that captures someone’s feeling or thoughts that can only be translated through music. For some, a song might actually bring words to a feeling we are incapable of articulating, while for others the lyrical content seems like a personal narrative written by a stranger.

On this leg of my road trip I found myself listening to Vicci Martinez’s “Enjoy The Ride”.  I was fortunate to meet Vicci and have her on my radio show back in 2011.

At the time, the lyrics to the song spoke to me;  yet, I felt I could only LIVE the message in theory. I think the concept of ‘in theory’ for many people is like advice without an action plan. We have read the books, we have the knowledge; yet, somehow we fail to apply it in daily practices of living.

Three years later, I feel like I am living more in the now, and no longer worry about tomorrow. Three years ago my tomorrow looked nothing like my present day.


As we headed east on the I-40 towards Kelbaker road, I realized this would be my 5th visit to Kelso Dunes since moving to California in 1997. Mother Nature’s sandbox has offered me unlimited photography opportunities, hiking joy, free camping, and one amazing boogie boarding weekend over the years.

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This visit though was inspired by SHADOW. Shadow loves playing in the sand. I wanted to show him Mother Nature’s ultimate sandbox, in addition to sharing our first cowboy camping experience together.

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Located in the 1.6 million acre Mojave National Preserve, Kelso Dunes spans 45 square miles and is 650 feet above the desert floor. Kelso Dunes were created over the course of 25,000 years by winds carrying sand grains from the dried Soda Lake and the Mojave River Sink.

Pulling into Kelso Dunes parking lot, I made a mental note of items to be packed for our overnight cowboy camp. It was rather simple, winter sleeping bags, jacket, beanie hat, water, dog food, and several Cliff Bars. My goal was to be on the dunes summit by sunset.

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What I had not accounted for was a very friendly and attractive Park Ranger stopping by to say ‘Hi’ to Shadow. It seems dogs are social icebreakers! What started as a ‘your dog is beautiful’ comment ended in a 20-minute conversation about backpacking, B.L.M. land, and her winter spent as a ranger in YellowStone National Park.

I would be a liar if I didn’t admit to spending my entire hike wondering if Ranger Mitchell was single. Little did I know Min also thought the Ranger was rather special. Ranger Mitchell continued to be the topic of our conversation for the entire dunes hike. Yes, she made an impression on both of us!

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As we headed out on the sand, I wondered what Shadow was thinking about his new environment.Shadow only sand experience was the dry canal beds of Fresno.

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Little did Shadow know his new home in Marble Canyon would be canyons and a sandy gravel wash. Sandpapered paws would become the norm and the familiarity of a public park would be no longer.


Almost halfway up the sand dunes and I realized how dogs cover triple the distance their owners do. Shadow runs ahead, sprints back to check in, then barrels up another sand dune. I think Shadow underestimated how long the hike would be, pacing himself is an option he has yet to discover. In reality, how could he slow down, all his senses were being stimulated.

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Note –  have you ever seen a dog get the sillies on sand dunes?

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After ten minutes of running each other ragged, this was the end result!

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After my brief talk with Shadow, we marched straight up the right flank of the spine. It became very difficult to maintain our momentum, as the picture opportunities were endless. If it wasn’t Shadow digging his way to China, it was me enjoying Mother Nature’s light show.

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As we followed the sand spine to the summit the sun was starting to set. Imagine having 45 square miles of sand dunes all to yourself?

Front row seats to a sand dune sunset, and all that is missing is nothing.

When was the last time you heard Mother Nature’s orchestra sing on the sand dunes?

Have you ever felt Mother Nature flirting with your camera while encouraging you to be still?

Do you capture or inhale the moment?

Is it possible to do both without feeling distracted?

Shadow decided for us, we sat silently and inhaled.

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After setting up camp, I managed to sneak in a few more pictures of the remaining light show. Shadow stood guard. I am not sure if he was protecting me or his view of his new-found territory, the Mojave Sand Pit.

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As darkness fell we slid into our sleeping bags.

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It almost seems criminal to be cowboy camping on a clear night with a skyline riddled with stars.

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Does it really get any better than this? I don’t think so! Connecting with the Mother Nature seems to help me re-connect with myself, or maybe she speaks a language I understand. A language of limbic simplicity.

I have always found it fascinating that we permit and accept Mother Nature’s self-expression of rain, tornadoes, tsunamis, monsoons, earthquakes, avalanches, floods, hurricanes, burning heat, bone-chilling cold, and nasty snow storms. If Mother Nature were human she would be considered super sensitive, moody, unforgiving, reactive and at times impulsive and unpredictable. Perhaps global warming would be perceived as a woman with resentments seeking retribution for the damage caused by her abusers.

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Min and Shads slept through the desert night, while I woke a few times wondering what life would be like if it was just this simple.

How did life become a full-time job for so many of us? At what point do we give up on living in exchange for a false sense of security?

It seems over the past few years the term “bucket list” has become a part of pop culture. Everyone seems to have one, a list of things to do before we die. What if we redefined the term to a list of things to accomplish while we are still living? At times it seems a bucket list is more of an idea or distraction from our reality. Is it considered disobedient to make a career out of your bucket list? And if so, why a bucket? What if one bucket isn’t big enough to store your list? Do you shorten the list, or consider two buckets? These are some of the questions that fill my head in the wee hours.

Have you ever woken up on a 700ft sand dune and tip toed across the cold sand in your socks looking for a place to pee?

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Have you ever felt like Mother Nature has become your personal compass?

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It seemed like the Arizona state flag rays were revealing themselves in my California desert sunrise.

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How did Mother Nature know I was Arizona-bound?

It was somewhat comforting having Mother Nature project my destiny in the wee hours of the morning. The sun rays felt more like a stamp of approval than a light show. Ironic, I seldom seek advice from humans, yet I will listen when the planet speaks to me.

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Shadow and I played on the sand dunes for another hour before returning to camp. Shadow seemed hyper-vigilant about keeping sand out of his paws and was paying close attention to the wind blowing sand across the dune scape.

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Back at camp, we all ate breakfast before Shads and I decided to return to bed while Min was filming. The winds started to pick up, and I felt blessed to be camped in the sand bowl, right below a sand wave.

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By 930am, the desert sun was starting to heat up the sand. Shadow was content sunbathing and snoozing, while I was starting to think about lunch. I was craving “real food”. Today we were headed to Lake Mead, our second last stop before Vermilion Cliffs. With a 3 hour drive ahead of us, we packed up our cowboy camp and prepared for our sand dune descent.

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My final destination was becoming more and more of a reality. I started to wonder what my new life would be like. Would I like the work atmosphere? Would Shadow be able to adapt to desert living and perhaps even have canine friends? Would my sexual orientation be problematic in a state that can legally discriminate against me? Would my dating world be scaled down to zero in a town of a few hundred? Would there be any other lesbians in the area? How difficult would it be to eat fresh? Would I be able to construct a makeshift gym to get back into training?

In the past, these questions would have stemmed from fear. These days my questioning is rooted in deep curiosity and wonder. Remember the old saying, curiosity killed the cat? I feel the cat lived a full life. At least the cat did not die of wonder.

After making the pilgrimage along the spine, Shads and I took the time to sit before making our final descent down the dunes. Like two strangers that joined forces during the trip of a lifetime, we found ourselves staring out over the Mojave National Preserve.

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Have you ever caught yourself in the moment when you realize you won’t be returning to a place, town or state for a long period of time? It was here, on the dune edge that I recognized the permanency of my decision to move and live differently. I had lived in southern California for 17 years, it has been home, yet I still feel like there is so much more to discover in this beautiful state. I have made a promise to myself and Shads that we will return to hike the Lost Coast trail. Shads has yet to experience the ocean, and I think this hike would be the ultimate ocean experience for him.

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With the sand as a reminder that life is not written in stone, we headed straight down the dunes. The 70-degree vertical descent created sand avalanches that trigger the booming dunes orchestra. To experience booming dunes, and to feel the vibrations throughout your body is undoubtedly one of the most unique gifts mother nature has to offer. It makes any fun park appear lame.

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Halfway down Shadow was getting visibly irritated by the sand between his paws. It seemed every few minutes he needed to stop for a paw pedicure. I reminded him of our next destination, the waters of Lake Mead. It didn’t seem to help him any!

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Within half an hour we made it back to the car. Shadow was very happy to be off the sand and snoozing on the backseat. As we drove away Vicci Martinez’s song, “Enjoy The Ride” started playing. Her lyrics, as fitting as ever, rang true to me.

Come on take it slow, and always enjoy the ride. Cause what will be, will be, you cannot hide. And free yourself from fear that lives inside. And only then the truth you seek, you will finally find.