“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


The first river you paddle runs through the rest of your life. It bubbles up in pools and eddies and reminds you who you are.” Lynn Culbreath Noel


In the dark hours of the morning, the Perfect Stranger and I left Laughlin, bound for Needles, California. If you have ever driven across the I-40 in California; you may have exited at Needles to get gas, and perhaps wondered what this “in the middle nowhere” town has to offer. Call it an offer or perhaps an open invitation; paddling Topock Gorge, the crown jewel of the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge was my inspiration for visiting Needles.


Leaving the I-40, we exited from Park Moabi Road, bound for the Pirate Cove Resort and Marina. The Pirate Cove Resort is a first class family destination nestled along the banks of the Colorado River. With a 250 slip marina and a seven lane launch ramp, it’s a summer haven for boaters and water lovers. In the off-season, it’s home to migrating fowl and snow bird campers. For the next few days, Pirate’s Cove would be our base camp and kayak launch point.


Out of  sheer convenience, we booked a kayak and shuttle package from Desert River Kayaks. For a mere $55, the company will deliver rental kayaks and shuttle you back to camp.This was my second time renting gear from Desert River Kayaks. The owner Helen Howard, has spent 46 years observing the changes in recreation and resource preservation on the Colorado River. As a board member of the Lower Colorado River Water Trail Alliance, Helen holds the Colorado river close to her heart. Her knowledge of the river and willingness to assist clients in trip planning makes Desert River Kayaks my first choice.


With expected overnight temperatures in the high 20’s, we decided to set up camp before Helen delivered our gear. I have made a point over the years of trying to avoid pet peeves. My pet peeve with camping; setting up tents in the cold and at night.


Around 730am, the Perfect Stranger and I left Pirate Cove Resort bound for Topock Gorge. This majestic 17 mile paddle had been on my adventure list since 2001. I was finally here! Not only was I here; I was sharing it with someone I was falling in love with. Perhaps it’s human nature, or maybe it’s just me: however I feel when we fall in love we tend to start thinking more about the future than focusing on the now. As much as I was appreciating and honoring the now, I found myself thinking about the future. How can I date a woman who lives 500 miles away? Would I entertain a long distance relationship? Is a long distance relationship really sustainable? Do long distance relationships need an agreed end point? Do long distance relationships feel more like romantic getaways, or do they simply lack in the daily rituals and routines that regular relationships experience?


Bringing it back to the now, why contemplate or worry about a long distance relationship with a woman I hadn’t even held nor kissed. Maybe it wasn’t worry; it was more wanting.


Barely half a mile down the river, the perfect stranger and I decided to make our first stop. Mother Nature’s light show had led us ashore. The shades, shadows, and textures of the early morning captivated me. I have often wondered if photography can legitimize a landscape. Is it really possible to capture the authenticity of a scene? Perhaps I am merely freeze framing the feelings landscapes evoke in me, or maybe I’m simply shutter friendly?


After a brief snack, the perfect stranger and I headed back out onto the water. In the distance, we could hear the sound of a roaring freight train. We were now approaching the Santa Fe Rail Bridge. Built in 1945, the Santa Fe Bridge lies next to the modern Interstate I-40 Topock Bridge and the Old Trails Arch Bridge



Completed in 1916, the Old Trails Arch Bridge was the longest three-hinged arch bridge in the nation. A decade later,with the opening of Route 66; the bridge was bypassed, abandoned, and deemed worthless. In the ultimate act of recycling, Pacific Gas and Electric appropriated the bridge. Thanks to a fresh coat of paint, this centennial bridge gives the appearance of a far younger structure.


Paddling under the Old Trail Arch Bridge meant we were officially entering Topock Gorge and the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. Home to over 318 species of birds; the Refuge lies within the Pacific Flyway, a major north-south migratory route along the western coast of the United States. Birders flock to the refuge during the autumn and winter months, not just for rare species such as Yuma clapper rail, Southwestern willow flycatcher and peregrine falcon, but also for the sheer abundance. Thousands of Canadian snow geese, ducks and other waterfowl seek winter shelter in Topock Gorge and Marsh.



As the perfect stranger paddled slightly ahead of me; the words of Loren Eisley came to mind, “If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”


The morning lighting on the Colorado River had created a fairytale kind of magic. I will never forget the breath taking cloud reflections, the sunlight sparkles bouncing off the water’s surface, and the perfect stranger, finding pink and purple peace on the river.


In many ways, I feel photography is about capturing unguarded micro-second moments. While a creative eye is considered invaluable, I feel the ability to recognize limbically driven moments is crucial. Personal is when you feel someone’s spirit, intimate is when you know them.


With twelve more miles ahead of us, I could only wonder,what is next?



THE PERFECT STRANGER – PART 6 – Never-Ending Questions

In the late afternoon, the perfect stranger and I arrived in the casino town of Laughlin. Harrah’s casino and hotel would be our base camp for the next three days. Where else can you shower, do laundry, and prepare gear for a kayaking trip for a mere $26 a night.


Laughlin is located on the far southern tip of Nevada, just 90 miles south of Las Vegas. Understandably, you won’t find Celine Dion performing here, nor can you expect to see a Cirque du Soleil show. However, it’s the lure of the Colorado River that attracts over 2 million visitors a year.


During the summer, Laughlin is considered a hot spot for swimming, fishing, and boating. The mild winter months offer a haven for traveling snow birds and pristine kayaking conditions for solitude seekers.


Topock Gorge was my main reason for visiting Laughlin. The 16 mile paddle through a mountainous section of the Colorado River had been on my “to do list” for over a decade. Our launch site was only 40 miles south of Laughlin, making the casino town the perfect headquarters for trip preparations. 

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Have you ever tried to navigate your way around a casino?

Have you ever noticed the deliberate circuitous paths?

Casino rotaries feel more like a corn maze than a pathway to a much needed shower.

Have you ever noticed that most restaurants will be positioned in the center or at the back of a casino?

Casino psychology is all about keeping you “in house” for as long as possible.

Have you ever found yourself lost inside a casino and your only support system was the poker machines inviting you to come closer in their loudest possible voice?

Imagine if poker machines came with a silencer?

Would you activate the quiet button, or does the constant noise create such excitement that winning at the slots seems possible?

Have you ever heard the sound of losing in a casino?

What if every loss was broadcasted over the casino P.A. system?

How do we convince ourselves that winning is more common than losing?

Is it the sirens or the sound of coins hitting the metal pay out tray that give us the impression that we too could win?

It’s rather depressing watching people hunched over a slot machine. How can such a mechanical game invoke such concentration?

How does one focus on winning at a slot machine?

Is it a numbers game, prayer, or more active meditation?

Could gambling be seen as a wealth building strategy?

If so, does gambling offer hope to those who are struggling financially?

Does gambling create more poverty among patrons than wealth?

These are some of the thoughts that ran through my head while making my way to the hotel registration desk. Perhaps I should have been focused on my new reality; for the next few days I would be sharing a hotel room with the perfect stranger. This change in focus would only lead to more internalized questions.

How do I transition from sharing tight sleeping quarters in a van’s cargo area to a large hotel suite?


Is it more intimate to share a fully functioning bathroom as opposed to a parking lot porta potty?

At what point did a simple adventure trip start to feel like a weeklong getaway with a potential future wife?

Yes, I said wife, she made that much of an impression on my heart and mind!

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As we headed back to the parking garage to grab our gear, we found ourselves in silly playful moods. The shiny, slippery tile walkway made for a great break dancing floor. I couldn’t help myself, a knee spin was in order.

On the return trip back to our hotel room, we played at the casino fountain. It has always bothered me that fountains tend to be gendered when it comes to urinating. I have always wanted to change that, so I did!


What is the significance of water fountains at casinos, resort hotels, and gated communities?

Does having a fountain create a sense of culture and credibility?

Does it give a three star hotel a five star ambiance?

Are fountains the equivalent to chandeliers in nursing home foyers?

Does a fountain or chandelier guarantee better service?

This would be yet another day the perfect stranger would be lending an ear to my endless questions about life, living, and the world around me. Fortunately we both consider ourselves nerds. Perhaps this is why I feel she gets me!