Note to my WordPress friends and readers: Please let me know if you read this entire post from start to finish. It’s very long, but I needed to write all that is here for my own sake, as I tried to make some sense out of my own life history. If you don’t read all of it, I’ll understand, since it is my longest post ever, and I know it may be asking too much for people to read a post that is 5,000 words long.
On another note, between writing marathon posts, keeping up with a personal life that has been very hectic lately, and keeping my promise to my wife that I’ll continue to spend lots of time with her when we both have the time available, I’ve been having a hard time finding the time to read and comment on your posts. But this will change today, because I want to catch up with all of you, since your writing is very good, and I really want to show my appreciation.
10. When I was 13 years old, I rode my Raleigh 3 speed bicycle from our house all the way to the city of Worcester MA, and back home again, covering a total distance of 60 miles on Route 9 – a secondary highway with a posted speed limit of 50 mph.
Soon after I arrived in Worcester, I rode my bike into a bad neighborhood frequented by drug dealers and lots of junkies, but at first I was unaware of this. Stopping to rest in an urban park, I was approached by a large man with a sweaty face, dirty clothes and a red bandana tied around his forehead. He asked me to go with him somewhere else away from the park, to help him change a flat tire on his car. I was immediately suspicious, so I told him that I couldn’t help him, and then quickly jumped back on my bike and rode away.
Soon after that, I decided that Worcester wasn’t such a great place to visit. At age 13 I was a precocious kid, and I had recently read a book called “The Panic in Needle Park” by James Mills, about heroin addicts in New York City. That neighborhood in Worcester, and the guy who had approached me, reminded me of scenes from the book. So I began my long, hard, and dangerous 30 mile ride back home on the side of Route 9 with cars and trucks flying close by me at high speeds for over two hours. Eventually I arrived home safe and unharmed, but very, very tired. My parents never knew about my “adventure” and they never found out about what I had done that day.
9. The first four cars I owned, all died violent deaths. One night when I was 18 and driving my first car, a 1967 Mustang that I loved more than my girlfriend at the time, I hydroplaned into a guard rail at 50 mph during heavy rain. I was wearing a seat belt and had no injuries. But when I saw how badly my Mustang was smashed up, I cried like a baby!
Losing this car broke my heart!
Next up was my 1970 Buick Skylark when I was 19. I was racing at night with another guy, and didn’t quite stay on the road for a really sharp turn at high speed. Slammed on the brakes but crashed into a stone wall and totaled the car. But again, I was wearing a seat belt and came out of it with no more than a nasty bump on my head, a sprained wrist and some cuts and scratches.
The third car, a beautiful 1972 Cutlass Supreme I had when I was 22, was totaled when I let my girlfriend borrow it. It wasn’t her fault. She was hit head on by a guy in a van who never saw her as he tried to make a left turn merge through her lane. She was shaken up, but she was wearing her seat belt and she suffered no injuries.
The fourth and last, was the worst car of my life. It was a piece of shit 1976 Audi Fox. It was totaled when a guy in a Chevy Malibu ran a stop sign at a merge and hit me in a head on collision. The floor boards in my car were so badly rusted out that both front bucket seats punched right through them and were sitting on the road after the crash. Once again, I was wearing a seat and shoulder belt, and got out of it without a scratch. The other guy was OK as well. The real joke was that his insurance co. paid me 1,200 bucks for my car. It wasn’t worth 50 dollars.
You’ll have to take my word for it, but as of now I have the maximum discount for safe driver credits on my current auto insurance policy. I haven’t been in an accident in over 25 years. But my history of crashes is the real reason that I have never wanted a motorcycle. I figure that without seat belts and an interior with an engine in front of it to protect me, that I’d end up dead meat out there for sure.
8. I’ve been an avid backwoods hiker and camper, but I have the dubious distinction of climbing down three Northern New England mountains in the dark. (with a flash light) Mt. Katahdin in Maine, and both Mt. Washington and Mt. Lafayette in New Hampshire. Katahdin went that way because we got a late start, and lost daylight soon after leaving the summit. But both Washington and Lafayette were intentional, because in both cases I was at the summit on a perfectly clear night with billions of stars and a full moon. It was just so beautiful up there that I couldn’t make myself leave. I don’t recommend climbing down 5-6 thousand foot high mountains in the dark. Even though I made it okay all three times, it’s a great way to get hurt in a remote area with no one around to help you.
Mount Lafayette in New Hampshire. It’s much safer to hike back down the mountain before the sun goes down, and I speak from experience.
7. Sometimes I get frustrated and impatient when things don’t go smoothly, and then I get distracted and careless. Like the time when I fired up my gas grill for the first barbeque of a new Spring on a warm and sunny late afternoon, and shortly after igniting and then reaching full strength on high heat, the blue flamed burners mysteriously went out. I knew I wasn’t out of propane because I had just come home after having the propane tank filled. I checked the valve handle on the tank and it was cranked open. Then my cell phone rang and I took a brief call from a friend who was joining us for our barbeque.
After ending the call, I returned to the gas grill and while standing over it and looking down at the burners, I pressed the ignition button to restart the grill. In the fraction of a instant, my ears heard the very beginning of the low rushing sound of combustion and my mind instantly recognized it was too big and way too much! A five alarm warning of great danger from my brain caused an almost instantaneous reflex reaction that threw my body backwards and away from the gas grill, as my back and neck arched my head back and away from the huge orange ball of flame rushing upward to incinerate my face!
As my back slammed hard into the shingled wall of our house, and I fell down on the deck, my face felt hot and burned, but not badly burned, as the great orange fireball of the ignited cloud of propane roared upward and then vanished. My nearly disastrous mistake was that during the cell phone call, I forgot that the propane was still flowing out of the tank and turning into a large and concentrated cloud because it wasn’t burning. Until I pressed the ignition button and that tiny electric spark almost instantly turned into an exploding incendiary bomb of upward rushing and expanding flame that came so close to engulfing my face, that it singed off my eyebrows and burned my face a bright red.
But my eyes were completely untouched and unharmed since I must have had them shut, and my burned face, while painful, turned out to be no worse than a very bad sunburn. I’ve always had catlike reflexes and I had moved fast enough away to avoid the worst. Numerous people have told me many times that I also have more lives than a cat, and I think that after reading the rest of this post, there will be more who think the same.
6. In 1985, during the time when I was in between the two marriages of my life and a single guy, I went scuba diving in Hawaii with a female guide who led us too close to the entrance of an underwater cave as huge waves were rolling overhead above us. The cave was an old lava tube that led from 50 feet down underwater up to the surface. When the huge waves rolled over the opening of the cave at the surface, they caused us both to be sucked upward 50 feet to the surface in about 5 seconds, in an extremely fast and potentially fatal ascent. If we hadn’t both known enough to instantly and furiously exhale the compressed air from our scuba tanks out of our lungs all the way up to the surface, our lungs would have expanded to the point of being critically injured, and we probably would have died as a result.
But having survived our almost deadly ascent, we were immediately assaulted on the surface by three huge waves in rapid succession crashing down on top of us, and slamming us hard into the jagged lava walls surrounding us. The only thing that saved us from critical injury and death, was that we both turned our backs to the lava walls so that our scuba tanks would take the force of the blows as we were slammed hard into the rock of the lava walls. As the massive volume and weight of the water in the waves pounded down on top of us, there was also still a tremendous force of water pushing upward from below, which made diving back down impossible.
Until after being hit by the third wave, the waves stopped, and the force of the upward water pressure also stopped, and we were able to dive back down out of the lava tube and escape, with both of us miraculously unharmed.
I’ve always loved the ocean and I love big waves – when they aren’t trying to kill me…
My female dive guide was a young woman from Chicago, who was barely 5 feet tall, and looked like she weighed under 100 pounds, but with her short blond hair, blue eyes and a nice shape, she was attractive. After we had dinner and drinks she made me her lover that night, as a way to make up for almost getting me killed. She also made me promise not to tell anyone about our experience, which would have been bad for her business.
When our night of passion turned into a mutually amazing experience, she became my lover for the rest of my vacation in Hawaii, until I had to return home. Our parting was bittersweet but mutually understood and accepted.
So what if she almost got me killed! What came after was more than worth it.
I think a very primal and anciently instinctive bond can form when a man and a woman survive a near death experience together. If there is any potential physical attraction for each other before it happens, there can be a far greater physical attraction for both afterward. She was the first woman with whom I had a near death experience that led to an incredible sexual experience, but she was not the last… There would be another two years later.
5. Two years later in 1987 I went scuba diving with another woman in New England waters. This dive also became a near death experience when an underwater current reversed direction and made our dive much longer and harder than planned for, and an unexpected storm moved in while we were underwater. When we had to ascend to the surface because my dive buddy ran out of air, we found ourselves in rough seas and we were repeatedly buried by the powerful force of an endless procession of big white capped waves.
It was soon obvious that we needed to get out of the rough seas created by the storm, in order to survive. But we were far away from our originally planned shore exit, and all we could see in front of us was a shoreline of huge and dark granite rocks and ledges being furiously pounded by big waves. High and fast rolling waves that created a loud, deep rumbling then booming sound as they crashed into the rocks, with the sound now a whooshing rush as great explosions of white water and spray were thrown high into the dark and grey stormy skies above. To try and come ashore anywhere on that shoreline would be certain death for us, but to stay out for very much longer in the raging seas threatening to drown us, would also be fatal.
Our situation was dire. Until I saw a small round stone beach in between two large ledges, where we had a chance to come ashore without being killed. I grabbed my exhausted and terrified dive buddy’s hand as I made sure that her mask was firmly placed on her face and head, and my alternate regulator was still there in her mouth so she could breathe, since she had run out of her own air supply, and trying to breathe from a snorkel as the big waves rolled over us would only result in her choking on a windpipe flooded with sea water.
As my hand held hers in a firm grip to prevent losing her to the violence of the storm frenzied seas, I moved us in closer to that round stone beach, while taking care to not get swept into the surf zone too soon by the biggest of the waves, which could push us away from the safety of the beach and into the crashing, crushing destruction of the waves against the rocks. Then, timing it so we were in between the biggest of the wave sets, I looked at her and yelled “Now!!!” and we both swam for our lives together, swimming with all our strength straight ahead for that round stone beach!
When I finally felt the round stones beneath my knees, I grabbed her arm and dragged her along with me, getting us both up and out of the water onto the shore, and then for another 20 feet further away from the water, until we were out of reach from the biggest waves and out of danger. As some of you already know, the woman who’s life I saved along with my own that day, is my wife Jean. I guess you could say that it was one hell of a first date, and thank God the rest of our dates have been so much better!
Sometimes when people ask me how I met my wife, I say that I found her in the Atlantic Ocean. In a way it’s true, but I think we really found each other that day when we almost lost our lives.
4. In 1996, the year that my wife and I bought our first home, I tried to repair some electrical connections on the 220 volt line for our clothes dryer. My wife thought this was a very bad idea, and tried her best to talk me out of doing the electrical repair myself and hire a professional electrician instead. But I was stubborn and I wanted to try and save money by doing the repair myself.
So with my wife fearfully watching me, I made my electrical connections on the 220 volt line, and then switched on the circuit breaker to turn on the power. As I walked from the circuit breaker panel back towards the open junction box where I made my repair, I heard a low humming sound that didn’t sound right to me. Instead of going back and turning off the circuit breaker to the line like I should have, I took a closer look at the connection.
What happened next, all happened in 1/10th of a second, or about the same time that a batter in baseball has, to swing at and hit a 90 mph fastball. It’s a good thing that I was a good fastball hitter when I played baseball in college, and that I still had very quick reflexes, because as I looked at my wiring connection, a huge bright blue electrical ark leaped out at my head. In that tenth of a second, my eyes told my brain that they saw the threat of bright blue instant death by electrocution, and my brain told my body to hurl myself backwards away from the wall where my wrongly connected electrical connection was massively shorting out.
My wife screamed as I landed on my back on the basement floor, about four feet away from the wall, and the circuit breaker tripped to kill the power to the big blue electrical ark that came within a fraction of a second of killing me. I quickly leaped back up on my feet to reassure my terrified wife that I was alive and she wasn’t a widow. But then I made another mistake… As Jean rushed forward to hug me, I laughed and smiled as I said “I think I did it wrong.” Instead of hugging me, Jean’s eyes went wild as she banged both her fists hard on my chest while screaming “YOU ALMOST JUST DIED AND NOW YOU’RE LAUGHING?!?! I COULD KILL YOU!!!”
But eventually she calmed down, after I apologized to her for making light of a situation that badly traumatized her, and she made me swear upon our marriage and my love for her, that I would NEVER do my own electrical repairs ever again! And I have kept that sworn oath for her, ever since.
Home ownership can be very dangerous. At least for some people…
3. In 1984 I climbed Mt Washington in New Hampshire for the second time, in late September. Relatively speaking, and compared to other mountains, Mt Washington’s summit isn’t very high, with an elevation of only 6,288 feet. But Mt Washington’s deadly claim to fame is that it has some of the world’s worst weather. Until very recently in 2010, the world record for the highest wind gust directly measured at the Earth’s surface at a speed of 231 miles per hour, was recorded by a weather observatory at the summit of Mt Washington in 1934.
Mt Washington is infamous for very rapidly developing severe weather conditions that can occur even during the summer months. There have been weather related fatalities on the mountain in all 12 months of the year, with many of these deaths due to exposure that resulted in fatal hypothermia, or severe heat loss to the body’s core. 135 people have lost their lives on or around the mountain since 1849, more than on Mt McKinley – the tallest mountain in North America.
But on that day in late September of 1984, I was well prepared for severe weather conditions, because I knew about Mt Washington’s deadly history. Even though it was 85 degrees and muggy in Pinkham Notch at the base of Mt Washington, inside my backpack I had two full changes of dry clothing to change into, if the clothing I was wearing became wet from either sweat or rain, and I encountered cold and windy conditions on the mountain. I also had rain gear, and a well insulated snow suit along with a winter parka, a wool hat and ski mask, and two pairs of thick and well insulated gloves.
But the weather would not be my only challenge that day. Most of my route up Mt Washington would include the Huntington Ravine trail, which is rated as one of the toughest marked trails in the US due to the trail being a very steep and strenuous climb up rocks and ledges, and in some places vertically steep enough, to be on the verge of requiring technical climbing gear. It was while climbing the steepest part of the trail that I got into trouble.
Climbing up a 50 foot high rock face using hand holds and foot holds, I came to a point about half the way up, where I couldn’t reach my next available hand hold, which was just barely out of my reach. I knew I would have push off with my legs from my foot holds and jump up to grab the hand hold above me, and I knew that there was a very real possibility that I would lose my balance and fall backward off the rock face.
My problem became much worse when I realized that I couldn’t lower my feet back down to the foot holds I had used to climb up to where I was, without being in even greater danger of losing my balance and falling. Even a fall of 25 feet would be disastrous for me, since I would land on the boulders and rocky ledges below at the base of the rock face, and be seriously injured, or even possibly killed by a fall equal to falling 2-1/2 stories down off a building.
I was also hiking alone, because of a last minute cancellation by a friend who was supposed to go with me. I was very disappointed by the thought of having to cancel the trip, so I decided to take my chances and go alone. But now my level of anxiety was quickly rising as I faced the possibility of a serious injury, without anyone to help me, or to go and find help for me. (no such thing as a cell phone rescue back in 1984) Assuming that I even survived a fall, I’d be seriously hurt and alone, and at the mercy of Mt Washington’s deadly weather if it took a turn for the worse.
As I was stuck there up on the rock face, I knew that I couldn’t just stay where I was indefinitely, or my arms would inevitably get too tired to hang on, and then I was sure to fall. I anxiously searched for another hand hold that was easier to reach, within my reach, but I couldn’t find any. There was only that one above me that I was afraid to reach for by jumping at the risk of falling. Finally I knew I had no choice but to just go for it, so I literally took a leap of faith as I jumped up and off my foot hold in a desperate lunge upward to firmly grab the hand hold above me. My heart pounded hard in my chest as I thought I was going to lose my grasp on the hand hold and then feel myself falling backwards and then falling down…
But when I grabbed the hand hold I was able to hold on firmly and plant both my feet without falling. I heaved a huge sigh of relief, and the rest of the way up was easy. I also got to have the Mount Washington sudden weather change into extreme weather experience, when after reaching the top of the Huntington Ravine trail and just beginning to hike on a plateau called The Alpine Garden, I was almost immediately hit with very cold high winds and driving snow! I had to hide behind a large boulder to get out of the strongly blowing and bitterly cold wind, to change out of my sweat soaked clothes and into long underwear, dry clothes and put on all my winter gear. It was an absolutely amazing experience and almost hard to believe it was really happening, as within less than two minutes the calm and warm Fall weather turned into a severely windy and very cold Winter storm that blew in with the speed of an oncoming train.
By the time I reached the summit, the snow had stopped and the weather was clearing into a combination of fast moving clouds and areas of blue sky with excellent long distance visibility in almost all directions. But there were still very strong winds at the summit and it was extremely cold. So cold that when I took off my gloves to open a pack of trail food, my hands were painfully cold within less than two minutes and I had to take shelter behind some large boulders as a windbreak for protection from the strong and frigidly cold winds. But I was fully prepared for the weather conditions, and the rest of my adventure on Mount Washington was a thrilling experience without any more dangerous and life threatening situations.
Trail intersection near the summit of Mt Washington, with ice and snow on the rocks – Late September, 1984.
My backpack leaning on the sign at the summit of Mt Washington. The overcast from the storm had not cleared yet.
Weather observatory at the summit of Mt Washington – September, 1984
2. Moving on to a very different place and climate in Hawaii, this photo below taken in 2002 is not exceptional – which is why it would have been all the more ridiculous if it became the last photo I ever took. I was trying to work a difficult camera angle for the next shot after this one, when I slipped and started to fall. The only thing that stopped me from falling to certain death below, was grabbing onto some small bush roots, and fighting for my life to pull my way back up onto a rock where I was finally safe again. Before that, I really thought I was going to die.
Hawaiian Waterfall of Near Fatal Fall – Hawaii, 2002
1. In 1992 I almost drowned in Casco Bay in Maine, because I swam to an island that was two miles away. I was then supposed to swim back, and if I had stuck to my plan I would have been fine. But I saw another island about a mile further out and I wanted to go for that one too. Made it there with no problem, but of course there was another island out there, and then I wanted that one as well. But it was much farther away than I realized, and I was exhausted by the time I hauled myself up on shore. It was uninhabited so there was no one to help me.
When I tried to swim back I soon realized that the tide had changed and now the current was working against me. But now it was late in the day, and I felt I had to try and swim back, because I knew my wife must be going crazy with worry about me.
To make a very long story short, I was in the cold Maine ocean water for 7 hours and got so badly hypothermic that I was only minutes away from going unconscious and sinking beneath the waves. But that’s when the sailboat found me… and then the helicopter and a Coast Guard boat. They’d been looking for me all day, but never looked out as far away as I was, because they didn’t think I could swim that far, or that I would try to. They rushed me to a hospital and when I was admitted, my body core temperature was 82 degrees. I was in bad shape, but an IV of warm saline solution and being mummified in blankets for six hours brought me back to life. That swim is easily the most dangerously stupid thing I’ve ever done in all my life, and I am not proud of it.
Now that I’m almost 56 years old, I’m far less likely to want to do things with a dangerously high level of risk that could kill me. I’ll always love the excitement of an adrenalin rush, but these days gambling with my life no longer seems worth the thrill that could end my life. I’m still a scuba diver, I still love hiking and I still enjoy challenging adventures, but with far less risk involved. As I’ve gotten older I have a greater awareness of my own mortality. I’m in very good shape as far as physical conditioning, but my reflexes aren’t nearly as quick as they were in my younger years, and I’m also less coordinated now than in the past, and I’m aware of my limitations.
I know that I’ve been very lucky many times in my life to survive the risks I’ve taken by doing the things I’ve done. I’ve been lucky so many times, that I’m beginning to feel like I’m on the wrong side of mathematical probability now, and if I’m not careful and take dangerous chances, Fate is going to finally win the bet and I’ll pay with my life. I don’t want that to happen.
I also can’t help but wonder after all I’ve done, why I’m still here? Is there a reason why I’m still here? If there is a reason, I have yet to find out what it is, other than just continuing to be a loving husband and companion for my wife, and to love and support my family. Other than that, I’ll continue to be a good friend to my friends, try my best to treat other people fairly and help them when I can. I’ll enjoy making people laugh when I can, and enjoy it when their sense of humor makes me laugh. Maybe that’s enough of a reason for me to still be here, because not everyone can be Gandhi.
The only thing that I know for certain, is that nothing in this life is certain… and for all I know, I could die in my sleep tonight. But I’m not gonna lose any sleep worrying about it, and I’d say the odds are probably good that I’ll wake up alive in the morning.