An old rafting colleague died on the weekend. He was taken ill quite suddenly a few days previously and was placed on life support which was finally removed. 30 years of epic drinking, smoking, taking drugs and chasing chicks finally took its toll. As the old song goes, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.
We worked together in Cairns back in the 90s and then he disappeared overseas. Imagine my surprise when I arrived for the first time in the Italian mountain valley that was to become my home only to discover Maz waiting there in the guide’s apartment. As always he was rolling a joint.
He grinned when he saw me and we immediately went out to one of the small local bars for a long session of cold ones. He had just come straight from a season in Peru. I asked him how he had found South America.
“Awwwww, mate – the Peruvians were total cunts,” he said with his characteristic North Queensland Aussie drawl. “They paid us fuck all and everything. The only good thing was all of the coke.”
“A lot of it around?”
“Mountains of the stuff. I barely saw up from down for months.” His hands shook as he lit another cigarette.
We did that first rafting season in Italy together, sharing the apartment with a bunch of other guides. Maz’s teeth had virtually rotted away from all of the drugs but at the end of the season he had saved up enough cash for a brand new set of teeth. The change was amazing.
On the river he was rock solid. He knew his stuff as well as anybody; his only problem being in what particular state of mind he was in at any one point in time. On any given rafting trip he would be floating down the river, a cigarette in his mouth and a hot girl sitting by his side.
Maz had a face like an old leather boot but he sure could pull them. He had chicks all over the world from his rafting adventures; Norway, Sweden, Peru, Italy, Australia, Zimbabwe, and he had the children to match his travels as well. He left a worn path of used up women and innocent offspring behind him.
But he was also a culturally sophisticated man. He spoke fluent Spanish, Italian and Swedish that he learned from the time he spent in those countries. While in Italy he taught English and he and I would have long arguments concerning Italian grammar. He was generous to a fault with other people’s money and he was also a confirmed socialist and ardent supporter of whatever progressive craze was hot at any given moment. But despite his faults we always got on very well.
Ultimately he stayed on the river too long. In the end he had nothing else but his body wasn’t up to the task. For the last few years he had been living up in North Queensland picking up odd jobs where he could get them but time was running him down. He couldn’t hold down a steady rafting job as he spent more time on worker’s comp than actually working.
But several months ago he took over as president of the Australian Rafting Federation, a role which suited him. He was doing extremely well with organising the upcoming rafting championships on the Tully river, but his personal life was a complete mess.
He was someone who took the adventurous life too far. You have to know when to stop and you have to be able to reinvent yourself. If you’re not prepared to do that then perhaps rethink a life of gallivanting around the globe. Maz packed a huge amount of life into his 50 years but ultimately I think that he was a lonely man. He made bad choices and they came back to haunt him. We can never escape from who we are and we can’t escape the consequences of our actions either. There are lessons to be learned from his life, and perhaps warnings that should be heeded.
But he was a good friend, a stand up mate, and an exceptional riverguide on his day. I will miss him.
the gang in Italy taking a break between rafting trips …