Death of a riverguide.

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 …

7 thoughts on “Death of a riverguide.

  1. Rob Sutherland

    Commiserations. Doing nought I pulled up the ARF website and was delighted to see the very un-PC sponsor’s name bedaubing the craft in the main pic

    Like

  2. Abelard Lindsey

    Was it the unhealthy habits of excessive drinking, smoking and drugs that did your friend in? I assume this has to be the case. It seems to me that living the outdoorsy, adventurous life, as long as you live cleanly (no drugs, etc.) should allow one to live longer and healthier than most other people. I am a minimal social drinker, do not smoke or do any drugs, and do both body building exercise as well as swimming. As long as i maintain my healthy habits, I see no reason why my social and travel life should be of any risk to me. Does anyone care to disagree with this?

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      1. Abelard Lindsey

        Ah! Genetics! I guess I just have to use CRISPR to straighten up my sequences. Then I get on with my life.

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  3. paul scott

    I don’t know if there are many warnings, in his life. It is certainly true that its good to keep away from coke and cigarettes, but generally as you say burning out rather than rusting has its merits.

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  4. TechieDude

    I’ve known a few guys like this that lived hard and died early. One thing I can say for sure is that the more fit you are as you age, the more likelihood you’ll survive a serious illness. Christopher Hitchens said (while undergoing cancer therapy):

    “However, one thing that grave illness does is to make you examine familiar principles and seemingly reliable sayings. And there’s one that I find I am not saying with quite the same conviction as I once used to: In particular, I have slightly stopped issuing the announcement that ‘Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.’”

    “In the brute physical world, and the one encompassed by medicine, there are all too many things that could kill you, don’t kill you, and then leave you considerably weaker.”

    If you aren’t in shape at the beginning, they take you out.

    I’m thinking it’s a mix of genetics and lifestyle that determine our lifespan. I know in my own family the difference between living life, smoking, drinking, and being a pious teetotaler is five years, give or take. With an aunt and uncle being the outliers.

    Friends and acquaintances dying off is sadly another thing that starts happening regularly in your 50s. I think I’ve gone to a funeral a month so far this year. The youngest being 6, the oldest in his 70s, most around my age.

    Like

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