Ryan's List of Activities and Their Sober Fun Ratings!

**Now with BONUS Time Span Recommendations!**


If you want to read about about that, trekking in the Himalayas, you're in the wrong place; instead go HERE.

I have been to a lot of places and done a lot of crazy things. And like so many alcoholics, one of my greatest fears upon getting sober was that all my crazy adventures and all my wild fun had officially come to an end. Even though other sober folks, with years of sobriety under their belts, would frequently assure me that a whole new era of fun was just beginning, I didn’t believe them. I left rehab mentally prepared to all but go live in a nunnery for the rest of my sober life. (Or maybe a BUDDHIST MONASTERY!)

Well, I’m here to tell you, they were (mostly) right. Getting sober does present many new possibilities for fun, and it even opens up some DOORS that might have been previously locked. Does it also close a few doors as well, sometimes permanently? Most definitely it does. But not as many as you might think.

More often than not, you’ll find that the doors stay wide open, you just aren’t interested in going through them anymore. That’s the hardest part to navigate, if you ask me— trying to get to know yourself all over again and figure out what this new sober person (you) does and does not enjoy doing for fun.

A small but necessary Spoiler Alert here: I was relieved to find out that I still enjoy doing a lot of the exact same activities as I did before! I quickly realized, however, that I just enjoy doing a great many of them for a much shorter period of time. Man, we alcoholics sure know how to drag out an activity, don’t we?!

As I got to know the new sober me, I started taking notes about what activities maintained their same appeal, which ones were no longer viable options, and which ones offered newfound joys I never knew existed. You might have seen some of these stories scattered throughout my website.

I began ranking the activities on a Sobriety Fun scale of 1-10, with 10 being the absolute most fun a sober person can have, and 0 being an activity that I feel like it’s time to say goodbye to entirely, because it no longer holds any appeal for the sober individual.

(You know, actually, if I’m giving it a rating of zero, that’s probably because I feel it could probably even threaten one’s sobriety...)

I then gathered all these stories and rankings together, added some original photography, and assembled them in no particular order. The result is the exhaustive list you see before you.

Allow me to humbly present:

Ryan’s List of Activities and their Sober Fun Ratings!


No More High Horse

As with sooooooooo many activities, things you would usually stretch into overlong, all-day events when you were drinking or getting high, you will find need to be radically decreased now that you're sober. Trot me around on a horse for a couple hours, four max, and let's be done by lunch. No need to drag this out into the afternoon as well. If you ride as infrequently as I do, your ass won't be able to take much more than four hours anyways, which will become painfully apparent, especially when you aren't drinking.

Also, in the desert you are going to get extremely hot and sunburnt, and if it's a snowy mountain ride, you're going to get super cold; especially without that whiskey to warm you up!

I give this a Sober Fun rating of 5.


Here's a few photos of me with the horses that live on our street. After I fed them the one carrot my mom told me to bring, there wasn't much left to do, so I left and went home.


Camel Cam

You'd think the exoticness factor would score extra points here, but this is just a sand horse. It's twice as tall and twice as uncomfortable, so unless you ride a camel regularly, you are going to want off this thing pretty darn quick. I'm decreasing this to a 2 hour max, but still giving it a Sober Fun rating of 5. Because you're probably somewhere really neat, if you're on a camel.

Fun Fact: The Universe knows how important cool photos are to me, so the second I start feeling too smug about myself, and imagining I'm Lawrence of Arabia or whatnot, it will often throw a wrench into my plans. Such as, giving Maria a smart, refined, camel that took lovely photos... and giving me an absurd camel with a jacked-up grill, that insisted on making retarded, upstaging faces every time it saw a camera. I'm at Petra, one of the 7 Wonders of the World, and I only have one single photo where my camel wasn't doing some version of this:

More than once, I became hot and tired and could have easily been talked in to renting another camel. But every single time, the wranglers would painstakingly go and get THIS same camel again. As far as they were concerned, this was the camel for me, this was my camel. Thanks guys.
More than once, I became hot and tired and could have easily been talked in to renting another camel. But every single time, the wranglers would painstakingly go and get THIS same camel again. As far as they were concerned, this was the camel for me, this was my camel. Thanks guys.

3. A DAY ON THE LAKE IN A BOAT, No Activity Planned: 3

The New Lackluster Lake Luster

Ooooooooh, this is a tricky one. Are the people you are going with planning on drinking? Because if so, regardless of how long they told you that you would be out on the lake, you are going to be on that boat until their coolers run dry. So pay attention to how much alcohol they are loading onto your watercraft at the start of the day, that's how long you'll be on that boat. What a nightmare, I give this a Sober Fun Rating of 3.

On second thought, I'd even go so far as to say it's WORSE than a bar, because at least you can choose to leave a bar on your own accord. On a boat, there's the added downside of you being completely trapped until the group collectively decides they're ready to return to shore. And sometimes, even if they run out of booze, someone will know of a "special marina" or someplace, where everyone can get more, and now you are basically trapped until the sun goes down.

And to accommodate all the beer, of course, there was only room left in the cooler for the smallest amount of food, so you will probably also be starving. But no one else will care, they're all drunk, and have all the beer calories fueling them up. They are happy and full and totally confused why you keep bitching about being hungry, despite the fact that y'all haven't eaten since breakfast. This is essentially a floating bar, so unless you are very confident in your sobriety, I'd say to skip to this one altogether. Sorry.

4. A DAY ON THE LAKE IN A BOAT, with Planned Activity: 9

Wakeboard Surfing Is Sexy!

Whether the others in the group are drinking or not, if there is an activity planned, this totally changes things. The more athletic the activity, the better, I say! If you are lucky enough to have a wakeboarding boat, or even just water skis, then this is a game changer. So long as you have the foresight to bring adequate amounts of food, I give this a time allotment of All Day, and a Sober Fun rating of 9.

The guy above is obviously super sexy, and the only reason this boating activity gets an SF rating of 9 and not 10, is due to the fact that you are still technically trapped. All decisions must still be determined collectively by the group, and you can't just up and leave if you feel like it, should things turn sour.


The Slow Mobile

When I was drinking, the problem with this activity was always that everyone would get shitfaced beforehand, but without any prior discussion about which ones of us would actually be driving the snowmobiles once we got to the activity site. Every single person just assumed that of course they would be riding on the back of one, while someone else more sober manned the steering wheel and the gas in the front. But, um, well... when everyone assumes this, it leaves you with a huge group of ready and willing passengers, but no one left to safely drive the vehicles.

This phenomenon happened on multiple occasions. We would never dream of cancelling because of something so silly as a little drunk driving... however, these are alcoholics we are talking about here, many of which have probably crashed cars or at the very least, gotten a DWI at some point. So if you are picturing a raucous drunken time of hooting and speeding through the forest, stop. You're thinking of Heavy Drinkers, not alcoholics. When you've been arrested as many times as we have, and been in just as many wrecks, instead what you get is an abundance of caution.

After forcing the least drunk members of your group to reluctantly drive, you get a procession of overly cautious snowmobiles creeping slowly through the trees in a line, as if they are all in a big snowy school zone. What fun! Our group guide was super confused and kept encouraging us to go faster - probably because he was starting to realize we'd never make it to the half-way point and back in the allotted amount of time, if we all kept moving at this bizarre, languishing pace. So snowmobiling is one activity that I will heartily claim becomes much more fun when sober, when you can really open up with reckless abandon and squeeze that gas handle like God intended.

Still, it gets both old and cold relatively quickly. Plus, just a couple of hours of snowmobiling works out to roughly the same amount of money as a full DAY of skiing, and skiing is loads more fun. However, this is a pleasant enough activity to do with people in your group who can't or won't ski, and because of that, I give it a Sober Fun rating of 7.

Personally, a couple hours in the afternoon is quite enough snowmobiling in my opinion, and that way, you can still hit the SKI SLOPES that morning!

Tip: Regardless of how many hours you decide to go with, check before you book to make sure that you've found an outfitter that takes you on a long journey through the forest, not one that takes you to a plot of land with a circular track in the snow. This = sadness. If this is the case, they don't usually advertise it as such, or tell you how much it sucks, why would they? So you need to ask up front. Otherwise, you'll get there, they'll put you on the snowmobiles, and then just allow you to go round and round in a large circle for however long you booked, or until you get bored/nauseous and decide to call it quits. Even the drunkest person among you will recognize that this blows, so if this is the only type you have access to, I say skip it, and it gets bumped to a lowly SF rating of just 3.

Oh my god, I can smell alcohol just looking at this photograph. I can't believe they let me drive that thing. And what's wrong with my toboggan? Geez, it's all but covering one of my eyes.

6. Jet Skiing: 5-7

I am switching back to a warm weather, water activity here, mainly because jet skis are very similar to the SNOWMOBILES we just talked about. In fact, Ski-Doo and Sea-Doo are owned and manufactured by the same company. One for the snow, one for the water, but both are about the same when it comes to how much sober fun there is to be had. Here again I have the same problem that I do with a lot of activities that require little to no skill, and absolutely no athleticism: if the day isn’t designed properly, the activity becomes really boring, really quick.

Just like with snowmobiles, these jet skis are vehicles, little more, and I feel they are best enjoyed when they are used as such -- with a purpose. Let's use them to get to a destination! Take me on a journey! Riding them in Greece, to see the various islands around Mykonos, or in Italy to go see the grottos -- that's what I'm talking about! Amazing. But don't just plop me in the middle of an ocean or lake and tell me to zoom back and forth with my friend until our clock runs out. That's what you'll get on places like Catalina Island, and many other domestic locations with similar jet ski rental offerings. No thank you. Jet skiing around in a confined area, with your friends, just zooming back and forth? Well, drunk, this seems silly and dangerous, sober, it seems silly and dumb. But mostly just boring. There's not much skill involved, so the only way to do something interesting or impressive is to do something foolish or risky. I'm not a big fan of activities designed around this premise. This seems like something that would be good to rent for other people's children, to occupy them for a day while you go and do something else, but they won't usually rent jet skis to children without adults present, so... Personally, I say save your money and rent everyone a speedboat and water skis instead.

However, if we are riding jet skis with a purpose or to a proper destination, then I'm in! I'll even race you! Hell, if you're paying for it, I'm even down to zoom around with you in a confined/limited area for an hour or so. Two hours max, though, and this gets a Sobriety Fun rating (depending on whether there's a destination or not) of anywhere from 5-7.

You might notice that there is not a jet ski one to be found in my photo, and that is because while I might be confident/stupid enough to bring my nice camera with me ON A CANOE, I'm not quite crazy enough to try bringing it with me on a jet ski. So, until I am, you get an abstract placeholder that I shot of water in my mother's pool. Sorry!

Fun Side Note: If you've only ever been on a Waver Runner in a lake, wait until you try it with the rocky waves of an ocean. Let's just say that for men with egos, this may be a... ball busting experience. And leave it at that.


Still Getting High

Paragliding is the closest you will ever come as a human being to flying like a bird (much more so than sky diving, which is more akin to falling), and it would get an SF rating of 10 and a time allotment of All Day, if that were possible. But it’s not. It’s often extremely expensive, and that exorbitant price tag usually only gets you about 15 minutes in the air. I’m always left jonesing for more. I still maintain that it’s worth it, but thanks to its cost and brevity, however, I can’t bring myself to give it more than a Sober Fun rating of 8.


“Of course, I do still like to get high…”

Those were the last words my paragliding instructor, and the person I was presently tethered to, said to me just moments before we started running at top speed down the side of the cliff, and then springing out into the open air of the box canyon.

Considering how long we’d been standing here, fully geared up, just waiting for the wind to change and calm down, our sudden departure seemed rushed and unexpected. I had been tethered to this guy, my guide, for about 40 minutes now, and we had just been standing patiently on the side of this cliff. If you’ve ever done any tandem activities (like SKYDIVING) then you know how awkward and uncomfortable this can be. This dude is literally strapped to my back with buckles and ropes, with his crotch at my butt and his nose touching the back of my neck. Luckily, we had an entertaining distraction. We were waiting for the wind to become agreeable...yes...but mostly we were all listening to another couple argue.

They were both fit and attractive, and still in that stage of their relationship where they needed to be constantly, flirtatiously, touching each another. I got the impression that on any other day, they probably would have passed this downtime by just publicly making out.

With tongue.

But not today, today they were fighting.

It was very clear to me, and probably to all the instructors up there with us on the side of that mountain, that he had talked his girlfriend into coming with him. She was here mostly against her will, and we got the distinct impression that now— standing here on the side of this cliff— she was having second thoughts. He still seemed to think she was going to do this with him when it came her turn. Ha! Stupid man. Anyone with eyes and ears could see there was no way in hell this woman would be paragliding with us today. I’m surprised she even went through the motions of gearing up. I’d be willing to bet not only had she already made up her mind, I’d wager she probably made it up days ago actually, and he just didn’t know it yet.

Or wasn’t ready to accept it yet, let’s say. So he was running through the whole gamut of psychological tactics, everything from sweet-talking to peer pressure to even just a few of your classic bullying techniques.

I had tuned them out. I was mesmerized by watching this windsock flutter and whip around in the wind, this windsock that apparently determined our fate and whether or not we could go parasailing today, as planned. The instructor guys seemed to all know what it was they were watching, and looking for the windsock to do differently before we could proceed, but all I understood was that it needed to do something different than what it was doing presently, in order to ensure we could take off safely.

While the couple fought, my instructor confided in me that he too was sober, for almost 10 years. “That’s fantastic!” I was about to say, but then he yelled the other sentence I previously mentioned, that he still liked to get high, and then without warning, began running us down the cliff and into the air.

Our running turned to touch-and-go floating almost immediately, as the wind began to lift us up off the side of the cliff. I felt my feet touching, not touching; touching, not touching. I was wondering whether or not he intended his last statement as a pun, playing off the fact that we were literally about to be flying high in the air, or if he meant he still smoked weed.

I didn’t have too long to think about this, though, because no sooner had we achieved flight, the wind changed, and we were immediately whipped back to the side of the mountain. I pictured what that windsock must have just done, probably an immediate about-face, an instantaneous snap of its fabric, to suddenly blow in the completely opposite direction. It felt like we had been yanked back to the mountain by an invisible hand. We crashed hard into the cliff face, and I knew my shoulder would be bruised tomorrow, but other than that, I was fine.

From up above us, I heard a woman’s voice clearly say, “That’s it, I’m out!”

I couldn’t see my tethered instructors face, obviously, because remember he was strapped in a harness behind me, but straight into my ear, he yelled over the wind, “We can’t stay here! What do you want to do?!”

He sounded panicked, and it wasn’t really a question, no shit we couldn’t stay here! We were continuing to slide down the cliff face, and the wind was once again trying to lift us back up! What the f*ck did he want me to say?

I think I said nothing, so he rephrased the question. “Do you still want to try and go?”

I don’t know if I said yes, or no, or nothing at all, or if he pulled some cord or something, or if the wind answered the question for us, but in the next instant, we were being yanked back up into the sky.

And in the next second after that, we were motherf*cking flying.

It was incredible, one of the most exhilarating and surreal experiences of my entire life. And it was absolutely beautiful.

We were flying over possibly the most gorgeous place in the entire world, certainly my favorite place, and about 15 minutes later, when we eventually touched down in a plot of grass just outside of downtown Telluride, dozens of people were ruining to greet us.

“This is so cool!” I said as we were landing. “I had no idea that people came to greet you every time you land!”

“They don’t,” he said. “This is a first, I’m pretty sure they want to make sure we are okay, and talk about the fact that we almost just died.”

What? This was news to me, but I was starting to realize he’d barely said a word the entire time we were up in the air. “Nothing like this has ever happened to me, or to anyone I know," he told me. "When we were slammed back into the cliff, I think part of our wing canopy got bent. We are lucky to be here landing in one piece.”

To this day, I still don’t know what he meant about getting high, if it was meant literally or figuratively as a joke, but I wholeheartedly do not think anything this guy did or didn’t do was responsible for what happened to us. The fickle wind was simply not playing in our favor that day. To further make my point, I would gladly go up with this same guy paragliding again, if given the chance.

However, I’m not sure that is even possible. He was pretty shaken up. Before I left to go home, I overhead him telling the other instructor that he was done for the day, perhaps done indefinitely. “At least for a while, anyways…” I heard him say.

Like many things I have done, especially those I have only done once, this goes into the “Ignorance is Bliss” category. It is an ever-growing category of things I probably would not have done had I known more about it before attempting it for the first time. Even afterwards, and this is true for many extreme activities, it takes someone who knows how things are supposed to go, normally, to appreciate how far we strayed from the proper path, and how closely we flirted with catastrophe. As someone who likes to try something once or twice, and then immediately move right on to the next, new, crazy thing, I am almost always the naive novice in these situations.

“The less you know the better,” seems like a shitty takeaway for me to leave you with, so I’ll end with another truth about extreme sports, one that is unlikely come as any big surprise:

If you pursue extreme/adventure sports for any length of time, you are almost guaranteed to meet an overwhelming number of recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. These are people who, one could argue, have merely traded one type of getting high for another. That is not how I see myself, by the way, just in case you were wondering— I don't believe that I’m constantly chasing some adrenaline high now that I don’t get high with drugs anymore— but I’m also not going to deny that I encounter a lot of people who tell me that’s exactly what they are doing.

Read about another high-flying example HERE, my skydive into the Grand Canyon with a junkie strapped to my back.

Hold on, did he say adrenaline first, or just junkie?


Junkies Getting High

Much like paragliding, skydiving is a short-lived activity with a hefty price tag. Plus, the fun “falling” part of skydiving lasts for a much shorter amount of time than you’d like or expect.

Almost immediately after exiting the plane, the falling ends and you are yanked up by the parachute (somewhat painfully, I might add), and then you are left hanging in the air (also painfully) as you slowly float to the ground. After the adrenaline of the fall has worn off, then you are just dangling and making small talk with the person who is strapped uncomfortably to your back, as you fight boredom and try not to think about how much the straps between your legs are hurting and chafing your inner thighs. I found this ordeal to be much less magical than the simulated flying experience of PARAGLIDING, however, I was doing this skydiving directly above the Grand Canyon, so that has got to add like a milllllllllllllion coolness points, right?

After our parachute opened (which, again, seemed like it happened almost immediately after we leapt from the plane), it took us about 10 minutes to float to the ground. But it felt more like 20. Despite his affinity for jumping out of planes, my skydiving instructor turned out to be surprisingly boring, and our floating small talk felt belabored and strained the whole way down. As did MY NUTS.

The only thing these guys have to brag about is how many times they’ve done this, with each dive being more or less the same as the last. But I’m not complaining, the only thing that could change his stories up and make them more interesting is if something kept going wrong, and who wants to ride with a skydiving instructor who has great stories, because he habitually keeps having things go horribly wrong every time he dives? No thank you, I like being strapped to this boring dude who seems to be getting me safely (albeit painfully and slowly) to the ground.

Later, once we were back on the ground, the instructor shared with me that he, too, was sober, and had been for just over nine months. I told him congratulations, even as I quickly did the math in my head and realized that based on some of his previous statements, if all are true, then the timeline clearly indicates that he was taking people up to dive while he was still f*cked up. Yikes. Maybe this guy isn’t so boring after all, I remember thinking, and was secretly grateful that he didn’t start sharing “interesting” drinking/horror stories with me while we were still in the plane.

“Remember, bro? I told you I was a junkie!” he said to me, once we were back on the ground.

Huh, I guess he did, and due to the context of what we were doing, I just assumed "adrenaline," not "heroin," was the implied prefix. I made this little joke to him outright, and he outright explained to me that he indeed enjoyed both.

Ah. Gotcha.

I told him I preferred crack, and we both had a nice chuckle together. Oh, us junkies…

I will say here the same thing I say in my story about PARASAILING, extreme sports and extreme adventures have (and probably always will) attract a lot of former drug addicts and alcoholics. Makes total sense, we enjoy the rush. The downside to this, at least for me, is that I know how small the success rate is for people in recovery, and I just don’t want to ever find myself strapped to someone’s who’s both relapsed, and is also in charge of deploying our parachute. It’s one of my greatest fears, actually. I'm afraid I will find myself in this or any number of similar situations, where the Universe will decide that as a great cosmic payback for all the drunken and f*cked up things I’ve done, it will befittingly pair me with some inebriated dumbass in an extreme, life or death, predicament. To teach me some sort of lesson, I guess?

No joke, I’m constantly on the lookout for this sort of thing. Like in a Final Destination movie, I know this is inevitable, I just don’t know exactly how it will happen. Will I see the pilot nip at his flask right before hopping into the cockpit of the tiny prop plane I’m sitting in? Or smell alcohol on the breath of the person who’s flying my helicopter? Or on the guy who’s handing me my scuba gear? From boat captains to the person in charge of just setting the bindings on my skis, I am constantly looking out (and smelling in) for the Universe’s big, drunken joke.

I’m on to you, Universe!

Unless of course, it’s already happened, and I survived it. Because it is very possible that it was this one intoxicated Uber driver— a lady I will never forget—who was supposed to be taking me to the airport but kept falling asleep at the wheel. Despite all my protestations, and my desperate pleas for her to please turn around, she also continued to drive me in the wrong direction, to the totally wrong airport. Dallas has two airports, they are about 20 miles apart, and somehow this crazy, drunk, woman had it stuck in her head that I needed to go to Love Field. But I did not need to go to Love Field, in fact, if she continued taking me there, I was going to miss my flight at DFW! But she wasn't wanting to hear any of that, she told me to hush up. "I know shortcuts, Baby!"

She’d turn up the music, louder and louder, singing the wrong words at the top of her lungs, continuing to drive me to the wrong airport, and in between bouts of jerky swerving and several near misses, this woman started asking me in earnest if I’d be willing to drive her car. She told me she was feeling very, very, sleepy.

“Seriously, I’ll let you drive my car to Love Field!” she kept slurring. “No one will ever have to know, and we’ll still give each other five-star reviews, right?”

“For the last f*cking time, Lady, I don’t need to go to Love Field, my flight’s out of DFW!”

Throughout the ride she bumped up onto multiple curbs, drifted unawares into multiple lanes, and at least once woke herself up with a loud snore noise while driving. I was more scared in this ride to the (wrong) airport than in all of my daredevil adventures combined.

Hear that, Universe? We’re even!


The time in my adult life that I felt the greatest amount of danger wasn’t in a tiny plane flying me into the Himalayas, or while being lowered into a dark Mexican cenotes, or even riding through a shantytown in South Africa. It wasn’t even in another country! It was right here in America, on a ride to the airport, in Dallas, Texas!

Similarly, my GRANDMOTHER often FRETS about me traveling to unsafe countries, and will frequently ask me, “What about terrorists? Aren’t you constantly terrified? Especially going into all these mosques and temples like you do?”

And I always tell her the same thing I tell everyone, that based on the news reports I’m constantly hearing, I’d feel more unsafe entering a mosque right here in Texas, than I ever would going in to one abroad! Not to mention, it seems like the most dangerous place to enter, the most dangerous building in the entire world right now to walk in to, would be any school building, anywhere here in America.

I’ll stop right here before this turns political. My point is, there are plenty of horrifying things to be found both at home and abroad, so after the proper amount of research, no, I don't usually feel unsafe in other countries. I just don't.

Likewise, one of the favorite statistics that any skydiving operator will likely quote to you, is that on the day of your skydive, the most dangerous part of your day (statistically speaking) will be driving in your car to get to their airport. All skydivers seem to love throwing out this statistic, and regardless of what state you are planning to do it in, you will probably hear this quote more than once. The exact numbers might change slightly, but it's always about how many times more likely you are to die in a car accident on the way over, than you are on an actual sky diving session.

Wow. I wonder by what percentage that statistic might change even further if you decide to call, I don't know, say, a drunk Uber driver? So long as your skydiving session is scheduled at Love Field, I know a lady who'll even let you drive her car.


High Times: Your Own Personal Basket of Boredom

Above is a photo of my friend Margaux and I, as they deflated the hot air balloon behind us, that we'd just been trapped in for over 500 hours.

Not really, but that's what it felt like.

This is perhaps the most complicated of all my opinions, because my stance on whether this is a fun excursion (and worth the hefty price tag) has very little to do with if you are drinking or not, and everything to do with where you are planning to do this. If you’ve never been in a hot air balloon, I know it will be very difficult for me to convince you that riding in one, regardless of where you are, is going to be anything other than a wonderful, magical time. I blame Hollywood for this. But please hear me when I say, unequivocally, that hot air balloons are inconceivably boring, and that there are about 100 better things to do with your afternoon and money. If you don’t believe me, that’s great—I want you to go up in one and then immediately call me, so we can then talk about how boring they are!

The very fact that after the first hour I usually start concocting a plan to hurl myself over the side and onto the ground, all to escape that tiny basket of boredom, makes me give Hot Air Balloon Rides a Sober Fun rating of 3.

The thrill of being up in the air goes away almost immediately, and then you are just left standing in a tiny basket, right next to a blisteringly hot gas furnace, for however long you booked your tour. Since you move with wind, and can only fly on non-windy days, you will move at a snail’s pace through the air. This means that whatever view you have, you will have that SAME VIEW FOR A VERY LONG TIME. Hope it’s a good one!

For example, it doesn’t get more beautiful than the San Juan Mountains, just outside of Telluride, and yet I started checking my watch after only about 30 minutes into the balloon ride. By that point I’d taken every photo there was to take, from all 360° vantage points within the basket, and became disappointingly aware that it was going to be a very, very, long time before that view changed in any meaningful way. Eventually I just powered down my camera (there was nothing new to photograph), and accepted that we were going to be forced to make small talk for the next hour and a half with the balloon operator. Margaux and I were good friends, who talk regularly, so we ran out of things to say to each other relatively quickly. There was nothing new to comment on about the (unchanging) view, so we basically resigned ourselves to learning about the history and traditions of ballooning for the next two hours from the balloon operator.

Sadly though, I already knew most of what he told us, from all the other balloon rides I’d taken. These balloon rides all play out in much the same way, with you inevitably stuck listening to the balloon operator endlessly telling you (rather than showing you) how great and amazing hot air balloon rides are.

I realize that this might sound like a very First World problem— being bored in a hot air balloon— but boredom is a very dangerous thing for an alcoholic! You are not doing any physical activity nor are you helping to control the aircraft in significant way, so your mind may start to wander. It is not only customary for you to have strawberries and champagne upon the completion of each ride, but also for this particular operation, the meeting place where we met our guide was in the parking lot of a weed dispensary. Go figure. I found myself thinking about how since nothing is required of the passengers and since once you get up here, there’s really nothing much to do, the best way for most people to enjoy this really would be to buy a bunch of weed from the dispensary, come up here and smoke it or eat it, and then ride around high as a kite (or a balloon, harhar) until in was time to bust open the champagne. It almost seemed like that was what they intended.

I would normally tell you to just choose the shortest ride possible, just to choose the shortest excursion offered by whatever balloon operator you’ve decided to use, and that you will probably have a pleasant enough morning, especially if this is your first time riding in a balloon... But the problem is, the whole thing is such a hassle, that the shortest ride might still not be short enough. Due to weather considerations, every balloon operator I’ve ever encountered will have you meet them somewhere in the dark, well before sunrise. So you can probably expect to be waking up some time around 3:am on the morning of your excursion. This becomes a hefty commitment, which also curtails whatever it is you had planned to do the night before. When you combine this inconvenience with the monetary cost of the whole ordeal, you will likely be tempted, like so many are, to decide, well, “in for a penny, in for a pound,” and before you know it, you’ve doubled down and booked a half day balloon ride.


You are going to be kicking yourself by the end of hour one! Personally, every time we dipped down a bit lower in the atmosphere, I started thinking, “How hurt would I really be if I jumped out of this basket? I’ve had lots of stage combat training… and I’ve watched stuntmen land unscathed, and seen how they tuck themselves into a ball to recover from a moving jump… I wonder how far away the closest restaurant is? … or do we think they also sell food at that dispensary? If they don’t they really should… that would be a smart business move… what with munchies and all that…”

After the first hour or so, I usually start concocting a plan to hurl myself over the side and onto the ground, all to escape that tiny basket of boredom.

**The exception to everything I just wrote is if you find yourself in a place where going up in a balloon will provide you access to something truly monumental, with a breathtaking or informative view you wouldn’t or couldn’t get in any other way. For me, that place was Egypt, and I am talking here specifically about floating over the Valley of the Kings. It is a hot air balloon ride that I would recommend emphatically to anyone considering it and would do again myself in a heartbeat. The sunrise view that you get of the ancient Egyptian tombs from above is truly magnificent, plus, since there are always multiple balloons going up at once, you will also be able to photograph them from afar, beautifully dotting the morning sky at sunrise. This is something you will not get when you just charter your own, singular, personal balloon ride in Colorado, also, in Egypt, we didn’t start out the day by meeting at a marijuana dispensary. For all these reasons and more, a balloon ride over somewhere epic (like the Valley of the Kings) is an absolute delight, and I highly recommend it. It gets a solid SF rating of 9!

The only reason it doesn’t get a 10, is because regardless of where you do it, there’s never going to be anything physically engaging about the experience. You will always just be standing still, trapped, in a tiny floating basket. That part never changes, so neither does my reluctance to commit to riding for any longer than about an hour or so.

Did you know that in 18th century France the first hot air balloon ride launched by the brothers Montgolfier contained a sheep, a rooster, and a duck? Cuz Margaux and I sure do....


LSD (Let's Scuba Dive!)

Unlike almost every other activity that involves a boat, especially a boat in a tropical location, scuba diving is perhaps the only activity that I do not associate with alcohol and heavy drinking. Yes, this could be because I only started learning to scuba dive after I got sober, but I don’t think that’s it.

I’m aware that tons of people go on vacation and get drunk and go snorkeling, but based on all my experiences, scuba diving seems to be a very different situation. This is an activity that would probably be terrifying if you were drunk, and in fact, I found it pretty darn scary sober! This is not like tandem SKY DIVING where you basically just jump out into the abyss and hope for the best. With skydiving, since you have almost no control over the outcome and are totally relying on your experienced dive buddy to get you back to earth safely, there is a certain “if it’s my time to die, so be it!” mentality. With scuba diving, you are very much in control of your own destiny, and whether you live or die is very much on your shoulders. It is quite literally on your shoulders, actually, as there is a tank of oxygen strapped to your back, and that tank is the only thing keeping you alive. Your knowledge of how it works is paramount, and your ability to adeptly control all things breathing-and-oxygen-related is the only reason you aren’t drowning.

It is one thing to go on shallow dives, where the surface is never too far away (should you start freaking out and need air). It is quite another to be at a depth where, if something were to go wrong -- like let’s say you accidentally sneezed (like I did) and then started taking huge gulps of water into your lungs -- returning to the surface is no longer an option. You are 100% reliant on that tiny little tube in your mouth and that massive tank on your back to survive, and it’s up to you to calm down and figure out what to do. When you are that deep, there is a great deal of pressure on you, both physically and mentally, and so the whole ordeal can turn terrifying in an instant. There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of things to keep track of, so you will want a clear and sober mind throughout.

Deciding whether scuba diving sounds like a fun idea to you, therefore, has very little to do with drinking vs. not drinking, and everything to do with whether being deep underwater and utterly reliant on an oxygen tank to survive sounds like a fun adventure to you, or a claustrophobic nightmare. I fall somewhere in between. However, I must have found it less terrifying than most people, because in my diving certification course that started out with 40 people, by the second weekend, I was one of only 5 people left. All the rest were people who would rather lose all the money they spent, with no refund or certification to show for it, than to spend one more watery second so deep underwater and far from the surface.

Becoming trained and certified alludes to another big difference between scuba diving and other recreational activities like, say, SNOWMOBILING or WHITEWATER RAFTING, where in about 10 minutes, an experienced professional can show you the ropes, and provide you with at least enough information to ensure you have a safe and fun afternoon. Scuba diving is much, much, more complicated, and from the get-go involves stepping out of your comfort zone.

Which is why I was absolutely shocked when my friend Maria decided to scuba dive with me, for her very first time, in the Egyptian Red Sea. It turns out, in many foreign countries (Mexico is similar) they are much more lax about requiring that divers be certified. So long as you have both the desire to scuba dive AND THE MONEY TO PAY THEM, they will suit you up and take you down.

Personally, because I’m somewhat of a control freak, and want to know how things work and what’s going on at all times, this would have been a hard “NO” for me. There was a huge language barrier in Egypt, and they were explaining how to operate the equipment (and all other information) in broken, hard to understand, English. The scuba and boat crew were all nice enough, and appeared to be cool, fun-loving guys, but the pervasive laissez-faire attitude that is a trademark of many foreign countries was not a vibe I could have tolerated for my very first time strapped to an oxygen tank. It is making me anxious just thinking about it, actually... and again, kudos to Maria for just saying fuck it and going along for the ride!

If you haven’t guessed already, since the enjoyment of scuba diving has very little to do with drinking, and almost everything to do with your personal constitution and whether you would find this sort of thing fun or not, it is very hard for me to give it a Sober Fun rating that is very helpful whatsoever. Therefore, sorry, it gets the decidedly unhelpful rating of 0-8.

The reason it can never get more than an 8 is, in my opinion, because regardless of how magical your destination is, or how beautiful your time underwater might be, the whole process of scuba diving comes with some pretty major drawbacks. Namely, that you are going to spend the majority of your day doing all sorts of tedious things, none of which are scuba diving. Very few even take place in the water. By necessity, your time underwater will occur in brief intervals, separated by long periods spent sitting on the boat, often in a damp, cold, uncomfortable, wetsuit. It can take quite a while to reach a desirable spot in the ocean by boat, so factor some chilling wind into your time spent wearing that sopping-wet, rubber suit, and suddenly your day can easily turn quite miserable. It’ll only take one time of trying to put back on an already wet wetsuit (because you decided to take it off in between dives like a novice) to learn that removing your wetsuit to try and briefly regain warmth on the windy boat is not really a viable option. Trying to get it back on is beyond frustrating, it’s an acrobatic nightmare. Thanks to all these hassles and many more that we haven’t gone into, there are many occasions (and locations) where I’d think long and hard about whether it might not be a more prudent decision to just go snorkeling instead. Snorkeling is also considerably cheaper, by the way…

I don’t think my experiences are particularly unique when I warn you that whether it’s from scuba diving or just from being out on a boat in the open ocean for 4-10 hours, at least one person (but probably more) will invariably end up getting nauseous or ill at some point during your scuba day. Many more people on your boat, even if they haven’t succumbed to vomiting, will just decide they are OVER IT, and they will decide this long before there is any chance of them realistically being able to disembark from the boat.

That is why, not just as a sober person but as a human being, I am always reluctant to wholeheartedly recommend DAYLONG BOATING EXCURSIONS. It has little to do with the limited access to food or medical supplies, or the fact that should something go wrong, it is unlikely that a rescue team would get there in time to make a difference, no, my reasoning is a lot less dramatic: no matter how much you might be ready for your adventure to end, getting off this ride is often completely out of your control.

In this way, I feel that a boating trip is much like taking LSD. You might decide around hour four that you are ready to be off this trip, ready to make it stop, but tough shit! You knew what you were getting into when you decided to make this commitment, and now it ends when it ends. The trip is going to take as long as it takes, and how long it might be before you return safely to earth is completely out of your control.

Ugh, both mentally and physically, I hate feeling trapped. (A bit of foreshadowing here, but this is why SNOW SKIING gets a SF rating of 10!)


I’m not going to belabor my opinion here about how being trapped ON A BOAT long after it has stopped being fun can affect my SF rating, however, I will divulge another factor that could definitely sway my feelings about an activity and cause my rating to plummet: children. All my ratings in this list are presupposing that the activity is mostly child free, and if there are children present, it’s because some other group you are sharing a tour or a vehicle with had the poor sense to bring them. If you are being forced to do any of these activities with babies, children, or teenagers, then my Sober Fun rating dwindles to below 5, possibly even to 0, depending on the activity.

I’m mentioning this here because I kind of associate snorkeling with children. I assume that it’s a favorite amongst parents because it's cheap and requires very little skill or training. Even if your child can’t swim, you can stick it in floaties and put goggles on its face and a snorkel in its mouth. I’m guessing that commercial ads for hotels and resorts often portray children in this way because with all that stuff on their faces and in their mouths, it means now they can’t talk or scream. And then you, the adult consumer, can subconsciously associate the advertisement’s vacation services with the appeal of having a slightly less loud and irritating child.

Anyways, assuming that there are no (or only peripheral) children present, and that you have chosen somewhere enchanting to do your snorkeling, then this activity gets a solid Sober Fun rating of 8. I’m not the strongest swimmer, but if I’m wearing a life vest to keep me afloat, then I can do this for hours.

I’m thinking specifically here about the warm island waters off the coast of Thailand, where the ocean is so clear and full of life that it was like being plopped into a nature documentary. The only thing missing from my snorkeling adventure was David Attenborough. I wonder if really wealthy people and celebrities are able to rent him for an afternoon. Like, for special birthday outings you could pay top dollar to just have Attenborough follow you around and extemporaneously narrate what you were looking at? That would be neat.

If my rating was based solely on Thailand snorkeling, then it would probably get a 9. Sadly though, I’ve had many other less magical experiences, even a few that were downright pitiful. If there’s not much marine life wherever you are, or the water is too dark and murky, then snorkeling becomes about as much fun as fireworks in the daytime. I’ve even had a bad time SCUBA DIVING in a dark, murky lake, and that blows, too. When you can see absolutely nothing, the experience becomes simultaneously both terrifying and boring, which admittedly, is an odd combination of emotions to experience all at once.

Then at the other end of the spectrum, somewhere off the coast of Jordan we were dumped (with goggles and snorkels) into a section of the ocean that was so choppy and riddled with massive waves, it was hard to even swim, much less snorkel. I was afraid the only thing I might see through my goggles would be other people in our group drowning. In fact, the more I think about this, I have more bad experiences than good, so I’m demoting snorkeling to a Sober Fun rating of 7!

12. FISHING: 0

Fishing for Cow-Pliments

Ugh. Fishing. This is a drunk person’s activity, it is boring and there are fish at the grocery store. It gets a 0.

And cows -- What, already?!?

Am I not doing it right or something? Fishing is already dumb enough without all of you watching me. Also, Uncle Greg, this pier seems unstable.

Oh my god, is that what they're all waiting for? This whole pier to crumble and me fall in the pond? I bet you it is.

Cows are terrible.

You know what, fishing may get a 0 rating from me, but eating beef gets a 10.

Hear that guys? A 10 I say!


Fishing For Romance

As I've mentioned before, in regards to the regular version, FISHING is just an excuse to get drunk. I don't see how ice fishing would be any different, except now you're just twice as cold. Plus, you know the grocery store also has a frozen fish section, right?

However, I am willing to make an exception once and only once, because my VEGETARIAN PARTNER SETH has told me that he would be willing to compromise his vegetarianism and eat a fish with me, so long as he himself caught it. He has promised to catch me a fish, cook it for me, and then we'll eat it together. And I think that sounds wonderful, except, um... Seth? Who is going to CLEAN this fish?

It sounded all romantic at first, but in reality, more like we'd need to hire and bring along a third person. Someone to waddle along behind us, and eventually step in and figure out what to do with said fish, once Seth somehow catches it. I've certainly never killed and cleaned a fish, have you, Seth? I've heard it's slightly more complicated than cleaning a head of lettuce under the faucet...

I guess we could smash its little head on a rock or something, but just FYI -- I love you, but I'm not biting into some bloody, half-dead fish. I've been to the Himalayas, so I already know what it's like to be HORRIBLY SICK WHILE FREEZING MY ASS OFF. It isn't pretty.

Still, the idea of Seth catching a fish and briefly renouncing his vegetarianism I find to be an intriguing proposition. I told him we should go one step further and try to catch that fish with our bare hands, or a spear, or maybe even a gun. At which point, not only am I totally in, but I’ll start booking the flights today!

Even though in the above photo Seth and I are out on the ice in front of people ice fishing, I can’t give it a Sober Fun rating at this time, because I haven't done it yet. I will let you know soon, though, if it’s a fun time, or still just as boring as any other fishing. My suspicion is that it is still boring, but now, cold and boring.

14. HIKING: 8

Take A Hike?

I have a complicated relationship with hiking, because unlike many other physical outdoor activities, this was not introduced to me until I was an alcoholic adult. It was introduced to me as a daylong drinking excursion, and that is what it remained for a very, very, long time. We usually paired it with several days of camping, at which point the entire multi-day adventure could probably be quite accurately described as a “bender.”

Hiking involved all of my favorite things: drinking, nature, athleticism, drinking, shopping (at REI) beforehand, photography, drinking, physical exertion, more drinking, setting up campsites like little elaborate, temporary sets… the list goes on.

Oh, and also waterfalls. You can’t forget waterfalls, I absolutely love waterfalls! Or at least, I thought I did… When I stopped drinking, I wasn’t quite sure what I still liked. Not sober, anyways, and I honestly wasn’t sure if hiking would have a place in my life anymore. Did I even like hiking? Or did I like having multi-day, vaguely-athletic, binge-drinking adventures in the forest?

The answer turned out to be "both," haha, but also ultimately "yes." Yes I do still like hiking sober. Phew! That one really had me worried!

However, I enjoy hiking with one important caveat; and this is an addendum that I have found to be true of almost every activity that I originally enjoyed while drinking and have since attempted to enjoy anew without any alcohol: I don’t enjoy doing it for quite so long as I did while drunk.

Hiking is the first activity that I had this realization with, but I quickly found that it applies to so many other things. Horseback riding, boating, even how long a social meal or dinner party should last. All these events I suddenly found needed to be decreased in length by about half. When you stop drinking, you realize that your leisure activities were always intentionally designed to be bloated and overlong, to allow for all the alcohol consumption. Meals were always heavily padded on both sides, and daylong excursions were often little more than excuses to start drinking at sunrise and continue drinking all day and all night.

The highest altitude hikes I had access to before Nepal were ones in the Rockies near our home in Telluride, Colorado, so that's where I trained.
The highest altitude hikes I had access to before Nepal were ones in the Rockies near our home in Telluride, Colorado, so that's where I trained.

Everyone trying to stay sober will have to establish their own thresholds for how long they are able to engage in activities they previously associated with drinking—IF AT ALL. Personally, I found it helpful to introduce new elements into the equation, ones I’d never tried before, and therefore had no connection in my mind with drinking. I started hiking 14ers, or mountains with peaks above 14,000 feet. These 14er hikes usually start with first waking up in the middle of the night, then hiking in the dark with headlamps, then hiking all morning in the cold, then ultimately summiting before noon, having lunch in the warmth of the sun, and finally hiking down in the pleasant afternoon. They also involve the added challenge of hiking and climbing at very high altitudes. You can read more about hiking 14ers HERE, as it turns out I have my own set of issues with 14ers, too.

The foremost of which is, you probably guessed it, they are just too long. It often takes me 12 hours or more at the pace I usually like to hike. Sometimes things really are better in moderation, and often too much of a good thing is exactly that— too much. When allowed to continue for too long unabated, something you once loved can turn into just the opposite. Oops, I guess in trying to make sober hiking interesting and new, looks like I erred in the wrong direction! We want shorter hikes, not longer!

Yes, it took me going through all of this to give you the advice that most people could probably tell you instantaneously, just based on common sense: a four hour hike, with a nice picnic lunch about halfway through, that's the perfect amount of time for a hike. It is long enough to get you somewhere really cool, with an amazing view, but not so long that it becomes unbearably tedious. A hike like this gets a nice solid Sober Fun rating of 8.

It kinda looks like I'm peeing here, but I assure you, I was not.
It kinda looks like I'm peeing here, but I assure you, I was not.

You might have noticed at no point did I mention hiking to Everest Base Camp here, and that’s because A). I figured that would be unrelatable to most people and B). that’s not a hike. When it’s in the Himalayas and lasts several weeks, we call that a TREK, you Silly Goose! Everyone knows that!


Kinda like people who hike shirtless, but with a backpack.

15. BOWLING: 6

A Little Sugar In My Bowl

This one surprised the shit out of me! The fact that this “sport” takes place pretty much in a bar.... well, that had me expecting to immediately chunk it into the "Lame When Sober" pile. But holy cow, who would have guessed, bowling with friends still makes for a very pleasant evening!

Similar to being on a boat full of drinkers with no activity planned, going to a bar where there isn’t any entertainment or food— only drinking— is something that I now avoid at all costs. It’s undoubtedly one of the reasons I’m still sober all these years later. Places like that have nothing to offer me, there is nothing for me at a bar aside from unnecessary temptation. However, just like adding WAKEBOARDING to the boating day, add bowling to a fun bar-like atmosphere and now we’re taking! It gets a Sober Fun rating of 6.

And if you are wondering, after that glowing recommendation, why it didn’t get a higher number, I’ll tell you the same thing I told McDonald’s (when they pressured me into leaving them a review, then had the audacity to inquire why I didn’t give them a full 5 stars): there was nothing wrong, it’s just that even at its best, McDonalds simply isn’t a 5 star kinda place.

16. Floating: N/A

I have come to realize not everyone knows what this is, so I will explain it first. While not exclusively a Texas thing, I’ve been repeatedly told that floating also isn’t an everywhere thing; so here goes:

Floating starts with you driving to a designated dirt parking lot on the bank of a river (in Texas, the Guadalupe is probably the most famous, but personally, I prefer the San Marcos) and parking your car. You bring enough alcohol, food, weed, and cigarettes to last all day, and you make sure they are all stored in various types of waterproof containers. Then you rent a big round inner tube for yourself, and a smaller, cheaper, one (with a bottom) to float along next to you. It holds all your shit. Then you float slowly down the river alllllllllll day long, tied to all your friends, as you get progressively drunker, higher, and more sunburnt as the day drags on. Then when you are done, an old, decommissioned school bus (or some other type of party bus) takes you all back to your car, in the parking lot where you started. Now you can all drive your car drunkenly down old country dirt roads, until you get back to wherever you came from— most likely the highway.

This was possibly my absolute favorite thing to do drunk. It is basically a floating bar where you can simultaneously smoke, drink, get tan, be in the water and be out amongst nature, but all whilst also involving the forward movement of a journey, an adventure. It is fantastic. And for all those reasons, I cannot rate it, as I am reluctant to ever try it again now that I’m no longer drinking.

It’s not that I think I’ll be tempted to drink again, that’s not it at all. It’s that some things were special and wonderful with the drinking. Just because I’m not drinking anymore doesn’t mean I'm incapable of recognizing that not all drunk times were inherently bad. I think I’d rather some memories live on unsullied in my mind, rather than try to force them into being something new and different that they clearly are not.

Bottom line, floating a river with friends and alcohol is an undeniably great time. Whether it still can be sober, too, I may never know. So it gets a SF rating of N/A.


Biking is as much a part of my sober routine as is GOING TO THE GYM, and both I would consider to be invaluable tools in any newly-sober person’s toolbox. Aside from rainy or wintry days, there was rarely an evening, that first year of sobriety, that I didn’t either bike or jog. In fact, I made a point to place my evening rides squarely over the time slot that would have normally been my happy hour. Additionally, I would sometimes go on impromptu, spontaneous, rides whenever I had an especially powerful urge to drink or get coke. Which was all the time, so that first year I was biking and jogging constantly, sometimes both in the same day! And that’s in addition to the gym as well.

These are three things— jogging, biking, and going to the gym— that I have done my whole life. I did not do them drunk or concurrently with alcohol, but always contemporaneously with drinking and drug use. For example, a normal day would often involve an hour at the gym in the morning, followed by an hour of biking around the lake; at which point I was then good to drink for the entire rest of the day, and it was barely even 9:am! Yay me! I had a mental deal with myself that I wasn’t allowed to drink on days that I didn’t work out, so surprise! I worked out daily, usually seven days a week.

I had intended to make the statement that I never biked while drunk, but no sooner had I written that sentence, soooooo many people started randomly bringing up times when we did exactly that: biked drunk. Damn my selective memory!

But yes, yes… we biked drunk in San Francisco, drunk in New York, Los Angeles, Rome, Austin.... we biked drunk (and high) in Amsterdam, and then the worst one of all, the one I can’t believe I forgot, we biked absolutely shit-faced all over downtown Paris. I suspect we were probably even more reckless than we realized. Which is upsetting, because I felt pretty darn reckless at the time. A tad scared even, what with all that constant horn honking. Man, do French people love to use their car horns! Especially when you HIT THEIR CARS WITH YOUR BICYCLE.

I am tempted to say that drunk Paris biking didn’t count, though, because I feel like we were tricked. No one made it clear when they started serving wine on the boat we had biked to (sober), that there was going to be more biking after the boat!

Oh, and also there was drunk biking in Quebec and also now that I think about it, drunk biking in VERSAILLES, too.

Never mind, I’ll stop this. There’s been lots of drunk biking in my life. (Oh! Also, the summer I lived in Alaska— I forgot about that too, which is odd, because that biking was quite memorable. It often happened in the middle of the night, but still in broad daylight, since the summer months had 24 hours of sunshine. We’d leave the one gay nightclub in Anchorage at about 2:00 AM, and walk or bike home drunk with sunglasses on. I don't think we had a car for some reason.)

Which reminds me, I also occasionally biked drunk in Dallas the whole summer I was attending community college but had no car, because I’d wrecked it, driving drunk.

Wow, sorry. Writing about biking didn't go where I thought it would. Whoops.

So in conclusion, drunk biking is bad (as is DRUNK DRIVING), but sober biking is wonderful and saved my sobriety on more than one occasion. You can do it for as long or as little as you like, which is one of the many reasons that it gets a very high Sober Fun rating of 9.

But I'm going to be scandalous here and say that not even drunk biking is as dangerous, absurd, or lame as RECUMBENT BIKING.


Here are all my thoughts on "The Gym." I'm capitalizing it here because I want to talk about all gyms collectively as a concept, not one in particular, or even a specific chain of gyms. I've been a member at so many over the years, that they all kind of run together in my mind anyways.

I almost forgot to include it here as a sober activity, because to me it’s just “that place I go every day,” the same as all other necessary but ultimately unmemorable errands. I also frequently go to the gas station, the grocery store, and the ATM, but I don’t plan to include them here, either.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the gym is special to me. It is my home away from home, and always has been. It is the place where I consistently have some of my best ideas, it is a place where I met my first serious boyfriend (so clearly a place where I also have some bad ideas), and it is a place where everything basically stays the same. No matter where you are in the world, a gym can act as a familiar constant. Even in Italy, where my gym was located inside an old historical castle (they have lots of castles there, so they just turned one of the lesser ones into a gym, go figure), it was still filled with all the same familiar weights and machines. Sure, they were all in kilograms, but you figure that out pretty quick, when you can’t even do a single curl with the one labeled 25. So, different numbers, but the equipment still functions about the same, and weights are still roughly the same sizes. In fact, gym people are basically the same as well, regardless of where you are on the globe.

There are always a few men lifting way more weight than they should be, and lifting it incorrectly. My thought is always— if you’re not going to bother with the appropriate amount of weight, the correct form, or any proper weightlifting techniques, why even waste money on a gym membership? Just go move things around in the world at large. Join a moving company and get paid to lift things incorrectly, or just try picking up random things around the town like golf carts or large dogs.

Next, there are always going to be groups of teenagers, who insist on working out in big, unwieldy, clumps. It’s how they do everything. You know how there’s Gap and then Baby Gap? I wish we could go one step further with the clumping, and just clump them all in their own separate gym. Teen Gym. I find them maddening. Eventually they'll figure out how much gym time can be shaved off when you don’t have to wait for five of your buddies to do a set before it’s your turn again. Trust me, guys, it’s mind-blowing.

Then there are women who come to the gym in full evening makeup. I’ve found that these women are usually working out at least, which is more than I can say for some, but they have clearly come to the gym looking to pick up more than just some weights. I guess someone told them how much men love women who leave their sweaty makeup all over the machines.

Then there are the old men who, although ostensibly dressed as if they were going to work out, have really come here just to yell small talk at each other. This is their conversation hour, and I doubt most of them would even notice if one day the gym just replaced all the exercise machines with chairs. I always find these old men alternately irritating and amusing, depending on which machines they have chosen to roost on.

Every gym also has a few men who are doing the exact opposite, men who are working out hard and loud and constantly. This is an especially veiny breed of man who is always at the gym, regardless of what time of day you show up, and who has long since given up any pretense that he isn’t on steroids. For those of you unfamiliar with steroids, the way I understand it, steroids are drugs that help you to work out much more loudly than everyone else, and in a way that encourages everyone in the gym to please look at you.

Frequently, but not always, this breed of Steroid Man can be one in the same as another notorious gym staple, The Chalk Man. This is a man who has inexplicably brought tons and tons of chalk powder to the gym. Hey Buddy, whatcha doin' with all that messy chalk, huh?

It is often unclear why he has brought all this chalk, but thankfully this breed of person is growing exceedingly rare. The ones who do still bring it, however, seem to be bringing enough for the whole gym. And they get it all over everything. I feel like a crime scene investigator, able to reenact the final moments leading up to a murder. “You can see from the chalk residue that the victim started out here, on this machine, before moving on to this one and this one, where he then proceeded to touch all the free weights with his chalk-covered fingers over here…. The trail then runs cold, but it eventually picks back up in the locker room, where he was assuredly bludgeoned to death by the janitorial staff, who have had to clean up all his stupid chalk powder, scattered across the gym every f*cking day.

Another much less irritating but still amusing type of person that you will find in gyms the world over are The Notebookers. These are people who I can only assume have very recently started their exercise journey, and have been erroneously told that exercise consists of only about 5% weight lifting, but about 95% documenting it in a tiny little notebook. Writing, writing, writing, these folks, always so much writing. What could they possibly be writing? “Dear gym diary: today I monopolized the only rear delt machine in the entire gym for about 10 whole minutes longer than necessary, thanks to me furiously writing god knows what in my tiny little notebook in between each and every set. Also, you’re almost out of milk at home and maybe Josephine might make a good baby name? (Question mark, question mark, big bubble heart…)

Speaking of documentation, in recent years another whole tribe of people have started showing up at the gym, and these are the guys (and gals) who are, for whatever reason, videotaping their workouts with their phones. Many of the vloggers see no problem whatsoever with setting up a wee tripod next to the area they are in, and one lady at my Rowlett location even regularly sets up a nice ring light right next to her. To me, this does not signify that these are fancy people with an important vlog to maintain, it indicates to me that these are inconsiderate assholes who are about to monopolize one particular area of the gym for an inordinate amount of time. “Other gym members be damned, I’m a royal dick!” I assume might be the name of their vlog.

There are many other people I could describe, but I suspect they are less of a gym stereotype, and more unique to my gym only. But maybe not.

There is a guy who takes off his shirt at some point during his work out each day, and every day has to be told by a staff member that he can’t do that, LA Fitness isn’t that kind of gym.

There is a woman who comes exclusively to do handstands each day, and I wonder that she can’t just do that at home? Save some gas? But if I could do a handstand and walk around on my hands like she does, I’d probably crave an audience too.

This one I know is a my-gym-only situation: There is a man who mimics the loving embrace of a partner, whilst practicing ballroom dancing, alone, in one of the empty racket ball courts. And yes, watching him through the glass of his little soundproof enclosure, slowly waltzing with his hand around the waist of an invisible partner, is just as surreal as it sounds. I wonder if he has his own music in there, or if he’s just dancing asynchronously to the generic techno music that’s always pumping throughout the gym? I find him brave in theory, but creepy in practice.

There's also a man who I assume to have a form of Tourette’s, and every minute or so, he makes a loud, high pitched yelping noise. He is consistent but still surprising, like a smoke alarm that needs its battery changed.

And finally, there is my favorite gym member, an elderly man who wears shorts so short that I regularly can see his… ahem, exercise balls. As the owner of a pair myself, I find it hard to believe that this old man can’t immediately FEEL IT when his testicles have flopped out and are making contact with the cold hard surface of a pleather gym seat, and yet, here we are. This happens so frequently that I could probably describe them to you, in amazingly accurate detail. Even to a police sketch artist, if that was ever needed.

Who knows why the police would be at the gym, but if it’s to outline a dead body, and they’ve forgotten their chalk, I know just who to ask. I bet he has enough chalk to outline 100 dead bodies. Or if the police need someone to interview for the nightly news, I know just where to find that, too. Let me introduce you to a few of these women in full makeup, trust me, they are camera-ready! Especially if we just grab this vlogging woman’s ring light…. There. Perfect!

I don’t know any of these people’s names, or anything about them, other than what I’m able to cobble together from seeing them at the gym. In fact, most of these people I’ve never even heard speak! I imagine what their voices might sound like, though, and sometimes even assign them various fun accents, based on what I know. The chalk guy is German, by the way. I’ve created whole backstories for these people, especially for some of the more boring ones who are just there to quietly exercise in an appropriate manner. They’re the ones you’ve got to watch out for! Spies, all of them, I tell you!

I wonder if any of these gym people have done the same thing for me? We all see each other so regularly, that especially when I’m living somewhere far away from home, it often occurs to me that I get to see my cast of gym characters much more frequently than I do my own friends and family. So, it makes sense that I’d want to flesh them out.

During Covid, if a new person I’d never seen before showed up, and they always wore a mask, then my brain had no choice but to fill in the rest of their face. No problem! Hey— my brain had long since been filling in make-believe information about almost every person here! But I will say, when the masks came off, if my mental facial constructions are any indication of my accuracy, than I don’t think most of these people are half as interesting as I’ve made them out to be. For example, I realized once the masks were off, that my brain had just given everyone the benefit of the doubt, and made the rest of their faces super smokin’ hot and sexy.

This was… not accurate.


So I don’t expect my backstories to be very close to the truth either.

(Except for the old man with the testicles. He’s hiding something, I just know it! Sadly, it’s not the two things we all wish he’d keep hidden, but hey; what are you going to do…)

I know there is nothing inherently EXTREME or exciting or even particularly interesting about most gyms, but this is my list, and so “The Gym,” as a generic concept, gets a Sober Fun rating of 9. It’s fun and it’s cheap.

Seriously, for someone who goes to the gym almost every single day, a gym membership is insanely affordable. I’d go so far to say it is probably the best deal in town, and certainly one of the best investments you’ll make in your life. Plus, you can stay as long or as little as you like each day, and you can always up and leave the very second it stops being fun. You can work out in solitude, or you can make it a social event and meet people, depending on your mood. If you don’t know what to do, hire a trainer or take a class. Maybe you like to swim? You’re in luck, it’s rare to find a gym that doesn’t have a pool!

And don’t get me started on how convenient it is to have access to multiple showers and lockers dotted all over the metroplex! I wouldn’t risk storing a camera or lenses there, and I know you’re not really supposed to store anything there overnight, but I keep emergency supplies in several lockers at several gym locations around town, and frequently, I will swing by the gym just to use their shower. Almost all of my photo shoots are outside, and during a Texas summer, this means I am inevitably going to get very hot and sweaty. Usually dirty, too.

But not to worry, my gym has locations all over Dallas, nay, the country! No time to drive all the way back home or back to your hotel just to shower before your next appointment? Not a problem! Just swing by the gym! Whichever one is closest to your shoot! This little hack was truly a lifesaver, especially when I lived in Los Angeles. And if I mapped it out and timed it just right, I could even position my gym-time to perfectly overlap the worst of rush hour traffic each day!

You know what? I love nationwide gym chains and have suddenly decided that they get a SF rating of 10. F*ck it.

Any business model that is based around getting people to sign up, but then not actually come, deserves some props in my book. If everyone actually came to the gym as much as they thought they would when they joined, the gym business model would collapse in on itself. Can you think of any other business where it benefits the company to have less customers show up each day?

It’s an interesting concept, right? I guess it’s kind of like a bank, where it only functions so long as everyone’s doesn’t show up wanting to cash in all at once. But unlike a bank, the customers who do show up to the gym every day have got to be the worst of the worst. Can you imagine being an employee there? The customers you’d see the most are going to be the crazy ones, the people who have made themselves so much at home that they feel comfortable doing f*cked up things like bringing chalk, taking off their shirts on the treadmill, and dancing with invisible people.

Or showing up covered in sweat and mud, just to use the showers.


Dancing, Away!

I have long since thought that if there really are aliens in this world, then they are most likely very confused about what exactly we are doing inside our discotheques and night clubs. Watching us dancing in groups to loud techno music, I know they are looking down on us in these buildings, with their infrared eyesight, saying, "We are going to need to do more research, our findings are inconclusive.

"At first we thought the dancing was some kind of mating ritual, but it ends in sex for very few of the heterosexual ones. Also, many of the heterosexual males continue to publicly display their dancing, even when they are very, very, bad at it, and it consistently produces no arousal in the females. In fact, it frequently seems to have the opposite effect. We almost concluded that they were all clearly just exercising together, but this hypothesis runs counter to the fact that most of them are intoxicated and wearing their fanciest outfits.

"Then, when two humans do pair up together, at their matrimony ceremonies, they are forced to perform their little dance in front of the others. This is presumably to show the other unpaired humans how bad they are at it, but somehow found a partner anyways. The dance is intended to give them all hope for themselves.

"Conclusion: All signs point to that they are a silly, inferior species, and we should invade and kill them all."


For me, dance clubs weren't just a drinking thing, they were very much a drinking and single thing. Both of those conditions had to be met before you'd ever find me at a dance club. Not either/or, but all or nothing. In order to be talked into a dance club, I needed to be both single and drunk simultaneously. But even then, I always liked everything except the actual dancing part. I liked the atmosphere and the music, and I even liked knowing that there was a selection of sweaty, horny, often shirtless men, all grouped together in one spot. It was kind of like having a LIVING, DACING CATALOGUE for me to choose from. But participating in the actual, physical, dancing part just seemed like a waste of time.

My favorite dance club in Dallas was called Village Station, and they had a second story overlooking the dance floor from above. So, I would just go up the stairs, look down at the men below, and if I found one I liked, I would simply go down to the dance floor and get him. Sure, I'd make it look like I was just there dancing, but really I'd only dance in a beeline over to the general area I remembered him occupying from above. Then, after dancing for (ideally less than) a minute or two, I'd propose either through hand gestures or through loud yelling that we should go and get a drink, and talk. And if for some reason that didn't pan out, I'd start the whole process over again.

Even if I arrived and to the club and saw a hot guy from the sidelines, on the periphery of the dance floor, I liked seeing allllll the options from above first, before making my selection. Just grabbing the very first hot guy you see on the outskirts of the dance floor would be like buying the very first couch you sat in, at the closest store, and I would never ever do that. Even if it seemed pleasant enough, how would I know it was the best of the best, without first seeing every other available option first? That's why I liked seeing everyone from above, the whole collection on display, before making any hasty decisions.

I want to clear something up, I can actually dance. I'm not going to win any awards, but a common misconception when you tell people that you don't really care for dancing is that it must be because you aren't very good at it. This is simply not true, in fact, I'm sure you can think of a lot of things that you can technically, physically do, but just don't care to engage in unless absolutely necessary. Here's a good example: In the late 90's, I also didn't enjoy being dragged to stupid drum circles. I'm a musician, so it's not that I didn't have rhythm, it's that I just didn't see the point of banging around on things with a bunch of strangers in a circle. It's silly and it's loud and what's the end game here?

Dancing at night clubs, however, does have an end game, and if you claim otherwise, I might suggest you are being naive. It is little more than a mating ritual, a means to an end, so why not just cut to the chase? If you think I'm being reductive at best, or chauvinistic at worst, then let me reverse it and propose to you dancing in different terms.

If you are a happily married man, in sobriety, and you go out dancing with friends at a night club, I can think of 100 ways this night could end badly for you, and 100 ways you could jeopardize one or both of the two important things I just mentioned. Now. How many ways can you think of that the night goes well for you, but also does not feel like a ridiculous waste of your time?

Are you starting to see my point? If my COMMITTED ROMANTIC PARTNER told me that him and his friends were going to go out dancing at a gay night club, I don't see any scenario where my first question wouldn't be, "Um, why?"

Not because I don't trust him to make good decisions, but because I truly can't think of a good reason he'd want to go; but that's just me. He's a vegetarian, so I would probably ask him the exact same question if he told me that him and his vegetarian friends were all going to go out to a churrascaria. "Why?" It just doesn't seem like it would be any fun for them, what am I missing? No one is forcing him to be vegetarian, he is one by choice, just like no one is forcing him to be with me, that's his choice, too.

"But Ryan!" some people might say, "you are acting like dancing isn't just fun for fun's sake!" Hmm. Is it? I don't mind going to the grocery store, so long as I know I'm gonna get to eat the food later, and I'll gladly join in the fun and play sports with everyone, but I'll be damned if I spend the evening watching other people play the fun game on television. (You can read more about that HERE, I realize I'm in the minority about the sports thing.)

So If Seth told me, "I am going to go to a steakhouse, and the plan is for me to just put bites of meat in my mouth, roll them around for a little bit, and then spit them out back onto the plate, no harm no foul!" Again, that would be his choice, so I wouldn’t be angry, but now I would be confused. And worried. My question to him would no longer be a simple "Why are you going?" because now it would be clear that we might need to have a serious conversation about some much bigger issues.

"Sweetums, Dearheart," I'd probably say, "First, if I were you, I'd run that meat-spitting idea past your friends first, see they are on board with that before y'all head to the restaurant, but secondly, why don't you just EAT THE F*CKING MEAT ALREADY?"

I know this isn't what they will tell you in AA, but there are some people in sobriety who are so miserable after getting sober, and want to drink so badly, that my advice to them would be just to go ahead and drink already. Stop making everyone around you miserable! Drink, if that's what you really want to do!

I met a guy in rehab, and I invited him and his family on a sober ski trip with me and some friends. He was so angry about not being able to drink, that he took it out on his wife and kid. He acted like he was doing everyone this big, brave, enormous favor -- not drinking, even though it's all he really wanted to do -- that he was an absolute nightmare to be around. My opinion was that he should just go ahead take up drinking again, because shit! He couldn't possibly be any more unpleasant than he already was, sober.

Similarly, if you are married and sober but still find yourself needing to regularly go out to dance clubs, I would ask you to examine why, and whether one or both of those situations -- the marriage and/or the sobriety -- might not be the right fit for you. Dance clubs just don't hold much appeal for the happily sober, happily married, individual. Sorry, they just don't.

However, there is one more thing that dance clubs do have to offer, and it was also the real reason I was usually there. Picking up guys was just a passing amusement to entertain myself while I waited for my real passion to arrive, the cocaine. No one should be surprised when I say that nightclubs and discotheques are notoriously where you can find drug dealers, not just of cocaine, but of any drug imaginable. Which is why dance clubs/discotheques get a Sober Fun rating of 0. Sorry, I know that sucks, but it's my list. I'm sure you could make a case that there's still sober fun to be had at dance clubs, but my feeling is, why even risk it?

Every person I know of, that tried to only stop the drinking and drug use, but change nothing else about their lives? Yeah. Those people are all drinking and using again. It's gonna suck at first and you'll have to find new ways to meet people, but if you really want to be sober and stay sober, dance clubs aren't for you anymore. Join a Zumba class.

The aliens can't possibly find anyone in that Zumba room threatening, so maybe they'll kill y'all last.


Still haven't gotten dancing out of your system? Learn about the Moulin Rouge in Paris and why Ladyboy Shows in Thailand remind me of the movie "Willow" HERE.


No, you’re not the only one that gets parasailing and paragliding confused. I often have to pause for a second to make sure I’m saying the right one in a sentence. It’s probably because people sometimes use them interchangeably, but there is a fundamental difference between the two: parasailing involves a motor vehicle (most commonly a boat), and paragliding does not. Paragliding is the one where you jump off a cliff and then fly around in the air like a bird, underneath a wing canopy. It’s an exciting, exhilarating, adventure— as you fly past mountains, over valleys, and through canyons. You can go almost anywhere and it’s awesome. You can read about that HERE.

Parasailing, however, is usually done above the water, often in a sitting position involving some kind of chair-like apparatus, and it’s a lot more… linear. A boat gets you into the air by towing you with a tether, and then it basically just flies you in the air like a kite. Sometimes you go in a slow straight line. Sometimes you go nowhere at all, you just sort of hover. You’re above a body of water, so that’s the view below you the entire time, just water. Hopefully you’re somewhere really beautiful, or somewhere with a lot of activities going on all around you, so that there’s lots for you to look at while you wait; because now you’re basically stuck up there until the clock runs out. You’re in control of nothing, and you’re not ever going fast enough for speed to be part of the appeal in any way. It would be super neat if these parasailing trips legitimately took you somewhere, like to an island for lunch or something, but they almost never do. They just drag you through the air in a line and back. Even though people get the two confused, trust me, after you’ve done them both, you’re not likely to get paragliding and parasailing mixed up ever again.

I’m thinking specifically about parasailing in Mexico now. The way we were just kind of stuck up there in the air, dangling with nothing to do, didn’t remind me one bit of flying, it reminded me more of when a ski lift breaks down and everyone is forced to just dangle patiently in the air. Is someone fixing the chairlift hopefully? What time is it?

Another example would be if you’ve ever been held hostage by a Ferris wheel. I remember the one in London would get you all the way up to the very top, and then unexpectedly stop. To this day I still don’t know if that’s something that they do on purpose? Intentionally stop it intermittently so the people at the top can enjoy the view and get their money’s worth? Or similar to the ski lift, is the random stopping just an indication of minor breakdowns and loading/unloading kerfuffles? Either way, I’m always excited when it starts back up again, because just like with the ski lift and the parasailing, there’s nothing to do up there, and I’m more than ready to come back down.

My friend Maria was up in the air with me for the Mexico parasailing activity. We had erroneously left our phones behind in the boat, mistakenly thinking we were in for a wild and crazy ride, but it was so smooth and uneventful that we could have performed precision surgery up there. We didn’t know what time it was, so it felt like we were up there for hours, just dangling. I remember us being so bored that we started wondering if maybe this was some kind of elaborate Mexican shakedown. They must know how boring it is up here, and how much money people would be willing to pay to make it stop and come back down, so any minute I expected them to start yelling out dollar amounts.

Luckily, they didn’t, and we were (eventually) released from our air jail and brought back down to the boat, but another friend of mine posed an excellent question: “What did you guys think you were going to do up there?”

Ah. Well, you know what, that is a really great point, Matt. What did we think we were going to do up there?

Therefore, my advice to you is this: parasailing is a bit like a park. It can be a very lovely setting, but it’s ultimately up to you to bring your own fun. You wouldn’t show up to a park empty handed, just to sit mindlessly in the grass, so neither should you show up unprepared for your parasailing session. I would recommend packing a picnic lunch, or planning something, like maybe a marriage proposal? I don’t know. I’m having a hard time coming up with anything other than those two things to do up there while in the air, sorry, that doesn’t involve smoking drugs or drinking alcohol. Which is why parasailing gets a neutral Sober Fun rating of 5 from me.

And just like with hot air ballooning, please PLEASE listen to me and choose the package that lasts the least amount of time! No one ever listens to me about this until it’s too late. When I tell you this, it isn’t coming from a spoiled place -- like I'm an ADRENALINE JUNKIE who can’t recognize the more subtle pleasures in life -- it is coming from someone who knows that there are simply some activities that seem cooler in theory, or when viewed from afar, than they actually are in person. You wouldn’t know that until you’ve done them, so I’m telling you.

This is one of those activities.


Want to learn more about being trapped in the air? Sounds like your ready for some HOT AIR BALLOONING!


Climbing Out on a Whim

Oh boy. This is something I don't really feel comfortable including on here and would never advocate for anyone to try. I don't really know what I'm talking about, I didn't know what I was doing at the time, and I still do not know very much about rock climbing to this day! All I know is slightly more than I once did, enough to know I wasn't qualified to do what I attempted and would never be so dumb as to try it again without more training.

I had experienced the tiniest modicum of success, one time, during a singular visit to a climbing wall in Grand Prairie, Texas. It was one of those meticulously crafted environments where the handholds on the wall are placed, by design, in the perfect spots, just where you need them, so that you’re never stuck without options. But even on the hardest walls, where giving you fewer options is the whole point, you are never in any real danger, since you are strapped in a harness and connected to the ceiling of the gym, should you fall.

So after leaving a contrived, indoor climbing wall -- and armed with all the knowledge that one might expect, following a single, two-hour session -- I felt that I was ready to try climbing out in the real world, in Palo Duro Canyon.

It was terrifying, I regretted attempting it almost immediately, and I would not do it again. The problem with brash naïveté of this sort, is that once you realize you are in over your head, it's often too late. What are you going to do? Just hang there until your muscles give out? I had on no harness, so that would have been a fatal choice.

Obviously, I'm writing this, so I survived, but what you can't tell from the photo of me on top of that rock formation is that I'm physically shaking, and it isn't just from muscle fatigue! It was scary as hell, and I wouldn’t recommend it. What you can see from the photo is that I'm alone up there, because no one else was stupid enough to follow me.

For all these reasons, I feel unqualified to give this a Sober Fun Rating of any kind, so it gets an n/a.

In hindsight, was it fun? Sure! But it would be like saying to you that it's a fun and totally safe idea to go out and wrestle with a lion, all because I tried it once and for some reason lived to tell about it. I'd hope you wouldn't listen to me, and also, just to be clear, I've never wrestled with a lion.

I've SHOT ONE though.


Blue Hawk Down

My thoughts about riding in helicopters has recently changed, and it has nothing to do with sobriety. When you shoot film out the side of a helicopter, the door is removed, and you are basically hanging out the side of the chopper. There is only a small rope across the door, plus your seatbelt (unless you take it off to get a better shot) keeping you inside. Have I been up in a helicopter hungover? Yes. Many times. But I have never been in one drunk, as this is always something that requires a very steady constitution and a good deal of concentration on my part. Shooting from a helicopter is a decidedly sober activity for me.

Aerial view of Covington's Nursery in Rowlett, Texas, shot from a helicopter.
Aerial view of Covington's Nursery in Rowlett, Texas, shot from a helicopter.

In addition to whatever it is I am shooting from the side of the aircraft, there is also a gyrostabilized camera underneath, collecting footage as well. I usually have a camera operator, with a lot more practice and finesse at it than I possess, operate the gyro cam for me, to ensure the best results. But I still must oversee the footage, the direction, and the angle that they are shooting, as well as any zooms or pans, to make sure I'm getting the footage I need, the footage I came up here to get.

So, for many years, that was my M.O. on any helicopter shoot: I shot still photos out the side, while another motion picture camera recorded footage for the duration of the flight. Not only can you get much higher than a drone and get a wider variety of shots, I continued to shoot this way for many years even after shooting via drone was a viable option, mostly because I find it so much darn fun.

Or rather, I did think it was fun, until one fateful day when the very helicopter I always flew in, the same one that you see me posing on in the photo above, crashed into a field, killing the pilot and all passengers inside. This happened on the same street as OUR NURSERY, less than 2 minutes away from the airspace that I have been flying and shooting in for all these years. I saw the smoke from Covington's way before I learned where that smoke was from, later, on the nightly news.

I realize that the chances of this happening again, statistically, are exceedingly rare. Still, this tragedy was just a little too close to home for me. Almost every detail of every factor involved was the exact same as a photoshoot flight I might have been on.

So as you may or may not be able to understand, I have been reluctant to go up again after that, at least not in Rowlett.

However, helicopters have never personally done me wrong, and I happen to love flying in them, so they get a Sober Fun rating of 7. It would be higher if I knew how to pilot the craft myself. Sadly, I do not, but one thing I have always especially enjoyed about helicopters is that the mechanism that keeps them in the air is very visible, and makes total sense to me. I like that.

I know how airplanes work too, in theory, but if I'm being totally honest, and at risk of sounding like an idiot, I still don't quite understand why more don't fall out of the sky. There. I said it. They just look so visually heavy to me, that my brain always tells me such a phenomenon isn't meant to be, that air travel in huge, double-decker, airplanes wasn't meant to exist. When I'm riding on one and we encounter intense turbulence, it's like I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Or in this case, the plane.

Followed by the voice of some jolly but MISCHIEVOUS GOD saying, "Silly humans! Surely you know you were never meant to fly, how ridiculous of you! What a laugh you've given me all these years!"


23. Swimming: 6

Burning, Boredom, and Blackface

I suck at swimming, so instead of giving a Sober Rating to something I am not really able to do under any circumstances— drunk, sober, or otherwise— I have decided instead to tell you about floating in the Dead Sea.

So why did I still choose to call this entry “Swimming,” if that’s not really what it’s about? Well, Narc, because I already wrote an entry about ANOTHER KIND OF FLOATING, and don’t know what else to call that one. Plus, you can kind of swim in the Dead Sea... sort of? If you want to call it that... and I do. There. Happy?

"Swimming" in the Dead Sea gets a Sober Fun rating of 6, but only for about 30 minutes, and the only reason it gets that high of rating is because it involves so much history and science-y stuff. But ultimately, it gives a new meaning to "painfully boring."


One of the most nefarious and easily justifiable reasons a recovering alcoholic might be tempted drink alcohol again is out of boredom. A close second, is when there is burning salt in your penis hole.

But in a rare feat that I heretofore believed was impossible, the Dead Sea is able to achieve both of these two things simultaneously.

With as much as I enjoy WHITE WATER RAFTING it might surprise you to learn that I’m not a very strong swimmer. With white water rafting, my secret is just to NEVER FALL OUT OF THE RAFT, HEATHER, because even in calm waters, my swimming technique looks a lot like drowning. To be clear, I’m not actually drowning—usually—but with all the splashing and flailing I can see how it might look that way to bystanders, especially to a lifeguard or other activity supervisor, whose job it is to save people who are flailing and splashing. My scuba instructor, for example, seriously considered not advancing me to the next level, all because my swimming form is so hideous, and looks so upsettingly similar to someone that needs saving.

But I told him what I tell everyone— I employ what I like to think of as a sort of a next-level, high-intensity, dog paddling. Could I ever sneak up on someone or swim past you unnoticed? No. Probably not. There’s just too much commotion involved in my technique to allow for any covert maneuvers. But I can assure you, I’m not drowning, and if forced, I could probably even win a small race against children, the elderly, or someone who’s never swam before.

I also realized that no matter how hard I tried, I am simply incapable of floating on my back; and it’s one of the skills you are supposed to master in scuba training before they are technically allowed to advance you to the next level. I tried to suggest to my instructor that it was because I had such a low percentage of body fat, but I don’t think he was buying it. Especially since shortly thereafter, we all watched another student (an emaciated guy with visible ribs) float all around the training pool on his back like he was lying flat in a lawn chair. So who knows. Not being able to float on my back is a sore spot for me. Which is why I have chosen to tell you about swimming in the Dead Sea, a body of water where you can do nothing but float.

Now, everyone brace yourselves, and sit back while I attempt to mansplain the Dead Sea to you. If I sat down and did a bunch of research about this, then I would feel obligated to tell you everything I learned, so in the interest of brevity I’m just going to wing it.

The Jews had been wandering around in the desert for an eternity, without much food or water to drink, and they were understandably upset. Occasionally, God would give them mana, which was little bread flakes He threw down from the sky like snow. I often wondered why He didn’t give them something else to go with it, perhaps some fish (like Jesus did), but then I thought it through. Just like the stories we hear of people being killed by a penny thrown off the Empire State Building, because it gathered up too much speed on the way down and essentially became a bullet, fish coming from the sky would have picked up too much speed. Then you’d just have a bunch of Jews lying in the desert, knocked unconscious by sky fish, maybe even killed. Especially if it was something larger like a mackerel... so that makes total sense.

Anyways, the Jews were tired and thirsty and hungry, when one day, they all journey over the crest of a hill. They had been traveling in the desert for a while, so I’m assuming they had on SANDALS. At the top of this hill they looked down to see the most glorious sight, a huge body of water. This meant they could not only refresh themselves with water, but there would be fish and all sorts of other aquatic things for them to eat, too.

So they ran like crazy down the hill to the body of water, so excited were they about this huge lake that God had finally provided for them. But when they reached the body of water, it turned out to be another one of God’s funny little jokes.

The lake had such a high salt content that not only could nothing live in it, it was also completely undrinkable. I don’t know if they called it The Dead Sea because nothing could survive in its waters, or because so many of them died trying to drink it, but either way, it was extremely disappointing.

Thousands of years later, it is still disappointing.

I want to take a second to emphasize here that while it is super cool that the salt content of The Dead Sea creates a density that enables you to float on top of its surface, I would not advise planning a whole trip, or even a whole day, around this sea. There are some things that might not occur to you until you are actually there, such as how little there is to do in a body of water that won’t allow you to fish in it, drink it, or even really swim in it.

Like a dumbass, I made the mistake of going underwater right off the bat, so immediately I had salt in both my mouth and in my eyes. Got it. Note to self: no going underwater.

The novelty of floating on top of it wears off almost immediately, and then you are left splashing about in a saline solution that makes your entire body feel like it’s on fire. You are going to suddenly realize you have cuts you never knew you had, not to mention entrances to your body that you usually do not think much about.

Ah. But you will now!

Also, another fun fact, we were told that if we accidentally floated outside the bounds of our tiny, designated area, then we might get shot. Yes, shot by actual bullets, from guns, being fired by people on the opposite Jerusalem side of the sea. It turns out, people on both sides of this sea are very protective of their little portion of this terrible body of water (that you can do nothing with), and will protect with their lives the ability to not drink it, fish in it, or swim in it.


The only thing more irritating than the Dead Sea, was a guy that we were traveling with on this trip through Jordan. Let’s call him Dwight.

Maria and I had tried to sneak down to the Dead Sea without Dwight noticing, so we could experience it alone, without his constant moaning and complaining, but alas, he quickly found us.

“Oh god, here he comes,” I whispered to Maria.

“What is he wearing?” she whispered back.

He had globs of neon white sunscreen striped all over his face like war paint, and was wearing a tiny, bizarre, pair of swim trunks that I have no point of reference for. The only thing missing was a big rubber seahorse around his waist.

To be completely honest, he could have been impeccably dressed for the beach and it wouldn’t have mattered. This man had a grating, whining, sniveling way about him that I found absolutely insufferable. The only saving grace is that he wasn’t my roommate. I probably would have killed him.

“Oh my god! Is your penis tingling?” he said, shortly after entering the water.

Ugh. This guy was just the worst, and the last thing I wanted was for him to swim over to me with his tingly penis, so we could talk about it, so I lied. “No!” I yelled back. “That sounds awful, you should probably get out!”

In my defense, it wasn’t a complete lie, my penis wasn’t tingling, it was burning. His would be too, just give it a minute. You eventually get used to it, and it just becomes a sort of low-key annoyance that you can mostly ignore, but I had no intention of telling Dwight that.

“My weenie feels like it’s on fire, you guys!”

Ah, there it is. Told you, it just takes a minute. It gets worse before it gets better.

I wish I could say the same thing about the Dead Sea, but unfortunately, it just continues getting worse and worse the longer you are in it. The corners of my mouth and eyes felt like they were beginning to blister, and I realized that that my legs were covered in small cuts and scrapes from our time spent earlier in the week, scrambling around in the Wadi Rum Desert. Well, they didn’t feel small anymore.

Maria had gotten out and covered herself in thick brown mud like she’d seen others doing, but it was unclear what therapeutic properties this salty mud might have, if any. She looked as if she was about to perform some sort of offensive minstrel show. Oh, and the only way to get it off, of course, was to reenter the salty sea of burning and boredom.

Hey, that’s a pretty catchy and accurate name for this body of water, The Sea of Burning and Boredom. Hear that, Jordan and Jerusalem? A catchy new name for y’all to fight about.

And Maria, please take off that blackface before we end up on YouTube.


If you were hoping I'd talk more about penises in the water, TRY THIS!


A Study in Survival

I wish I could say that it was right after this photo was taken that Heather fell in the water, but it was not. That happened much earlier in the day, after a much more treacherous cascade than the one you see.

There are a few things I want to say about white water rafting before going any further. First, it is similar to SKIING (and a few other adventure sports) in that it is not uncommon for participants to combine the day’s activities with a wee bit of light to heavy drinking and/or some weed. Although Heather and I did not partake on this particular occasion, it has made me think twice about who I get in a raft with ever since. Is there a chance any of these people are drinking? High, maybe? Are they paying attention to the safety briefing?

I know I certainly never did -- until after this day, at least. I usually gave it about as much of my attention as I do the stewardess’s seatbelt and safety performances on an airplane. Which is to say, none at all. You think, what are the chances? And even if something tragic does happen, we’re all dead anyways, right?

Well, just so you’re not reading this with undue concern, Heather lived. We had to go to the hospital, but she lived. I now hang on every word of the pre-rafting safety briefing, as if my life depended on it— because it very well just might.

A second important thing I want to mention, for those of you who have never had the pleasure of going down any Level 3 to Level 5 rapids, is that the entire experience is designed with the idea in mind that you never leave the raft. After Heather fell out of the raft, and knowing what I know now about what all she went though, as well as what all is involved to rescue a person and get them back in the freking boat, I thought for sure I’d never raft again. I am not a strong swimmer to begin with, but if you really pay attention to all the survival techniques they tell you at the beginning of every rafting trip— oh my god! They are so complicated and involved!

Even more so when you actually have to do them.

Let’s say that you have accidentally been bucked out of the raft. Okay; now: You are supposed to try and stay calm, and somehow assume a position that allows you to float downstream on your back, with your feet pointed downstream. This is to protect your head. Well, I know from scuba lessons that am INCAPABLE OF FLOATING ON MY BACK, so right off the bat, I’d be screwed.

You want to avoid smashing your head on any approaching rocks, so the thinking is, better your feet get smashed rather than your head. This is assuming, of course, that you didn’t go overboard right after a disorienting waterfall, one with enough force to keep pummeling you under. It could very easily become confusing as to which way is up, down, or sideways, and which way you should go to get out from under the waterfall and swim towards the surface. So: you are being held underwater by force, and confused about which way leads to more oxygen, and yet they also tell you not to dare try and stand up.

They tell you that your feet can become wedged in between rocks and boulders on the river floor, lodging you there, and forever preventing you from returning to the surface for a breath. As a poor swimmer, I know damn well the very first thing I would try to do is stand up. I would try to stand up and make my way towards either the shore or something closer in the middle, which is the second thing they warn you never to do.

I distinctly recall the rafting guide using the example of cheese being pushed through a grater to create a visual picture of what might happen if we swam towards a beaver dam. I’ve learned that safety examples involving cheese never end well, and also, now I’m terrified of beaver dams. Not of beavers, mind you, but of their homes. What an odd new fear to have. Thanks.

Luckily when Heather went overboard there were no beaver dams around. However, if there's something I feel is never adequately conveyed in the safety briefings, it's how fast the raft (as well as the overboard person )will be continuing to move the whole time you are trying to save them. It’s not like the rafting guide can just slam on the breaks and loop back around to collect Heather, no, the river continues carrying us onward at the same rate that it always has. And keep in mind, this was already difficult enough before Heather left the raft! It was a river so fraught with peril that it bucked her out in the first place!

So while Heather is hopefully remembering not to stand up and not to swim to the deceptive safety of the shore (or a beaver's home), and float on her back, feet first, and (ideally, somehow) back towards the raft, everyone on our boat has likewise sprang into action. While continuing to navigate the rapids and deal with our own precarious situation (the rapids were level 4 at this point), we are supposed to find this special lifesaving buoy to throw out to her, located somewhere on our raft. The buoy is attached to a very long strand of rope, the idea being that as Heather floats on her back she will see us throwing the buoy, catch it, and then we reel her back to the safety of the raft. All while moving at a breakneck pace down the rapids.

Everything hereafter is a terrifying, watery, blur for me. This is my best friend we are talking about here, someone I’ve known since second grade, and this is not how we imagined as kids that she would die! We were supposed to grow old together in a beautiful, book-lined study, filled with dark hardwoods, leather, and loads of maroon and emerald-green fabric! Get Heather back to the raft, dammit, we have a study to build!

When Heather had finally been reeled back towards the raft, and reached up for help, I at least remembered one of the (many) important things from our guide’s safety speech, and that is, you are never supposed to try and pull someone up by a limb. No matter how instinctive it might feel or how incessantly they might keep offering up their hand (which is also instinctive), don't do it. That is how shoulders get dislocated, or worse. You are supposed to offer your paddle to them, for them to grab onto, and then once they are close enough to the raft, ignore their outstretched arms and hands, and instead always pull them up BY THE LAPEL STRAPS OF THEIR LIFE VEST. You are supposed to use all your strength to pull them back into the raft, to land in a heap right on top of you. Which is exactly what happened.

Heather was back to safety, at long last, and I remember thinking how grateful I was to have her back in my arms. And also, thinking that now was probably not a good time to ask her if she’d be willing to consider a different color scheme for our study. Maroon and green suddenly felt like the color choices of children, but we were adults now. Like... just now as far as I'm concerned, as of this rafting trip, as of, like, 30 minutes ago! I'm slightly joking, but part of me suspects I morphed into an adult some time in between when Heather's head disappeared into the roiling rapids and when it eventually resurfaced an eternity later.

Heather just almost died, we've been through an ordeal, and all I'm saying is that the fabric colors of our study should reflect that! Our study should be timeless. We can talk about that later, though; Heather's back in the raft! Hooray! Now we have to get her out of this nightmare and directly to the paramedics to make sure she’s not injured, not more than meets the eye, anyways, as there was already a visible trickle of blood mixing with the water rivulets on her leg.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the third and final point I want to make about rafting. It is where my naïveté shines through, the kind of ignorance that comes with being a dilettante in all adventure sports, but a master in none of them:

What paramedics?

There’s no paramedics.

Where are we going to go?

We’re in a raft on a river with sides so narrow and tall that a helicopter couldn’t even land anywhere close enough to be helpful.

No one is coming to rescue us, and we can’t just decide that the rafting trip is over because things turned sour. No, even after Heather’s ordeal, we have to finish the course! We still have many more hours of rafting ahead of us!

Holy. F*CK!

When I say that this rafting adventure was harder than any I have experienced before or since, I feel that it might read as an understatement, unless I stop to explain what portaging is; so bear with me.

When a section of the river becomes unnavigable—due to any number of reasons ranging from too much water, to not enough water, to an unsurpassable obstacle, to a section of river that is simply too treacherous -- regardless of the reason, the end result is always the same. You have to get out of the water, and all collectively carry the raft around the shitty portion of the river. This is called portaging, and I’ve had to do it several times with both raft and canoe. It is unpleasant and you always try to avoid doing it, if at all possible, but it isn’t that uncommon.

What was extremely uncommon, is that in the middle of this rafting day, we were told that only a few of the strongest and most experienced guides would be staying behind to portage the rafts, right alongside the riverbank (which is normal). However, the rest of us (3 rafts worth of people, so I’d say about…. 15-18 folks maybe? Including wounded, traumatized Heather and the exhausted team who rescued her…) would all be going up the side of a cliff.


It was steep and wet and as slippery as any ice skating rink. Our “path” was also so high up in the air, that if one of us were to accidentally slip and fall to the craggy rocks below, it would mean either a quick death or a life of horrible disfigurement, depending on how our body hit the rocks.

Both the cliff face and our little “path” alongside it were so wet that it was hard to gain purchase. Luckily, there was a horizontal length of rope that had been bolted into the cliff face. This is what we were supposed to hold on to with our hands as we scrambled sideways over the rocks, but it did little to help the fact that our feet were still in little rubber water boots. We didn’t have on hiking boots, remember, we all just came from a raft! I was shaking slightly, out of fear, and just concentrated on putting one slippery foot in front of the other.

Almost immediately, I had a vertigo-inducing misstep— the kind where a movie camera would have followed some little loose rocks as they tumbled ominously down into the deathly abyss below. “This could be your fate,” is always what that shot seems to be saying.

Although I couldn’t turn my head to see her, I knew Heather was behind me, and I could only assume she was probably hating me right now with every fiber of her being. While I might not have been drunk at this exact moment, it is quite possible that I was drinking when I planned this little adventure for us, because I certainly don’t remember anything in the description about traversing over a slippery cliff face in water shoes while holding onto a rope. No sooner had I wondered how the hell Heather was supposed to do all of this with a wounded leg, I heard a commotion behind me, followed by a scream. Heather had slipped and twisted her ankle.

To avoid going over the side of the cliff, she had been forced to fall on top of herself with all of her body weight. I couldn’t have known any of this at the time, obviously, but it would all be revealed later, as I drove us to the Portland Emergency Hospital. I remember thinking that even if we survived this day, Heather might not want to grow old with me any more in our beautiful study— green, maroon, or otherwise! But first, we still had to get across this cliff, back to the rafts, and finish the river.

Adventure sports are an interesting phenomenon. Ideally, you want them to be crazy, but not too crazy; you want your day to be wild and unexpected, but not so unexpected that the wild outcome of your day is for everyone to end up in a hospital. When things go wrong, and the doctor asks you, “…and why were you all doing this?” And you have to answer, “Well, for fun, Doctor,” there is a certain tendency to blame the victim. After all, no one forced you to go on this wild ride or to put yourself in unnecessary danger— you did this to yourself!

That is why you should always try to verify beforehand that any adventure you sign up for is rated appropriately for your personal level of skill and physical ability. It’s the whole reason most adventure sports come with difficulty ratings in the first place, to help you figure out whether a given activity is within your realm of capability. Furthermore, when you talk someone into doing a dangerous activity with you, you should always make sure that it is also within theirs.

I have come to believe that for most adventure sports and other thrill-seeking activities that explicitly involve an element of danger, the most foolish and irresponsible thing you can do is show up for that activity unprepared. This can include a wide variety of oversights, such as failing to do enough research about the activity beforehand (and finding out what all might be required of you), or it can be failing to adequately fill your pack with the appropriate amount of technical gear, food, and clothing for the day; but it can also include showing up to a given activity drunk or high.

Showing up drunk or high to an already risky activity is not only dangerous, but it is insanely disrespectful. You are telling everyone you’re with, "This is how much I value not only my own life, but also yours. I have decided to show up for this event at half-capacity, and therefore put all of you in unnecessary danger. If things go wrong and I’m called upon to perform, will I be able to? Who knows! I sure as hell don’t, I’m drunk and high."

I’m not going to belabor this point, or get preachy, but I do want to add that even if adventure sports are not your thing and you find all of this totally unrelatable, don’t kid yourself into thinking that drunk driving is any different. It’s not, you are putting everyone in your car and on the road in danger, whether they agreed to it or not.

If you are wondering what became of Heather and how our rafting story ends, then wait no longer: Heather immediately agreed that maroon and green skewed too 90s for our study, and I was able to convince her that we should go with more reds and purples (because I’m going through a MOROCCAN PHASE right now).

Yes, yes, she’s still talking to me.

However, one thing she says I will never be able to convince her of, EVER AGAIN, is going white water rafting.

And I can totally understand that!

However, I feel quite differently. Even after the harrowing ordeal I just described, you may be surprised to learn that I give white water rafting a Sober Fun rating of 9!

Personally, I simply love it, but furthermore, I think it is a great activity for both newly sober individuals and sobriety veterans alike. You can easily choose not only the skill level appropriate for your group, but also the length of the journey. I’m even looking into joining a multi-day rafting excursion that involves rafting all day, and camping riverside each night. How awesome, right?!

To learn how to properly look like you're good at rafting, click HERE or HERE or HERE.

I know I usually give lower SF ratings to activities in boats due to the fact you are trapped there and can’t end the activity whenever you see fit, but Heather proved that you can actually leave a raft whenever you want! (Haha...kidding Heather!)

In all seriousness, the last rafting trip I was on (in TELLURIDE) was only a Level 3, but the guy in charge of the raft still managed to somehow fall out of the boat and into the rapids. It was scary, manning the watercraft without him for a spell, but he was able to do everything correctly from the detailed safety speech (the safety he speech he gave us, by the way) and get successfully back in the raft with the speed and efficiency you’d expect from a seasoned professional. No buoys ever needed to be deployed, thank God, because I’m still a little hazy about how to do that, plus, as a gay, I DON'T REALLY THROW THINGS.

Even though our guide was able to quickly right the situation, all the other rafting guides were very aware that he went overboard while on duty, and rather than seeming concerned, they all seemed a little too excited about this fact. He told us that was because later that night, as a punishment for falling out, he would inevitably be forced to drink a beer out of each of their dirty, wet, rafting booties. Apparently its "a thing."

Well. I never thought I’d say it, but finally here was a way to responsibly combine rafting and drinking that I can get behind.


So far, I've yet to ever fall out of a raft; canoes, however, are an entirely different story! Read about the Dreaded Canoe HERE.

25. GLACIERS: 10

ICY ME DRINKING: the fact that this photo is from 2019, combined with the way I'm backwards-palming it, I'd harken to guess there’s more than just "heitt kaffi" in that cup I'm holding...
ICY ME DRINKING: the fact that this photo is from 2019, combined with the way I'm backwards-palming it, I'd harken to guess there’s more than just "heitt kaffi" in that cup I'm holding...

Icy Me Drinking

You will notice that I have a personal predilection for activities that combine athleticism and nature, especially when enjoyed with other, like-minded, physically fit, adults. The opposite of this would be some kind of indoor amusement park surrounded by small, fat, children, and so I don’t even bother rating such activities or including them on my list. That sounds awful, and like a surefire way to relapse. If this is your life, you probably deserve to drink, no one is judging you.

Well, maybe your kids are.

No worries, soberly make up for lost time by taking them on a wildly expensive TRIP TO ICELAND. Nothing says "let me buy your love and make up for lost time" quite like an exotic day of hiking and boating through glaciers!

It really is a once in a lifetime, beautiful, magical experience, these glaciers, and many of them are so isolated, that if you and your kids want to argue or cry about all the things you did while drinking, they are often so remote that no one will be around to judge or shame you!

Again, except for your kids, so on second thought, maybe leave them behind. Or RENT THEM A WAVE RUNNER for the day.

All things Glacier gets an SF rating of 10 from me, and I suggest you drop everything and go see them right now. Do it each day for as long as you can afford. Because after all, even though you might be sober, back in your kids' lives, and here to stay, these majestic glaciers might not be.

Bring every camera you own.

You can read more about a GLACIER IN FRANCE I have no recollection of visiting, or you can read about our SEXY BOAT CAPTAIN in Iceland.


Also, Full Disclosure: while I know global warming is real, I am having to extrapolate a bit about how much fun glaciers will be sober. I'm pretty sure my rating of 10 is accurate, but the fact that this photo is from 2019, combined with the way I'm backwards-palming it, I'd harken to guess there’s more than just heitt kaffi in that cup I'm holding...


Ella Phantsgerald

I want to start by saying that I realize this isn’t an activity that a lot of people will readily have access to, so if you’re looking for something fun and sober to do on a Friday night, this probably isn’t it. Just know that this gets a Sober Fun rating of 10, and move on, but keep it in the back of your mind, or put it on your bucket list!

I remember reading that we were going to “help bathe the elephants,” and I didn’t think too much about it at first. I think I just saw the word ELEPHANTS and was sold. I’m my opinion, any time spent with an elephant is magical and precious, and it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing. It wasn’t until days later, when I found myself telling other people what it was I was going to be doing with the elephants, that I started questioning it. What do we think that means exactly, that we are going to “help bathe them?”

Firstly, I’ve been around elephants before, and bathing is kind of what they do. In fact, they do it all day, every day. They even squirt each other and stuff, and I would watch them for hours in Africa, mesmerized by how playful they are. They are as good at bathing themselves and each other as you’d expect an animal to be, who’s FACE IS A GIGANTIC WATER HOSE, so the idea that a few of us tiny humans were going to in any way “help them” was suddenly very comical to me.

They can blast each other, and even themselves, with huge precision gushes of water from their trunks, so what were we going to do? Show up with silly little sandcastle pails or something, like dweebs, and occasionally throw a few pitiful little buckets full of water onto their lower legs?

Yes, actually. Yes, yes, yes.

Yes that is exactly what it was intended that we do, and that is what we did! It was wonderful. I chuckle every time I think about it, though, and I imagine that the elephants awoke that morning to read a quite different description of the day:

“Graciously indulge the silly humans and pretend as if they are helping to bathe you. It’s ridiculous, we know, we know, but they are small and dumb, and this seems to make them happy. Also, it makes them stop trying to ride us….”

All jokes aside, I eventually realized that really is what this is all about, this “Bathing of the Elephants.” The Thai people are waking up to the fact that riding elephants doesn’t look great on the world stage anymore, with many organizations claiming it is cruel and unpleasant for the elephants. (I guess the elephants don’t absolutely love it the way we must know our American horses do? Hmm.).

Yet elephant riding has long since been a huge tourism draw for Thailand, so what are they to do? This is them pivoting, I think. Don’t ride our elephants, bathe them!

In all honesty, I probably would have still ridden one, if that was humanely on offer… I mean, I weigh 190 lbs, compared to their 10,000+ lbs, so it would probably feel the same as it does to a dog when I see someone has given them a fun little hat to wear. I’d probably feel to an elephant like a squirmy little human hat: ridiculous looking, maybe a tad irritating, but ultimately manageable.

In fact, although I do not have a photo of it (regrettably), we saw many a local young man perched atop the head of an elephant, riding them around the jungle like they were OLD PALS. It didn’t appear to be cruel or unusual to me at all. It felt more sweet and adorable, and I was instantaneously jealous. I want an elephant buddy, dang it! Think of the fun we’d have together!

And oh my god, can you even imagine what our Australian shepherds would do if we brought them home an elephant? It would be like the mother-load, every herding dog’s dream come true! They’d think they had died and gone to Heaven. In the absence of a cow herd to wrangle, I have for many years watched Aussies on our residential street try and nip at the “heels” of moving car tires. Just imagine if I brought them something that was the size of a car, but also alive and could squirt them. *Swoon!*

I’m not even going to try and end this properly, because now I have to go right this very second and write an Elephant/Aussie buddy comedy. I think I'll call the main character Ella Phantsgerald. I wonder if it’s live action or animated? And do they maybe solve mysteries together? Ooh! Maybe they can talk to horses and ask them if they like being ridden or not? So many possibilities…!


Surprise! It Goes to Eleven!

{Note: When I use the word ski or skiing, know that it also includes snowboarding! Constantly writing both words out, every single time, made things real clunky. It's the same reason I often shorten it just to "alcoholics," because writing out "drug addicts and alcoholics" every single time can bog down a story. Sorry, Snowboarders and Drug Addicts-- but please know that I’m definitely including you in this too!}

Every time I sit down to write about snow skiing, the whole thing quickly digresses into some kind of glowing testimonial, almost an “Ode to Skiing,” as if some ski company paid me to write an extended advertisement extolling all the wondrous virtues of the sport. This is partly because skiing was always the number one beloved thing I was fearful of losing in sobriety, afraid I would no longer care for it sober. So perhaps I find it hard to hide my excitement, when much to my relief, that was not at all the case. If anything, skiing has gotten even more enjoyable with sobriety and, needless to say, my skill level has also increased exponentially. Who knew?

It’s amazing how much better you can become at a sport when you don’t start pounding whiskeys at nine in the morning, spend a good portion of the day at various on-mountain bars, and then are completely shit-faced by about noon.

I’m not saying there isn’t fun to be had in skiing the way I just described, obviously there is, or I wouldn’t have kept doing it for so many years. Let me tell you, there are cheaper ways to spend a drunken day, if that was the only goal! But skiing—drunk or sober— is a very rare and special activity because it combines so many different wonderful things together all at once, and with the utmost flexibility to create your own personal version of the perfect day.

First of all, let’s start with the obvious: you are going to likely be in one of the most beautiful places on the entire planet. You are going to get to experience places on the mountain and see breathtaking views that cannot be accessed any other way. Your non-skiing friends think they understand how beautiful a ski resort is, just by enjoying it at face value, palling around at the base, but they have no idea. Skiing opens up a whole new world, a whole new wealth of stunning vistas you never knew existed. Not to mention, restaurants and special venues that can’t be accessed any other way. So sorry, non-skiing friends, looks like you won’t be joining us for lunch at this amazing on-mountain barbecue joint with live bluegrass music, the only way to get there is to ski or board!

Which brings me to my next item of praise, at no point during your ski day are you very far from food. You have constant access to it! This is not always the case with nature-centric adventure activities, so I say take it while you can get it. When HIKING A 14ER, for example, it would be great if there were a lovely brunch spot at the top of each summit, but there isn’t. There’s usually just a sign, a flag, and whatever smashed sandwich you brought with you in your pack.

Now compare that sad lunch to the abundance of options you have while skiing. The lunch choices range from expensive to more expensive, and include everything from uninspired but adequate staples like burgers, to insanely fancy four-course meals with wine pairings, and everything in between. (Yes, yes, it’s all expensive, but you just have to accept that and get over it. Remember that smushed sandwich we talked about? That’s always an option too..).

Or you can always ski back to your lodging and have a lovely midday lunch in the warmth and comfort of your own home. This is even better if you can convince one of your non-skiing friends to have it ready for you at a set time. It will make them feel useful, and like they are a part of your ski day (even though they’re really not). What fun for them! They will love hearing you describe your fun and show photos of things they’ll never get to experience, but don’t sell it too hard, or you won’t have anyone left to stay home and make lunch.

Leaving the mountain to have lunch at home leads me quite beautifully into another huge selling point of skiing for me, and that is the fact that you are never trapped. Unlike a DAY ON A BOAT, where you are destined to see the day through to its bitter end, like it or not, with a ski day you can jump ship at any time. Tired of skiing? No problem! Just ski down and be done! No one’s forcing you to keep skiing, in fact, no one is forcing you to ski with a group at all!

I love this about skiing, the idea that you can enjoy it with the safety and camaraderie of friends, if you so choose, but ultimately, it is a solo sport that always allows you the maximum freedom to choose your own path. And not just your own ski path down the mountain, but your path for the entire day! If you want to get a head start skiing for the day, and arrive on the mountain the second the lifts open, go for it! We all have cell phones.

As someone who gets up each morning well before the sun rises, I get frustrated with expeditions that require you to wait on an entire group of people to wake up and languidly pull themselves together before you can leave for the day and start the activity. More than any other adventure sport I can think of, skiing lends itself to solo exploration and an individualized time table and itinerary. Do your friends want to sleep in? Fine! Who cares? You can leave and hit the mountain early, and they can meet you later! (Try this at the ocean when you only have one boat and see what happens… )

I know this isn’t a competition between frozen water sports and liquid water sports, but remember how earlier I suggested that skiing can provide both drunk and sober fun? Well, not only is that true, but it can also provide those two experiences simultaneously, with no inherent danger to the sober person’s life or sobriety. This is where that glorious autonomy comes back into play, because unlike a boat, no one is ever in control of your skis but you. Your friends can get as drunk as they want, this doesn’t really affect you. Also, if the peripheral drinking of alcohol does become too much for you, remember you are not trapped in a vessel with these people, you can hop back on your skis at any time, and spend the remainder of the day as you wish! Either skiing alone with nature or relaxing back at the cabin, you are at liberty to spend the day doing whatever you want. I can’t emphasize how liberating this is, especially early on in sobriety. We’ve all been there -- the only one sober, trapped in a heavy drinking situation that you are unable to escape (like on a boat) -- and it's the absolute worst. Even if it's not threatening to jeopardize your sobriety, bottom line, it's just not fun. And adventure sports are too expensive to not be fun. So I say, ski away from the drunks, Sober Butterfly! Ski and be free!

You might have picked up on this by now, but to me, the best activities are those that combine the beauty of nature, with some sort of athleticism or exercise; then the absolute best of the best are activities that top it all off by adding some kind of adrenaline component, like speed. Skiing checks all those boxes for me.

Also, throw in the fact that you are even given a map you can pull out and use to coordinate routes and strategies and rendezvous… and I’d say we have ourselves a proper day of adventure! I sure do love things that involve a good map, it makes me feel like a pirate or an explorer. Plus, like any good adventure, skiing of course comes with an ample amount of pre-activity shopping built in, and that’s always great fun, too! You are going to need so much special technical clothing and gear and accessories— I’m getting excited just thinking about it, as these things are always such a blast to shop for. Finally! A line of clothing that has the appropriate AMOUNT OF POCKETS!

For all these reasons and more, that is why skiing gets a Sober Fun rating of 11. Yes, you heard me, 11. Surprise, it goes to 11!

So, to recap: Skiing is a beautiful, athletic activity, enjoyed out in nature, but with constant access to food, and that you can do alone or in groups, and can always start or stop doing at any point in the day, as it suits you.

Could you ask for any better sober activity?

*Full disclosure, I don’t surf, but I bet it has a similar appeal!

28. BASE JUMPING: -1,000,000

A Dying Art

This activity gets a Sober Fun rating from me of -1,000,000. These photos, along with whatever was recovered from the GoPro he was wearing on his head, are quite possibly some of the last photos ever taken of this man alive. I was originally just taking picture of him because I thought he was so dang cute, but that was before I learned what him and his friends were planning to do.

BASE Jumping is where you jump off the side of a cliff, into a canyon, with the plan to use the fabric of your special outfit to float on the air, much like a flying squirrel. While concentrating on your squirrel position and flying technique, you are trying to avoid smashing into the rocky sidewall of the canyon and going kersplat, all while waiting for the perfect moment to pull your parachute cord. As you can probably guess, so many things can go wrong with this plan.

And they regularly do.

The woman who hosted us in Chamonix was a local television news anchor. She had no idea where we had been that day, or who we had met, and when we got home that night, she offhandedly mentioned that earlier that morning, a young man had died BASE jumping. I showed her my photos of the man above in red, and she burst into tears. She told me that people die BASE jumping all the time in Chamonix, that she had lost several close friends to BASE jumping, and that she was part of a local coalition that was trying to make it illegal. I am pretty sure she knew the man in red, and in between sobs, she told me that it was important that this recreational sport get shut down before any more people needlessly die.

I have nothing to add to this, I agree completely, this “sport” seems flawed on a conceptual, base level.

29. CAMPING: 8

Uh oh, this is another real tricky one to rate, and not just because “camping” can mean such wildly different things to so many different people. Depending on where you are and who you ask, the specifics of what qualifies as camping can vary so drastically, that you might quickly discover you are in no way talking about the same thing. This has happened to me on more than one occasion, where a person (or a brochure) has used the word “camping,” and I have come prepared for something entirely different than what I should have. All because I had a different definition of camping, and imagined a completely different scenario from what was actually happening. To me, camping traditionally involves a pitched tent and a campfire. Running water and electricity might be somewhere nearby, but if your “tent” has running water, electricity, air conditioning, and a western toilet, how is that camping?

It isn’t. Stop calling it that, just because it’s in a remote location. When you do that, it causes me to pack real camping gear, and bring a bunch of stuff that is totally ridiculous and unnecessary if our “tent” has a fireplace and a wingback chair. We won’t be needing my Jetboil and MRE packets if the “camping” experience comes with a chef, now will we?

But this huge disparity between what is and isn’t considered camping is still in no way what determines my qualifications for whether it’s a good sober activity. I have had a great time “camping” in Africa with accommodations so luxurious, and so opulent, that I literally felt underdressed each night at our white tablecloth dinners, and I have had just as much fun camping in the middle of Big Bend with nothing but a bear box, a tiny tent, and a poop hole we dug in the ground.

I have camped on the sides of rivers, where the only gear we could bring had to fit inside a small canoe, and I have camped on the Inca Trail, where an entire team of porters lugged enough stuff ahead of us to build a small tent community, complete with an impromptu kitchen and restaurant.

In the Himalayas, what they call “tea houses,”— although they SOUND lovely— are much more akin to the most rudimentary and primitive lodgings one could possibly imagine, and in the Wadi Rum and Sahara, what they called “camping” is a much closer relative of what we might call a boutique hotel. But at the end of the day, none of this has any forbearance on whether or not I think that camping is a good idea for someone in sobriety.

The view of the Andes Mountains from my tent on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
The view of the Andes Mountains from my tent on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

What it all comes down to, for me, is what is the point of the camping, and what— if any— are the evening’s planned activities?

If the idea was just to go out to a campground, pitch a tent, and then binge drink for the whole afternoon, evening, and night, then you can count me out. Even when there is some semblance of a campfire meal planned, if I get the sense that the real agenda for the gathering is just to get shit-faced in the woods or desert, then I will most likely decline the invitation. Especially if this “activity” is scheduled to last for more than just a single evening.

Ugh. Similar to what I’ve mentioned about how a party boat can make you feel like you’re trapped on a floating bar, likewise, a camping trip with a bunch of heavy drinkers can make you feel like you’re trapped at a bar in the wilderness. The main similarity here, in both scenarios, is that leaving on your own accord might not be possible, due to the circumstances of the situation, or the remoteness of the location. Your sponsor would probably tell you unequivocally that going to a bar might not be a good idea for someone in recovery, at least not early on, but what he might fail to mention is that a “bar” can take many shapes and forms. You sometimes learn this the hard way, along with the importance of avoiding situations that you cannot easily extricate yourself from, should the need arise.

So whether you are pooping in a desert hole, or have a team of handmaids throwing rose petals onto your bed each night and twisting your bath towels into swans (I’m thinking of Madikwe in South Africa, no joke), I am of the opinion that “camping” can be a very rewarding experience for a person in sobriety. Furthermore, I have come to define “camping” very, very, broadly, as simply any location where your sleeping arrangements are unusual, and different in some meaningful way from what is typically offered at a hotel. So, with this very loose and intentionally vague definition in mind, the determination once again comes down to:

Why are you there, and what activity is planned for the greater part of each evening?

If you start to suspect it’s probably just lots and lots of heavy drinking, then I think you have your answer. For example, if you notice that there's only one small grocery bag full of Doritos in attendance, but four huge coolers are being packed into the car and not a single one appears to contain any food, then I think you have your answer.

But if your camping trip, in whatever form it might take, seems to be centered around enjoying nature, wildlife, and the outdoors in a new and exciting way, then I say go for it, and camping gets a solid Sober Fun rating from me of 8.

(Note: I am not counting swans made from bath towels as wildlife.)


Dive Pro, A Bait and Switch

“Pro” is a bit of stretch, don’t you think, guys? Maybe it was meant to be facetious, but they suited me up in a rubber outfit that said “Dive Pro,” like I had the first clue what I was doing. I wish I could have covered it up with one of those driver’s ed bumper stickers that said something like, “Caution: Student Diver, Don’t Follow Me Too Closely.”

Oh -- unless of course you’re following me because you know I’ll likely need saving soon...seeing as how I’ve mostly only ever been SNORKELING before... then you can follow me.

This is a bit of a bait and switch here, because although in the photo I’m dressed for SCUBA DIVING, I’m really going to talk about Going to the Beach, and maybe a bit about snorkeling, too.

Going to the beach is one of those activities (much like snorkeling) where the activity itself is relatively cheap and easy, but is only enjoyable if you first spend thousands and thousands of dollars to get somewhere really awesome and beautiful.

By necessity, my parents raised us to be ski people, not beach people. With the family nursery business, spring is our busiest season, so a vacation of any kind during this most pleasant of seasons was/is always out of the question. And by the time things slow down in the later summer months, the sweltering Texas heat has set in, and the idea of going from hot-ass Texas to a hot-as-balls beach was understandably never something my parents found appealing. A springtime beach might be amazing, but we would never know.

We once had to go to Galveston for one of my piano competitions. It was late August, temperatures stayed above 100° F, and the entire coastal city smelled like dead fish. It smelled like the scorching Texas sun was just boiling them alive in the ocean and wafting a nauseating death stench across the entire town. My parents thought maybe my brother and I would like to snorkel while we were there, but after hearing them say that it was dead fish making that horrendous smell, I had no interest. The idea of getting in the ocean with all the fish corpses and then viewing them through goggles sounded repulsive.

Similarly, as an adult I took a road trip to Florida with some friends and found out too late that their idea of fun was to get multiple 12-packs and just sit at the beach all day. Sit at the beach all day and do… nothing. Just drink beers in the hot sun and watch the ocean. There were unbearable masses of people all sitting around, crowded together on the beach and facing the same direction; like a show was about to start or something was about to happen, but nothing ever did. The event was just the ocean itself. I was always more of a high-functioning, high-energy alcoholic (the cocaine might have helped with this) and so that sort of thing didn’t really work for me. I needed to be actively doing something.

That much hasn’t changed, which is why I somewhat reluctantly even added “Going to the Beach” to my list. I didn’t like it then, and sober, I still don’t like it now.

So, no beaches for me, unless it is somewhere private and exotic. After visiting Super Paradise Beach in Greece, I was surprised to learn that I do like certain beaches, so long as they are breathtakingly beautiful and are devoid of people. Ideally, I like

1. a dense tropical forest growing all around me

2. a beach with no more than 10 people (not including the waitstaff)

3. somewhere in my visual sightline, waves crashing onto rocks

4. Ooh! And also maybe a waterfall or two

5. And maybe lots of animals would also be nice, preferably exotic ones... If they are species I’ve never seen before, then that could keep me entertained for the day, especially if the people I’m with intend to just sit and drink beers for hours and hours...

6. But hold on, if there are exotic animals all around me, then I’d want my photo gear with me, and now this has turned into something other than a day at the beach.

Never mind, I’m still not a beach person.

You’d think that having an activity to keep me busy, such as snorkeling might change things, but I feel the same way about snorkeling as I do about beaches: that unless I am somewhere truly beautiful and guaranteed that there are going to be plenteous amounts of gorgeous underwater ecosystems for me to view, then I’m probably not interested. I don’t want to go to some crowded local beach and put on goggles and a snorkel just look at murky seaweed tangled around human detritus.

However, let’s assume all my conditions have been met, and we are somewhere magnificent and gorgeous, with all sorts of fish and coral to look at, well…. now we’re talking! That’s just basically an underwater SAFARI, so of course, I’m in! And it’s much cheaper and more easily accomplished than SCUBA DIVING, too!

So, to recap: Snorkeling (after all conditions have been met like, say, for example, my experience off the coast of Thailand) gets a Sober Fun rating of 7, I could do it all day long, and you can read more about that HERE.

Just provided there is a break for lunch, and that lunch is not fish. That’s too much of a bait and switch even for me, it just seems wrong. To come and watch these creatures all day long, living happily in their homes, like we are just gracious visitors here to passively observer them… but then turn around and eat them for lunch?

No. If I want to enjoy dead fish in their natural habitat, I’ll go to Galveston.

And oh yeah, before I forget: going to the beach and doing nothing gets a Sober Fun rating of 5. And the rating is only that high provided everyone agrees that you’re only going to do it for about an hour, then you can all leave the beach and go do something real.


Drunk Spelunk

I often wonder how much easier some of the adventurous things I've done might have been if I hadn't been drinking. For instance, in this case, how much easier might it have been to navigate the narrow turns and tight crevices of a cave if I wasn't trying to attempt the whole journey with a clanking pack of liquor bottles strapped to my back? If you thought my pack contained useful things like, I don't know, rope? Then think again, this photo was from 2017, so it's undoubtedly filled with several full-sized glass liquor bottles. That's just how I traveled at this particular juncture in my life. And let me tell you, caves echo and are very unforgiving. I might have thought I was being discreet, but it probably sounded to everyone else in that cave like there was some idiot trying to carry an enormous glass chandelier through the tunnels.

Like so many activities, I was uncertain whether I would still find crawling through dark, dank caves to be a fun experience once I stopped drinking. Or, with a clear head, would I find it claustrophobic and terrifying, like so many people do?

The answer is perhaps a combination of both. It is both fun and scary all at once. My friend KIMBY and I went (soberly) through several caves in Pokhara, Nepal. I guess we figured that would be a nice way to relax after our TWO-WEEK TREK through the Himalayas? Anyways, I was excited to learn that I still find it insanely exhilarating! One of the major, overarching, themes that I encourage you to gather from all my writings is that, for better or for worse, oftentimes when you are in a country other than America, you will find that the rules and restrictions are much more... let's say, lenient. Natural wonders and attractions that would be off-limits to the public here in America (or so thoroughly diluted and safeguarded as to barely retain any of the original danger and appeal) will be fully accessible in foreign countries.

"If you pay us money, sure, you can go down into that unlit cave and see the...um... well, just see what happens. You won't be able to actually see-see anything, of course, because there are no lights whatsoever and it's pitch black and very slippery, but for another bit of money, would you like to maybe buy a flashlight?"

I recommend buying the flashlight. Always buy the proverbial flashlight!

I think cave exploration is a great activity for any sober person. You will learn a lot about yourself. If you are like me, you will likely learn that you are not as skinny as you thought you were. You haven't lived until you've made an entire line of people behind you back up through a tunnel because you were unable to fit through a narrow opening in a rock. It's (mostly only) in caves that I find myself wishing that I had whiskers, like a cat, so that I could make good/better spatial decisions.

Anyways, provided you have a decent plan of how you are going to eventually eat lunch, then I give cave exploration a high Sober Fun rating of 8. If I can do it with a whole pack full of liquor bottles on my back, then I suspect you can do it with a sandwich and some chips. However, be warned, cave exploration is a bit like SCUBA DIVING in the sense that it is not for everyone. Invariably, some people will immediately realize it is not for them and want the f*ck out of there. They will become claustrophobic and panicky and it is best not to try and talk anyone in to doing this with you if they have presented any indication that they detest DARK CRAMPED SPACES.


Me in Traffic, Listening to Bjork's New "Music"

While it isn't exactly a "sport," per se (and it barely even qualifies as an activity), listening to Bjork's new "music" is definitely an adventure, and it is certainly very, very difficult. So I decided to include it here. However, it is unclear if the reason I now find it so horrible is because I'm sober, or if she possibly became more drunk. Either way, while her old stuff is golden, this new stuff gets a Sober Fun Rating of Zero (0).

I have long since been a huge Bjork fan. Her early (and middle) stuff was, in my opinion, some of the best and most revolutionary music ever made. Her voice is amazing and her choices unexpected. She changed music forever... but not always in a good way. Because let’s be honest, a lot of her later albums are just terrible, to the point of unlistenable. At one point with her albums, you’d be lucky to find just one or two songs that didn’t make you want to claw your ears off. What exactly was going on here?

I like to think there was something going on behind the scenes that we didn’t know about. Like on Top Chef where they tell the contestants, "but here’s the catch: for this challenge you can’t use your knives!" Or, you have to cook blind folded, or only with your teeth, or whatever.

So I think Bjork, unbeknownst to us, was part of some kind of challenge, where under no circumstances was she allowed to use anything that could remotely be considered a melody. The "No-Melody Challenge." And obviously anything resembling a chorus was out, that’s a given. In fact, immediate disqualification if anyone, anywhere could even begin to hum any portion of what she was doing in her “song.”

And maybe bonus points if the "song" was so musically incomprehensible that she herself couldn’t ever replicate the same non-melody twice.

And while this is all, intellectually, a fascinating little exercise, why it was recorded and unleashed upon the public is anyone’s guess. Maybe so that we at home could then conduct our own little challenge? See how long you can endure listening to the album without turning it off in a murderous rage?

I also feel bad for anyone who was hired to work on some of her later albums because, how would you even know what to do? Like, as a sound editor or sound mixer or whatever. I mean, how to you apply noise reduction to a track that’s pure noise anyways?


BJORK: Hey guys, so are you about done? Close to finishing up?

SOUND MIXER: Um...yes? I mean, Yes. Or... Possibly maybe? Actually, we’re not real sure what you want us to do, this is all just so terrible, did you want us to... add more random beeps and clanging like we did on the last track, or... ?? You’re not really in any recognizable key, per se, so it’s hard to clean that up.... but I guess we could make it...louder? Louder, yeah? We can do louder...?

By the way, we've been working on a new technique, and trying to figure out a way we can mix and edit all your "music" without having to actually listen to it. It's still in the beta phase, but this is very important to us, moving forward...


You can read more of my thoughts about Iceland HERE.


The Dreaded Canoe

There's a reason why Canoeing is #0 on my list. It is special. See, we can't get to the canoe without first going through the airport, so get ready to learn about a lot more than just canoeing! I am going to start at the beginning. I am going to explain in detail what it is like to travel as an alcoholic and drug addict, and that, of course, means we are going to need to start where so many misadventures often start, the DFW Airport.

The photo you see above has almost nothing to do with any of this, I took it years later, sober, in Nepal. So why is it here then? Ah. That would be because all but a pitiful few of the photos that I took on the fateful, drunken, canoe trip in the story I'm about to tell are at the bottom of a Canadian river, along with my iPhone, wallet, and keys.

Oh. And a half-drank bottle of whiskey.



Because of a canoe's overall design and shape, it is remarkably easy to frame unwanted passengers out of the shot.
Because of a canoe's overall design and shape, it is remarkably easy to frame unwanted passengers out of the shot.

I had an older gay friend of mine once tell me that in his experience, most people he encountered seemed to assume that a person is straight by default, unless they are specifically shown evidence to the contrary. I believe this to be true.

When you don't dress flamboyantly and have mannerisms that mostly conform to traditional ideals of masculinity, you have to all but French kiss a dude in front of some people before they can really comprehend what's going on. Once, even after witnessing me and my boyfriend share a small but intimate kiss, I had a lady in an airport tell me she just assumed we were brothers. Huh. (That makes even less sense, ma’am...)

The takeaway here is that in America you are presumed innocent until proven guilty; or rather, straight until proven gay.

I also believe the same goes with alcoholism. I have found that unless you give a person reason to believe you are intoxicated, they are going to assume that you are sober. Like they are.

Unless you are behaving heinously in public or providing context clues for them (like being seen exiting a bar or a liquor store before noon) then how are they supposed to know that you've secretly been drinking since you woke up?

Inversely, when I was drinking, I honestly believed that most people I encountered were probably drinking too, and just hiding it like I was. I want to go on record here and state that since becoming sober, I have since realized that this is not at all the case. If everyone was actually drinking the way I thought they were (or the way I was), our society would cease to function, possibly even cease to exist. The Washington Post recently reported that just 10% of the American population is responsible for consuming over 60% of all alcohol sold.

Did you know this? Wow. Think about that for a second. I have, and huh. I guess I was in the top 10%.

How fancy of me!

This reporting of course sparks other lines of thinking within my brain, like how the alcohol industry must be well aware of this fact. They must be aware that they get the lion's share of their profits from people who are sick with addiction and need help, and then they knowingly take advantage of this situation. The alcohol disparity also makes me wonder about other lopsided statistics, like what percentage of the world's food supply does America consume? I ponder this in greater detail HERE.

Back on track, Ryan, weren't you were going to talk about a canoe?

Right! Right.

But before we drunkenly hop in that canoe, first we need to get to Canada, and so I want to stop for a second to shed some light on what it's like for an alcoholic to travel. I am willing to bet it's a tad different from what you might expect.

Many people associate traveling with going on vacation. Whether it happens once or several times a year, traveling often represents a time to relax and unwind, and for these "normal" people, this might be an occasion for them to drink a little more alcohol than the normally would. Maybe they even allow themselves to overindulge a little bit, God forbid.

Perhaps they are Heavy Drinkers and have even designed their entire vacation around drinking and being drunk the entire time. I bet this last scenario is more in line with what you pictured when I said I was going to talk about traveling as an alcoholic, and you'd be mostly right, for all but the most drastic of cases.

I was amongst the most drastic of cases.

For me, traveling was the exact opposite: the ideal goal was always to try and stop drinking entirely before the departure date of a trip rolled around, and go through withrawls here, in America, and in the safety and comfort of my own home.

When you hear about "functioning alcoholics," please understand that a lot of that ability to "function" is heavily dependent on established routines, and proven ways to drink secretly and continuously, day after day. But above all else, it presupposes an unlimited supply of liquor, and uninterrupted access to that liquor. Traveling, more than any one thing I can think of in life (other than perhaps incarceration) threatens that routine, and it does so primarily by disrupting an alcoholic's unlimited access to the liquid on which they are dependent.

I purposefully used the word liquid here, because right out of the gate, the airport gate, liquids are going to be a problem. You can't go through airport security with a whiskey flask on your person, nor can you bring bottles of liquor in your carryon. So in one singular instant, your personal supply of liquor has been reduced to zero. For an alcoholic, this is a terrifying feeling, and something you would never allow to happen in your daily "functioning" life. I am feeling traumatized all over again, just thinking about how stressful it was trying to pull this off each and every time I went on a trip.

In my daily life, I was well prepared and always had backup liquor on hand. I had it hidden in a wide variety of easily accessible places -- from my home, to my car, to my office -- all in case an emergency need should arise. It sounds a bit bonkers, perhaps a bit trashy, but it is actually what kept me from looking crazy or blatantly alcoholic to the average, unsuspecting person. It's what kept me from exhibiting many of the tell-tale signs I mentioned earlier, like being seen at a bar or a liquor store at an inappropriate hour (like 7:00 a.m.), that might give the impression of unchecked alcoholism. Stripping me of my personal supply, airport security is like a great leveler: now I'm right there with all the other alcoholics and will eventually need to find a bar or a liquor store and publicly buy or consume liquor, regardless of the hour.

For an alcoholic, the airport can be a scary, tricky, sneaky, terrifying place.
For an alcoholic, the airport can be a scary, tricky, sneaky, terrifying place.

The airport, especially an international terminal, is a very forgiving place for an alcoholic, because no one can be quite sure what time zone you came from, or what time of day it is for you "really," so a 7:00 a.m. cocktail doesn't raise too many eyebrows. It's 5 o’clock somewhere, right? Plus, if all else fails, there's always that undercurrent of a vacation mentality at airports, and no one knows you or what your situation is, nor do they care.

However, that doesn't take onto account the people you might be traveling with. They have eyebrows too, and unless you travel exclusively with other drug addicts and alcoholics, they are not going to understand why you always have to immediately seek out a restaurant or duty-free shop the second you get through security. You can only use the excuse that "airports and traveling stresses you out" so many times to explain urgent and sporadic drinking at inappropriate times of the day.

Also, the "savings" are so marginal, that anyone who really knows me, personally, would immediately call bullshit if -- all of a sudden -- I started uncharacteristically claiming that this tiny omission of sales tax warranted an impromptu shopping spree, and the subsequent absurdity of adding an abundance of heavy clanking bottles to my already weighty backpack.

Suddenly, secret drinking has just become a whole lot more difficult, and we haven't even left Dallas.

The airport restaurant/bar option is always a worst-case scenario, a last resort. At a restaurant, everyone you are with will be aware of how many drinks you are ordering and with what frequency, not to mention, whether it's currently an appropriate time of day. Plus, only with great difficulty can you transfer drinks you bought from the bar into some sort of vessel you can take with you. Because remember, all you Non Alcoholics, getting drunk at the airport was never the point. You need to replenish your personal stash, to avoid a serious situation later down the road (withrawls will roughly start in T-minus 8 hours... the clock is ticking!) so a duty-free store is always the endgame. You are in survival mode, preparing for the future. You need personal alcohol that you can control, and control in secret, and this means that not only do you need to find the duty-free store, ideally you need to find it, or at least make your purchases, alone.

Trying to disguise the fact that you bought any liquor at all in the airport is a fool's errand, so don't waste your time attempting to hide that part of your alcoholism. Your travel companions might want to come with you to duty-free, or pass by and see you standing in line, or spot the liquor in your backpack, and if so, maybe even ask you to bust it out later on in the trip, etcetera. If you no longer have it, well, where did it go? There are just too many possible ways that trying to keep your errand to the duty-free store a secret could backfire. No, the errand is public, it's just what you purchase there (and the exact amount) that you want to keep hazy.

Any seasoned alcoholic knows that you always keep two stashes, one that is for public view and public consumption, and the other that is for your personal, private, and usually secret usage. This means you always have to buy a few "dummy" bottles. These are bottles that you are readily willing to pass around and share with group, and these bottles should maintain liquor levels that correspond with what the group thinks is happening, alcohol consumption-wise.

I'll be totally honest, sometimes I never even touched the liquor in these dummy bottles, they were purely for show, and for other people to consume if they asked. Of course, sometimes you aren't able to restock your liquor supply at the airport. Let's say your flight is late and the connection airport, where you had planned to purchase your liquor, becomes a frantic sprint to catch the next plane. This then brings us to the much less desirable Plan B.

Plan B is re-upping your personal liquor supply in your destination country, and it is a less desirable option for many, many, reasons.

1. First, the liquor laws of the destination country could be problematic. Keeping track of the Blue Laws and liquor store hours in Texas is confusing enough, now imagine throwing in a bunch of country-specific customs and traditions, maybe even a holiday or two that you weren't even aware existed --not until you showed up to find the liquor stores inexplicably closed! No matter how much research you do beforehand, you will invariably encounter surprises, and so depending on liquor stores in a foreign country is risky, at best.

2. Secondly, even if it is a liberal country insofar as the sale of alcohol is concerned, what if you simply arrive late in the day, too late to make it to a liquor store before they close?

3. To go to a liquor store, especially if it's on the other side of town, you will probably have to involve the whole group, which is never ideal. They will likely see the confounding cornucopia of bottles that you will be purchasing.

4. What if the group doesn't even want to go, or wants to "wait until tomorrow"? They don't understand your urgency, that you are about to get sick if this isn't solved, and so then you have to look like the hardcore alcoholic that you are, by doing something completely crazy, like racing in a taxi across town, or even jogging there, all to arrive at the liquor store with just 5 minutes to "shop" before they close.

If you think all of this sounds stressful, well... it is. Very. I want to again stress the part where I'm about to get sick if I don't replenish my alcohol supply, and also return to what I said to begin with, that with the proper amount of foresight and planning, the ideal path for me when traveling internationally was always to stop drinking ahead of time, so that I could go through withdrawls in my own home. Alone.

Otherwise, I would have to waste several days of a trip, holed up God knows where, sick as a dog, probably in some nice hotel, but also still in some other country, with foreign medicines I don't know or recognize. Also, with everyone in my travel group possibly aware of what is going on. I am feeling traumatized all over again, just thinking about how stressful it was trying to pull this off each and every time I went on a trip. If you can't already guess, traveling for me was the exact opposite of a nice and relaxing vacation, specifically the preparation.

I will now attempt to break down the preparation involved, leading up to the departure date of a lengthy or international trip:

1. The first step was always to try and stop the cocaine use well in advance of any trip. Without doing this, I could never expect to stop the drinking, as alcohol is an integral part of the coming down process, and being able to eventually go to sleep when you crash, instead of trying to find more cocaine.

2. So now that I've stopped the coke, I am going to need about three consecutive days, alone, mostly in bed or on the couch, to stop drinking.

3. If you drank the night before, then on Day #1 of No Drinking, the goal is just to not drink any alcohol when you wake up. Without the alcohol to keep you fueled and going, on day #1 you will probably be able to sleep a bit, off and on. What many people don't understand, is that for some alcoholics, the alcohol acts almost as a stimulant, it gives you energy and fuel to attack the day. When you first take it away, your body will catch up on much needed sleep. This is all difficult, but nowhere near as hard as Day #2

4. Day #2 is a totally different story. Or, more accurately for me, it usually started in the late night/wee morning hours of Day #1. You can say goodbye to any more sleep. The cold sweats and spinning will start, sometimes also with dry-heaving and almost always the shakes. Some people call them tremors, or "DTs," but this is where you can't even move a fork to your mouth without someone commenting on how shaky you are. But the good news is, you won't be able to eat on day #2 anyways, so need to even bother with that fork. Your body will reject all food. It wants alcohol! Not food, you idiot! What are you giving me?!? Blehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. That's my body retching and rejecting any and all solid food.

Are you starting to get why I want to do this alone in the forgiveness and seclusion of my own home, and not in a hotel in another country?

5. Day #3 is another miserable day, mostly of headaches and fever dreams. This is when you can start taking fever and pain medications like Advil and Tylenol and will probably be able to actually keep them down. Your body might even start letting you sleep again, but don't count on it. This is also the day where you need to start trying to reintroduce food again. You will be very weak and will need to start eating food of some sort, if you are going to accumulate enough energy to rejoin society.

6. And again, you really want to be at home for this. It is absolutely awful to be in a foreign place where you can't get food you are used to and that won't upset your stomach. Imagine that you are incredibly sick, and people just keep bringing you slimy things or f*cked up curry dishes of goat or something. (Damn it! I suspected you probably wouldn't be able to find the pop tart I requested, but how did you decide that menudo soup made from tripe was a comparable substitution? Flush it down the toilet please, I can't even handle smelling it!)

7. If your body still won't accept food on day #3, then you will have no choice but to drag this out another day. That's why my advice is to always give yourself an extra day of leeway, whenever possible, just in case.

Every person is different. Sadly, I did this enough to know that personally, I can do it in exactly three days, and be back to the gym on the morning of the forth. Also sadly, before we left for Canada, I was unable to complete any of these preparatory steps. Our departure date essentially corresponded with... well, a day that's not even on this list, let's call it A Day #0, and perhaps you can guess what that meant.

If not, I'll spell it out for you: Both crack cocaine and alcohol were being consumed until mere minutes before the car showed up to take us to the airport. Now. For any trip where sobering up beforehand was impossible, or for whatever reason simply did not happen, then I had just two choices for how to proceed:

1. Show up to wherever you will be staying in whatever country you are in, armed with as much over-the-counter cold and flu and headache medication as you can find, and waste the first three days of your trip locked in your room, doing what you should have done at home before you left.

2. Keep drinking. For the duration of the trip.

For Canada, we were never staying in one place for longer than two nights, most places only one, and there was a shit ton of travel planned by car. Being sick whilst on the move and having withdrawals in a car? Nah, I’ll pass on that! By a landslide, the second option won the day, which is why I have few memories and even fewer pictures of central Canada.

I am again having difficulty writing this in such a way as to not implicate other people in the story who were also struggling with addiction at the time, and for all I know, may still be; so let's just say that my ex-partner Jeff was also aware of the situation. And while we almost never attempted to locate cocaine in other countries, this was only Canada after all, and so with minimal effort, we were easily able to find liquor for everyone, almost immediately.

Where we didn't see eye to eye, however, was on whether it was prudent to bring liquor with us on the canoe.

We are so close to getting into the canoe that I promised you, and yet, I want to again pause here to share with you something that I've realized. After getting sober, I still enjoy many of the same activities I did when I was drinking, but I have realized I enjoy them for MUCH SMALLER INTERVALS OF TIME.

There are sooooo many activities that -- once you take away the alcohol -- need to be decreased by about half. Without constant nips of whiskey, it becomes apparent that many of these activities are boring and redundant, if not downright punishing. Especially when they are allowed to consume the better part of a day. Others, it turns out, are still just as fun as ever. I have taken the time to compose a lovely reference list HERE for you, and I truly do hope it proves useful when planning your next adventure.

But first, I promised you a canoe, and here it is. On that fateful day, I had also promised Jeff that I wouldn't start out the day with whiskey, and yet... there we were.

Finally, The Canoe

It is hard not to view me and Jeff in this canoe as anything other than a metaphor for our relationship as a whole, so I’m not even going to try to resist. It was a canoe of good intentions and broken promises, an upstream struggle from start to finish, and it ultimately ended badly for both of us.

Canoeing demands synchronicity and teamwork, and when two people can never fully get it together and fall in sync, you are going to waste a lot of time going in circles. And wow. When you are working against each other, it is amazing how much energy and effort it can take to go absolutely nowhere! If viewed from afar, Jeff and I probably looked like we were stuck in some kind of whirlpool, as we twirled aimlessly about, bounding clumsily down the river and narrowly avoiding self-induced crisis after self-induced crisis.

Our inability to work together eventually ended up with an overturned canoe, both of us in the freezing cold water (fully clothed) and clamoring to survive. I am going to use an analogy here that I have used many times, especially when I hear about two addicts in a relationship that think they are going to get sober together, as a couple.

When two people are drowning, and can barely keep themselves afloat, what is the likelihood that they are in any position to save each other? No matter how much you might love that other person, if you can barely keep your own head above water, isn’t it much more likely that you will end up dragging that other person down with you? Rather than saving them, won’t you more likely just make things worse? On an airplane, they always tell parents to put their own oxygen mask on first, before trying to help their children. Because if you are gasping for air yourself, how much help can you really be to another person?

My wallet, whiskey, phone, and keys all ended up at the bottom of that river, never to be recovered. Jeff and I survived— physically, at least— but on that fateful day, I believe that a great many more things were lost between us, intangible things that turned out to be just as irretrievable.

Once we overturned, and it became apparent that Jeff and I had no business being in a canoe together, wouldn’t it be great if we could just call it quits and be done with the canoe right then and there? Just get out and walk away? But alas, no, just like our relationship, things would have to get a lot worse before they could get better. Wearing our drenched winter jackets and sopping wet from the top of our freezing heads all the way down to our squishy hiking booted toes, we were both bedraggled and exhausted and blaming the other person for all that had happened. And yet, we were stranded. We had no choice, we still had to get back in that canoe and somehow pull it together enough to paddle down that Canadian river for another four years. I mean hours. Another four hours, in the canoe.

Our friends, in their happy, upright canoes, had left us far behind long ago, and it felt like Jeff and I were totally, miserably, inconsolably alone.

Because we were.

We were alone, together. We needed help, but didn’t know how to get it or who to ask. There was no one left. Something that was supposed to be fun had stopped being fun long ago, and yet here we were in this dreaded canoe, blindly paddling in circles and just wishing that it could somehow all be over.

Jeff and I never got in another canoe together after that. In fact, it would be many years before I would attempt to get in another canoe again with anyone, period. Even after getting sober, you can probably imagine why I was understandably reluctant to bring anything whatsoever of value with me. In my mind, anything you bring with you into a canoe better be expendable and of little worth. It’s probably going to end up deep below the surface, in a dark, watery grave.

Abandoning all metaphor here and speaking quite literally, the very first time I decided to canoe again, sober— I kid you not— my canoe had a hole in it. No one else’s, just mine. Unbelievable. It filled up with water, overturned me and my buddy into Lake Powell, and once again I was back in the water fully clothed. I tried not to read too much into this and was just grateful I’d had the sense to bring absolutely nothing with me this time around. No wallet, no keys, no phone… and certainly no whiskey.

This was a bit of a wakeup call and it let me know that just because I’d stopped drinking, all my problems weren’t just going to magically get solved, all in one fell swoop. I was still going to have to learn how to steer the canoe, make smart decisions, and deal with irritating problems as they unexpectedly gurgled up.

I have since canoed and kayaked many, many, times (with no further altercations of note), and as you can see from the photo I took of the dreadlocked canoer in Nepal, I have even gotten comfortable bringing my camera equipment with me once again. I’m shooting from a different canoe several yards away, very much sober and very much upright, dry, and in control of my own destiny. No more circles.

The guy paddling the canoe has awesome dread locks down to his waist, that much is true. But by now I’m sure you’ve come to realize that the dreaded canoe I was referring to in my title…was always my own.

Canoeing gets a solid Sober Fun rating from me of 8. And let me just say this— before you get nervous, and fearful that my entire list of activities is just going to be thinly veiled allegories for relationships, fear not! This was an exception. For example, HERE, my horse is just a horse.

But I will say one final thing about canoeing (and you can choose whether to read it as a double entendres or at face value, as both interpretations are equally true and relevant), and my advice is this:

Before you decide to involve another person and take them with you in your canoe, why don’t you first make sure you are capable and competent of going it alone?

I’ll put it this way: would YOU want to get in a canoe with you? If the answer is no, that’s okay! It just means maybe you have a bit of solo work to do, before you start involving other people, and asking them to come with you on your journey. Figure out where you are headed and where you ultimately want to end up, and that will make finding the right person to join you so much easier.

The canoe, going around and around in circles, like we talked about earlier? Yeah. That’s the result of two people who don’t know what they’re doing or where they’re going, but with one commonality between them: They want to go in a different direction than the person who they are currently with.