Feeling immensely better than I did moments ago, I encourage my friend to get back up and start heading towards the direction we assume is downtown. We continue wandering for about forty minutes when we see it off in the distance by a three-way intersection, a car! We run down waving our hands like madmen hoping to flag him down, but of course, that would have made life easy so he does not see us and drives away. We decide to wait at the intersection until he returns our way. Now, two ordinary people would not decide to wait there for a random car to drive back past them, but we are not two ordinary people, so we waited. And the divine powers at be must have felt bad for us because long behold, ten minutes later he drives up beside us.
After explaining our story to the man, he looks us up and down examining our cuts and tells us to strap our paddle to the roof and get inside. Our smiles stretched ear to ear as we strap the paddle to the roof and jump in his small SUV. He offered us some of the water in his red solo cup which at this point my thirsty friend agreed to drink, that is until upon brining the drink to his mouth he realized it was a half full cup of vodka. The driver hits the gas and off we go.
Remember those winding roads from our walk to the trailhead this morning after we waited an hour for the girl who ditched us like prom night? Well, they’re no easier to avoid falling off in a car than on foot. Especially when you are driving twice the speed limit, and especially, when you have been drinking vodka while driving, and especially when it’s the middle of the night. Well, after constantly assuring myself that this gentleman’s seatbelt in his twenty-year-old vehicle still worked and watching him turn around to tell us how all the locals are as friendly as him on the island, which, I must say is true. I have never met such a genuinely nice group of people as the locals on Saint John’s Island, we arrive downtown. More importantly, we make it there without having to test if that seat belts work.
We quickly thank the young man for his help and explain to him we have no money for a tip. He mentions not to worry about it and says, it’s his pleasure, he’s a “Saint Johner.” Upon stepping out of the beat up old SUV we see a late-night bar open across the street so we grab our paddle from the roof and head in to grab a drink of water. A sensation like what I would imagine an astronaut stationed on Mars for ten years would feel after returning to his home town is running through my body when I start getting a funny feeling about the situation. As we cross the street towards the bar, everyone standing outside starts crossing over away from us and everyone in the upstairs area peaks down at the two of us in disbelief. Whatever, we think nothing of it and head into the bar and upstairs to grab a glass of water. After waiting a few minutes with no service in a relatively uncrowded bar, I ask for a glass of water, which is quickly slid my way as the bartender hastily gets back to business.
We both realized the odd behavior of our peers and realize they are startled by us. I mean, it’s not every day you see two men in tank tops with lacerations bleeding down their arms carrying a six-foot-long bag strapped over their shoulders hobble down main street. We decide not to blame them and are happy and surprised they didn’t call the police.
Once we are ready to go we head outside and attempt to hail down a cab, only every cabby we see is either full or not picking people up. They tell us to go to the port where the ferry drops you off and find a cab there. So, we head that way only to find empty taxi pick-up trucks. After failing to find a ride home we continue to walk around the downtown area until we see the same nice local who originally gave us a ride. He informs us that the taxi driver sleeps in his cab. We thank our new friend once again and head back down to the pier. The truck is dark inside but I do see someone laying down across the front drivers bench so I knock on the window and explain that we need a ride. After taking a couple of minutes to wake up the driver tells us to get in the back of the truck and begins driving us home.
Along the way another group of young individuals waves down our taxi looking for a ride. It’s a group people in their early twenties who after talking with the driver for a moment decline taking a ride. As our driver continues, we pass the group and they yell to us “good luck.”
The truck creeps down the roads, weaving back and forth up and down the hills leaving only inches between your tires and the cliff’s edge. Saint John’s island is a U.S. Virgin Island with cars built the same way as the mainland U.S., the only difference is cars down here which are mostly Jeep Wranglers, drive on the opposite side of the road. So, you are driving a car with the steering wheel on the left and you also drive on the left side of the road, weird. This is because unlike most other places in the world, drivers on Saint John are not in the center of the road, but rather on the edge so they can more accurately judge the side of the road with their tires and not roll over the edge.
Thinking about this as the driver plays a game of Stop and Go for no apparent reason while driving to the bottom of the mountain our villa is located, I recall thinking, ‘ehh, so after all that this is how I go…”
Eventually with the miraculous help of some Caribbean good karma spirit we make it to the bottom of the mountain. At this point, we are so excited we finally made it to safety that I’m happy to know where I am and don’t even care if I finish the mile hike back up the windy dirt road to our place. There is still a good distance ahead of us, and the path is pitch black and rocky under the canopy.
While dragging my feet up the hill as bats flutter aimlessly overhead, I begin thinking back throughout the events of the day, starting with kicking rocks for an hour waiting for the random girl that caused my buddy to want to set up this hike in the first place, to the rabid dogs (I personally think they were trained drug lord dogs, but that’s none of my business), followed by dodging underwater pillars as we snorkeled through a maze of uncertain death, only to find ourselves on a tale that no one is going to believe when I get back home, bouldering around miles of cold and sharp rock. Oh, and of course we can’t forget the wild boar encounter, wasted SUV driver, and that wacky taxi ride home. Yep, after all that we made it back.
Well, almost back. I don’t know why but those aimlessly wandering bats seem to now be homing in on my head. It gets to the point where I am not messing around, I didn’t come this far to turn into Dracula. So, I start swinging the kayak oar at the bats. Honestly, I’m not sure if that made it better or worse. Regardless, they were probably just cautious. Eventually, never got me and we were at the gate to the villa.
Of course, the front gate is locked so without hesitation we hope over some bushes and climb a fence (what’s a few more scraps). We go into the kitchen to see my friends step dad waiting for us. Now, we’re grown men and he has full faith in us…, my buddy’s mom being a mom just wanted him to make sure we got home safe because that’s what mom’s do. As the step dad is munching on a late-night snack assuming we met up with that girl and decided to spend the night drinking with her, he is shocked to see the shape we are in and hear what happened.
We head back to our rooms and I shower off, watching the blood swirl down the drain as my chest, knees, and feet start stinging like I had a hundred paper cuts. I towel dry and climb up into my bed as the sun rises, it’s lights out for me.
(Having my morning coffee after it's all said and done)
The next morning around eleven when I finally wake up, I was feeling a little banged up. That’s probably the latest I have slept since freshman year of college. I start my daily routine, walking out of my room and across the outdoor patio area that is more like a living room, dive into one end of the infinity pool, swim to the edge and back then climb back out heading into the kitchen where everyone except my buddy is hanging around. A couple of minutes later I hear him crash into the pool. Upon walking outside, I see him floating there half out of exhaustion and half because that’s what you do when you rent a gorgeous villa overlooking a tropical island.
A while later, we all head out to breakfast at a small spot on the corner of the main strip. The line at the restaurant is long which means the food is good so we decide to wait for a table. While hanging out I have to use the bathroom so I go in and look up at a painting of a map of the island on the wall above the urinal. I attempt to retrace our steps from last night and when I get to the white cliffs it clearly says no trail. I laugh to myself, “no shit.” I snap a picture with my phone and head back out to the dining room.
After breakfast, we head down to the beach and chill for a little bit. It’s our last full day there and I have had so many amazing adventures on this island. I didn’t even get into the time a couple of days prior to this entire fiasco when my buddy and I swam out to a small Kay (Kay’s are mini-islands) and the current picked up. My pal and I got split up so he automatically assumes that I smacked my head on a rock and was swept out to sea unconscious. After searching for me for about half an hour he swam over to a nearby yacht asking if they have seen another diver who could have gone missing, he was pretty mad when he heard I swam back ashore thirty minutes earlier. Sorry bud, I have ADHD, you know this.
Anyway, back to current time. I am sitting on a beach sipping on a fancy and bright tropical beverage when I decide I have to go snorkeling. This was my first trip to anywhere tropical so every time I entered the water it was like a child who grew-up isolated in the mountains of Appalachia never having seen a building over three stories before going to Manhattan for the first time. Well, unlike all those other swims, this time while swimming around I didn’t have that desire to go deeper and explore caves or examine every fish I saw. This time, I felt like Bill Gates seeing a five-dollar bill, not very impressed. All I could hear was the waves from the night before crashing against those rocks and looking over at the moon guiding the way as I inched across what would seem like certain death in a suspense thriller if you could play Google Earth in real-time and zoom-in to watch us (future app idea…).
This time, all I could think about was, what the heck happened last night? After a few minutes of this I decided to get out and hit the bar. After all, today was the first time I had sat in a beach chair during the entire week long trip. I should relax and sip on fruity drinks during my last day.
Time passes and the next morning rolled around. My buddy and I decided to buy a couple of coconuts that were being sold from a small shop where the owner chops off the top and gives you a straw so you can sip on pure coconut water. Personally, I am not a fan of coconut water. It’s not my thing, but we have one last bottle of rum we have to get rid of before we get on the plane so we pour it in our coconuts and it helps that awful juice go down.
Time flies by sitting in the sand watching the ferry’s come and go from that same pier we woke up the taxi driver a couple of nights earlier. Before we know it, it’s time to go. I jump up leaving my sandals behind. I guess all that rum, sun, and lack of sleep got the best of me. It’s not until I’m sitting in my seat on the ferry that I realize I left my sandals behind. No biggie, I packed some running shoes that I only used one morning during the whole trip. I tried running down to Cinnamon Bay, which is a beautiful beach below our villa but after almost being hit by passing cars at every blind curve, I decided it’s best to swim as exercise during this trip.
The ferry is driving us to Saint Thomas Island to get on the plane and head north to Boston. It’s the first week of January so I am not looking forward to the inevitable snow on the ground. With only a few minutes left of paradise I decide to toss on my cowboy hat (I wear it during every vacation) and sit in the back of the boat, watching my memories wash into the horizon. Some trips are great, you see cool things and eat great food with friends and family. Others are a true experience. I always tell my wife pieces of this story and if anyone knows her, risk and the unknown are not her thing so she always tells me. “I’m glad you had that trip, and you know what the best part of it is? You can never do it again.” I agreed to start thinking before I leap once we got married. There is no reason to take un-calculated risk when you are trying to start a family. So, I agreed no more planned craziness under one condition, I can join the Army National Guard. Joining the military has always been something I wanted to do and as I get older and hear more people talk about how they were going to join but some mystical force held them back, I do not want to be one of those people. With the way the world is these days and the fading memory of civil duty, I had to do my part. She agreed figuring it is a safer bet than some of my other stories you may hear about in the future and of course serving one’s country is the greatest honor one can have, and one that has been practiced in my family for generations. With that said, basic combat training (boot camp) wasn’t for a few months so sitting in the back of this ferry was the end of my journey, for now.
After getting back to Boston and reflecting on this adventure, I realized my mistakes could have been prevented if I had learned the lessons in the pages that follow. This book was written as a field manual for personal and team leadership told through short stories. I have grown tremendously since these events and learned that leadership is about many things, most of which are universal and can be applied to everything from adventure to business. My hope is that you can reflect upon these lessons and use them before you need them. Some of the stories are from personal experience as an adventurer, athlete, solider, and entrepreneur. Others are from research tapping into history and science for insight. I decided short stories are best because they stick in people’s mind and are easily relatable. The best lessons are learned from experience and mentors, but when neither fit the bill for a circumstance, I hope the lessons that follow can act as a guide.
(Relaxing on the beach during the final day of my trip).
This sums up my tale, I hope you enjoyed it. As I mentioned in part I, this is a rough draft intro to a new personal and team leadership book I have been working on. My hope is to have the book available in early 2021.