"How would you like to see one of the most stunning sights on Earth?"
That was the first thing the explorer said to me when he greeted me at the door to his Las Vegas hotel room. I knew right away that he was an explorer because he was wearing khakis and a pith helmet. My escort agency hadn't told me that he would be one of those clients, but I was used to guys who liked to dress up, so I thought nothing of it. So what if this fella wanted to play the great explorer? I've had stranger johns.
"I'll pay you for your time, of course," he said. "Should take no more than a week, two at the most."
"Okay, I'll play along," I teased. "Where are we going?"
"To the roof of the world, my dear!"
"And where is that?"
He told me.
"And you want me there to keep you warm at night?"
"I just want the company. Your professional services will not be required."
"Not even tonight?" I asked, striking a seductive pose.
"No, tonight I need you to pack. We leave first thing in the morning."
"You're really serious, aren't you?"
I looked the john up and down. Normally in situations like this, warning bells are supposed to go off, but he seemed sincere enough.
"What good could I possibly be to you in the Himalayas?" I asked him.
"I just want you there with me so we can share the moment."
"You'll know it when you see it," he said cryptically.
I thought about it and couldn't remember the last time I had a vacation, so I agreed to join him. I figured if nothing else, it would give me a good story to tell my girlfriends when I got home.
We were several days into our expedition before I found out why we were there. I thought we were looking for some fabulous city hidden in the mountains, but was divested of that notion when we found the tracks in the snow. They had been left by some large animal, evidently bipedal, with a long gait and footprints that were somewhere between primate and bear. The explorer eagerly snapped photos of them the moment they were pointed out to him by our Sherpas. There was no telling how fresh they were, but we did know which direction they went in. Naturally, that was the direction we went in, too.
As we set out, I asked, quite innocently, "How do you know we're not just tracking a bear or some other wild animal?"
"Because bears generally don't lumber around on two legs," the explorer replied.
"Okay, then. How do you know these tracks weren't made by some guy in a bear costume?"
"Why would somebody trek around the foothills of the Himalayas in a bear costume?"
"I don't know. To fool well-meaning amateurs like you?"
"I'm not a well-meaning amateur."
"Oh, no? What kind of amateur are you, then?"
That was the end of the conversation. That night, when we made camp, I went through the explorer's bag in search of something to read as I had forgotten to pack a paperback. To my surprise, I found a children's picture book full of descriptions and illustrations of all manner of legendary beasts and monsters. They were all there: Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, the Jersey Devil, the Abominable Snowman -- even Vlad the Impaler, a.k.a. Count Dracula. I couldn't imagine why any mother would allow her child to read a book about anyone whose nickname was "the Impaler," but I saw no harm in flipping through it. When he returned from conferring with the Sherpas, I asked the explorer about the book.
"Oh, you found that?" he asked, faintly embarrassed.
"Yes. Is that why we're here?"
"Uhh, yeah. Kinda."
"Because 8000 miles seems a long way to go to try to see a mythical creature from a children's book. We could have just as easily stayed in the States and gone looking for Bigfoot."
"Oh, but I've already seen Bigfoot."
"I'll show you."
He took the book from me and opened it to the entry.
"See there in the top right corner of the page?"
"It looks like a date."
"Yes, that's the date I saw Bigfoot. I'll never forget it. July 12, 1983. I wasn't even ten yet. There I was, on a camping trip with my family in the Rockies--"
"Was this Bigfoot sighting of yours what prompted you to get this book?"
"Oh, no. It was the other way around. I even had it with me on that trip. As I recall, I got up in the middle of the night and went outside to relieve myself -- we just had a pop-up, so there was no bathroom inside. I didn't feel like hiking all the way to the bathhouse, so I just went behind some trees and did my business."
"And that was when you saw it? At night, while you were..."
I flipped some pages until I found the entry on the Loch Ness Monster. There was also a date in the upper right hand corner.
"Tell me about Nessie," I said. "Another family outing?"
"No, this was when I was in college. I spent part of my junior year studying abroad in the north of England--"
"How was she?"
"Very beautiful, thanks for asking. Anyway, while I was there I took some weekend trips around the country and one was to the Scottish highlands where Loch Ness is. And one night while I was out relieving myself--"
"Don't tell me you were still using the pop-up."
"No, but I was out late drinking and on my way back to the hostel where I was staying nature called, so..."
"I'm beginning to sense a pattern. What about the other creatures in here?"
"Oh, I guess I've seen most of them at one time or another over the years."
"So this is kind of a hobby for you, then?"
"I guess you could say that."
I turned back to the first entry.
"I see there's no date for the Abominable Snowman."
"That is correct."
"And you think all you have to do is wait until you need to go to the bathroom and then you'll go outside and see it?"
"No, I've already tried that."
"When? Last night? We hadn't even found the tracks then."
"No, five years ago, the last time I tried to see the majestic Yeti." As he spoke, a faraway look came into his eyes. "I've already tried to lure him out into the open with my urine and he didn't go for it. Now I need to try something different."
If the faraway look in his eyes had been unnerving, the one he had when he turned his attention to me was downright scary.
"R-R-Robert, what are you thinking?" I stammered, but I already knew. That was why I found myself not more then 15 minutes later, squatting just outside our encampment, trying to will myself to urinate.
It's always been difficult for me to go to the bathroom outdoors even under the best of circumstances, so you can imagine how much harder it is in the extreme cold with a loony explorer and his Sherpa guides watching you like hawks. Actually, the Sherpas got bored after about a minute and turned away, but my host never took his eyes off me, which made me think he might have been more interested in seeing a women pee than some mythical beast. Why he would have to fly one halfway around the world to do so when there are plenty of girls right in Las Vegas (some of whom I call my friends) who would do that for him for a fraction of the cost I couldn't tell you, but it takes all kinds to make the world go round and some of them have more money than they know what do with.
Just when it seemed like nothing was going to happen, I manage to produce a tiny trickle of urine. Looking back to see the explorer's reaction, I suddenly felt more degraded than I ever had before in my life. I shot him a dirty look and was met by the look of wonder again. I turned my head to follow his line of sight and there on the edge of the tree line was the creature we had come all this way to see.
It stood on two legs and had dark, shaggy fur covering its entire body, which was distinctly simian. It was watching me intently, so I took care not to make any sudden movements as I stood up, pulling up my pants as I did so. The creature didn't seem bothered by this, but then something startled it and it took off without any warning. I didn't even have a chance to turn around before the explorer staggered past me in pursuit of the Yeti, his pants around his ankles, spraying urine in all directions.
At least I hope it was urine.