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Duff McKagan's column runs every Thursday on Reverb. His memoir, It's So Easy (Simon & Schuster) is now out in paperback.
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How Mike McCready and I Brought Rock 'n' Roll to Costa Rica, Met a Boa Constrictor, and Survived a Zip-line

duff004.jpg
Duff McKagan's column runs every Thursday on Reverb. His memoir, It's So Easy (Simon & Schuster) is now out in paperback.
I grew up in the same Seattle neighborhood as a budding young guitar player named Mike McCready. We were friendly back then. He had his band, Shadow, and I was in every OTHER band in town.

Mike came down to Hollywood with Shadow about the time GNR was really starting to rip it up in the club scene, and he (of course) eventually decided to go back to Seattle, and formed a little band called Pearl Jam. We were both very young back then, and the chance that two dudes from the same neighborhood would be in two of the most well-known rock bands on the planet were really quite mind-boggling.

But we both began to go through our own separate battles with various inebriates, and hence really lost touch with one another for a few of those in-between years. We had our own very different adventures and life experiences to bring back into the fold once we started to hang out again some 10 or so years ago.

We are now both married guys with kids, and both have done our due with those beforementioned inebriates. Neither of us care to go back there again, giving us one or two more commonalities that bond us.

Right after Christmas, Mike played a reunion show with Shadow at the Tractor Tavern. The next night, he and his wife, Ashley, had a get-together with my wife Susan and I and some friends of theirs from California who were just about to make a big move down to Costa Rica (three kids and all) to take over a club in San Jose and try, for once, to bring rock and roll to Central America.

We jokingly quipped that they should get Shadow and Loaded to come down around Spring Break, and we could all do a family vacation/rock show together. These "friends from California" took the ball and ran with it. And I've just spent a week with my wife and kids on the most epic adventure down there with Loaded, Shadow, the McKagan and McCready kids, and these new friends from California, the Van Horns.

The rock shows were risky. I mean, would anyone show up? Maybe they knew of Pearl Jam or GNR or Velvet Revolver, but that rarely equates to someone parting with hard-earned dough to see "some guy from THAT band." On top of that, we decided to add a night where we would do a Seattle-type Hootenanny (an acoustic affair, where everyone shares vocal duties). Shadow drummer Chris Friel is married to Hoot veteran Kim Virant, and she'd be joining us all on this trip--so what the hell? Let's bring some Northwest hippie/country down to Central America. The club owner, Nick Van Horn, thought it'd be great, and would further help set his club apart as the go-to stopover for other American and British/European bands on their long journey down to South America.

The gigs both had lines around the block, and the second (full rock) night sold out. OK. That'll work.

Afterward, it was time for the vacation portion of the trip: beach time with eight adults and seven kids ranging in age from 3 to 14. None of us had ever vacationed together . . . and we were going to a part of the world that none of us had been to before: Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, a secluded little beachfront jungle-land on the Pacific side of that country. A long-ass way from San Jose, and a long way from anywhere else.

We made a lot of different plans. Mike's wife Ashley is one of those who likes to seemingly grab life by the nether regions. She doesn't seem to be afraid of things like risk, and her gung-ho, mixed with Susan's oh-what-the-HELL-ness, would prove to keep the rest of us on our toes.

1. I wanted Mike to teach me to surf. Check,

2. We wanted to see howler monkeys. Check.

3. We wanted to see a sloth or two. Check.

4. How about a cappuccino monkey? Check.

5. Boa constrictor? Check.

6. Zip-lining from a 200-foot perch in the rain forest with sideways rain and all of the kids? Check.

And let me tell you something; Zip-lining sounded like a great idea. But as we got closer to the area on our tour bus, it just started to pound rain. Sideways . . . and with thunder booming very close by. But hell, we had kids with us; it couldn't be terribly high or extremely dangerous, right? Roger that. It was both, AND it was one of the longer zip-lines in Costa Rica. On a cable circuit like this, once you start, there is no turning back. There were 10 cables of varying length; one "Tarzan swing" from one 200-foot-high perch to the next (slippery perches, in the rain); and two repels.

People were crying up there, and panic was setting in, in a very serious way. Mike wasn't too psyched to go at the last minute, and neither were a few other adults. One of my sweet girls was having a a few tears as we were getting harnessed up. But we did it, and Mike and I, in those panicky-high-perch-full-of-tears places, seemed to somehow pull it all together, and just be dads . . . those who calm the whole deal down and somehow get people to trust them.

Those are two hours in the rain -- and a week in Costa Rica -- that I shall never forget. I don't think any of us will.

 
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