08/22/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT
On steamy summer days, it's tough not to envy Pancho Doll. For the past eight years he's devoted himself to discovering, chronicling and just plain enjoying the country's choicest swimming holes. Operating out of his battered 1995 Toyota Tacoma pickup, the 42-year-old San Diego resident has logged more than 250,000 miles, pored over countless topographic maps, pried information from often tight-lipped locals, taken the plunge into upward of 700 holes—and managed to turn out four critically acclaimed guidebooks in his Day Trips with a Splash series. (In case you're wondering, Doll defines a swimming hole as "moving water on a river or creek, six feet deep or deeper. The water is fresh and clean.") Pancho is "a swimming hole master guru dude," says actor John C. McGinley (Scrubs), who, along with pal John Cusack, spent three days with Doll last summer cliff-diving into some idyllic Southern California spots. "He's just got this wonderful combination of expertise, enthusiasm and daffiness."
Even today, stumbling upon a fresh beauty is "like finding an emerald in a pile of rocks," says Doll. And, in its own way, quite precious. "It's a feeling of immersion where you wash away the dust and the anxiety of the work week," he explains. "It's more than a buzz. It's like a baptism."