Skip to main content

The Story of Orion - Part 5

In order to achieve the terminal velocity necessary to escape Western Washington University’s Recreation program with diploma in hand, you needed to devise a suitable internship plan.

Late in the winter of 1978, several of us started seriously thinking about our Phase III Recreation internship. (A ‘phase’ is a college quarter dedicated solely to classes in the field of Recreation. A ‘phaser’ is one who participates in a Recreation phase. Most parents probably believed, and hoped, we were just going through a ‘phase’ when we declared Recreation to be our major.) Initially, our plan was to resurrect the once thriving, but now defunct Outdoor Program at Whatcom County Parks. We talked extensively with the head honcho at Whatcom County about the vision we had for a renewed outdoor program. As far as we could tell, all systems were ‘Go’ for our ambitious project which seemingly included everything from square dancing to mountain climbing to Anasazi basket weaving classes. In the meantime, the deadline for submitting our internship details to our remarkably patient Recreation professors loomed.

At the eleventh hour, Whatcom County Parks' administrator pulled the rug out from under our ambitions and hired a recreation professional out of the San Francisco Bay Area. In hindsight, I am certain he did us a favor. The Outdoor Program we envisioned would have taxed our organizational and logistical capabilities. In addition, working for the county government might have soured us on the idea of recreation as therapy forever.

With our plan shattered, we pieced together an alternative. Why not start our own business? Why not outfit horse trips (Deb Poulter’s strength), bicycle tours (Michael Bellert's passion) and river trips (my --- dubious --- forte)? Of course, we couldn’t divulge this harebrained scheme to our professors. They were likely to burst our balloon and send each of us individually out to seek an internship we didn’t have the heart to do. I imagined working for some sort of governmental bureaucracy doing menial chores, like smoothing the infield dirt at a city ballfield, and I just couldn’t get excited.

So, we planned a business covertly. One of the progenitors of the Whatcom County Park idea bailed out in fear of riding a project doomed to be rejected. Another was uncomfortable with the potential money and liability exposure. So, after those two partners bowed out and after the three remaining budding entrepreneurs ‘penciled’ out a few vague numbers, we decided we could use a couple of additional partners for financial reasons, if nothing else. Consequently, Deb, Michael and I were joined late one school night at the Samish Way Denny’s restaurant by Linda, Michael’s effervescent girlfriend, and Paul, who was a self-described ‘artiste’ and who looked like he and Chewbacca had been separated at birth. Paul was also Michael’s childhood friend from Chicago.

Deb Poulter’s parents owned a Summer Camp called BearPole Ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She played the guitar and had a musical quiver full of John Denver songs. Deb’s time outdoors and working with kids outnumbered the rest of us combined.

Michael had a head on his shoulders for numbers and business terminology and ‘keeping books’. Linda already had several years of experience working as a corporate receptionist --- managing filing cabinets, fielding phone calls and customer service. That left Paul and I.

I was happy being the equipment and logistics guy and Paul was, essentially, a fifth wheel. In Paul’s case, he was a squeaky fifth wheel. He was meant to be a ‘silent partner’. Meaning, the money he borrowed from his grandmother was used to help launch the business, while we expected him to stand clear and not make our lives unnecessarily complicated.

Paul viewed the world abstractly. He could be funny and amusing in conversation, but exasperating when trying to explain shuttle arrangements or how to efficiently slice a cucumber. You could never be certain he fully grasped the gist of what you were saying, not to mention reality. More likely than not, he would look at you quizzically as if he were attempting to solve a Rubik’s Cube or you were speaking an interplanetary language.

He wore his hair long, shaggy and unkempt, and the same could be said for his clothes. But he LOVED the idea of being an entrepreneur. It was a concept that grew on him as the process moved along. He would announce to anyone and everyone with a handmade business card and a doofy grin that he was the owner of a rafting company. It amused him and, even though he seemed lost in space, he took the business seriously.

At the Samish Way Denny’s, at the corner of Samish Way and I-5 in Bellingham, we hashed out business details, to-do lists and what would be the business’ name over coffee, tea and frozen hash browns. We kicked around names for hours before I finally suggested ‘Orion’ from one of the boats on my original Prescott journey. Almost every name we mused over before ‘Orion’ sounded like an herbal essence shampoo.

As for business details, we quickly learned that horse rental was impossibly expensive and that insurance companies were not interested in insuring bike tours. Rafting was our only option.

Rafting insurance was more straightforward than it sounds because I knew companies in Utah had to be insured. Byron L. Turner Agency out of Salt Lake City covered us for less than a thousand bucks. Hardly a question asked.

Next, we needed a brochure. A ‘How-To’ river running book by Verne Huser sported tons of action-oriented rafting photos and, since we were thousands of miles away from the East coast where most of the photos were taken, and thousands of miles away from where Huser, the native Texan, lived, we thought --- What were the odds? We were in Bellingham, at the farthest reaches of christendom, doing a direct mail to youth pastors in the state of Washington --- who would find out and what could be the harm?

We worked twenty-four consecutive hours pain-stakingly assembling the brochure using press-on type lettering. Paul created our logo which we joked about having a phallic semblance with the jagged peaks and globular waves positioned directly below the ‘forest of marching penises’. We folded, stamped and labeled one hundred over-sized brochures and sent them on their way.

We had the name. We had the business concept. We had insurance. And we had just completed our first marketing campaign.

Now it was time to talk to our professors.

Popular posts from this blog

Spring River Guide Training

Time to sign up if you want to be a guide, or if you just want to feel comfortable on the river on your own.
Only a few weeks away from our annual seven day guide training odyssey on the Deschutes River in north central Oregon and - as the senior instructor - I am beginning to feel the undertow of another river season.

Orion's guide training course kicks off every whitewater season and is comprised of seasoned and salty veterans, women and men, wide-eyed whitewater neophytes, those who revel in the adversity and those who are challenging their ordinary state of being, whatever that may be.

It is a time for ditching cellphones and the comfort of our creature habits.  Sharing and laughing and looking one another in the eye.  Being physically present because...you have to be to deal with the circumstances of being out amidst the elements.  Setting up tarps in windstorms and cooking over fires.

It will be a memorable trip.  Even for those of us participating in it for the 40th time.

River Rafting is Good for You

I have been rafting for a long time.

My first rafting experience was in the fall of my first year in college.  As a matter of fact, after matriculation, it was the very next thing I did.  The river rafting trip, regarded as my wilderness orientation to Prescott College, was a month long affair.

One month in the wilderness after having spent the majority of my life in well-ordered suburbs where my primary contact with the outdoors involved sports.

You can imagine it was an eye-opener in a number of ways.

My wilderness orientation, which took place over four decades ago, brought me serendipitously to this place.

Overnight raft trips are the single easiest method to 'leave it all behind.'  The 'behind' we referred to leaving used to just mean the traffic and the stressors of modern day life, ringing phones, the hustle and bustle of humanity and bills coming due, responsibilities to uphold.

Now, we are saddled with the ubiquity of always being connected to what is going o…

The Phenomena of People

I do not have a river story for you this week, but I had a visit from a good friend from Bellingham and our reunion reminded me of one of the other reasons I have persevered with this little cottage industry.



I wrote a story a few years back titled "Why I (Continue to) Raft" and the gist of that column was that I realized how much I enjoyed getting people out on the water and watching the transformation.  It ended with the brief tale of my very young nephew from Dallas who floated the Skagit and - at first - was terrified of the moving, darn-cold-if-you're-from-Texas water.  And, despite being on a trip surrounded by a large Y group of boisterous Northwesterners who could not get enough of swimming, it appeared he would endure the trip and be ecstatic to see the takeout and a warm, dry car.

When we were halfway down the river, his entire attitude did an about face.  And by the time we hit the takeout he WAS ecstatic, but not about being finished and back to dry land.  …