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The Story of Orion - Part 6

Talking to our profs about our hare-brained idea to launch our own river company was the equivalent of talking to the Mother Superior about installing a hot tub at the convent. They held the power to dash our concept into tiny, irretrievable pieces. So, we approached our meeting with a great deal of trepidation.

To our complete surprise, they did not resist. Cris Miller was non-committal. Jim Moore said that we had to be nuts to attempt starting a business and, since obviously we were addled, we should 'go for it'.

And Ron Riggins --- the one who could easily pull the plug with a mere look of disdain --- practically embraced the idea as his own. A week or so later, he was co-signing a loan for $3,500 using his new Bellingham abode as collateral. The loan was needed for equipment such as boats, pumps, paddles and other necessary stuff. We'd already blown through our 'war chest' on advertising, insurance and day-to-day expenses.

The thirty-five hundred dollars procured two Campways Miwoks, a used Rubber Crafters Yampa from Prescott College (not 'Orion', but 'Merlin'), a dozen paddles and lifejackets and a pump of some kind. My Ford Maverick was outfitted with a trailer hitch and we rented a U-Haul when we needed it. Later in the summer, I traded my Maverick for a 'three-on-the-tree', V-6, white Chevy pick-up. At that point, we were on our way.

All that we needed was some business.

Our church mailing ended disastrously with the threat of a lawsuit from the outfit in West Virginia whose image we had 'borrowed'. We recalled all of our brochures as recompense, and our second brochure effort was hasty and ugly in comparison. As far as I remember, not a single church group booked a river trip.

July 4th, 1978 found the five of us in Glacier, Washington, at Graham's Restaurant. Somehow we arranged to sell trips from the lobby of the restaurant with an inflated raft as a prop. The Fourth of July Special was $150 for a boatload of folks to paddle the Nooksack which flowed right outside the restaurant's doors.

It was a slow Fourth. Traffic was light. Canadians headed up to Mount Baker for the annual ski jump that ended in a quasi-frozen lake. The Bandidos motorcycle club (think Hell's Angels Lite) roared into town. Making a pit stop on their way up the mountain.

About that time, one of the town characters stopped into Graham's. He called himself 'Dirty Dan Hamlin' and he wore an ankle-length sheepskin coat. He stood about as tall as a mantle on a fireplace and his beard was peppered with silver. Dirty Dan fished out of Alaska, but whiled away summers in Galcier. He'd never floated the Nooksack in all of the years he had lived there but it had always been a dream of his to do so.

He squeezed $150 of cash into my hand and said he would pay for the entire boat. Now, we just needed several other participants. Dirty Dan thought the Bandidos would get a kick out of rafting the Nooksack, so he ambled off to chat with the motorcycle enthusiasts hanging out in the parking lot, picking their teeth and polishing their chrome.

Gary Graham, never one to miss an opportunity for self-aggrandizement, saw an opening unfolding for the perfect photo op. Mickey Mouse ears were produced, a buxom, blonde waitress turned up in a bikini despite the fact it was sub-sixty degrees Fahrenheit and threatening rain and a gaggle of Bandidos were herded toward the riverbank and an inflated raft.

The Bandidos were clad neckline to ankle in black leather. The women wore stiletto heels. Chain jewelry clanked. Tobacco use was prevalent. Dirty Dan, possibly under the influence of Colt 45 Malt Liquor, wound up wearing the Mickey Mouse ears which gave him a look of perpetual questioning.

The Bandidos made it perfectly clear that they would never ride anything that didn't come equipped with a carburetor. A photo op was permissible, but rafting was out. Michael fretted over the sharpness of the ladies' heels. While Gary's comely employee's flesh looked like a freshly plucked turkey. Even so, this hodge-podge of humanity clambered onto one of our new Miwoks and someone caught the tableau for posterity's sake --- probably Linda, our erstwhile photographer. A photo reminiscent of Butch Cassidy and the Hole-In-The-Wall Gang.

A half-hour later, Dirty Dan and I along with Gary Graham's son and a friend were careening down the Nooksack. We never could get Dirty Dan to remove his sheepskin coat. He was more suitably dressed for Shackleton's crossing of Antarctica's ice floes.

We secured a bulky Mae West flotation device on top of it knowing full well he would probably sink like an anvil if he went overboard. He kneeled in the non-self-bailing raft as if it was a canoe. I cringed every time I came close to a rock in anticipation of cracking his kneecap.

As is often said, the rest is history.

Dan Hamlin survived his bumpy ride on the Nooksack and became Orion's first paying customer on our first commercial river expedition.

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