We ended our first season with a fat paycheck of $50 a piece. In truth, I doubt, seriously, whether we truly could have afforded to pay ourselves that much. We may have served 100 guests during the summer of 1978.
The winter months found Michael, Paul and I living off of unemployment insurance. I also recall a time period when I tried to buy and resell sawed-off oak barrels I purchased out of Canada and tried to peddle to nurseries in bulk or to individuals on the street. There was also a brief time period when Michael and I attempted to earn a living delivering The Bellingham Herald.
We didn't need much to survive. After all, we resided in a group house that was meant for six people and we had somehow squeezed in ten. Our monthly rent was under $50, and the utilities were inconsequential. Talk about living on the margins. . . It was a good thing none of us obsessed over appearances because, otherwise, the bathroom scene would have destroyed us.
During our idle winter, besides falsifying documents stating that we were seeking employment (hopefully the statute of limitations are up on this sort of disclosure), we spent dozens of hours contemplating how we were going to improve Orion for the next season. And, more importantly, how could we scare up more business?
I remember phoning the owner of Zig Zag Expeditions and picking his brain about put-ins and take-outs and rivers and permits. We talked about everything river-related. Jim Fielder, the owner and a former school teacher out of Bellevue, conversed readily and easily. He was happy to divulge all kinds of useful tidbits. He might have seen us as a threat, if we hadn't have seemed. . . oh, I don't know. . . so 'small-time'. We were college students living off spare change and having no clue how to operate a business.
How could we have possibly seemed like a threat?
But, during our rambling conversations, one tiny bit of information surfaced that captured our tight-fisted, monetarily-challenged imagination. Jim Fielder divulged that the secret to his 'success' was cold-calling. 'Solicitation', as it is otherwise known. The idea of cold-calling, as you can imagine, was repulsive to all of us --- except, maybe Paul. Unfortunately, Paul was the last of us we wanted left alone with potential clients. Who knew what he might say, or offer?
However, being Recreation majors, we thought we could bring a twist to the concept. Not only would we be the least pushy solicitors anyone had ever encountered, we would target only companies and, more specifically, human resource people who were nominally in charge of organizing recreational activities for their firms anyway. Our schtick would be simple. We would phone a large company (usually in King County), ask to speak with the person in charge of employee recreation, ask if that person would be interested in a brochure about rafting and --- gasp! --- leave it at that. We planned on letting the idea of whitewater rafting do the selling.
Nine times out of ten, the person we spoke with was happy to receive a brochure. It was no sweat off their backs. And then a small percentage of those folks would call us back for further information. It was no more trouble than plucking blackberries in September. They didn't have to commit to anything. We didn't have to sell anything.
Paul would jokingly say in the midst of our phoning marathons, "Sell hard. Sell fast. Nobody hurt." A tiny twist to the New Games credo at the time of "Play hard. Play fast. Nobody hurt." But, in reality, we were the softest sellers in the history of capitalism. It worked because rafting was unique. Hardly anyone in the state of Washington had ever heard of such a thing. And especially not in paddle rafts.
The business mushroomed in the summer of 1979. And when all was said and done, we had taken approximately 1000 people rafting between the months of June and late July --- a ten-fold increase! The going rate at the time was $22 a person and it included lunch which INCLUDED Linda's homemade mint chocolate chip cookies. What a bargain! Of course, in determining our price, I doubt we gave a single moment's thought to what Zig Zag or Pacific Northwest Floats was charging. Flawed thinking if ever there had been flawed thinking. (That sort of thinking, employed by others, would come back to bite us in the ass in the future.)
But in the halcyon days of 1979, we weren't looking very far into the future. But even looking cross-eyed at the tip of our noses, we knew two things: we needed additional guides, and we needed more gear.
Make that three things. . . we needed more money.