Tieton Eddy Repose

Tieton Eddy Repose
"So, this is the river." said the Rat.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Story of Orion - Part 8

A thousand guests in 1979 seriously taxed our ability to provide our services. Not to mention Linda's ability to bake enough mint chocolate chip cookies.

Our equipment was excellent, though limited. Our insurance was valid, though, perhaps, that wasn't always the case (thank goodness we never had to test it). We even had a practically brand new Chevrolet cargo van (only slightly used --- less than 3,000 miles --- utilized for a single berry-picking season). But, the reality was, that the five partners acting as guides were insufficient to deal with the occasional overflow crowds we had booked.

In hindsight, thirty years later, we laugh. But, if you think about it, we were lucky. And, sometimes, downright frighteningly lucky.

Like the day on the Suiattle, a river choked with enough Douglas Firs to build a replica of Daniel Boone's home town, when we had more than a dozen rafts heading downriver at once. In 1979, we were all novices. Even I had no formal training guiding a raft, and my partners only knew as much as I could impart to them. Our total experience could have been imprinted on a matchbook cover. One side.

The other rafts were guided by folks with less experience than us. They were hand-selected, good friends. Competent and personable and, a few of them, extremely capable in the outdoors --- if you were talking orienteering or mountain-climbing. They had no business guiding an inflatable raft with customers on a river like the Suiattle. One of our 'guides', unbeknownst to us at the time, could only see out of one eye!

But there we were. A mob of well-meaning idiots guiding a mob of clueless innocents. Obviously and fortunately, it ended without incident. Through the mists of time, I have forgotten what we were thinking, but I imagine we were caught by surprise and acted out of desperation and hubris. I have always been an extremely cautious outdoorsman, but when you are young, sometimes you take leave of your senses and never realize it until much later. Unless, of course, your fortune collides with misfortune.

We never expected to generate so much business, so quickly. We were unprepared for groups larger than 40 and, since they were such a rarity, we didn't train additional guides to handle the overflow. But that day, and a couple of others like it, convinced us we needed employees if we were going to continue with this business charade.

It also informed us of two appositional lessons: moving water is inherently dangerous (notice the qualifying word is 'moving', not a particular 'class' of water) and river rafting was a forgiving activity. The thing is. . . you can not count on a river being forgiving --- in advance. You count on it being forgiving once a mistake is made.

In any case, during the winter between the second and third seasons, we started laying the ground work for a much larger loan. It was embarassing to rent cheap, Korean-made inflatables from U-Haul, and uncomfortable hiring folks who were liabilities (to put it mildly). We (Michael, Paul and I) figured we could use, at least, $20,000. It seemed like a fortune at the time but, in hindsight, we should have 'shot the moon' and solicited as much as $50,000.

Debbie and Linda were bought out, and Michael, Paul and I moved the operation into Rosie Standaert's (Michael's present wife) apartment near Green Lake in Seattle, and hired a lawyer in order to become incorporated. The equipment was shoved into a mini-storage near Woodinville.

That winter quarter I drove to Bellingham to interview prospective guides during one of the college's 'Career Days', or something like that. I wore a suit and tie, and may have even shined my shoes. Michael and I nixed Paul doing any of the interviewing. We were sure his Wookie-like features and his off-the-wall non sequitors would brand us as less than reputable.

The idea was to select a handful of people to attend our guide training course and to complement the three remaining partners and Greg Lunz and Therese Harrild who lived in Leavenworth and who were our contacts at a bed-and-breakfast called Haus Rohrbach. Greg and Therese's training in 1979 consisted of riding down the Wenatchee a couple of times in my raft. Greg looked like a biker who ate nails for breakfast, but who was actually a pussycat, and Therese could have been a linebacker for UW. They were guide 'naturals'.

In the spring of 1980, we trained a couple of dozen people, but the five we knew we wanted to hire were Kirk Flanders, Kelly Turner, Scott Teitelbaum, Gary Renspurger and Sharon MacAulay (Lunz).

It was the nascent beginning of a community-minded ethos we have never relinquished and have tried fervently to maintain ever since.