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The State of Orion: Season Synopsis


The heavy sigh of relief no doubt heard around the region, if not the world, emerged from me now the commercial whitewater season of '09 has become fast-moving water under the bridge.

The winter snowpack was so-so, the economy was on everybody's minds, government entities were sniffing about every available means to shore up their coffers and Ally and I decided to throw caution to the wind and raft the Grand Canyon during the time we traditionally offered Guide Training, and then toss caution completely overboard by purchasing a second property and signing on for twice as much mortgage.

The last season of the last year of the Decade of Aughts has passed into our collective memories and somehow we made it through with the vehicles, the boats, the paddles, the lifejackets, the trailers we had on hand at the beginning. Businesses trumpet their efforts at sustainability, but as I told the Recreation Program this spring, Orion has practiced sustainability long before it came into vogue.

Even so, the season took its toll.

The Suburban's tranny died in Oregon and had to be replaced. The Box Truck became a casualty at one of the local espresso stands receiving damage to the upper left corner of the box when laws of physics were applied inappropriately. One of the trailers required a facelift (or perhaps a 'nosejob') when one of our new employees discovered the tongue of a trailer is not elastic or designed like a slinky. One of the oldest Maravias suffered an irreparable tear early in the spring on our extracurricular exploration of the West Fork of the Hood.

As for the river season itself, I survived the month of June by hiring predominantly new guides to handle trips on the Wenatchee and, dodged yet another bullet, when the river never exploded on us. Muddled through July with youth groups booking more two-day overnight trips in Oregon than ever before and then, managed to eek down the Wenatchee with hundreds of kids in mid-August on a bed of rocks moistened by the trickle inching past masquerading as a river.

The Tieton was a phenomenal success in regards to longevity, levels and lovely weather conditions (not including the precipitation over the Labor Day Weekend), however, an incident involving a call to 911 and an ambulance ride, dampened the amusement park atmosphere.

So, you can see at a glimpse why I suspect the heavy exhalation at the season's passing might have been audible from a distance. Our off-season plans? In the short term, I plan staining the backside of the house, participating in the horseshoe tourney at the World Senior Games, taking in a Mariner game with Willie Weigand. Ally plans on visiting her brother in St.Louis and, other than that, working her tush off in 12 hour stints at Wenatchee Valley ER. We both plan on completing a multitude of tasks when you own property --- which now includes a motorhome! --- that must be tended to preceding winter.

That sound you just heard was another heavy sigh. . .


It goes without saying, though it should never go unsaid, that no season can reach its logical conclusion without the help, input and blood, sweat and tears of scores of people. Ally, of course, should be mentioned from the get-go because without her attention to detail, mind for logistics, constructive criticism and second income, the company would falter, and I would go and lose my one and only brain cell.

Orion’s prodigal guide, Kook Longmire, displayed incredible timing by returning right when we needed him most --- a shell of a new warehouse that needed a ‘floor’ and to be organized, if only rudimentally, and no one around but a phalanx of wet-behind-the-ear newcomers. Kook also filled in admirably when I needed a surrogate for Lakeside trips.

Jonathan Ehlinger, student teaching these days at Garfield, also took charge of an overnight trip or two when there was no one else available to do so. . . Allen Cox found himself a casualty of the economy during the spring but Seattle’s loss was our gain and Allen’s contributions throughout the summer (a sweat lodge constructed out of saplings!) were inestimable. . . Katie Archer, after making it to the finish line for her engineering degree, also discovered herself without gainful employment during the spring and, once again, Orion was the benefactor, adding yet another strong, competent, experienced guide to our staffing list.

Greg Carter and Gillian Stoker, though they did not guide a great deal, always seemed to be available and ready to don their wetsuits when we needed them most. Both work hard on and off the river. Greg livens the parties, while Gilllian’s steady demeanor keeps the keel even. . . Jim Farris, a climber by nature, has taken to rafting like a kitten to a ball of yarn, and has made himself invaluble on more than one occasion and not necessarily related to guide work (a certain recalcitrant, cantankerous bus comes to mind). His guide work is also commendable because you can tell that his guests love boating with him. . . Same with Mace Burke, guests love him and even though Mace is a part-time guide, when he is on a crew, things run smoothly because he pays attention to details.

Sarah Jones has trained and certified herself into a class by herself when it comes to wilderness and backcountry first aid and, with every season, she methodically steps up her whitewater confidence and skills. . . Speaking of Jones’, Ariahna Jones guided sporadically this season because she was leading intense two-week backcountry courses with youth-at-risk, but whenever she came to work on the river (and it wasn’t often enough) you could tell she was one hundred per cent focused on the task (and the accompanying maintenance) at hand. Even if it was inner-tubing the Upper Wenatchee. . . Colin Sternagel, our 2009 WWU intern, contributed many hours to improvements out at the Chumstick Country Club assisting whichever veteran mentor who was there for the day. In addition, he took charge of many of the Oregon trips once the glamor of the early season had worn off.

And then, for the Class of 2009, without whom June’s hectic schedule would not have been possible, and much of July’s torrid back-and-forth between the Skagit, the Deschutes and the Wenatchee, would have been more nightmarish than it was.

Crystal Foss commercially guided every river except for the Skykomish and dabbled in equipment managing when push came to shove. . . More importantly, she, KC Kerr and Melissa Sher earned road trip rewards for ping-ponging about the state from river to river and making sure that the ‘show’ would go on. Melissa receives extra brownie points for being based out of Portland. Crystal, KC, Melissa, Nicole Haskey and Rachel Poole were the ‘backbone’ of our success during the heart of the summer --- and all of them were first-year guides. Melissa, Nicole, Rachel and Miriam Burke successfully navigated the Wenatchee at 800 cfs which is somewhat equivalent to getting a camel through the eye of a needle. (Okay! 97% of the 33% of the Wenatchee we boated, but who’s keeping track?) Incredibly, it was Miriam’s one and only commercial guding day!

Others who aided in the success of last season: Robert Kolden, Nancy Martella, Emily Johnston, Dane Doerflinger (Our incredible, legendary, Energizer Bunny guide trainers), Tom Scarborough (Can’t enough be said. . . ), Kayla Applebay (Apply for the Chelan County Health District job if it ever comes open!), Neil Comeau (Comic relief), Alyssa Pitingoro (Rock steady), Blair Denman (If rafting had a draft, she’d be #1), Charlotte West (Out of retirement), Nina Maus (Fireball!), Steve Laboff (Online tension reliever, erstwhile boater), Steph Turner (Skagit save-the-dayer), Andrew Knutzen (“KNUTZEN!”), Sonia Buchholz (Singlehandedly made the first Tieton weekend manageable), Mary Bridgid Burchard (whom we did not see enough of) and everyone else because I am bound to overlook someone.

And then there was Dallas Silva. Another guiding prodigy returned to the fold - if only temporarily. Dallas, an electrical lineman by trade these days, spent last winter in his motorhome in Southern California trying to work his trade in sunnier, warmer climes (as he is inclined to tell me regularly with winter encroaching). Due to the lack of work in the Golden State in his chosen profession, he took up residence at the Chumstick at the beginning of July, jockeying his motorhome into the backyard to create a kind of courtyard. He guided some, he kept Chumstick lively, he wired the pumphouse, he pruned practically every tree on the property and he added to the community. Which, in the end, is what it all boils down to.

By necessity, our community has had an ephemeral nature to it because there has not been a ‘place’. The ‘river’ has been our community and, of course, those of you drawn to it and one another, have been essential in affirming the community and keeping it alive. Now we have a physical location to go along with all the other aspects of this far-reaching, amorphous-at-times community. One more ingredient to our long-running engaging experiment. One more aspect toward making it just a little bit better. I hope all of you are looking forward to the next decade and all that it brings as much as I am.

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