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Season Number Thirty Three --- It's a Wrap

One of my favorite quotes is from the director of '90s movies Slacker and Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater.

In an interview he was quoted as having said, "I'm just trying to live nobly in an ignoble culture."

It is the least each of us can attempt to do in our angst-ridden, money-corrupted, ethics-averse society. No matter what, add positively to the fabric of our existence. As I look back on this season, seasons past and those of you who have traipsed through the Orion Commons, that is all I see. People trying to live nobly in our ignoble culture. People trying to contribute. Trying to make a difference. Folks trying to choose the path less traveled and doing good along the way.

I think about this now because, in many respects, I feel as if I have fallen down on the job of living nobly. Sacrificing purpose on the altar of expediency. Sacrificing community for monetary needs. Sacrificing nobility for the quick buck.

I can assure you it was not intentional.

The weight I put on 'community' continues to tip the scales, and my every effort, along with Ally's, is an effort to build and improve on the Orion community. Whether it be the duplicate social networking sites, improvements to the CCC or signing on the dotted line this past spring with Groupon and becoming an "accidental online entrepreneur".

People, purpose, pleasure, profits. The four P's of Orion's Mission Statement, and in their exact prioritized order.

The Season of Groupon seemed to rearrange my alliterative company raison detre. In my defense, more than doubling the number of user days we were expecting for the season in 24 hours tends to focus you on survival matters and obscure whatever higher calling you might think you are pursuing. I have recited the Groupon parable ad infinitum over the past six months and I won't bore you with it now, but, suffice it to say, after all was said and done, it was a valuable and, quite positive, business lesson.

For instance, Orion did not 'lose its shirt' financially, and many of you enjoyed a steady stream of work (albeit with customers who did not know which end of the paddle was the T-grip and some customers whose attitude toward women could be summed up with this personal interaction, "There are five of us, but one of us is a woman.")

My main regret from 2010 was not finding more time in our busy schedule for Play. Not carving out time for a Busman's holiday every now and then. This coming season (the one we will celebrate as the 33rd because 2011 minus 1978 equals 33) we intend to rectify that situation. Reintroduce that fifth, unwritten P --- Play.

Of course, to do that, we need to introduce yet another P --- Planning. Not traditionally my strong suit, which is why, even though we have a Mission Statement and an antiquated Guide Manual, we never had a Business Plan. However, if Planning is what is necessary in order to work in Play, I will get to work on strengthening that part of my resume.


First of all, I have to invoke my usual disclaimer that I am going to overlook someone. Please believe me when I say, I am working off the top of my head and the order in which you appear, if you appear at all, means nothing and, if you are left out, it is not indicative of anything other than a fallible, sieve-like memory. Orion owes its existence to my dogged determination and Ally's unwavering support, but it also could never have lasted over three decades, much less last season, without the sweat equity and good intentions of ALL of you.

The Kook Sebastopol, California dreaming, while spending another fall interning at a winery and committing himself to living there long enough to become a Golden State resident in order to increase his odds of future employment by gaining a higher ed degree in wine-making. His early season presence assured a stable, orderly start to the rafting season, and a warehouse workbench that you could dine on.

Allen, a casualty of the economy as far as his own career is concerned, was instrumental throughout the season by committing early to Lakeside trips, and the bulk of the July Deschutes trips, thereby taking pressure off the usual staffing dilemma. As it turns out, he has a knack for relating to high school kids. An Oregon highlight from one of Allen's trips was a kid being filmed with a leech the size of a Sasquatch booger crawling about the palm of his hand.

KitKat Katie, who landed on her feet in Germany performing the work with which she earned a degree --- engineering --- also helped relieve staffing pressure by signing up for trips in advance while simultaneously squeezing numerous social commitments, like endless Indian weddings, throughout the summer into her hyper-kinetic schedule. She and Allen were 'joined at the hip', in terms of work schedule, and suffered (while working through) the typical "familiarity breeds contempt" aspect of those sorts of 24/7 buddy pairings (no innuendo implied or intended).

Dallas left his motor home parked on the wet side for 2010, yet found himself care-taking the CCC lawn, dispensing words of wisdom to young guides poaching hot tubs and herding hundreds of new customers down the Wenatchee. We never got him to model a dirndl, despite incessant badgering, but we got a lot of mileage out of the "Dallas in a dirndl!" cha-cha-cha from spring training right on through the Tieton season. (Unsubstantiated rumors abound that Dallas is --- as I type --- gainfully employed in the Bay Area.)

Melissa stepped up to the plate logging dozens of days in a row on the Wenatchee and the Deschutes, including trying on the role of River Master & Commander on a few overnight trips, and (to continue the baseball analogy) hit an inside-the-park home run, in spite of her youth, relative inexperience and Midwestern upbringing. All kidding aside, in spite of her bizarre personal pratfalls (see her stories about dog-walking), she was a rock-solid team member.

Verity's tenacious desire to guide was under-appreciated by me at the beginning of the season. Her tenacity should have been transparent when she nursed a decrepit truck with an aging camper from Portland to the CCC for the duration of the summer. When she wasn't in Portland swapping out bedpans and making patient's lives better, she was deftly handling a raft, wrangling river gear and spearheading the production of classy Chumstick-wear.

Neil, the self-proclaimed 'Real Deal', was a customer favorite in spite, or because, of his hirsuteness, his neoprene dirndl and its plunging neckline. Or maybe it was his 'it's always sunnier in Bavaria' demeanor. Neil was our tenant and host all season at the CCC, and a dependable, as well as reliable, guide and RM. (Because of Neil, the title River Manager morphed into River Master & Commander.)

Charlotte, an internet maven if ever there was one, Tweeting for hire under her Scandinavian moniker, emerged from river guide 'retirement' to become my Gal Friday and Neil's housemate, which was a challenge because the 'internets' have not reached the Chumstick yet, and Neil was the Felix Ungar of this Odd Couple to Charlotte's Oscar Madison. (Google and/or Bing it.)

Crystal continued her white water education guiding a wide variety of rivers, sampling non-traditional rivers like the Similkameen and planning her own Grand Canyon expedition which concludes this week. I continue to be surprised by her river acumen because, of a gallery of unlikely 2009 guide candidates, she seemed to be one of the unlikeliest of all. I wouldn't say she is "all growed up" in regards to white water, but she has been a quick study for the past two seasons.

Blair wasted no time making herself indispensable with a maturity on and off the water that belied her years. She blended readily and naturally with old and new guides alike, mesmerized us with her slack-lining skills and gave Dallas fits playing "king of the inflatable kayak" in an eddy on the Lower Salmon.

Jim (Miss Chumstick 2010!) guided as if his sanity depended on it, wooed many customers to the wonders of rafting and continued fixing everything easily broken...Mace was as dependable as ever and as dependably irascible as ever (and his experience was often sorely needed)...Nina charmed the Groupon masses like a hooded cobra with her funny, informative Meeter/Greeter spiel...

Jonathan made cameos filling in for me, working the Sky and scaring the bejesus out of the recruits...Tricia truly came out of retirement (from the early '90s!) but she quickly demonstrated that rafting might be easier than riding a bike, looking at ease on the Sauk her first trip down...Aaron brushed off his guiding skills and dove head-first into the river rafting scene after a couple of seasons on the shelf...

Gillian's last summer of freedom before entering the realm of legally dispensing pharmaceuticals was spent charming guests of all ages...Nicole successfully avoided the Scout Troops while steadily building her white water resume and lending a modicum of decorum to any gathering...Kyle, a relatively recent out-of-steady-work transplant to Leavenworth, found himself out of commercial rafting retirement and at the stern of an inflatable with guide paddle in hand more often than not this past spring and summer...

Our guide training instructors --- Robert, Dane, Ally, Emily and Nancy --- worked their community-building and white water skill transference magic in the spring as they have done for decades now, and they all even put in some yeoman's work on day trips when push came to shove. The tone set in the spring by their dedication to Orion usually carries right on through September.

As for newcomers to the Tribe:

Shawntel showed a poise and expertise well beyond her actual experience, but quickly became an integral piece to the Orion puzzle...Bagel Ben was called upon to guide prematurely but gave no one reason to doubt his abilities...Emily and Eli were called upon to guide early and often and were dependable, as well as, delightful to work with whether it was for one day or five days...Grace, who will make a terrific guide a couple of summers from now, made a terrific, unflappable Meeter/Greeter in the interim...AJ won the award for scoring the greatest number of guide days without being scheduled, as well as the award for perseverance since she had to work her appearances around numerous obstacles, not the least of which was her full-time residence being in Spokane...Dick's primary contribution was turning our three ancient dry boxes into functional works-of-art and, once again, actually 'dry' boxes...

We did not see enough of Colin, Ari, Kristin, Clyde, Gus, Alyssa, (skinny) Dallas, Kayla, Liam, Mary, Bob, Rachel, Cheri, Leo, Jen G and Orion but they all contributed with their time, effort and skills in making 2010 successful, memorable and as eventfully uneventful for our guests as possible for which Ally and I are exceedingly grateful.

And then there are those of you who lend moral support from a distance due to circumstances either beyond your control or not; and those of you who meant to make it out to the river at least once, but couldn't; and those of you who keep in touch and, even though we may never see you on the river again, your presence 'out there' strengthens and sustains the dream. Orion is grateful to you as well.

A La Nina winter is on its way which ought to mean that we are going to have a fair amount of water come next spring. But, if there is one thing I have learned, it is to never assume the rafting season will be great because the snow pack looks promising.

After all, "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy".

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