“We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded: maybe you should drive….” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas.” (Hunter S. Thompson)
How did you find yourself at Holiday?
The end of ’86 ski season had arrived and I was invited to join a 2-day rafting trip that would launch somewhere in Utah. Beginning my second summer in Colorado, I asked a friend how far it was to Utah and he answered “Between a 6-pack and a 12-pack drive.” My brother from another mother had arranged to borrow a raft from Cubby. Dee saw how unprepared we were and offered to loan us some PFDs. We stowed our gear in garbage bags and loaded an impossibly high beverage-to-food ratio. I figured Bruce knew what he was doing, and willingly put my trust in him.
This trust was almost instantly validated when, after pushing off in a severely altered state, Bruce ruled that we would only float the slow water down a few miles and camp. Though, as we all know, accidents can happen more at camp than on the water. Little D had a lower camp back then, and we proceeded to build an impressive pile of recyclables and eat cold chicken. As I watched the river go by that day, all I could think about was getting a job doing this.
What years did you spend guiding?
Camping and canoeing started when I was young. I got my first tent in 1966, (age 5) and started rowing a little boat around our bay at about age 7. No motor was allowed until 9 am. Dad had grown up similarly and was excited to see me head off to many years of summer camp, where I sailed and gained confidence on the water. As teens, my brother and I went to Pine River Canoe Camp in Michigan. There were a few days of treading water and recovering swamped canoes, then we packed food into triple zip locks and headed out. We were 14 kids with 2 counselors, and we paddled north on the Missinaibi and Moose rivers for 300 miles in central Ontario – all the way up to James Bay. The rain rarely stopped for those 3 weeks, and I learned very well that black fly bites just bleed and scab over. Thoughts of that trip still make me smile.
Back in Breckenridge after enjoying the 2-day Westwater and sobering up, Keller assured me that Holiday was hiring. So a week later I was back in Green River to try and get the job. Dee, Tim, and Sherpa were on that training trip, as well as Ferg, Shelly, and Willy-J. That rainy week in Deso revealed a lot about those future leaders at Holiday. When the trip concluded and cleaned up, I anxiously awaited the announcement of who would be hired. Because he knew I wanted it badly, Tim messed with me and saved my name to be the last one to be announced.
So 1986 was my first year at Holiday, a time when Dee and Sue were on trips regularly and the family was around a lot. Grocery runs from Salt Lake brought the biggest ice cube I’d ever seen. A 5 or 6 foot square cube that got chipped madly into chunks that were probably 20 pounds each. Rookies didn’t get work right away, so we joined trips to get experience. On a spring Yampa trip, wet nights left snow on the rim for us in the morning. One of those mornings, I started a Big fire and hopped into the river to rinse off. KW looked out of his tent to see me splashing and proclaimed that I reminded him of a Beluga that he’d seen in the Arctic one time. The name has served me well. The years from ’86 through 91 seem like a lifetime and certainly gave me many lifetimes of adventures to recount and relive.
What is something you learned while at Holiday that has stuck with you and has been valuable to life beyond the river?
I’m happy to say that living on the river transformed my life. Arriving as a young man hungry for adrenaline and excitement, I repeatedly learned that connecting with people and sharing amazing experiences was far more rewarding. We certainly learned life skills that will bring success in whatever we choose but more importantly, I learned that teamwork and dedication to excellence creates leaders that actually end up having followers. I’ve figured out over time that my favorite place to be, or my favorite stretch of water is the one that’s in front of me. I’ve been a fly fishing guide for several years now and it has renewed my love of taking people on small adventures. Helping people become aware of ways to escape the world, even for a short time can change people’s perspective enough to perhaps change a life. Even standing in moving water is therapeutic these days, but days floating in my drift boat are like vacation days. All that’s missing is sleeping on my favorite beaches.
Do you still do river trips?
Our Posse still gets out on the river, but not nearly often enough. Please feel free to invite me on trips you are planning, I’m a willing participant if the dates work. I’d love to get up to Idaho if anyone’s headed that way. Or we can all just invade James!? Right James?
Do you have a favorite memory of Dee? Sue?
Writing a piece about some of the best times of my life has been a great trip down memory lane. Having Dee ever present in decision making and working side by side on trips was a treat. He was always thinking about and creating better ways to run river trips and shape coffee pots. Early on, we’d pack extra lighter fluid to have big trash fires after dinner. Some beaches still had trash pits that were age old. Dee was on the forefront of the leave no trace movement. He literally woke up one day and realized that our regular beaches, the places that he loved so much were starting to smell. We started rinsing beaches, started using pee buckets and started bringing more red cans. Sue was always involved with writing and tweaking the menu. One spring we found out that Dee’s cholesterol was elevated and granola and yogurt were added to breakfasts. Not a huge deal really, except bacon rations were cut dramatically!
What’s your most memorable story from a river trip?
Someone once said that if nothing happens, there isn’t a story to tell.
Do you have a story to share about a positive experience with a guest?
When Brad Wiggins was a young nurse at the SLC Burn unit, I was invited to be part of an early Burn Camp trip in Deso. We burned a lot of firewood in those days, and I wasn’t sure how well sitting around a fire would work for Burn victims. The campers were at least a few years past their tragedies and in a mental state that made them ready to start moving on. No rapids on day one means no PFDs and a day to catch some rays. A returning camper was the first to take off his shirt to expose his burn scars. The rest of my boat looked and listened intently as he shared the details of his story. There was silence as everyone relived their personal experiences and contemplated sharing their physical and emotional scars. Self conscious teenagers who felt like outsiders in their everyday lives had found people they trusted with their deepest secrets. Another shirt came off and I heard kids hearts pouring out their stories. “Look at mine” and “Wow, that’s amazing” came flying out as the group compared their wounds. The entire week was full of love and heeling tears like I’d never seen. Camp fires became a place of group bonding. My heart is still full to this day remembering that trip.
Are you in touch with any guides you met during your time with Holiday?
That kind of bonding sums up how I feel about working so closely with all of our fellow guides. Sharing fun, crazy experiences and building trust cemented friendships that will last forever. On a ski trip last year, Ferg said something like “It’s always great to think about the times we had together, but it’s even better to keep doing it and create new memories “. There’s nothing like seeing our compadres and starting up as if we saw each other yesterday.
What are you up to these days? (career, passions, hobbies, artistic endeavors, etc…)
Where do you call home?
I’ve spent 40 years teaching skiing in Breck now and I still love the freedom that the seasonal lifestyle brings me. One year I helped build a burrito wagon with some friends as we followed our passion for windsurfing. We moved to the Columbia River Gorge and set up right next to the beach where we could take turns cooking and sailing. A couple years later, I looped as a caddie on the LPGA. On our swing through the west coast, I spent the weekend at the home of a multi year returning river client. When I met my fabulous wife Jane, I joined her in her thriving garden design business. She still calls herself “The Garden Ho’. “ Her nickname is Chicken so we had a chicken and a whale on top of our wedding cake. Our potluck wedding was well attended by river family, a huge cast of characters and at least 20 dogs. Now that we have transitioned out of landscaping, Jane is spending summers painting pet portraits and I am on the trout fisheries near Breckenridge daily. We will most likely be here for a while. So let me know when you’re coming our way. Or maybe we’ll meet at a boat ramp like Shannon Callahan (Schoon) and I did last summer. No matter where we roam, I use my Holiday life experiences daily, and I certainly have my Chanel Locks nearby.