“Hey, Susan!” I smile, already rolling my eyes; I know what’s coming next. “Quit playing with your dinghy!!” Meet Brin Finnigan, everyone. Company leader, expert boatman, smart aleck. This is the rote greeting I receive every time I meet Brin and his group of rafts on Lake Powell at the end of their Cataract Canyon trip. See, it’s funny because I’m always driving a small inflatable motor boat – a rubber dinghy, if you will. It always gets a good chuckle out of the guests, who haven’t heard the joke eight times this summer. After two seasons, I’m still searching for a snappy response.
Brin is a strong presence at Holiday, not only for his six-foot-something frame and sun bleached, straw-blonde hair, or his ability to perform two-fingered pull-ups on the climbing hangboard in the kitchen. He primarily leads trips in Cataract Canyon, and during spring high water, he runs the front oar on Holiday’s signature triple-rigs. Front oar is a position that is earned, and is perhaps the best indicator of a guide’s mastery of his art. There’s more than one broken oar mounted on the warehouse wall with Brin’s name and a notation of how high Cat’ was running when he broke it; breaking triple-rig oars during high water events is about the only time guides are excused for breaking company gear.
Born and raised in Vermont, Brin describes spending “a good deal of my young life staring at maps, particularly the vast blank areas of the American West.” His fascination with the West eventually led him there, and he began guiding for Holiday in 2005. Intelligent, well-read, and well-spoken, Brin is particularly good at interpreting riverside geology for guests, and correcting the grammar of his coworkers. “Really, Susan? Fewer mosquitoes. Not less.”
“Hot tub! HOT TUUUUUUB!” Brin explodes through the door of the bunkhouse. It’s 11:30 at night, but he hammers on doors and all but drags his already retired colleagues out of bed. The Holiday Inn next to the Green River warehouse allows Holiday guides access to their hot tub on occasion; Brin has picked this night to instigate a mass exodus across the dirt parking lot and he won’t be satisfied until the whole bunk house is going with him. “Wake up! It’s hot tub time!” Despite his typical calm, professional bearing and exemplary leadership skills, Brin has a wild streak, an unconquerable curiosity and reckless willingness to push his own limits to see what will happen. Alex Jahp, another guide, says it even better on his travel blog: “he’s a country intellectual creative headstrong madman filled with adventurous verve”. The two hitchhiked through Mexico together during the last off-season. Next winter they plan to go back, but this time on bicycles.
On the long drive back to Green River from the Cataract Canyon take out, guests sleep in the air-conditioned van, and Brin talks to me about the farm he’s building in southern Colorado. He’s planted cottonwood trees and a vegetable garden. He has chickens, and is slowly making improvements on the house; it still doesn’t have running water, but that doesn’t bother him. He works as a carpenter and welder in between farm projects and river trips. Brin seems to thrive on the variety these shifts provide. He flows easily between river time, life on the road, and a settled life on his farm.
It’s a typical Cataract Canyon morning as I motor toward the red and white rafts that float below Waterhole Rapid: calm reservoir water mirrors the eroded canyon walls, the cloudless sky burns with the promise of another scorching day in the desert. I kill the motor and smile tolerantly as Brin shouts his usual greeting, then says, “Susan, why don’t you stand up and introduce yourself to everyone.” The other rafts bump gently against my boat. I wave hello and start to speak, but suddenly the rafts surrounding me are bristling with loaded water guns and my words are drowned in an onslaught of water buckets and wicked grins. Brin’s grin is the biggest of all, and I don’t even have a chance to duck before I’m soaked. It’s going to take more than a snappy response to come back from this one.
Written by Susan Munroe