It was late October, just one weekend before closing our canoe business for the season. Closing a business down for the winter is a process. The vehicles have to be serviced and winterized and readied for the spring surge. All the canoes and kayaks have to be gone through, repaired, and put into storage. And all the rafts have to be thoroughly cleaned before being treated with a chemical preserver (which makes them kind of slippery until the chemicals absorb into the material), and then deflated and stored. Back in the day (when this event took place) we used old school buses stripped of their seats for off season storage, and wrestling the slippery monsters through the rear emergency exit door was no fun.
So, one weekend to go, and we had received just one raft reservation via telephone (the caller had a strong accent and was a little hard to understand) for one large raft, 6 to 7 people. We set two untreated large rafts aside (always plan for success I say) and spent most of that week cleaning, treating, deflating, and cramming the rest of the rafts into our storage bus being careful to place all the large rafts on the bottom of the pile. Saturday morning dawned overcast and kind of cool, so we didn’t expect a busy day (a smattering of canoes and kayaks, on one raft). In fact, I was kind of kicking myself for being overstaffed (that “plan for success” thing sometimes bites you in the ass). Things were slow until 10:30 am, exactly the time slot for the one large raft reservation. Suddenly a string of cars came down the hill and began turning into our business. We counted: one, two, three, four, five, six, …… twenty-two, twenty-three cars pulling in to our parking area, every car disgorging happy Koreans dressed for the elements. The leader of the Korean Hiking Club strode into the office to pay for the rafts, and when he saw his name beside the one raft reservation he said, “No, not six or seven, I say sixty-seven”, and that’s exactly what he had, sixty-seven people exactly. Okay, don’t panic, there might be a solution, improvise.
We have cancelled the insurance and stored our busses, so we only have two vans saved out as shuttle vehicles. And it’s going to take some time to dig out and inflate 8 additional large rafts. I set every available staff member to start dragging all the rafts out of the bus and blowing them up while my lovely wife and I greeted everyone, directed them to the bathrooms, and let them stretch their legs. We then gave them a lengthly and most thorough orientation using the two available untreated rafts allowing them to practice their new paddling skills in the parking lot while the rest of our crew was scrambling. After about half and hour of orientation we directed them back into their vehicles and sent them up river to our riverside campground to eat their packed lunches and we would bring the rafts, paddles, and PFDs to them and let them float back to our base.
In the end we had them all on the water two hours and fifteen minutes from the time they drove onto our lot, quite an accomplishment from our prospective, but less than efficient from their prospective I am sure. When they finished we still had to transport the drivers back to pick up their vehicles. Over the years we have many groups that return year after year, but this group has never been back (though they were lovely and understanding).
To this day, whenever we are faced with a logistical challenge, we look at each other and wink, and say,”remember sixty-seven”. Plan for success!