Dr. John Baker has passed.
You probably don't know him or even ever heard of him. But, he was a cornerstone of Colorado rafting in it's early years.
We was a real doctor. Bur rafting was his passion.
In the early 70's he was one of the first to run Royal Gorge. Probably the first time it wasn't strictly legal for him to do it. Also, he did it on an air mattress. I asked him why an air mattress. He said cause when he saw the opportunity to do it, that was all he had in the car. He introduced me to the Royal Gorge. Thank you Doc!
The cataraft community owes him a lot. He was probably the first to build a cataraft for non commercial use. Others had used surplus J Tubes as a sort of Cataraft; notably Mike Ferguson built a cataraft using 28'J tubes, but the frame was box steel, and weighed more than the tubes, cargo and crew. We used it once to dredge part of the Dolores. Not intentionally, it just worked out that way.
Doc came across a couple of ski tubes somewhere and had an idea. He built the first cataraft, and proved the concept would work in 1974. He proved it on Dolores, and Deso, and Westwater and in the Royal Gorge. By 1976 at least one outfitter had taken the concept and was running the Arkansas with them. The rig he helped me build went on the Grand Canyon in 1979. I'm sure the rangers were skeptical, but it did just fine.
Doc loved the Dory and ran it every chance he got. He introduced it to a generation of rafters. He ran it on Dolores on a memorable early spring trip where half the groups that launched owed their safety or comfort to Doc.
And, he was a doctor. He was my doctor when we lived in Colorado. My wife has a bad back. Doc was an orthopedic surgeon, and when her back would give up he'd fix her right up.
Once, I sent her to him with a note pinned to her coat. It said
"Doc, please fix my wife as she is no good to me this way"
She came home much better. Doc had pinned a reply to her coat. It said.
"Not sure what your problem is, as no one else is complaining"
When my daughter was 4 years old and sick, he fixed her. We were in the middle of adopting her and insurance for her was........complicated. Doc wouldn't use the insurance. he said I could pay him with a 6 pack or something. Instead, we made him brownies. He was good with that.
When Chris Raffin started having headaches, it was Doc who realized it was something more and got her treatment for the tumor that eventually killed her. She didn't have insurance, but Doc didn't even raise the question. He got her the treatment she needed.
When another friend had the same problem Doc Got him treatment as well, but the outcome was much happier. They told him he probably wouldn't survive the surgery. He did. They told him radiation and chemo would make him sterile. He has 3 kids.
Doc never made getting paid an issue. He took care of us.
He was on the founding board of Rocky Mountain River Expeditions. He was the voice of reason and maturity in a very young industry started by a bunch of hairy kids. He was the one who asked;
Why can't women be guides? We were the first to actively recruit and train women as guides.
Why can't we run paddle boats? We were the first to regularly run paddle boats on big water like West Water and North Platte.
Why does the food always have to come out of a can? He and Mike Ferguson and Bernie young put together tasty menus and taught crews how to cook them. He berated me once for not washing my hands before I went to the food prep area. It did no good to tell him I was just getting myself a beer.
He put together Rocky Mountains first aid kits. I remember in training he told us; "You can't kill anyone with what's in the kit, but please don't try; if you don't know what to do, don't act like you do."
He was also a pilot. One of my most memorable trips was a Cataract trip. He flew us down to Hite, and after the trip he flew us home, but first he flew under the arch bridge, you know, so we could buzz another group that was behind us. I remember landing on the "sort of" runway at Hite; probably the toughest landing I've ever seen or heard of, what with the cross winds, the condition of the "runway" and the time of day. I wasn't afraid, but it was an interesting landing.
He was also a flight surgeon and certified a lot of pilots.
He was a combination country doc, type A surgeon, excellent boatman, father, husband, friend and mentor.
He never got to go on the Grand Canyon. When I saw him at the RMRE reunion last September he told me things just never lined up for him to go, but he'd get there eventually.
I like to think that now he maybe will.
Rest in Peace Doc, hope to see you and Joy on the river again.