The Dirt Bag Paddlers Wisconsin Chapter is hosting a raft and kayak surf and race competition, and a huge barn party with DJ Pocket Fuzz, raft rastlin’, and free camping, on the Piers Gorge section of the Menominee River near Niagra, WI the last weekend of July. In honor of one of our close buddies who left us way too early, we call this giant Dirtbaggin’ party “Frank Fest.” This is the second year we’ve hosted it. We will be releasing more info to come on prizes, sponsors etc on our Facebook Page (in the Events section). We invite dirtbags from all over to come enjoy our Class IV classic, and if we get lucky we can show off some of the many other local treats to our guests and friends, depending on weather and levels.
But this isn’t why I’m writing today. This article is to tell you a bit about the man behind the party, Mr. Frank Sade.
Frank passed away suddenly and tragically in November 2013. He had just returned home to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan from an epic high water Gauley Season in West Virginia. He had been guiding with ACE, where he had become friends with another rookie, Kelly Gladen (who has been a friend of ours and another DBP Admin since that time). While in West By God Frank had camped along the cliffs of Summersville Lake, slinging up his hammock right on the edge, enjoying the beauty and freedom of no rent and epic vistas. When he returned home, used to the good life out East, he decided to go to the scenic shores of Lake Superior near Munising, MI and do some outlaw camping with a friend. It was cold, and the boys were in wet suits trying to stay warm in the 30 degree temps overnight. When the fire died, Frank got up to fetch wood. For some reason he didn’t have himself tethered like he did in West Virginia, and he slipped off the high cliff. He passed away from his injuries. He is sorely missed.
Frank was the most dirtbag paddler I’ve ever met. He had come out to Gauley Fest with the WIsco DBP crew, as one of our original Admins and best friends. The first day we ran with an experienced friend in his boat, and Wallaced in Iron Ring running around 7500 cfs. Our buddy Amy Van Eerden, another Admin, swam (her first ever major whitewater swim!) through on Frank’s shoulders, earning her the sobriquet “Backpack Amy.” I’ll never forget the next day, when we borrowed that raft to run down the Upper. Frank wanted to captain, only having seen the river once the day before. He cleaned it. Day Three we did a late day run on the Lower, pushing about 6500 cfs, when again we Wallaced, this time into the teeth of a very angry Heaven’s Gates. Frank got stuck in an undercut, and came through a changed man. The look on his face, coming so close to death, is seared in my mind.
Frank always lived life full tilt boogie. As soon as we got back to Wisconsin, he packed up and thumbed a ride back east. He couldn’t bear the thought of missing out on the epic levels. He got dropped off in the worst part of Milwaukee, determined to make his broke ass all the way to Summersville. The first person to give Frank a ride went way past where he was originally going, and as Frank got out to leave, this guy hands him a lighter. Wrapped around the lighter was a couple hundred dollars! Frank bought a bus ticket and some beer, hooked up a job at ACE, and the rest is history. Never was there a more dirtbag story than that!
Frank loved rafting. I mean he LOVED IT!! He loved thrilling his customers, and entertaining them. He would drive the beat up van through the parking lot at the Menominee River Outpost Hooting and hollering to fire up the waiting custies. He would get his crew doing funny chants, and get the whole bus yelling on the way to and from the put in. He would run Piers Gorge backwards, or surf on the Island Wave, and he constantly went for broke in the terrific surf of Terminal Rapid. Many were the times he got boats stuck in the hole, to the chagrin of his boss. Once he was tumbled so hard swimming that his trunks were Wallaced clean off. He showed up at the door of local dirtbag Nate Alwine sans trunks after hiking the twenty minutes up out of the Gorge.
Frank also loved the nightlife of being a true dirtbag rubber pusher. He’d play a small hand drum with Jason Flannery (one of the three Original Dirtbag Admins) on guitar, going around the campfires to entertain and party with any willing customers at our private campground. Those two would always find some female companions for the weekend. If nothing was doing, they would sit on the front porch of the raft company bar, Rapids Resort, and play till two in the morning. Then Frank would beat on the drum set set up on the porch of the guide shack until one of us would finally tell him to go to bed already! He was a terrific looking guy too, with an easy smile, deep tan, rippling muscles and physique of a wrestler (which he had been in college), and the wild hippy hair of a dirtbag paddler. The women all listed for him. Every man thought of him as a friend.
Life was easy for Frank Sade. He struggled through his rough spots, the poverty of Dirtbagging, the down days when things just didn’t feel right, but in the end he was a beacon of light that fired up everyone around him. He was the life of the party. He had great schemes and the balls to pull them off. In just his second year of boating he had graduated to working the New River, and had a gig lined up in Colorado for the following year after spending the Spring with us at Kosir’s. That was the plan. He seemed to be unstoppable, with endless energy, easy strength, quick effortless affability. Frank was the shit. Writing this, and looking back, I realize how much we all miss him…
And so we fire up Frank Fest in his memory. Frank would have loved it, partying down at the Barn where he lived most of the summer, paddling the Gorge that was his solace. The surfing especially, deep down in his favorite hole on his favorite river. Yeah, he probably would have cleaned up the competition in raft rastlin’ too.
Please come up to the Menom and help us honor our friend. It would be a pleasure to host you!
MISS YOU, BUD.
“Live Life Like Frank”