THROWBACK THURSDAY: Spotlight on an Original Dirtbag – FRANK SADE.

{EDITOR: This month we will bring you the glorious story of our amazing friend, the Ultimate Dirtbag who left us waaaay too soon, Frank Sade. Getting together with friends for the recent Frank Fest, held on the 1st of August to honor our bro and his favorite river on Earth, the Menominee River in Class IV Piers Gorge, we couldn’t help but think, “What better time than now is there to organize a collection of stories from this young giant’s life from various friends?” We are stoked on the results of this labor of love for a friend we all think about and miss… Cheers to Frank!}

Chapter One ~ FRANK & HELL HOLE. by Nate Alwine

This is the time of year when summer starts to fade into fall, when hints of yellow appear in the aspen trees, and when we are reminded that no season lasts forever. Like seasons, people weave in and out of our lives creating memories that last even when our time with them does not.   A familiar scent wafting on the breeze or the sun shining just right brings a memory from out of nowhere and transports us back to a moment in time.  Times like these often remind me of Frank.  He was a young man who had a knack for the moment.  He seemed to profoundly touch everyone he met.  What made Frank so special?  It is a question I’ve thought about often and I think it is a question best answered with stories.  He was loyal to the point that he once walked five miles in thirty below zero weather wearing nothing but a thin afghan jacket and crocks just to watch me and a friend train for a strongman competition.  He was gentle and patient with my daughter.  When he ran trips for me he’d let her co-guide the upper section of the river.  He took the time to teach her and make her feel important and their trips down the river and to Blueberry Island became almost legendary to her.

Frank was also fun.  His thirst for adventure was as hard to quench as it was contagious.  One July the river had become ridiculously high.  Sixteen foot rafts were being eaten alive in Hell Hole and according to Frank, “it was perfect for a funyak.”  He had stopped by my house in hopes of borrowing a funyak, a paddle, and a shuttle for his adventure.  The recent torrent of rain had highlighted several leaks in my roof that required my attention, but I figured a shuttle would make for a good break.  I dropped Frank off upstream of the gorge and returned home to continue working my leaky roof.

Frank watched the slopes on each side of the river grow as he moved downstream.  He approached the lip of Misicot Falls and could see mist rising from below. A huge hump of water rolled over Volkswagen Rock and poured into the maul that was Hell Hole.  He knew his funyak had little hope of punching through it, but he didn’t care. He knew no other way than the biggest way. Excitement grew from dozens of spectators on shore as his boat neared the falls.  Children sprinted down the trail hoping to make the overlook in time.   A few more strokes and the funyak slid into the smooth tongue of water flowing over the falls.  He paddled straight at Volkswagen not wanting to miss his shot at glory.  A furious volley of paddling propelled him over the hump and into the abyss.  At first it was a sweet soft fall into the foamy water.  Then the funyak twisted and contorted as Hell Hole swallowed its prize.  Frank was ripped from the boat and felt his paddled pulled in one direction while something more important was being pulled in another.  An uncharacteristic moment of panic overcame Frank as he realized what was about to happen.  He abandoned the paddle and reached with both hands in a desperate attempt to catch his shorts before they were pulled completely off his body. His fingers agonizingly grazed their waistband as they slipped over his big toe and were lost forever.

Hell Hole spit him back to the surface content with its prize.  This unexpected turn of events left Frank with a new problem.  As he swam the remaining rapids he was acutely aware of the fact that nearly every Dickinson County resident had decided to have a picnic along the shore today.  His bare bottom smacked against a rock and spun him 360 degrees as he hurtled over second pier while contemplating his naked climb out of the river and into some startled picnicker’s lunch.  Second Sister swallowed him and he spent several seconds pirouetting beneath the surface as he frantically considered his alternatives.  Fate interceded on his behalf as the river flung him into an eddy at the feet of a startled family.  Frank tried to casually stay in waist deep water as he nonchalantly asked how their day was, and if the kids were having fun, and if they might possibly be able to part with one of the towels they’d brought ….

As I attended to the leaky roof I began to wonder if the heat might be causing me to hallucinate.  I looked toward the gorge to see what appeared to be Frank coming down the road barefoot and attempting to hold two small towels strategically in line with his steps.  As he drew closer it became apparent with the large grin on his face that this surely was not a hallucination.  I climbed down from the roof and got him a pair of shorts and asked “How was it?” His response, “It was awesome!  Let’s go take another run…Do you have any more paddles?”

Frank was the eternal optimist.  He always found the bright side of any situation and sincerely cared about how his actions affected others.  He wanted to make you laugh, and feel good, and was quick to apologize if he did otherwise.  I have rarely known anyone as capable of getting along with so many personalities as he was.  He was quick to forgive, to put his ego aside, and to make things good.  These were the things that made Frank special.  His ability to love everyone meant that his impact on the world around him was larger than life.  When I think about Frank, I realize of all the legacies he left behind—perhaps the greatest were lessons in how we should treat one another and a reminder to always find the fun in every situation.

Be safe out there, and look out for one another.

 Chapter Two ~ REAL MEANING OF LOVE. by Mackenzie Bryant

Frank Sade was a different kind of man. Made you feel like you were his best friend even if you just met.  He gave you the confidence that you could accomplish anything. He was my biggest supporter and motivator when it came to the river.

Frank was the goofiest person I knew, always trying to make you smile and laugh. He was no doubt an entertainer. He would hang upside down from the raft yelling ridiculous things to make the customers laugh. Every customer loved Frank; he left such a mark on Kosir’s. Every Saturday night he would walk through our campground along the Peshtigo River with his hand drum, paying a visit to all the customers. He would sit at the top of Cellphone Rock (the highest part of the Kosir campground) and play until the sun came up. I miss falling asleep to the faint sounds of drums coming from across the forest.

Guide call was at 7am, and we couldn’t find Frank one morning. Not in his tent, not in the guide shack, not asleep in the bus… The crew was getting ready to leave for the forty-five minute drive up to the Menominee Outpost, and our boss Dale (who loved Frank like a brother, they were the same age) gave some honks, cursing under his breath. “Where the hell is Frank?!?” All of a sudden here he comes, long locks all over the place, a smile on his face and gear in hand. Leave it to Frank to start our morning off with a laugh!

Frank lived life to the fullest. He was a wild, free spirited, loving person who truly made the best out of every day. He was a phenomenal raft guide, and loved the Menominee River more than anything. He loved taking his customers to “Blueberry Island”, which he named, and now everyone calls it by that name. The island is in the middle of the river, and the river is the state line between Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. They would pick wild blueberries, blackberries, and if they were lucky a few wild strawberries. He loved striking a pose when he would drop in Piers Gorge.

His legacy will forever live on with us his friends- from his favorite strawberitas (which we toasted him with at Frank Fest, and ran the Upper Gauley last year with a gallon flask full, “Pass Frank over here…”), to his “have to have” morning chocolate malts at Mary’s Place in Pembine.  Every time the sun shines in the Gorge I know it’s Frank looking down on us, smiling.

Thank you for making me fall in love with this crazy whitewater dirtbag life, and for being the best of friends. The heartache will never pass from losing you Frank, but your smile, and the smiles you brought to others, will forever live on. So I will hold up a Strawberita to you Frank. CHEERS!


Frank Sade… Where to start?   Frank was the man, a class act: Hilarious, caring, friendly, and a gifted river guide.  I became the best of friends with him over the course of one of the best summer’s of my life at Kosir’s Rapid Rafts in Wisconsin, and the rest is history.

I’ll start with my first experience meeting Frank.  It was Memorial Day weekend of my rookie season and we were all headed up north to Michigan to run the Menominee River for the first trips of the season.  The Gorge was cranking at 4200 cfs and it would be my first run down.  Frank rolled up on a beat up pink scooter with a sparkly princess sticker (his cage fighting name) on the back fender, wearing his signature river shoes: pink crocs.  We all got ready for the river and all I could notice was how ripped Frank was; he carried himself like a fighter, and not knowing him at all, I couldn’t help but think he was a little intimidating.  A seasoned guide by the name of Kim would be captaining the boat down the raging Class IV gorge with a few customers, Frank, another guide Nick Meier, and myself along for the first trip of the year.  Kim plugged us into a nasty hydraulic behind Volkswagen Rock (the infamous Hell Hole) and managed to swim everyone including herself, except Nick and Frank. I swam back to the raft and climbed in to see Kim swimming in front of the raft. Before long Frank had her by the life jacket but since he was wearing all custy gear Kim didn’t realize she was in the clear, and yelled at Frank to let her go so she could swim it out. We all laughed a lot about that trip later and Frank started calling Kim by the nickname “Kamikaze” for her entertaining and wild runs down Piers Gorge.

The summer wore on, and Frank and I became buds of the best kind. We would go down to Kosir’s Peshtigo campground to party and play music together.  Frank was awesome on the bongos and stole a belt from Chicago Mike so he could wear it like a sling. I played guitar and we would go walk through the campground at night looking for guests to party with, or whoever wanted to give us booze and put up with a couple of buzzed up amateur musicians looking for a good time.  This became known between Frank and I as “going on tour”. If nobody wanted to hear us we would just play on the front porch of the bar Rapids Resort till closing time, then hang for a few drinks afterwards with Kelly, the owner.

Frank loved smoking weed but wow did he hate beer.  He got us all drinking Strawberita with him, and I still drink it in memory of him. Ole Frank already had plenty of energy to begin with so you know hanging with Frank was gonna be a rowdy night.

Mid summer arrived and the guides took a multi-day swiftwater rescue class, camping out at Quiver Island on the Menominee downstream of our commercial run.  The island was surrounded by Class II whitewater and was a great place for the class. On the first day of in the water training our instructor had us practicing the swiftwater entry (more like the modified belly flop) into the current from some rocks on shore.  Our instructor Sheryl was confident it was deep enough, so Frank went first. He dove into the river in perfect form, but when he came up swimming something was wrong and he was in obvious pain.  When he dove in he had smashed his balls on a submerged rock! He was furious with Sheryl but it was pretty funny for the rest of us.

The rest of the day was spent practicing rescues and ropework.  Night came and the dirtbags started partying. Frank and I were the last ones up and decided that a moonlight ducky run down both sides of the island would be a great idea. So in our drunken effort to bring some alcohol to drink Frank decided to dump out Chicago Mike’s last nalgene of fresh water and replace it with (to Mike’s hatred in the morning) a few cans of what else… Strawberita.  The night run was a blast and the start of more of our dirtbagging adventures.

One day Frank and I were sitting around the Menominee Outpost (The Barn) talking about running a section of the Sturgeon River, The Canyon, not far away from our commercial run. We decided that before our afternoon trip the next day, we would go check it out. However, neither of us possessed a working vehicle and we weren’t going to make a shuttle happen with his scooter. We decided that the only viable option with fuel in it was the company Suburban. We knew our boss Dale would not grant permission so we didn’t bother asking! We got up, blew up a Mini-me, strapped it on the ‘burban and took off.

Frank kinda knew where we were going, being from the area, and got us to what we thought was the takeout. The only way up river was on a really shitty looking trail up a steep hill. We decided that it was a good idea to go for it and 4-wheel up the trail. It got so steep and narrow between rocks at one point we had to turn around and start hiking the boat through brush and eventually parts of the riverbed to get where we wanted to put in.

We eventually started running the section and got to a good rapid and ran it clean. We eddied out and Frank wanted to run it again and try a different line. Well, we flipped the boat and had such a good time trying Frank’s line that we ran it again and flipped again. We took out and headed back to work our pm trip… Dale was not amused that we stole the truck to do a paddling mission, to say the least.


I met Frank on Oct 13, 2013.  I was looking to ride along on a trip that Sunday on the Lower New River. This new guy was sitting there looking to go along as well.  My river manager looked at me and asked if I wanted to R2 with him, and I quickly said yes. I’d never seen the guy before, and I figured he was a guide from some time ago. We loaded up on the bus and started to have a conversation on where he was from and how he was looking to come up and guide on the river next season. He had paddled with us on the Lower New a few days before, and wanted to get some more time on it. We were both rookies looking to make a mark and get in on some of the best whitewater in the world.

I learned quickly at the first Class IV rapid, Upper Railroad, what the word Wallace meant.  We hit the hole sideways and quickly flipped.  I swam about half of it, while Frank had jumped up onto the raft. I was hoping he was alright, and I could tell right away he was excited about the experience. We had a good day out there doing some small surfing and enjoying each other’s company. He told me he was up here for Gauley Fest and his near death experience at Heaven’s Gates around 7k Cfs on the Lower Gauley.  He had swam and went into the undercut just after the rapid. After the day we celebrated with a few beers and went on our way.

I saw him a few days after, and inquired where he was camping. He had his hammock strung up on the edge of the cliff along Summersville Lake, a few minutes walk to the put-in of the Upper Gauley. Frank asked if I could go to town and get him a few food items. I know how it is, starting out with low money, so I told him I would get what he needed. He was very thankful and gave me a cool raft sticker to put on my paddle. I got to hang with him one more time on the Lower New River on Bridge Day.  He seemed really happy to be out here. I could tell he loved whitewater.  I was really excited for him to be out here for the next season.

One month later, after the season was over, I was scrolling thru my Facebook feed, and I stumbled across a group called The Dirt Bag Paddlers. Their cover photo was a pic of a guy that looked familiar. The man had passed away the day before. It was Frank. When I saw the name and face, I was shocked and had to do a double take. Very saddened by the news, I contacted DBP and let them know of the video I had made from the trip with Frank. They were so thankful to learn that Frank had been having fun and making friends, and enjoyed seeing him on film. We all became great friends through this special man, and I’ve been a DBP Admin for West Virginia ever since.

Frank Sade is truly missed and every year we all gather for Gauley Fest, the Dirtbag Admins from all over the country, and we celebrate his life as we run the Upper. Last year Chicago Mike, Flan, Nick Meier and I rafted together, and hoisted a gallon flask of Strawberitas early and often. We’d toss him a cheers, saying “Pass the Frank.” He was with us that day. He is watching over us every day