I met Rick Bigbee, like many people met Rick Bigbee, in Long Creek, South Carolina. He was the head guide for Wildwater, Ltd on the Chattooga River, I was a new guide, intimidated and more than a tiny bit scared. Rick made me feel like I belonged. In the early days, he was my daily cheerleader. He always believed I could do it. He told me stories about the other guides when they were new. He’d been there a long time, he knew we all started out the same.
The White House, Wildwater, Ltd. Long Creek, South Carolina
After my first season was over in October 1991, most of the guides, who didn’t have their own houses, left. They left to go back to university or to become ski instructors but Rick and I stayed at Wildwater. We were roommates in a colossal house (the ‘White House), with no money or heating and not much to do. Rick and I ran together. Or rather Rick and I ran a loop and he’d wait for me at the end. We drove buses. We cleared the gravel driveways. We, very occasionally and when we could scrape the gas money together, would drive 45 minutes to Clemson to see a movie, listening to Dwight Yokum all the way there and back. To this day when I hear “Guitars, Cadillacs, Hillbilly music”, I think of Rick.
There was no internet or phone, so mostly we just sat around. I was having a personal trauma at the time, my boyfriend had just dumped me. Rick listened to me lament over and over and on and on. If he found me annoying, he never said so. We developed a plethora of personal jokes … ones that he and I would only ever think were funny. Those kind of jokes that loose all their humor in the telling. To this day I can’t hear the phrase ‘eat shit’ without laughing until I cry. And now, this is probably best kept to myself, I have lost my friend to share it with.
After the winter of 91-92, when the new rafting season was upon us, there was hardly anyone around to guide those rafts. I had just been ‘checked out’ to guide on Section IV – the more difficult section of the river – the season before, when the water was low. It was spring and the water was no longer low. I was worried. Rick was in charge. He and the other seasoned guides would put me in the middle of the raft train to make sure I was covered. Rick kept telling me I could do it. Never once did he doubt me, never once did he say sit this one out. He just kept telling me it was fine. And it was, it was fine.
I am pretty sure for all of us who worked there, that the Chattooga will always have special place in our souls. There is something about that place that stays with you. I, in part, grew up there and Rick was a big part of that. I have no pictures of Rick, but I still have my first Wildwater green life jacket. It would no longer float even a feather but I can’t let it go. I never met his wife, Allison, she came along after I had moved away, but I know he met her on the Chattooga.
One day about 4 years ago I got an Facebook request for Rick to be my friend, where we got to say hello again. I had forgotten some of the mutual stories we shared, I had forgotten some of the times that he stood up for me. I had forgotten some of the little things. But I hadn’t forgotten Rick. He was one of the best of men. He was one of the kindest of men. He was too young to go. I am incredibly sad, but I know, like that wonderful river in South Carolina, Rick will always have a special place in my soul.