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Memorial for Craig Hightower
by Kevin Whilden 9/1/2007


This month, the Bay Area kayak community sadly mourns the loss of Craig Hightower, who touched so many people with his generosity and caring, and his zeal for fun on the water. Craig was one of those people who lived his life to the fullest capacity. Even though that sounds cliché, with Craig it was more true than anyone I have met, as he shared his happiness with others in way that was highly contagious. Whether it was on the river, the ocean, the surf, or in the campground , Craig had a huge smile on his face and always had the capacity to make sure others were having an equally good time. I met Craig this past June, when he offered to take me down the Chili Bar run on the South Fork of the American. I had just moved to California, and he replied to my post on the GCP email list. He showed me the lines and we had a great time together, and at the end he invited me to join him on his birthday weekend on the same river in July. The story of that weekend can perhaps best illustrate who he was.

When I arrived at Camp Lotus, I learned that all of my parking and camping expenses were paid. Craig then arrived with his van filled with the most deluxe camping amenities. Out came eight reclining camping lounge chairs, an icy keg of his favorite microbrew, several coolers of food including his favorite tri-tip steaks, lanterns and many smaller items to make the camp more comfortable for everyone. He was still smiling, even though he spent most of the afternoon stuck in heavy traffic rather than surfing Barking Dog which was his favorite surf spot on the planet. That night, as conversation revolved around past and future kayak trips, I met many of his old friends and some people as newly acquainted as myself. Everyone was made to feel welcome when he was around.

The next day, we started with Craig artfully handling the shuttle logistics for a dozen kayakers with different needs and skill levels. We started with the class II Coloma to Greenwood run, where Craig organized the instructional aspects for the newly fledged kayakers in the group. He loved to get people involved in kayaking, and had also started the ClassTwoKayakers@Yahoo.com group where he regularly organized kayaking trips for beginners and kept up a steady stream of tips and tricks for newbies. This list is still active, so please consider joining if you haven't already.

At the end of C-to-G, the more experienced paddlers continued on down the Gorge run. Craig had more ear to ear smiles while surfing waves, running Satan's Cesspool multiple times, and punching as many holes as possible. However, one more aspect of his nature came out in a dramatic way. He was a master of being prepared for any situation, which is no surprise as his regular job was the program manager in charge of keeping the FAA's flight computers and radars working at all times. When we encountered another pair of kayakers below Hospital Bar, one of them had a large cut on his forehead from an encounter with the big rock on river left. Craig pulled out his first aid kit, so the guy could be patched up. I usually only carry my first aid kit on harder rivers, as do most of us, but Craig knew better. The next day, Craig again handled the complex shuttle logistics with aplomb and helped everyone else pack up camp before packing his own gear. The run down Chili Bar was beautiful and fun as always, and we played and surfed at every opportunity. However Troublemaker was the highlight, while the group ran it multiple times. Craig developed the signature "Hightower Line", which is to run the rapid backwards and occasionally upside down. I'm not sure if that was an intentional decision, but from the way he was smiling at the end, you could not tell the difference. His friends will make the Hightower Line a tradition on future trips.

I'm sorry that I won't get to plan more kayak trips with Craig, or develop our Dutch oven cooking skills as we had planned. I'm really going to miss him, as will so many of his friends and loved ones. However he was someone who made the most of the time given to him, and he has hopefully inspired many others to do the same. Rest in peace, Brother. There is a tribute page for Craig at http://www.regathon.com/craighightower. Please share your thoughts of him if you haven't already.




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