The following is an open letter written to Darren Albright from Steve Stratman, a friend and paddling partner of Chris's from Minnesota. Darren and others in his group risked their lives repeatedly trying to save Chris on that fateful day, but there was nothing he or anyone could have done.

Dear Darren,

I want to thank you for risking your life to try to save my dear friend Chris, I know that you guys did everything you could. Renate, Chris' mom; Art, Chris' dad; and Craig, Chris' younger brother (23 years old); all appreciate what you guys did. I know because I was with them yesterday, (Sunday, Dec. 3rd) and they said so. We all loved Chris so much, it was obvious why, because I think even in the short time that he was in Washington was time enough for you good folks to see what kind of guy he was. Tell your buddies thanks too.

I was with him a week ago, I flew out for Thanksgiving weekend to see his new world, the place he dreamed about living for so long. He fell in love with Washington years ago, when he came out there by himself, working in a restaurant for about 6 months. We laughed about this because he really hated working at that place and, well could you picture him waiting tables?

After that he got his BFA in music, first at a college in Massachussetts and then finishing at the University of Minnesota with a teaching certificate. He was a first class athelete and scholar and treated every pursuit with that zeal and reverence. Then it seemed to be only a heartbeat before he split wide-eyed for the beauty and challenge of the Pacific Northwest and the rivers there.

Chris was among the paddlers' elite here on some of the world's toughest creeks, and all the boaters here that knew him loved him too, first of all for what a sweet guy he was, but also respected him for his conservative and well thought-out lines, he wasn't an adrenaline junkie and knew well the risks. He took great care of me when we paddled together and I relied on him so much, not just for my safety, but for appreciating the beauty and true adventure of our time together.

Most importantly, however, and this dwarfs the importance of any boat or river on the face of the earth: in the eyes of his parents and brother and family and friends, and in the eyes of god, he was a treasure unbearably hard to lose.

Once, on a fairly remote and seldomly paddled river on the North Shore of Lake Superior called the Encampment River, Chris and I had just made a truely arduous portage around an unrunnable drop. We had to climb down 100 feet or so through thick forest into a chasm and then seal drop into a pool. This was just the thing we loved to do together. Seeing how I'm getting to be what some would consider an old guy, we would routinely leave the hair boating for somebody else and dive into an arguably worse portage. We were muddy and bedraggled when we got to the bottom, steadying our boats on the lip of a rock maybe 3 feet above the pool.

Before I got in my boat I looked down and saw a curious thing. A fortune from a fortune cookie. Now, I've heard somewhere that fortune cookies really don't have their origins in China at all, and (just a hunch) I'm fairly sure a gnarled chasm on the Encampment river is even farther from the source. But until yesterday, I never fully understood the meaning of the inscription written on the tiny piece of paper. It said:

"Be Prepared, you are about to have a friend for life."

I always wondered about why the author used the word "prepared." And now I know. We take our chances with who and what we commit ourselves to in life, and we have as much impact on others as they do on us. And as long as we make good-spirited decisions in life, we can hope to have our hearts free of regret no matter if we succeed or fail.

Thanks again Darren, and I hope your heart is free of regret. I believe Chris' is.

Hope to meet you someday,
Steve Stratman