You could say Jeff Gellert is an OARS super fan. Over a span of nearly three decades, he’s been on a total of 53 river trips with us, including Grand Canyon, the Yampa and countless trips on Idaho’s Salmon River.
His passion for whitewater started in the early ’70s when he’d spend every moment of free time kayaking the rivers out East.
“I went to college in Pittsburgh, and had access to all these wonderful West Virginia rivers,” shares Gellert. “I was out on the rivers every weekend, April through November.”
“We were there the first couple of years that they ran the Gauley, and the New River,” Gellert recounts. “But the ones I really liked were the steep drop, Middle Fork of the Tygart, and some really obscure ones that only when the water was right could you run.”
Later, as Gellert recounts, he married, migrated West and was working to build his family and career, which put his whitewater days on the back burner. When his young family was ready, though, he turned to guided river trips.
“Usually, I did things on my own, but our kids were about four and six when we went on the Lower Salmon,” according to Gellert. “It would have been the early ’90s, when Johnny [the youngest] was out of diapers, that we went on that first dory trip. It just caught my imagination.”
That first family dory trip eventually led to a lifelong passion for dories. We caught up with Gellert recently to find out more about how he fell in love with dories and some of his favorite trip memories over the years.
Meet Jeff Gellert, One of Our Best Guests of All Time…
What do you remember most about your early trips with Northwest Dories, and then OARS?
I only did one trip when it was Northwest Dories [which was acquired by OARS in 1991], then we moved over to Utah and other places where we could do a river and national park hiking kind of vacation.
What drew you to those kinds of experiences?
I would say it was having one-on-one time with our kids without the electronic interferences. Yeah, and they had fun. Also, it was easy. At that point, I was building a company and stressed out. It was nice on vacation to not be the leader for a while – to just show up and someone else has to worry about where to camp.
You said dories caught your imagination and later you signed up for dory school with OARS. Tell me about that.
It was quite a few years later because we did a bunch of outfitted rafting trips like Yampa, Gates of Lodore, San Juan River, and others as part of our family vacations. Later, when I went to dory school I thought, “Well, this is sort of an interesting skill,” and then I had my midlife crisis. Instead of the red Ferrari, I got the red dory.
What is it about the dories that hooked you?
When I was working, it was the best release for me as a vacation, because A) no cell phone, and B) when you get your hands on the oars, you have to be in the here and now, focused on the rapid ahead of you, and not thinking about all the other extraneous stuff. So, it’s really my mental health break. Other people go on their silent retreat or whatever. For me, this is kind of like my retreat, where I can meditate and be in my boat.
Of all the trips you’ve taken with OARS throughout the West, is there one that sticks out in your mind?
They’ve all been good, but of course, taking my own dory down the Grand Canyon was a big deal. It’s sort of the epitome of what I wanted to do. It’s a trip of a lifetime, and the dory guides have done a really good job at keeping the Martin Litton ethic going. I actually rowed with Marin Litton on the Main Salmon once…
Do you have any good Martin Litton stories from that trip?
He was doing a Middle Fork followed by the Main, and I think he was 89 at the time. Of course, he wanted to row, so Curt put him in an aluminum boat and off he went with just him and one guide in the boat.
Yeah, so at that age he was flying from Palo Alto up to Salmon in his airplane. He stopped to refuel in Winnemucca, Nevada. Refueled, and then in his preflight check, one of the magnetos on the plane was shot, so he had to ground the plane. He said, “Jeff, I wasn’t going to miss a river trip, so I went across the street and bought a used Mitsubishi.” Then he looks at my son, who is about 19 years old at the time. “Josh, I’ll give you a really good deal on a used Mitsubishi,” and he was trying to sell it to Josh the whole way down the river. What a character.
It was Martin’s tradition to name his dories. Does your dory have a name?
It’s the Llatikcuf. As I said, my dory was my midlife crisis. There are many stories about the origin of it, depending on who asks. We have one that talks about a Norse heritage. We have an endangered grassland story. We have a Scottish story. My wife can go on for 10 minutes with BS about it. It’s all bologna. But that’s part of the gift of being on the river, isn’t it? How do you know when a boatman’s lying? His lips are moving.
Why do you think people should go on river trips?
I think it’s a great opportunity to get in touch with yourself. You can make of it whatever you personally want, so that could be working on yourself, your family relations, or on relations with other people. It just gives you the time to contemplate in a beautiful setting, a panorama that unfolds in front of you every day. That’s pretty incredible.
Photos: Jeff Gellert with his dory on the Salmon River in 2020; Jeff on a Grand Canyon dories trip; Jeff Gellert and Martin Litton on a OARS Dories trip in 2005 – Michael Powers