Joe Dryden

Joe Dryden August 22nd 1954 - June 14th 2015

Joe is counted among a very small group of people that changed my life and consciousness. Those transitional years between post college and settled-down, bill-paying adulthood are so exposed. You don't know what you are, what you are going to do and how you are going to get anywhere. I guess this is the norm now, but back then, I was just caught in the orbital uncertainty zone between a real job and the womb of college. This is when I met Joe.

Right out of college I had hit the lowly, but now nostalgic, job of putting in a fence for some sheep.  I did that for a few months before taking on a job I had done in college in WI--working in a paddle shop. I turned my back on my Forestry degree. I felt crappy about that but was thrilled to develop my paddling skills and be a "cool guy boater" in Portland OR. Funny how little forks in the road change everything.

The current Eddyline and Bell Canoe rep came to do the paddle festival for the shop and told me he was "over" the boat rep thing now that he had Mountain Hardware as a line and I should look into it because of my relationship with Bell Canoes back east. I met Joe (general manager of Eddyline) the same weekend as this rep must have said something to him about me. Years down the road, the rep that introduced me to Joe took his life over the loss of his marriage.  In Joe's last written words to me, quoting Kerouac, "so it goes"...

When Joe met me on that demo beach for the first time he said, "I have heard good things about you but I thought you were going to be better looking". Hilarious. He said that their current rep was moving on to soft goods and they had decided to expand their rep turf to all of the west. In retrospect, they needed a super low-overhead post college kid who would be willing to not make much income for years. It was all commission base but this Joe guy had a such kindness in his eyes and I really could tell he was smart as hell. He kind of floated on a different level at that and all demo days we later worked together. Light and humorous. Intelligent to the customers in a way I had not heard before. He cared deeply for Eddyline but I also came to know he did it all for his family and that this was his first "real job". He had that catholic thing of self sacrifice. He had no religious ties but as much education about various religions than anyone I had met. He had lived on Polynesian islands (can't remember which now), had communed in the hills of Santa Cruz in a geodesic dome village and now was doing his family thing for two step children and his wife. He loved the children dearly and seemed to have a tight relationship with his wife who was beautiful and bohemian like Joe.

Joe later sent me pics of these domes he lived in on the commune. 

After a couple months of back and forth, Eddyline contracted me to be their Western sales rep. I was a Minnesota boy who moved to the West to see it all and now I had the perfect gig to drive and paddle all over the country. That could be a lonely world and job to figure out by yourself but I had Joe at the other end of my first cell phone line. Man, did we have a lot of talks as I drove and met dealers.

He mentored, protected and inspired me. I would visit a store and then call him with a report which would turn into a conversation about personalities and partnerships. I would breakdown trucking and he would call every day to see how I was limping along. Sick on the road and sleeping in the back of a truck in 20 degree weather was scary for me one trip. Joe was on the other end checking in on me. Didn’t even tell my parents my predicament on this early rep trip. Joe had my back.

In retrospect, Eddyline’s product was really just developing (and failing often) but I felt like I was on top of the world because I was part of Joe’s team with the holy mission of selling boats differently through small fast freight on special orders vs load 'em up like the other guys did.

We were the family guys. I was working under a guy that had the vision of where to go but the grace to glide over it all. Come to think of it, he always had the look of an eagle or owl to me. A slightly downturned and sharp nose, tight facial har and piercing eyes. Wise.

I would drive to Eddyline through the night often and end up at Joe's house. He would make meals that were so rich and developed but with just basic ingredients. Slow simmered and spiced. A bowl and some bread. I cook like a bachelor. Expensive meat and after thought sides. Joe created zest out of nothing and effortlessly slow cooked nourishing potions to off set the crap road food I was eating back then. We might take a respectful puff of a pipe afterward and go to sleep early. Because at 4am, Joe was up in a chair reading. Reading a lot. Smart content. You couldn’t find good reading all over the internet then. So he procured it and voraciously devoured it daily . He had subscriptions to The Economist, The Nation, New Yorker, Nat Geo, newspapers and more. I came to love sitting there and reading for an hour or two before going to the Eddyline factory at 6:30am to get my trailer loaded.

I look back at those evenings and mornings with Joe in his element so fondly. He had a house deep in the woods amongst the big Douglas Firs. It was peaceful but somewhat dark and sometimes damp. A bit like Joe himself. He could get down on things easily and I think mostly it was that he had been working an office job for 10 years. In his mind, working the grind just wasn’t natural. But, we’d all find out that Joe’s mind and efforts needed to be occupied and he did find meaning by helping people. I was certainly one he felt the need to watch over and help.

My business grew and expanded. My confidence blossomed under various experiences and Joe’s tutelage. I had adopted the values he expounded. Relationships that could last and were beyond just a quick sale. Joe was always curious about what made others tick in their business. That curiosity would allow for conversations with dealers that were beyond “Ship when? How many?”. He was highly opinionated and had visions for how a company should solve challenges. He truly believed in operating tight and light and solved the crux of the kayak industry: shipping. Joe realized that developing a crate box for kayaks would allow Eddyline to offer “just in time delivery”. These were the days of full truckloads from manufacturers with 180 days to pay. We were selling “why would you do that? Order what you need and when you need it”. It was sometimes a hard message to pitch in a time of booming kayak sales before the box stores really moved in with large consequences. Now, retailers are way more careful about their inventories. I’ve watched so many high end kayak brands go away. Joe’s approach to supply is probably one of the most important characteristics that helped Eddyline survive the recession and be in a position to grow when the economy rebounded.

Joe was part of so much of my formation. Relationships came and went but Joe was a constant. Poverty to Possessions (house, trucks, trailers, employees). He saw me become the headstrong teenager version of a rep who thought his way was the best way. But, like a loving parent, he let me go through that stage and only occasionally actually vocalized the idea that I may be drinking my own overly self-sweetened Kool Aid. But, I wanted to impress him and earn his respect. And being a young prancing Elk was not the way to do it. So, I had a thirst for a bit of humility after talking to him every time.

In my late 20s and early 30s, I reunited with a friend from MN who would become my partner and mother to 3 children. Joe was so very supportive. His own children, were beginning to leave the nest. I think he saw my new family and the innocence of these new lives as a place to focus his peaceful thoughts. The paddlesports industry wasn’t a fresh garden any longer and his thoughts started to drift toward the life that he imagined in Mexico at his newly purchased Adobe House in Alamos, an internationally acclaimed historical town.

On one of the visits down there to visit his new home, he contracted Dengue Fever and came back to Eddyline and quickly was very sick. He was hospitalized and treated but it took a long time to mend. Apparently, once stricken with Dengue, a second infection can be fatal. I knew this sickness really scared him and moreover, it gave him some further perspective that the 9-5 office life wasn’t for him any longer. His time in the kayak biz had run its course. He left Eddyline.

I think he felt that the grind of earning and paying and earning and paying that we all so often endure here in the states just wasn’t for him. He saw that he could live in Mexico on the cheap. He had taken full ownership of this Adobe home in the split of his marriage. Now, he had no state-side residence. His plan was to earn funds here in the states doing some trim work in the budding plant business in Southern Oregon with a friend and then take those funds and stretch them long and far living a more relaxed life in Mexico. He visited me some both in Bend and in WA (where I had a home on the Cowlitz River). Sometimes his spirit was free. Other times, he had a sour taste on every subject. With young children in my life, I couldn’t let his sometime pessimistic and cynical thoughts to dull the big lights in my life. I was earning and burning and Joe was milling and chilling. Sometimes, those two different arches didn’t cross. But there was a mutual respect and excitement for the fact that we were each fully committed to our course. Here were pics of his place that he sent me that painted the picture of what he had made for himself.

He made the choice of spending the squelching summers in Mexico to preserve funds (vs coming North). I stayed in decent contact with Joe via skype and email. There were times where we were in strong communication and then other times where my industrial pace of life and work just didn’t mesh with his ideals or perspective. I could feel that he was proud of what I was doing but also felt very removed from this type of world and lifestyle. I felt that reading all day and gardening a bit wasn’t all that Joe should be doing. He made some friends in Mexico and was a big help to his community during a natural disaster, but I know he longed for deeper companionship. The ex-patriots down there were friends to and with him and I later came to enjoy reading their perspective of Joe after his passing.

I think that Joe’s mind was somewhat idle down there though. Not that he didn't soak up information and conversation. Just too much intelligence and not enough “puzzles to solve”. I know he struggled with the puzzle of a potential mate. I think I can now understand his dilemma here. He enjoyed the intelligence of some of his friends there but I think he also felt that they lived in a different world of constraints and structures. He described some of the consumption up in the States and among the rich in Alamos and just couldn’t find his way to be comfortable with it other then a sampling here and there. He had other tight friends that were on his program and they had very tight bonds during this time.

He came to the states several times and was able to meet my kids. Yesterday, I was at one of the kid’s bouncy castle businesses here in Bend and was reminded of when I took Joe there. He got a kick out of the kid’s energy there but also was a complete fish out of water amongst the materialism here in Bend. And bemused by the fact there was an entire business and entry fee for kids to “play”. Did everything have to be monetized? He subtly showed the simplicity of a watermelon backyard party. One Watermelon and we were all laughing and smiling for a few hours in my backyard. 

I get his approach to finding freedom. He felt that all he had to do was to live frugally (in which he found nobility) and “ride it out” to social security and continue to live a simple life. That gave him all the freedom he would ever need. But as I review some of the living choices he made in pursuit of this freedom, it often seems that these restrictions in themselves were in some way imprisonments. The way he summered in Mexico was a challenge for him. Very little physical exercise and a home that he stayed in during the day hours because it was too scorching outside.  Dietary choices were often financially motivated. I think his solace in alcohol, which he had built into his slow days in Mexico, was a necessary prescription to make a simple life a bit more dynamic.

But as I write the above, I have to lambast myself a bit. It is so easy when faced with loss to try to explain it into acceptance. Making the end of the story, the point of the story. Like looking at some climbing expedition gone bad, it is all too easy to try to point to mistaken decisions and routes taken as an explanation for the story’s end. But, all of this is not why I write this story of my mentor and friend. I’m not trying to summarize a life and the lessons from it. I’m trying instead to capture a taste of the zest that Joe instilled and continues to instill in my life. There is no end to that story because I am trying to teach these lessons to my kids.

The flavor of life comes when one takes the time to let it simmer slowly and with care. That joy that is in found in our conversations and lively debates. Taste. Quality. Intelligence. Listening with your eyes. Helping each other and doing so with selflessness.

The adventures we had yesteryear can’t be the only ones we have. We have to keep making new ones. Joe had so many crazy spirited adventures in his young life. I know he looked at them with such nostalgia and truly missed the spirit that drove him to just “go”. I think he had felt some institutionalization had grabbed hold of him. In the last few years, he was able to walk from the grind but he never quite landed on the other side.

I have a few of Joe’s possessions. Some of them even still smell like him. I try to sprinkle them into my life here and there so that I take a few moments to think of him every time I see or touch them. And, they are hard to part with despite how easy Joe had said, “take it” when he was downsizing.

I miss Joe. I have sessions of really missing him and wondering why he couldn't have been healed. I wanted to see that he had "cracked the code" on the system he was trying to develop. I wished I had been closer or that we could have pulled him in closer to our family.
I tried to once bring Joe to Bend toward the last several months. He replied.

“Thank you, that is very kind and I am moved by it. Many friends and family have made similar offers including Frank who offered to rent an RV and come get me! However, this is where I live and plan is to ride it out here. If my choice is to go for a fourth round in a hospital, it can be done here. I've had extensive testing………… , both requested by my doctor here. Basic problem is getting food down, my intake is down to tablespoons a day. So it goes.”

I wish he was still with me on the road and could see my kids growing every day. I thank him for the gifts of himself he gave me. I will pass them on as best I can. Here's a pic of him in the office where he worked and guided me on so many journeys during my early years repping. I see it now as not "his element". But that chair, phone and the wise man on the other end was a big deal to me. 

Hope wherever you hung that hammock is good my friend.


  1. Sure miss this guy ... Joe was a tremendous influence in my life same as you are Ethan...!

  2. Sad to hear Joe passed at such a young age. My story with Joe was a bit different. I also worked for a retail outfit and Joe somehow had heard about me as a competent paddler(we ran a guide service out of the store in which I worked) and also a good salesman and representative of the sport of kayaking. So he approached me and invited me to come down to a paddling event down in Portland with him. We traveled together to the event and he explained to me that there was an opportunity for me at Eddyline Kayaks and that there would be room for growth in a family owned and operated Company. This interested me because I felt like a number at the company I was working at. I mean I was the boat buyer for the canoes and kayaks of our store and sold the majority of the boats to our customers but our owner wasn't interested in paying a livable wage. His theory was he didn't need to give any raises(even after years working for him) because there were other people that would be happy to do my job for perhaps even less. He was independently wealthy(from family money) and I always had heard he owned the stores just kinda as a hobby and when they lost money it had no effect on his wealth and might have even helped as far as taxes went. So needless to say I was eager to leave and to work for a company that valued there employees which Joe described the atmosphere at Eddyline. So I took a chance I went up to Eddyline and met a few of the employees and I gave them a commitment to move up north and to work for them. I signed some tax information and was due to start working in the next month or so, I still needed to quit my job and work out my living situation. I had to work out an arrangement with my landlord and get my vw ready to live in. I had a going away party put on by my friends and got prepared. Unluckily my vw engine blew on me days before I was expected at Eddyline. I was in a really tough spot because I needed to have my engine rebuilt and if you can imagine money was tight because of the costs associated with moving and taking care of all the different bills. When I contacted Joe he acted as if for some reason I was making up my car problems and he just casually said " you know what just forget it" I said to him "Joe what do you mean, Ive turned my life upside down and am excited for the opportunity to work for you guys, I mean I'm sorry I'm having car issues but it should just take a few days to get it rebuilt" He wasn't interested in hearing it and I felt completely betrayed. I had to make major life decisions in a very short time period I mean I had already said goodbye to friends in town and people in the industry that I had gotten to know were excited for me as I was. But on that day that my car cracked a head and Joe casually told me to just forget it. I was crushed, I was excited to live in my van with my dog in the parking lot or wherever I could find and to give Eddyline my all. It was supposed to be the start of an adventure in which I was taking a big chance and uprooting my life to better myself and to grow. Instead I had a broken down car and was fired basically. He turned his back on me like I never existed after I had done everything I could to make myself available. I had to tell my friends that I was no longer leaving and was left with the feeling that I had somehow done something wrong in which I realize now I guess I did. I had put my trust in Joe and he didn't care about me or the sacrifices I had made to work for him. Probably one of the worst days of my life. Im sorry that he passed at such a young age and that I never got to be a true friend. I tried

  3. I just found this. I just got off the phone with Eddyline and thought about how I had heard Joe had passed. I didn't know the full story but I can empathize with both the story and the Anonymous comment.

    Not to speak ill of the dead, but Joe was a difficult personality. I always felt that he struggled with the idea of everything being monetized (I can hear him talking about the bouncy castle) while working what is, despite best efforts, a Capitalist Society and a business that needed to make money to pay the bills. He often criticized my business model of buying containers of kayaks from the Big Guys ("who don't care about you or your business. They just want money."). I told him that freight charges ate up a lot of my profit, and doing that I keep expenses lower. He explained to me carefully (and condescendingly) how I was wrong, etc.

    Truth is I think he was clinically depressed but never addressed it. Trying to be an idealist in a pragmatic world is a grind, and it wore him down to a nub. Utopian societies have never made it because we're all human. Including Joe.


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