Story last updated at 9/8/2010 - 7:07 pm
The first time I heard Darren Lamp's laid-back Pacific Northwest drawl, it sounded like the voice of salvation. Over-packed, under-trained, drenched and drowning my sorrows in coffee at the Klawock Diner, my 10-day bike trip to Prince of Wales Island, as well as the national magazine story I was writing about it, hung in the balance.
In retrospect, I probably could've made it - two days later, the sun came out and stayed out; I found my legs, too - but I can't remember the last time I was so happy to get someone on the telephone. Sunday at around noon, Hollis Adventure Rentals was the fourth number I'd called, the second to pick up, the only one with an availability.
"But it may not be what you're looking for," Lamp said, even though at this point, I would've taken a Yugo. "It's a 4x4 crew-cab pickup with a canopy cover - would that be okay?"
I told him I'd have to make do.
After a protracted attempt at hitch hiking back to Hollis - tricky if you're a big, bedraggled man with a bicycle - I finally made it to the Hollis Adventure Rentals compound, at the end of Peninsula Boulevard (the sign is spelled "Pennisula," I kid you not).
Lamp, a fit, bearded man in his mid-forties, stood in the gravel driveway beside a lifted Dodge Ram pickup, freshly pressure-washed and brilliant despite the afternoon gloom.
"This is Kicking Bird," he said, slapping its hood. Apparently, Lamp names all his vehicles (e.g. Birdy the Outback, Edward the Conversion Van and my personal favorite, Gladice the Toyota Titan).
"They all have their own personalities," he explained, adding that named vehicles tend to perform more reliably. True or not, he finds that customers "bond" with his fleet, making them more likely to take better care with it. Lamp calls this phenomenon "rental karma."
He may have a point. Kicking Bird turned out to be one tricked-out ride - plush interior, after-market sound system, binoculars, solar-powered flashlights, a Spot satellite messaging system. I took off my boots before I got in; I used my own map so as not to crease the one in the center console.
Suddenly the bike tour switched from misery to delight. Unencumbered by my trailer and mixing in intervals of driving, brutality gave way to enjoyment. On a rest day, we took Kicking Bird all over island roads that literally would've eaten lesser vehicles. One afternoon, I left my companions and drove more than 40 miles back and forth for fresh salad, a bottle of wine and a case of beer (without motorized transport, it would've been Ramen noodles and filtered lake water - again). Two nights, I slept in the truck bed while my former tent-mate shacked up in the cab, both of us happy to escape the rocks, the dampness and each other's snoring.
But that's why Darren Lamp went into recreational outfitting in the first place.
"Give people life changing experiences and include everything," said Lamp of his ethos. Not only does he rent vehicles, kayaks, motorized boats and an incredible array of associated gear - he'll set up camp for you. Come for bear hunting, he'll also send you off with fishing poles and crab pots. When the ferry arrives, he's down at the terminal helping load/unload people who aren't even his clients.
Of course, you can chalk some of that up to youthful exuberance - Hollis Adventure Rentals has only existed for about two years.
Before that, Darren Lamp was a software programmer for Fortune 500 companies in Seattle. In fact, his wife, Linda, still works down there as a respiratory therapist - she comes up for 10-day stretches every five weeks - while their teenage son Kevin finishes high school (he works summers with his dad).
But in 2005, Lamp "got tired of making evil people rich," and retired at age 40. By then, the Lamps had already been regular vacationers to a remote part of Prince of Wales Island where they would spend several months in an elaborate wilderness camp.
"It was so expensive to ship all that gear back and forth, we decided to get a place within walking distance from the ferry where we could put a shed, a camper and a boat," he said. Now with somewhere to store it, Lamp acquired more and more stuff.
"It seemed natural to start renting it," he said, noting that it costs a lot more to put a truck and trailer on the ferry than his rental packages. "Especially because we're so close to the dock, you can show up here with absolutely nothing and be off on your adventure half an hour later."
For information, photos, rental packages and prices, visit the Hollis Adventure Rentals website, www.harentals.com, or call 907-530-7040. Let it ring - they'll answer.
"I want my customers to leave as friends," Darren Lamp told me the morning I returned Kicking Bird. I wonder how he feels about them writing articles for a local weekly newspaper.
Geoff Kirsch is a writer in Juneau. Visit his website at www.geoffkirsch.com.