Biographies for Steph and Heidi read like a rollicking high seas adventure novel. From the age of 22, Heidi started, owned, ran and sold numerous retail businesses selling everything from custom T-shirts to great coffee to windsurfers to excellent beers. She operated her own small boat towing service before working her way up to large offshore tugboats.
Steph has worked as a teacher, cement finisher, paramedic, police officer and a private investigator. In each endeavor, he did well, but always there was that wanderlust, the need to move on. Or, as he has occasionally mused, "Maybe I just can't hang onto a job." A leg amputee, Steph discovered sea kayaking and found in paddling the sense of grace he felt he'd lost on land. He paddled from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada to Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico in the summer and early fall of 1993. Called BC to BC/'93, the expedition was intended to encourage people with both real and perceived disabilities not to give in to them. This expedition changed his life and set him on a path that would connect with Heidi's not long after.
As a kid, Heidi used to ride her donkey along the headlands of Northern California. On moonless nights, she would stare out over the dark sea and feel it calling to her, but it was many years later before she answered by making her way through the maritime industry. She served on gigantic sea-going tugs throughout Alaska, Washington and Oregon; she also worked on tugs on the Columbia River. When she received her Coast Guard master's license, Heidi took stock. She loved the tugs, but knew they weren't her life's work. It was time to move on, which is always difficult. Just then in her tumultuous life, Heidi read about a man paddling the Pacific, passing on to others a message about hopes and dreams and determination. She said to herself, "I want this man in my life."
It wasn't until Heidi went to Sitka, Alaska in 1994 to start the Sitka Sea Kayak Adventure that she and Steph met. She'd forgotten the name of the man she'd read about and she had never seen his face. But when Steph Dutton arrived at the airport in Sitka to train Heidi's crew, she looked into his eyes. They were the color of storm surf; there was deep passion and great intelligence. Most of all, in Steph's eyes, Heidi found her match. They've been together ever since (22 years as of 5/6/2016!).
In the Path of Giants, their project for gray whales, has been the subject of many articles, books and television pieces. The most definitive treatment can be found in Eye of The Whale, an epic volume by author Dick Russell and published by Simon & Schuster. Follow the link to chapter 10: Orcas and Grays Along the Shores of Monterey,
for a sampling of this interesting and sometimes heart-wrenching tale.
In the spring of 1999, Steph decided to get his master's license as well. It was a very good move. The day after receiving his license, Steph and Heidi were working as captains running whale watching trips. They found their knowledge and skills were ideal for leading whale watching and nature cruises. Their enthusiasm was infectious and their devotion to their passengers boundless. Sanctuary Cruises was the natural progression for them and Moss Landing was the perfect port.
Over the course of over ten years, they created a whale watching company unlike any other. It was featured in a National Geographic documentary called Whale Attack
and numerous books, magazine and newspaper articles. (The Geo piece was just like the rest of their crap: overwrought, inaccurate, and wouldn't you know, caught Heidi the only time in over 30 years when she had short hair, but mostly, it sucked because of the subject matter, gray whales under attack by orcas.)
When they found their dream home on the Trinity River in 2004, they began a slow but deliberate move to the mountains. In the spring of 2007, Steph and Heidi sold Sanctuary Cruises. They got it back in 2009 and put brand new engines in their beloved boat, Sanctuary
, which prepared her well for the next year when a record number of blue whales came to the Monterey Bay and the boat ran nearly non-stop in the daylight hours for months. Sanctuary Cruises
was sold again in 2011 and the current owners are doing it right and thriving.
What began as a single vacation cabin called Trinity River Adventure Inn has grown to 4 river cabins in two Trinity locations, plus the Dunsmuir place, Alpine Fish & Ski Haus. While kayaking was the first adventure offered by Steph and Heidi, it has been joined by rafting and SUPs, stand-up paddle boards. What is a gentle riffle kayaking is a whole new ballgame on a SUP and the couple and their dogs have taken to running the river on their boards. Quite a challenge for those with two natural legs, this endeavor is pure craziness for Steph. And yet he has flourished at it.
Dunsmuir was set up as a vacation rental, but is also serves as Steph & Heidi's roost for skiing Mt. Shasta. For several years they enjoyed skiing and drinking a beer or two. Then Steph, a certified Level 2 Professional Ski Instructor of America ski instructor, got the idea to start teaching on the mountain and he roped Heidi in as well.
The ski season of 2016/2017 brought many varied events: Steph rapidly became a beloved teacher and is headed toward in-house trainer. Heidi, who has taught windsurfing, kayaking and SUPing, fell into the groove teaching, picking it up as she went; but she falls 1-2 times a year of pretty aggressive skiing. The entire season, she fell only once. However, in attempting a kickturn out of monumental glop, her ski refused to budge and she broke her ankle. She says this was her first and last bone break. Seven weeks later, she dove into a grueling 3-day, on the snow, certification test for her PSIA Level 1 with a man known as one of the toughest examiners of the Western Division. And she got it.
There is currently a debate in the Dutton-Tiura household over which cert ranks highest; Heidi's version is #1 is top of the heap. #2 is, well, 2nd. Steph, being the supreme gentleman, has almost avoided apoplexy, whatever that is. General consensus is he asked for it; he married her.
Maybe that should be enough, but then there is their affinity for chainsaws. Many of the cabins have wood stoves and/or fire pits. With a windfall of downed trees thanks to road construction, the couple packed up their chainsaws and spent close to a month around regular spring chores in 2015 and climbed up and down mountains, cutting, loading and transporting 23 cords of almost all oak firewood. Not bad for people in their mid-60s.
The slider gallery has a shot from their Blue Moon Trinity River Paddle (no guests) a few years back. The moon hadn't cleared the mountains for most of the late night trip, so it was a 6-mile Paddle by Braille. What an astounding experience that was.
Never a dull moment.