Traditionally, early August to late September is what many in my profession refer to as the “feeding frenzy.” It’s a magical time of the year when the zeal of Summer is winding down and the promise of Fall’s cooler weather is just around the corner; parents are giddy with excitement over little Mackenzie-Britney-Hunter-Logan-Tyson-Madison heading back to school; and some ambitious souls desperately try to sneak in a few last beach weekends before it’s too late. But for proposal specialists like me, it’s a time of the year when government contractors do more proposal work in two months than the rest of the rest year combined. It’s an energized period where frantic execs do their best impressions of chickens with their heads cut off, and government agencies desperately earmark their remaining budgets to defend against future budget cuts. The bottom line is contractors are making their last, mad grab for revenue and agencies building their cases for keeping every dime of prospective funding. After that, the fiscal year becomes like the aftermath of so many wild parties – fuzzy hangover memories and not-too-familiar coworkers refusing to make eye contact with you. Someone once said that the two things people don’t want to see made are laws and sausages. A close third is winning government contracts, where the deals between contractors and agencies are pretty much the same ones between Congressmen and working girls on 14th Street (and the pimps in both cases are wearing equally bad outfits).
Understandably, this time of the year is absolutely miserable for anyone involved in proposals. By and large, the proposal business tends to be “feast or famine” work, so the “feeding frenzy” is the apocalyptic time we “proposal pushers” hate with a passion. Developing a proposal has enough pitfalls, surprises and “cat herding” on any given day, but combined with the “feeding frenzy’s” short deadlines and rabid execs flailing about from still-can’t-kill-Keith-Richards levels of caffeine, energy drinks and soul-crushing “make your annual quota” pressure…it’s fair to say that God was too kind for giving us alcohol in all of its many varieties. The added wrinkle for this time of year is people like myself can’t make any big travel plans until October 1, when the Federal government’s fiscal year ends and contractors collapse like under-trained rookie marathon runners. Because of this aspect of my work, I’ve developed the habit of treating myself to a reward for surviving this time of year. Two years ago was a fantastic trip to France, last year didn’t happen due to work commitments (but made up for it with a trip to Hawaii in March 2013), and for this end-of-the-fiscal-year reward, it was white water rafting in West Virginia.
I’ve only been white water rafting once before, and it was along a stretch of the Shenandoah River which isn’t exactly known for its impressive rapids (i.e., “rafting with training wheels on”). I’ve been hoping indulge my passive death wish by repeating the experience on a more challenging river.
Back in July, my friend Caroline included me in a mass email to her friends – a group of outdoor adventurers who go on ski trips, etc. together. Thanks to layoffs and a still struggling job market, Caroline left the Washington, DC area and went into exile back in her hometown near Detroit, and she was anxious to see her friends again. She planned a trip to West Virginia for some really-worth-the-trip rafting through a special deal on Travelzoo, and since it fell on the last weekend of the “feeding frenzy” period of my work, it was perfect timing for me to get out of town. She managed to nail down commitments from about a dozen of her friends and we rented a cabin that most of us crashed in (a few camped out). The deal was through the River Expeditions outfitter group for one day of wild rafting down the Lower Gauley River.