31 years ago, I became a river guide and I worked for an whitewater outfitter. After finishing my under-graduate degree and getting my first teaching job, I was 22 and had worked no less than full-time for the previous six years. So it was natural to work hard; loading gear, buying food, packing food, driving long distances, unloading, pumping up rafts, rigging rafts, loading gear into rafts, cooking meals for large groups of clients, and rowing 17' rafts with overnight gear and 4-6 clients down class 3 and 4+ whitewater ... it seemed like a vacation. It was. It is.
I immersed myself into a dual lifestyle as a professional educator and professional raft guide (soon to be outfitter). Within two short years, the big gear/oar rafts were rarely used and W.E.T. River Trips , along with a small handful of outfitters, started to use small (under 14') paddle rafts and one-day trips became more and more common and in demand.) Not long after, we started to use self-bailing rafts and to commercially run class 3 to 5+ river trips that were never available to the outfitted public. We also started to run bigger trips and rafted as many as five rivers simultaneously. The bar was raised and our clients met the challenge. The whitewater industry has continued to adapt and meet the interests of the clients. All along the route, the guides were there.
Today, W.E.T. River Trips has expanded and refined a menu of rivers that fills the range of class 3 to 5 whitewater with new, modern equipment, new vehicles, amazing meals, and the very best guides in California (and that means that they are World-Class!).
I'm now in my 32nd year in education and last season, I loaded gear, bought food, packed food, drove long distances, unloaded gear, pumped up rafts, rigged rafts, loaded gear into rafts, cooked meals for large groups of clients, and went down a few rivers. It still feels like a vacation and a privilege to be involved in what WET does. All season long, the guides came through.
In between 1978 and 2009, I've been lucky ...marriage, fatherhood, punk-rock, rewarding career, skateboarding, kayaking, back-country skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, motorcycle racing, soccer-dad, ballet-dad, swim-dad, health, laughs, love, friends, good health, teaching, school administration, and school restructuring...through it all there has always been whitewater rafting with beauty, thrills, sun, laughs, fear, and the ever-changing cast of guides
I no longer kayak or back-country ski (I was just not that good). My ancient mountain bike is a wreck. My skateboard is now "collectable". I'm now a hipster-dad. I've got fresh snowboard gear and I haven't missed a season since 1984. I don't race motorcycles anymore, but I still ride (the best way to do river shuttles!). The blood pressure is still awesome and Burning Man was big FUN this year!
What strikes me with a sense of consistent satisfaction through all of the years is my interaction with river guides as co-workers, workers, friends, and family. This last month I had the chance to enjoy the holidays with four river guides that were on my very first river trip, and that I later worked with. Jack, Randy, and Rich still talk big smack!
Some guides have been with us for over 20 years, others 15 years, and some others have been with us 10 years and less. Each of them has been special, unique and each of them usually presented a challenging relationship that inevitably was rewarding. I've seen maturity, intelligence, good luck, bad luck, and circumstances affect their respective lives. And our guides continue to evolve and I'm amazed at what incredible adventures continue to unfold for them.
Just this year, Justin stopped brokering mortgages and went back to guiding full-time and is surfing in Costa Rica having fun. Country Mike is now a father, (last year, Jason, Andrew, and Jonny also joined the ranks of parenthood). Wolf became a substitute teacher. Kyle has finished his credential. Bird graduated from culinary school and moved to Oregon. Booty shreds the Sierras. Mac worked on the Emmy-winning reality show, "The Deadliest Catch" as a videographer. Chris Z. had his photos published in Outside Magazine. Harpo is selling his restaurant to become a firefighter, purely out of boredom for the culinary set. Solly is poised to be a high school principal. K-Dawg is ready to transfer to UC Santa Barbara. Alex H is graduating from UC Berkeley. D-Rex is working in Colorado. Maggie has an office job while she finishes up at UN Reno. Meg is working with special needs kids in Maine. Jon C. graduates this year after winter "study" in Salt Lake City. Heffe is moving to Oregon to follow... LOVE. Some will go and new guides will come into the family.
Guides come. Guides go. Guides come back ...but, guides are always tied by the bonds of rivers, whitewater, the work, the play ...the life. Life is good and 2009 rafting will be epic!