I think definitely I’ve become more focused on seeing the guests change their lives. I’ve had trips where we are still friends today, we stay on touch on Facebook. It’s crazy to see how much the kids have grown and recently a lot of the young ladies I’ve taken down the river have turned eighteen and they’ve been asking me how to become a guide. That’s really rewarding.
I wish there were easy answers and condolences but there aren't. I can’t tell you to stop going into these mountains and out to these rivers any more than I can tell you to stop breathing. How do we take care of a community that lives on the edge of things? What do we do when our livelihood is so often intimately connected to our sadness? How do we reconcile our loss with our own close calls?
I guess… I could name any story you want here. But what’s cool is that a lot of people tell me after their tour that it was the best day of their life. In my twenties, like I said, I’d say, “Yeah yeah, watch your step.” But now I think it’s pretty cool, it’s nice to give people that kind of experience. It’s amazing to me that it’s not a bigger deal. I get folks that have been to Glacier or Yellowstone and afterwards they can’t believe what they just did.
When I’m guiding, I’m not that engaged in skiing for myself. When I’m guiding, I rarely think about how awesome the skiing is personally. It just goes through my head, “These guys are gonna love this.”
We have a great lifestyle but it’s a very very hard job and a very, very demanding job. We ski about half what we work so we ski six hours in the field and we’re working another 6 hours to pull it off. People underestimate the decision-making process. It’s not for everybody. You have to really love the aircraft and appreciate that what we’re doing is kind of unreal.
To be a guide is to rarely work alone. To be a guide is to inherently understand your own shortcomings and rely on the family around you to get a job done. From hunting to mountain sports to river running, guides are the ultimate collaborators, knowing that our teamwork is not just a board room meeting but often a matter of life or death in dynamic, wild environments.
The honest truth is that I think guiding is a very hard thing to do long term. There’s very few people who make it that long, there’s no retirement plan. So you hope you can have a love for it that doesn’t die out. But it’s probably a stepping stone at some time. I haven’t set a timeline on when things are going to change for me, but I hope to always be involved in fly-fishing. So if I were to step on it would probably be something still within this sport that would cause me to move on. I’m not really sure. It's easy as a guide, you start thinking about the future, its very easy to get worried about what’s next. So I try to just live in the moment in that regard, while carefully thinking about options when the time comes.
"There’s a local guy, Cliff Hansen, a rancher here, that was an old friend of my dad’s. He told me the other day, was telling me that my dad had told him, says ‘Hey, you ought to go down get one of these permits, they’re only $15. They’re gonna be worth somethin’ someday.’ And Cliff said that he told my dad there’s no way in heck anybody will ever pay you to take them down a river they could just go do it themselves."
The river reminds us of the streams of resiliency within ourselves always, even when physically removed from her presence. As we move from guiding life into winter jobs, school stresses, and seasonal changes, we remember how we are also ever moving downstream, able to swell with snowmelt and trickle in the summer heat.
Summertime and the livin’ is easy... unless you are working a back to back, full launch season on any whitewater river and the water is lower than a rattlesnake’s belly. Smoke is in the air from lightening-caused fires and the shuttle rig just blew a gasket as you were going to pick up the food pack that was supposed to be for 24 people, not 14. Meanwhile the family getting off the bus at the put in already wants to know if the rocks go all the way to the bottom of the river.
At the beginning of August, Murphy’s Law seems to take on an even stronger vengeance especially in the outfitting and guiding business. We asked some of our long time guide friends to give us their best tips and coping strategies to get even the most seasoned whitewater guides through the end of September and until the snow flies.
A common theme in all the comments and advice we received was to TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF. Be sure to negotiate that time with your fellow guides and coworkers, but try to get away during a trip or during your off-river time. Go for a hike, go fishing, call your family, journal; do whatever activity relaxes you. Just carve out some time, anytime, to decompress. Don’t worry about missing something or being left out—there is enough fun every summer to go around a few times, but precious little time to re-connect and center yourself.
DO A REALISTIC CHECK IN WITH YOUR PEERS DURING THE SEASON. Sometimes we are not in the best position to judge how well we are personally coping with no days off. The constant adrenaline rush of being, “on call” 24/7 can find us rushing around without a clue. We may think we are doing just fine, while others may see something completely different. Ask your trusted coworkers if you are keeping a healthy attitude. Are you complaining at a level that exceeds normal for you? Are you giving the same level of service to your crew and the guests as you did on that first trip in the spring?
YOUR COWORKERS ARE YOUR TEAM AND FAMILY. One of the things you hear from groups of people who work alongside each other in continuous settings such as fire crews and military teams is that they love being a part of something amazing that just works. The camaraderie and energy applied to achieve a common goal is a heady thing for most people and they overwhelming talk about the sense of “having each other’s back” that you don’t get from other workplace settings. Don’t lose sight of how you interact with your fellow guides. Make sure you are keeping an eye out for each other and recognize when someone may need help. Doing small things like filling everyone’s water bottles each day, taking turns on the early shift/late shift and giving each other that opportunity for personal time will go a long way on a hot, relentless upstream wind kind of day. Talk with your crew about how everyone is feeling and where their mental compass is pointing. Take the time to work things out with coworkers that you may not see eye to eye with all the time instead of marching on while plotting their demise. Together you can keep everyone in a place that gets the entire company to the finish line together and in one piece in September.
TAKE A STEP BACK FROM THE PARTY. Robert Earl Keen may romance about the party going on forever, but most of us are not great at sustaining the reality. Set limits for yourself as the season goes on. The long hot, windy days of mid-summer require more water, less alcohol and more sleep. Don’t forget to manage the toeliosis and any other health issues while you are at it! Taking a few minutes in the morning to stretch, meditate or just sit quietly will go a long way in setting your day up to be spectacular both physically and emotionally.
Finally, KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE PRIZE. Reconnect with your personal goals and where you want to be and why you are working every day you can all summer. By midsummer you should have a few bucks in the bank and be able to start planning for school, an adventure trip, or just paying off last winter’s loans. It is important to understand why you work, even in a dream job. Be open to the relationships during the river season that just might connect you to your life’s future purpose or provide you with the means to continue guiding over a lifetime.
Hopefully these tips will help you continue to have an amazing summer as a guide in Idaho. A big thank you to the guides who offered the great advice contained here; they make it easy for us to continue to serve Idaho guides in more ways than we ever imagined. May your days be rewarding, your nights full of stars and your guests’ tips HUGE!
Advice from long-time guides Ryan Diehl, Lenore Perconti, Jo Schroeder, Matt Schreiber, Chace Slavin and Matt Yost. Compiled and written by Sheri Hughes.