What challenges do Idaho guides face in the off-season... and how do they manage those challenges for healthy off-season minds and bodies?
Remember the guides that tested and tamed you, who brought you their hearts on their dirty sleeves and in return took care of yours. Remember that boat they rowed, and who rows it today. Remember the joy you share with the currents. This unspoken joy is what makes these fellow guides become precious gems in our timelines.
Idaho guide and Redside Guide Liaison Courtney Smart shares her thoughts - and discomfort - with remembrance.
But I’m not here for the whitewater, I’m not here for the Chaco tan or the beer break on the boat, or even the people (though I do love all those things). I’m here because this drainage, in this man made boundary seems to fulfill me. Getting to watch the seasons change year round, the sense of place I have developed, getting to explore more and more of it, being able to float by a creek and know not just its confluence, but its headwaters and everything in between, it does it for me. I’m sure that is true for so many people. I guess I’m trying to say is that it’s the place that made me a guide and the place that keeps me one.
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.