Guide Real Talk: Sustaining Relationships

It's no secret that seasonal work can be tough on romantic relationships. From weeks on end with minimal communication to missing milestones to "my crew is my real family" vibes, relationship stress is often one of the major issues guides deal with.

Understanding every relationship functions differently and each has its own set of requirements, we asked a few guides to share what makes it all work out. We talked to both a couple that works apart during the summer months and a couple that works together.

We think they have some pretty good tips and tricks regardless what type of relationship you are trying to sustain - romantic, family or friendship. Read their thoughts below.


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Karen & Austin

How did you meet?

Karen: We both start working at NRS at the same time. At NRS, there’s a tradition the Bill Parks (founder of NRS) takes new employees out to lunch. We were randomly scheduled together, so our first date was at Super China Buffet with Bill Parks, more than 6 years ago.

Austin: Bill asked the all the questions that I was wondering the answers to so it was perfect. 

What does/did a “guiding season” schedule look like for you? How often do you see your partner and for how long?

Karen: Austin is an outfitter on the Lochsa/Selway from March to June, but he’s usually only gone on the weekends. As a result, I spend most of my spring weekends paddling the Lochsa so we can get some time together. In the summer, he hits Riggins full time to guide with MRO. So from June through September, it’s a game of anticipation to see when our weekend schedules align. If Austin expects to be off the river for a night on the weekend, I jump in my car to make the 3-hour drive (one way), even if I only get to see him for a few hours before he jumps on another trip. We never really know what his schedule is very far in advance, so I try to keep my weekends fairly open, when possible. Sometimes I’ll get to see him two days in a month; other times an entire month will go by where I don’t get to see his (handsome) face.

How does/did the guiding season benefit your relationship?

Karen: Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? I feel like the forced time apart really makes us appreciate the time we do get to spend together. That moment I cruise up to the boathouse after a month of not seeing him–he’s all sun-weathered and stanky–it’s nothin’ but love and butterflies when I jump into his arms for that first big hug.

Austin: Guiding helps me slow down and appreciate the important things in life: Karen. The longer I'm gone, the more I miss her. Nearly every trip I find myself planning out stops that I want to take on Fall trips with Karen. There are a ridiculously awesome amount of honeymoon beaches out this year, several are layover worthy. I can't wait to get out here with her. 

In what ways does/did the guiding season put stress on your relationship?

Karen: For a solid four months of the year, I don’t get to hang out with my BFF. Summer is by far my FAVORITE time of year (SUP trips, camping, biking, going to concerts and festivals, hanging out on different patios around town), and I can’t really do any of that with my man cause he’s on a river somewhere.

Austin: It's hard to be away. There have been times when I'm gone that I have really wished that I had been around to help out with certain situations. There are also times that I feel that I'm missing out on really fun once in a lifetime opportunities, you can't make up for lost time. 

What do/did you do to stay emotionally connected during the guiding season?

Karen: I send him a text or video messages whenever I’m thinking of him (that’s a lot of messages!) so when he gets off the water, he can catch up and know what I’ve been up to. When he is off the river and in service (with a charged phone), we stay in touch throughout the day because we know the time is limited.

How do you support each other during the guiding season?

Karen: We just try to keep it positive when we get to chat and look forward to the next time we’ll be able to see each other. It’s more stressful for Austin being that he’s the one on the water 24/7. I still have my normal routine, friends, and surroundings so I’m not as disconnected from the norm. He knows if there’s any chance we can meet up, I’ll make the time for it. He’s number one.

Austin: We remain positive, find the silver lining in every situation.

Any other thoughts or ideas on relationships and the guiding profession to share?

Karen: Summer is tough but we both get good stuff out of his river profession! There have been a few times when I have been allowed to jump on his raft for a customer trip or even kayak behind his boat as he takes a group of customers down the river. Other times he’ll be put on a day trip after I’ve already arrived in Riggins, and I’ll end up spending a delicious day by myself on a sandy beach sipping on a cold beer until he’s done– it’s not so awful. I think just staying positive and flexible is clutch. We don’t take our time together for granted, because we have an annual four-month reminder that time is limited. We jam-pack the offseason with as much fun as possible to get us through those long summers.


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Dean & Seda

How did you meet?

Dean: We met guiding the Middle Fork in 1999. Jerry Hughes was an old friend and he hired me to do a couple high water trips thatJune. And of course, Seda was working for Jerry.

What does/did a “guiding season” schedule look like for you? How often do you see your partner and for how long?

Our seasons differ a little.  I have just retired from teaching and am starting to guide a little more, nine or ten trips. Seda is a guide and does more trips, last year over 20.  Fortunately, we work the main part of the season together for Tightlines, Jeff Helfrich.

How does/did the guiding season benefit your relationship?

First I would say that just rowing the river builds self-esteem, which in turn improves your attitude about yourself or for a partner, particularly if you are working together.  Also, we work with a veteran crew that is filled with love and respect for each another, three of us are working our 26th consecutive season together.  Finally, the satisfaction of doing a service for people that makes them very happy creates an environment that enriches our feelings for each other.

In what ways does/did the guiding season put stress on your relationship?

The season stresses us in many ways.  First, as I said earlier Seda guides more than I, so I have to be home more.  I have to take care of the home, garden, pets etc.  For Seda, she has to be away from these same things that she loves.  And I would also say that just the stress of long days, being tired sometimes makes you do or say things you might not ordinarily do or say.

What do/did you do to stay emotionally connected during the guiding season?

We are good at staying connected as we work together a fair amount.

How do you support each other during the guiding season?

We try to do chores for each other.  Like if Seda gets up early to start the days work, I will pack up the sleeping bags. When I get busy she will do the same for me.

Any other thoughts or ideas on relationships and the guiding profession to share?

It is important to create some time for yourself. Get away for a little while, go to bed early. I also think it is important to use levity whenever possible. A laugh or two can make your day. I also think it is important to have some kind of skill to impart to the clients. Whether it is music or river history or whatever. Receiving praise from clients make you feel good about yourself.


Do you sustain a relationship throughout the guiding season? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments on what makes it work and what is tough to overcome.