River guiding was my first job out of high school. I started as an intern right here at Triad River Tours, running shuttle and evac routes and cleaning gear; then with training and experience I made the move from intern to guide. Whitewater rafting every weekend while my friends worked office jobs, I learned how to swim rapids and avoid strainers, finding a new perspective on the mountains I’d known my entire life. The lessons I learned on those first rivers, and on many others since, aren’t limited to esoteric rafting knowledge; they carry over into life on and off the river, in the mountains and in the city.
1. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.
In a fast-paced adventure sport like whitewater rafting there are a lot of split-second decisions. You need to be quick off the put-in and just as quick at the take out, handling any surprises that come up before they have time to become an emergency. In such an environment it’s easy to rush, but running frantically for the next step only leads to mistakes; you need to be smooth and deliberate in your actions. When you stop rushing and instead perform each step with deliberate purpose you will find your rafting running smoothly. When you do everything smoothly and correctly the first time you move faster than you ever could in a stressful rush; “smooth is fast”. It’s a lesson that works just as well in day-to-day errands, school and the workplace as it does on the river.
2. Quickly changing in and out of wetsuits is a surprisingly valuable life skill.
I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone as impressed as my instructor on a recent surf trip when I went from jeans and fleece to a full coldwater wetsuit in less than two minutes.
3. Prepare for everything.
I’ve been working as a professional guide since I was eighteen, and I carry safety gear and the ten essentials on every trip—even personal ones. My full first aid kit lives in my daypack, but I have smaller ones in my car, mountain biking pack and travel purse. I know where the nearest medical centers are, the easiest ways out of whatever backcountry location I’m headed to, and the hazards most often encountered in my trip location. Though some might call this level of preparation overkill, I’ve been grateful for it more than once; I’ve handled emergencies on both personal and guided trips that would have gone much worse if I hadn’t done my homework and packed extra safety gear.
4. Living with less isn’t always a bad thing.
Turns out a backpack of clothes and gear, a few books and a car long enough to sleep in is all I really need.
5. Sunrise is worth it.
My first summer on the river I got up at 4:30 am every Saturday to make sure I’d be ready to hit the river on time, and discovered how incredible watching the sunrise can be. There’s something magical about it no matter where you are—mountains, riverside, the town you grew up in. Watching the dawn light spill golden and lavender over the rolling green horizon of the North Cascade foothills has no equal. The early wake-up time and occasional missed sleep that serve as the price of admission are absolutely worth it.
6. Nose up, toes up.
No one wants a foot entrapment, and breathing is pretty great too. First lesson of swimming rapids; keep your toes at the surface and your nose above water.