The Family Bond – A Guide’s Rafting Family

As someone who’s never been in combat, I won’t pretend to know the types of bonds that are created when experiencing such a situation. But I do know about the character and partnerships forged in the midst of intense and perilous trials. It makes me wonder… Do I have friends who have my back? Could I make it through a rough and tough experience and come out okay? Under what circumstances would my friends break, or would I break? Do I possess the fiber needed to make the right decisions in such dynamic circumstances?

I have seen my share of battles… battles being fought out in a coliseum of rock on the turbulent flows of a whitewater river. Throughout the course of my rafting career I have had to face a handful of very intense experiences with a lot on the line. I believe some of the bonds created in those experiences draw similarities to the bonds created among those who sacrifice and serve.

As a raft guide, I feel most people look at my line of work as something to be done in between semesters at college. A means to facilitate a lifestyle that will keep its devotees outside, bronzed, toned, and full of good times. They’re not wrong, but there are intricate relationships that take place on the water that only the most intuitive of guests will ever pick up on. One of them is the time-tested bond I have with my fellow guides, and the trust that runs among us.

This is something that stems from our original training, and has continued to develop over hundreds, if not thousands, of trips together.

During the course of training bonds are formed based on the ‘trial by fire’ aspects of learning to guide. Starting training with strangers, you find yourself swimming rapids, flipping rafts, getting stuck, and butchering the runs… together. At times these are challenging and emotionally jarring experiences. By the end of training you know who you can count on if you run into trouble or need a moral boost. These are the ones who become Raft Masters’ guides.

And before long the process starts again… only this time in “real world” rafting. Now you have precious cargo. Now you have the responsibility of guests, out of their natural element, in a 2-3 hour window where a potentially hazardous situation can break out. All the while, you are never quite sure how your crew will react, or how quickly you may need help if a situation does arise.

Murphy’s Law is real! Over time you will experience an array of whitewater mishaps, and develop a sense of who of your fellow guides truly has your back. This trait is the most prized among the Raft Masters’ guide community. If I can count on you, regardless of the circumstances, you’re a rock-star… perhaps even a Jedi. In the whitewater community, Jedi is used to describe a guide who’s always on line. A guide who has a keen and almost mysterious awareness of the river and its relationship to every other guide and guest on the water.

The result of these mishaps is a beautiful example of the human mind, and its ability to learn from chaotic situations. As you experience more and more of these situations, your ability to react to them in quickly dramatically increases. You start to appreciate other guides for their ability to react and, to simply put it… be there. You’ll also start to see what I call ‘A-List’ pods, a pod being a group of rafts running a particular stretch of river together. These A-List pods have guides who have risen to such occasions, and been “Johnny on the Spot” when all hell was breaking loose; guides you want to be on the river with.

When these A-List pods hit the water, I find it hard not to pause and appreciate the sight before me. The knowledge that if anything were to go awry on that trip, you know without a shred of doubt that ALL the guests on that trip are in the best hands possible. Why? Because they’re in the hands of guides who have earned the Jedi title.

After eight years into this journey, my flips, dumps, and out of boat experiences are becoming fewer and farther between. And although I hesitate to call myself a Jedi, I tend to find myself more often cleaning up the mess than being it. However, come the day when it inevitably happens to me, I’m not worried… I don’t fear for myself or my guests. I know that with me is a web of support that will react, step in, and get my crew to safety.

This safety net was not developed overnight, but was earned via the experiences of my fellow guides, and my own. I now consider myself one of the luckiest people on the planet, for the friends I have accumulated over the years in the rafting community are some of the best in the world, and I value these bonds immensely, as they were earned in blood, sweat, and tears.

I can call these guides, my brothers and sisters on the river, at any time and count on them for anything… and you don’t find that in many other occupations. This is why I call them my brothers and sisters. This is where the term “my rafting family” comes from, and it’s for this reason precisely that I look forward to every day of my rafting season.