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A River Guide’s Morning

July 4th, 2012 cameron

It’s early in the morning. You wake up, somewhat begrudgingly, somewhat excitedly, and  go through your somewhat truncated morning routine. You wake your kids or your roommates and load up, bleary eyed, into the car yawning and wiping the sleep from your face. It’s still dark outside. Maybe the first bit of morning light is tinting the sky.

A couple hours later you are more awake. The sun is bright and hot as you pull up to the meeting place for your whitewater rafting summer vacation. Some paperwork, a PFD (Personal Floatation Device), a paddle, and a pre-river orientation later and you are down at the cool water of the river meeting your guide, who introduces his or her-self and assures you that you’re going to have an awesome day.

But what has this sun-branded, messy-haired reader of currents been doing while you’ve been yawning down the highway, telling your kids to stop hitting each other, and wishing to God you had a second cup of coffee?…

I’m not sure when or where I heard the phrase “hurry up and wait,” but it never made much sense to me until I started guiding rafting trips. It is the perfect cliche phrase to describe the average morning of a river guide. One moment you’re rushing, panicking, stressing that you have the right amount of safety gear. The next you’re all set for your trip laying in the bottom of a boat, looking at your feet masking the sky as the sun creeps up above the last of glorious morning shade.

A guide’s morning starts with breakfast and a guide meeting. Who’s on what trip, who’s in charge of food, gear, greeting people, what the logistical complications of the day are,  etc. It all gets hashed out in the morning meeting. There’s lot’s of joking, lots of laughing, lots of lounging.

Then it’s ready…set…break! and flurry of motion breaks out. Boats get blown up, gear is divided, water bottles are filled, paper work gets prepared in one big hustle. Each guide addresses his or her-self to a task, either rigging boats with food and gear or preparing for guests to arrive. And nobody, absolutely nobody, wants to be caught out jobless, doing nothing, looking like a lazy, slacker, newbie.

On the best days it feels and looks like a well-oiled machine. It’s fast, efficient, and, dare I say it, even fun. We get our laughs in and our work done all in good measure and order. On the worst days it is a mad, paranoid rush. Are we sure everything’s in order? Did we forget anything? Why are there four people filling up water bottles while nobody is on the truck blowing up our last two rafts?

But inevitably, with varying degrees of anxiety, the preparation work gets finished. Then the trip manager looks down at his or her watch and finds there is some incredible amount of time left before guests are even supposed to arrive.

So we fret a little more. We gather our personal rafting gear here. We make small adjustments to our rafts there. It takes a bit to get the edge off. Finally, we kick back, find a comfy spot and affectively relax, waiting for guests to arrive and the trip to start.

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