A Day at AO’s Spring Guide School 2007… with Inflatable Pool Toys??Posted June 12, 2007 by Robyn Suddeth
All-Outdoors’ Spring Whitewater Guide School commenced just a few weeks ago at Motherlode Campground on the South Fork American River. I was lucky enough to get to ride along with them for their last day on the river. After an impressive breakfast (guide school doubles as wilderness chef school) and brief introductions to all the new students, we started getting ready to get on the water. At that point, Noah (one of our instructors) pulled me aside and said we had a very important, and secret, mission. I accompanied him to his hideout spot behind the bathrooms and found a colorful assortment of pool toys sitting on the ground, just waiting for air. After a few minutes of pumping, we ended up with a huge lobster, a shark and a beach ball, all cheerily ready for duty. Their purpose? Swimmers in need of rescue, of course! Before going further in my description of the day, I want to stop for a minute to introduce the instructors and students who made up Guide School 07.The Instructors:
Although he has a strange affinity for lobsters and had more fun with pool toys than any six year old I’ve seen on the sea shore, Noah is in fact one of our most wise and experienced guides. Having been with the company for over ten years, he brings a ton of knowledge and some good stories to guide school. And, as is pretty obvious from this picture, he has no problem goofing around and having a good time.
There’s got to be an instigator in any group, and Brad certainly doesn’t shy away from the role. He’s near to impossible to embarrass, and is therefore always the first to jump at the opportunity to demonstrate a crazy game, or try out a new joke. OK, and he’s a pretty talented guide as well. Although always a joker, he takes guide school very seriously and was extremely excited about the group of students that came through this year.
Adam will be the first person to tell you how much he loves the river. For him, rafting is much more than a sport or activity, and he does not shy away from trying to share his appreciation for nature and flowing water with others. Also one of our most experienced and talented, he brings to guide school a wealth of knowledge and the awareness that the canyons we float through are much more than just an exciting ride.
I unfortunately didn’t get pictures of every single student, but managed to snap a good one of most. Here are the ones I got:
Devon: Our new food program manager this year, Devon initially signed up for guide school with the intent of learning the ins and outs of our meal system. After eight days of rafting, swimming, games, and camping, however, he is already asking when he can get out on the river again to guide.
Luis: Hailing from Southern California, Luis came to trade in the hustle and bustle of the city for the glory of river guiding. With a constant smile of amusement and the slightest hint of mischief on his face, he was a very fun person to have along in the school! We’re excited to have him join the South Fork crew this summer.
Liz: A good college friend of both mine and Tessa’s from our time at UCLA, Liz was not a stranger to the river before guide school. Nonetheless, she was constantly excited and enthusiastic. Not at all jaded by having been rafting before, she was happily overwhelmed with learning the enticing rhythms of life lived day in and day out on the river’s edge.
Molly: This picture of Molly joking around with the lobster pool toy at our lunch spot that Sunday is a perfect demonstration of her constantly jolly nature. A previous NOLS instructor (National Outdoor Leadership School) and currently a Google employee in the Bay Area, Molly is excited to start spending some of her weekends in the mountains and on the river. We’re sure that her smile will be just as addicting for her guests as it was for everyone at guide school!
Andrew: Shown here trying to look as “hard core” as possible, Andrew was actually one of the biggest joke-sters in the entire school. Rivaling instructor Brad with his carefree humor, Andrew often had the group in a laughing fit. Currently employed in the Bay Area as a manager in a large construction firm, Andrew will be another one of our “weekend warriors” this summer, coming up to provide comic relief for all of us on those busy August weekends.
Maureen: A local girl and previous rafting photographer, Maureen finally decided that she would rather be in the pictures than taking them. Happy to “go with the flow” and coming in with a lot of previous river experience, Maureen was an easy-going and competent participant. She’ll be joining the South Fork crew this summer, so we’ll luckily get to see plenty of her on the river!
Lars: Lars is a mischief-lover with a dangerous wit. You definitely want to be on this guy’s good side! He was already comfortably joking around with everyone on the very first night of the school, telling his instructors that he was planning on sleeping with his paddle so that he could be the first one ready to go in the morning. Suffice it to say he was an incredibly fun and entertaining addition. An EMT in the Sacramento area, Lars will be joining us on weekends.
Rob: A good childhood friend of Lars’, Rob was a little bit more mellow but also incredibly quick to laugh and appreciate a good joke. Good humored and relaxed, Rob was an easy person to get to spend a week with. He will also be joining us for busy weekends.
Dan: A frequent All Outdoors guest, Dan finally decided he wanted to know why exactly he should forward paddle or do a left turn in any given rapid. So, he signed up for our guide school. Certainly a rafting enthusiast, Dan was a great addition to the school in that he was constantly happy and content just to be out there. We look forward to seeing him again on many more trips in the future.
Lindsey: An incredibly kind and sweet personality, Lindsey was one of the school’s greatest success stories. She had already worked in the community before as food manager for another rafting company, and felt ready to actually get on the river herself. Very timid and a little scared to be in charge at first, she pushed through the fear and ended up guiding the raft with grace by the time the last day came around.
Ramsey: Another local kid, Ramsey Doolittle loves the river so much that he decided to get a head start on his guiding career. Still to young to work commercially, Ramsey wanted to learn how to guide early so he could start practicing on private trips with his father. Already a kayaker, Ramsey was very comfortable on the water and always happy to be there.
Not Pictured: Tiffany, Kyle, and Tawfer
Now that you have a better picture of everyone that was there, we can get back to that last day of guide school and our famous pool toy swimmers. The plan for the day was as follows: all the students would be divided into three “suicide boats” (so named because they would be on their own in the boat without any experienced instructor or guide to help). We, (the instructors) would row down in a separate raft in front, in part to set safety, but more importantly to throw out pool toys into the water in the middle of rapids and yell “Swimmer!!” as loud as we could. It would then be the suicide boats’ responsibility to pick up their “swimmer”, hopefully in a timely manner.
After rigging our boat in the morning, we decided that Noah would row, Brad would take video, and I would get to throw most of the swimmers. I was totally supportive of this arrangement, and made it my goal to put our bright little swimmers in places that weren’t necessarily all that easy to get to. Give the students a little bit of a challenge, I thought. So, I went about setting those pool toys in slow moving eddies alongside fast wave trains that are hard to stop in, and behind rocks in slots that are hard to maneuver a boat to. I have to say, I did a pretty darn good job at this.
And of course, the outcome was at times quite entertaining. Although for the most part this new group of guides was actually quite impressive. The example that most sticks out in my mind of a good rescue was in Lower Haystack Canyon, where Maureen actually perched herself on a rock downstream of the Lobster in order to stop herself in the middle of the rapid, then began a tough paddle back upstream using various eddies to get back to the poor abandoned swimmer.
Feeling a little mischievious myself towards the end of the day, I decided to really put the test to this relatively competent group of students. In Bouncing Rock Rapid, I carefully tossed the beach ball and shark into an eddy directly next to the final drop in the rapid, behind the rocks making up the right-hand side. Mind you, this is not a spot that an actual person who swam in the rapid would ever actually end up in, because hardly any current is heading there. The toys were almost impossible to see from the top of the rapid, and could only really be spotted as the boats were going over the final drop. The result was a pretty funny series of one boat after the other passing their “swimmers”, saying something to the effect of “Oh shoot!” when they finally spotted them as they were going by, pulled downstream by the current, and frantically trying to backpaddle to catch the tiny eddy. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t until about a hundred yards downstream that all the boats managed to finally stop. OK so maybe a little bit cruel, but at least they learned a little bit about how difficult it can be to catch those micro eddies. Right? Not to mention, they also learned a little bit about the challenges of hiking back upstream through the brush to retrieve their swimmer. The picture here is of Andrew returning from his hike with inflatable shark in tow. The students all took the day in good stride, appreciating the humor as much as we did while also taking the rapids seriously.
My overall impression of our new group of guides was a very good one. They were a supportive and cohesive group, constantly congratulating each other throughout the day and working great together to get themselves smoothly downstream. On top of that, they were a fun and incredibly enjoyable group of people with a great mix of personalities. I’m excited to have met them all and to have them join the AO family!