I can’t believe it’s already the end of June 2017. This time last year I had left my Nicaraguan family and moved on to Costa Rica for my solo part of the summer. Looking back on this past year I have become fluent in Spanish, completed 200 hours of yoga teacher training, bought a house, become a landlord, started an AirBnb, become a yoga teacher, become a wilderness first responder, gotten my Avy 1 certification, and now my level three swift water rescue certification. It’s stupid, the amount of sh*t you learn once you stop going to school. I finally get to devote my energy towards what I want to, instead of what I’m told to. Time. It feels like I arrived in the Flathead Valley yesterday, yet here I am a month and four days later a bona fide river guide. I left Bozeman with one goal for the summer. Make it through the swift water training and the countless hours on the river it takes before you can complete a check off run and start taking clients all by yourself, actually making money for doing the thing you love most.
The dream started when I was a wee thing. My parents instilled the love of the river in me, making sure we went on at least one river trip a summer. By the time I was 9 my dad was already dreaming of the day I could row him down the river; beer in hand lounging on the poco pad across the cooler that was generally reserved for me and Katie Hostetler, one of my life long river friends. We would only get to see each other when our families came together for river trips; she lived in Wyoming, us in Nevada. My dad and her dad, Jeff, had grown up ski racing in Colorado together and eventually found themselves on the ski team at the University of Wyoming where they would soon meet our moms. By the time I was 13, papa Roy was shouting at me over the turmoil of whitewater deep within the Grand Canyon, coaching my skinny arms through big wave trains and how to hold my shit together when the boat was tossed sideways. And then it happened. I was 17 and rowing his boat down the Main Salmon. It took all of one day for him to complain that I stole his boat, what was he supposed to do all trip, was he going to get fat? *Perpetual tossing of Tecate to the front of the boat.* By 21 I was rigging my parents’ boat, hooking up their trailer to dad’s truck, and driving towards the river without them. Granted they would have come if they could—work sucks, I know. And all these years as we were passed by commercial trips, watching the chaos of their launches at the put-in, my mom always said, “Hey look, that could be you!” “You should be a guide,” and “Wait, maybe you shouldn’t because you hate people…oh! Just row the gear boat for trips!” On my last Main Salmon trip, three O.A.R.S. guides were watching me rig my boat the night before we launched, asking me how long I had been rowing and why I wasn’t a guide yet. So here I am. And I owe that last little nudge to start applying to those guides I met at Corn Creek.
Here I am in a place I’d visited a few times, a place where I know I have friends scattered across the valley, but they’re in the valley. Not the canyon. “Canyon critters,” as Nathan explained to me, are the people who dwell in the canyon that leads you from the Flathead Valley to West and East Glacier. They come for the summer months, or maybe they live here year round, and it turns out I’m in that category. Since entering the canyon, I’ve made it back to the farm three times. And each time Cassady and Nathan are proud that I’ve made it out but also surprised as to why I even decided to leave. I still can’t decide if being a canyon critter is a good or bad thing. Maybe it’s both. My point is though that I moved up here with no expectations. I didn’t know anyone who worked up here, much less anyone who worked for Glacier Raft. But this time I wasn’t afraid of showing up in a place where I had no connections. I threw myself into the mix and so far, so good. I can’t begin to explain how good it feels to be in a place where no one has any idea who you are, where you came from, what you’re like “back home,” and where you haven’t already been put into a social box. I’ve been able to show up and be present, and allow my weird self to always shine through—as it should. Every day I’ve woken up satisfied. It’s the biggest relief to wake up and know that all you have to do is feed yourself, show up at the barn, do all the things raft guides do all day, drink a beer at the end of it and then go home. It’s simple. I don’t feel like I need to be doing anything else. Of course there’s the park and my bike and yoga and running and skiing and whatever else, but I’m not in a hurry to do all of those things in one day, one week, or even one month. All I really want to do is be on the river all day every day, and that’s exactly what I have been doing. It might sound all new-age but I am so content to just be. This is how I know I’m exactly where I need to be.
Today I spray painted my cam straps and carabineers gold and had this huge sense of accomplishment. It was symbolic to my year. There were tons of ups and downs and tears and laughs but I’ve decided it was a great year for me. It’s like I painted that sh*t gold and walked away with room to grow. And grow I will up here in the North. Just you wait.