It’s Hard To Find a Good River Guide These Days



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“It’s hard to find a good guide these days, “is an old saying we like to use when things go wrong out on the big creek.  But, contrary to the old saying, it seems good  river guides are actually quite easy to come by.  All you need check is most any river touring website to learn that most outfitters have only the very best ones working for them.  Apparently, it is much harder to find a bad one or even an average one.  If everyone is already a member of the crème del crème club, then it isn’t likely many will be reduced to the mere riffraff gang.


Somewhere back in the beginning, everyone has no experience and starts off with a clean slate.  There are many different ways to get experience, but aside from that, there are a lot of rules and regulations to become a bona-fide river guide.  Initially, in Idaho it is required that 3 trips be conducted under supervision of a licensed guide for each river or section you wish to be legal for.  Now that doesn’t make a real guide, but, along with first aid it does meet the required criteria for becoming a documented one.

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Many hoops come with the territory to help gain official job status as a guide and access to experience is highly varied.  There are numerous books, whitewater schools, or private boaters with enough trips they decide to transmute over to guide status.  But teaching good relationships and developing healthy people skills is a bit trickier and time-consuming.

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A common malady in this profession is that  once  some potential guides develop the proper river skills to run a successful trip, or like  what happens to some of the  more experienced people whom have already guided for a few years,  sometimes egos morph over into self-absorbed show-boating.  Unfortunately, grandiosity is like a disease that makes everyone sick.

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Perhaps susceptibility to this big headed-ness is partially due to the “spotlight effect.”  Commanding attention is an attribute that comes with the guiding territory, as escorting people through the wilds requires such for good leadership. This aspect  can sometimes transgress into behavior for some, similar to a performer being on stage. There is a subtle temptation of always trying to keep the plate spinning and be the center of attention.   The power of theater and drama sometimes magnifies the scene into something more than it really is.  Place is the important quality people usually sign up for when selecting a river trip.  Movies are where you go to purposely be entertained by actors.
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When the run-away horse of such illusions show up, a smart guide should grab the reins to regain the essence of what guiding really is.  Any guide worth their salt should recognize it isn’t about being the focus of the beam; it is more about spreading out the light for others to see things they might have missed without a little help.  There are many things to read from nature’s manuscript, and those who are more familiar with it are better able to help interpret what it is revealing to those who live more sheltered lives while in pursuit of other things.  Attention is the grail by which we see the message. That is, wherever our attention goes, so go we.

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One thing I observed in my early professional years was that the language used by a lot of guides towards guests was often quite condescending.  Calling people degrading names like dudes, peeps, city slickers, or some sort of business referral like customer or client was always a little  embarrassing for me to hear.  If I went to the city,  and being mostly out of my element and lost, it wouldn’t make my experience any better by being called a hill billy, country bumpkin, or ignorant backwoods okie. To me the word “guest” seems much more appropriate in either case when referring to any kind of visitor. It is much warmer and conveys a more welcoming spirit.


Helping people have an “ah ha” moment is the compound interest gained in an unusual outdoor adventure experience.  You never know when it might happen, but it helps when a guide is able to facilitate that potential by knowingly putting people in special places that are a rich seedbed for such growth to happen. Wisdom comes from nature, and once guides learn this value they can appreciate the importance of setting up circumstances where guests can be put into the middle of that garden of enlightenment.


If you could ask Lewis and Clark what value a guide has, you would discover how important their guides were to the success of their mission. For example, on the 1806 return trip in June, Lewis and Clark had great apprehension about crossing the snow-covered mountains without guides. They felt they could not cross without them and luckily were able to persuade Speaking Eagle, Black Eagle, and Ahs-kahp, who were three of the very best Nez Perce guides to lead their way. Of course, these were not their only guides, besides them, and Sacagawea who led them a good part of their distance in uncharted territories.


These guides were as excited then, as guides of today often get when taking modern people into some of the same rugged and beautiful landscapes of today. The Nez Perce were paid with guns which made their hunting easier, while guides today get paid in money which make their livelihoods possible. Though the more esteemed value to both was deeply felt in the heart and spirit where no material thing can be taken. What is life really about, if not to get out and see what there is to see? Inspiration keeps depression at bay.


But, in the process of getting out and seeing things we have never seen before, it is only reasonable to find a good guide. It can be a writing guide, or human guide, but in either case it is the information and knowledge they contain that we seek. Sure, anyone can go out on their own without consulting any form of guide for true unadulterated exploration. But, aside from that goal, guides help us save time and offer more opportunities to see wonderful things we might otherwise miss. It takes a large chunk of time to make your own trial and error path trying to learn anything new. The learning curve is greatly reduced by piggy-backing someone else’s consumption of time to figure things out.


Even guides consult other guides, maps, guidebooks, and any source that might provide additional insights into becoming more intimate to an area. Rather it is new country, or a different perspective in familiar country, one can never learn too much. So while adventure isn’t the map, a map still has the advantage to make the adventure less risky and a time effective endeavor.  Dead end trails eat away time and back tracking efforts might cut a designated time trip, to a shorter length, and possibly to even miss the final planned destination.


Hidden dangers, and dangers not even suspected to be dangers that are known to guides, but not the uninitiated, can mean the difference between failure and success, or in extreme cases life and death. All through time humans have sought the advice of guides, from soothsayers to YouTube, people continue to seek sources to guide their way forward through the march of time.

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As a river guide, I often find myself in places, such as where the Nez Perce guides of yesteryear once stood in awe of their surroundings. Like a special place in the mountains where Speaking Eagle, Black Eagle, and Ahs-kahp stopped before a rock Caryn built by their ancestors to remind travelers to pause and wonder at the meaning of their world. It is said that the voice of Itsiyiyi,  or spiritual Coyote, would sometimes speak to those who listen:

“Frail Human, standing tall with head near the stars above,
Proud-standing, with feet on the birthing-place of rivers,
Safely have you come thus far through these mountains.
How could you tell which way to go?
Looking up, what do you see? Nothing but sky.
Looking down, deep canyons.
Behind – mountains. To right and to left – mountains.
Looking ahead – mountains. Mountains as far as eyes can see.
You, who are a mere Human! How can you find your way?
Something Greater than you has been your Guide.”


Gary Lane



Romancing A River – Why Not Make the Salmon River Your Valentine for Tomorrow?

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What makes the sensuous Salmon River such a seductress among white water adventurers?  That is a large question for a large river. Perhaps the biggest reason is its curvaceous nature and sensuous excitement that waits mysteriously around each bend. 

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For any who get within range of sight or sound of this splendiferous river, its mighty pull is similar to what it was like when getting too close to the Sirens in Greek mythology.  Once nature’s spell is cast, there is no escape. It will lure you into the middle of the magic where it is hard to tell what is real or an illusion.


Similar to what love does between people that makes them do wild and crazy things, so too does the Salmon River take you into a world beyond the rational.  Beauty comes in many shades and forms, but its power is all the same, though it can affect people quite differently.  It can take your breath away, or make you breath harder; can freeze you in the headlights like a deer, or make you dance like a happy footed penguin; make you what to scream and shout, or steal away into solitude and quiet.


As in most relationships between two people, it is the physical attraction that first inspires that initial contact between a human and the river. In the case of the Salmon River, it is the deep emerald pools that make you want to jump in over your head, the huge riverside beaches with Hawaiian-like sands that make you want to play footsies with the shore, and grandiose canyon walls that have a labyrinthine stranglehold over your psyche.


The river makes its own rules and there is always an edge to worry.  Be it floating up to an event horizon at the top of a rapid, or standing at the brink of a  lava wall at the top of the canyon, the closer one gets to the line of demarcation the stronger the thrill.

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The premier attraction of any natural treasure is measured largely by its ensoulment to the heart. Like photographs that can never adequately capture the reality of place, neither can any words do a better job of communicating what feelings are evoked by actually being there.

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You can’t take a picture of or explain precisely what the Great Mystery really is, anymore than you can understand all the threads that weave it all together.  But you can feel and sense the mystery of it all when you immerse yourself in any natural wonder.   It is called a natural wonder because of what it makes you do.  Being enriched by nature makes you ponder everything between the far beyond and our place in the universe. Every answer to any of our wonders is most often yet another question. What else would one expect in an infinitely expanding universe?


As we consider our place in time and space, it seems only fitting that as we humans use Valentines Day to celebrate human love,  we should also be reminded that there is a more fundamental element at work underneath it all. It is our relationship with nature that makes it all possible.

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Nature is the seedbed to everything else that happens in our world, and it is by water that the garden of our very being is nourished and grown.  This spiritual water is delivered by river, as much as blood courses through our veins.  So what better symbol of a valentine to those we love than the sensuous river of romance that flows through the heart and enriches all.


My wife and I met on the Salmon River and were married on it, too. So it is very special to us. But, we are not the only ones to have been so influenced and seduced by this river. There are many others with similar such stories, and yet the river still lies in wait to continue working its magic spell of the sensuous over the uninitiated.

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Happy Valentines Day from Salmon River.
It doesn’t just occur on Feb 14th, it can happen anytime.

Gary & Barb Lane
or 208:628-3523 if calling by cell phone