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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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Gary Lane
www.doryfun.com

 

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