Gauley Postscript – Could vs. Should

We had big waves, and we had a safe return.

It was a great trip.  This was the sixth year that I’ve been organizing these rafting trips, and we had our biggest contingent yet with 13 rafters.  Several are repeats who have come to look at this trip as an annual rite of early autumn, but every year we add a few more to the list.  Everyone was gracious with their thanks to me for organizing the trip, and my response was always the same – I’m happy to do it.  Organizing a rafting weekend every year guarantees that I will be able to go rafting every year.  And, I do get a lot of pleasure out of making the experience available to others.  This year’s trip, however, left me wondering whether there is a way for rafting to play a more prominent role in my life.

In a blog post written while we were getting ready to set out on the Lower Gauley run, my wife showed how well she knows me:

They’ll come home thumping their chests dreaming of jobs that allow for this kind of fun every weekend and on the days in between! Monday morning will come quickly and will hit hard. Such reality is never pretty! Soon the fantasies of the dream job on the river will fade and they’ll begin making plans for next fall’s river trip.

Guilty as charged.  With 15 notches in my whitewater rafting belt, a dozen of them on either the Upper or Lower Gauley, I have to admit that the thought of leading trips instead of paying for them has crossed my mind.  This is nothing new, as I’ve always returned from my rafting adventures euphoric and full of grand ideas.  However, as I’ve gotten to know some of the guides on more of a personal level, I’ve come to realize that joining their ranks really is within the realm of possibility.

After all, not all river guides are pony-tailed 20-somethings who alternate between guiding in the summer and teaching snowboarding in the winter, living out of their car all the while.  There are Gauley guides who spend Monday-Friday behind a desk, or in a classroom, or even a courtroom.  While some Gauley guides are transients and others are West Virginia locals, there are many more who live up to several hours away.  They clock out of their “real” jobs on Friday afternoon, then head to W.Va for the weekend.  In fact, our guide this weekend has a longer commute from his home in Ohio than I would have from Charlottesville.     

So what would it take to become a guide?  I’m physically capable, and have a reasonable whitewater experience base upon which to build.  I would need to go through guide training, which takes place on successive weekends throughout the spring.  Once trained, guides can start leading trips on the New throughout the summer and fall, then the Lower Gauley, and finally the Upper Gauley. 

And that, of course, is why I can’t be a river guide.  The fact that I could spend my weekends as a river guide doesn’t mean that I should spend my weekends as a river guide.  There are guides who are married, and there are guides who have children.  However, I think it’s a safe bet that there are few if any guides who live three hours away from the river and have four children.  If there are, they certainly aren’t involved with their families’ lives in the way that I need to be with mine.

It’s taken me a few days to come to grips with this reality, as my wife predicted.  Now I feel rather silly and selfish for even having considered it.  But, it was an important exercise for me to work through.  Self-awareness and all that, you know. 

If my life situation was different, I believe that I would be guiding, regardless of whatever I was doing Monday-Friday.  I really do feel that strong a connection to it – the river, the adventure, the whitewater fraternity.  But, my life is not different, and I thank God that it is not.   


One Response to Gauley Postscript – Could vs. Should

  1. Granddaddy says:


    I can understand fully the pull of adventure involved in rafting and the desire to “get into it” full or part-time. I often went through the same tugs and pulls regarding wilderness expeditions, climbing, repelling, etc. , wishing I could leave the work-world behind, not just for a couple of weeks every summer, but “for good.” But then came the reality of family and professional responsibilities–and the weight of growing responsibilies as organizer and leader of the groups. I finally concluded that I was losing the fun of extended wilderness expeditions that I once enjoyed because I was becoming more and more a counselor for overhiked and overstressed members of the group. Disputes between young athletic particapants vs. older ones who were not in excellent shape produced conflicts that I didn’t need or want in my paradise.

    I miss the Outward Bound years, but am satisfied that I made the right decision to keep my real job and let my trips into the backcountry once again become a pleasure and source of renewal.

    You didn’t ask for advice, but as you know, I am prone to give it anyway. My advice is, stick with the occasional rafting trips, continue organizing them, but don’t let what is now a good outlet and source of adventure become a job.” Keep the enjoyment in it by anticipating and actualizing the escape from routine work as often as you can rather than turning adventure events into your routine. Working at it may hasten the day when “the thrill is gone.”

    I hope I can get back into a raft or canoe with you some day soon


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