A Grand Obsession
My love for the Grand Canyon started pretty early: my very first overnight backpacking trip was to Indian Gardens when I was seven years old. Since then, I’ve visited many times and hiked more than 300 miles in the canyon.
Even with that level of familiarity, I had a chance to experience the canyon in an entirely new way when I took an 18-day raft trip in April 2022. I was able to see parts of the canyon I’d never seen and experience familiar places from a new perspective. It was a “falling in love all over again” moment.
While going down the Colorado in a raft gave me a new way to experience the canyon, I also found the rafting itself fascinating. The rapids can be a fun ride, of course, but it was a lot more than that. It was realizing that it’s all about finding the water that will take you where you want to go. It was the rhythm of life on the river. It was the opportunity the guides had to teach people about this place that I love.
Most of the river guides on our trip were highly experienced. All had at least ten years rowing in Grand Canyon, some much more than that. This made them excellent guides, but it would have been hard to think about stepping into their shoes. The one exception was Sequoyah, who was rowing our baggage boat. It was her first trip down the canyon rowing her own boat (she did a fantastic job). Seeing someone at the start of their career as a river guide made the job much more relatable. She inspired me to make the leap to think, “this is something I could do.”
Once I started thinking that being a river guide was something I could do, it didn’t take long for that to turn into “this is something I want to do.” About halfway through the trip, I started asking all guides how they’d gotten into the business and what path they’d recommend for someone who was interested. Thankfully, they were very tolerant and helpful. They talked about river guide schools, necessary training and certifications, working on other rivers, picking up work as an assistant or rowing a baggage boat, etc.
Dave and Leo, in particular, went beyond just answering my questions and offered me chances to row. I ended up rowing about 25 miles over the course of the trip. While I’m still very much a novice, it was enough to give me a sense of what it’s like. Definitely hard work, but not hard enough to dissuade me.
The canyon often casts a spell on people. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d lost interest in the idea after returning to the regular rhythms of daily life. If anything, my desire to get back on the river, to get back to the canyon, has only gotten stronger.
I think a big part of why being a river guide has stuck so soundly in my head is that it resonates with fundamental aspects of my personality. I enjoy being outdoors, especially out west. I enjoy learning new things, and being a Grand Canyon river guide would involve a lifelong process of learning all I can about the canyon. I enjoy teaching and passing that knowledge on to others like guides do with their guests.
Deciding on a career change like this is a pretty momentous decision. In the end, what it came down to is that I felt like I would regret not giving it a try.
In the next month and a half, I’ll be taking a ten-day river guide training, a Wilderness First Responder course, and a swiftwater rescue course. After that, I’ll be wrapping up a few things with my current job while I look for work as a river guide.
Whatever happens, it will be a grand adventure.