By Elena Pressprich
I didn't grow up on the water, I grew up hiking, camping and skiing in the mountains. Sure, I had swimming lessons, but we didn't spend much time around white water or extended river trips. So, as an adult, I had become slightly “afraid” of rapidly moving water, or even big bodies of water… I mean, there are monsters in those big bodies of water that want to nibble at your feet. I was always the kid who stayed on the beach and ate hot dogs while the other brave souls ventured into the ocean. As far as whitewater, that is just scary to me for many reasons.
It was about 8 years ago I had met some friends who were big into whitewater rafting & kayaking and were guides at a local company. They would come back from multi-day trips giddy happy, had sun-kissed skin, filled with stories from the river and they smelled terrible. I wanted in. But how? I was a nervous nelly around rivers, especially whitewater. Now I’m thinking I want to guide others down it? They will trust me with their lives! That’s nuts. Whatever, I need to toughen up and be brave, conquer this goal. Part of growing up is facing your fears. I hadn’t done much to scare myself in my life at that point, that’s how I decided that there is no better time than now. There’s only one way to find out if I can do this whole be-a-river-guide-dirt-bag-er thing.
I applied and got through rounds of interviews. I was IN. After months of physical + educational training, time spent staring and learning to read water, and guiding my bosses down class III+ rapids successfully, I was officially “qualified”. I spent the next two summers, living a real (good) dirtbag life. I enjoyed every day on the water, guiding guests down either the McKenzie River or the Lower Deschutes in Central Oregon. I showered infrequently, had tan and freckled skin (or the most a fair girl like me can get) and (finally) buff-ish arms. I learned to read all types of water, navigate the rivers, steer rafts and kayaks, give safety briefings, and learned swift water rescue skills. I learned to talk confidently and loudly in front of large groups of people, skills I severely lacked in. It was a lot of uncomfortable stuff, but it was so great and so necessary.
In the big picture: I learned more than just how to be a guide. I learned how to be safe around treacherous waters and to respect the water. It will always win. I learned how to communicate, take charge and make quick decisions. Most of all, I learned that being brave and taking risks can be so, SO rewarding.