The other night, before a host of old friends, employees and curious onlookers at Orion River Rafting's 33rd Anniversary bash, in the midst of a speech, which was really just a 'word from our sponsor', I confessed that, for me, it has never been about the white water.
And, if you note that my wife works her fingers to the bone as an emergency room nurse, aiding, abetting and enabling our business, you would also realize it has never been about the money either. (You might also take note of the decrepit equipment we nurse from season to season to arrive at the same conclusion.)
I became a river rafting enthusiast by accident.
I enrolled in a liberal arts college in the early '70s that believed outdoor experiences were integral to the health and well-being of a Socratic student. Freshman orientation was one month in the wilds of the American Southwest. It just so happened my month was spent rafting the Green and Colorado Rivers.
What I took away from my experience floating Labyrinth, Stillwater and Cataract Canyons was that white water river rafting was a blast but more importantly, spending a month in the wilderness with a group of people was an excellent medium for creating lifelong bonds. It was not hard to imagine making some kind of career out of introducing the general public to the joys of river running. But, after I left that small liberal arts school, what I specifically sought was a degree in Wilderness Education and Counseling Psychology.
I didn't know if it existed. I just knew that was what I was interested in.
A few years and a couple of higher institutions of learning later, I became a reluctant river rafting outfitting entrepreneur.
I started into business to escape college with my degree. I remained because it fulfilled what I perceived to be my sole purpose in life (if I had any purpose whatsoever) --- bringing people together.
Rivers, river trips, white water and flat water are the medium through which this happens. With a few contrivances, sleight of hand and silly games, our annual guide training accelerates the team/community building process which I have witnessed happening naturally on trip after trip. And, of course, the aftermath of each of those trips which continue to ripple through our community season after season.
River trips spawn stories. The oral history binds the tribe together from one generation to the next. The community itself takes on a life of its own and, before you know it, rivers, river trips, white water and flat water are the kernel at the center. The periphery tribal activities may be marginally related to river running, but directly related to the community.
This is why I like white water stories that are about people, not people telling their white water adventures. There are places and a time for those kinds of tales, but the stories that bind us together are the ones about us.
As I said at the outset, it has never been about the white water, it has always been about people.