Orion River Rafting just completed 2012's annual river guide training. Twenty intrepid individuals signed on to take this year's course. We had nurses, EMTs, firefighters, IT types, parks and recreation administrators, small business owners, and college and high school students. The usual gamut of personalities, occupations and attitudes.
Some were fast learners blessed with a natural proclivity to wield a guide paddle and a laser sharp attentiveness to details. Some needed more time to absorb the lessons. For them, repetition was the key to learning. But the longer I do this (this was my 34th season of training new guides), the more I realize how much better prepared these new river rafting guides are as compared to the founding days of river rafting in Washington state.
River rafting guides in the twenty-first century are benefiting from several decades of accumulative experience and passed on knowledge. Guides of today know more about river rescue scenarios, are armed with better personal gear and outfitted gear, spend more time practicing getting in and out of rafts and righting capsized rafts.
Trainers have become better at teaching how to read white water and what to expect depending on an extensive continuum of possibilities. This does not mean we aren't surprised every now and then but the vast array of white water potentialities grows smaller with each season. New guides still have a learning curve to overcome, but they start their careers so much better prepared and informed than the guides of the 70s and 80s.
To be honest, I feel as if this millenia's river rafting guides emerge at the end of their training as good a guide as I was in 1990 after almost 16 years of boating. They don't have the base of experience, but they certainly know or have heard as much about how to raft and how to raft safely as I did by the time I had been out on the water a decade and a half.
About the only advantage I think the boaters of yesteryear have over guide training graduates over the last decade or so is our experience rafting in non-self-bailing inflatables. Particularly guiding 'bucket' boats through white water like Boulder Drop Rapids on the Skykomish or, for that matter, most of the rapids on the Skykomish from the town of Index on down about a mile past Boulder Drop. Nothing is quite like being at the mercy of how much water the river might pour into your raft.
Fortunately for our new river rafting guides, they won't ever have to experience navigating Class V white water with a raft that is just getting heavier by the second and a crew that is just getting more fatigued from paddling hundreds, or thousands of pounds, of water downriver. Those days are long over. Bail buckets are for water fighting and hand washing these days.
So here is a toast to our new guide training graduates, "To all who have just graduated. May you now go on to become educated!"