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River Rafting is Good for You

I have been rafting for a long time.

My first rafting experience was in the fall of my first year in college.  As a matter of fact, after matriculation, it was the very next thing I did.  The river rafting trip, regarded as my wilderness orientation to Prescott College, was a month long affair.

One month in the wilderness after having spent the majority of my life in well-ordered suburbs where my primary contact with the outdoors involved sports.

You can imagine it was an eye-opener in a number of ways.

My wilderness orientation, which took place over four decades ago, brought me serendipitously to this place.

Overnight raft trips are the single easiest method to 'leave it all behind.'  The 'behind' we referred to leaving used to just mean the traffic and the stressors of modern day life, ringing phones, the hustle and bustle of humanity and bills coming due, responsibilities to uphold.

Now, we are saddled with the ubiquity of always being connected to what is going on everywhere in the world.  The digital age is inexorably crushing our connection to nature.

River rafting is one of those outdoor activities that can help you find a balance.  It is one of the most accessible outdoor activities that also includes a built-in social aspect. Almost anyone can get out into nature via an inflatable raft.  And it is way more fun if you do it with others.

I have always found that a river trip centers me and reconnects me to both people and nature and now, it seems, researchers have some proof.



"In 2003, researchers Jonathan Haidt and Dacher Keltner published a landmark study on the social and emotional functions of awe. They found that awe appeared to increase people’s feelings of connectedness and willingness to help others. In their study, they wrote: “The consequences of awe should be of interest to emotion researchers and to society in general… Awe-inducing events may be one of the fastest and most powerful methods of personal change and growth.”

Over the past two summers we have successfully initiated a program of research to begin to test our own hypotheses that 1) outdoors experience improves physical, mental, and social well-being and 2) the emotion of awe is an important mechanism driving these effects."

On a three week long Grand Canyon trip quite some time ago, one of our participants, someone highly skilled in photography, decided to not only take before and after photos, but a photo weekly of each individual participant.  The transformations reflected in the sitting portraits are not just notable. They are remarkable.

If you looked at them you might exclaim that we had discovered the fountain of youth.  It was clear after 21 days divorced from the outside world our cares, wrinkles and frown lines had dropped away. You could see every face was recharged.

A day river trip is not capable of delivering your psyche to that stage of unfetteredness; however, it can still provide that dose of cortisol to help you regain balance in your life.  Add the accompaniment of a coterie of friends, family or co-workers and you could very well find some connections that were left behind or forgotten.

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Spring River Guide Training

Time to sign up if you want to be a guide, or if you just want to feel comfortable on the river on your own.
Only a few weeks away from our annual seven day guide training odyssey on the Deschutes River in north central Oregon and - as the senior instructor - I am beginning to feel the undertow of another river season.

Orion's guide training course kicks off every whitewater season and is comprised of seasoned and salty veterans, women and men, wide-eyed whitewater neophytes, those who revel in the adversity and those who are challenging their ordinary state of being, whatever that may be.

It is a time for ditching cellphones and the comfort of our creature habits.  Sharing and laughing and looking one another in the eye.  Being physically present because...you have to be to deal with the circumstances of being out amidst the elements.  Setting up tarps in windstorms and cooking over fires.

It will be a memorable trip.  Even for those of us participating in it for the 40th time.

The Phenomena of People

I do not have a river story for you this week, but I had a visit from a good friend from Bellingham and our reunion reminded me of one of the other reasons I have persevered with this little cottage industry.



I wrote a story a few years back titled "Why I (Continue to) Raft" and the gist of that column was that I realized how much I enjoyed getting people out on the water and watching the transformation.  It ended with the brief tale of my very young nephew from Dallas who floated the Skagit and - at first - was terrified of the moving, darn-cold-if-you're-from-Texas water.  And, despite being on a trip surrounded by a large Y group of boisterous Northwesterners who could not get enough of swimming, it appeared he would endure the trip and be ecstatic to see the takeout and a warm, dry car.

When we were halfway down the river, his entire attitude did an about face.  And by the time we hit the takeout he WAS ecstatic, but not about being finished and back to dry land.  …