“It's Not A Stick [Shift], Is It?” – Week #7: River Guide

Friday 08/06/10 @ 5:10pm CDT: Leave Austin, Texas by Greyhound bus. Saturday 08/07/10 @ 2:40pm MST: Arrive in Phoenix, Arizona by Greyhound bus.

Sunday 08/08/10 @9am MST: Leave Phoenix, Arizona by car.

Sunday 08/08/10 @1:40pm MST: Arrive in Page, Arizona by car.

1,379 miles of travel in order to make it to Job #7! The journey map has been retired for obvious reasons. If you're really curious, you can view it on a separate tab.

If my friend Katie hadn't given me a ride from Phoenix to Page, I'd be in lots of trouble. A 5-hour drive to Page, and then 5 hours more back to Phoenix. Now that's a good friend. Thank you so much, Katie!

Last week, I was a river Guide with the Colorado River Discovery (CRD)! This job was the first one I received when I found out I got into the One-Week Job Program, suggested by my friend Dani. Being the quintessential outdoors Arizonan girl, she had worked for CRD one summer and wanted me to get to know what many would call "the best job ever" for a week:

"Would you be interested in a river guide job? Kinda random, but beautiful and fun :) I do suppose if boats are not your thing it might not be the best option, but let me know if you're interested!"


When I read Dani's email in early June, I was immediately cautious. I asked her if I had to know how to swim. If I decided to do this job, I would already be 98% out of my element. It would be quite unfortunate if I traveled all the way to Page, only to find out I had to be a skilled swimmer. I'd then be 100% incompetent, and that's...not good.

Dani responded, letting me know that swimming wasn't required for two reasons:

  1. River guides are required to wear a lifejacket at all times.
  2. The water stays around 47 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.

Oh I thought. Well, as long as the chances of me dying are low, I need to say yes. Dani did mention the words "Grand" and "Canyon" in her email, so per my OWJ approach this entire summer, I “went with it.” Say yes first, and deal with the details later. I sent Dani my information right away. Korey Seyler, Sales and Marketing Manager of CRD and friend of Dani, emailed me, saying he had gotten my information from Dani and was ready to work with me if I was willing:

I was so excited to hear and learn about the project that you were selected to participate in and I think that Colorado River Discovery would be an interesting experience during your journey.”


I told Korey I was willing.  I had to throw myself in the deep end. He, Drew, CRD Operations Manager, and I had a phone conversation to finalize details. Two months later aka last weekend, I was hanging out with my friend Katie in her new Phoenix apartment. Having moved to Phoenix for a new job not too long ago, Katie was just as new to the area as I was. We decided to stick to the activities that were guaranteed to please, having dinner and going to a drive-in movie theatre (my first time, SO HAPPY ABOUT DOING THIS!), and slept early for the big drive to Page the next day.

You're probably wondering where Page is. The answer, my friend, is “Far, Far Away,” or “In the middle of nowhere.”

Yeah, that's about 9 miles from the Utah border. You'll be hard-pressed to find a lot of people who actually grew up in Page, because it was created a little over 50 years ago. The area used to be Navajo property, but was then released for the residential use of Glen Canyon Dam construction workers and their families. Page has only been an official town since 1974. While many previous small towns are quickly turning into bigger cities, Page seems to be stuck behind because it's still a relatively new small town and its growth depends heavily on tourism. Through research, I found that there are more than twice as many Caucasians in Page as there are Native Americans, but I totally would've guessed the opposite from my week there.

Just a little history lesson for you.

Anyway, I'm sure you can imagine how beauteous the drive north was that Sunday. Mountains, pine trees, reservation lands. I had never seen anything like it. As Katie and I traveled, the elevation increased while the temperature decreased. At one point it was a perfect 70 degrees, and we had to pull over and walk around. I have a lot of photos. When we got to Page, the elevation was about 4200 feet, and my ears were popping a lot. Katie and I got dinner and ice cream, did some dam-viewing, and headed over to the CRD Welcome Center with my stuff. Korey wasn't there, but Adam, a CRD staff member, was. I wanted Katie to get back to Phoenix with enough time to get a good night's sleep, so I gave her a hug and thanked her deeply.

Adam gave me a tour, after which Korey picked me up and took me to his house to drop off my luggage and get used to the couch I would be getting to know for the next few days. I lived with three guys last week.

I lived with three guys last week.

Korey showed me around the house, letting me know that I was free to use any cars or bikes if I needed to get around.

I also noticed that the door wasn't locked, which I found out was pretty common in the small town. I found the environment of trust sweet, and decided to go along with it. The rest of the night was very relaxed. Korey left me to go to do errands, and his brother, Kyle came home shortly thereafter. Kyle and I hung out for a little while, and then Korey came home. They showed me their slackline in the backyard, something that they both have been practicing on for about a month. I tried and failed...but interest was sparked.

I didn't have food, and Korey suggested I drive his truck to Safeway to get groceries. I immediately became anxious and insecure. If I haven't had enough practice with something (I've never owned a car and drive pretty infrequently), I'm hyper-aware to the point where it's just a burden. And if it's something that most people my age know how to do instinctively, I'm always embarrassed about it (since I assume most people wouldn't understand my emotions about it). Anddd, if there's a risk of bringing a terrible inconvenience to another (i.e. if I wreck someone's car), I'm just stressy about all the possibilities that I secretly see as probabilities.

Part of me still dislikes driving after all this time. But I got over my hesitation because I was hungry and I didn't want to ever worry about food during the week. On my way out the door, I met roommate #3, Forrest. I took Korey's truck, got groceries, waited forever in line, and brought the vehicle back safely, complete with terrible parking job. I figured that it was a small town, so I'd be okay driving a car that wasn't mine. An Arizonan small town, but still a small town.

In order to be a Colorado River Discovery River Guide, you not only have to know how to drive a pontoon boat, but you also have to know your history. When I first started corresponding with Korey, he stressed the importance of knowing what they call “Interp” or the interpretation of certain parts of the River that pertain to certain parts of history. Korey actually sent me the 204-page document via snail mail to me, and I received it a week before OWJ began. He intended for me to study ahead of time in order to expedite the training process, which usually takes longer than I was planning to stay in Page. I thought it was really cool how invested and prepared Korey was in the OWJ process.

Unfortunately, there was a problem.

It was the night before I was to go out on the River, and I hadn't read the book at all. Not even a word. I'm not sure what happened. There were nights where I planned to study. I think one night I even updated my facebook page status, saying that I was studying for a future job. But it never happened. Something always came up, and just like my time in school, I ended up studying at the last minute. I knew that worrying would only waste time and energy, but I began my seventh one-week job being really disappointed in myself. After all, I was already nervous about driving, and being on the water. Not knowing the information didn't help. History was always my worst subject in school too. Some lessons will never be fully learned, I suppose.

Everyone went to bed around 10:30pm, and I stayed up really late, trying my best to read and understand as much as I could, so when I was exposed to the field, the information would stick. I told myself that no matter what, I would keep pushing through any negativity I was going to feel this week. I wasn't going to forget how blessed I was with every moment I had. Fear stops, and I wasn't living to be stopped. I vowed to press on, and if that meant asking for help relentlessly, I would do it. I fell asleep sometime after 2am.

The next morning, I got to the shop at 7am, as Korey told me to do the night before. I met up with Drew, and we went over my schedule for the week. I took a picture for an access card to the canyon tunnel, and I gave him my paperwork. During the summertime, Colorado River Discovery offers two half-day trips, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. All the trips are smooth-water trips, because they are on a 15-mile stretch of the Colorado River within the Glen Canyon, not the Grand Canyon. Still amazing, don't be fooled! They also give specialty trips (some of which are full-day) as a part of other companies' programs, such as those of Tauck Tours and Grand Canyon Airlines. Drew and Korey arranged for me to experience all four types of trips with different river guides, over the course of the first four days. They hoped for me to lead my own trip on Friday, the last day.

On this Monday morning, I was to do what is called a “turn”, where as a river guide, you give a trip both in the morning and afternoon. That's a 12-hour day where you get to the shop at 6:30am, and don't finish until about 6:30pm. Because I didn't have my access card, I was like a passenger on the first day, so I rode to and from Glen Canyon Dam on the bus with passengers. My first trip was with Matia, who is a part-time English teacher and works at a sushi restaurant. She has a very dry humor and it was funny to see her interact with the passengers. My second trip of the day was with Lauren, who goes to nursing school during the non-summer months. Her humor was more of the cute and cheery mix.

Since it was my first day, the differences between Matia's and Lauren's “interp” were hard to point out, but it was fun comparing the two groups of passengers and how both river guides fed off of the personalities of their respective boats. I sat back during both trips and tried my best to take in everything. There was a second where I asked myself what the heck I was doing. I don't “do” water and boats and nature. But there I was, in the midst of natural wonder. I was fortunate to be where I was. Change again.

I fell asleep on the bus back to the shop. I guess the heat got to me. I couldn't find Korey or Drew, but I found Adam, who told me once again to report back the next morning at 7am, since the likelihood of my access card being ready was slim. When I got home, Kyle and I watched TV. Then, Kyle, Forrest, and I watched the movie “The Road.” Powerful, but sad. I showered, then everyone parted ways. I could not sleep because I had “interp” on my mind. I was having trouble remembering some things. I stayed up until 4am or so reading.

Tuesday morning, I woke up around 6:20am to see Kyle on his way out for his morning trip. I forgot to mention that Kyle and Forrest work at CRD too. Oh and that Matia lived in the same house while I was there, but downstairs. Anyway, as I was getting ready, I got a few missed calls, and I called the first number back. It was Kyle, telling me that my access card was ready, and that I needed to be ready soon. I called the other number and it was Drew, telling me that someone was on their way to pick me up because having an access card meant I could ride to the canyon through the tunnel with all the river guides, before the passengers arrived. I'd then get to see how all the river guides prepared for their trips. One step closer to being in the river guide culture! :)

I hurried to get ready, and walked outside to see a CRD van pull up. Out of the van stepped Easy, the guy who was my river guide for Tuesday's morning trip. We instantly connected on issues of friendship, money, and work. Easy and I are similar in age, people-passion, and our insatiable thirst for knowledge. Our differences: one of us is a college-graduate, and the other is an amazing river guide. During my short time with Easy, I became inspired, yes, but a little jealous too. He was so good at connecting with/reading the people on his trip with his words and with his guitar-playing. He knew everything about every part of the river stretch, and about a bunch of random things. He was full of puns, and it was hard not to laugh at each and every one. I hoped to develop that ability to engage people consistently.

At one point, Easy talked about how he was from a small village in Utah, and how he used to be really shy and reclusive. He decided to become a river guide to get over that. He knew he loved people, but he didn't know how to connect with them, so he figured this job would help him improve, and it worked. I never would have guessed that Easy was ever shy, but when he told me his story, it made sense. I, too, used to be much more shy and diffident than I am now...in fact, everything that Easy said in his story mirrored that of mine, just in a different context. Hanging out with Easy made me begin to think of the status of being formally educated and how I grew up in an environment that thought a life without a college degree was a doomed one. Though I followed the traditional schooling route, I'd always thought differently. I was in school, but part of me felt that school wasn't necessary. It was an opportunity that I need not waste, but it was me, whose passion for learning independently, even when no one was looking at me or checking my grades, enabled me to make it through school, excel, and continue to love learning even after graduating from college. For me, Easy was proof of the power-in-fervor-alone concept that I believe in so much.

Easy was patient with me and very, very informative. Every time he did something when he was with me, he was sure to stop and explain what he was doing, whether I asked or not. It turned out that I really needed this because I was so overwhelmed with information, that I didn't really know what to ask or where to begin asking. He gave me first exposures to things such as knot-tying, boat-driving, river-reading, etc. It was still a lot to grasp, but the fact that someone took time to explain things was calming in a situation that I often forgot I was tense during. Tuesday was the day that I began to breathe a little easier, and that was a step toward success and growth. When Easy and I got back to the dam (every trip begins at the Glen Canyon dam and ends at Lee's Ferry. After the passengers get off at the Ferry, they bus an hour back to the CRD shop, while the river guides drive their boats back to the dam for an hour), I thanked him heartily for spending time with me and for helping me calm down and learn. He responded:

Thank you for wanting to learn, Michelle.”


I told him that I'd probably steal that response. Now, while I had gotten more practice with all things river guide, I had gained more confidence. Enough confidence to know that I wasn't going to be confident enough to lead a trip on my own Friday. It's important to take risks and stretch yourself, but it's also important to know your limits. Even though it was Tuesday, I was so sure of my feelings. Korey showed up at the dam while all the morning river guides were cleaning up, and he asked me if I was ready for Friday. I told him that I was not ready and was too nervous, and he told me that everyone says that about their first trip. Doesn't everyone say that everyone says something but really there are times when one person didn't say what everyone supposedly said? I thought. “Oh,” I said out loud. Korey reassured me: “Drew and I were talking about it, and one of us will just accompany you, okay?”

I was unsure again, conflicted. I really didn't view my thought process as “giving up,” just being smart. I'd been through six jobs already; it wasn't as if I was a stranger to change. And it wasn't as if I wasn't pushing myself in Arizona either.

I just had this feeling of anxiety in me that I felt shouldn't be ignored, that I had to speak up about early on so as not to waste anyone's time. I was kind o f proud of myself, but then I didn't expect Korey's response. “Okay,” I told Korey. I rode back to the shop with Easy, and I bought some sunglasses. I had to admit to myself that my eyes were going to die if I kept my habit of squinting my way through 3-plus hours in the sun. I got home at 1:30pm, napped for 30 minutes, and showered.

You need to speak up and ask questions, I told myself in the shower. This is something way different. Way, way different. BE the river guide. You need to try harder. No matter what happens, you tried your best. Get that best-trying going. Effort is one step away from your fear.

I tried this self-pep talk for a little longer, and then I got tired. Tomorrow was a new day, and all these people believed in me. I wanted them to know that I wasn't a slacker or fooling around with their business, but that I was just plain scared this week. But...all the energy I was putting into trying to convince others that my fear is real is energy that could be put into addressing the fear. The fear of too many things.

Forrest came home a little while later, and we played a bit of guitar. Around 6:30pm, Korey and Kyle came home. Korey was so kind to make dinner for Kyle and me – a “Korey combo” of rice, eggs, and veggies. Spicy enough of to clear my nasal cavity, loved it! We watched another movie, “I Love You, Man.” Forrest joined later. Tuesday night was Forrest's last night in town because he was moving back to Tucson for the start of school the next morning. That night, we biked (I borrowed Matia's bike) to a karaoke event. On the way to the bar, there was an airbrushed t-shirt kiosk, and Forrest bought a custom shirt, something for him to remember his first summer in Page by. Lauren, Matia, and a few other guides were out as well, and it was a wonderful time. Kyle went home, and Forrest and I continued to bike the streets of Page until 1:45am or so.

It was a cool, calm night.

Despite being more uncomfortable at a job than I had ever been, I liked where I was. I missed biking streets, I liked being outdoors, and I liked being surrounded by beauty. Everything was set up so it was hard to ignore anything but the present. By the wee hours of Wednesday morning, my time as a river guide was quickly becoming a beautiful mess of opposites – nothing easy, but good nonetheless.

So What About You?

What is the difference between “giving up” and “knowing yourself and your limits”?

I'm really interested to hear what you have to say on this one! Talk to meh, I won't be here for much longer!


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The best job ever...”