river guide

Seventh Last Day: Good Ride, Good Pride

Recap Time. I felt good Friday morning. Jolly, semi-hyper. When I walked to work, I listened to my music and sang out loud. Danced a little. Thinking back, I believe my mood stemmed from the knowledge that I had truly tried my best all week. No matter what happened, no matter what anybody thought or said, I had put in killer effort for this job. Not everybody could say that if they were in my position.

I arrived at the shop at 9:30am since Korey and I were doing a GCA, and I got everything ready.

This trip was to be my time. My time to shine. The night before, Korey told me that the best way to lead the trip was to wait to be asked questions first, then I could answer and slowly gain the trust of the passengers.

Well, this is what happened.

The boat filled up with passengers, and I began talking about safety, fumbling a few words as I backed out smoothly. It became very obvious very quickly that the crowd was rough. There was very little response to anything, quite unlike the atmosphere of Thursday's trip. I made a bad, pre-arrangedjoke about how it was my first day, and that was why I was wearing a lifejacket. No laughter. At this point, we technically still hadn't left the dam yet. I gave an insufficient introduction about the area, even though I had sat through five introductions throughout the week. No response. Korey later told me: “You gotta get them from beginning.”

I didn't do so hot with that goal.

After the intro, followed by what was pretty much silence, I lost all the information that I knew, that I had studied all week, that I had heard repeated to me all week from the mouths of different people, in different ways. My “interp” was suddenly gone. I didn't obsessively cram the night before or anything, and I avoided doing the same thing the morning of. I treated the day as normal, but though the trip wasn't becoming a nightmare, it wasn't turning out as I had hoped it would. The thought of driving and talking no longer seemed possible. After I made another attempt to “Interp” (it's a verb now, yes haha!), I gave Korey a partially-helpless look, and he didn't let me linger alone for much longer. I silently thanked him.

After that, Korey made a few attempts to include me and get me talking, but I could contribute very little in the way of history facts. I had truly lost my info. When we got to the first beach stop, I didn't park well. Korey pretty much took over after this, and for some reason, I wasn't embarrassed. I guess I was tired of feeling as such, so I instead adopted a critical aspect of river-guiding: personal connection.

As the boss, Korey was doing a superb job of both driving and talking (he even had a few props: some canyon pictures, a notebook full of invigorating quotes, and a fun water-gun-hose-pump thing), but the passengers were still kind of quiet. During the tail-end of my boat-driving, I slowly called on a few people and asked them what they were about, making jokes. At beach stops, I got out of the boat and interacted with passengers, even some from other boats. I got overwhelmingly positive responses and by the end of the trip, I was communicating freely with people. An important part of being a river guide is being able to read your audience, like I mentioned during my time with Easy. Well, our passengers were stiff, but just needed pushing...they kinda needed to be spoon-fed, so that's what Korey and I had to do. I with the conversation-starting, and Korey with the good story-telling.

I wasn't educating anyone about Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and I wasn't driving a boat, but I was still making people feel comfortable, and that's important anywhere, for any type of job. Here's some proof of the bonding I'm talking about:

I mentioned that Korey did a great job as a river guide, but I should add that it was the best trip I'd been on in terms of who was running it. During much of the second half of the trip, I sat with the passengers and listened to Korey tell the stories of the Canyon. It was like being in a history class except the history class met around a fire in the middle of the woods. Everything is calm and quiet, and the only voice you can hear is that of the storyteller, whose words are released with a humble pride, assurance, and genuine respect and love for the tales. I've mentioned the different methods of the different guides before. Well, that also pertained to the actual facts being presented. It was funny to hear slightly-different numbers or quantities being recited. It made me wonder where each river guide got their extra information, or rather, what their rationalization was for rounding or not rounding. All in all, history's somewhat unstable. But exciting nonetheless.

When we got to the end of the trip, people were asking Korey much more than they were in the beginning. Despite the rocky start, Korey had “caught” them and kept them. Nearing Lee's Ferry, I looked up and saw the eyes of most every passenger looking up at Korey, ready for the next piece of history he was going to share.

He actually ended the trip with what sounded like a poem, entitled “A Song of Glen”. In short, the song talks about the importance of preserving the natural state of Glen Canyon, a passionate plea to prevent the damming of it. As Korey read through each stanza, it was surprisingly un-corny. When he finished, I shook my head in awe, disbelief, and with a little bit of laughter. I clapped, and everyone joined in heartily. The trip was in a league of its own, and even though I barely led it, even though it turned out nothing like I had hoped, especially when I had committed in my mind to actually doing it, I was happy to end my time on the river with an exceptional trip. I call Korey “The Glen Guru” now. I don't think he finds the name as clever as I do, but I will persist with it. :)

I drove the boat back to the dam one last time, navigating better than I had ever done before. It was windy again, but not as much as it was on Wednesday. At the end of the day, each river guide has to park their boats away from the dock, and one river guide has to pick everyone up and drop them back at the dock. That was me, and I did well at this in my opinion! I rammed into one staircase, but it was all good! I then parked the “22' x 14' inflatable, aluminum-framed raft” near the dock. I had gotten better at a lot of things this week. Not all the things I wanted to, but that was more than okay. I truly believed that now. I walked up the staircase, gathered all my belongings and turned around to look at the bridge, dam, and river. I physically waved my hand in thanks to the view. Bye. Thanks for the ride. Literally and figuratively, haha. I was sad to leave.

I wanted to stay and learn more. Practice more. Improve more.

When we all got back to the shop, everyone went their separate ways after cleaning up. It was Friday, and everyone was tired and ready to go home. Drew met us at the back, and he, Korey, and I talked about my week. Korey stayed to do some work, while I got some wise words from Drew, which you can hear here:

Drew offered to drop me off at Korey's, and I gladly accepted. In the driveway, we wrapped things up. I thanked him for his patience, guidance, and encouragement, and he wished me well. As he drove off, I again wished I could stay in town longer. I wanted to know more about Drew too.

That night, Korey, Kyle, and I went out to eat. I was really excited about this. I had spent quite a bit of time with Kyle, but I felt like getting to know Korey had only begun that morning, and I was eager to continue. We went to this really nice sushi lounge, a restaurant that didn't seem like it belonged in Page at all. It looked like a sleek, uptown hotspot for singles – a completely new world. We saw Kyle Davis and Matia at one point too!

The three of us shared rolls, and it was the greatest meal. I was still affected days after. This was only my second time for sushi, and it was cool to realize that my taste buds had matured greatly since that time. One of my flexible goals for this journey was to acquire more distinct tastes, and it was nice to know that I was succeeding.

While eating, there was some more discussion of college and careerism. Both Korey and Kyle did not finish college, and I pressed further, asking if they were ever worried or embarrassed by their “unfinished” education. The Seyler brothers are very talented, intelligent individuals and they agreed that the degree never came because they were simply busy living life and being successful. They liked their lives as such, and they didn't want it to change by any means. They both have significant experience with the job industry, and talked about the importance of working hard at whatever you did in life, with some goal of passion in mind of course. Korey told me how learning was life and vice-versa...so he just always operated that way. Just because he didn't get a huge portion of his learning from a college classroom didn't mean that any part of his life was unfulfilled. He told me this in a content, “it is what it is” tone, and I liked that.

We then talked about my life after the Program, and I told them what I was thinking: “I don't know what I'm doing. I feel as if everyone's moving back in with their parents.” When I said this, Korey immediately spoke up, saying that he didn't understand the trend. “What people should do is save up a little money, combine it with friends' funds, move to a big young city, and make it happen. Make it happen, that's what I did and do.”

I hate to keep repeating myself but I have to give you the facts. “Oh.” was how I responded. I never thought of things that way. Make it happen. I had a lot of thinking to do. The end of OWJ was fast approaching.

After dinner, we got dessert at a convenience store and went back home. I washed my clothes while Korey and Kyle had a heart-to-heart. I overheard Kyle say something that was really cute: “Man, I don't know. I'm going to miss working here all summer. I like Tucson a lot, but being a river guide is the best job. I know I won't ever find anything like it.” I smiled. That's another reason I wanted to be so good at river-guiding. The novelty.

After awhile, Kyle and I went out dancing, and Korey stayed in. Kyle and I connect on the issue of how dancing is necessary for nightlife. “You need to come down to Tucson,” he told me several times. “People really know how to dance there. They let go.” Of course I was going to remember that. I always find myself in places where people like to stand around and talk instead of dance to the music that is clearly begging to be treated right. Nonsense.

The night ended too soon, I slept, and then woke up early to finalize my packing and cleaning. I never said goodbye to Kyle as I left  the house, but I did get to see Easy, Kyle Davis, and Korey off when I dropped by the shop in the morning. As the warehouse door closed behind me, I heard Easy say "Have a nice life, Michelle!" I could feel his grin.

I don't think I've ever heard that statement delivered in such a genuinely positive manner. I've got to copy that dude more. He's just too good with his words. I mean, he's in Arizona, and I'm in Texas. No one will ever know.

Question Time.

What did you dislike about the job?

Having to constantly deal with multiple fears was never fun. It was stressful. That can be assumed. I also wish I had come earlier in the summer, because a lot of the river guides were burnt out by the time I got there. Had I gotten there in June or July, I would've gotten to experience more energy early on.

What did you like about the job?

I liked meeting new people every day, both guides and passengers. I liked the universal nature of being a river guide. Passengers come from all over the world, and according to Korey, the ages of guides range from age 18 to 65. That's a lot of years and lot of different backgrounds/stories on both sides. In this way, working with CRD was a gold mine for me. I also liked being outside, something I never thought...I would say. Everything that came from being outside was positive for me. The fresh air kept me well. Being surrounded by beauty every day of the job did wonders for my mind. The different effects of working within canyon walls and within office walls is astounding. I'm willing to bet that working as a river guide could be an effective part of a work-therapy program or something. To add to the healing aspect of being outdoors, being in Page enabled me to relive my childhood. Practicing slacklining, biking the streets, and playing catch/soccer with Iggy was so very rejuvenating for my soul and it made me want to revamp my life. I think I even like dogs now. I'm used to staying “in” things: indoors, in bed, in chair. I grew up without sand in my toes and bugs in my hair at any point in my life. I have always wondered if I could handle working outside. Being a river guide made me realize that it actually might be best for me. In short, my moments of diffidence and negativity were matched by moments of peace and tranquility.

What lessons did you learn from being a river guide / Week 7?

Tons. Tons. I think I will come to know more of them in the future as time passes and I have other experiences that I can apply the lessons to, but here are a few:

  1. Limits can always keep moving. They don't have to move fast, but they can still move.
  2. College is an opportunity, NOT a necessity. It may make things easier, but you create your destiny. You can make something out of anything.
  3. People are probably just as insecure as you are. Never assume anyone is better than you.
  4. Feelings of fear, insecurity, or negativity are not bad. They make you human. Express them to the right people, and you won't regret it.
  5. Small towns can have healing characteristics. Too much of something is never good, so get out into the big city when you feel yourself reaching the breaking point. But never underestimate the small. Nothing beats the power of now, and having no choice but to live by that power for a few weeks.
  6. Dogs aren't so bad...
  7. Neither is driving...
  8. Or being in a body of  water....
  9. Or being outside....
  10. Basically, you can always do more than you think [See Lesson 1].

Would you do this as a more-than-one-week-job?

Yes. Because I was so trapped in my limited knowledge, this job is one that I most wish I had more time for. With time and practice, I know that I could be an amazing river guide. I just need a lot of practice. I'm not quite sure if I can get as much as I need. But yes, I would do it. Best job ever, why wouldn't I?

Reflection Time.

When it comes to writing, there's always pressure to hold back, to not mention the not-so-cheery things. And it seems no matter how much you write about the positive, if you write about a hardship of some sort, people will only remember the latter. For the past seven weeks, I've only given you the truth. The unbridled truth, with all the easy, hard, and silly details. That's the only way I can share, and perhaps it's risky, but being me is better than anything else, in my opinion.

I feel the need to check in with You for a second and make sure that you understand the scope of my seventh job assessment. Here is the gist:

Learning to be a river guide was hard, and I was stressed and out-of-place the entire time. But I experienced many other, more positive emotions as well. The time I spent in Page, Arizona was good, because I improved in many areas that were virtually untouched before and I have hope as a result. I met great people who supported me and worked with a great company that does its job well. I was anxious all the time, but I relaxed a lot too. I mean come on, I was in the middle of nowhere, basically on vacation, increasing my life-expectancy through nature exposure. Overall, the week was a fruitful, necessary week.

AND I'm proud of myself for putting myself in the position to grow like I never have before.

I want to thank Korey and Drew for putting up with all my emotions, and for listening to me and working with me. You can imagine how awesome these two men are if they were able to handle me in my all-over-the-place state for an entire week. Thank you to all the CRD guides that trained me and again, listened to me talk about whatever I felt like talking about.

At the Sushi Lounge, Korey and Kyle made a good point. If an employer looks at your resume and they see the Job Title “River Guide,” they will almost always be impressed. They will definitely question you at the very least. I would recommend this job to anyone. There's a reason people call it “the best job ever," and a reason I have no problem using the phrase over and over, bringing it near ad nauseam. Anyone would do well to travel to Page, Arizona and work for CRD. If you don't want to work, go and experience the town, if anything. It's all beauty, so do it.

Now that I've done so many things on the water, I've got to get that swimming thing down and conquered. A good river guide would be better with swimming ability. I need to put my Week 7 experience to good use and I'll admit that I am running out of excuses. I guess I'll call Beth for swimming lessons soon.

Best Wishes,


If you want to know more about how you can apply to work at the Colorado River Discovery, click here!

River Guide, PART II

Wednesday morning, I was functioning on less than four hours of sleep, but I felt serenely energetic. I thought back to last night. I had never done karaoke before, and I have a very-small-but-still-present fear of performing in front of an audience...but I ended up singing three songs. I even sang one song with Forrest! Also, to bike around town in 70-degree weather late at night surrounded by cliffs and canyons was just so freeing. I kind of felt as if I was in the “Wonder Years” or something. I don't know why I thought that, that was just the first television show that came to my mind. That small-town feeling of close proximity, trust, and freedom was alive in me and I wanted it to stay.

When I woke up, Forrest was already up, getting ready to leave town. The night before, Kyle mentioned that I could take his bike to work, but I couldn't adjust the seat, so Forrest ended up taking me to work. I was happy about this because we had gotten some good talks in during our bike ride, and it was nice to have an official opportunity to say goodbye.

Chuck, the guy who was to be my Wednesday river guide partner, had already left for the dam, so I rode through the tunnel with other guides. So far, I had done two morning trips and one evening trip. Today, I was to experience a Tauck, or a morning specialty tour. Chuck is an older man who has lived in Page for about 32 years. As a result, a lot of his information came from both study and personal experience.

Hearing Chuck speak was like hearing a wise man talk about “the way things were,” and it made his stories way more refreshing and detailed than anything I had heard so far. It was because of this that he was able to connect with all types of ages, but especially the young, bold kids on the boat. His jokes were clever and interactive. He took time to play with kids, sometimes faking like he was going to pour water on them. They would scream in mock fear; it was clear that they were really having a good time being on Chuck's boat.

With Chuck, I got a full spectrum of the river guide. You could tell that he was passionate his job, and everything he did was done thoroughly. He made sure to take care of himself, his boat, others – everything and everyone. And while he had everything taken care of, he was never Type-A about it. His ways were matter-of-fact. He knew what needed to be done, so he got it done. Whether you wanted to help or not was fine by him. I found his approach unique.

Chuck was also “turning” that day, and I thought that was even more awesome, because every day I would hear a lot of the river guides complain about having to do more than one trip a day. “I don't mind it,” Chuck would tell me. “Being out on the river in this beautiful place is a privilege. If I get to do it more than once, lucky me, that's all.” Chuck said a lot of inspiring things, delivered in such a way that they could make you easily miss their importance because he said them so simply. I'll never forget one thing he said while he was trying to explain to passengers how their happiness was a priority to him:

I always say that the difference between an adventure and an ordeal is attitude. My job here at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is to start you on the positive route.”


Wow. I felt a little guilty upon hearing that one. Tauck trips are quicker than normal, so we ended around 10:45am. I drove the boat on the way back, during which Chuck gave me a little advice on reading the river for hazards, shallow water, etc. Easy had done something similar the day before. It was obvious that Chuck “just knew” many things about boating, so I wasn't the best at grasping what he was trying to tell me. Nevertheless, we made it back safely. It was on this day that the wind picked up, and wind always makes boat-driving harder. Chuck thought the weather conditions were perfect to practice parking in. If I could maneuver a boat in the wind, I could maneuver it in any situation.  At this point, I had driven a pontoon boat once before, so I took on the task with more confidence than I would previously. I failed miserably. Everyone was waiting for us, so Chuck took over, after commending me for my effort.

A lot of the river guides were turning that day, so I rode back with only Drew and another guide, Kyle Davis. Despite the fact that my two most recent trips were informative and smooth, and despite the fact that I had two episodes of hands-on training, I still felt compelled to pull Drew aside and let him know that I still wasn't feeling Friday. I hated myself a little bit, but I was still convinced that even trying to run a trip on Friday was a bad idea.

I stressed to Drew that I was happy to be in Page, happy to be working with CRD, and that I wasn't throwing away the opportunity that millions of people would die for, I was just too fearful. “I really feel like I've been putting myself out of my comfort zone,” I told him, “but I think the Friday trip would be going too far.” Why I was repeating myself to another CRD boss so soon after I had said basically the same thing to Korey the morning before was beyond me. I kept talking, and Drew eventually stopped me:

You know Michelle, I've set Friday up for success. Whether you give the short safety spiel at the beginning of the trip, or if you walk up with the passengers and explain the petroglyph site for a few minutes, you'll still be doing more than you are right now. Don't just shut the entire trip down. You need to keep stretching that zone. Limits are good, but they should continue to be stretched, even if just a little bit.”


Wow again. These CRD folks are too good. “Oh” (how many times did I say this as a response this week??) was my response to Drew's thought. The idea of a contribution compromise NEVER occurred to me. I was too concerned with getting a supposed disaster out of the way, that I gave up my ability to think of alternatives. At that moment, I felt so grateful for Drew's wisdom, and let a lot of anxiety go. I had been telling myself this all week, but I told myself again: “Que sera, sera, Michelle. Keep on keepin' on.” I believed it a lot more this time.

Drew and I then got into an “Interp” discussion, and he suggested I visit the Page museum. River guides can go to the museum for free with a pass, and I had a whole half-day left, so I took advantage and visited right away. On my way to the museum, Dani called to check and see how I was doing for the week. I thought that was so sweet of her. It really helped to know that so many people cared not only that I wasn't slacking off, but also that I was having a good time and not suffering. By the time I got to the museum, I was smiling.

The museum was cool. I'm not a huge museum/history nerd, but I was so grateful to get the information from the “Interp” presented in nice displays, and supplemented with tons of extra stories. I stayed for an hour. I walked back to the CRD shop, getting ice cream on the way. At the shop, Drew, Adam, and I discussed the mission of One-Week job, and they teased me a bit about Job #8 that was coming up. I explained my “Deep Discourse” concept to Drew, and we planned to meet up and discuss some careerism topics before the end of the week.

I had walked around Page quite a bit at this point, so I went back to Korey's house to shower and relax. Kyle invited me out, but I decided to sleep early. Even though I had a later start the following day and could probably handle a late night, I decided to be greedy. I slept well.

9:30am the next morning, I showed up at the shop to run a Glen Canyon Airlines (GCA) trip with River Guide Kyle Davis. GCAs are considered full-day trips. They are a little longer because they require two beach stops, as opposed to the one stop that most trips see. Kyle is my age, and a recent college graduate as well. He has worked with CRD for six years, but his enthusiasm for the job doesn't seem to have waned at all. Kyle's technique for teaching was to give me constant information and encouragement, while pushing me a little bit by the hour. I felt as if I was literally in “Kyle's school of River Guides,” and I would definitely say that similar to my Tuesday time with Easy, Thursday brought a big boost of hope to my being.

Not only was Kyle great to train with, but the passengers on this particular trip were awe-inspiring. The majority of them were hearing-impaired. One of the passengers was the designated interpreter, so whenever Kyle or I spoke, we had to be sure to do so slowly. Everything that these passengers did was so full of life, and it was hard not to stare and grin. They would sign with passion, point at parts of the canyon with passion, jump in the water with passion, and laugh with passion. They would encourage me with passion.

Sometime during the trip, Kyle let the passengers know that it was my first week and that I was new/nervous. From that point on, they praised and lifted me up every chance they got. Halfway through the trip, I took over driving, something that I never could have imagined doing. It's one thing to drive with yourself and another guide in the boat, but to drive a boat full of passengers who completely trust you is another. The last scenario was one that I didn't think I could ever do, but this group was so very vocal about their faith in me, that on this Thursday, I took the wheel. I also found myself jumping in the cold water for the first time, another thing I never thought I'd do. Everyone cheered for me and kept repeating my name. It felt really good to hear all that. I felt loved, connected. I'm not sure how I ended up in the river; everyone just gave me so much of their strength.

Throughout the trip, Kyle and I learned a bunch of sign language, and I was reminded of how much I wanted

to learn the American Sign Language (ASL) back in the day. Kyle and I then discussed the language curriculum at the university level, and how ASL should be offered country-wide. Two of my uncles are hearing-impaired, and watching the passengers communicate with each other, I suddenly wished I could join in effortlessly. I vowed to study more after I got back home to Texas.

Thursday was my best trip of the week, by far. After we dropped everyone off at Lee's Ferry, Kyle kept telling me what a good job I had done, that I had basically led half the trip. I wasn't completely sure about that, but I decided not to fight anything, believe him, and say “thank you, only because of your guidance.” It felt like the right option.

I drove back to the dam during the second windy afternoon of the week, and Kyle worked hard to educate me (my third time with this) on how to navigate the river going upstream. He drew a few diagrams and gave me a few sayings, but they didn't really work. I knew he wanted the teaching session to be an indubitable success, but not everything can be. We arrived at the dam safely, and I thanked him many times for his help. On the way back to the shop, we discussed my feelings about working at the CRD. He told me how he understood because he used to be a bartender, and he had never experienced being that out-of-the-know before in his life. “That was the most stressful time,” he said. “I understand more of what you are going through now. I've been doing this for six years, so it all comes naturally for me. I think you're brave for doing what you're doing.” That was nice of him to say.

At the shop, Korey told me that he and I were going to be doing a trip together the next day. “I'm going to give you complete control,” he told me. “Do you feel ready?” I told him that working with Kyle was a great help, and that yes, I was ready. “Good,” he said. “It's all you tomorrow!”

Thursday night, Kyle (Seyler) was kind enough to make me dinner – fajitas! We watched reality television together, and then called it a night. Iggy, the brothers' black lab, woke me up early the next morning, but I probably would've done so on my own. After all, Friday was The Big Day.

So What About You?

When one is without one or more of his/her senses, do you think that the other senses amp up in order to compensate for the absence ?

A little random, but I've always wondered about this.

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The best job ever…”

“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...”