My own introduction to rivers came during a river rafting experience in 1970 on an 8th grade science club trip to the Stanislaus River in California’s gold country. I remember being enthralled by the experience. I also remember that our boatman was very quiet, and years later, when I was a professional guide, I realized that he was probably brand new and nervous as heck.
Eight years later the coffin lid was closed and the Stanislaus no longer flowed free, as the spillways of the New Melones Dam were shut, thus flooding another of earth’s stunning river canyons. The image of those frolicking rapids, the banks of oak and manzanita, drowned under placid waters is a sad one that stays with me.
After my sophomore year in college, I got a job as a whitewater rafting guide on one-day trips in West Virginia. Unlike college, where one works for some future prospect, running rapids is filled with immediate challenge and gratification. Assuming one is still in the boat, and the boat is upright, the end of each rapid is cause for celebration, and the end of the day, full of satisfaction of a job well done. By the end of that summer I wanted to share the inspiration I found in rivers with others, but within the context of longer trips where true friendships could form. That brought me to Idaho in 1979.
Idaho, you may know, has more whitewater river miles than any state in the United States – 3500 miles in all. The next in line is California with roughly half that many. The rivers of Idaho are legendary – the Salmon, Snake, Lochsa, Selway, Clearwater, Bruneau, Owyhee, Teton, Henry’s Fork, Bear, Payette, St. Joe, Moyie, Coeur d’Alene and on and on.
That river season cemented my passion for rivers. I ran the Colorado through the Grand Canyon in March, guided in California in April and May, and in Idaho from June through August. In September I drove my ‘59 Rambler Station Wagon to the Rogue River in southwest Oregon, trained there and got my Oregon outfitter’s license. On November 11, 1979, my own rafting company, ROW, was officially born. 2018 marks my 40th year as a guide and it’s been a grand journey of learning and sharing.
I have been blessed with a life immersed in rivers. They have provided for my livelihood and been my life blood. They have brought myself and my family so much joy and more importantly, joy and inspiration to the tens of thousands of people that have been on our trips over the years. We have seen people inspired to go home and quit their jobs to pursue their true dreams. We’ve seen people wake up to the beauty of their world.
Rivers are a gift. They lift our spirits and have much to teach us. The preservation of free-flowing rivers is essential to the health of our planet, as well as our souls. Thank goodness for the good people who fought for the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and all those who continue to work hard to protect free-flowing rivers. I hope you’ll join your local river conservation group and if you haven’t already, join in the important work of protecting our rivers.