On Being A River Guide

On Being A River Guide – by John Bryant Baker

“To someone who has not run a rapid before & questions the need to do so at all, the lure of this charging volume of water pouring toward your very own vulnerable, fragile body is difficult to explain . . . it gives an edge to living, a baptism that blesses with a reminder of mortality . . . once is enough for many, & forever not enough for some.”

-Ann Zwinger

I drift along the eddy lines, the places where current and calm meet. Here the two touch and dance, whirlpools swirling down and boils rising up from the depths. Here, as everywhere, water seeks equilibrium, balance. Maybe this is why I find myself so drawn to rivers. They are all about seeking balance. Just as in life, along the course towards equilibrium I often find myself in the midst of seeming chaos. The rapids and cataracts, the waterfalls and explosions of whitewater, the eddy lines and their tango of whirlpools and boils. Here, among the waves and whitewater, is where I remember that magic exists. Engulfed by the currents and the colliding of water and rocks, my soul sings and I know what it means to be alive. In the heart of water’s struggle for balance exists this special place I long to be, to know, and to take people to. This is why I am a river guide.

It never ceases to amaze me how life can just reach out a grab me sometimes, pulling me into something I know absolutely nothing about and yet simultaneously I feel more at home in than ever before. This was the case with whitewater. For 41% of my life now, I have been guiding people down the magical ribbons of rivers that lay themselves out across the varying landscapes of this country. From the steep mountain streams amidst the lushness of Appalachia to the rivers that carve away at time and sandstone walls in the desert Southwest, from a few hours in length to 16 days and everything in between. Each river its own personality and lessons to teach, yet everywhere water doing the same thing . . . seeking balance.

I do not wish to romanticize things here or paint you some unrealistic picture of what being a river guide entails. The days are long and the work is hard, both physically and mentally demanding. I’ve been on trips where the temperature is well over 100 degrees and on others when it has barely gotten in the 30s. I’ve paddled through every kind of weather from snow flurries to wind storms to rain so hard I could not see past the front of my raft. All the while, no matter what the conditions, no matter how long of a day it’s been or what the circumstances are, it’s my job to get my guests safely down the river and have that trip be a positive experience for them. There are a lot of factors to juggle, and then when you throw in people, you just never know what you’re going to get.

Anybody can learn to take a raft down a river, even the hardest of rivers. It would take some time, but learning the mechanics of steering and the intricacies of reading water are not some elite, unattainable skills. Like most things, they take time. What separates those who thrive at being river guides form those who can simply get a raft down the river is the ability to guide people. People are the wildcard. The river lives by a few set, unchanging principles, the first and foremost being to seek equilibrium. The same has never and will never be said about people. Every trip, I get to meet a completely new group of people. And it’s not that I simply get to meet them, but I get to interact with them. I get to facilitate one of life’s great adventures for them, and in doing so I have the opportunity to connect with people. Now, just as in regular, everyday life, there are some people who simply suck. Every now and again, those people go rafting. But the vast majority of people show up excited and enthused and ready for an experience, and I consider it one of life’s greatest privileges to be able to share in as well as greatly influence that experience.

Being a river guide does not build up my bank account. It has not gotten me ahead in life financially, nor has it ever offered any kind of health benefits or a retirement plan. But for all that it lacks compared to so many other professions, it easily makes up for and surpasses them in stories and experiences. Life is nothing without relationship, without connection, and there are four relationships we all need to foster: with ourselves, with others, with creation, and with our creator. How lucky am I that a trip down the river allows for all of these.

I remember early on, it was my second season guiding on the New River in West Virginia, I received a letter in the mail. I had taken a family of four down the river one day and out on a climbing trip another. The letter was from the mom, and she was so appreciative. She told me how the trip had impacted their family and how much of an impression I had made on her teenage son and daughter. “Thanks for showing her that a climber/rafter/outdoorsman can hold an intelligent conversation. I wanted to share these thanks especially in regards to one the comments you made when I was expressing a little frustration with the lack of cell phone connection. ‘That’s the beauty of it’ has made me think over & over again about what the important things are. Thank you for bringing me back to the precious moments of living.” What a great memory to be a part of.

On one of my most memorable trips, I took six blind people down the Lower Gauley in the fall. I don’t know if I had ever before or since been so gripped, so focused. The group was amazing, by far the best listeners I have ever interacted with. They asked me to describe everything in as much details as possible as we moved downstream. Before too long, they had attuned their ears so that they could hear specific waves and features that I was describing. At one point, as we were approaching a rapid called Canyon Doors, one of the guys reached out his right hand and finished my sentence for me,     “ . . . because all down the right side of the river there are huge cliffs rising up from the water.” Those six blind folks taught me how to “see” the river in a way like I had never before.

Other memories come rushing in. Some being caught out on the river during a flash flood and navigating rapids at water levels not see before, and others a flood waters rising so fast that the safest way out was to hike. I’ve been lucky enough to have certain groups come back for trips time and again, and every time we pick up right were we left off, enjoying some time on the river together. I’ve hugged and held grown men and women in tears on the last day of a one or two week trip through Grand Canyon. Time on a river gets to people. Stepping into adventure with people and sharing experiences and meals and weather and stories and stars, it’s like nothing else I’ve ever known, and that is why I’ll do it until my body won’t let me anymore.

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” The quote by Loren Eiseley is one that I think of often. I feel as though I could go on and on about the many things I’ve learned from my time spent on rivers, but then, lessons are best learned through experiences, not words. So my hope for you is that you go and have your experiences. Go run the rivers and see where they take you and who they bring across your path. Spend time with the water, so that you’ll always remember that magic exists. Find whatever it is that makes your soul sing, and live it out. Just like the water, in your search for balance, onlookers will be captivated by the beauty you make.

The author

The author

Orlando Continues to Get Rave Reviews

Orlando Gets Rave Reviews.

“Our family had an amazing day on the river, last Wednesday. Orlando was our guide and my daughter nicknamed him El Dorado and its stuck, even since we’ve made our way home. All of the crew was great Mike and Jesse too! Lunch was fresh and tasty. We enjoyed the stops and finding some treasures along the way. We’re hoping to return again for the 3 day trip and conquer the box! Thanks again guys!”  Sharon Kilmer 8/9/16

“Had an excellent float, loved our guide Orlando and the fact that one of the other guides brought tomatoes from his own garden for lunch. Highly recommend this company!”  Karen Dorothy 7/26/16

“everyone was soo cool. we had a rad time with our guide Orlando he is very fun, knowledgeable and sogreat with our children!”  Spencer James 7/24/16

“Our guide Orlando was awesome! Incredibly knowledgeable about the river and surrounding area and made our time on the water very safe and enjoyable. Can’t wait to go back! Thank you!” Hunter Christensen, 7/7/16

“Britt was an amazing guide. He was engaging and full of cool facts and info. The kids learned so much about New Mexico and rafting. He’s loves what he does and it shows!” Kelly Morrow  6/16/16 

“Outstanding instructors! I know I’m not ready to go out and raft a level 5 but they made me feel capable. In addition they have amazing hospitality and gave us snacks after we finished.”  Salima Watson, 6/5/16

And not only him. The guides that work for NWRCo. really like people! And they like talking about the natural history of the river, and much more.

Orlando Torres

Orlando Torres

Jesse, in front, and Joe

Jesse, in front, and Joe

Britt. He and CJ grow the tomatoes.

Britt. He and CJ grow the tomatoes.

 

Come, and find out for yourself!

Testimonial – White Sands group, 7/30/16

“Steve and New Wave Crew,
Thank you so much for another great trip.  I heard nothing but great things
from our rafters. They said the guides were funny and very knowledgeable,
the lunch you all offered was particularly a talked about topic. They said
it was amazing and exactly what they needed.  Thank you again and I look
forward to working with you guys again. – White Sands Group!

Respectfully,
Selena Vargas
Recreation Assistant
White Sands Missile Range, NM 88002”

This group of repeat customers come up from White Sands Missile Range, in southern NM (where it’s HOT in the summer), to cool off in the Rio Grande. They did the all-day Rio Grande Gorge trip, which is available all summer long.
Thanks guys!

13686596_1241188562580588_5481398809050898923_n.jpg

Testimonial – July 25, 2016

Testimonial – July 25, 2016

“I had a great time with our guide Joey. We did some raft surfing and had a great time in general.” – Will Steger review in Google My Business, July 25, 2016.
What is “raft surfing”, you ask. Well, at low water, such as we have now (late July), we can play in various river features, including small pour-overs. A pour-over is where water pours over a rock, as a small waterfall. We bring the bow of the raft into that mini-waterfall, and it holds onto the raft for a short while. Here’s a photo of raft surfing:

The other raft was captained by Neil Oberheide. Here, they are surfing the hole below the bridge

Raft surfing in the Taos Box.

Raft surfing on the Racecourse run

Raft surfing on the Racecourse run

And …

A vintage NWRCo t-shirt, being worn by a happy return customer

A vintage NWRCo t-shirt, being worn by a happy return customer

Testimonial, Taos Box, 6/30/16

Testimonial, Taos Box, 6/30/16

GREAT!  Sheep, Otters!  Nice people, good guide, overcast day.  What’s not to love?  Thanks so much.  Oh, and no swimmers!    Nancy, John, Anna and Maria. Photos courtesy of Nancy Bittner.
IMG_0630.JPG

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep

Jesse, in front, and Joe

Jesse, in front, and Joe, at the take-out

The Taos Box is still going good. Don’t miss it!

Orlando is “THE MAN” – Testimonials from Google My Business

Orlando Torres

Orlando Torres

Orlando is “THE MAN” – Testimonials from Google My Business, 6/20/16

“We did the Taos Box. This trip was one of the best outdoors trips I’ve done in my life. If you picture white water rafting this is what you are thinking about. Easily the best thing to do in New Mexico. Make sure your as for Orlando as your guide. He knows a lot about the landscape and hits the rapids the hardest.”

Austin Scigliano, 6/20/16

“By far the best thing I have done in New Mexico! I went on the Taos Box trip with some friends and let me say not only was it adventurous but taking in the landscape was breathtaking. Orlando is the best guide and also THE MAN. He knew a ton of interesting facts about the river involving the geogrpahy and history and Orlando truly showed that he cared about the river and knew how to have the most fun. An experience to remember and well worth the price.”

Julian Martinez, 6/20/16

Just who is Orlando? Orlando Torres is a native of Taos. Besides being a raft guide, he and his wife Nicole create extravagant jewelry built around semi-precious stones. In the winter, Orlando teaches snowboarding at Taos Ski Valley.

Testimonials – 2016

Here is a selection of testimonials received this season.

  1. “Had a great time…we’ll be back.Thank you very much for the hat and shirts.” Mark Ford, Jr.
  2. “The trip was a highlight of my life. My team loved the experience too. Deb at cimarron inn, cimarron, recommended you after investigating for me. You have a great reputation!” LuAnn Walters
  3. “Today was the best trip of many…” Marge Barrett
  4. Steve,
    Thanks for the kayak rental today!  We had a blast–perfect combo of relaxed floating down the river interspersed with periods of exciting rapids (ok, only level 2, maybe 3 but fun just the same!).
    Monica

Our guests don’t just have a good time … they have a great time! 75% of our business comes from return customers and word of mouth. Give us a try. Seeing is believing. We’ve been in business since 1980 – that’s 36 years – and know how to put smiles on peoples’ faces.

Dead Car rapid, in the Taos Box

Dead Car rapid, in the Taos Box

MiaApr032015_5236SnackMar102015_4559

The kids from Sunset Canyon Baptist Church. Photo by Britt Runyon

The kids from Sunset Canyon Baptist Church. Photo by Britt Runyon

Steve Miller, VP