This was my last multi day river trip, over a month ago, on Hells Canyon. Way back in June. It was a training trip, even. I haven't given a safety talk in almost a year, haven't helped a guest on and off a boat, haven't washed dishes in boiling water on a 104˚ sandbar.
This is the first summer since twenty I haven't been guiding ten to fourteen trips in a summer or working a wilderness trail crew. While I always knew it rationally, it feels vaguely amazing to know that most people's lives just go on during the hot summer months. I answer my e-mails on time, my hands wake up clenched around my palms out of habit, not out of actual rower's arthritis. I go to backyard BBQs and take my dog for walks. My arms feel noodle-y but my brain feels strong.
I spent this week setting up trash service and wifi and measuring blinds in a house. A HOUSE, not a just a glorified car-tent with a draped sarong curtain in a backyard.
Every guide knows when they are done. For me, it was realizing I was no longer going on trips for the guests. When I talk to guides that are good guides they are still there because they love sharing their favorite places with their guests, watching the transformation take place in their guest's families and friendships and hearts. I realized I was in it for the other guides, for the river, for the feeling of being in my favorite places... but not for the guests.
So I stopped.
Just to try it, you know. And I miss waking up on the metal deck of a yellow raft. I miss oars in my hands above a rapid. I miss getting to know people I would never talk to in my normal life. I miss looking at dories, I miss rowing them even more. I miss, maybe most of all, the people I'd bring coffee in the morning as they slowly rolled over in their sleeping bags, hands clenched into fists around their invisible oars.
And I also realized that it's summer that makes me happy, not necessarily guiding. I love the warmth, the cutoff shorts, the swimming, the gin and tonics, the fishing, the almost interminable daylight, the always upcoming next adventure. I get calls and e-mails from guides asking about their first trip lead, or to share river writing, or just to say hello.
And I'm going on a private Middle Fork trip IN AUGUST. AUGUST! Watch out, cutthroat...
But, I also know cold turkey is a hard way to cut a habit. So Hank is headed to Grandpupma's and I'm off for a Lower Salmon, then a Middle Fork/Main Salmon combo for OARS. I'll be the one with a goofy-ass grin on her face, knowing how good it is to be both here and not here too.
We talk a lot about how to get people into guiding, about how to train them properly and take their profession seriously. We don't talk a lot about how to get out of guiding when it is time. For some, it's a career. For many, it's not. I don't know the answers here - but I'll try to share the good and bad as it happens.
But first, a dear friend's bachelorette weekend, on the water. IN JULY? In July...