A Maine River Guide’s Training Week
Imagine a week with no end and no beginning. That’s how it feels when you wake up sore and stiff at 5:30 am in your tent on the fifth of eight days of River Guide Training. Heavy metal music is raising hell from a pick-up truck across the street at Three Rivers, a kind wake-up call from your guide trainers, for another sixteen-hour day with new challenges.
A week where risk and reward come hand in hand. Balanced with a healthy dose of terror, fun, anxiety, and adrenaline because rafting and guiding are two very different things.
A week when you get nauseous on the bus ride to Harris Station Dam as you realize it’s your turn to guide the Kennebec at high-flow for the first time— And 50 minutes later, after a not-too-shabby run, realizing it is your own mental limitations keeping you from success.
A week where you have moments that you’ve never felt more alive in, and you do things you never thought you would (or even could) do: read whitewater, guide a boat of eight people down a raging river, rescue swimmers, swim a class IV rapid, intentionally flip boats in rapids and scramble on them upside down multiple times a day, and fall out of boats only to climb back in them without batting an eye.
A week that is so all-consuming that you eat, breathe, and dream Kennebec whitewater, and a paddle is your new best friend.
A week that you experience minute by minute, as the rest of the world melts far away. Nothing exists outside the present moment and your control over that moment when you are in the guide seat.
A week that brings 22 people from all different walks of life to train as Maine River Guides together, for different reasons, but with the same goal. Every mind around you is bent to the same task, the same run, the same rapids, the same rescue, the same success. The group grows tighter as side-by-side, you work hard, face fears, support one another through the challenging moments, and inevitably come to trust and admire one another.
A week where you witness growth and victories with yourself and your fellow trainees, an “independence from your weaker self” as the guide trainers like to say. Some have never been on whitewater before, some consider quitting every day, some are pushed past their limits, and some try to act like they are struggling just to make everyone else feel better.
A week where the all-too-common “SWIMMER!” echoes around you after one of the guide trainers turns to the trainees with a mischievous grin and falls backwards into Whitewasher Rapid, prompting a swimmer rescue scenario. Smiling, they nonchalantly float away from the boat amidst the waves, as the flustered guide-in-training learns to simultaneously command the crew, steer the boat, and untackle the throw line.
A week when your guide trainers look back in disbelief at you in the guide seat- either impressed at your clean run or flabbergasted that you managed to pin the raft on the only rock in sight. The trainers are with you every step of the way, with their familiar catchphrases: “Take a swim” (when you don’t know the Kennebec River geography) or “Set up early and relax” as you stare down the horizon line of Magic Falls.
A week where “Always Guiding” is drilled into your head. As a Guide, it is your responsibility to be 100 % aware at all times on (and off) the river for the well-being of others, a mantra that becomes all the more real every day.
A week where you and your teammates lift your paddles and raise your voices in unison with a triumphant cry as you complete the very last run of the mighty Kennebec on your long week’s journey to becoming a Maine River Guide. This moment is a high that you won’t easily forget.
And finally- when the eight days are over, and you feel like you’ve been through hell, you wonder how life can go back to the way it was. Then you wake up the next day at 5:30 am out of habit, wondering where the terrible, loud music is and a little sad you won’t be on the water today with your teammates. A day of rest is necessary, but tomorrow, you can’t wait to be back on the river!
To those considering next year’s Maine River Guide Training course with Three Rivers, the best piece of advice is to not underestimate two things. First, do not underestimate the difficulty of this week, and two, more importantly, DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE YOURSELF!