Tag Archive: Rafting


Tennessee Summer Summery

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“Fun Run” Trip with fellow guides.

This summer I had intended to post more, however, that was before I realized the demand of work, the time spent with friends, and all the writing that I was doing (outside of blogs).  Whatever I thought this summer was going to be like, it was not, it was much, much, more!

Life in the South was something that I had never known before, sure, everyone hears different things about “down yonder”, but hearing about it, and actually knowing are two different things.  If you know anything about me, you will know that hearing about something is not going to be enough for me, I have to know myself.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t go into this summer with some presuppositions, wrong presuppositions, but premeditated judgement nonetheless.  I assumed that everyone listened to country music, that people were more concerned with their farms than they were with relationships, people would be less educated in the country than in the cities, and that everyone was conservative when it came to religious and social beliefs.

Although some of those presuppositions proved to be more true than up here in the North (people in general are more conservative down South), people down below were more understanding and accepting than I had experienced before.  Being an openly gay man, I was not going to go back in the closet as I headed to my summer destination, and try to hide my sexual identity down there.  I was afraid though, that when people figured out I was gay, that I would be lynched, or some equally terrible, violent act, and would be leaving within the first two weeks.  After all, I would have given it a shot, no one could have told me I didn’t at least try.

Instead?  I met some of the coolest, nicest, most self-educated people of my life.  I grew in ways that I am sure I won’t realize for years to come.  Instead of listening to country music (which I ironically discovered I liked), I got to listen to new music (Daft Punks new album, Pretty Lights new album, White Panda, STS9) .  I didn’t find people more concerned with their farms, quite the opposite actually, this summer I had to try and find time to spend alone.  We were all such a social outgoing group, that none of us wanted to miss out on any of the fun, spending all our time together.  Education turned out not to be a problem, most of my friends were in college, had been, or were already graduated.  For the ones that hadn’t gone to school, were self read, and could keep intellectual debates going all night, as we often  did.

The summer was a remarkable time, I expected the worst, and was quite honestly given the best.  Moral of the story?  Discover for yourself, don’t judge a book by its cover.

Dream.Search.Discover.

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This summer has been an intense learning experience for me. I expected to learn how to be a rafting guide, and I sure have learned some hard lessons. But more than that, I have learned other awesome hobbies and life experiences. What I am discovering is if you are interested in learning, the opportunities are out there.

YOGA
One thing I have been wanting to get into lately, due to some old roommates, is yoga. I had two friends that lived in a two apartment house with me, both were heavy into yoga, one was even a yoga instructor. Our time together in the apartment was limited, and after they moved I rarely saw them. I had a few times I meant to attend a free class in my home town, but ran out of time when I began this rafting job.

When I got down here I met a lot of people, one of the first people I met turned out to be a yoga instructor also. We hit it off well, and decided to start doing yoga for beginners.  The space on property is limited because of the highway and the river, so we had to be imaginative when deciding where to go with a yoga class of six.

Our rafting buses proved perfect. The buses are normal school buses, only with a large flat service built out of wood on top of the buses, much like a patio. The reason the boats are constructed this way is so that we can load anywhere between three and nine (150-200 lbs) inflatable rafts to the top, and strap them down on the sides and drive on the highway.

This flat surface was great for my friend to face us (the class of four or so) and run through his usual yoga routine. I knew you had to be flexible to successfully complete most of the yoga moves, but I never realized it would kick my butt! My first yoga class was intense. I was sweating and nearly out of breath when the instructor informed us we were ready to move out of streatching and into the routine!

Since then I have been more intentive with streatching before work, and working my core to help relieve the strain on my lower back. Let me tell you what a difference it has made in my life!

JU JITSU

When I was a 14 or 15 my younger sjblings and I were enrolled in a 13 week Kung Fu class. My sister and I excelled. We both had great lower body strength as well as balance. Once that class was over I wanted more, but life got in the way and it got pushed into the background, a longing never to be fulfilled.

As it turned out one of my co-workers (who was raised in the Virgin Islands) had been a long time practing Ju Jitsu martial arts student. He had never done any teaching, but was up to the challange.

A female friend and I took him up on his offer, and meeting him on a tarp laid down on a small patch of grass available, started to run through the basics and simple drills. My friend is only a 5’5″ or 5’7″ 23 year old female, 98 lbs in soaking clothing, but what we learned in the first class made our male co-workers have more respect for her and I both.

WHITTLING

While sitting around the camp fire, or sitting in a circle of friends I find my hands are constantly looking for something to do. Now, I know how to knit, but I’m not about to sit in a circle of friends and knit, instead I want to take up whittling. This is the only one I haven’t really started yet. My co-workers and I are involved in a summer long whittling contest, but I still have yet to sit down and figure out what to make.

HIKING

Living in the Smoky Mountians there are lots of opportunities to hike. I haven’t done as much as I would like (I already live outdoors, I don’t really have to go anywhere to be in nature), but there are a few climbs I plan on doing, including some hiking on the Appalachian Trail (a mere seven minute drive from my summer home).

COOKING

Working a high intensity, very active, often stressful, and always unique job (in several ways, including the changing water levels and thus the rocks that are exposed or hidden, as well as new strangers in your boat every trip), doesn’t leave much time, or energy, to want to cook.  However I made a commitment to myself that I would eat right and exercise often (I’m running a couple times a week to prepare for my 5k in New Hamphsire in September). Because of this commitment I am trying to cut way down on microwave dinners, of any kind, and use of the microwaves at all. Not only does it expose you to harmful radiation, but microwaves also saps the meal of its nutrion and vitamines.

All of this is easier said then done, especially while living in storage barns in the woods, but if you’re creative, you’ll never starve.

One trick I learned in Boy Scouts was the use of tin foil.  We called them tin foil dinners, others know them as hobo dinners, either way all you do is chop up a bunch of vegatables you want to eat (ex. Potatoes, onions, carrots, corn, zuccinni) you add in meat (usually beef, but suasage works too), add all the seasonings you like, and about half an hour later over hot camp fire coals you have a meal!

The summer heat and humidity is on us (only to get worse in August) so campfires are slim, so I started cooking more pastas and salads. People often remark that I have great food all the time (as they eat over there bowl of microwavable Mac ‘n Cheese).

CARPENTRY

The one thing I am most proud about accomplishing so far this summer is reuniting with carpentry.  When I was younger I would always help my grandfather while he worked in his woodshop and around his house doing yard work. When I was younger I didn’t necessarily know any better, but I do remember times I didn’t want to be doing wood work.

Oh how I wish my grandfather was still alive and he could teach me all the things I didn’t realize I was missing out on learning!

My home this summer is, as I said, a storage barn. My room (which is shared with a roommate) is an 8×10 foot room. When my roommate and I first moved in the room was set up in a frustratingly small way.

After training was over and I had a free day, armed with a hammer, a handful of nails, and a hand saw I attacked my room rearranging and rebuilding it to better fit my roommate and me (who was there to help, but I was in charge and really getting into it, and barely used my roommates help).

Never to be one to turn down someone else asking for help, my next free day went to war with my friends storage barns, and built shelves from scratch, sawed the bunk beds to better fit, and added several nooks and crannies for their use.

I now have my name out there as a carpenter, and I hope that my grandfather would be proud.

There are many other hobbies I also enjoy, running, writing, reading, photography, and newly discovered, paddle tricks!  With so much vying for my time it is sometimes hard to focus on any in particular. But I am learning that you make time for the things that are important to you.

Every trip, every journey has its own experiences, memories, and scars, the good along with the bad.
I have scars on my left arm and face from accidentally burning myself while in the kitchen as a camp counselor. I have scars on both feet from my sandles last summer working as a life guard. I have a tattoo on my left ankle from while I was in Macedonia traveling with my little sister. And now I have a scar just above my tattoo from where I had a break out of poison ivy.
Many people are ashamed of scars, try to hide them, but they are what makes us, us. Each scar has a story, whether you remember them or not. Each scar came from a certain experience and with its own memories. Scars should be embraced, they shouldn’t be repressed.
Regret and guilt are useful emotions, when used correctly. But regret keeps us from moving forward, and guilt clouds our vision. In my past I used to regret a lot, but it wasn’t till recently I came to understand, life is short. Cliche, I know, but so true. Life is dammed short, and we get but one chance at it. No one is perfect, no one makes all the right choices. Why kill yourself over something that you realize now, in hind sight, was wrong. That regret won’t change anything, just remember the experience, and change things next time.

Working as a raft guide this summer has really broadened my view of life. Everyone is from a different place, we all have different up-bringings, and differnet outlooks on the world. But we all connect, we all know we are different, but we accept and even expect that.
This summer will be a summer that will forever be remembered. In a coming post I will be writing about “A Raft Guides Philosophy on Life,” and will try to sum up all the awesome qualities that make this community not only work, but last.

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote, “A mistake is only a mistake if you don’t learn from it.” Moral of the story? Let go of regret and guilt, and learn, after all, that is what life is about.

Week One, Done!

Its crazy to me how, no matter where I travel, when people are all thrust into the same situations (ex. Being far from home, not knowing anyone else, and having never done this kind of thing before), how quickly and seamlessly strangers can come together.

I started my summer Saturday (The 11th) when I set out on Greyhound, arrived here Sunday night, and started training Monday morning at eight. Monday through Friday we all (18 total), worked from eight to five, learning completely new skills, learned new things, and really got to know one another. I have technically only been here for six days, but already the other potential guides and I have become good friends. White water rafting isn’t as dangerous as somethings out there, but my fellow trainees and I have a new and humble respect for the water, and what a truly powerful entity that it is. Because of this going down the river has been unifying.

Together, all of us previous strangers, have to work together to get effectively and safely from Put-In to the Out-Post, while learning to be the best that any of us can. We learn from each other, help one another, and all around just bond.

There are people from all over the country working here, and even one Scottish born European. There are several people from Colorado, California, a guy from Washington, a gal from Michigan, a collection from the South, and despite the fact that we are all similar and work well together, we are each unique and offer something special to the table. Our collective skills include Yoga instructor, boulder enthusiasts, photographers, traveling experts, wilderness emergency responders, rafting veterans, nurses, one guy makes and sells hammocks, and mine personally, amateur massage therapist.

As one, we are an amazing group. Most of us have Bachelors if not Masters, and for the ones that don’t, they are still currently in school. If something needs to be done, or someone has an issue with something, we just need to ask around and one or more of us have the equipment or know how to help out. And the best part? We are ALL more than willing to help out!

Training is officially over now, but this next week we will all be doing Turkey Runs (a group of just us potential guides and no senior guide) and Ride Alongs (a potential guide, a senior guide, and actual customers) down the river. We keep this up until we have been “Checked Out” twice (do enough ride alongs and can confidentially maneuver the river with no added help) and then we will be official guides.

The short journey it has been so far has been absolutely mind blowing, and I can only eagerly await what I know will be more adventure to come!