The job description of a river guide is about as long as the river flows. We are historians, chefs, nurses, captains, and also, the entertainment. We work hard to become experts in these positions, taking wilderness medicine courses, practicing our whitewater skills and making many batches of gooey dutch-oven brownies (or lava cake as we call it). Storytelling is no different. All joking aside, it takes a certain finesse to share a story, a style if you will, that each guide creates and builds upon over the seasons. Here are the top three reasons why river guides are the best storytellers:
1. We have a captive audience.
Rafting isn’t continuous, roaring rapids, unless you’re perhaps on the Chilko River in British Columbia or the Tuolumne River in California. During the slow, meandering miles, as you float by on the river and feel the hot sun on your face, it’s nice to have a story to listen to. Perhaps it’s about the time a father-son double kayak flipped in the previous rapid, and the mother, with super-hero strength, single-handedly grabbed them both out of the water. Or it’s more subdued, about the history of Native Americans on that particular stretch of river. Staring into the campfire at night, with a belly full of food and a cup full of wine, there’s nothing more bewitching than to hear the words, “No joke there we were…” Admit it, we have your full, undivided attention.
2. We have excellent material to work with.
Each run down the river is different with first-time rafters, varying water levels and changes in the weather. Adventures abound on river trips. Those of us who have been around a number of seasons, we’ve written our own number of stories out there on the river. When tall tales include escapes from forest fires, high water years, and unforgettable past guests, even a poor delivery can’t ruin the content.
3. We have a lot of practice.
This isn’t our first rodeo. We know these stories well, we’ve perfected them over the years with just the right timing, tone of voice, heck, even imitation of fellow river guides. They make us smile and laugh, each and every time we tell them. They don’t get old–they keep us young. And we love sharing them. Over and over again, to each and every person who will listen.
So this summer, when you’re gathered around the campfire after dinner, and your guide decides to share why he pokes fun at the another guide’s ability to tie knots–get comfy and fill your glass–I guarantee it’ll make you smile.