Guide Talk: The Joy of Living the Simple Life
Meet Veteran OARS Guide Seneca Kristjonsdottir
Seneca Kristjonsdottir’s love for life on the river started very early on.
“I was such a little scrub baby,” she recalls. “I loved living in the sand and swimming all day.”
Her parents were avid climbers, but once they had children, river trips became the kid-friendly way they could still get out in the wilderness, according to Seneca.
“It became a family tradition pretty fast,” she says.
And while guiding was always something she had thought of doing, it wasn’t until she was 20-years-old that the idea solidified. That’s when she got wind of baggage boat positions with OARS in Idaho.
“I was running away from heartbreak,” she admits. “So I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to Idaho.’”
That was the first guiding job Seneca ever landed. Ten years later, she’s still at it. And despite moving around in the off seasons, she says guiding in Idaho each summer feels like the place she’s supposed to be.
Below, she talks about why she enjoys the simple life of guiding, her love for dories, and what makes river trips so special.
Tell me about the river trips you went on with your family when you were growing up.
We did a lot of trips in the Moab area. We did canoe trips on the Green, and Colorado, and a lot of San Juan trips. When I was a little bit older, like in high school, we started to do Gates of Lodore and Desolation Canyon and more whitewater sections.
River trips with my family when I was a kid felt like Christmas does to other kids. It was the time that my family got to be together and everyone was in a place that they loved to be.
You’ve managed to turn that love for being on the river into a career. What’s the best part about being a guide?
I think there is something about living in a place where you get to be fully present. Life is simple, life is small, and it’s so beautiful. I love sleeping under the stars. I love being outside. I love being physical every day. I think for me it’s very meditative to be out there.
Which stretch of river has your heart, and why?
It’s always really hard for me to choose. In springtime, Hells Canyon is one of the most beautiful places. But for the rest of the year, I think the Main Salmon is what I would consider my home. I like the Main because there’s some good whitewater, and the camping is awesome. Of course, the Middle Fork is one of the most dreamy, beautiful, wonderful places on the whole planet, but I do prefer to be in those wooden boats [dories] if I could choose.
What makes dories so special?
When I first started working in Idaho, I was the third generation of guides working up there. There were the original dudes that transferred to Idaho from Grand Canyon [Dories]. Then those guys had kids that all became river guides, and then our generation of guides was the third wave – the people that weren’t really connected to the history as much.
I just didn’t understand the big deal about it. I was like, “These people have huge egos, they just love these boats, and it’s their way of making themselves important.” That’s kind of how it felt. The longer I’ve been there, I have totally fallen in love with the tradition. I love rowing those boats. I love the challenge. I love the psychology. I love the history. It’s a way to interact with your environment that is so cool. And I’m crazy thirsty for it. I miss it all winter long.
You’ve only ever guided for OARS. What makes you especially proud to be an OARS guide?
I am very proud of the lineage of dories that we have at OARS … like Curt Chang. He’s a legend. He is someone that has literally experienced the beginning of river guiding and was inspired by the lifestyle of living in the outdoors and protecting wild places. All these really deep values that I have in my life came from people like him and I get to carry on their story. I mean, I’m rowing the same dories that those people rowed.
Can you share one of your favorite trip memories?
I think of my first times rowing high water on the Main Salmon. Two hardest trips of my whole life. I was so scared. The second one we did that year was a beer trip, and it was the first year that we did specialty trips. We had a brewmaster and the guy who owned the brewery on the trip. They were on my boat the day that we were going through a bunch of whitewater, and I just took all the wrong lines. I hit everything that I shouldn’t sideways. We were high-siding. I was a small girl yelling at these men in the front of my boat.
We get to camp, and my ego was totally shattered. I was like, “I don’t know what I’m doing. They’re going to know that I don’t belong here. I’m a newbie. This is awful.” We got to camp, and the two guys just raved all night about how much fun they had. They kept saying, “If you want to go for a good ride, ride with Seneca!”
Other than crazy stories of things going wrong, I think the simple things are my favorite memories on the river. Like when it’s super quiet and you’re in a really deep eddy at nighttime and it’s a new moon and you can go swimming. It’s like you’re swimming in stars because they’re reflecting off the river. I love those night swims.
Why do you think people should go on river trips?
We call it the “third day magic,” where on day three of every trip you just see the shift in the group and in individuals where they can be present and let go of what’s at home. They get to be a different person. It’s really therapeutic for people to unplug and get out there.