Guide Talk: Women in the Outdoors
After practicing law for three years, Erika Unhold found magic on the river and left it all behind. She’s now been a river guide with OARS for 10 years. We caught up with this lawyer-turned-river goddess to find out what it takes to be a guide, why women make better guides than men (sorry guys!), and what it means to be a strong woman in the outdoors.
What prompted you to leave your lawyer life behind and become a river guide?
I was living in Flagstaff and I had a friend who worked as a guide for another company. She was determined to get me on a rafting trip. She did eventually convince me. As soon as I was there, I was gone. It was just one of those magical moments when the angels sing, and bells ring, and I knew where I was supposed to be.
Rafting is a demanding job. What drives you day in and day out?
It has been such a powerful thing for me—a healing—mentally and physically. I think it’s the way we’re supposed to be. We need to be outdoors. We need to be connected to these things, and in our day-to-day lives, we’re just not. So I really just appreciate bringing people out here and giving them that experience.
It seems like there are a lot of lady guides on the rivers now. Why do you think that is?
Well, it’s definitely a new experience for me. The last couple of years, particularly in Idaho, we’ve been getting a lot more women into the business. This year we actually are more women than men, and that’s a first. The men entertain and the ladies do the work, so it’s nice to have four ladies to do the work (laughter).
What do you think is attracting more women to guiding?
I think a lot of us find a home here. It’s good to be surrounded by other strong women. I think that’s a big part of it. We’re surrounded by other women who are like us.
What makes a strong woman?
You need a strong sense of self. To do this job, you have to have a lot of self-confidence. You have to be able to make your own decisions. In the middle of a rapid, you’re in charge of the people on your boat and you need to be able to take care of those people. So I think it takes a certain amount of strength to do that.
What’s the best moment you’ve had on the river?
I had a friend that I brought on a river trip. We visited a place that had turquoise blue waters. There was a spot where you could make a pretty good size jump into some really deep pools. He was just so excited about it. You could just see that sparkle in his eyes—that glint that he was truly alive. It let me re-experience my own revelation of what the outdoors can bring to you.
What does the outdoors bring to you?
Harmony. Balance. A sense of rightness. That feeling that this is what I was made to do. That I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
Watch the full interview with Erika below…