Raft Guide School: the Finale

I’ll admit it publicly now: I never expected to finish the series of requirements after Raft Guide School in order to become a guide. The class was fun, but some of the steps one has to take after class were daunting.

On Monday evening of this week, I actually finished them all. No-one was more surprised than me.

I described the first phase of these requirements — the “ride alongs” — at the end of guide school two weeks ago. Having probably done more than a hundred of these before the start of guide school (between last season and this one) this was really a piece of cake.

One twist: some guides will actually give you some “stick time” (meaning you’re actually guiding, steering the raft with your paddle and giving commands to the crew) during a ride along, even though technically you’re just there to observe. That actually turned out to be great practice.

Before, in between, and after my three ride-alongs, I spent a decent amount of time “turkey boating.” I didn’t end up getting as much time out there as I had hoped — frankly, I had hoped to spend every weeknight out there after work, but it sure is difficult to add a daily task requiring multiple hours to an existing daily routine.

Eventually I couldn’t stall any longer, and I needed to do my two check-outs. The first went decently well, though I started off shaky (coincidentally, I had done a “ride along” with the same trip leader the week prior, and did a MUCH better job when I wasn’t being “graded” by her.) It ended nicely, though, and I found myself looking ahead at a single event standing between me and completion.

The second ride-along was plagued by car trouble, but I finally got the car in working order and headed up there Monday night after work. Again, I was a little shaky at first, but once the nerves wore off I had a blast. Before long, the run was over, and it was time to face my nemesis.

The flip test.

Yes, I had to paddle a raft out into the lower pond, by the pumps, and flip it upside down. (That part is actually a LOT of fun!) Once upside down, I had to pull myself up out of the water and onto the bottom of the raft, which was NOT fun. Not even a little bit. I had been shown a trick where you create a step out of the flip line, kind of like the stirrup on a saddle, but even then it requires a fair amount of upper body strength — which anyone who knows me will attest is NOT my best attribute.

I managed to get myself halfway up, clawing the fingers of both hands into the holes on the bottom of the boat, but then I hung there for a minute or two, struggling to make it up. I swear I was about to give up, but a small crowd of off-duty guides had gathered to watch and cheer me on, so I was too ashamed to quit. Bizarrely, when I finally did pull myself the rest of the way, it seemed to happen in one motion without much difficulty. (I guess I needed that deep breath and hardened resolve.)

Flipping it back over again was also fun, and you’d think the hard part was behind me. But oddly enough, the most difficult part was getting back up in the raft and paddling out. I was tired, my arms and sides and back were all hurting from the unusual effort, and my freakin’ PFD (aka life jacket) kept getting stuck on the side of the raft when I tried to get back in! I kept almost getting up and then losing my strength, sliding back into the water.

At this point the audience was getting tired of watching me, and they started turning off the pumps and getting ready to shut down for the night. (Yes, I was the last person in the water, for several minutes after the other rafts had been put away.) I certainly didn’t get through all of that just to give up on the very last piece of the test, though, and I kept trying until I get my tired fat ass up into the raft.

For a few minutes I honestly thought I’d pulled something badly in my lower back, but after walking a little bit and sitting in the car, it eased up. (The two beers at dinner afterwards probably helped a bit, too.) I definitely need to practice that maneuver more, and in fact one of the bosses there has said she’ll show me some tricks this weekend to help me speed up, but no matter what else, at least I can say that I did it.

And, true story: I completely blame Sal. If he hadn’t been pushing me, I probably would have just accepted defeat from the beginning and not even tried, satisfied by finishing class and the ride-alongs and check-outs. I would’ve let it go, reasoning that this wasn’t going to be a full-time job for me anyway, and that I’d gotten my money’s worth from the experience regardless. But Sal had way more confidence in me than I did, and I couldn’t give up. I couldn’t stand the idea of letting him down without giving it my best shot.

I did it. I really did, with a half-dozen witnesses even. I honestly thought it would be too much for my very limited strength and agility. But damn it, I did it.

Now who wants to go rafting?

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4 Responses to Raft Guide School: the Finale

  1. […] official — Having finished our three weeks of Raft Guide School, done all of our required ride-alongs, passed both “check out” runs, flipped and […]

  2. […] In July, we visited Florida for a weeklong visit around the 4th of July, and I finished my certification as a raft guide […]

  3. […] Raft Guide School surprises Raft Guide School, Days 1 and 2 Day 3 of Raft Guide School Raft Guide School: Complete! Raft Guide School: the Finale […]

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