Friday, May 22, 2009

Guide School

Yesterday I finished a rigorous 6-day training class to become a river guide. The hours were long, the teachers were tough, and the physical exertion required was intense. I used muscles I didn't know existed and had aches in places that surprised me. Explain to me how your neck gets sore from paddling? Or your legs? No clue. I've got mystery bruises and a pretty severe abrasion on my right hand from constantly scraping against my PFD while guiding. But it was all great fun. This is me guiding on the Lower Animas and Dave sitting in front of me wearing the dorky floppy hat.

My guide school class was small--only 10 people, which ended up being a pretty awesome number. It meant that we got more time in the guide seat but still had plenty of manpower to move rafts around and get the boat rigging and derigging done in a hurry. It also meant that during our trip on the Upper Animas, the highest and most difficult commercially run river in the country, that we had even numbers in each of the three boats we took along, with the addition of two paying clients. The Upper was my first overnight boating trip and it ended up being a ton of work but it was really beautiful. I spent a lot of time trying to chip in where I could because we were constantly being graded on everything from boating skills to customer relations to teamwork. And those grades make or break whether or not you're offered a job at the end.

We were already given a heads up at the beginning of class that, due to the economy, the company isn't looking to hire very many guides from either of the two guide schools like they did last year. Anywhere from 1 to 4 people will end up with jobs out of the 22 trainees. The competition is fierce and I need a job. I just found out yesterday that I'm only on the office schedule for 6 days in the month of June. Thats not nearly enough to make ends meet. Guiding would be the other way for me to play and earn a paycheck so I'm just crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. I'll also be keeping an eye on the competition since I'll be in the office at least a few days during the second guide school and because Dave is working as an instructor so I'll be able to pick his brain and figure out where I stand. The managment isn't making any hiring decisions until the second guide school is finished on May 31st.

I got so into the routine of being at the shop at 8am every morning and going full on until 6pm each day that I felt a little lost last night at the prospect of having wrapped things up. Its kind of a weird feeling--to be so involved every day with a group of classmates, to be rooting for each other and helping each other out, and then class ends and everyone goes their separate ways again. I really enjoyed the commradere we had as a group and I've been excited to see some of my classmates wander in and out of the shop while I've been working in the office. Right now I'm in a bit of a holding pattern until the end of the month, waiting to find out if I made the cut as a guide. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Durango, Sweet Durango

I've been in Durango now for exactly one week and have been using that time to get acquainted with the town, the people, and the surrounding rivers. I've completed my certification for my Wilderness First Aid and Adult CPR class. I've also started a new job working at 4 Corners Whitewater working reception until I complete a 6-day Guide School program which will hopefully result in me being hired on as a river guide. That madness starts tomorrow morning, with Dave acting as one of my course instructors. Needless to say, its been a busy week!

Dave found a place for us to live before I arrived, contingent of course on Brodie getting along with Clyde, the Alaskan Malamute who already lives there. Luckily, the dogs are perfectly fine together and will be able to spend lots of time outside in the fenced in yard while Dave and I are away. Unfortunately, the room isn't ready yet, and won't be until this Sunday at the earliest. So we've been bouncing back and forth between friend's houses for the last week while we wait for the room to be ready. Surprisingly, its been no problem. I've been really impressed with Durango so far. The people here are friendly, generous and accommodating and the town as a whole is exceedingly dog friendly. Brodie has a ton of new doggie friends and we've got multiple places we could potentially leave him should we decide to go out of town, which is a huge relief.

I've been playing a bit on the river lately, getting to know the Lower Animas (aka "town run"), which is a Class II-III run, and I just got back from a 19 mile trip down the Dolores River, which was an uber-mellow Class II run on the section I ran. People bring their dogs with them on the river, which I find exceedingly humorous. Its not uncommon to see a dog or two in a raft wearing a life jacket. Brodie has one too, though I haven't brought him along with us on any of the rivers yet. Not sure how well he'd take to it seeing that he didn't learn to swim until he was 3 and he didn't learn to jump off the dock at our lake house until he was 5. He's 7 years old now, so maybe he's ready to step it up. I'll wait until the water level comes down a bit before I throw him on a raft. The town run is peaking early because of the warm temperatures lately, so its a bit big for him at the moment. Plus the water is COLD since its all snow run-off. With any raft trip you run the risk of flipping. And if I wouldn't want to swim, I certainly wouldn't want him to either.

In my spare time I've been trying to get to know the town a bit better. I don't find it easy to explain to people what Durango is like to people who haven't been here. Lots of people say its like Boulder in the 80s before all the growth and construction, but since I have no frame of reference, that comparison is worthless to me. Its a young town with two small colleges and an abundance of outdoor activities for all seasons. There are lots of rivers within an hour or two of town, two ski resorts just outside of town, loads of hiking and mountain biking trails, and several rock climbing and bouldering sites. Plus, its really beautiful! Its no wonder that the town attracts a plethora of young active people. The place is super friendly and laid back (very "granola" if you will), there's tons to do and I really like it here. I certainly wouldn't have ended up here without Dave but I'm so glad I'm here. I can think of no better place for us to spend our summer. And maybe longer!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Post-Travels: A Follow-Up

I've been back from the trip for exactly a month now and have been busy trying to get my life back in order so I could move out to Colorado again to start my next adventure as a rookie white water rafting guide. Although I'd been making notes all through Australia with the intention of a trip summary, there have been so many distractions that I never got around to it. To be honest, I'm not sure what kind of readership this thing is getting so I didn't think anyone would notice.

Some of the immediate things that come to mind that have been affected by traveling abroad for over 5 months are my definition of the word "clean" in every sense of the word--food, hygiene, living conditions. You name it. Before this trip, the notion of considering anything edible that had previously touched the ground made me cringe. We often cook on dirty picnic tables where birds, flies and who knows what else has been there before us. I stopped caring when some of the pasta would fall out of the pot (back in it goes!) or we'd drop produce from the grocery store on the floor without a way to wash it off before eating it. No problem. That's what immune systems are for!

As for personal hygiene. That's another matter that I'm not entirely rid of my pre-trip sentiments. I lived in Washington, DC for the better part of 4 years and, with the help of my best friend, Michelle, became much more of a "girly" girl than I had ever been. I kept up with grooming: wore make-up, shaved my legs every other day, had manicures and pedicures, wore reasonably fashionable clothes and high heels. Showered daily. You know, the normal city-girl stuff.

Moving to Colorado cured a lot of that in a hurry. I stopped wearing heels (who can make that work in fresh snow and a nice layer of ice covering the sidewalk?!? Trust me, I gave it a go...didn't work.), and I was outside so much that my ski pants, a warm jacket, hat and gloves became choice attire. I essentially stopped wearing make-up except mascara and Burt's Bees chap stick. But I still showered at least every other day and shaved my legs regularly, even though they were almost always covered up. Other grooming became a much lower priority.

But traveling abroad, I was lucky to get a shower (there's almost no such thing as hot water showers in Asia without paying a fortune for a hotel) as availability and droughts in Australia made it a challenging prospect. I almost never wore make-up and Dave and I were thrilled to be able to do laundry every so often since we only had a few changes of clothes. It became all about the simple things, which was profound and deeply satisfying at the same time. I enjoyed being back to basics and refocusing my priorities much more than I imagined I would. I'm proud to say that much of that appreciation remains even though I'm back home where everything is convenient and easy (but I admit to wearing a bit of make-up here). Hopefully it'll stick.

One of the big things this trip has changed is my tolerance with living arrangements other than apartments and houses. My Southern upbringing has taught me to relish a roof over my head and my age has afforded me experiences that make living alone a joy, but Dave and I spent so many months living in shared dorms with other backpackers and then living out of a tent/car Down Under that I began to appreciate the drifter lifestyle. I loved meeting other travelers and discovering that, though we're from different countries and cultures, we've got a lot in common. I also loved camping out in some of the most beautiful countryside I've ever seen. We saw some of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen and would've never experienced had I had traditional housing.

Dave and I are moving to Durango and have no idea where we'll be living. We've discussed buying a camper and living out of it with or without electricity for the summer, as well as camping in people's backyards or in national forests or possibly renting an apartment if we can find something reasonably affordable that will accept a dog. None of these scenarios bother me, but my mom got rather cranky and vocal at the prospect of me being "homeless" for the summer by camping out. Having lived like that for a few months already, the "homeless" comment made me smile. Its really not so bad!

But perhaps the most noteworthy result of the trip is that Dave and I didn't kill each other, are still together, and are still very happy. I calculated at one point that we spent 150 days together, averaging at least 23 hours a day together for the duration of the trip. That's 3,450 hours or 207,000 minutes of never-ending togetherness. My friends joke that it was a crash-course in marriage and you won't hear me argue. All that time gave us uninterrupted time to get to know each other through and through. We've seen the good, the bad and the ugly. I can't lie and say we didn't have a few snags here and there and that we didn't reach points on the trip where we thought the other might cut the trip short and fly home, but we worked through it and came out much stronger in the end. We've heard all of each other's stories, laughed together, cried together and shared experiences that I wouldn't have rather shared with anyone else. Dave is my best friend and my lover and someone I have tremendous respect and admiration for. After all that we've been through together, I am still thankful every day that he is a part of my life and that we're continuing to share new adventures together. These experiences have been so amazing I feel like the luckiest girl alive!