Spring Break in a Wetsuit

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By Juniper Rose, Junior, Journalism

It’s 5 a.m.

There are 12 of us standing on the corner of Cherry and Fourth Street in front of Adventure Outings’ warehouse, close enough to talk but just anxiously watching each other’s breath as we ponder what crucial gear we forgot at home in our half-asleep states.

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It was the first day of Adventure Outings’ raft guide school—the first day of spring break 2012—and I realized I just willingly chose to spend my only free eight days of the semester in a wetsuit.

What I didn’t realize was that I would also be spending those eight days with a group of people who would become my best friends and learning skills that would change my perspective on life. Not to mention, those people and skills would wind up getting me a job that would lead me to spend my summer on a boat in the sunshine, getting paid to doing something most people pay to do.

Whitewater rafts, wetsuits, life jackets, helmets, tents, and coolers were piled into vans, followed by nervous bodies.

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From our instructors to students who had never been rafting before, we were about to get to know each other, our gear, and the Trinity and Upper Sacramento Rivers and learn to guide a raft while surging down rapids.

Guiding is about technique, reading the water, quick decision making, and flexibility. You can’t control the river—you can only work with it. Our instructors handed us a paddle and let us try it. If we were smart, we learned from their advice; if we were lucky, we learned from someone else’s mistakes. Mostly, we learned from our own trials and accomplishments.

But guide school taught us more than just how to guide boats, it taught us life skills.

Through a series of clinics, we developed basic river safely skills and gained the confidence we would need to act under548497_2922196818925_1381919439_n pressure on the river. We learned to tie knots, swim rapids, prepare food on the banks of a river, and stay warm in cold living conditions.

The mentoring wasn’t over when we returned to Chico.
My guide-school instructors showed me where to apply for jobs, and with them as my references, I was offered jobs at both places I applied, two of the top whitewater rafting companies on the American River.

The first weekend of summer vacation, I packed everything I would need in my pickup and drove to Coloma, California.

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Life on the river is simple. I spent the summer sleeping on a platform in the woods at the base camp for the raft company I worked for. Getting up for work doesn’t get any better than when you wake up to blackberries dangling above your bed, the smell of pine needles, and the knowledge that you are about to have the opportunity share the river with someone new. When you’re a guide, you might paddle the same river every day, but the feeling of introducing it to someone new, and making a memory that they will hold for life, never wears off.

In less than a week, Adventure Outings’ guide school will repeat, and while I won’t be with them this time, I can guarantee you that on the morning of Friday, March 15, I will be thinking of that little cluster of apprehensive participants out in front of the warehouse waiting to get into that big maroon van, with no idea just how far that trip is going to take them.

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