We make our way along the New River's bank, cautiously stepping from one boulder to the next. Bundles of driftwood and debris are scattered in random pockets amongst the rocks and trees, evidence of the last high water event. Our boats are securely tied just upstream, near the end of a relatively slow moving flat-water pool. As we boulder hop further down stream, the chaotic mess of whitewater that minutes earlier existed just beyond the horizon of current is now coming fully into view. I discreetly glance at the facial expressions of the others, trying to gain some insight into their initial feelings without being noticed. Some eyes are wide, bouncing from place to place, over stimulated and not knowing what to focus on. Others are sharp and intense, glaring out at nature’s display. The once smooth, glassy water has now become a whirling mess of water crashing over rocks and waves that build and break and fill the air with mist. I position myself closer to the water’s edge and turn so that the river is at my back. Eyes now shift their focus to me, staring intently, expectantly. “So,” I say as I begin to break into a big, bearded smile, “this is our first Class V rapid. Let’s talk about it.”
This is another day in our first week of guide training. These 15 people from their random walks of life and various parts of the country have all come here for one common goal, to become a river guide. As we scout, or study a rapid from the riverbank, I point out differing current lines and features. The trainees take time to look and begin to implement their “water-reading” knowledge, asking questions and developing ideas for how to run the rapid. We talk about hazards and the different pros and cons to varying routes. Scouting gives the opportunity for questions and clarification, something that can be hard to find time for in the midst of a rapid a few hundred yards long, containing 8 to 10 foot waves and a must miss feature known as the Meat Grinder.
As we head back upstream to our boats, I notice a few trainees stop to look back, trying to pick out the line or certain features from a slightly different vantage point. It’s interesting how what we see and the way we see things has a lot to do with where we are standing. The world can look completely different from a different point of view. There remains a lot for this training class to learn, with skills to be honed and a relationship with this wild and wonderful river to be fostered. But perhaps their greatest insight will be into a new point of view. A perspective that many people will never have. The view from the back of the raft, the perspective of a river guide.