From Behind the Oars: A Guide’s Reflection on the 2020 Season
By: Justin Malloy
To say “2020 has been a crazy year” has become cliché, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Considering everything going on this year, I was sure we were not going to have a season on the river. During a Zoom call with other Holiday guides, we all agreed: the chances we would go boating seemed slim. But our owners, management, and river community at large got to work figuring out how to safely run trips: researching, brainstorming, communicating with health officials, and laying out specific plans/protocols. Once there was some good science out indicating the relative safety of being in the great outdoors & sunshine, all that planning was cautiously put into action. What could have been a total bust became a delayed start. We got back to work about six weeks later than normal. Arriving back in Green River was a revelation. Seeing my fellow guides, and blowing the cobwebs out of the warehouse lifted weight I didn’t know I had.
The Long Pause
Living through the initial lockdown instilled a sense of gratitude for things I had been taking for granted. Fear and anxiety rested under the surface, but I tried to focus on the positives. I had food in the fridge, and a nice home to spend my time in. I had a caring partner and two lovable dogs to share it with. There was all the time in the world to read, relax, or exercise. Self-care became a lifestyle. However, despite all those comforts, restlessness set in. I grew tired of the indoors, of feeling helpless against an invisible enemy, of trying to be a hero from my couch. I yearned for the river, for the canyons, and, most of all, for a purpose. When I got the call to get ready, I found one more thing to be grateful for: Holiday.
This season gave me a new appreciation for the company I have been guiding trips with for the last nine summers. Without all the preliminary work our office staff put in just to figure out how to safely run trips, we wouldn’t have had a season. They took on the risks in order to give work to their guides. They took that risk to offer our guests a partial-escape from the craziness of this new reality. There was significantly more effort, thoughtfulness, and care to guide trips under COVID-19 protocols. But I am immensely proud of our guide staff for taking it on in stride. What is already a difficult and taxing job became even more so, but our crew rarely frowned or complained. We successfully ran trips from June until October without a single positive COVID-19 test transmitted between our guests or crew.
The Lifeblood of our Trips
I am also very grateful for all of our guests who came on trips this year, some new and many returning. From trusting us to run a safe trip, to taking extra precautions and following even more rules than normal, our guests put in extra efforts into making this season a safe success. Getting to meet face to face filled a void felt from lack of interaction and personal connection. That feeling seemed to resonate among everyone, and for the first time since the pandemic started, I finally felt like I was contributing to the greater good.
The strongest gratitude I have felt in regards to this past summer is for the river and canyons themselves. How lucky are we to have these beautiful places to escape to, and be at one with the natural world? With everything that was cancelled this year- school, travel plans, sporting events- it was just so special to float through those places again, the fear and anxiety left at home in place of respite and mindfulness. The desert reminds me that all is not lost. There is still joy, beauty, and magic in the world.
Expectations vs. Reality
Before my first trip of the year, naively I imagined the canyon would be different than how I left it. Since human impact had been limited, I figured wildlife would be more abundant, the trails overgrown… Perhaps nature had “taken back what had once been hers.” To my initial surprise, none of these predictions came true: the canyons I have grown to love appeared the same as I remembered. I realized these were silly thoughts to begin with: the lockdown wasn’t enough time for the reclamation of nature. But from these thoughts came a feeling of solace. Like listening to your favorite song, or catching up with a lifelong friend, or hugging your mom, the river offered a familiar comfort and a peaceful place to escape the storm of our daily lives. It remained untouched by the chaos we’ve endured, indifferent to our strife, and in that I find solace. As long as we continue taking care of them, the rivers and canyons will continue taking care of us.
Originally from the suburbs near Cleveland, Ohio, Justin made his way to Utah after graduating from Ohio University with a degree in exploring and having fun… If not on the river or in the kitchen, you’ll find him wandering the mountains, drinking coffee, or writing down words he hopes will come across as sensical.