How did you find yourself at Holiday?

When I was a child, my parents took me on various river trips, so I’ve always loved them. Then in 1998 I went rafting (with a different company) down Cataract Canyon and fell in love with the river. I didn’t know guiding was a thing, and was inspired to leave my unfulfilling tech job to become a guide. In my first Wilderness First Responder course, I met Holiday alum James Ellsworth, who recommended Holiday, so I applied!

What years did you spend guiding?

I was full-time from 2000-2004, and part-time from 2005-2011.

Jen Davison HRE alumni

“Love That Whitewater” t-shirt

What is something you learned while at Holiday that has stuck with you and has been valuable to life beyond the river?

Something I learned that I use every day is that your outcomes are only as good as your processes. I learned this from “The Holiday Way” and the founders’ dedication to constant and neverending improvement in river running. And I learned it from the exquisite, intricate, fragile yet resilient rivers and canyons of the Colorado Plateau. From a practical sense, if your systems are aligned with your best thinking and values then you can trust that you’ll get to a good outcome. Another thing I learned: When things go differently than according to plan, breathe and pivot. When the wash water table is tipping over, it’s a lot more fun to cheer than to curse! Oh, and finally: it’s very helpful to have all cords stored in big loops that touch the floor.

What is your favorite stretch of river that you have been on? 

Dee used to say that each river is special in its own way, just like his daughters. I also feel that each section of river has a personality. They’re all unique and beautiful.

Do you still do river trips?

As often as I can, which isn’t often enough.

What do you miss most from guiding?

I miss being with other people in raw, uncut nature. I miss the deep relationships that tend to take root in that environment. I miss the straightforwardness of the decisions to make. I miss crazy wildlife sightings, like a ferret dragging a dead gopher snake that had just eaten another ferret. I miss the excitement of a new adventure with new friends, and I even kind of miss the bone-deep exhaustion at the end of a string of back-to-back trips. I miss tracking the seasons by the nightly shift of the stars.

What was it that pulled you away from guiding?

Guiding reminded me how much I love our precious natural world, so I went back to school to learn more about it and how we can care for it.

What advice or sentiment would you share with young guides working today?

Take care of your body, take care of your gear, take care of each other, and take care of the river. 

Drink water. 

Take your responsibilities seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. 

The river is one place where awe, joy, and play are easily accessible. Relish this! Don’t take these essential life nutrients for granted.

Do you have a favorite memory of Dee? Sue? Tim? Frogg?
Jen Davison and Group HRE alumni

Jen with a group of female guides who get together every year

All of these people are mentors to me, and I’m grateful to have relationships with most that extend/ed beyond my guiding days. Some highlights: 

I remember calling GR on the sat phone from a Deso trip because we had a bear in camp and the bear horn was dead; Dee answered and asked us to try the horn again so I pressed the button and the can made a sound like, “pweeeeuunnnn…” and he said, deadpan, “well, that’s not gonna work.”

Sue’s laugh is infectious; I also remember her predilection for very hot water, and how she’d roll her eyes at Dee.

I was always running to keep up with Tim as he strode across the Green River boatyard. I also remember Tim’s toothbrush in his mouth while he shimmied his boat between the rocks in Skull, on a low-water trip through Westwater. And I loved besting him at tying bowlines during Margaritaville.

I had beers with Frogg the evening before my one Holiday-Idaho trip on the Main Salmon. I hope we can spend more time together in the future.

What’s your most memorable story from a river trip?

A great way to lose track of 5 hours of your life is to ask a river guide to tell you a story! Each trip contains at least one incredible moment. Many are exciting, scary, or gross, but others are just as memorable though not as story-ready. Waking up to the sound of beavers chewing on vegetation next to your boat. A middle-of-the-night evacuation when a side canyon flashed. Impromptu “yellowjacket” interpretive dances. Waterfalls pouring off of every cliff during a summer rainstorm. mayfly hatches and Mormon cricket stowaways. A herd of teenage male bighorns bullying us off the lunch beach. Etc.

Do you have a story to share about a positive experience with a guest? 

I remember this man from Chicago, he’d never gone camping before and he came out on a 5-day Yampa trip: wilderness, rapids, setting up a tent, bugs, etc. He was very talkative; so many questions. So when he stopped talking, one afternoon as we were rowing toward camp, I looked over and asked how he was doing. He looked back with a gaze of rapture, and said, “I never knew this existed!” I remember how I felt the same way.

Are you in touch with any guides you met during your time with Holiday?

Guides and former guides are my best friends and chosen family. A group of women guides get together every year, and keep in touch regularly. Some guides try to connect during the holidays; some of us apply for river permits together; and one of them is my husband. Zach and I met in 2002 on a Yampa trip (which also included my parents and brother), and we married in 2010 at Grand Canyon. Zach comes from a river family, and I’m grateful to be a part of it.

Jen and Zach HRE alumni

Jen with her Husband, Zach

What are you up to these days? (career, passions, hobbies, artistic endeavors, etc…)

I work at the University of Washington, directing research for healthier people and Earth. In my spare time, I go outside with friends, and I participate in social and environmental justice efforts. We have two goofy cuddly dogs, Huckleberry and Poppy. I’m learning to play the ukulele.

Where do you call home? 

Zach and I currently call Seattle home. And the desert Southwest will always be home.

Do you think you will ever be a river guide again?

No, those sweet, crazy days and starry, sandy nights are over; but the river will never leave me.