by: Liz Hall
International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness about discrimination, and take action to pursue a world that is “diverse, equitable, and inclusive.” Talk to any women or femme-identifying individual in the outdoor industry, and they’ll quickly give you an example of a time when they were written off: “Yeah, but do you have a guy who can do my ski boot fitting?” or “Do you need a break? I’ll row the boat for you.” or the classic, “You (insert action sport of choice: ski, bike, climb, row, etc.) pretty good…. for a girl.” Women-centric events and festivals are on the rise. Just take a look at events such as Boot Tan Fest, Roam Mountain Bike Festival, or even Holiday’s own Women’s Mountain Bike Clinic, or Women’s Rafting Trip. All these trips focus on breaking down barriers and access to the outdoors for all women, femme, and non-binary folk, as well as creating spaces where women and femme folk feel safer and welcomed in the outdoors. We believe that everyone has a place in the outdoors, and for many of the women and non-binary folks who work at Holiday, rafting has offered them the chance to carve out a place of their own in the outdoors. In celebration of International Women’s Day, we asked the women at Holiday to answer what river rafting and/or guiding has brought to their lives, or what they enjoy most about being a guide. Read on to see what they have to say!
What I have enjoyed most about being a river guide is that there are endless opportunities for learning. Every time I push my boat off from shore and dip my oars into the river’s currents, no matter how many times I’ve floated a certain stretch, I am taking in information from the environment around me. There’s geology and hydrology, front and center in the canyon walls and in the river’s movement. There’s history, both human and natural, as well as ecology and current affairs. I love questions from guests that challenge me to find new ways to teach what I know and find out more about the things I don’t know. There’s always more to read, and more to observe. For someone with a curious mind, it never gets boring!
Joseph Campbell says that what we are looking for isn’t the meaning of life, but the feeling of being alive.
I have never felt more alive than guiding with Holiday – waking up outside nearly every day, rowing through a real part of the world nearly untainted by human development. I think it must be what it was sorta like before we lived in apartments. The dazzle of sun on the river is better than any screen I’ve ever stared at. The feeling of scouting a rapid with guides/friends and then getting in our boats and navigating that water one at a time is better than any team sport, or any programming problem. Reading bedtime poems under hot stars and joining a group drum circle started by guests is better than every painting I’ve ever made. Thank you, river people. Thank you river.
Love, Michelle Postma
Growing up at Holiday, I’ve learned much of what I value about myself from the various river guides who have passed through the Holiday bunk-houses over the years. While critical lessons were certainly learned from guides of all genders, it was the leadership qualities I found in some of the brilliant & powerful women guides of the late 90s & early 00s that shaped the kind of leader I am today. Emma Wharton, Jen Davison, Jessica Durham… these are the kinds of trip leaders who left me feeling like I had what it took to try my own hand at the oars & commit my life to this river gig.
What have you enjoyed most about being a river guide?
Sleeping on my boat!! I love making my boat my home and bedroom for the week and sleeping under the stars. Even when the classic things that keep me up such as the boats bumping and squeaking, the Woodhouse toad cries being loud, the full moon being bright as the sun, it’s too hot, my toes itch, the occasional sprinkles of rain that are just annoying enough to stir you awake all the way to the storms that have the potential to roll in roaring in the middle of the night causing you to need to scurry around in the sand finding your tent. Despite the occasional uncomfortable nights, I get the best sleep on the river after the long hard days of work.
While I am not on the river, I do get to work with an amazing group of Women in the office. They enrich my life by making me laugh, showing me what’s cool & trendy, calming me down when I get riled up, and generally being supportive and inclusive of me as their older co-worker. I could be their Mother but they treat me like a friend.
River rafting has brought so much to my life! I love that I get to spend 5 months living and sleeping outside. Getting to share some of my favorite places in the world with others, and invite them to love these places, too makes it all the more special. I also love having the opportunity to empower girls-, women-identifying & nonbinary folx to see that they can be a river guide, or be strong, self-sufficient, and independent.
River Rafting has brought to my life, a lot of new friends and another outdoor sport that gets my heart racing. My favorite thing about being on the river is the feeling that time does not exist. There’s nothing quite like waking up with the sun and floating downstream without a care in the world.
Raft guiding was the best butt kick I never knew I needed. I had always said I wanted to guide- but made up every excuse not to. After parting ways with a job I had been at for five and a half years, I felt off track and wondered what life would look like next as an outdoor educator. Guiding gave me back the confidence and community I had lost. Being trained by fellow female guides made me feel empowered, grateful, and hopeful for where these rivers could take me!
One of the greatest joys I have found in river rafting is the ability to introduce so many of my family and friends to the places I love, including my 15-year-old son. It’s always a joy to see their faces light up the first time they enter “the Gates of Lodore” or the first time they get to experience the rapids of Westwater. Whenever I get back out on the river, it feels like coming home.
What has river rafting brought to your life?
Rafting has brought me the freedom of wearing whatever I want to work. Dress codes are the worst.
From all of us at Holiday, we’re grateful for all the experience, joy, and perspectives that our women and non-binary team bring to each river trip.
Go with the flow!