By Sawyer Smith
That’s the phrase that Karen from Holiday River Expeditions used to describe today’s interviewee when I was first asked to chat with trip facilitator Katie Woods. This term, renaissance woman, is one that runs the risk of being overused but in the case of Katie, I think it’s an apt description. In addition to being a trip facilitator, Katie offers Wilderness Medical Associates certifications through her own wilderness medicine education company, teaches yoga, volunteers as a ski patroller and a member of search and rescue in her county, and dabbles in instructional design. On top of all that, she holds two master’s degrees and has a background in athletic training and sports medicine.
Katie started out as a whitewater raft guide on the New and Gauley rivers in West Virginia. Even back east, she had heard good things about Holiday River Expeditions. “If I was going to guide for anybody, [Holiday was] one of the companies I wanted to check out,” she told me. So, in the fall of 2017, she jumped at the chance to join a Westwater trip. Over those three days, she learned about the process to become a guide at Holiday and decided to come back to train in the spring.
“I think that next year I came down with them and did their guide training on Deso [Desolation Canyon]. Learning how to properly move an oar rig is something I wish I’d known during my first Grand [Canyon] trip!”
Now, Katie considers the people of Holiday as family. As a 500-hour registered yoga teacher (RYT), she teaches on one of Holiday’s Balance and Flow Wellness trips that take place every July. While these trips are undoubtedly special, and maybe even life-changing, there is another service Katie provides for Holiday that might actually be life saving…
Arguably, the most important part of the work Katie does with Holiday—and with people and groups all over the country—is teaching nature lovers, new and old, how to prevent illness and injury by using critical thinking skills to make good decisions out in the wild.
Katie’s company, Barefoot Wilderness Medicine Education—or Barefoot Wild Med for short—is a Licensed Training Company for Wilderness Medical Associates (WMA). Whether you’re a weekend hiker or a backcountry adventurer, Katie has the right class for you.
“So, we teach a bunch of different courses,” she explained to me. The most basic one that Katie offers is the Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course, “which is a two-day course, kind of your basic first aid for the person that just, you know, does recreational stuff, a weekend warrior person.”
If you want to bump your skills up to the next level, you might take a Wilderness Advanced First Aid (WAFA) course, “which is a four-day course… and it’s kinda more for the person that’s gonna be out in an extended wilderness environment or maybe they are responsible for leading trips with guides or other people.”
Lastly, if you want to be Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certified, you would take the Wilderness First Responder course, which is a 70-hour course that Katie offers in a condensed 5-day format and a regular 7 or 8-day format. She told me training to be a WFR is the best way to be prepared for long backpacking trips, or take a large group out for an extended trip. For some, it might even be required for their job, but don’t fret if you’re not located in the Utah area—Katie travels all over the country to teach or can put you in touch with someone else who may offer a WMA course closer to you.
You’re wilderness medicine certified, now what?
Let’s say you’ve just finished taking one of Katie’s informative and fun wilderness medicine courses, and now you’re trying to figure out a place to show off your new skills. Might I suggest hopping on the Women’s Whitewater River Rafting and Yoga Trip through the Gates of Lodore?
Or, as Katie described it when I asked her to compare her trip to the other yoga-based adventures offered through Holiday, why don’t you go on “the chill one”?
“It’s a really fun trip,” she told me. “My mom actually went in 2020… it was her 60th birthday… It’s a really fun group of women…s.” She went on to talk about how one of her goals as a trip facilitator is to make yoga accessible to everyone, which includes everything from not using only Sanskrit phrases to not physically taxing people. “It’s really easy to do yoga in the wilderness…. Teaching outside… you can be like, ‘Let’s all just sit, inhale and exhale, look around us.’”
If the breathing exercises and the beautiful scenery isn’t enough to convince you to take this trip, how about the possibility of forming life-long friendships, or strengthening the bonds of existing ones? Katie proudly told me that participants from the 2021 trip still keep in touch via group text, sending each other pictures and nice messages throughout the year. In fact, four of the ladies—now in their 70s and 80s— were actually decades-old friends who had floated more than 25 years ago on a different Holiday River Expeditions trip and decided to reunite on the water again.
Southern Utah through Katie’s Eyes…
Before wrapping up my interview, I asked Katie what her favorite thing about being a trip facilitator was, and she said she loved seeing people, who may not always have the opportunity, get to go out in nature and experience what a lot of us ‘take for granted.’
“We get to be out there so often, [we] have access… it’s easy for me to go on a river trip—I can just show up at Holiday and be like, ‘Hey, can I come on this trip?’” But Katie is very aware that this isn’t the case for most people. There are barriers, like cost and time commitment.
That’s why Katie finds it so joyous to see the smile on the face of someone who has made sacrifices to come down to Southern Utah and experience these wild and special places. “This might be something that they really saved up to do,” Katie remarked. “Those are the people I really enjoy sharing time with.”
On a more personal level, Katie told me that the two things she really appreciates when she’s spending time on the water are “the colors and how quiet it is,” as well as having the chance to use one of her favorite foreign languages—the language of river rafting.
“There is a language that goes with raft guiding when we talk about rivers and rocks… and I speak that language, so it’s fun to back around people that also speak that language.”
So, if you’re looking to improve your wilderness medicine skills, do some ‘chill’ outdoor yoga, or maybe pick up a few phrases in a new language, check out all the great work Katie does for Holiday River Expeditions and maybe take one step closer to becoming a ‘Renaissance Woman’ yourself.
Find out more about the wilderness medicine courses offered this spring at Holiday here.