When you’re traveling and you hit that proverbial bump in the road, it can be a blessing in disguise. As the great comedians of Monty Python said best, “Always look on the bright side of life.” Whenever I hear that, it makes me want to whistle. Or as my father would say, “Son, things are tough all over.” Meaning, things could always be a lot worse.
After guiding for Austin Adventures for over 16 years I have had plenty of hurdles to overcome. The stories live on forever and the humor never dies. And the best stories weren’t funny at the time, but those are the ones you remember the most. People love to hear about the bad times. I think partly because it makes them feel better about their own experiences. I love a trip that goes off without a hitch and almost all of them do just that; but things do happen when traveling. The weeks I remember most were the toughest, but they were also often the most rewarding. Of course, things happen when traveling that are unexpected. So imagine all the possibilities when you’re guiding 12 different people with 12 different agendas adding in all the dynamics of being on a trip: weather, bikes, vans, trailers, flights, luggage, guide partners, reservations, gear, personalities, beliefs, politics, this list could go on and on. Dealing with adversity is the single biggest thing that turns a good trip into a great trip. If the guests don’t know there was a hitch in the plan, I have succeeded. Here are a couple stories of when I faced a little adversity but ended up making some of my favorite guiding memories.
Guiding in the Rain
Weather plays a vital role in any trip being fun and easy. Weather can make trips very difficult. Sometimes when it rains, places are more beautiful then you could ever imagine. Heavy down pours can be very dangerous in many parts of the world. Flash floods are a guide’s worst nightmare in the desert, unless you have been around the block and know what to do and where not to be. If there is any chance of rain, you do not want to be in or near a slot canyon. It could rain 20 miles away in the mountains and you could be in serious danger, because, in the desert, water comes downhill fast.
On a great trip in Zion National Park, our itinerary was to head up The Narrows, one of the best hikes in the whole world. Unfortunately, there was a serious chance of rain. Desert rains come down in sheets, buckets, and real walls of water, so I knew we weren’t going into The Narrows that day. Some people book their whole trip to do this one hike – I had to turn this negative into a positive. Having guided in this part of the world for a very long time, I knew just what to do.
I took the group to watch a symphony of waterfalls from the comfort of the Zion shuttle. They couldn’t believe the hundreds of waterfalls cascading in front of them. The magnitude of some the waterfalls falling hundreds of feet to the ground was truly amazing.
At our last dinner most of the guests said it was the most impressive thing they had ever seen. Even though we hiked The Narrows the day after it rained, it could not compare to the normally-dormant waterfalls being released by the rains in Zion.
It’s never easy to start an activity in the rain, especially when you’re on Fox Island in Alaska. Just feeding the wood burning stove, sipping on some hot chocolate, and playing a board game is as good as any hike or activity. In Alaska, it can rain all day and night. It doesn’t rain as hard as it does in the desert, but it could mist forever. During the Alaskan summer, it does not matter what time it is – it’s always light out. So if it rains all day, you can still go do something after dinner.
This particular day was my birthday – the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. If you don’t know me, my friends always joke that I have ants in my pants. I always want to be doing something. After a little beach combing in the rain it started to let up to a very light mist. It’s amazing how calm the ocean can be when it rains. I swear it can be calmer than when it’s sunny. Even though it was after dinner and it was still raining, I thought it was a good time to go sea kayaking. Okay, maybe just a couple hours since it’s late in the evening.
It was a little hard to get some people motivated. Putting on wet rain gear is never very enjoyable. This was going to be the group’s last opportunity to sea kayak. As it was my birthday, I was all in. We got everyone outfitted and we headed for the sea. As we made our way down the beach I could hear a few sighs from the group. Right before we got in the kayaks we saw a river otter run down the beach. A good omen! Finally we got in our vessels and were in the mighty Pacific. It was still, except for the mist. It was so quiet outside, even with the rain falling on the ocean surface. We saw a sea otter not far from shore and then started to head around the island toward a couple of sea arches that have been eroded by the waves. The ocean being so calm, we are able to kayak though the arches– not always the case. Everyone was having a great time. Then the unthinkable happened – a pod of orcas swam right by us. I swear they looked right at us, stunned that we would even be there. The orcas went as quickly as they came. I thought this would be the highlight of the trip. I was wrong. On our way back to the lodge we had the joy of seeing a humpback whale breach about a quarter-mile away. It was truly amazing! The splash seemed like it was as high as a 10-story building.
We got back drenched, cold and tired. But we were all walking on air. We knew that night that we had been blessed with one of the greatest shows on earth. We hung our wet gear above the wood burning stove, packed it tight with wood, and said goodnight.
I know you wanted the down and dirty, the nitty-gritty, as they say. Those stories are best told in person. So I look forward to sharing some of my favorites with you on our next adventure together.