You sure you can handle this river?

When I started guiding many years ago, female guides were very much the minority and sexism in the industry was still pretty prevalent.  It was a male dominated field, and still is to some extent.   The first river company I trained with actually let me waste an entire summer knowing full well they were never going to allow someone with tits to make the cut.  I wish they’d just been upfront with me from the get-go, but I guess legally they couldn’t just come right out and say that because I didn’t have a penis, they didn’t think I had what it took to guide a river.


Anyway, I did find a river company that had no issues with female guides and proved myself worthy of becoming one. As far as I was concerned, us gals weren’t treated any different by male guides or managers.  But occasionally we did encounter issues with guests in our rafts who felt female guides were either not physically capable of being good guides, or they had issues taking orders from them.  I’d encountered men who absolutely refused to do what I asked of them, and men who blatantly questioned my ability. Like the 4 men on the Gauley who claimed to be SEALS.  I say claimed because given their reaction to what I put them through, I have serious doubts as to the veracity of what they said.

I was rigging up my 4-man boat for an Upper Gauley run when my Trip Leader handed me my crew for the day.  After introductions, I was immediately asked by one of them, “You sure you can handle this big bad river, little girl?”

Now, I can handle ribbing. I can handle joking around. I’m not one of those femnazis who gets her panties in a wad over petty shit. Not at all. I give back as good as I get.  But this guy wasn’t kidding. He was drop-dead serious.  He and his buddies slapped each other on the back and laughed as they outright questioned my abilities as a guide simply because I had tits. Apparently they didn’t see the stupidity in insulting their guide at the put in for the Upper Gauley.  This run was also what was called a “gung ho” run, which meant that my raft was smaller and was going to run more aggressive lines than the other rafts on the trip. It was not a trip for the faint of heart and apparently they had reservations about a woman being “ballsy” enough to run such a raft.

I determined in that instant that I was going to lay those reservations to rest.  With vigor.

“We’ll see who can handle what, little boy,” I replied  while wiggling my little finger at them.  “I know where to swim.  Do you?” I grinned mischievously,  leaving them to question just how serious I was.

My trip leader got wind of my crew’s behavior and pulled me aside. He offered to put the guys with a male guide.  Emphatically, I declined.  Oh HELL no.  This was going to be fun.  No way was I giving it to someone else.  I simply told the TL to be sure to set safety for me.  Everywhere.  He grinned knowingly and told all the other guides on the trip to do just that.  (For those non-river guides, that means that they would wait below rapids in anticipation of swimmers from my raft. )

Everywhere that it was safely possible to flip and/or swim, we did.  For instance, at Pillow Rock, I put us into the famed Room of Doom.

Room of Doom is just to the left of this raft

We sat there against Pillow Rock for just a couple seconds while the water pulsed.  One of guys asked, “What do we do now?!”

My grinning reply?

“Take a deep breath.”

I saw his eyes get wide, and then we flipped.

As we continued down the river, scenarios similar to that one played out many times over.  Finally one them cried uncle.  “I don’t want to swim anymore,” he said breathlessly as I pulled him back into the raft for the… oh hell, I don’t even know which time it was. I lost count.  They asked me why we kept swimming so much.  So I told them.

“Obviously, I’m just a little girl who can’t handle this big, bad, scary river.” And I explained that I just couldn’t guarantee that we weren’t going to swim a few more times since my tits made it difficult for me to steer the raft with my weak arms.

Now, some have said that all I did was validate their preconceived notions about female guides. I accept that possibility, but there are two things to consider.  1) I’m pretty sure they knew what was up by the end of the trip and, 2) I don’t care. I had nothing to prove to those idiots.  I don’t care what they think or why. What I know is that I had a blast making those supposed Navy SEALS cry uncle, and I’m sure the rest of the trip had fun watching.

And now for your viewing pleasure, some carnage clips from the Gauley and New Rivers. (None of these are me, but I’m sure I’ve done most of the stuff in them at one time or another. And a lot of them probably on the one day I just wrote about. 😉 )

Gauley Carnage

Gauley Carnage 2