Thoughts From A Very Pregnant (Retired) Raft Guide

Raft guide cultureSo yep, I’m ready to pop. The formally “innie” belly button is sticking out like a Thanksgiving-day-turkey ready to be taken out of the oven. In the last 40 weeks I have learned a lot about my river community, others and myself.

Raft company culture is a weird environment to be pregnant around. Half the people you know from work are genuinely super happy for you. They mean it when they say congratulations, and ask about names and how you are feeling. To them, having kids seems like a normal part of life. No judgment, just normal.

And then there’s the other half. These co-workers are seriously uncomfortable around you. It’s like they are thinking, “How dare you do something so mainstream?” It’s literally like they feel like your life is now very pathetic compared to theirs. Their looks remind me that I’m a traitor to the unspoken rules of raft guide coolness. You know: never grow up (despite your age), never succumb to a desk job, and never settle down.

This group’s reaction has been weird for me. I guided solidly for over 12 years and I lived the raft guide’s dream. I lived in tents, survived off my tips, paid off my student loans with my pathetic paychecks, and everything I owned fit in my car. I traveled, worked and played on many rivers all over the world. Yeah, I lived the dream. These were some of the best years of my life.

Then one fall, I decided it was time to head east for one of those infamous Gauley seasons I had heard so much about out west. And yep, I met him. You know that one funny guy that a gal just can’t walk away from. We dated for three- four weeks during Gauley season, and by the end of that short season, we decided to leave our formal lives and start a new one together. I could go on and on, but that’s not the point of any of this. Shortened version: we traveled, we got married, we wanted ONE MORE GAULEY SEASON before we traveled some more. Then somehow we never left WV. We both ended up with “real jobs.” But our “real jobs” were at a rafting company, so somehow that was going to negate the fact that we would be sitting at a desk for 40 hours, 50+ weeks a year. We wanted the stability. We bought a house. We work hard at our “normal” jobs. And so it goes.

Many of my friends from around the world are still “wow”ing me with their travels and adventures in lands far away. Did I sell out? Did I give up the free thinking dream? Am I too selfish to be a good mom?

And then there is the other side of that FB feed, the folks my age, who are knee-deep into parenthood. They share photos of their kids and families and their genuine happiness is written all over their faces. I see those genuine smiles and it feels as comforting as sitting on the back of a raft did for so many years. It makes me excited, yet I am as scared as I was when I flipped a fully rigged gear boat on the Tuolomne (CA) at 12,000+ cfs back in the day.

Turning back is not an option. And if I could, would I? No. To me, I’m choosing to live in the best of both worlds. A community of river folks who know that life is more than a paycheck surrounds me. I have REALLY great friends. They love the outdoors as much as I do and we play together in the New River Gorge all the time. We have steady lives, and I’m not worried about how I’m going to get enough money together to survive between raft and ski season. I can have a dog, and the joy he brings is just plain priceless. I shower almost every day. I don’t sleep on a paco pad nightly anymore. And most days, my husband and I laugh. We are grateful for the past, but we know our best days are actually ahead of us.

So that’s me signing out for a couple of months to learn how to read and run motherhood. Wish me luck! Something tells me I’m going to need it…

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