How to Talk About Your River Trip


You just returned from a river trip. Maybe it was your first. Maybe it was your fiftieth. Maybe you hold the record for the most times down the River of Obscurity in a refurbished 19th-century drift boat. Maybe you just crushed a speed run in a kayak worth more than your car.

As you head back into town, with stories and jokes and excitement swirling through annals of your mind, it’s a challenge to figure out how to distill this information into something that is comprehensible to others. How do you explain the way water rippled in smoke, the way rapids resisted inertia, the way landscape held scars?

Across the whitewater spectrum, the level at which you run big waves is not directly proportional to your ability to succinctly share about said waves. The next time you’re trying to explain your river infatuation and can’t quite grasp the words, just follow the lines of countless river tall tales. Trust me—I’m a river guide.

Don’t shower. Heading directly to a public place while still coated in river grime is a dynamite way to make sure everyone is well aware a real-life river runner is in their midst. If people start shying away from you or making vague references to something called “deodorant,” just recognize their bodies are out of equilibrium with nature and they have yet to reach your pinnacle. Besides, that stop by that one waterfall is surely enough showering to hold you over for a couple more days.

Pro tip: No need to wash your clothes; just brush off the burrs and turn the socks and t-shirt inside out. This can be repeated for three-five days. 10 max.

False start and interrupt your own story to get a beer. All stories should be told with a beer in hand. Preferably a PBR, but the local microbrew you spent twice your hourly wage on works, too. Bonus point if you get someone else to pay for it. Double bonus points if you go out to your truck, grab a beer left over from your guests and pour it into a glass inscribed with the name of the bar you’re at so it looks like you purchased a draught.

Then, set the stage and do it loudly. “No joke, there we were.” This classic set-up primes your audience’s ears for recounts of whitewater carnage, wildlife spectacles, epic side hikes, and high adventure. Your legend-in-the-making happened outside, so you might as well talk about it as if you were still there. Increased volume ensures everyone within a 100-meter radius can hear about the gnarly hole you surfed last weekend. Trust me: they want to know. Don’t hold back on the decibels. There might be someone in the next room who didn’t hear you.

Repeat yourself a lot and exaggerate more each time. If someone only suffered through listened to your trip report once, they definitely missed some details. The best stories are told ad nauseum. Just ask Shakespeare. That guy could tell a story, but could he run Class V? How do you know if a river guide is lying? Well, their mouth is moving, they’re on their fourth beer and they’re repeating their story. Again. Only this time, the thunderstorm that happened on night one is raging on night three, the hail is the size of oranges, and flash flooding nearly wipes out their camp.

The more times you tell a story, the more times you have to impress people. Remember that epic storm in Grand Canyon, when there was a massive slab failure during the hardest monsoon rain on record? Remember when you shredded down the Futa? Remember when wildfires burned and helicopters scooped giant buckets of water from the Snake? Remember your sick run on the South Fork of the Salmon? No, you don’t remember that time when…? Well, let me tell you. Again.

Keep in mind, there is never a bad time to remind people that you are a RIVER GUIDE, or a WHITEWATER KAYAKER, or DORY BOATER or [INSERT IMPRESSIVE TITLE HERE]. Loudly, of course.

And then…you remember what the river really does for you, and how you want to share it so everyone can experience that joy. You appreciate how it provides dynamic consistency in a frenetic realm, how it opens opportunities to share meaningful moments with those you love in spectacular landscapes, and how it helps you evolve.

Then grin, and ask if anyone wants to go boating tomorrow.