Particularly in the latter months of the spring semester, all the talk of summer jobs and internships can be dizzying. It's easy to feel overshadowed by that New York Times internship some Grady student landed, or the Terry kid who earned himself a job with some top-notch accounting firm. These are awesome accomplishments and should be held in quite a high regard; however, I think with the incredible amount of pressure students feel to acquire such positions in today's socioeconomic climate, it's important to note that you don't have to be the next industry mogul in order to have a fulfilling summer. On the opposite end of the summer-position spectrum lies a (in my opinion) massively under-appreciated job, and one that just might provide you with the greatest summer of your life: raft guiding.
1. The river is your office.
I don't care how smart you are, how promising of an internship you've got, or how high paying your cubicle-based job is-- it's absolutely undeniable that 9-5 in the office gets old. To the people who are capable of sitting there for 40+ hours a week on their computer surrounded by gray walls, dull business attire, and loads of paperwork, I have a deep-rooted respect for you. As productive as it may be, that just isn't the type of satisfaction I'm looking for, and I think it's safe to say many people in these rather monotonous positions share that sentiment. I can't think of a work environment further from an office than the river-- all summer long you get paid to do what families pay upwards of $100 for. Whitewater rafting can be thrilling, relaxing, exciting, hilarious, memorable, etc. all in one trip. If the idea of getting paid for experiences like that for three months doesn't appeal to you, I don't know what will.
2. The people.
I'd be lying if I said your average raft guide was just like everyone else. They're a different breed, but in the best way I can possibly imagine. People from all walks of life find themselves working on the river and it makes for a very diverse yet cohesive bunch. Just about every raft guide I've ever crossed paths with is easy going, fun-loving, but quite open-minded and intelligent as well. Some of the best people I've ever met are raft guides, and just when you start to think they're "just a bunch of hippies" (which some may actually be--not a bad thing), they'll drop some knowledge on you like you wouldn't believe. College students are the prevalent age group among raft guides, and it's typically the "outdoorsy" crowd who gravitates to jobs like this; so, naturally, you cross paths with quite a few students specializing in areas like ecology and other environmental sciences, and as you could probably imagine, they possess a wealth of knowledge about the river and surrounding landscape, which is quite interesting if you ask me.
3. The culture.
Along with a group of fun, smart, nature-loving people comes a culture that is unmatched in any other industry. Staff housing for raft companies often consists of tiny wooden shacks; it may not sound appealing at first, but I can assure you leaving my wooden box of a home last season was one of the hardest goodbyes I've ever experienced. You're surrounded by other people who also love the outdoors and who also live out of tiny wooden shacks. The parties are fun, the bonfires are satisfying, and the memories made will surely be some of your fondest. You may not even have cell service in your housing community-- rather than a group of people engaging in shallow conversation followed by the inevitable cell phone frenzy, you get some quality time to put the devices down and really connect with those around you. It may sound cliche, but it's the absolute truth.
4. The customers.
Your coworkers aren't the only people who are guaranteed to make your time as a raft guide memorable--the customers are a blast to interact with as well (most of the time). You'd be surprised just how far people come to raft. It's not infrequent that families will travel from all over the country and even the world just to land a spot in your raft, putting their faith in you to successfully guide them down a number of whitewater rapids. You get to learn so much about so many different people and it's an awesome thing. Whether it's an adventurous family from overseas, an enthusiastic Boy Scout troop, a group of coworkers looking to strengthen their teamwork skills, or whatever the case may be, odds are you'll give them a trip they'll never forget, and they'll likely do the same for you.
5. The extracurriculars.
Whitewater and mountains go hand in hand-- it's science. Thanks to this "natural phenomenon" of sorts, working for rafting companies is highly conducive to outdoor recreation beyond the river. Mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking, you name it--there's as much opportunity for outdoor activity as one could possibly ask for, all in one place. Not only do you live in an outdoor mecca, but oftentimes your company will provide benefits allowing you to take advantage of your surroundings that much easier. For example, I work for the Nantahala Outdoor Center in the mountains of Western North Carolina, and as an employee, I get to rent kayaks, mountain bikes, paddle boards, and even zipline, all for little to no cost. Whether you're already an outdoor enthusiast or simply a modest adventure-seeker looking for a way to spice things up, working on the river is sure to provide you with as much time playing in the outdoors as you could want, and I can't think of a better way to spend my summer.