First River Rafting Trips | An OTT Guide Series | Travis | Ongoing River Firsts

Guides’ First Rivers Series

River guides are notorious storytellers. And whether they be true or tall, the stories we tell about the river are a part and reflection of our own story. They are a part of who we are and who we will be (deep water, brother…). So, in this spirit of storytelling and in homage to rivers everywhere, we’ve asked our guides to recall a notable “first” paddling experience, broadly defined, and to tell the story of that experience.

In this installment, OTT guide Travis Tocher recalls not his first river or river trip, but a series of firsts surrounding the river and the impact of those experiences on his person and his thinking. Enjoy.

Tocher cooling off on a trip to the North Umpqua
Growing up, I was very active in different sports, none of them involving the river. But despite the demands of sports and the like, my family always found time to spend some time on our hometown river: the Rogue. At first, when I was younger and just starting, I was always required to ride doubles with my dad in a Torp. For some reason, once I got on the river the problem of having to ride with dad faded away. Maybe it was the fresh air, the cool water splashing my face, or the breathless scenery of Southern Oregon—who knows. I cannot recall my first experience on the river, but in looking back on the many experiences I’ve had on the river between those early years and now, I can see some of the ways in which those experiences have shaped aspects of my life. Among these, my first Canyon trip on the Rogue as a trainee stands apart as one that, I know with certainty, I will never forget.
Trying to hold back the excitement was almost unbearable, like that of a 5-year-old on Christmas morning. All I’d ever heard of was the excitement of solid waves, disappearance into its encompassing natural wilderness, and the rich history the section had to offer. My excitement proved justified. For all of those days, my first in the Lower Canyon, I was in complete awe of the scenery that overfilled the place that I call home, and struggled to fathom that such a small population ever has, or ever will, see it.
Tocher going for the big ride the Wild & Scenic Lower Rogue
I was able to follow the Senior Guides throughout the trip, and tried my best to impress them—and everything went fairly smoothly until the last day.  
 
I had moved from my Torp to try my hand at rowing the “sticks” on one of our larger rafts. After doing fairly well to start, the “Great One” (Mike Slagle) instructed me to pull over at Tacoma to take pictures of the Torps going through the rapid. I was so thrilled to be bestowed with a legitimate responsibility (other than running sweep) that I forgot to ask which rapid that was.
As I pushed ahead in my raft, I realized I had no clue where I was supposed to pull over. Trying not to look too foolish, I pulled over at the first rapid—what looked like a good one to my eyes—to take pictures. While pulling into the eddy, I found it was flushed with rocks and thought to myself, this can’t be it. I just went with it anyway, hoping and praying it was the right one. However, as the “Great One” went floating past, he shouted out a little barb, effectively filling me in that I was in fact at the completely wrong rapid. I felt ridiculous for getting it wrong. To make things worse, once I finally got out into the current to continue on downriver, I found, embarrassingly, that the Torps had waited for me to push ahead and to get set again. 
For the last hour and half of the trip, I bore non-stop jokes—not only from my fellow guides, but from the guest as well. Having thick skin, I was fine with it; it was a growing experience for me and, in the end, I learned from it. The “Great One” later told me they were able to give me a hard time for it because they knew I could handle it. Since that day, that first trip, I haven’t missed Tacoma on my downriver.
This past season, I found a few new first to appreciate. The first new first is that, after getting married this past summer, I am now able to experience the river with my wife, Claire—a blessing I can’t overstate. 
Travis and his wife, Claire.
The second new first to appreciate is having been introduced to and spending most of last season on another river we run: the North Umpqua (AKA, Numpqua). While the Rogue will always have a special place in my heart, I have grown increasingly fond of the North Umpqua. Really, I can’t get enough of it. 
A personal photo from Travis of the North Umpqua River
In my time on the cold waters of the Numpqua, I realized that being on the river is about more than the thrills of good rapids or experiencing the rather unusual people at the hotsprings (great as those things are). It’s about appreciating the isolation and respite that the various rivers in many of our own “backyards” offer. 
 
When I think about the river now, I think less about where things started and more about where it’s taken me, to where I am. In each passing current and indecisive eddy, in each moment; the serenity that I experience on the water is truly unmatched.