All Women River Trip - What it meant to me
We were camped on the banks of the lower Salmon river, the sunset that night lit up the horizon in brilliant displays of fiery orange, late summer peach, and a dusty desert mauve; the mountains in the distance glowed blue, and the reflection of the sky’s colors bled into the calm water in front of our beach like ink on wet paper. It was as if the river herself were welcoming us. It was our first night of a five day trip and at the moment, five days just didn’t seem like enough time.
The sunset colors faded and the sun slipped behind the mountains, leaving us with twinkling stars above, and a green-blue light glowing behind the mountains; an afterimage of a sunshine filled day. With arms wide open in joyful celebration that we got to be alive in this moment of time, on this very piece of Earth we call the lower Salmon river, Olivia—another guide on the trip— sang out, “Goodnight Salmon river! I love you and I'll see you tomorrowww!” The other guides—Jade, Abbey, Jackie—and myself joined in, amused at our own absurd happiness. It hit me suddenly that I had never been on an all girls trip before. Though it may sound silly, I grew up with brothers and boy cousins, more uncles than aunts, and always gravitated towards male friendships more than female friendships simply because I understood them better; of course it’s never helped that I work in a generally male dominated industry. At twenty-two years old, I realized this was the first entirely all female trip I’d ever been on. Ever. Suddenly, my place on this trip gained importance: my young teenage self was now a moving part of the “girls trip” I never imagined myself belonging on.
In the months leading up to this trip, even before I knew the trip existed, I had made a personal goal of “embracing sisterhood.” There had been a stirring in my soul; a tiny, curious movement from somewhere deep inside my body. I desired a community of nurturing, supportive, fun-loving, respectful, silly, sassy, brave, smart, goofy, and above all, wild women. At the beginning of our trip I was under the assumption that sisterhood simply wasn't for me. It was something “other girls” were a part of, and that I just wasn't a “girls girl.” But let me tell you, there is no such thing as a “girl's girl.” I remember vividly turning to Olivia and the other guides in our group, saying in disbelief, “You guys I literally never in a hundred years, believed I would find female friends who also love being on the river more than ANYTHING. You guys are the friends I always hoped I’d find in my twenties.” I laughed, but it was true. My fellow guides were the women I used to imagine myself being friends with—someday.
The general reaction to our trip was something like: “Girls? Girls on the river?!” I'm sure as we made our way down river we looked like quite the party: three boats filled with fifteen preteen girls, their gleeful, bubbly, voices were probably heard echoing down the canyon walls for miles. We became slightly famous on the river, women from other trips would point at us and exclaim “girls on the river! Woooohoooo!” or “Oh my gosh it's the girls trip!” Getting to experience the collective female stoke made me realize how infrequently groups of women are spotted on the river. People–women–were slightly shocked, enthusiastic, and overly encouraging because nobody, not even myself, thinks of a whitewater rafting trip and pictures boats filled only with women. It was as if a little bird were carrying the good news all the way down the canyon, “the girls are here, the girls are here!” At no point during this trip was it lost on me that the seeds being planted in the minds of our guests—our girls—would grow and flourish in them for the rest of their lives. As a woman, we are often told “No, you can't do that,” and I know because I’ve experienced the “don’ts,” other women have too. I had a feeling our girls had, just like so many others, been told “you can’t do that,'' more than they’d been encouraged to do so. This trip felt like a thousand “don'ts'' turned into “dos.” For a remarkable five days women ruled the river, and not a single person told us we shouldn’t ,or couldn’t, do something.
Our last day on the river, I remembered something I’d read in one of my favorite books, by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés. She wrote,
I once dreamt I was telling stories and felt someone patting my foot in encouragement. I looked down and saw that I was standing on the shoulders of an older woman who was steadying my ankles and smiling up at me.
I said to her, “no no come stand on my shoulders, For you are old and I am Young.”
“No no” she insisted, “this is the way it is supposed to be.” I saw that she stood on the shoulders of a woman far older than she, who stood on the shoulders of a woman even older, who stood on the shoulders of a woman in robes, who stood on the shoulders of another soul, who stood on the shoulders…”
Someday, when the girls on our trip grow up, I hope they’ll have the same moment I did. Of realization that it was our shoulders—Olivia, Jackie, Jade, Abbey, and my own— that they stood upon; that we too were standing on the shoulders of past generations of women brave enough to run whitewater; even as everyone stood on the river bank, shaking their heads at them, telling them “you can’t do that.” I hope the seeds we planted in their souls grow into brilliant colors of bravery, passion, and most of all wildness. Today, I’m grateful to work for a company that employs so many female guides we can offer entirely all girls trips; I’m grateful to be a female guide in a company that seeks to encourage rather than discourage; most of all I’m grateful to all the female guides who came before me, who paved the way for my generation—for patting my foot in encouragement as they let me stand upon their shoulders, scouting the next rapid ahead.
Brook has been rafting the Rogue River with her family since her earliest days. She just finished her third season with Orange Torpedo Trips where she primarily guides on the Rogue River with occasional trips to the North Umpqua, Klamath and Salmon Rivers. She hopes to continue guiding on the Rogue while adding in more trips to the wonderful Salmon River in Idaho and starting to guide fall fishing on the Rogue in 2024.