How Do You Keep an Adventure Guide On Top of Their Game?

At River Valley we take Guide "burnt out" seriously. How do we deal with it? This article outlines our philosophy.

Snowflakes swirled around us, while low hanging dark clouds obscured the majesty of the surrounding mountains. No one really voiced what we were all thinking, namely we had to be crazy. Why would anybody go on a river trip in conditions like that?

Have you ever wondered how a river guide can avoid a sense of complacency, especially if he or she tends to run the same section of river, day in and day out? Kayakers sometimes refer to rafting guides as big rubber bus drivers, and no doubt this description sometimes has merit.

How Does a Guide Avoid The Trap of Complacency?

So how does a river guide, or any adventure guide for that matter, avoid the trap of complacency? How do they avoid getting "Burnt Out". After all complacency or "Burn Out" eventually leads to a drop in attention, a drop in standards and a lack of focus.

Even on Grade 5 rivers, in theory the most difficult commercial rafting runs, a drop in standards would seem inevitable if a guide was paddling or rowing the same section every day. Once those standards drop, and attention wavers, then the risk of making mistakes, or simply not giving the customer or client the best experience that you able to is magnified.

I tried to drive from my mind the image of a warm fire in a cafe, a good cup of coffee in hand, a plate of hot French fries in front of me, at other tables the comforting chatter of people on a Saturday morning, while outside, the snow flurries giving no more than an alpine backdrop.

What Sort of Change is as Good as a Holiday?

We have all heard the old adage - "A change is as good as a holiday".

Over the years at River Valley we have become firm believers in change being as good as a holiday. It can be remarkable the difference in attitude displayed by a guide after a break doing something similar but different.

That different thing can simply be experiencing the challenge and sense of discovery of running a new river, or horse riding over new terrain, or attending a Rescue Workshop or Natural Horsemanship Clinic. To use another old adage, guides taking a "Busman's Holiday".

What I have noticed over the years is that these "Busman's Holidays" are often more effective at negating the effects of complacency and lack of focus, than a straight forward break. It can be quite remarkable the effect on a guide of rediscovering the passion for the things that lead them to the job initially, be that a love of the outdoors, the joy of being in a boat on moving water, the smell of horse sweat, or simply the breath taking scenery found off the beaten track.

All that day, even while running rapids, the snow flurries persisted. It was only the burst of adrenaline at the first harder gorge sections that painfully returned circulation to my hands and fingertips. Hands that were ensconced in the thickest neoprene gloves I possessed.

The Escape from Responsibility

The other key to removing complacency and restoring focus is to be able to escape from the responsibility for the safety and well being of your customers. This is as important, if not more important than the points covered above.

The Waiau River in the high country of New Zealand's South Island in early October can be a cold, but beautiful place. On the weekend of 6th and 7th I experienced both - the cold and the beauty.

The Saturday was cold, it did snow, and I could only wish I was somewhere else, somewhere warm and comfortable. However, overnight the weather cleared and by morning what was revealed was a beautiful valley surrounded by snow clad mountains, profiled against a bluer than blue sky.

Guides Returning Like Migratory Birds

River Valley employs guides that have worked all over the world, not only on rivers, but also on mountains, on ski fields and in the bush. Each Spring, just like migratory birds, they return to take up a paddle, or pick up a set of reins ready for another season.

This seasonal change brings them back fresh and focused, to guide again on one of New Zealand's best rafting rivers, the Rangitikei, or to work on and develop the Natural Horse Training Program at River Valley Stables. They are older than the average adventure guide in New Zealand. They are in most cases more experienced than the average guide, and each year they come back to River Valley because of the love they have for what they do, and where they do it. They are not complacent, nor are they unfocused.

This Summer at River Valley

This summer you could join them at River Valley, whether it be on a short day trip, a multi day rafting expedition, or an extended horse riding break. Guides who are focused, professional, and far from complacent.

And back to that weekend river trip on the beautiful Waiau.

Did a weekend away on a different river with no responsibility solve any complacency and lack of focus issues for me?


Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Brian Megaw

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