River guide, Mill Valley, California

Rollin' on the river

In her five years on the job, Brooke Johnson '04 has dunked her clients into the water only once.

That's a pretty good track record for a river guide.

Steering a thirty-foot raft-and keeping it from tipping-is just one of the challenges Johnson faces as a guide for two rafting companies on rivers in California and Idaho. She has to juggle everything from cooking to building makeshift kitchens and bathrooms.

"It's so many jobs," she said. "In a day, I can be a cook, teacher, nurse, boatman, naturalist-and a bunch more."

No nine-to-fiver

Why become a river guide? The outdoors was a big pull, but mostly the art history major dreaded the 9-to-5 routine.

Johnson often spends a week straight working days that run from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., alongside about a half-dozen guides and up to thirty guests. "You get a lot closer to people working in that kind of environment, rather than just trying to make friends by catching drinks every Friday," the California native said.

During the trips, which last from one to six days, guides awake before the sun rises to cook breakfast. Beyond maneuvering the fleet of rafts downstream, they lead guests on forest hikes and hot-springs dips. Back at camp, they entertain their rafters with campfires and songs.

Danger ahead

Keeping guests happy is important. So is keeping them dry. But the biggest challenge is ensuring they come back in one piece. Rivers are fast and dynamic, with hazards like rocks and trees, and even familiar routes hold surprises.

Like the time Johnson's raft tipped with three people on board.

"I was rowing and I hit a rock and the river flipped my boat, a fully loaded gear boat," she said. "I got two guests off before the boat flipped, and one flipped with me in it."

Nice perk: seven months' vacation

With a schedule that would make even school kids jealous, Johnson's season runs from mid-May to September. She spends her free time traveling the world, which she can afford to do because she doesn't have expenses while working-there's no rent to pay and guests cover her food.

Most guides retire by age thirty, moving on to calmer waters. But Johnson said she isn't looking for an office job any time soon.

"I would die if I could only have two weeks vacation a year," she said. "I won't ever do it."

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