Confessions of an Adventure Guide
“Precious” emerges from the whitewater like a newborn child escaping from the womb, eyes closed and arms flailing, in a frantic and futile attempt to escape from the rushing creek that is not too far above the temperature of the snow that feeds it. Her eyes are as wide as the moon as she slowly recovers from the initial shock of such a harsh environment. She quickly flashes a wide smile as one of the guides helps her out of the water. Welcome to a day in the life of a canyoning guide.
Today I am simply the humble photographer, aimed at capturing moments such as these and freezing them into a single shot represented by a rectangular conglomerate of 18 million multicolored pixels, an endless balancing act of ISO and aperture and various speeds of the shutter. The true beauty of photography is that it captures a single instance in time and allows it to live on far longer than that solitary moment ever could.
For the guides this is simply part of the routine, nothing particularly out of the ordinary. Queenstown, New Zealand, is the city in which this story is told, an incredible gathering point of adrenaline junkies and adventure guides from all over the globe. It is just another day at the proverbial office for most of us. Some call it the grind stone, the nine to five, the rat race or the walk of life. It is part of that endless yet very real struggle of the human life to overcome the financial burdens and woes associated with a domestic lifestyle and a first-world society; health insurance, that 4.95 percent fixed-rate mortgage on your house, those monthly car payments, and the robust retirement fund you are saving which will finally grant you the time and ability to do the things you have always wanted and go to the places you have always dreamed of seeing—but alas, surely I digress.
From the perspective of an adventure guide, life is taken from a much different approach. Paperwork and standard operating procedures are thrown out the window. Retirement plans and benefits packages are lost to the wind. High wages and financial security were abandoned many years ago. For in one of the most beautiful twists of irony I can think of—and adventure guides know this—money is perhaps the least valuable thing one can ever attain in a given lifetime. For many, however, this realization comes far too late.
For the lucky ones this becomes apparent at an early age and often leads to the rash and often perceived as irresponsible lifestyle choices such an individual makes. The ultimate goal is to blur the line between work and vacation; for this concept implies that you live two lives. One that you escape from and the other you escape to. For those who choose to merge the two, your job is your passion and quickly becomes your life as weeks begin to fade into a continuous stream of work and sleep, parties and sunsets, friends made then quickly lost. The vices of such a lifestyle arise from the virtues, for nothing is consistent and everything is temporary. Contracts are seasonal, the concept of a community becomes a far off and almost intangible ideal. Possessions are reduced to a backpack and hostels become commonplace. The term homeless may suddenly take on an entirely different meaning.
Ultimately this post is a pointless ramble, a rant from the weary mind of an aimless traveler and a plea to understand and explain why an individual may choose such a reckless path. It is a perspective and ideal that is all too commonly tossed aside as careless or naive, a direct contradiction to the standards of society and a refusal to join the real world. But really, it can be boiled down to one simple thing: freedom, my friends. Preserving and pursuing one of the most wondrous of passions, perhaps the most sacred of rights.
So get outside. Ramble a bit. Wander around. Stay for a while. While it is still there. While you are still here. While you still can. You would be amazed what you can find when you aren’t looking for anything at all. This is a beautiful world full of beautiful people. Go enjoy it.
- Nat Geo Expeditions