Sunday, May 12, 2013
At Old Quarry, the culmination of our 6-day class for aspiring sea kayak guides is a camping trip out to the islands. This year Nate and I taught the class and we were fortunate enough to have along a willing pair of practice clients, who we treated as we would treat any customer. The fact that they were a pair of journalists on assignment for Maine Magazine added yet another angle, putting our students on the spot, yes, but what better way to learn than to guide actual clients?
For the previous four days of the class, which occurred over two weekends, we had spent time in the classroom and on the water, covering much of what one might need to know to be a sea kayak guide: everything from group management to rescues and weather. In addition to teaching practical skills, we were also preparing our students for the Maine Guide licensing exam.
Our clients, Sandy and Frank, arrived on Saturday morning just as we finished in the classroom. We equipped them with drysuits and dry bags and we all gathered down at the launch to pack. One important part of guiding, for the exam and in real life, is the pre-trip briefing. This is akin to the spiel that a flight attendant delivers before take-off, imparting a few important details, like what to do if you capsize or get separated from the group. We had our students deliver the pre-trip and we headed-out.
When we guide, the trip belongs to the clients and we try to provide them with the experience they want, as long as we can do it safely. So when we’re guiding student guides, we want them to learn how to best communicate with the clients; how to keep them safe without diminishing their sense of freedom and discovery. It is a learned skill that evolves with practice. So, at the very start of the trip when we embarked in the opposite direction I expected, Nate and I conferred: just go with it, we decided, see how it works out. But when we started into the channel with a lobster boat headed our way, we cut-in and suggested we wait for the boat to pass.
We ate lunch on Hells Half Acre and continued. With occasional pauses for quick lessons, we made our way out past Millet, and on to our destination on Saddleback. I watched our guests, wondering if this felt like fun, as any guided trip should, or if it just felt like a lot of work. I guessed it fell somewhere between the two, but the bonus for our guests was that they were learning much more than they otherwise would- skills that most paddlers don’t learn until they decide to guide other paddlers.
We arrived on the island and set-up camp, choosing a rocky outcrop above the water for our dinner area. One conflict I have with guiding overnight trips is balancing my personal, minimal approach with what others expect. My dinner is usually made by boiling water. I make an insulated mug of tea that will last me all evening, then I heat some ready-made packets. Last week I had pad thai one evening and an Indian lentil dish over rice the next. I’ve always been quite satisfied with this. Dinner takes about 20 minutes, 30 tops. There is almost no clean-up. This allows me to spend my time paddling or exploring... or perhaps just sitting out on the rocks with a book, enjoying the sunset.
With a group it is always a more cumbersome process, partially because it isn’t very cost-effective to do otherwise. Also, we want to impress. And our dinner that night was impressive: a stir-fry and rice combo with choice of tofu or chicken. Certainly tastier than my instant dinner packets. While dinner cooked, we sat on the rocks, ate Goldfish and chatted. Sandy asked a lot of questions, while Frank shot numerous photos with at least two cameras; now they were working.
I woke up early and took a walk. I watched the sun rise and did my stretches. I’m not always an early riser, but I prefer to be up before others on a group trip. That span of time for myself seems to make it easier the rest of the day to accept that it is no longer my time. I returned to camp and found Nate making coffee. We sat for a long time, talking about what we thought was going well and what wasn’t, what we needed to focus on for the last day of the class. In six days, we couldn’t possibly cover everything. We would need to let the students go and trust that they would layer this instruction with more practice, study and experience. Some would be taking the guide’s exam within a month or two, and while their success or failure reflected upon us, we cared far more that they were confident and able leaders... all of which began with their own personal skills.
The others gradually awoke and drifted toward the smell of coffee. Nate made French toast. We launched mid-morning and made our way back, stopping at one more island for lunch. I was impressed with our guests. Sandy, concerned that she might not keep up with the group, had focused on learning a good forward stroke, and it showed. And when we paused before crossing the Deer Isle Thorofare-- our last such crossing of the trip, Frank spoke-up, suggesting that it might be a good place to take a range to ensure we didn’t drift sideways with the current. Everyone laughed; after all, this was the guide’s role, but he was right. Accordingly, our guide for the crossing lined-up Humpkins Ledge with Indian Point and away we went.