Leading a river trip is much more than putting together a crew of river rats, finding all the required gear, or organizing camp chores. It requires whitewater experience, a bit of repeating yourself, and a strong personality.
Here are some tips from our rafting expert, Jake Castle:
- Have an intentional talk at the beginning of the trip before any boat launches. This talk should review behavioral and physical expectations. Repeat these intentional talks at the beginning of each day if necessary.
- Encourage all boat captains to carry a river map. These maps contain valuable information about rapids and campsites. This gives all parties on your trip the ability to be fully aware of what's downstream.
- Stress the importance of hand washing. On multi-day trips, if one person gets sick, they can get the rest of the group sick. Since the groover is a community item, many of the viruses or organisms that give you GI problems originate from food or the groover. Trust me when I say this: giardia is a nightmare.
- Understand the importance of physical safety and remind everyone to keep themselves in check. Having someone who parties too hard or takes too many risks is a liability for everyone on the trip.
- Keep the energy playful and positive at camp and play everyone's favorite river game: hunker down! All you need is what you already have: 2 ammo cans and a throw bag.
- Encourage emotional safety + foster a supportive energy within your group to deal with uncomfortable scenarios. As a TL, demonstrate respect to all crew members and be hyper-aware of personal boundaries.
- Remind the group that you are the trip leader, and your word is final on this trip. Be authoritative and show that you can handle that responsibility. Group votes are helpful when there are conflicting opinions on rapids and campsites, but what the group does is ultimately your decision. Do not let people question this authority or try to usurp it on the trip. This is your trip, not theirs.
As the TL, you are the model that everyone is to follow from a behavioral standpoint. Your group is going to be looking to you for clues for how to behave, how to help, and what the general feeling of the expedition is going to be. Set that tone with your own behavior.
Photos courtesy of Jameson Midgett + Sallie Holmes.