Written By Juliet Ramirez
I grew up in a small town on the Gulf Coast where I was taught to be pretty, not strong. I was bookish. I thrived in school, but I never thought of myself as athletic or particularly capable in the wilderness. I certainly didn’t see myself as physically strong.
Then one day, I was invited on a whitewater rafting trip. I was 10 years old, and I had the time. of. my. life. The feeling of riding over the waves, of immersing myself in the wilderness, of enjoying being present in the outdoors was so powerful and so incredibly right . Throughout my teenage and college years I would occasionally remember that trip and think, maybe one day I could be a guide. But I didn’t really believe this. I wasn’t really that kind of person.
When I graduated college, I didn’t work at a newspaper like I thought I would- I was a server at a pizza place. One day between pizzas, I stumbled on a right place at the right time conversation, and was invited to a guide training in Tennessee. I said yes.
The first few weeks were horrible. I flipped boats almost daily. I sent my big beautiful 1,000 pound raft straight into rock after rock, and I could almost believe that I had been right, that I wasn’t really all that strong, that the outdoors wasn’t really a place for me. Alas, I persevered, and one day it all clicked. I could paddle like nobody’s business, and before I really knew what was happening, I was great. I was a stinkin pro at boating.
With my new outdoor skills came confidence and fitness, but most of all, what really blows these other things out of the park, was that it gave me proof that I didn’t have to fit into the box that I had previously used to define myself. I could still be bookish, but I could also be strong, wild, and skilled. I could pull people out of the water that were double my size, and it didn’t need to surprise anyone, especially myself.
My outdoor skills grew to include hiking and backpacking. I started taking other people backpacking, and I watched as their own boxes that they used to define themselves shattered. I saw how finding confidence in the wilderness, in a place they had been taught to fear, brought them a wilder and stronger sense of self, a self that didn’t adhere to any stereotypes. They could be both fierce and feminine. They could be both tech savvy and great at primitive fire starting. They could be anything.
With a heavy pack on my back, I learned those lessons for myself, and now as a guide, I get to see other people make that same discovery. I have the fortune of watching both children and adults discover that the best versions of themselves include words like capable, accomplished, mindful, self-reliant, and strong enough to carry everything they need on their own back. That is Why I Guide.