Saturday, June 30, 2012

It's official... I'm a raft guide!

Since my last post I have become an official raft guide for Vessels for Honor/Journey Quest!  My first customer groups happened on June 16th, my birthday.  In total I’ve taken 5 groups down the Arkansas River.

Me guiding a group through 5 points rapid

My 20th birthday I spent climbing Uncompahgre Peak with a group from Redcloud.  My 21st birthday I got to ride a horse for the first time and it was in the mountains of Colorado!  So, it seemed only fitting that I did something just as fun and epic on my 22nd birthday.  The day started with a reunion-ing family from all over the country.  They were… memorable.  I say that because they were definitely the most difficult group I’ve brought down the river yet.  The group consisted of two smaller women (one of which was a less than ideal paddler), one average sized guy and a small 12 year old girl (also a less than ideal paddler).  They mentioned that they were hungry only 30 minutes after we left which meant they were even worse paddlers.  They tried to stay positive but it gets to be annoying when all they can talk say are things like, “Huh, maybe we should have eaten more for breakfast”, “How much longer are we on the river?”, “They should build a McDonalds on the river”, “This is quite the workout, isn’t it!” and other “I’m-trying-to stay-positive-but-I’m-really-loathing-life-right-now” remarks.  To sum it all up I got tired, REALLY tired!  When you’re the only paddler in a 13 foot boat for 9 miles with an upstream wind, life kind of stinks.  I remember thinking, “Dang, this is going to be a hard summer!” and, “Worst birthday ever!”  Thankfully, however, we had another group that afternoon and they made the day loads better! 

That afternoon I got back, crammed a sandwich into my mouth and then… waited around.  A thunderstorm with hail decided to stop by so we opted to wait for our afternoon run until after the storm went through.  The group was a youth group from Faith Lutheran in Colorado Springs.  As a whole, they have been my favorite group so far.  They had already been waiting to get on the river for awhile and then it started storming so they had to wait even longer.  They could have chosen to complain but instead they stayed positive and even went puddle jumping and dancing in the rain.  When we finally got on the bus and started driving I was able to sit next to Chloe, a 9th grader who was really nervous about water.  I shared with her that I’m not a huge fan of water either and then we got to talking about theatre, speech and all things acting.  She was a pretty cool gal.  After driving for about 4 miles the bus came to a sudden halt: there were two big boulders in the road that had come down after the rain.  All of us guides and a few of Faith Lutheran’s adult leaders decided to get out and roll them out of the road.  They probably weighed 100-200 pounds each, but we were able to save someone’s car from unavoidable damage and rolled them into the ditch. 

When we finally made it to our put-in, it had finished raining and we were able to get onto the river.  My paddlers that afternoon were actually that, paddlers.  They paddled strong and together and made my job a WHOLE heck of a lot easier.  They were also really fun to talk to which was a bonus.  One thing Mark wants us guides to be doing while we’re on the river with a group is bringing up some sort of faith related analogies or try to share our Christian testimonies or just talk to them about their faith.  Not a super easy task, but there are a lot of great analogies that link the Christian faith and rafting so it makes it a bit more doable.  Anyways, my group that afternoon really got into one of the analogies and we had some good faith discussion for the last stretch of our trip. 

To round out the day we decided to go into Canon City for pizza.  Probably the most delicious pizza I’ve ever had.  At least that’s how good it was after a LONG and hard day on the river.
Full "food baby" bellies after eating at Pizza Madness

To sum it up, my birthday was pretty fantastic.  It wasn’t awesome, but it wasn’t bad either.  I’m sure I’ll have another group like that one I had on the morning of June 16th which I’m not looking forward to… but for the most part I’m enjoying guiding and being on the river. 

The weather here has been HOT!  During the afternoons it gets up around 100F.  I’m so glad I have a job where I have to get wet.  If the heat gets unbearable you just jump out of the boat for a second and take a quick swim in the river.  However, in the past few days we’ve been getting afternoon thunderstorms which I’ve heard will continue throughout most of the summer.  But they’re Colorado thunderstorms.  Aka: they last for about 5 minutes and then it’s sunny again. 
Playing in the river near VFH to cool off on a hot summer day

Cori’s sister, Amanda, recently got engaged.  Her fiancĂ© and her came to VFH for a couple of days to raft and have Elise Soniat take their engagement pictures.  I got to tag along on the photo shoot, which was a lot of fun! 
Elise taking engagement pictures for Amanda and Micah

We were able to get away from rafting for a day to do peak hike training.  Our whole staff hiked Comanche peak (13,271 ft) and some of us opted to do Spring peak as well.  It was a decent hike up, but the hike down stunk!  The hike up was nice because the trail was long and spread out the elevation, but that meant that the way down took forever!  The peak was different than anything I’ve ever climbed before.  When you got to the top and looked down all you saw was a large flat valley on both sides with a town.  All of the mountains around Lake City/Redcloud were surrounded by miles and miles of more mountains so it was a strange site. 
Starting out hike up Comanche Peak right as the sun rises
On the summit of Spring Peak.  Comanche Peak in the background.

The whole group at the top of Comanche Peak

The "strange" view of a flat valley

One of my favorite activities here is paddling a ducky down the river.  A ducky is basically a kayak made out of the same material of the larger rafts.  It’s a lot of fun to take down rapids because you can take different/smaller routes, turn on a dime (well, compared to a big raft), and they don’t get stuck on sleepers as often. 
Tough day in the office

Playing in the ducky

Dan and Harrison using some "experimental" methods in the ducky

We’ve had several visitors in the past few weeks.  Harrison and Jake (two of the guys I worked with at Redcloud last summer) came to visit for a few days.  They were bagging some peaks before Harrison had to return to med school.  We took them down the river in some duckies, played ultimate Frisbee with them and ate Blue Bell ice cream.  It was nice to see them and hang out with them for a few days. 

The Reiff family also came to visit for a few days.  Steve Reiff, his wife Mandy and their three children will be joining the full time staff at Journey Quest in the fall.  They were on a trip visiting friends and family around the country and decided to stop by for a few days to see the place and play on the water with us.  I’d met Steve before when he came with his church’s youth group to Redcloud the past few summers, so it was nice to meet his family and have them here. 

Cori, Elise, Jeanne Marie and I decided that we wanted to climb Wetterhorn peak and last weekend was when we figured we’d have enough time and energy to do it.  As soon as our last group left on Saturday (which, by the way, was made up of the interns from Focus on the Family including one intern who attends Northwestern College.  Small world!) we packed up the Jeep and headed west for Lake City (where the trailhead for Wetterhorn is located).  We arrived at the trailhead around 11:00pm and started hiking around midnight.  We hiked in the dark for a little more than an hour, found the last flat looking spot according to the map, spread out our sleeping bags, and slept under the stars for about 4 hours.  The stars are INCREDIBLE at 12,000 feet with no light pollution! 
Midnight and ready to hike!

View from where we chose to sleep that night
Morning sunrise on Wetterhorn Peak
Once 5:00am rolled around we reluctantly got out of our warm sleeping bags and began hiking.  3 hours later we made it to the summit!  It was a steep climb but well worth it.  I’ve now climbed all five 14er’s in the Lake City area!  We talked about doing Matterhorn and Uncompahgre as well, but we decided food, ice cream and a nap in the park were all a better idea. 
Final scramble to the summit
View from the top of Wetterhorn Peak (14,015 ft)
Matterhorn and Uncompahgre are the two tallest peaks on the left
All of us on the summit
This past week I went into Colorado Springs to help Sarah get food and other supplies.  I don’t know if you’ve heard anything about the wildfires in Colorado but there’s been A LOT of them recently.  While I was in the Springs, the fire that was nearby got even closer.  So close that I could see the flames from some of the roads.  The fire was near the north side of town and we were mostly on the opposite side so we weren’t in much danger.  However, it was strange to see so much smoke everywhere and think that there was a raging uncontrolled fire just miles from me.  I’ve heard that the fire is now 25% contained and it hasn’t spread much in the past few days, but 2 people have died so far and the fire has consumed a couple hundred homes.  Several of our guides live in Colorado Springs, so watching this fire consume their hometown has been pretty tough on them.  Prayers for the firefighters, homeowners, and everyone else involved in the fire are appreciated. 

Journey Quest will start to have its first multi-day trips in just one short week!  Pray that we are prepared spiritually, emotionally and physically for those. 

I think that’s all I have to say for now.  Hope you enjoy my ramblings!  Have a great day!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Spikebuck, Shark's Tooth, and Satan's Suckhole

I always try to think of some interesting way to start a blog post.  Today I’m not feeling incredibly creative so I’ll throw up a headline of sorts:

Hypothermia Strikes Young Woman While Training to be a Raft Guide!

Actually, I only experienced a minor case of hypothermia and it was only for a few hours. But now I bet you want to know more about my life the past few weeks. :)

My elbow healed up.  I think what happened was I tore some of the tendons in my elbow.  Not rowing for awhile allowed it to heal up and I’ve been able to function normally.  I have an elbow brace now which makes me look pretty darn hard core if I do say so myself. 

Most days around here are the same.  Wake up around 6:15am; eat breakfast and get ready for the day; get on the river by 8:00am; lunch; more river time; dinner; wash dishes; play games/watch a movie; bedtime around 10:00pm.  We’ve had several groups every week that we take down the river with us, but for the most part we’re doing a lot of training.  And the only way to train to be a raft guide is to do it.  In order to guide a boat down a river smoothly you have to know what to avoid, when to turn you’re boat, and what to tell your paddlers.  It’s kind of like a big remote control car, but not really… Either way, the more you do it the more you remember what to do. 

The other exciting thing we’ve done is Swiftwater Rescue Training.  Last Wednesday-Friday the new guides from VFH and some guides from other companies in the area took this course.  On Wednesday we spent the day watching videos of what we’d be doing and going over some rope systems we’d be using in the coming days.  Thursday was hypothermia day!  We spent the morning swimming through class 3 rapids in the headwaters of the Arkansas (aka: really, REALLY cold snowmelt).  Even with a wetsuit on, a person can get quite chilly.  When we took a break for lunch I found it hard to eat my chicken salad sandwich because my hands were shaking so terribly.  It was quite comical but also frustrating.  That afternoon we spent some more time in the water and by 5:00pm I was never so happy to see my dry, cotton underwear!  Friday was also spent in the water but mostly working on scenarios such as foot entrapment, rescuing swimmers, and boat flips.  Because of that we didn’t spend as much time in the water and I didn’t get that cold. 

Yesterday I guided a boat of 4 of my fellow guides from Pinnacle to Parkdale on the Arkansas River.  It’s about a 9 mile stretch that we will use for ½ day trips.  It went really smoothly and I’m feeling really confident about guiding groups down in the near future!  Despite the fact that I’ve never been a huge fan of water, I’m really enjoying my summer job so far!

View of the Royal Gorge Bridge and the Royal Gorge Train
while rafting through none other than the Royal Gorge

An exciting run through Five Points

Getting ready to hit the water

I think that’s about all that’s new and exciting to tell you about.  I still don’t have a picture of me guiding a boat… hopefully in the near future!  Until then enjoy the other photos and feel free to ask me any questions (I try to explain things clearly but that doesn’t always work). 

One last update: The Anderson’s are still looking for a house.  Right now they’re camping out with the rest of us but I know they’d love a more permanent spot to live. 

Until next time, have a good one!

ps... the title of this blog entry was inspired by some of the rapids I pass through every day on the Arkansas River.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sun, Sand and Surf

Being a raft guide doesn’t seem nearly as daunting as it did a few weeks ago.  I’ve been told I’ve already got the “look” of a guide down.  And looks are everything, right?  So, I should be good to go.  But seriously, here’s what I’ve been doing so far…

The "raft guide look" with Elise and Jeanne Marie 

After a marathon day of grocery shopping and packing I left Johnstown, CO on April 28th along with the Anderson’s.  I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a $1000 grocery run before, but now I can add that to my resume.  We arrived in Texas Creek several hours later and began the not-so-small task of cleaning and organizing.  Within the next few days we were joined by Steve, the Soniat sisters, Dwight and Justin Grant (Dwight is the founder of VFH), and Josh Shannon.  I didn’t take any ‘before’ pictures of the office and boat house, but you can trust me when I say great improvements were made by way of elbow grease from the whole crew!

View of VFH from the road (the office is behind this building)
Office (front) and Boathouse/Staff area (behind)
Inside the Office (it's still being organized, but you get the idea)
Picnic area (white and blue building on left is the back side of the office)
Inside the prep room/staff area

On May 2nd seven of us left Texas Creek, CO for the Green River in Utah.  I’d never been to Utah and I’d never been on a raft trip so new experiences all around!  We drove for nearly 12 hours when we finally made it to the put-in.  We were all rather tired after a long day in the van so we rolled out our sleeping bags and slept under the stars. 

The next morning we woke up bright and early, packed up the boats and said goodbye to civilization and hello to Desolation Canyon.  We wanted to cover about 30 miles the first day, but only ended up going about 26.  We rowed and rowed and ROWED for what seemed to be forever until we reached our campsite.  Tired, cranky, and sore are three words that come to mind from that first day.  However, we all felt better after eating some food and playing a highly competitive game of Bocce Ball. 

On the Green River
Getting ready to leave our campsite

The second day was a lot like the first, long and tiring, but VERY pretty.  The views in the canyon were spectacular.  The next 4 days were quite a bit easier because we only covered 3-10 miles per day. 

Right before a wave drenches the boat

We were able to do some hiking in the canyon.  One hike was to an old prospectors cabin and another was to the top of a high point in Grey’s Canyon.  For the most part, though, we stayed near the river.  But that wasn’t hard because every campsite was home to some of the best beach sand I’ve ever seen!  It was so nice to be able to get off the river, kick your shoes off and walk around in the warm sand.  But, there was a drawback… Sand got EVERYWHERE!  I’m still trying to clean the sand out of my sleeping bag, toothbrush and camera. 

Hiking in Desolation Canyon
Josh trying to stand up in the prospectors cabin
View from the high point in Grey's Canyon

Another thing about river trips is… you can’t relieve yourself on shore.  By that I mean if you need to go (which you do multiple times during a 6 day trip) you need to go in the river.  And if you need to take a poo you get to use what’s known as a groover.  Basically an old ammo can with a toilet seat on top of it.  I’m trying to come up with a points system for the groover, but it’s much harder to come up with that a point system for BIFFing. 

Using the "facilities"

I ended up hurting my elbow after the first day of the trip, so I haven’t been paddling since then.  It’s my left elbow and it feels like tennis elbow.  Mark and I decided that it would be better if I skipped out on rowing for these past few weeks rather than become more seriously injured and being out for the summer.  So, I don’t have too much experience under my belt yet but I will in the near future. 

Since we got back from the Green River trip we’ve been further organizing and cleaning the office and boat house.  We’ve also been practicing backing up the trailers with 15-passenger vans.  I’ve gotten quite good at that.  The other newbies have been learning how to guide a paddle boat down the Arkansas River, and because of my elbow I have been learning how to shuttle and take rafting pictures. We've also become quite good at mouse extermination.  We've caught 9 since getting back from the Green River and have removed a nest from Jeanne Marie's car.  And by we I mean Josh.  

Training on the Arkansas
Josh taking care of a mouse nest

Overall, I’ve been having a good time and am about 10 shades darker than 3 weeks ago.  I cannot wait to start paddling again and I’m hoping and praying that my elbow can take it!  Currently I’m in Fort Collins, CO with Jeanne Marie and Elise.  We’re staying with they’re older sister Gina.  We will be heading back down to Texas Creek on Monday night to officially begin staff training on Tuesday.  And… just so y’all know I don’t have cell phone service where I am and currently I don’t have internet access either.  Steve is working on getting us some wi-fi, but in the meantime, if I don’t answer you back for a week it’s because I literally cannot. 

If you’d like to send me snail-mail here’s the address:

Elise Holmstrom
27077 Highway 50 Suite 4
Texas Creek, CO 81223

Mark and Sarah are still trying to purchase a house down by VFH.  They have one that they want that would be practically perfect for them and their 5 kids.  They put in a bid, but so far no dice.  If you could be praying for them, I would greatly appreciate it. 

Lastly, Happy Mothers Day!  Love you Mom!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Adventure is Out There!

I realize that my absence from the blogging world would lead you to believe that I died out in the mountains of Colorado due to my case Giardia.  However, that is not what happened.  I simply am not very good at communicating via blog.  Again, I will try to be better than last year and the year before. 

Brief Update Since Last July
  • I recovered from Giardia. 
  • The last few weeks of the summer were hectic and stressful, but very fruitful and fun. 
  • I started my last semester of college in August.  Graduated in December with the degree Youth and Family Studies in Christian Ministry.
  • I worked at Vertical Endeavors (an indoor rock climbing gym in St. Paul).
  • I took two trips to visit friends.  One to College Station, TX and the other to go skiing in Colorado.
  • I removed a bunch of head weight (aka: I had my wisdom teeth taken out and cut a bunch of my hair off). 
  • I accepted a summer job in Colorado and that brings us to where I am now.  

This summer I will be working for Journey Quest, a brand new Christian wilderness ministry.  It was started by Mark and Sarah Anderson (who worked with me at Redcloud the past two summers).  Mark and Sarah were able to buy a rafting company called Vessels For Honor (VFH) and because of that they are able to start leading trips this summer!  I’m still not entirely sure what I’ll be doing, where I’ll be living, or how to do what I’m doing (I may have had a small melt down the other night because of that), but here’s what I do know…

Journey Quest/VFH is located in Texas Creek, Colorado right along the Arkansas River.  They have permits to guide customers down parts of the Arkansas River in Colorado and the Green River in Utah.  There are already 15+ groups signed up for ½ day whitewater rafting trips, full day trips, and multi-day trips.  Steve Nutting (one of the other full time JQ staff who I worked with at Redcloud) is hoping to have a rock climbing/mountaineering multi-day trip run as well.  My main role this summer will be whitewater raft guide.  So, I will be spending the majority of the next 3-4 weeks in the water learning how to do such a thing.  This will definitely be an adventure! 

I am currently staying with Mark and Sarah at their home in Johnstown, CO.  Soon we will be cleaning and packing up a bunch of gear, food, and other supplies.  Then driving to Texas Creek, CO where Journey Quest/VFH is located.  We’re leaving for the Green River in the near future for a 6 day rafting trip.  Nothing like learning by doing!  I’m excited for the trip and learning something new, but I’m not so excited about cold water… and LOTS of it.  We have wetsuits and PFD’s, plus Mark, Sarah, and a few of the other staff I’ll be working with have a TON of experience in whitewater rafting so I’m not too worried about safety. 

Feel free to check out Journey Quest’s website for a more in depth explanation.  And of course, if you would like to see and do instead of just read and imagine… (shameless plug) There are some special deals if you book before May 1st

I’ll be sure to let you all know more once I know more (and have internet).  Until then… Thanks for all your prayers and support! 

Here is my address in case you should want to send me anything...

Elise Holmstrom
27077 Highway 50 Suite 4
Texas Creek, CO 81223

Also, here’s a collage of the people I’ll be working with this summer!

Everyone has either worked for VFH or worked with Mark and Sarah at Redcloud. 

Top-Bottom, L-R: Josh Shannon, Elise Soniat, Cori Ward, Jeanne Marie Soniat, Dan Stewart, Steve Nutting, Malachi, Tatianna, Elijah, Sophia, Mark Anderson, Sarah Anderson, Josiah, Kari Miller, yours truly, Justin Grant