June 4th, 2014.
This would be the first day I would float on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. It would also mark the first day of the rest of my life.
I feel like there are a handful pivotal moments throughout our lives where we can look back and say “that changed everything”. I also believe that it is truly a rarity to be in that moment, and be able to recognize it as it’s happening. As for my experience with the Middle Fork, it was love at first sight. I knew that this was precisely where I wanted to be, and that this was exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life… Who cares that I didn’t know how to row a boat!
Working for Middle Fork Wilderness Outfitters over the last 9 seasons has been one of the most powerful experiences of my life. It was Erik Snell who gave me a shot, and lit the fire that still burns inside of me today. He passed the torch on to Willis McAleese, who in turn, would show me what is possible when you chase your dreams without fear of failure, and live a life that is dedicated to following your passions.
As I write this, my heart is filled with gratitude. I would not be the man I am today without the love and support of my friends, family, and community. There are too many people to thank, and I am forever indebted to those of you who have been by my side. Thank you.
I have come to understand and believe that the correlations between “life” and “river” are so closely related to one another, that I can no longer differentiate the two. When I see a river, I see life. When I see life, I see a river.
I often imagine myself as a tributary, feeding into a mighty river. This river is fed by many, and as it collects nutrients from all of us, it carves through the earth on its way to the sea. I think of the power this river holds, and its ability to push through any obstacle that stands in its way. If you follow a river or a creek you begin to recognize that around every bend, you find it teeming with life. I think of how this liquid hand shapes everything it touches, and how without each tributary’s individual contribution, it wouldn’t have the strength to make it.
For everything I give to the big river, it has also come from the tributaries that feed me. I have had so many wonderful people help me along the way, and without their contributions, I would not be where I am today. My only hope is that with all I have been given, I can pour myself into something that gives to a greater cause. I want to help people recognize that together as one, we can accomplish and overcome anything. That if we feed into each other, life will erupt from the banks, and we will have the strength to make it to the sea. I ask you to take some time and identify what tributaries are feeding into your own growth, then think about and observe what you yourself are flowing into. Life and River. River and Life.
In closing, I would like to thank a handful of people…
First and foremost, Sierra McAdams.
Sierra is the love of my life, and without her unwavering encouragement and support, this would not be a reality. Engaged to be married, everyday is a dream come true with her by my side. Our home in Salmon is filled with love, joy, laughter, and a huge dog named Kevin! I would also like to thank Sierra’s family for their love and support as well, I feel so lucky to be a part of their family.
To Willis McAleese, and his amazing family.
I met Willis 10 years ago, and all I can say is that it has been one hell of a ride! Woooo! His dedication to the river, and his passion for sharing it with others is second to none. Watching him row a boat on the Middle Fork is a thing of beauty, and something I will always be trying to replicate. Willis was always so much more than an outfitter to me; he was a living legend in my eyes, a mentor, and a dear friend. I am so grateful for his influence, and I wouldn’t be the guide or boatman I am today without Willis, and that’s a fact.
I also can’t go on without saying thank you to the one and only Mary McAleese! Her contributions to MFWO have been massive, and she has done soooo much for us over the years. Mary has also played a huge role in helping Will and I in this transition, and we are so lucky to have her continued support. She is the BEST!!
To Shawn and Chris Paulsen.
These two were the unsung heroes of the MFWO operation. Countless hours of working behind the scenes, always helping us prepare for each week out on the river. From all of the delicious cookies, cakes, cinnamon rolls, and deadhead dinners; to washing sleeping bags, making name tags, doin shopping runs, stuffing sleep sets, running pre-trip orientations, and every shuttle in and out each week. They did it with a smile, and we couldn’t have done it without them. Not a chance! Shawn and Chris brought us in and treated us like their own children, and we are so happy to be a part of their wonderful family. We are so thankful for all they did. Shawn is also quite possibly the most interesting man on the planet… One conversation with him and you’ll be thinking the same!
To Erik Snell, and his beautiful family.
As I stated earlier, Erik was the one who lit the fire. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Big E, and I feel so incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to work for him during his last 3 seasons on the Middle Fork. I continue to float with Erik in my heart, and I will forever be grateful for him giving me a shot out there. He was my first mentor on the river, and I take great pride in the fact that I swapped for him. I look back and some of my fondest memories are from my first couple seasons. Erik threw me to the wolves, and by the end of it, I was howlin. So grateful he let me give it hell out there, even when I had no business doin so.
To Will Ferguson, and his family.
Will has been a brother to me for years now. His family has brought me in as one of their own, and I am so grateful for all they have done to help us along the way. When you have a guy like Will by your side, you just know that everything is going to be ok. I’m lucky to have him a business partner, and even luckier to have him as a friend. I can’t thank Jim enough for believing in us, and for giving us this opportunity. Without his support this all falls flat on its face. I also want to thank Debbie for helping us throughout this process as well, she has been essential to our success. We wouldn’t be here without them.
To my Mom, and family.
It’s wild how life has a knack for bringing things around full circle. I would joke about how required day trips down the Payette as a kid would inevitably turn into me pursuing a career river guiding and sleeping in the dirt. 10 years later I’m still floating as much as I can and sleeping in the dirt, I now just have a lot more responsibility! My Mom, Barbara, has long been my greatest ally, and was always just happy that I was doing something that I loved. My Dad on the other hand, well, let’s just say he wasn’t afraid to tell you exactly what he thought. Over years, he would eventually come to see that I was truly living out my passions, and that these ironically aligned with passions he himself had. He loved floating whitewater, and while he never guided professionally, he did guide our family every weekend throughout the summer, for better or worse! I wish my Dad could have floated the Middle Fork with me, but his health wasn’t ever up for it. By the end of it, he was a driving force for me when it came to pursuing MFWO and taking on the challenge of outfitting. He passed away before all of this came to fruition, but I know he is smiling somewhere : ) None of this would have been possible without family, and I am so thankful for the love and support mine has provided for me.
Lastly, I want to say thank you to all of the GUIDES that I have worked with.
Whether we worked with each other on a MFWO trip, or we shared the launch date together, without all of you I wouldn’t be here. Your crew becomes your family out there on the river, and if you’re lucky, your launch date becomes family as well. I have had the honor of working alongside so many wonderful men and women on the Middle Fork. I have so much love for all of the guides who I have worked alongside at MFWO, many of which I still work with today. I also have love and admiration for all of the guides that have worked for Hughes River Expeditions, Idaho River Journeys, and Mackay Wilderness River Trips. These men and women have been so influential in my upbringing as a guide, and I am beyond grateful. Oh, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, we have the best damn launch date on the Middle Fork!
If we have had the chance to float with each other already, I thank you. If we haven’t floated with each other yet, I can’t wait to share this amazing river with you. If you have passed on, and we can float no more, I will continue to carry you in my heart.